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William Lane Craig’s comments on the Columbia University debate with Shelly Kagan

Thought I would cut and paste these comments from Reasonable Faith regarding the debate I summarized in my last post so that you would be able to see how much Craig appreciated Kagan’s debating skill. I thought this was a great debate!

This is just a big quote from Craig’s March 2009 newsletter:

After a week at home, I was off again to New York to speak at a Veritas Forum at Columbia University. Columbia is on the western edge of Harlem, just north of Central Park. Its campus is a lovely oasis in the midst of big city ugliness. Like the other Ivy League universities, it was originally founded as a Christian institution. On the face of the old library the inscription states that Columbia exists “for the advancement of the public good and the glory of Almighty God.” In the campus chapel above the altar are inscribed Paul’s words, now ironically so appropriate, “Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17. 23)!

On the first evening I debated professor Shelly Kagan of Yale University on the question “Is God Necessary for Morality?” Actually, this was not a debate but a dialogue. After we each gave our opening statements, we had a very substantive discussion. Kagan has Christian colleagues at Yale, like Robert Adams and John Hare, who defend moral values and duties based in God, and I was struck by the respect with which he treated the view. He surprised me by not arguing for his own view of ethics, which is a radical consequentialism. He holds that if torturing a little girl to death would somehow result in greater overall good as a consequence, then that is what we should do! Instead he defended a social contract view of morality, according to which our moral duties are whatever rules perfectly rational people would agree to as a way of governing society. I responded that this makes morality a human convention, rather than objective. Kagan also affirmed in our dialogue that he is a physicalist and determinist. I charged that determinism strips our actions of any moral significance. We also disagreed over the importance of moral accountability. I claimed that the absence of moral accountability on atheism makes morality collide with self-interest and robs our choices of significance, but Kagan maintained that we don’t need a sort of cosmic significance in order for our moral choices to be significant. All in all, we had an affable and substantive exchange which fairly presented the alternatives.

One feature of our dialogue that pleased and surprised me was how clearly the Gospel emerged in the course of our conversation. Talking about moral values and accountability led naturally to the subject of our failure to fulfill our moral duties and how to deal with that. I was able to explain our need of God’s forgiveness, moral cleansing, and rehabilitation. Kagan then asked me how Jesus fits into the picture. That gave me the chance to expound on Christ’s atoning death and the fulfillment of God’s justice in Christ’s bearing the penalty for our sin. I was gratified that the Gospel could be shared so clearly and naturally with the students present.

The next day I sat for an interview with an independent filmmaker who is doing a short film on the theological significance of the beginning of the universe in contemporary cosmology. Later that evening I spoke in a small campus theater on “Who Was Jesus?” Judging by the student questions, this audience was largely Christian. It is very touching to hear so many Christians after the debate and my lecture share expressions of encouragement and thanks for the way the Lord has used our ministry in their lives.

Craig’s other lecture at Columbia

To hear the other lecture by Craig on the topic of “Who did Jesus think he was?”, click here. The video is here. This lecture was also delivered in February, 2009 at Columbia University, probably the most secular leftist university in the United States. Yes, the same university that invited Achmadinejad to speak.

Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Debate summary

This is a summary of a debate on the rational justification for moral values, moral duties and moral accountability on atheism. The question of free will and determinism also comes up. Note that this is not a debate to see who wins. The commie wusses at the Veritas Forum made Craig promise not to press for a victory, as he reports here:

I did respond briefly to Prof. Kagan’s view… but I didn’t press the point because our hosts with the Veritas Forum had made it very clear to me that they were not interested in having a knock-down debate but a friendly dialogue that would foster a warm and inviting atmosphere for non-believing students at Columbia. The goal was simply to get the issues out on the table in a congenial, welcoming environment, which I think we did.

The debate was held in February, 2009 at Columbia University between Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig.

Video and audio are here:

Shelly Kagan – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • The question is not whether people need God in order to act morally, because atheists are able act morally and immorally just as well as theists
  • The questions is whether we need to God in order to be the ground for morality. Do right and wrong really exist if there is not God?
  • He will defend objective morality on atheism

One possible explanation for morality without God is:

  • right is what helps others and doesn’t hurt them
  • wrong is what hurts people and doesn’t help them

And the standard rules of moral behavior emerge from these 2 principles.

What are the objections to this help/hurt theory

1) Are these really wrong, or is this standard just a matter of opinion?

No, these moral standards are not a matter of opinion, they are facts.

2) What makes these rules apply to everyone and prescribe behaviors

Possible answers:
– moral rules are just brute facts
– contractarianism: (social contract) the moral rules should be chosen by reflecting on a hypothetical discussion between ideal reasoners
– something else

3) Morality involves commandments, so who is the commander?

Possible answers:
– moral commandments don’t require a commander
– for example, logical rules like the law of non-contradiction don’t need a lawgiver, and moral rules could be just like that
– or, perhaps the commander is society itself, which fits with the contractarian theory

William Lane Craig – opening speech

Framing the debate:

  • not debating whether belief in God is necessary to act morally
  • the question is whether god is a necessary ground for morality to be meaningful

Is God necessary for morality? It depends on what morality means:
– is morality just an arbitrary pattern of social behavior?
– if so, then God isn’t needed to ground humans to act according to a pattern of social behavior

But if morality is objective, (true whether anyone believes it or not):
– then god is necessary to ground objective morality
– because objective moral standards exists independently of human standards of personal preference or cultural fashion

Non-objective morality is illusion/convention
– pattern has no objective moral significance, it’s just an arbitrary fashion that varies by time and place

God is necessary for morality in 3 ways
1) God grounds objective moral values, i.e. – what counts as good and what counts as evil
2) God grounds objective moral duties, i.e. – what we ought to do and ought not to do
3) God grounds moral accountability, i.e. – our ultimate fate depends on how we act morally

1) Moral values
– whether some action is good or evil, independent of whether anyone thinks it is or not
– individual and social opinions do not decide these standards of good and evil
– god is necessary to ground moral standards that exist independent of human opinions
– the moral values are set by god’s unchanging nature

Human value:
– why think that humans have value, such that they should be treated a particular way
– on atheism, humans are just animals
– evolution means that moral values are the product of the struggle for survival
– the “herd” moral standard is arbitrary, it is not really a true standard
– on atheism, moral values do not exist independently, they are merely descriptions of behaviors that are the product of biological and cultural evolution
– in other animal species, many things that we think of as wrong are practiced, like stealing and rape
– so why think that our practices are objectively true, instead of just customs and fashions of our species?

Free will:
– moral choices require a non-physical mind distinct from the physical brain in order to make free moral choices
– on (biological) determinism, no choices are morally significant – just actions of puppets on strings
– no moral responsibility for a puppet’s determined actions

2) Moral duties
– whether some action is right or wrong
– whether humans are morally obligated to perform certain actions, independent of whether we think that we do or not
– the commands flow from god’s unchanging moral nature
– they become duties for us, his creatures

on atheism
– on atheism, humans are animals, and animals don’t have real moral obligations
– where would moral duties come from on atheism, to whom is the duty owed?
– on atheism, it is just a subjective impression ingrained into us by social and biological pressures
– on atheism, there is no standard of what we ought to do
– on atheism, breaking the social contract is the same as belching loudly at the dinner table, it’s just being unfashionable – not doing what the rest of the heard has decided is customary

3) moral accountability
– on theism, the moral choices we make affect where we end up in the afterlife
– god balances the scales of justice in the end

on atheism:
– it is irrelevant how you act, you end up in the same place (dead) regardless of how you live

why be moral on atheism?
– why shouldn’t a person pursue self interest instead of following the moral conventions of the social contract
– it’s not always the case that doing the right thing is also doing the thing that gives you selfish pleasure
– a very powerful person would not need to be moral, since they can escape the social sanctions that result from their breaking the social contract
– why would a very powerful do the right thing when it is against their self-interest, on atheism, since the social contract is just arbitrary fashion?

acts of self-sacrifice are irrational on atheism
– the result is that no one will be moral when it is hard to do the right thing
– because in the long run, it doesn’t matter what you do, on atheism
– compassion and self-sacrifice are not pleasurable, and are therefore pointless on atheism

Conclusion:

questions atheists must answer:
what is the basis of objective moral values?
what is the basis of human value on atheism?
why ought we to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing?
what is the basis for moral accountability

Continue reading Debate summary: Is God necessary for morality? William Lane Craig vs Shelly Kagan

Michelle Malkin takes on Nancy Pelosi’s dismissal of tea party protests

The Weekly Standard, citing Roll Call, reports on Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s explanation for the 800+ Tax Day protests.

Excerpt from the Roll Call article: (H/T Gateway Pundit)

But in an interview on Fox TV in San Francisco, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chalked up the GOP grass-roots effort as “AstroTurf.”

“This initiative is funded by the high end; we call it AstroTurf, it’s not really a grass-roots movement. It’s AstroTurf by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class,” Pelosi said.

Other House Democratic leaders took a different tack: One senior aide has been circulating a document to the media that debunks the effort as one driven by corporate lobbyists and attended by neo-Nazis…

In addition, the tea parties are “not really all about average citizens,” the document continues, saying neo-Nazis, militias, secessionists and racists are attending them. The tea parties are also not peaceful, since reporters in Cincinnati had to seek “police protection” during one of the events, it states.

The Weekly Standard responds to Pelosi:

The suggestions that these tea parties are driven by DC-based groups is laughable; Liz Mair takes a critical look and concludes the charge is baseless. Besides the points that Mair makes, it’s worth noting that while there have been dozens of tea parties, few have featured conservative candidates or representatives of DC think tanks and lobbying groups.

As far as the charge that these rallies are composed of Nazis and terrorists, that’s hard to reconcile with the pictures of participants. There are too many young children and grandparents. Further, even a strong Obama supporter like Susan Roesgen didn’t turn up any violent types at the Chicago Tea Party, despite her best attempt to provoke a strong reaction.

And then they ask about the groups and sponsors of left-wing rallies:

If this is a conversation they want to have, however, perhaps Ms. Pelosi can explain the role of Marxists and North Korean sympathizers in the U.S. anti-war movement, or discuss how George Soros bought such influence in the Democratic party. It’s not a debate that would help Democrats, since it’s relatively easy to show the role of fringe extremists in the Democratic grassroots.

That’s all well and good, but commentary is better when Michelle Malkin is the commenter:

And Michelle has a lot more photos and videos from the various protests, too.

Upcoming panel debate featuring Tony Costa and Michael Coren

For my Canadian readers, if you are in Toronto, you might want to consider attending this upcoming debate on morality in an atheistic worldview. Is it possible? Is it rational? The official topic is “Evolution of ethics: Science vs Faith”. It is being organized by non-Christians, which explains the title, and the apparent 3-2 advantage the non-theists will enjoy.

Excerpt from the Humanist Canada web site:

Are ethics divinely-inspired or man-made? Are there absolute morals? Although scientists and philosophers have debated the nature of ethics for hundreds of years, developments in genetic research have unleashed a firestorm of issues concerning human control of creation and its impact on our future. Given that society ideals change over time, how can we determine what is morally right or wrong?

Join Humanist Canada for a lively and thought-provoking debate on the nature of ethics. Five prominent speakers, from both the Christian and Humanist communities, will discuss and debate some of the hottest topics today including abortion, gender, homosexuality, and biotechnology. Our panel of speakers includes: Christopher diCarlo (celebrated professor of Philosophy of Science and Bioethics; founder of “We Are All African” Campaign); Michael Coren (outspoken Christian writer; radio and TV host); George Dvorsky (popular transhumanist; animal rights activist); Tony Costa (recognized public speaker for Campus for Christ); and Jean Saindon (award-winning professor of Natural Science and Technology).

Time and place: Saturday April 18 @ 6:30 pm, Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto

Tickets: $15 Humanist Canada members; $25 general admission; $10 students (with school ID). Appetizers, desserts and drinks included. Purchase tickets by April 15 for best seats. Click HERE for the printable registration form or click on ticket choices below.

DiCarlo debated Bill Craig before and really, really disappointed me.

If you know of an upcoming debate or discussion event related to the topics on this blog, be sure and send me an e-mail. If you know of any additional materials related to this topic, please leave a comment.

Other debates on atheism and morality

Here are some prior debates on the rationality of morality on atheism.

  1. From Christianity Today, a written debate: Douglas Wilson vs. Christopher Hitchens
  2. From the University of Western Ontario, a transcript of a public debate: William Lane Craig vs. Kai Nielsen
  3. From Schenectady College, a transcript of a public debate:William Lane Craig vs Richard Taylor
  4. From Franklin & Marshall College, William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz (audio, video1, video2, video3, video4, video5, video6, video7)
  5. From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, William Lane Craig vs. Louise Antony (audio1, audio2, video1, video2)

Further study

A good paper by Bill Craig on the problem of rationally-grounding prescriptive morality here. My previous posts on this blog on this topic are here and here. The first one is about whether atheists can use a made-up standard to judge God for his perceived moral failures, the second one is on whether meaningful morality is rational on atheism.

How government regulations can cost us our jobs

Good post on the effects of government regulation, over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Open Market blog.

Excerpt:

A story in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis St. Paul shows how adverse effects of such needlessly onerous standard can spill over into other areas. In this case, a meat plant had to shut its doors, putting 200 people out of work because their water exceeded EPA’s standard by 8 parts per billion. EPA can’t show that the Clinton era its standard won’t save a soul, but we do know that economic hard times hurt many.

Here’s an excerpt from the Strib piece:

More than 200 workers in a small town 90 minutes west of Minneapolis have lost their jobs after a beef slaughtering plant was forced to shut down because its water contained excessive levels of arsenic, a condition the plant owner said he couldn’t afford to fix in time to avoid federal penalties.

“I’m done,” said William Gilger, owner of North Star Beef Inc. in Buffalo Lake, Minn.

The Heritage Foundation has a good post on how the EPA intends to expand their control of the economy in order to save us from global cooling warming.

In essence, the endangerment finding says that global warming and climate change pose a serious threat to public health and safety and thus almost anything that emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The endangerment finding is the first step in a long regulatory process that could lead to EPA requiring different regulations and units of emissions requirements for each gadget that emits carbon dioxide. The first target would be automobiles, but the EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) suggested regulations of almost everything that moves, including new regulations smaller items such lawnmowers and forklifts. The ANPR also suggests putting speed limiters on large trucks on the table as a means of reducing carbon dioxide and even suggested sharkskin boats oozing bubbles to reduce emissions from the shipping industry.

…Beyond things that move, the agency could go after things that stand still. More than a million energy using businesses, buildings, and farms could also be hit with crushing administrative burdens and costly controls. And even if EPA decides not to go that far, they will almost certainly be sued into doing so.

And they have a forecast of the potential costs of this regulation:

However, the economic damage would be similar to any carbon capping bill passed by Congress and perhaps even worse. Dr. David Kreutzer and Dr. Karen Campbell of The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis found the economic costs of EPA regulations to be:

• Cumulative gross domestic product (GDP) losses are nearly $7 trillion by 2029 (in inflation adjusted 2008 dollars)
• Single-year GDP losses exceed $600 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).
• Annual job losses exceed 800,000 for several years.
• Some industries will see job losses that exceed 50 percent.

If you tax or regulate something, you get less of it. If you cut taxes and remove regulations, you get more of it. The best protection a worker has is not onerous taxes and regulations on their employer. The best protection a worker has is a choice among a huge number of employers. If you want a choice of employers, try creating conditions that employers actually want.

Republicans care about creating conditions that allow businesses to create jobs. We want this because we believe that people should not dependent on the government for their livelihood. Your ability to choose your employer is part of your liberty. Democrats care about inventing a faked crisis using junk science in order to justify government-coerced redistribution of wealth.