Audio, video and summary of the William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris debate

Brian Auten has posted the audio of the William Lane Craig vs Sam Harris debate here. And the video of the William Lane Craig vs Sam Harris debate is posted on Youtube. My preview provides background information and lectures to help you to understand the arguments. Here is a more serious, less snarky review of the debate, which doesn’t mention the Monkey God or the Lord of the Rings. But read mine first!

(By the way, you may also be interested in my snarky, humorous summary of Lawrence Krauss’ speeches in his debate with Craig, in the preview post which featured resources for understanding Craig’s kalam argument, the fine-tuning argument and the moral argument, and in my snarky summary of Christopher Hitchens’ case against God)


This summary is not AS SNARKY as the Lawrence Krauss summary or the Christopher Hitchens summary.

Dr. Craig’s opening speech:


  • Harris and Craig agree on objective morality
  • What is the foundation of morality?
  • What makes certain actions right or wrong?

Two claims

  1. if God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties
  2. if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties

1) Theism grounds morality

Objective moral values

Theism provides sound foundation for objective moral values
– objective moral values are grounded in God
– God is the locus and paradigm of moral value
– God is, by nature, the standard for what is right and wrong

Objective moral duties

Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral duties
– God’s nature is expressed as commands for us
– God’s commands for us are not arbitrary
– they must be consistent with his own nature
– and they reflect his moral character
– the essence of morality in theism is to love God and also to love your neighbor

2) Atheism does not ground morality

Objective moral values

What is the basis for objective moral values on atheism?
– on atheism, human beings are accidental products of evolution
– on atheism, there is no reason to believe that human well-being is any more important than the well-being of any other animal
– Harris denies that the objective moral value is from Platonic forms
– Harris wants to ground moral values in nature
– but nature is morally neutral
– the “morality” of humans is just a set of evolved customs that help them to survive and reproduce
– this morality is just a set of conventions, it doesn’t refer to anything that has an objective existence
– quotes Michael Ruse: “morality is just an aid to survival, and any deeper meaning is illusory”
– if we were to rewind evolution and start it again, another set of conventions might have evolved
– to say that morality is about human well-being is to commit “speciesism”
– quotes Richard Dawkins: “there is no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference”

What does Harris say:
– Harris redefines the word “good” to mean the well-being of humans
– Harris “solves” the problem of moral value by just asserting that HUMAN well-being is the good
– Harris isn’t talking about what is good and evil
– Harris only talks about what is conducive to human “flourishing”

Objective moral duties

What is the basis of objective moral duties on atheism?
– first, natural science tells us only what is, not what ought to be
– quotes Jerry Fodor: “science cannot tell us that we have a moral obligation to take actions to increase human flourishing”
– on the naturalistic worldview, humans are animals – and there are no OBJECTIVE moral duties
– where do moral obligations come from on atheism?
– they are just conventions that are ingrained into us by social evolution
– as human societies evolve, certain actions are unfashionable
– people who act “immorally” against their society’s conventions are just being unfashionable
– bad actions like rape and murder happen all the time in the animal kingdom
– second, Harris believes that there is no free will – all human actions are causally determined
– if there is no free will, then there is no moral responsibility
– no one is responsible for the things they do, on atheism
– on atheism, humans have no control over the actions they take, and cannot make moral choices, or be morally responsible

– Harris and I mostly agree on practical ethics, but only theists have a foundation for objective moral values and duties

Dr. Harris’ opening speech:

God is not needed to ground moral values and moral duties

  • Good means maximizing human well-being for the largest number of people
  • Religion is not necessary for a “universal” morality
  • Religion is a bad foundation for “universal” morality

Facts and values:

  • Moral values are the products of human evolution
  • E.g. – Sexual jealousy is the result of biological evolution
  • And then these ideas of right and wrong are enshrined in cultural institutions like marriage
  • Religious people insert God in to explain values, when evolution is the real explanation

Moral disagreements:

  • I personal don’t agree with the ethics of the God of Abraham
  • I have no basis for an objective moral standard, but the God of Abraham fails to meet my personal preferences
  • Dr. Craig lies when he quotes me, half his quotes are of other people I quoted, not me
  • But I’m not going to say which quote he lied about

Goodness is what makes you feel happy:

  • Questions of right and wrong depend upon brains
  • Brains are natural entities
  • Science can measure well-being in brain states
  • States of affairs in which the majority of brains have high well-being

I’m a good person because I don’t like the Taliban:

  • The Taliban is bad because the majority of their brains don’t have high well-being
  • I think throwing battery acid in women’s faces is bad
  • The Taliban thinks that throwing battery acid in women’s faces is good
  • What determines right and wrong is brain states of well-being

Insults against religion = Dr. Craig:

  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value evidence
  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value logic
  • religion / Dr. Craig doesn’t value intellectual honesty

Dr. Craig’s first rebuttal:

1) Theism is a good foundation for moral values and duties

Harris says:
– Craig thinks that if God doesn’t exist, then good and evil would have no meaning

Craig says:
– But Craig says that he is not saying that God is required for moral semantics
– He is addressing the question of the ontological grounding

Harris says:
– The God of the Bible is mean

Craig says:
– divine command theory doesn’t require that the Bible be the set of commands
– in any case, the old testament passages can be defended in Paul Copan’s book

Harris says:
– Religion isn’t needed for universal morality

Craig says:
– the issue isn’t universality, because the Nazis could have won, and put in a universal morality
– the issue is if they had won, would there be any standard to condemn them

Harris says:
– Good and evil are related to the number of brain states of well-being

Craig says:
– Harris uses good and evil in non-moral ways
– Harris isn’t talking about moral good and moral evil
– Harris is talking about pleasure and misery
– Harris is equating moral good and moral evil with feelings of pleasure and feelings of misery
– Harris claims that the property of being good is identical with human flourishing
– it is possible that the continuum of human well-being is not identical with the moral landscape
– in order for them to be identical, there cannot be this possibility or it fails the law of identity
– you could have psychopaths with happy brain states that represent a peak in the moral landscape

Harris says:
– If we have a moral duty to do anything, we have a duty to avoid feeling miserable”

– moral obligations arise when there is an authority who can issue binding commands
– on atheism, there is no authority who can issue binding commands
– without free will, morality makes no sense since there is no free will
– no free will means no moral duties, and no moral responsibilities

Dr. Harris’ first rebuttal:

I don’t like Hell and I don’t like suffering and I don’t like Christians:

  • There is no evidence that Hell exists
  • Think of the parents of the children of people who die in tsunamis
  • If God allows people to suffer, then he doesn’t exist, because God’s job is to make us not suffer
  • God can’t exist, because some people are born in the wrong culture, and never hear about Jesus
  • Some people pray to the Monkey God, why don’t they go to heaven?
  • What about the people in the Lord of the Rings, are they going to Hell?
  • What about people who repent just before being executed, are they going to heaven?
  • God is cruel and unjust because he lets innocent people suffer
  • God is worse than a psychopath
  • People who believe in God are evil
  • People who believe in God are narcissists
  • God commanded stuff that I don’t like, so he’s evil
  • Suppose God were evil – then people would have to do evil things
  • Religious people think that saying Latin phrases turn pancakes into the body of Elvis Presley
  • The evidence for God is actually not very good, if you avoid read any Christian scholars
  • Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice
  • The people who wrote the Bible were really stupid
  • Christians are psychopaths

Dr. Craig’s second rebuttal:

Sam Harris cannot make any judgments about moral values and moral duties on atheism
On atheism, there is no foundation for making objective moral judgments

Harris didn’t respond to anything Craig said

Harris says that Christians only believe in God to avoid Hell

Red herrings:

Craig says that people who become Christians do it because God is the good
Christians don’t pursue a relationship with God for fire insurance

The problem of evil
– not relevant to the debate topic

The problem of the unevangelized
– not relevant to the debate topic

Evil actually proves that God exists
– if evil exists, then there is an objective moral standard
– if there is an objective moral standard, then God exists

Harris has no foundation for saying that Christian beliefs are morally bad
Harris has no basis for making moral judgments

Harris’ remark that theists are psychopathic
– Harris’ remark is as stupid as it is insulting

Harris says that the Old Testament promoted
– first, there was no slavery in the Old Testament it was indentured servitude
– second, that’s not relevant to the debate topic

Harris mentions the Taliban
– but the response to the Taliban is not to say that God doesn’t exist
– the response to the Taliban is to say that they have the wrong God
– the real God never commanded them to do those things

Dr. Harris’ second rebuttal:

I’m a scientist, Craig is stupid, I’ve meditated with wise yogis and lamas, I don’t like the Taliban:

  • When I make a scientific case for morality, I didn’t really mean that it was scientific
  • You just have to assume that misery is morally evil, and happiness is morally good, even if that can’t be proved scientifically
  • I’m a scientist
  • Science is great
  • Dr. Craig is stupid
  • Dr. Craig is not a scientist
  • Science is better than religion
  • You can ground an objective standard of morality and objective moral duties and moral responsibility on arbitrary brain states of accidentally evolved biologically determined monkeys
  • Dr. Craig’s question for me about my unproven assumptions is a stupid question
  • I prayed to the Monkey God in a cave and he told me about objective morality
  • I have spent a lot of time studying meditation with wise yogis and lamas
  • I consider some people to be spiritual Jesus
  • I can imagine that Jesus was very spiritual and charismatic
  • We don’t have to use logic and reason to debate about morality, we can meditate on the Monkey God
  • i don’t like the Taliban

Dr. Craig’s third rebuttal:

Harris didn’t reply to anything I said

Harris admitted that psychopaths can occupy the peaks of the moral landscape
So on Harris’ view, you can commit unspeakable acts of cruelty and still have a brain state with well-being

Dr. Harris’ third rebuttal:

Dr. Craig is a Muslim, Dr. Craig is the Taliban, Dr. Craig is a Muslim Taliban Muslim Jihadi:

  • How many of you in the audience are Muslims
  • Muslims think that non-Muslims are going to Hell
  • Christianity and Islam are identical
  • Dr. Craig is a Muslim!
  • Dr. Craig is the Taliban!
  • Dr. Craig wants to jihad me!

50 thoughts on “Audio, video and summary of the William Lane Craig vs. Sam Harris debate”

  1. LOL. Especially at “read mine first!” lol. :) What I was honestly surprised about was that Harris confused moral universality with moral objectivity. I debated mentioning that but decided not to. I suppose that’s exactly what his opinion is, however: moral universality, which is really just subjectivism on a wide-scale. Or argumentum ad populum to the max. :)


  2. Sam Harris did do a very good job of appealing to emotion. Unfortunately, not only is it not logically valid, his criticisms of Christianity are not representative of any theistic claims that I’m aware of (outside of “Prosperity Gospel” preachers).


  3. Wasn’t it “good science” that gave us the wonders of Eugenics in the last century? Does that give us any confidence that today’s science is going to provide a better answer to solving moral issues?


    1. Yes I agree that science has given us computer viruses, car accidents, identity theft, gunshot wounds etc. Science is only as good as the motives behind the people using it.

      On the other hand I am sure you appreciate that laptop you are typing on, your mobile phone, keys, car, house etc… None of these creature comforts grow on trees or miraculously appear through some incantation over a religious book.


        1. Yes it did. Laptops are the result of artificial selection. Ideas about computation replicate and mutate and slowly, machines get built out of those ideas. They improve both by conscious effort, but also natural selection.

          Darwin’s genius is realizing life is sort of like that, but nature in and of itself is capable of providing selection. Hence natural selection.


      1. Sorry I missed seeing your reply so long ago!

        I’m glad you like my blog. Haven’t been able to post often lately, but I try. ;-)

        And yes, I was pulling for a CPC majority (and brought two first time voters along with me, too). In fact, the election turned out exactly as I expected/hoped it would.

        Now what we need is for the Libs to get their act together so they can replace the NDP as opposition. For now, they’re effectively neutered and can’t do too much damage. Quebec is fickle, so I don’t expect them to do anywhere near as well next election.


  4. wow i am loving scientist now…lol…isn’t harris supposed to be a jainist or something…craig should just stick with philosophers who know what they are talking about…the past few months of hitchens, krauss and now harris have been rather depressing *as if an african like myself don’t have enough on our plate* spare us the insults and non-sense and actually debate… Oh well maybe its my brain state….lol


  5. Another great summary of a debate. You represent Harris well. When he started in on the meditation and the Muslim stuff, I was thinking, “How does this have anything to do with the debate topic?”

    Analyzing religion and appealing to people’s emotions has nothing to do with discussing if good comes from God. Harris actually reminded me of an evangelist trying to persuade people to come to his side by playing with their emotions.

    Chalk up another win for Dr. Craig.


  6. WLC is arguing that the acknowledgement of a God and a set of God’s commandments, regardless of religion, is required or at least the best method for humans to know right from wrong. However Christians freely admit that some Islamic morals are downright evil. The way a Christian knows this is by anchoring himself to his Bible. Then when you ask a Christian what makes him so sure that the Bible trumps the Koran, he will point out the that the Bible is in general more in harmony with human intuitions about what it means to be kind, good, generous etc. Therefore it is only his own religion/God that provides any semblance moral truth for him and not religion/God in general. Therefore the concept of a God in general does not lead to consistent moral grounding.


    1. Jonah, to be helpful, this is a non-sequitur. It doesn’t at all follow that if one uses moral intuitions to know truth, God is not the grounds of consistent moral grounding. Couldn’t the theist just cut out the reference to the Bible and appeal to moral intuitions? All these intuitions show is that there is objective morality. It would be fallacious to infer that a God could not ground ontologically objective moral values on this basis.


      1. Thanks for your reply Randy. Are you saying that objective moral reasoning, through moral intuition, functions perfectly well in rational/sane members (that are also capable of self reflection) of any given society without them needing to entertain a concept of God? (i certainly agree)

        And if you are, are you then pointing out that this has no bearing on the question of the existence of God? (then i take your point)


        1. We are agreed! Woo hoo! :) I like to point out that I, as a theist, do not think God is necessary to know or perceive the good; I just believe God is the necessary ontological (as opposed to epistemological) foundation for objective morality.


          1. Yes! That is the point that atheists invariably miss! Usually it is like woooosh right over their heads and then, “You don’t have to believe in God to know right from wrong.” Which is not what we are arguing.


  7. “WLC is arguing that the acknowledgement of a God and a set of God’s commandments, regardless of religion, is required or at least the best method for humans to know right from wrong.”

    No, what he’s arguing is that objective morality can only be grounded if God exists. It matters not whether one acknowledges the existence of God or not. Atheists can be morally good according to objective standards of morality, but they cannot ground that morality in atheism. That’s the argument in a nutshell, and Harris clearly required a redefinition of morality as the common wellbeing of humans in order to avoid determining what humans ought to do as opposed to what they ought not to do. For Harris, maximizing human wellbeing is what humans ought to do, and Craig is arguing that Harris’ “ought” cannot be derived from the “is” of either his scientism or his atheistic mysticism.


    1. Indeed, I felt the most powerful display was when Craig pointed out Harris’ views committed him to a violation of the law of identity. Since “well-being” was postulated as identical with “good,” and the law of identity says no entity is opposite itself (that is, in no possible world is A also not-A), and there is at least one possible world in which the most well-being on the moral landscape is derived from rapists and murderers, and Harris considers such rape and murder to be objectively morally evil, then of necessity the “good” cannot be identical to “well-being!” Yes, I know that was a run-on sentence.


      1. In theory, I suppose such a world could exist. In practice, this is not that world. Such an objection could be leveled equally against Craig’s presuppositional argument (a god defined as good who is anything but). In theory, such a god could exist (who mandates murder/rape). You would then say “in practice, this is not that god”. Unfortunately, honest biblical analysis does not rule out these mandates with any force.

        If I accept Craig’s argument, that ‘god’ is defined as good, and therefore any mandate by ‘god’ is necessarily good, the question then becomes ‘what is mandated?’ If murder or rape is mandated, then do murder and rape become good? Or perhaps we could rephrase: who speaks for ‘god’? Christians? If christians, which denomination? Muslims? If muslims, which hadith? What about all the dead and forgotten gods? What if one of them is this ‘god’?

        It is quite obvious that Craig’s “foundation” is no foundation at all, as Sam pointed out. It is a starting point with no direction, a vector-less velocity. He claims, by defining god as good, that whatever god says is good. This is to equate the word ‘god’ with the idea ‘good’, then equivocate the word ‘god’ with a more common definition of the same word: a religious notion of a supernatural force. Upon completing this mangled syllogism, this triumphant tautology, Craig just points to religion and says “now I mean THAT word ‘god'”. Of course, he doesn’t say it out loud, he only slyly insinuates it, but this move was not lost on Sam. If you wondered why Sam spent so much time discussing theology in a supposedly sterile debate of moral philosophy, theres your answer: Craig started it.


      2. I agree, it was particularly devastating to Harris’ thesis that you could have psychopaths with positive brain states that represent a peak in the moral landscape. Given Harris’ ontology for morality, if the world were composed of psychopaths then whatever made them happy would necessarily be moral. Harris’ view is logically incoherent. Game over.


        1. First, it’s more than simply ‘whatever made them happy’ that Harris is grounding his morality in. He has clarified this misconception any number of times. Second, I can see how ONE could occupy a peak, but I don’t see how a world full of them could all occupy the highest peaks, considering what it would require for a psychopath to have the highest well-being at the same time as his/her neighbors. I can imagine a world in which humans live without oxygen, that does not make it possible.

          What is interesting, though, is that God’s commands could shape morality in such a way as to ensure the worst possible misery for everyone. There is no logical contradiction to that possibility, unless you use a standard other than the divine commands to measure good/bad.

          It appears the shoe is on the other foot, or rather, as you said, game over if you care at ALL about not living in abject misery. If not, and you’re ambivalent to the outcome, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live in proximity to anyone listening to this being.


          1. Lee, God’s purpose for us is not that we have happy feelings in this life. If it were, then Jesus would not have had to do difficult things like die on a cross after being tortured. Christianity is about self-denial, not fun. It’s hard, and it interferes with the pursuit of pleasure. It also says that there are consequences in the after-life for moral evil. That’s why so many people reject it and believe that the universe popped into being out of nothing, that there are an infinite number of invisible universes that are not fine-tuned, that unobservable aliens seeded the Earth with life and so on. It’s hard to be a Christian.


          2. I appreciate the response, but I fail to see how any of what you said is relevant to my post. Are you saying that the worst possible suffering for everyone is an acceptable outcome from the adherence to god’s moral code?

            (wouldn’t let me reply to you directly, so this was as close as I could get)


    2. So we agree that objective morality automatically arises in ANY hypothetical universe in which there are both:

      1. rational self-reflecting members of a group
      2. these members being capable of experiencing suffering

      With only the above 2 absolutes known about our hypothetical universe nothing else about this universe can be assumed or deduced from this. So far so good.

      From hereon I don’t understand your concept of “grounding”. The above 2 absolutes or constants, so to speak, effectively mathematically ground our objective moral reality and will do so in any universe in which they exist. Now this does not mean there has to be only one morally right answer when dealing with a complex moral issue.

      Do you mean grounding to mean that there has to be only a single moral answer to any moral conundrum, complex or otherwise?

      Do you mean by grounding that you need to entertain a higher authority outside any given universe to be able to lend a divine authority/endorsement? If this is grounding then does it have any tangible bearing on the already established reality of objective moral reasoning? How does not being grounded by a set of divine commandments become a problem for objective moral reasoning?


  8. I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoy reading your blogs. You do a great job of intelligently and humorously pointing out how so many atheist “arguments” are logically fallacious. Props to you, sir. Keep up the good work.


  9. I’ve gone and done some in depth reading and, correct me if I’m wrong, Craig’s theory goes something like this:

    1. Objective moral values (the “is” or “knowing what is right from wrong”) does not require a concept of God. It is based on objective experience of reality. However Craig also points out that this knowledge says nothing about how you ought to behave in light of it. For example, I might realise that the person I just thumped will be feeling hurt, that my action was “not nice”, that I wouldn’t want to be thumped myself, but so what? Life is hard. Survival of the fittest. The animals kill each other for food, territory etc. It’s just nature taking it’s course. It’s natural selection in action.

    2. Objective moral duty (the “ought” or what you ought to do about the knowledge of right or wrong mentioned above in point one) requires the postulation of a super-being that issues commands stating that you ought to follow through on the self-evident objective moral values mentioned in point one above. He suggests this is the only way that the “ought” can be linked up with, and follow through from, the above mentioned “is”.

    Craig is arguing that unless point two operates successfully then any definition of morality based on point one alone is not “grounded” and therefore not a complete, steadfast, or useful system of morality at all.

    Anyone want to correct or modify this understanding before I go on?


  10. In an academic forum like Notre Dame..Harris talked like a Pastor not like a Lecturer…that´s why I think this men are so popular—They used to talk to the heart appealing the feelings first..but I think he was not able to debate Bill Craig.


  11. Haaaa! Its actually pretty accurate to what Harris said. Man, Harris opening statement said it all, “the emails i got saying, brother dont blow this one!” ……well he did. when are people(especially atheists) going to get tired of Harris and the like pulling at their heart strings and realize they arnt saying anything in response to legit arguments presented to them. Example, atheism provides no basis for morality, response, God is the taliban and not as cool as eastern mistics who tickle my spiritual fancy so i can make everything fit my narcissistic facebook worldview and oya the people who wrote the bible didnt have facebook so they clearly couldnt have written anything of value. Also, I cant believe Harris pulled the insanely contradictory move of responding with–“dont try to figure out why murder is bad thats like using a stupid shovel to get to the bottom of a stupid pit.” wow he basically undermined the entire premise of his book–dont even ask why suffering is bad just take his word for it and when you want to ask why all your going to get is an infinite, it just is ok!!! five year olds can figure out that logic doesnt end there, hence our first question as kids, why? Thank the Lord for, “in the beginning, God.” Paul said it best, “the natural (naturalism) man CANNOT understand the things of God because he is spiritually undiscerned.” Enough of these fools. people are perishing and crying out for hope and a saviour, lets all go be the light of the world!


    1. “dont even ask why suffering is bad”

      There you have it, a clear and concise expression of morality in which the worst possible misery for everyone is an acceptable outcome. I’m speechless at the gall of Harris to conclude that this is worth avoiding. Personally, I’m a big fan of living in abject misery, I don’t know about the rest of you, as long as ONE being (god) is happy.

      Unbelievable, just how far you people will go to stick to your pet fantasy, even so far as this.


  12. Why is anyone who thinks morals come from magic still given airtime in the 21st century? The morality discussion has moved way past that stage.


    1. When a person believes that the universe popped into being uncaused, out of nothing, that’s a big magic. A big fairy. From that point, they can believe anything.


  13. LOL! I’m waiting for my blood to be drawn and this has made my time that much more precious! You’re awesome thank you Wintery Knight!


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