William Lane Craig on Sam Harris’ attempt to ground morality with science

William Lane Craig is going to be debating atheist Sam Harris in April, so I thought that I would link to a couple of resources in which Craig assesses Harris’ views. Harris thinks that you can use science to discover an objective morality. Does his view make sense?

Here’s an audio clip from Youtube:

And in this MP3 file, Craig assesses Harris’ attempt to grounded morality on naturalism.

Topics:

  • Harris opposes ground moral values and moral duties on a theistic worldview
  • Harris thinks that the factual statements made by science can ground moral values and moral duties
  • Harris thinks that these findings of science lead to an objective morality
  • Harris’ view is that what is “good” is what contributes to “human well-being”
  • Human happiness and flourishing is “good” and human unhappiness and decline is “evil”
  • Craig agrees that science can show what factors contribute to human flourishing
  • On atheism, there is no reason to select the fourishing of human beings as “good”
  • Craig asks: why say that human well-being and flourishing is a moral good?
  • there are non-moral uses of the word “good” and moral uses of the word “good”
  • the moral sense of “good” refers to the “good life” and what we ought to do to be good
  • Harris equivocates between different uses of the word good
  • in chess, there are good moves and bad moves with respect to winning the game – but that’s not moral good
  • similarly, someone who cleans your yard can do a good job or a bad job – but that’s not moral good
  • what is the explanation, on atheism, for human flourishing having the moral dimension of being “good”?
  • how does Harris deal with the fact-value divide? (the fallacy of deriving an ought from an is)
  • how does Harris leap from facts about brains to the moral property of “goodness”?
  • what scientific experiments does Harris propose to show that human flourishing is the “good”?
  • is Harris’ view just utilitarianism? (the view that the good is whatever makes the most number of people happy)
  • can Harris ground human rights like the right to life on his view?
  • Can human rights be overridden if it makes lots of people happy, on Harris’ view?
  • does Harris’ view lead to eugenics? how could Harris oppose the elimination of the weak or undesirables?

I think the question that Sam Harris has to answer is this: on atheism, why should a person limit their own pursuit of happiness when they can be more happy by being selfish and spurning the “flourishing of humans”? Why should any individual atheist care about the flourishing of humans when self-sacrificial actions to improve the flourishing of others diminishes his own happiness?

You can hear even more about Harris’ views from New Zealand philosopher Glenn Peoples.

55 thoughts on “William Lane Craig on Sam Harris’ attempt to ground morality with science”

  1. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to this debate. When I read that Bill will be debating Harris, I was less than enthused because this is really no contest. I don’t mean to come off as harsh or insulting toward Harris, but Harris just won’t be able to compete with Bill. Harris is more suited to debate Disouza or someone like that than someone like Bill Craig.

    I would like to see Bill Craig debate Daniel Dennett because of the little interaction the two had back in 2007 or was it 2008? At least Dennett is a philosopher and the two would have good interaction.

    Like

    1. Well, Bill stomped Hitchens too, but that is why it is important. Atheists like Hitchens and Harris, and that is why they must be stomped.

      Christians like us are always going to prefer real debates with guys like Austin Dacey and James Crossley. But for the atheist rank and file, who value snark over substance, this is the only way for them to be exposed to anything outside their little atheist echo chamber.

      Like

  2. “why should a person limit their own pursuit of happiness when they can be more happy by being selfish and spurning the “fourishing of humans”?”

    Because the happiness of society contributes to the overall happiness of the individual. The state of society affects the environment the individual live in. Therefore, the happiness or unhappiness of society in turn affects the individual’s ability to pursue his own happiness. The atheist’s self-sacrificing actions so that others may flourish, in this view, can contribute indirectly to his own well-being since he is improving the state of society around him.

    (My views are similar to yours, I’m just playing Devil’s advocate. I try to think like my opponent.)

    Of course, there are holes in this line of thinking, but I’ll leave that up to you to use them in your counter argument.

    Like

    1. Exactly.

      I always enjoy listening to WLC he is always clear in his ideas. One of the most interesting debates I’ve seen was between Hitchens and WLC. I doubt WLC vs. Harris would be better.
      About Bill stomping atheists… not really… Hitchens was very evasive and the debate was too short. Hitchens didn’t have the time to attack with his cutting reasoning.
      Hitchens is a pompous a*$#&%$# but he his the best debater in the atheist field.

      Still I don’t think that the torture subject is a closed one even from a Christian point of view. To explain my point; if Jesus was a model of what a man should be. I can’t imagine Jesus capable of torturing anyone under ANY circumstances.

      About this post I think WLC is mostly right… mostly. Science really has no values, it only verifies facts without judjing them. Still in many situations is preferable to be generous to others, and this can be proven using only logic and not God.

      You can’t prove God either by the existence of morals, or the kalam argument… I’ve gone there…
      WLC said that “without God is hard to see that there’s an objective basis for those kind of moral judgments”. Well no… saying that is jumping to conclusions… (see the Value theory in philosophy). I could say, ok there are fundamentally wrong things because there are intrinsic values to specific situations. Where those values come from?? Well I don’t know and no one on this world can answer that question with a proof.

      In my personal opinion the existence of a God is more likely than not, and that’s the farthest I’ll go.

      I subscribe completely Einstein’s quote, as follows:
      “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

      The more I know about the Universe, the more I love this quote.

      Like

    2. “The atheist’s self-sacrificing actions so that others may flourish, in this view, can contribute indirectly to his own well-being since he is improving the state of society around him.”

      Ok but why should someone do something that indirectly make them happier (or increase their well-being) when they can do so directly?

      Like

      1. No, You don’t understand. On every culture there is a sense of values for 2 reasons:
        There is a biological drive, given by evolution, that rewards our attitudes of benevolence with pleasure. This is so to permit the existence of a working society, or else we would be constantly at war with each other.
        Another reason is a logical one. If I help my neighbor it will increase the chance that he will help me, or if I don’t lie others may not lie back… and so on.
        Nonetheless I agree that to maintain a logical coherence in some altruistic scenarios one must believe in some sort of justice in the afterlife.

        Like

  3. For any interested parties: there’s an interesting series of articles on Ethics by Jason Pratt being presented at the Christian Cadre blog site (http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/). You’ll have to go here (http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html) for the first article (which is actually Chap. 31 of his online book being updated and presented there). Then you’ll have to start at the bottom of the February blog page and work your way up through chaps. 32-37. He’s really delving into the issue of the grounding ethics.

    Like

    1. I’m an atheist and know Harris is out of his depth. Guess I’m not part of the “echo chamber” then…

      Like

  4. “Because the happiness of society contributes to the overall happiness of the individual.”

    Not necessarily. For a Donald Trump or some multi-millionaire, they can live a safe life of luxury (so long as they play their cards right) and only have to “contribute” to society to maintain their own happiness. Everything else can really fly out the window. Or say the soldier who smothers a grenade with his body to save his comrades–does it contribute to society? Perhaps it does (that his peers are a “part” of a “branch” of society), but it doesn’t seem to contribute to his OWN personal happiness (as he has desires or instincts that tell him he should keep himself safe; the act of sacrifice is partly honored because of the courage to act against this drive).

    “The atheist’s self-sacrificing actions so that others may flourish, in this view, can contribute indirectly to his own well-being since he is improving the state of society around him.”

    Yet we can’t really say that his actions are “good” or “praiseworthy” in any objective sense, since he’s acting on socio-biological instincts. If he is acting against these instincts/pressures, than one is merely being disadvantageous or really just a social faux pax, like belching at the dinner table.

    That, and the fact that on atheism, our moral values and duties are not necessary, but contingent, meaning they could’ve been otherwise. If we were to rewind the clock and start the process of evolution all over again, we’d probably have other moral duties or values–perhaps rape or murder might’ve been our instincts for well-being.

    You play the atheist quite well I might say Daniel! :)

    Like

  5. Here is the real reason that Bill should not be debating against the lower level atheists. Bill won the argument for God’s existence against Hitchens but, in my opinion, badly lost the debate. Hitchens told the better story to a generation raised on MTV. Bill did not counter the secular myth that Hitchens was spouting. He did not because he competes at a high level and stuck to the debate topic, which is appropriate to the cailbre of opponent he usually faces. But Hitchens ended up ‘winning’ the debate in the eyes of many a common listener that was unable to connect with Bill’s arguments, but was able to easily listen to Hitchens’ story telling. We need Bill to make theism respectable in higher academia. But we need story-telling theists to debate the Hitchens’ and Harris’ of the world.

    Like

    1. Very interesting point! I saw this same phenomenon play out in Craig’s Cape Town debate against muslim apologist, Yusuf Ismail. Ismail raised off-topic issues which Craig ignored. Some people I spoke to afterwards said they were disappointed that he didn’t respond to them. I pointed out that Ismail was off-topic but they still thought Craig should have answered the charges against Christianity. A lot of people just don’t get that one should stick to the topic in a debate.

      Like

    2. I disagree that Bill should not be debating against the lower level atheists. WLC just needs to realize that the people he is trying to reach out to will not recognize small things such as when a person goes ‘off topic.’ These are things that stick with people even though WLC can demolish other people. It is frustrating to see these small things slide even though I know he cannot answer everything due to time constraints and what not.

      Like

      1. Yeah, it would be great if WLC could answer every question/objection raised in a debate, but even if he did, the skeptics/atheists/etc. would still find quibbles to raise against his answers. I’m not saying this as a fault on WLC, I’m saying that even the greatest answers do not persuade those that don’t want to believe.

        Like

        1. He could just point to his website reasonablefaith and leave it at that for follow up. There is so much stuff on that site.

          Like

    3. This is a difficult one, a year ago I faced similar tactics in a debate with Raymond Bradley, when I addressed the of topic issues one of the biggest criticisms I heard was that I had let the debate go off topic.

      There needs to be a careful strategy on issues like this, you also risk the problem of the echo chamber and people who simply cant assess debates. Who assess it on, “I liked the way guy X made me laugh”.

      Like

      1. I see that you and Madeleine are raising funds for your speaking tour of the USA! Madeleine’s comment made me laugh “I cook see my cooking website Mad | Food)”. I think it’s pretty neat that she is going to cook the food for your fundaiser.

        Like

  6. I lol at the comments questioning the worthiness of Harris to take on the WLC. All hail Stephen Notman’s chime-in too! That’s a priviledge, in my book. :)

    No, Harris is not worthy, but I disagree that it is beneath Craig to debate him. Necessity calls, as Harris is a very public figure now (much like Hitchens) and has openly criticized the Christian faith for even existing. There is a time to descend *on the peanut gallery, and I think for Craig, it is time.

    Like

  7. I wonder if WLC believes that only those who hold doctorates should be considered philosophers – since Harris holds a masters degree in philosophy.

    Does anyone know?

    Like

    1. Well maybe… because Harris has a phil. degree from Stanford…
      I think anyone can be a philospher… Socrates said so… You just need to think, make coherent and logical lines of thought…

      Like

  8. Stopping there [human flourishing] is premature because of its arbitrariness and implausibility because why, given atheism, think that inflicting harm or contributing to human flourishing has any moral dimension? Who is to say what counts as contributing to human flourishing and what counts as taking away from it? How would one know whether allowing anyone to find a mate and propagate their DNA is good or bad as compared to selecting people to mate to produce a stronger race? Or to ‘prune’ a race to keep ‘undesirables’ from breeding?

    Like

    1. And to top it all off, why OUR species? And why do we try and help out other species or the entire welfare of the planet? Why be so discriminatory towards homo sapiens as opposed to pigs or flies or corn?

      Like

    2. All these questions beg a long answer… maybe another time… I’m playing devil’s advocate, although I’m not an Atheist.
      Instinctively we allow others to find their mate because if we “played Darwinian evolution to the end and – Let the weak perish, and let the strong take their wives – so long as they can pay the bigamy tax.” Then again the human race would go extinct or would live in misery.
      Good (moral) behavior is rewarding even if the Bible never existed. This is in-printed at the fabric of reality.
      The manner to which we treat other animals and the ecosystems has many explanations; cultural, religious, biological and technological.
      I think that positions are too extreme. Not everything in ethical conduct is justifiable by logic and evolution alone and not everything in moral comes from the Bible or a “divine command”.

      Like

      1. Hi, Teralek. Unfortunately I did not follow what you were trying to say. Are you saying I was begging the question? I do not see it but maybe you can explain it. The question is not whether “good (moral) behavior is rewarding” on the atheistic view. Rather, the question is why one should be good/moral and what even constitutes it in the first place?

        Like

          1. By saying “to a certain extent…” you seem to recognize the deficiency is your response. There are all types of behaviors that could be ‘rewarding’, why do the ‘good’ ones? Who is to say what is good anyway as opposed to the action just being neutral?

            Like

  9. RobertH the deficiency in my response corresponds to certain “moral” scenarios in which logic balances between good or neutral depending on if there is some sort of a Universal moral justice or not.
    If there is no Universal moral justice than I can kill my rich grandfather and take his money and live the rest of my life in opulence. In the end my action is inconsequential, oblivion awaits me, and I did what was logical for me. I lived well and great! The part of my conscience that was feeling compassion for my relative was not logical.

    Still (fortunately) there are strong biological drives that prevent us from robbing others, though they are not logical.

    Still in most situations an action is morally good because I would be rewarded if I do it. For example, if I am nice to my neighbor he would be nice to me and that makes a relation of mutual advantage.

    Like

  10. BTW! Be aware that for an atheist (pure materialistic) the moral question is meaningless… There are no moral scenarios. Things are as they are because of evolution of the mind that for society to coexist without self extermination created the “feeling” of moral values where logic alone couldn’t do it… like in the example of helping the neighbor for mutual advantage.

    These “feelings of moral values” are compassion, love, etc. Many times they seem to favor the species and not the individual. But since there is such a marked distinction between “Me” and “Others” in the materialistic view, sometimes these “moral feelings” are not working in my personal interest (ex. give my life to save another).

    Like

  11. Micah,

    Your example of Donald Trump still seems to support what I stated about the happy condition of society benefiting the individual, even Trump, since he contributes at least a little to keep himself comfortable.

    The soldier who threw himself on top of a grenade decided that what makes him happy, even if that feeling is wrapped up in only that one moment, is to save his fellow soldiers. He sacrifices his life, whereas others may sacrifice their time, energy, comfort, or money. I find little difference between their sacrifices since we are all on this earth a very short time anyway.

    I can say that these people’s actions are good or praiseworthy since I can evaluate the quality of their actions from an outside perspective (one person looking at another), and create a moral based on that quality. If certain actions cause the “human machine” to run better, an “ought” can be derived from those actions.

    RobertH,

    You said, “How would one know whether allowing anyone to find a mate and propagate their DNA is good or bad as compared to selecting people to mate to produce a stronger race? Or to ‘prune’ a race to keep ‘undesirables’ from breeding?”

    Selecting a mate for someone overrides their will in the matter and is more likely to cause unhappiness. Through empathy, I can respect other people’s feelings and refrain from those actions. Therefore, I “ought” to let them choose their own mate. I can use the same reason to refrain from pruning the human species.

    (Concerning my reason for taking the atheist’s side of the argument besides my own amusement, I think that the truth becomes stronger when it is attacked by lies. Let truth and falsehood grapple in the streets. As long as we disavow ourselves of the belief that all ideas are equal, this approach should work. Some ideas are better than others, and must be proven to be better. The person who wrestles with lies in order to stand on the truth is better off than the one who holds the truth in ignorance.)

    Like

    1. Daniel, I understand your reason for wanting to take the opposing side and I also think it is a good idea to look into the other sides arguments as well. In response I have to say so what? Who cares about empathy on the atheistic view? The objective reality of morals just cannot be grounded through logic and reason alone. Unhappiness is a poor ground just like “human flourishing.” Also, on the atheistic view any ’empathy’ one feels is just some byproduct of sociobiological evolution and not a guide for truth.

      Like

    2. Imagine I take care of an old rich relative. When he dies I’m going to receive all his fortune. The years pass and he still lives.
      Now imagine I’ve found a way to kill him without getting caught. And then I kill him. In what way was this action bad? Since no else misses him. I beneficed from this action. It was very good for me, neutral for society and bad for the man I killed but he had no quality of live anyway…

      Talking about compassion for life or for the law and order in society is meaningless for the subject. When I die I will die more happy from the bohemian life I got from the money.

      Truth is that these things happen everyday. If people really believed in an Universal Justice or a true bond with other humans this would never happen. Even many who say that they are believers they really aren’t or there wouldn’t be believers committing crimes.

      Like

      1. If morality is relative, then you’d be right, you could kill, rape, torture, lie, etc. because all you’d be doing is merely acting in self-interest and not doing anything wrong. Or, are you admitting/conceding that rape, torture of innocent children for fun, genocide, discrimination, and vivisection are not objectively wrong regardless of whether any person believes it to be wrong or not?

        In any case, the fact that people fail to live up to even our human standards of morality does not in any way imply that morality is not objective. In the same way, just because people speed in a 25 MPH zone doesn’t mean that we’re justified in saying, “Oh well, since people break the law like that everyday, that must mean there really is no speed limit or law concerning the speed limit”.

        The very fact that we say that certain actions or behaviors is not the way one OUGHT to act implies some greater standard over and above ourselves; something that transcends us as people. The fact that we can point to something and say that it is wrong either shows morality is objectively binding, or that we’re perpetuating a delusion, but if you want to take the latter route, that’s an incredibly high intellectual and moral price tag to pay in order to stave off the existence of God.

        Like

        1. So do you think speeding is not morally wrong, or do you think speed limits are an objective universal constant?

          Like

          1. I think I would say that we have invented these conventions in order to respect the objective moral value of humans and to respect the objective moral duty not to take innocent life without adequate justification. I wonder what Micah would say?

            Like

          2. “Your example of Donald Trump still seems to support what I stated about the happy condition of society benefiting the individual, even Trump, since he contributes at least a little to keep himself comfortable.”

            Ah, okay, I see it. How about this then: You stated that the happiness of society contributes to the overall happiness of the individual, and that such is the reason why a person should limit their own pursuit of happiness. There are some questions/observations I have with that reasoning though…

            1) There seem to be moral choices which are super-arrogatory, that is, above and beyond what is demanded, but on a view where the (apparent?) end-goal of morality is one’s personal happiness, what makes an act super-arrogatory? Is the term “moral obligation” meaningless on this view, considering that one does something because she DESIRES happiness?

            2) You state, “The atheist’s self-sacrificing actions so that others may flourish, in this view, can contribute indirectly to his own well-being since he is improving the state of society around him.”

            Is contributing to one’s own well-being the end, goal, or purpose of morality? If so, is it true, then, that morality is basically reduced down to whatever makes a person happy (and under this atheistic view, it seems that contributing to the happy condition of society is a big part if not the only means of doing so).

            3) What of conflicting interests between societies or between individuals? The radical Islam jihadist strongly believes that he is contributing to the “happy” condition of society, and thus indirectly contributes to his own happiness (of serving his country, of serving his god, etc), but causing undue harm to individuals in another society would make those people unhappy (let alone dead) and impede their march of flourishing. Does the act of Jihad impede or progress human flourishing? If it impedes human flourishing, how so? Does it not advance the goals of these extremists and contribute to their happiness as a whole? Is it, or ought it be, based on numbers (i.e. – An act is “wrong” if it incites X amount of people to happiness, but X+1 amount of people sorrow)?

            4) What if science has shown that X really and truly does contribute to human flourishing, but makes some particular group unhappy? In being pressured/encouraged to perform X (say at the behest of their company or for extra credit for some class), they do so grudgingly and doing the “bare minimum” to get by. Such an act did not contribute to their happiness because they clearly had “better” things to do–perhaps some selfish/illegal thing Y that would clearly make them happy, but at the deficit of someone else indirectly.

            5) Why do things that make a person happy at all? Why must happiness supersede self-preservation on a view where human beings are merely the accidental by-products of a conglomeration of molecules in which natural selection weeds out the unfit (i.e. those that lack the necessary genes/traits needed for survival)? Is it not the “grand scheme” of evolution to preserve the self and propagate the genes (even then I question why a meaningless, purposeless process in a directionless universe would even have a “grand scheme” or end to begin with)? Why is this incumbent upon humans? What about the higher-order animals that exhibit forms of happiness?

            6) Again to reiterate from my previous post: On atheism, our moral values and duties are not necessary, but contingent, meaning they could’ve been otherwise. If we were to rewind the clock and start the process of evolution all over again, we’d probably have other moral duties or values–perhaps rape or murder might’ve been our instincts for well-being or contributors towards societal and personal happiness, so on this view we can’t honestly say “Rape is objectively, truly, wrong”.

            “I can say that these people’s actions are good or praiseworthy since I can evaluate the quality of their actions from an outside perspective (one person looking at another), and create a moral based on that quality. If certain actions cause the “human machine” to run better, an “ought” can be derived from those actions.”

            1) So would you agree (Mr. Devil’s Advocate!) that morality is subjective rather than objective (in that one CREATES moral values and duties instead of discovering them like the laws of physics or mathematical axioms are discovered and expressed; and also in that moral truths seem contingent rather than necessary)?

            2) Smothering your body with a grenade to save comrades might make one “happy” (in whatever sense that means; is he filled with glee or emotional warmth at some instant of time with a smile on his face? Does rushing my daughter to the hospital because her head is gushing out blood inculcate happiness in me [and do I care for her in order to solely increase my happiness factor]?), but such an action does not cause the “human machine” to run better, unless you are referring to the other “human machines” that one is attempting to save, but wouldn’t it make one MORE happy to not protect his comrades and return home to his wife and kids for more happiness and perform inexorably MORE things that would contribute indirectly to his happiness for years to come as opposed to the presumably small amount of happiness that he would get from protecting his comrades (and being cut short of more opportunities to contribute to the happiness of society)?

            3) Jokingly, I would chuckle at seeing the disparity between two epitaphs:

            “Here lies Daniel, he was a good, moral man”

            “Here lies Wintery Knight, he was a man dedicated to contributing to his own self-happiness by contributing to human flourishing!”

            4) In any case, the presupposition of naturalism seems to also lend some argumentative force against this, for in leaving the human race with just socio-biological evolution, how can we even trust our own perspective and observations on what constitutes as human flourishing or not? Are our brains and senses wired a certain way to the see the world not as it really is, but in a way that is just conducive for survival? Do we say morals are derived from bettering the human machine as some thing really descriptive about reality, or is it just another trick of the neurons? I know this materialistic problem of undercutting our own means of rationality seems to fall some distance away from the issue at hand, but given that this is supposed to be an atheist offering this view, this seems to be an inevitable consequence if blind, purposeless forces is all that’s really, truly operating “under the hood” so-to-speak.

            “Selecting a mate for someone overrides their will in the matter and is more likely to cause unhappiness. Through empathy, I can respect other people’s feelings and refrain from those actions. Therefore, I “ought” to let them choose their own mate.”

            1) And we should care about this person’s unhappiness because…? ;)

            2) If one were to retort to (1) that it would bring about our own unhappiness, then I would question how that would be so. What if such a person held an “outside perspective” and created a moral that the human race should be pruned and personal happiness be damned? And what if, in performing acts consistent with his “derived morality” actually does make him happy?

            3) I’m not sure that such reasoning is even sound. How is it that, on atheism, by overriding someone’s will, causing their unhappiness, and by possessing the capacity to refrain from an action does it logically follow that you must let them choose?

            4) What of criminals and their actions? Do we not override their free will in an attempt to preserve the community? Is it not so that by jailing criminals (at least some of them anyway), they are unhappy? By your reasoning, we “ought” to let them go and “choose”. Also, why should one group have their happiness preserved while another group have their happiness restricted? Would it not be going back to the majority ruling again (an act is “wrong” if it incites X amount of people to happiness, but X+1 amount of people sorrow)?

            “So do you think speeding is not morally wrong, or do you think speed limits are an objective universal constant?”

            I think speeding is wrong in both the moral sense and the legal sense, though the latter can be seen as following the former. The reason to invent and enforce this rule is to prevent accidents from occurring. Why do we want to prevent accidents from occurring? Because we value human life. Of course, the legality of an action and the morality of an action may not always line up symmetrically, and there are certain things that I believe are morally wrong and sinful, but nevertheless I do not think they should be legislated. For example, Jesus teaches that even thinking thoughts of lust after a woman is already considered adultery, but surely it wouldn’t make sense to make a law (and try to enforce it no less!) saying one can only think certain thoughts. What I’m trying to say is that the state should not legislate morality–it should protect negative rights (such as the right to NOT be sexually assaulted, the right to NOT be killed in an automobile accident due to a lack of commonly agreed upon set of standards pertaining to the roadways, the right to NOT have my property taken by force, etc.) whereas the Church should preach the morality as expressed by God (who is the ontological ground of morality) THROUGH His issued commandments and THROUGH the life and teachings of His Son, Jesus Christ.

            Is the speed limit an objective universal constant? No, I do not think so, but I’m not proposing that legal or even moral mandates are “absolute” in the sense that one single expression of such a value/truth/obligation covers all situations and circumstances. The speed limit will be different in suburban cul-de-sacs versus the freeway; and to a larger extent, different countries have different ways of implementing speed regulation, but that does not negate the fact that at the very core, there is need to have a commonly agreed standard to which members of a particular community attend to, and that in itself is an expression of the objective value of human life (i.e. – safety).

            Like

      2. If you obtained the rich relative’s consent to end his life, it would be consistent with good morals based on empathy and the avoidance of suffering. Your conscience would then not have to be violated since you did nothing against his will. And, you could enjoy your new fortune.

        You said, “Even many who say that they are believers they really aren’t or there wouldn’t be believers committing crimes.”

        This statement sounds like salvation by works. It’s like you’re saying believers don’t commit certain crimes and if they did they weren’t believers to begin with.

        Like

  12. WK, in response to your question of “why should a person limit their own pursuit of happiness when they can be more happy by being selfish and spurning the “flourishing of humans”?”, your premise is incorrect. It has been very well established that in order to be the happiest you can be, being selfish won’t work. There are TONS of really interesting studies regarding this.

    For example, Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues found that when people spend money on others, they are happier than when they spend it on themselves (“Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness”). This, as well as many other studies are discussed in basically all science books that touch on happiness (as well as Harris’ newest book).

    Like

    1. So let’s see… you think that people should do what makes them feel good… and that’s morally good? Do you think there might be cases where doing what makes a person feel good isn’t morally good? Like rape. Rape makes the rapist feel good. As long as the rapist can escape the consequences, then why isn’t that good for the rapist? Why should someone care about “the flourishing of humans”, if they are sufficiently powerful to behave selfishly and then escape the consequences? For example, abortion or slavery? Why are those wrong on atheism? Why should an atheist give up his own money to have to care of a baby that doesn’t make him/her happy, or give up free slave labor which would make him less rich, for “the flourishing of humans”? There are one million babies murdered every year because people think that recreational sex makes them happy. They don’t want to pay for unwanted babies – they just want to be happy. For them, apparently, murder is right because it makes them happier.

      Like

      1. WK, You originally asked why an atheist shouldn’t be selfish, since selfishness would make him the happiest. I simply pointed out that research on happiness shows that to be incorrect– people are the happiest when they are the least selfish.

        I am not sure what everything else you just stated has to do with that.

        Like

  13. I don’t see why theists keep claiming they have the upper hand here. Craig himself simply defines “the good” as “God’s nature”, which is no less problematic than what Harris is doing. This is because if anything that God is, is good, then sadism is good if this is one of God’s traits. If the theist thinks it impossible that God is sadistic, he or she needs to explain why, without appelaing to an independent moral standard (since God is the standard).

    Like

    1. With the example of sadism, I’m not sure what you’re saying here, but you can correct me if I’m misrepresenting your argument/case. Are you saying that if sadism is one of God’s traits, then sadism is good? I would say that it would be the case logically-speaking, but the fact of the matter is that sadism would not be one of God’s traits (or to put it in another way, sadism is not part of God’s nature).

      As for the reason why it would be impossible for God to be sadistic is because it is not inherent in His nature. I am not appealing to some independent standard to which God must/ought to “measure up to”.

      To press the point, “But WHY exactly is God not sadistic, WHY is God charitable, WHY is God a defender of the oppressed,” seems to me about as odd as pressing the point of, “But WHY does a circle have no vertices? WHY do all the angles of a Euclidean triangle add up to 180 degrees? WHY does A not equal non-A at the same time, in the same place, in the same sense?”

      We are saying that “God is good” is as foundational as the law of non-contradiction; or another way, we are saying that goodness is as integral to God just as roundness is integral to circles.

      Now, one could object in saying that while a circle with sides/vertices would be contradictory, the concept of an “evil God” would not a total, logical contradiction, and so saying “God is good” seems capricious or arbitrary.

      To that I respond by saying that God by definition is a maximally great being, and part of being maximally great is to be maximally good, for a being who is all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, and all-good is greater than the being who has all these attributes except for a being all-good. Consider even two beings that have the traditional attributes ascribed to God, except for the second being, who unlike the first one, lacks the attribute of being all-good; consider even that both of these beings are three persons each. Even if neither being creates entities endowed with personhood and intrinsic value (i.e. humans), the first being is maximally great whereas the second one is not because the second has the possibility of treachery within his intra-trinitarian relations. The first being who is all-good will have maximal relational status between His intra-trinitarian relations, and that would give Him “the edge” over the second one. We traditionally call this maximally great being “God”.

      Hope this helps somewhat! :)

      Like

      1. “To press the point, “But WHY exactly is God not sadistic, WHY is God charitable, WHY is God a defender of the oppressed,” seems to me about as odd as pressing the point of, “But WHY does a circle have no vertices? WHY do all the angles of a Euclidean triangle add up to 180 degrees? WHY does A not equal non-A at the same time, in the same place, in the same sense?”

        Yes, that was my point. God is simply is defined as The good. And Harris would probably say something similar about causing suffering, that it is like saying a circle has three sides (or married bachelors etc.) If Craig can do it, then why can’t Harris?

        “To that I respond by saying that God by definition is a maximally great being, and part of being maximally great is to be maximally good, for a being who is all-powerful, ever-present, all-knowing, and all-good is greater than the being who has all these attributes except for a being all-good.”

        But this is question-begging. If we are dealing with an evil God, then the more evil he is, the “better” from his perspective (which would be the only one that counts if he is the standard). When you are using “goodness” as a great-making property, you are appealing to some independent standard. In fact you must be, unless again you want to beg the question.

        Like

      2. “Consider even two beings that have the traditional attributes ascribed to God, except for the second being, who unlike the first one, lacks the attribute of being all-good; consider even that both of these beings are three persons each. Even if neither being creates entities endowed with personhood and intrinsic value (i.e. humans), the first being is maximally great whereas the second one is not because the second has the possibility of treachery within his intra-trinitarian relations. The first being who is all-good will have maximal relational status between His intra-trinitarian relations, and that would give Him “the edge” over the second one. We traditionally call this maximally great being “God”.

        So the question really boils down to which God would function better due to the lack of possible treachery? So then we know that treachery is bad (it reduces greatness) because it makes “maximal relational status” impossible. Could we perhaps then also assume that the possibility of treachery would reduce a society’s greatness for the same reason?

        Like

        1. “God is simply is defined as The good. And Harris would probably say something similar about causing suffering, that it is like saying a circle has three sides (or married bachelors etc.) If Craig can do it, then why can’t Harris?”

          In Harris’ case, there is no ultimate “frame of reference” or “anchor” regarding morality. He proposes human flourishing (and that’s noble to say the least), but it doesn’t really resolve the problem of objective morality. Technically, Harris is not question-begging in the sense that he’s arguing in a circle; rather, his offer raises the question of “Why stop at human flourishing?” or “Why stop at some contingent thing X to ground morality?”.

          To reiterate from a previous post of mine:

          On atheism, our moral values and duties are not necessary, but contingent, meaning they could’ve been otherwise. If we were to rewind the clock and start the process of evolution all over again, we’d probably have other moral duties or values–perhaps rape or murder might’ve been our instincts for well-being or contributors towards societal and personal happiness, so on this view we can’t honestly say “Rape is objectively, truly, wrong”.

          And if you have qualms with the phrase, “God is simply is defined as The good,” then you can substitute “God” with “something/someone that transcends the universe and is not contingent (that’s to say, necessary)”. I’d also like to argue that considering morality is only incumbent on and directed towards human beings–those endowed with personhood–then this entity we are dealing with that is supposed to ground morality would need to be personal as well.

          “If we are dealing with an evil God, then the more evil he is, the “better” from his perspective (which would be the only one that counts if he is the standard).”

          Right, I get what you’re saying: that an evil God could potentially mean that evil would be good. To quote Glenn Miller from the Christian Think Tank regarding this:

          “…let’s approach this is from ethical theory.

          (I don’t want to get too technical here philosophically, so I will try to keep this concise. There are some basics in mainstream ethics that should illustrate the point.)

          1. Evil is generally defined (technically) in terms of ‘good’ (often as a logical negation or privation–“~good”).

          2. Good is NOT defined in terms of ‘evil’ but in terms of ‘ultimates’, ‘absolutes’, ‘transcendentals’ or some finite approximations thereof…

          3. Whatever is ‘furthest back’ ontologically (i.e. prior) is the ‘good’ (it forms the existential ‘context’ of our existence, in which our actions and character “fit” or “don’t fit”–see the Existentialist philosophers on this). For theists this is obvious, but even in evolutionary ethics, for example, without an alleged ‘transcendent’, they STILL make ‘survival’ / ‘progress’ / ‘increase in information content’ ontologically PRIOR to the minutia of experience.

          4. You can have ‘good’ in existence ( with ‘evil’ DEFINED thereby) WITHOUT having ‘evil’ in EXISTENCE. [VERY IMPORTANT POINT–VERY OFTEN overlooked in these types of discussions.]

          5. If you have ‘evil’ in existence (and not merely in ‘logical definition’), then you MUST have ‘good’ in existence (mere ‘definition’ of ‘good’ is not BIG enough to ground evil’s ‘existence’).”

          (http://christianthinktank.com/evilgod.html)

          So that’s the problem in a nutshell about having an “evil God” because “evil” isn’t some absolute, but rather a deprivation of something or the way something ought to be; a world full of evil is a world deprived. A god full of evil is a god deprived, and not maximally great (more on this below!)

          “When you are using “goodness” as a great-making property, you are appealing to some independent standard. In fact you must be, unless again you want to beg the question.”

          If by great-making you mean only morally great, then yes, that would be question-begging; but what I take great-making to mean is “ontologically great” in totality. Let’s take a morally neutral example, say, omniscience (well, omniscience in general anyway). Say that both entities X and Y are omniscient (that is, they know every true proposition). Entity X knows all true proposition by virtue of his own nature, whereas entity Y knows all true propositions because entity X told him so. Which being, then, is the greater being with regards to omniscience? Surely entity X right? So that “component” would be part and parcel of what being maximally great is, not just the moral component.

          “So the question really boils down to which God would function better due to the lack of possible treachery?”

          Hmm, I’m actually not sure at this point if this is what it ultimately boils down to (I don’t think I’ve done enough digging), but I would say that it would be problematic for a god whose persons would be at odds against each other; a god who is not seamless; a god who can’t “keep it together”.

          “Could we perhaps then also assume that the possibility of treachery would reduce a society’s greatness for the same reason?”

          Interestingly, this assumption would have applications and implications regarding Heaven (where the possibility of treachery/sin is zero, which would make it a Great Society). There perhaps may be other things that would contribute to being a Great Society as well…

          Sorry for being long-winded!

          Like

          1. “So that’s the problem in a nutshell about having an “evil God” because “evil” isn’t some absolute, but rather a deprivation of something or the way something ought to be; a world full of evil is a world deprived. A god full of evil is a god deprived, and not maximally great (more on this below!)”

            But if we can arrive at this conclusion solely by looking at what we mean by the concepts, then why invoke God in the first place? If we have an objective reason to think that evil is a “deprivation of something or the way something ought to be”, then what’s the problem?

            Like

          2. “But if we can arrive at this conclusion solely by looking at what we mean by the concepts, then why invoke God in the first place?”

            Because God would be the grounding explanation for them. We can know what they are without reference to God, but if we are pressed to explain their apparent objectivity, we have to invoke God (i.e. the transcendent anchor).

            Keep in mind that God would be the explanation for objective morality, not the explanation for why God (i.e. the maximally great being) needs to be good by definition.

            “If we have an objective reason to think that evil is a “deprivation of something or the way something ought to be”, then what’s the problem?”

            It’s the grounding that’s the problem to be resolved. Also, I think you are applying the word “objective” in the wrong way. We all believe that reality and definitions are objective (unless one is a postmodernist of a certain flavor), and you certainly believe that my words have objective meaning (else we wouldn’t be having this discussion!), but we are concerned right now about objective morality in the sense that they are binding on all persons regardless whether they believe in these moral truths or not. We may have objective reasons for why we hold to certain definitions pertaining to the NATURE of what is good and what is evil, but here we are concerned about their ontological status. In the same way, we have objective reasons for believing in the existence of gravity, but that says nothing about what “grounds” it (in the physical sense, at the very least).

            Now, I was going to write something about the difference between Essence Vs. Existence, but I kinda lost it (and I’m writing this in a hurry…). This might be of some help:

            http://analyticscholastic.blogspot.com/2011/03/essences-and-truthmakers.html

            and this:

            http://analyticscholastic.blogspot.com/2011/02/aristotelianism-and-christian-worldview.html

            Hope this helps!

            Like

  14. Peter,

    Craig (and theists) do have the upper hand, they can explain *objective* morals and duties. On the atheistic view they are very subjective or completely illusory. Although that is kind of redundant.

    Now, with your concern about sadism, you are confusing moral epistemology with ontology. If theists could not answer how do we know God is good and that He is not sadistic which we would say is indeed bad is an epistemological concern and has nothing to do with grounding objective morals.

    Like

    1. The question that Craig is trying answer is: “is there anything objectively real that exists that backs our moral intuitions, such that we should tailor our actions to respect moral values and moral duties”. If the answer is yes, then God exists.

      We have certain moral intuitions. Are they backed by the will of a designer who prescribes behaviors for our fulfillment? Or are they just personal preferences or group preferences arbitrarily set by groups in different times and places? What is the backing for these moral inutitions? If they are backed by hard objective reality – the design set up for us by our Creator, then we should be willing to put ourselves SECOND to respect these moral values and duties, regardless of what makes us happy. If they are illusory and accidental – varying by time and place and akin to food and clothing fashions – then why should we care about “good” when it reduces our happiness, and we can avoid being caught?

      That’s the question. Atheism has no foundation for respecting morality unless it makes us happier. Happiness is the reason for atheist morality. There is no REAL ought-to-be on atheism. But there is a real ought-to-be on theism.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s