Krauss, Kagan, & Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: General thoughts on the Debates

I don’t know, but it seems to me that Krauss offered a lot of good solid information. Meanwhile, WLC just stuck to his guns and did what he always does, spout off orthodox Evangelical conviction with that ever annoying constant appeal to authority. I mean, I already know what Christians think. I was one for three decades. Move it along.

At the end of the day, however, I feel I learned more from Krauss than Craig. It seems to me most WLC fans are just taking the devotional tract and agreeing whole heartedly with Craig because he is simply reaffirming what they already purport to believe. Besides this, I think much of what Krauss was saying may have gone over many audience member’s heads.

For example, Krauss’ comment that infinity adds up to a finite number seems to have been lost on most people. Certainly Craig seemed to be unaware of the implications, and how it renders his A theory of time argument to establish a first cause moot, as he let it slide. Or maybe Craig showed some restraint knowing better than to argue advanced theoretical physics with a real physicist of Krauss’ caliber (although, admittedly, it wasn’t at all obvious if he did). Obviously Krauss was struggling to dumb it down enough for the lay audience to grasp, given the short time frame and restrictive format, but even so he still offered interesting morsels of knowledge, like the infinity thing. Meanwhile, one has to wonder how many more times Craig is going to tell us that Jesus rose from the dead. Um, yeah. We get that’s what Christians believe. Anything new to offer in the way of convincing evidence for the existence of said God? No? Well that says a lot right there.

There’s only so many times you can flog a dead horse before even the most ardent believers must admit it’s never getting back up. But I guess it shows how powerful the confirmation bias really is. And that’s what it felt like watching the debate, knowing all the Craig fans will agree with him that the horse is alive and kicking, while all the people who paid close attention to Krauss will realize that Craig never offered anything tangible in the way of evidence–just conjecture and more appeals to authority.

If your tally it like a high school debate, the winner receives points for answering each argument with an official rebuttal, then Craig clearly won. But notice how Craig loads his comments so they all have dozens of points, making it nigh impossible for anyone to ever properly score against him. Yes, Craig is good at winning the debates by this measure, but if you’re talking about winning actual arguments, well, Craig fails every time. Craig is a debater, not a dialectic, and so for him it’s about the appearance of winning–not actually having any valid arguments or justifiable truths.

Then there is the Sam Harris debate. The full debate can be viewed here after the jump.

One thing I might point out is that Craig is merely ascribing “moral goodness” to God. He’s not, by any means, empirically verifying it in the real world. While I agree Craig is talking about an ontological grounds for morality, his proving it remains another matter.

It doesn’t matter how he words his comments, or whether or not he dodges the Euthyphro dilemma, because he’s not really talking about anything more than a theological concept within the active constraints of his own theology. A theology which preaches God is good… even when such a claim is certifiably contradicted within his own religion’s Holy Book. Sam brought this up several times but Craig insisted he was merely changing the subject of debate.

The only reason WLC believes God is morally good is because he is a Christian, and that’s one of the peculiar things Christians believe. But the God of his own Holy book is not so moral, all one need do is read the OT to learn this. Sam made a few quips about cutting out Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and got a few chuckles, but Craig didn’t seem to get the joke. So, it seemed to me, Craig’s assumptions about God’s goodness, or God equating goodness, are merely being ascribed and are, in actuality, without basis.

And people actually claim Craig wins his debates. Again, claiming objective morality exists is different than proving your God concept is the embodiment of this fundamental morality. Craig went through some philosophical demonstrations to show how he derives a moral law giver from the revelation of objective morals in reality, and stated that if there was no moral law giver we wouldn’t have morality. This comes back to Divine Command theory, but Wes Morriston has shown how absurd Divine Command theory is when trying to claim God is the basis for an ontological morality. Morriston raises all the same objections I have with Craig’s version of ontological morality and God, so check out his paper when you get the chance.

Sam’s entire point that, contrary to Craig’s position, there is a way to describe a moral landscape where objective morality is, in theory, not only recognizable but also practicable seemed not to have any sway on Craig who sat jotting down notes for his rebuttal. Craig then accused Sam of failing to establish an ontological basis for morality, or rather, said Sam had ducked the responsibility. Maybe Sam didn’t explain his concept clearly enough, or maybe Craig just wanted to score more points against the opposition, but Sam’s entire basis for ontological morality rests on human consciousness. Meaning, if we were unaware of the suffering and flourishing of sentient beings we wouldn’t be aware of right and wrong, or good and evil, either. But Craig seemed to (perhaps deliberately) forget he was talking to a bona fide neuroscientist–and Craig believes objective morality would exist in a universe without humans, since God would still be the arbiter of morality. Whether or not Craig was aware of it, Sam demolished this notion by painting an example of a conceivable universe which was only populated by rocks, which could neither feel pain nor be aware of it. Thus, Sam’s suggestion is that moral awareness can only come from sentient beings with consciousness, like ourselves.

In this respect, I feel Sam Harris definitely won. He not only gave perimeters for a pragmatic objective morality, but his book The Moral Landscape also backs up the claim with a plethora of up to date cognitive research. Craig spent a surprising amount of energy misrepresenting many of the arguments in Sam’s book, but Sam politely reminded the audience to pick up a copy and read the quotes in context.

Craig’s claim about God and morality is based on whether or not you buy into the supernatural claims of Christianity, derived from a tenuous and archaic text which has very little to do with morality, which was one of Sam’s points. Craig says this line of reasoning had nothing to do with the debate, that he wasn’t arguing Scriptural validity but, rather, arguing for a comprehensive good which can be derived from God’s goodness, i.e., an ontological morality. Right and wrong exist, and Craig used the analogy of light and darkness, something we all know what it means even before we know exactly what it is. But his argument that goodness exists objectively, therefore forming an ontological basis for morality, therefore must stem from God is merely an attribution of goodness onto God. If God was not good, as Sam stated numerous times, then logically such a conclusion couldn’t be made. But Craig feels that since he attributes God with a certain goodness, that this accounts for the goodness we find in reality. Or to state it Craig’s way: goodness exists in reality therefore evidence for a moral law giver.

Luckily, nobody questioned Craig on the syllogism, and he was able to say Sam hadn’t yet provided any counter arguments to his claims. Actually, Sam had. Sam had denied the attribution of moral goodness to God. So Craig then attempted to explain how God’s nature is ultimately good just by our awareness of right and wrong. He attempted to do this with his second point about is and ought statements, but this is where the syllogism became obvious for those paying attention and taking notes. One of the questioners caught Craig on this, but Craig brushed his question aside and simply reiterated his second points again. Thus Craig never actually answered how God’s goodness provides reason for why we ought to be good (should a good God exist). That is to say, even if God was good, what imperative is there to act good? Sam views the imperative as the desire to avoid hell, but Craig denied (several times) that this has any sway on the questions of God’s innate goodness. Denying it doesn’t make it so however, because as Sam pointed out, a God who would condemn innocents to suffer eternally couldn’t, in point of fact, be a good or loving God. Therefore, contrary to what Craig may think, one can’t simply attribute God with goodness because he believes in God’s supposed goodness. Yet Craig spent a lot of time stating the two claims were not mutual… that hell has nothing to do with God’s nature. Sam didn’t fall for the red herring and kept on track.

I’m no moral philosopher, but it seems Sam definitely has mapped out a plausible way for morality to be tested, which would supply the ought. And if morality is concerned with human suffering and well-being, then our flourishing would be the ought which brackets our objective moral understanding. Meanwhile, Craig seemed vehemently to try not to understand this point.

After the debate with Harris, Craig posted a series of baffling comments denigrating the audience members and atheists in general. Apparently Craig thinks everyone is stupid. At least Krauss’ Facebook comments after debate attacked the faulty reasoning and Craig’s syllogisms, not the audience members.

Reading Craig’s comments struck me as peculiar in more ways than one, because he claims the audience members asked stupid questions, and then blames it on the secularists in attendance, even as it was more than apparent that it was the Christian audience members who asked the most unintelligent (or unintelligible) questions (remember the one about bleeding crackers, and that guy who had visions from God about the moral sanctioning of sodomy–classic). Craig even appeared to get flustered by the questioner’s comments and berated his fellow Christian, telling him that he was stupid for asking that and then called him a faker–implying he wasn’t even a real Christian (although the kid looked like he was about to cry). Mike over at the A-Unicornist has a breakdown of the mud flung by Craig and his flurry of ad hominems, worth reviewing here.

Mike’s closing comment is golden, and needs repeating. Reflecting about the folly of Craig, Mike writes:

“But remember Isaac Newton: He gave us the laws of motion, the laws of optics, universal gravitation, and differential calculus. He was also an alchemist. You can be very smart in general, and very right about many things, and still hold misguided beliefs about certain things. Craig’s intellectual hubris, in my view, belies the fundamental weakness of his position; if his reasoning were better, he wouldn’t have to resort to self-aggrandizement and the denigration of his intellectual antagonists.”

Personally, I’d like to see WLC sit down with Sam Harris and discuss moral issues one on one, as he recently did with Shelly Kagan. I think Craig is out of his element when he has to rely on his actual brain power and not the audience’s general credulity. Also, I have to hand it to Kagan who handled Craig extremely well. Given a similar situation, I’m sure Harris would have devastated Craig with hard core facts along with Sam’s trademark intellectual prowess.

In conclusion, Craig is good at scoring points and “winning” debates, but he suffers miserably at winning arguments. Ultimately, I guess it depends on what you’re hoping to get out of watching a debate like this. Personally, I just enjoy it to hear the new ideas, which rarely come from the Christian camp. Their ideas are all well established–and there isn’t really anything novel to gain from them. That’s why I think the New Atheists are succeeding… they are offering food for thought.


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