Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? Watch Craig v Harris Live

Just a reminder that today’s debate between William Lane Craig and Sam Harris at the University of Notre Dame will be streamed live at 7pm local time (11am for those of us in New Zealand).

You will be able to watch the feed here.

UPDATE: Brian Auten at Apologetics315 has posted the audio from the debate.

UPDATE: The video of debate is up on YouTube. Here’s the first part:

[youtube width=”480″ height=”390″ video_id=”7UigeMSZ-KQ”]

18 replies
  1. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Gerat Debate. Harris lost the plot on the second response, by going onto irrelevancies, and he never found it.

    Its unfortunate hes so calm, collected and cool, because it makes the outrageous things he says sound sensible.

  2. Andrewh-s
    Andrewh-s says:

    I have to agree with you there Stuart.

    I was a little disappointed at the way Harris continued to talk about Old Testament ethics EVEN AFTER Craig had rightly dismissed the topic as irrelevant.

    What was even more interesting was the fact that Harris never made any effort to respond to Craig's "knock down argument" against Harris' claim that "the flourishing of conscious creatures" is identical with "the morally good thing".

    Despite his tendency towards red herrings and ad hominem arguments, Harris is very well spoken.

  3. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey UpAndAtom, maybe you could explain a couple of things in defense of that rather naked assertion, hmm?

    1. What do you think “evidence” is?

    2. Even if there is no evidence for anything supernatural, how does that help Harris establish an atheistic foundation for morality?

  4. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Hehe. Yes I was being cheekily brief, but at the same time serious: What Stuart thinks are irrelevant I probably do not, and what Andrew thinks is a ‘right dismissal’ the same.

    Um……..obviously as an empiricist I don’t accept personal revelation of a god as evidence. Or rather I do, but not just one religions’. I think the Euphyro dilemma is a good argument against a god and divine morality, and this is similar territory to the ‘who made god’ thing. Just like people claim that god is uncreated, no doubt they will claim that morlaity questions stop with god ie. it is somehow invalid to ask whether morality exists independant of or before god.

    2. Well, if atheism is true, and we know we have morals, then morality must be ‘founded upon’ atheism. I can see that this will be unsatisfactory to you – you will probably not see this as a ‘foundation’ at all – which may well be in part why you are a theist. And maybe it is best that you are a theist and I am not! Some people like to have absolutes while others are happy to deal with an amount of fuzzyness in morality, which I would argue is the empirical case.

  5. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    You really do have no idea what you are talking about, do you UpAndAtom?

    I think the Euphyro dilemma is a good argument against a god and divine morality, and this is similar territory to the ‘who made god’ thing.

    The “Who made God” thing is a worthless objection, and the Euphythro objection ceased to be a good objection when it was answered, and answered again, and again, and many more times, especially over the last 30 years.

    I’ll answer it one more time. You say, “ie. it is somehow invalid to ask whether morality exists independant of or before god.” Yes it is! Because thats a false dilemma. You say “no doubt they will claim that morlaity questions stop with god.” Yes! Thats Craig’s first contention in the debate. If God exists, there is a foundation for objective moral values and duties. Why is God the stopping place? (Here is the third option, which breaks the horns of the dilemma) Because God is the locus of goodness, and his commands constitute our moral duties.)

    Well, if atheism is true, and we know we have morals, then morality must be ‘founded upon’ atheism. I can see that this will be unsatisfactory to you – you will probably not see this as a ‘foundation’ at all.

    Craig’s second contention is if atheism is true then we have no foundation for objective moral values and duties. Of course your argument quoted above is unsatisfactory, since it gives no foundation for objective moral values and duties. In other words, what is it about atheism which makes you think there is a foundation for morality? That you can found anything on the ideology, for that matter?

    Some people like to have absolutes while others are happy to deal with an amount of fuzzyness in morality, which I would argue is the empirical case.

    You are ridiculous, and have no idea what you are talking about. (1) The argument is not for absolute morality, but objective morality. (2) “An amount of fuzziness” in morality we could freely admit is present, since it is an admission only of epistemological uncertainty in specific cases of applied ethics, and (3) epistemological uncertainty in specific cases of applied ethics does nothing to negate our moral knowledge that some other things are objectively wrong.

    Go away and come back when you get some sense.

  6. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Stuart’s kinda right UpAndAtom—you’re not making much sense.

    Um……..obviously as an empiricist I don’t accept personal revelation of a god as evidence. Or rather I do, but not just one religions’.

    Okay, but that gets us back to the question of what you think evidence is, and what forms it comes in. Presumably you don’t think that personal experiences are strong evidence for any given religion; so what kind of evidence do you think they constitute? It’s interesting that you do grant them evidential status, though. On the face of it, I would agree with you. It would be special pleading for a Christian to claim that his own experience of God is veridical, but that a Buddhist’s experience of some kind of enlightenment is not. He needs to go further back to make his case.

    I think the Euphyro dilemma is a good argument against a god and divine morality, and this is similar territory to the ‘who made god’ thing. Just like people claim that god is uncreated…

    Well, Stuart has answered you on the Euthyphro Dilemma—and I’ve also tackled it from a different angle here, if you’re interested. But let me say a bit more about the idea of God being uncreated:

    Firstly, no one is necessarily claiming that God is uncreated. You don’t need to be a Christian to take this view. Rather, what is being claimed is that if God exists, then he is uncreated. That is part of what would make him God: his self-existence, or his “I AM”ness in the words of the Bible. So if God exists and he is not uncreated, then he is not God.

    I know you have issues with the idea of an uncreated or uncaused thing. You seem to think there’s no evidence for the existence of necessary entities. Is that just because science hasn’t observed any? But how do you know?

    More importantly, what do you have to say to my point about how science is based on philosophy? If that’s the case, then surely philosophical evidence is at least as strong as empirical evidence, right? So what about the argument from contingency? This appeals to the Principle of Sufficient Reason: that there must be a sufficient reason for any entity to exist in the manner that it does. This reason can either be found in the entity itself, or out­side it. If the reason is outside the entity, the entity is contingent. The universe exists in this way—none of its attributes require it to exist, or to exist as it does. Because the reason for the existence of a contingent entity is outside itself, it must be in some other entity. And because an infinite regress of entities is logically contradictory, the reason for the existence of all contingent entities must lie in a different kind of entity: a necessary one whose reason for existing is in itself: something about it makes it impossible that it could not exist. God is such an entity: one of his attributes is his self­-existence, his I AM-ness. Thus the argument from contingency suggests that the best reason for the existence of the universe is God.

    I’d really like to see you get your hands dirty and tackle these kinds of arguments, rather than just dancing around the issues with your cheeky assertions.

    Well, if atheism is true, and we know we have morals, then morality must be ‘founded upon’ atheism

    Sure, I’ll grant you that. But the issue is whether atheism can ground objective morality. So, “If atheism is true, and morality is grounded in naturalistic processes, then is morality objective?”

  7. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Bnonn,

    Wasn’t it another thread that you mentioned science being based upon philosophy? I responded in that thread, although rather late, sorry (yesterday, I think ). But thanks for that explanation of necessary objects – that makes a lot more sense (in that I understand your reasoning).

    Sure, I’ll grant you that. But the issue is whether atheism can ground objective morality. So, “If atheism is true, and morality is grounded in naturalistic processes, then is morality objective?”

    I can sense that you have had a moment of clarity. You are asking the right question. We are getting to the heart of the matter. Thanks! :)
    Not to your understanding of the word ‘objective’, I think. Me? I believe that we can make objective moral statements just as we can make objective scientific statements. And I believe that both are grounded in naturalistic processes.

  8. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    It seems you’re doing the same thing as Harris is doing. Equivocating on good.

    BTW, You haven’t grounded anything yet – you’ve just asserted it is grounded. Whats required is an explanation that doesn’t make the moral values and duties we perceive merely subjective. I don’t blame you for failing to give that explanation though, since asserting it is all you can do. Theres nothing about mindless nature that makes a good value, or makes a moral duty supervene upon us.

  9. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Hey UpAndAtom, well, again, Stuart is right. You can claim that you can make objective moral statements in the same way you make objective scientific statements. But moral statements are categorically different from scientific ones, so that seems pretty far-fetched. I’d love to see you prove it. Sure, a “This is” scientific statement can have some kind of objectivity because it can be grounded in a matter of fact. But a matter of fact doesn’t tell us anything about how things ought to be, so how are you going to ground a “This ought” statement?

  10. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    I don’t think they are categorically different.

    The statement “the earth is round” has clear ‘ought’ implications from the mundane “you ought to think of the earth as being the shape of an orange” to the technical “there ought to be no natural ‘up’ “.

    The statement “Children ought not view too much television” is an ought statement that implies many is statements. For example “It is bad for children to view too much television” or “Children who watch more television do worse at school”.

    Another thing is clear to me: It is not possible to formulate an ought statement without an is statement (you might be able to rabbit some off that you have inherited from your parents or bible, but this is not formulation). This is analogous to your position that science is based upon philosophy. You have it the wrong way round. Observation(~science) creates meta-science which creates philosophy. Similarly, is statements create ought statements.

  11. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    UpAndAtom,

    The statement “the earth is round” has clear ‘ought’ implications from the mundane “you ought to think of the earth as being the shape of an orange” to the technical “there ought to be no natural ‘up’ “.

    Implications arise from at least two premises. So you must be smuggling in something here. Its like this;
    1) (premise) The earth is round (an “is” statement, no moral duty here)
    2) . . .
    3) (Conclusion) You ought to think of the earth as being the shape of an orange. (apparently an “ought” statement which bears a moral duty.)

    The implication in 3 is far from clear until you fill in 2. What is 2?

    The statement “Children ought not view too much television” is an ought statement that implies many is statements. For example “It is bad for children to view too much television” or “Children who watch more television do worse at school”.

    Your “ought” to “is” example here is not a valid example. If indeed it is the case that children have a moral duty to not watch too much television (I doubt this, use clearly moral examples in the future) then the words “bad” and “worse” are moral terms.

    So your examples are both deficient. In the first case it is incomplete and unclear. In the second case all you have done is state a tautology. No jazz.

  12. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    Observation(~science) creates meta-science which creates philosophy. Similarly, is statements create ought statements.

    I’d love to see someone try to do some observation without presupposing logical categories.

  13. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Stuart,

    I think that people inherently realise that if something IS then they should align their thinking with it. They do not need a 2) to do this. That seems to be what our brains are ‘designed’ to do.

  14. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    UpAndAtom

    Of course they do. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Like this intellectual duty does, there are moral duties that supervene upon us. Now what ontological foundation do they have on atheism? Where does this oughtness come from? It must be hidden in the second premise. Bring it out for us.

  15. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    No, I’m saying that that duty is moral not intellectual (well, both):
    If something IS, people innately know that they OUGHT to align their thinking with it.

  16. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    UpAndAtom:

    Of course people do. But we’re not talking about moral epistemology: how we know moral duties. We’re talking moral ontology: what foundation they have to ground them in reality.

  17. UpAndAtom
    UpAndAtom says:

    Ah, right.

    Ontology is pretty redundant in my worldview; noinalism. But if I were forced to use it I’d say that the Observation that we think that we Ought to align our thinking with what IS, is ontologically real. As an empiricist I am very keen on observation for that tells us what is real. You ask what foundation [OUGHT] has is reality – I can’t think of anything more real than this.

  18. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    UpAndAtom,

    Not sure what “noinalism” is. Never heard of it. Perhaps you mean Nominalism. That would make a sort of sense. Though not really because objective moral values and duties are neither abstract objects nor [necessarily] universals. And not at all really, since Nominalism is a metaphysical theory on the ontology of abstract objects and/or universals. Hence, if you advocate Nominalism, then you do have room for ontology in your worldview.

    As an empiricist (someone who believes all knowledge is derived from sense experience) you can be fully on board with the objective existence of both the intellectual and moral duties that supervene upon us, for these are a part of our experiences, no less real than are our hands and our feet.

    You have attempted to give a foundation for objective moral values and duties, but have only given an observation that we do perceive them, which we all already agree on. The question is, what reason is there to think that these perceptions [observations] of moral values and duties are not merely subjective standards which are by-products of our evolutionary past? What makes these moral values and duties objective [in the sense that they are valid and binding irrespective of race, society, culture, time and place in history]?

    You still have not answered this question.

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