How William Lane Craig thrashed Sam Harris like a naughty puppy

Since I was fortunate enough to have some time free yesterday, I was able to watch, live, the Craig-Harris debate on whether God is the foundation of moral goodness. I live blogged this on Twitter, along with with several other apologists—including @MaxeoA and @bossmanham—and a couple of skeptics—including our own village atheist @OpenParachute. (Click here for the full archive; the hashtag is #GodDebateII.)

A quick overview of Craig’s arguments

Since this was a more specialized debate topic than versus Krauss—which was simply “is there evidence for God’s existence?”—Craig had prepared an entirely new defense, based on the moral ontological argument that makes up the third point of his tried-and-true pentad.

Summary if you don’t want to read my verbiage:

  1. Under theism, God accounts for moral values because he is a perfect being and goodness is part of his nature
  2. Under theism, God’s commands account for moral duties
  3. Under atheism, morality is just an evolved convention, in which case it is not actually morality
  4. If morality is evolved convention, it doesn’t refer to anything objective
  5. We can imagine moral conventions evolving differently; therefore they aren’t objective
  6. Harris is trying to redefine goodness as wellbeing, just by his own fiat
  7. Harris’s describing how to be moral doesn’t explain what grounds morality
  8. Harris faces an insuperable problem in the naturalistic fallacy: you cannot derive what ought to be from mere facts about the universe
  9. Harris’s naturalistic view doesn’t allow for free will, which completely undermines his moral theories anyway

Here are Craig’s two basic contentions, with some extra explanation and discussion if you’re interested:

  1. If God exists we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties;
  2. If God does not exist we do not have a sound foundation for these.

In support of (1), Craig brought in Perfect Being Theology. (I’m paraphrasing from Wintery Knight’s and Randy Everist’s excellent reviews; if you find Randy’s white-on-black text too hard to read, try this Readability link.) If God is the perfect being, then it follows he is also morally perfect, and so his nature is the locus or grounds of that which is good. This accounts for moral values, and by extension for moral duties, which are derived in the form of commands from God, grounded in these values. This is known as Divine Command Theory—an important theory in Christian ethics because it is unassailable by the classic objection to theistic ethics, the Euthyphro Dilemma, which Krauss tried to sic on Craig in their debate a few days ago, and which Harris also ineptly aimed at Craig in this debate, demonstrating that New Atheists simply aren’t familiar with the basic positions of their opponents, and the ramifications this has for their own arguments. This is particularly inexcusable in the case of Harris, who has a degree in philosophy from Stanford (you know, the institution in charge of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy? Not exactly a second-rate school).

In defense of contention (2), Craig brought a several powerful arguments to bear:

  • He questioned the worth of humans, both collectively and individually, from a non-theistic perspective, pointing out that if all we are is evolved animals, then morality is just a behavioral byproduct of evolution, and thus in no sense obligatory. But “obligatoryness” or “oughtness” is exactly what morality is, so without it you have no actual account of morality at all.
  • Moreover, if morality is just a set of evolved social customs, it doesn’t refer to anything that has objective existence, as we typically suppose moral values and duties must. Quoting atheist philosopher Michael Ruse, and the infamous Richard Dawkins (another New Atheist along with Harris), he said, “morality is just an aid to survival, and any deeper meaning is illusory” and “there is no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference.”
  • Drawing on possible worlds semantics, Craig also pointed out that if we were to rewind evolution and do it again, we can imagine moral customs evolving differently given Harris’s view—which bodes very badly for their supposed objectivity.
  • Craig also aptly pointed out that saying Harris simply tries to redefine “goodness” to mean “well-being”—but that won’t fly because why should we accept that definition? Harris ultimately is not talking about morality at all, but merely about human flourishing.
  • In the same vein, that we ought to do something in order to achieve human well-being, doesn’t answer how well-being grounds morality—which was the topic of the debate! It’s like saying “If you want to be good at growing corn, do such-and-such.” It gives us an ostensible description of how to go about being moral, but that is irrelevant to the question of what moral values and duties are.
  • He also mentioned the “is-ought” fallacy, which Harris seems to have real trouble with: that you can’t derive a prescription from a description; just because something is some way doesn’t imply that it ought to be (even if we know it ought to be via some other method!)
  • And to round off his defense, he brought in the free will argument for moral agency, pointing out that under Harris’s view of the world we cannot do other than what physical laws have determined, and thus have no moral responsibility in any case, making the whole question meaningless for him to begin with.

I list the arguments like this to show that Craig brought a great many cogent objections to bear against Harris’s view—this is important for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Ultimately, Craig argued, those who act immorally under Harris’ view are doing nothing more than acting unfashionably: “The moral equivalent of Lady Gaga.”

What Harris said

Harris is a great speaker. A much better speaker, I think, than Craig, who while practiced does not have the natural cadence and charisma of Harris. In fact, the most annoying thing about Harris is how he can say the most outrageously illogical or irrelevant things, and make them sound utterly reasonable and topical with his soft-spoken earnestness. And thus it was with his opening statement.

Summary for skimmers:

  1. Objective morality is important
  2. You don’t need religion to have objective morality
  3. Science can actually tell us what we ought to value because we never really separate facts and values
  4. Moral values depend on nature because they depend on nature-dependent minds, and so can be understood with science
  5. Morality is intrinsically about wellbeing because we can imagine a possible world in which everyone suffers horribly, and we see that we have an obligation to relieve that suffering
  6. Morality can’t be dictated by divine commands because God is evil
  7. We can say scientifically that the Taliban is bad

Harris started with some quite gracious comments regarding the importance of objective morality: about how religious people fear that without the conviction that moral truths exist, that words like right and wrong, good and evil actually mean something, humanity will lose his way. He shares this fear and has come to believe that this concern over the erosion of secular morality is not empty.

He then went on to claim that belief in God is not only unnecessary for universal morality, but is a source of blindness about universal morality. He criticized the view that science can never tell us what we ought to value, and so cannot, in principle, be applied to the most important questions in life (moral questions).

By this stage he had used up half of his time without actually defending his moot at all.

To defend his contention that morality is intrinsically about conscious well-being—still not the topic—he went on to ask the audience to imagine two worlds: Firstly, a world comprised entirely of rocks. In such a world there is no good and evil, and value judgments don’t apply—changes in the universe matter only if “some conscious system” is there to care about them: thus consciousness is intrinsic to morality. Secondly, he entertained a world where everyone suffers as much as they can for as long as they can. Do we, he asked, have an obligation to help relieve that suffering if we can? If we do—as seems obvious—then conscious well-being is at the heart of what is morally good. From this he tried to develop the following argument for his position:

  1. Moral values and obligations depend upon minds
  2. Minds depend upon the laws of nature
  3. Therefore, moral values depend upon nature and can be understood through science

This argument is hopelessly confused, as Craig would go on to indirectly point out. Harris went on to talk about conceivable moral “landscapes” where there are peaks of wellbeing and valleys of suffering: peaks are morally good; valleys are morally bad.

At this stage he changed tacks and started talking about the Taliban, and how the society they were trying to build is not good; that it is not unscientific to say that the Taliban are wrong about their moral ideas. He also talked about how we can’t ground morality in God because God is (supposedly) immoral.

The rest of his opening statement tried to show that he should be allowed to use the naturalistic fallacy: ie, that he should be allowed to derive an “ought” from an “is”; a value from a mere fact. He used some very odd examples to show that, in practice, we don’t artificially separate questions of fact from questions of value. One involved a rather ridiculous example involving a “biblical chemist” whose reading of Genesis 1, where God creates water before light, precludes him from believing that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen because there were no stars to fuse hydrogen into heavier elements like oxygen when water already existed. Ignoring the uncharitably malicious strawman itself, the point was to show “scientific values” like the importance, the goodness, of understanding the universe. This was supposed to defuse the naturalistic fallacy. But he gave no actual argument: he only showed that we consider our beliefs about values and our beliefs about facts together. Not that one can be derived from the other.

Again, I say all this to give a reasonably comprehensive sense of Harris’s opening statement, and how well it interacts with Craig’s position, and the topic of the debate. Suffice to say that Harris gave only one real argument—and that one a very poor, very dubious one—for the actual topic. If you compare his statement to the various arguments Craig raises in his own opening statement, it is quite clear that Harris doesn’t even touch on the vast majority of the issues at hand—and as Craig will suggest in a moment, it seems he actually doesn’t understand the topic of the debate. Most of what he talks about—even if we were to find it compelling—is simply irrelevant.

Craig crushes Harris


  1. Harris is confusing how we know moral values and duties with what grounds moral values and duties
  2. Harris’s critique of God’s character is irrelevant and off topic
  3. The question isn’t whether human flourishing is good, but what makes human flourishing good
  4. Human flourishing cannot be identical with moral goodness because we can imagine a possible world, under Harris’s own assumptions, where evil people primarily flourish (this is a devastating argument that blows Harris’s entire ethical framework out of the water and leaves him with nothing in the debate)
  5. Moral obligations come from an appropriate authority, and under atheism there is no objective authority; thus no foundation for objective morality

Craig started by drawing the audience’s attention to how Harris was confusing moral ontology with moral semantics: confusing the basis or the foundation for moral values with the meaning of moral terms. Craig’s argument, and the topic of the debate, was about what grounds moral values and duties—not what words like “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “evil” mean. Christians readily concede that we can know what good and evil are even if we don’t believe they are grounded ontologically in God.

He then rightly dismissed Harris’s criticism of YHWH’s character as irrelevant. For one thing, there are plenty of divine command theorists who are not Jews or Christians. For another, there’s good reason to think that YHWH (the God of the Bible) is not a moral monster—in that regard he recommended Paul Copan’s new book, Is God a Moral Monster?. “We have not heard any objection to a theistic grounding for ethics,” Craig said. “If God does exist, it’s clear, I think—obvious even—that we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.”

He then started to drag Harris over broken glass by showing that the issue of human flourishing, or conscious wellbeing, is not the question of the debate. We agree that, all things being equal, the flourishing of conscious creatures is good. The question is: if atheism were true, what would make the flourishing of conscious creatures good? Craig observed that Harris is using words like “good” and “better” in non-moral ways: for example, that there is a good way to get yourself killed doesn’t imply that it’s a moral thing to do. Harris’s contrast of the “good” life and the “bad” life is not an ethical contrast: it is a contrast between a pleasurable life and a miserable life. Since Harris had given no reason to identify pleasure and misery with good and evil, there was no reason for thinking that the flourishing of conscious creatures is objectively good.

Here Craig brought down the hammer and completely crushed Harris for the rest of the debate, by not only showing that Harris wasn’t engaging with the topic (he was equivocating between moral epistemology and ontology) but that his entire ethical system was necessarily false, by his own admission. Harris was saying that the property of “being good” is identical with the property of creaturely flourishing…but on the penultimate page of his book, he tellingly admitted that if rapists, liars, and thieves could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape: it would just be a continuum of wellbeing, whose peaks were occupied by good and bad people alike. But as Craig pointed out, this implies that there’s a possible world where the peaks of wellbeing are occupied by evil people (say psychopaths). If moral goodness is identical to human wellbeing it is logically contradictory for there to be a possible world in which the peaks of wellbeing are occupied by evil people. Thus, moral goodness cannot be identical with human wellbeing or flourishing.

Harris was down for the count, and never even tried to address this argument in his followups.

Craig followed up this crushing argument with a further one, noting that moral obligations only arise when there is an appropriate authority to issue binding commands—and under atheism, no objective authority exists, and so objective moral values cannot exist.

Harris goes fishing

At this point Harris completely abdicated his obligation to defend the atheistic foundation of morality, and launched into a diatribe about how he didn’t like Christian doctrine, or Christians, or (again) the Taliban. Here’s a non-exhaustive summary of his “arguments”, with particular gems highlighted:

  1. There is no evidence that hell exists
  2. think of the parents of the children of people who die in tsunamis
  3. if God allows people to suffer then he doesn’t exist
  4. some people pray to the Monkey God—why don’t they go to heaven?
  5. God can’t exist because some people are born in the wrong culture and never hear about Jesus through no fault of their own
  6. the Bible says people go to hell to be tortured for eternity—perhaps you’ll remember in Lord of the Rings when the elves die they go to Valinor, but can be reborn in Middle Earth
  7. God is cruel and unjust because he lets innocent people suffer
  8. evil people who repent just before being executed go to heaven
  9. God would embarrass the most vicious psychopath
  10. people who believe in God are morally reprehensible narcissists
  11. God imposes misery on helpless children, so faith is obscene
  12. to think in this way is to fail to reason honestly or care sufficiently about the suffering of other human beings
  13. if God is good and loving and wanted us to behave morally, why give us a book that supports slavery and admonishes us to kill people for imaginary crimes like witchcraft?
  14. Craig’s divine command theory tries to avoid these questions by saying that God doesn’t have to be good
  15. think about the Muslims who are blowing themselves up convinced that they are agents of God’s will—what could Craig say to them aside from his own faith-based claims?
  16. this is a psychotic, completely delusional and psychopathic moral attitude
  17. …true horror of religion…
  18. if you think saying Latin words over your pancakes will turn it into the body of Elvis Presley you’re insane, but if you think the same about a cracker and Jesus you’re a Catholic
  19. salvation depends on believing in God on the basis of bad evidence
  20. Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice
  21. the people who wrote the Bible were ignorant and barbaric
  22. if there’s a less moral framework than the one Doctor Craig is proposing, I haven’t heard of it.

That’s quite a number of red herrings—count them! And some, at face value, have force. But notice, not a single one of them is germane to the topic. Harris utterly ignored Craig’s arguments, and utterly failed to defend his own position. It’s as if, seeing that he was having his ass handed to him, he just dipped into the Village Atheist’s Bucket of Stock Objections to Christianity, and flung as many of them at Craig as he could, in the hope that some would stick.

Craig: tsk tsk tsk

“A less moral framework is atheism,” started Craig with an exasperated laugh, and then went on to point out that Harris had said nothing to defend an atheistic foundation for morality, nor to refute Craig’s own arguments. To demonstrate how poorly Harris understood Christianity, and how irrelevant his “arguments” were, Craig quipped, in regards to Harris’s claim that the goal on theism is to avoid hell, “Belief in God isn’t some kind of fire insurance.” He then went on to list a number of other ways in which the red herrings that Harris had laid across the path were irrelevant—which was fair enough since there wasn’t much else to say.

Harris responds with another diatribe

Getting further and further off topic, as if he knew he had nothing to contribute and just wanted to get his talking points off for the benefit of the village atheists in the audience, Harris went over various topics, saying, in Wintery Knight’s summary:

When I make a scientific case for morality, I don’t really mean that it is 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.

And so on

It doesn’t seem worth summarizing the final rebuttals separately; Craig noted that Harris had conceded his point about psychopaths occupying “peaks” on the moral continuum, and had thus thrown in the towel as far as his contention that goodness is identical to wellbeing—and for the debate as a whole. Harris continued to make off-topic remarks and generally display his inability to charitably represent and seriously grapple with the issues at hand, all in his earnest, sing-song way, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world.

The Q&A period was weak, compared to the Krauss debate. There was no opportunity for rebuttals, which made the whole process quite pointless, turning it effectively into a soapbox for Harris, who got most of the questions. Craig, on the upside, did display his sharpness by having no part in a specious question from an audience member claiming direct revelation from God.

In the end, my sense was that Craig was quietly exasperated at Harris for failing to deliver; and Harris was exasperated at Craig for being a Christian.

68 replies
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  1. Andy
    Andy says:

    Man, I lost all respect for William Lane Craig after this debate. Sam Harris is right. “God”, especially Craig’s God that he didn’t want to defend, isn’t where we get morality. When we speak about morality, it’s already predefined. In fact, it is pretty much how Harris says: it has something to do with optimizing the well-being of conscious creatures. Anything that isn’t doing that can not be called “moral”, and anyone that suggest otherwise doesn’t know what their talking about.

    It makes perfect sense, and I am no longer a Christian after listening to this debate. Sam Harris, for the win!


  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:


    I don’t know you or your situation but I suspect that if your Christian faith rested on the William Lane Craig’s moral argument, or his reliability, then you were never really a Christian to begin with. Let’s say you are right, and Craig was completely off the wall on this one – why would this lead you to abandon Christianity? I think there must be some other factor that tipped the scales for you, for with those things alone your decision to abandon the Christian faith just makes no sense.

    But are you right on this one? Was William Lane Craig off the wall in this debate? In response to your comments above,

    1) Well, the debate wasn’t on God’s existence, so if Craig didn’t defend the existence of God and chose instead to remain on topic, you can’t indict him for doing so. And actually, he is willing to defend to the exitsence of God, in numerous debates, books and published articles.

    2) In the debate, Craid did not disagree with Harris’ point that morality does something like optimizing the well-being of conscious creatures. In fact, he spelled out very clearly that he shared many of Harris’ moral values. You see, the question of the debate was not on what morality does. Neither was the question on what moral are (i.e. their nature) – both agreed that morality was objective. Rather, the debate was on whether a non-supernatural foundation for the objective morality they both affirm is reasonable (or is as reasonable as a supernatural foundation).

    Harris purports to argue for this in his book. Craig disagrees. This was the topic of the debate. Nothing else.

    The debate has been rigourously critiqued, and when you understand what the debate was actually on, then you should understand that Harris was completely trampled. He completely failed to answer any of Craig’s objections, and his counter-arguments were for the most part totally irrelevant.

    I think you should re-consider very carefully your conclusions on this debate, and do some serious soul-searching when it comes to Christianity and why you believe it, especially with respect to the person of Christ and why you onced trusted in him for salvation, and why you no longer do.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Greetings. Let me congratulate you on your hard work in the examination of this debate. I too felt that the weight of the debate tipped for William Lane Craig. But, I am writing with a bit of a different perspective.

    I study religion and neuroscience and find it fascinating how people can look at the very same event and come to two (or more) different conclusions. This debate is a fine example. Allow me to suggest that what Sam Harris is offering is no different in its form than any religion. From a neuroscience perspective, the material world (material in which we human are also composed of) requires an interpretation. This is true for car crashes, fights resulting in someone murdered, or the very words that you are reading now – there are parts of your brain wondering how much “stock” I should “put into” this guy who is writing this post – all of these mentioned are events that your brain tries to interpret in a way that make sense of the world in which it navigates. So, when people watch this debate they too must perceive and interpret its’ meaning and message.

    So for people who are “committed” to atheism or scientism, for example, they will find it “easier” to accept a win for Sam Harris. Their brain has created the world in this way – where the beliefs of Sam Harris can “fit” more comfortably. On the other hand, those who are theists can comfortably receive Craig’s position because of the way their brains have put the world together. So, in a sense, if you remember the picture of the “Wife and the Mother-in-Law”, where some people see the young woman easier than the Mother-in-Law (or vice-versa), this debate and others works in a similar way.

    So, if I may conclude, that for one person to say that the other side is not being objective then this is true for the person making that argument as well. Only in unique circumstances, where people feel “safe” enough to challenge the way their brain makes sense of the world in which they live, can people begin to venture into new beliefs and “experience” new thought patterns that permit them to change belief systems. So, this makes sense – at least to me ? – why someone could walk away from this debate with a different conclusion.

    If you have read this “thanks for your time” and may the God of your Tradition bring you blessings.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hi Michael,

    True. Different interpretations are to be expected given the people have different findamental beliefs, preconceptions and brains conditioned for different patterns of thinking. But don’t make the mistake of confusing the variety of conclusions about the debate with actual relativism, where no conclusion is better than any other. Debates have objective winners and loosers, just as words have defintions that are objectively right and wrong. What matters is people have epistemic humilty where humilty is due, and use reason and arguments to support their views on who was the winner.

  5. Michael
    Michael says:

    Thank you Stuart for your response. I won’t “trouble” you too much more I promise :-)

    Relativism, it seems to me, is what we are limited to “in one sense”. Because there are times that our brains/minds cannot accept “a truth”. I am sure you have met some of those in your blogging and in other parts of your life. But, they (and we) can only accept a truth — even if there is proof positive — when we are ready. And the constant processing (or thinking) of these “new ideas” — when they are presented to us — help us to accept them.

    **But that “truth” that our brains / minds cannot accept is — I believe — exists.** This, of course, is a personal belief but I’m not sure I would refer to that as “objective”.

    But I do think that objectivity, as you believe it to be, is not as easy as you may think. Our brains have to re-create reality for us to respond to. The world outside the brain appears to be very different than what we imagine it to be. You see, I believe that our brains are only concerned with that information that it needs to survive. The other information it may record in a sub-consciouse way or even ignore it completely. Therefore, I like what you say about epistemic humility — which we see so little of today — especially in the West.

    But, I am approaching this from a neuroscience perspective so my apologies if this all sounds a little strange to you.

    But, I do wish to say: keep up the great work Stuart. I admire your determination to defend your Faith.

    I now “bow to you” for the last word …

  6. Ole Mattis
    Ole Mattis says:

    I still don’t see how Craig thrashed Harris like “a naughty puppy”, but that being said; I wasn’t particularly impressed with Harris performance. But then again, that’s probably because I wasn’t too impressed with Craig’s arguments either, and expected Harris to easily refute them.
    Craig’s arguments on objective morality aren’t difficult to beat. One need only look at how different ethnic groups, or even different species in some cases, develop different ethical codes of conduct to see how morality is based in societal order, not in the supernatural.
    Even within certain societies of chimpanzees it’s obviously considered unethical to steal food, as breaking that code may result in total exclusion from the group. In other words, it’s been found that altruistic behavior isn’t necessarily reserved for human beings.
    The higher up you get the evolutionary ladder, the more complex the species’ way of maintaing order becomes, and that’s the point; order and morality are intertwinedly related. Thusly, religion becomes an excellent candidate for maintaining order, as the origin of such moral laws are attributed to a higher authority, which again is a reflection of the primate tendency towards hierarchical order.
    Most religions seem to agree that a life of wrongdoing leads to punishment in the afterlife, and vice versa, which at least to me indicates a common necessity to justify a society’s moral laws. However, this is most likely due to the realization that a society without order is no society at all.

    Human beings are social creatures, we’re more or less dependent on company, and thusly moral values and guidelines seems ever so important. It’s based in social interaction and the common good. So objective morality to me is basically a matter of consensus; it’s the specific society that defines what is commonly good.

    Maybe I haven’t scoped the depth of Craig’s argument according to his followers, and by all means; point out where I’m wrong. But still, I can’t for the life of me figure out why one has to invoke the supernatural to explain morality.
    It’s one of Craig’s weakest arguments, and Harris didn’t do much to refute it.

  7. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    Craig’s arguments on objective morality aren’t difficult to beat. One need only look at how different ethnic groups, or even different species in some cases, develop different ethical codes of conduct to see how morality is based in societal order, not in the supernatural.

    Sadly, Ole, you have managed to not only commit a flagrant non sequitur, but you also seem completely oblivious to the point Craig repeatedly hammered home in the debate.

    1. The non sequitur: How moral duties differ between ethnic groups says nothing whatsoever about the ultimate basis of those duties, or of moral values. If you believe otherwise, by all means show us the logical inference from the premise “Different ethnic groups develop different ethical codes of conduct” to the conclusion, “Therefore, morality is a purely social construct” (I’m guessing that’s the conclusion you meant to imply—since “based in societal order” is pretty vague).

    2. The point that sailed right over your head: what does any given moral code have to do with the ontological status of moral values? You’re committing the same category error that Harris did. The one Craig repeatedly called out, clarified, corrected. You’re confusing moral epistemology with moral ontology. But how we know moral duties has nothing to do with what moral duties actually are.

    Even within certain societies of chimpanzees it’s obviously considered unethical to steal food, as breaking that code may result in total exclusion from the group.

    Needless to say, this is some pretty patent question-begging you’re engaging in. You see behavior in chimps that you think looks like morality, so you assume that’s what it is. But morality entails obligation, and there’s no evidence chimps have the slightest conception of obligation. So while there may be some superficial similarities between certain chimp behavior and human moral behavior, you’re hardly justified in assuming that chimps have moral codes.

    Most religions seem to agree that a life of wrongdoing leads to punishment in the afterlife, and vice versa, which at least to me indicates a common necessity to justify a society’s moral laws.

    Since Christianity is not most religions, and does not agree with this, I’m not sure why you bring it up.

    Maybe I haven’t scoped the depth of Craig’s argument according to his followers, and by all means; point out where I’m wrong. But still, I can’t for the life of me figure out why one has to invoke the supernatural to explain morality.
    It’s one of Craig’s weakest arguments, and Harris didn’t do much to refute it.

    I’m afraid you just don’t understand Craig’s argument. You should go through it a few more times and note the critical distinction I’ve pointed out between epistemology and ontology. His argument is not an epistemological one as you have assumed; it is an ontological one.

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Ole Mattis

    You haven’t even grazed the problem of a foundation for objective morality, since what you have describes is subjective morality. This is exactly what Craig always says, in the absense of God there isn’t any good reason why morality isn’t just a social construct. In this sense a rapist isn’t really doing something wrong, he is just acting outside the dictates of fashion, like someone who belches at the table, or prefers vanilla over chocolate, or whole societies such as Americans who drive on the wrong side of the road.

  9. beng
    beng says:

    It is 2016. To be precise it’s 14-3-2016.

    But I just got to say that this is the BEST (not one of the best, but the best) summary of the debate.

    To be frank, the reason I watched this debate is because I have watched Craig Vs Hitchens and it’s very disappointing. Reason being, Hitchens is devoid of substance. So I was thinking that I wanna see someone from the Atheist camp to muster the best case they could possibly offer (on any point of theist Vs Atheist topics). Then I thought, “Harris, one of the New Atheist, one of the four horsemen. He ought to be good.”

    I was disappointed.

    I watched many Craig’s debates, so I’m not too keen on watching him at the time. In fact when I first watched the debate video, I skipped to Harris’ part.

    What a disappointment.

    Those of you who think that Harris won need to take a philosophy class. In my observation most atheists doesn’t have a sound background in philosophy. This is why you can’t appreciate or even understand what a solid philosophers like Craig is talking about. Heck, I recall my day before I got a good grasp of philosophy. If at that time I watched this debate I wouldn’t understand half of what Craig is saying. One really need to learn philosophy to understand Craig and see how he obliterated Harris.

  10. Mi familia del Rey
    Mi familia del Rey says:

    Ole Mattis

    “Craig’s arguments on objective morality aren’t difficult to beat. One need only look at how different ethnic groups, or even different species in some cases, develop different ethical codes of conduct to see how morality is based in societal order, not in the supernatural.”

    One thing to know from the offset is that both Harris and Craig presupposes OBJECTIVE MORALITY. The debate is not Objective Morality vs Subjective Morality. It is: Is the foundation for Objective Morality – A) natural or B) supernatural. And, yes, Harris was way off, I don’t think he understood the topic, IMO.

  11. Mihkal
    Mihkal says:

    There’s no evidence God exists let alone that God is the originator of human morality. This should be really simple to grasp, no need to expend so much mental energy on trying to dispute something so obvious.

  12. David Billing
    David Billing says:

    Those are some strong statements you have made. What reasons do you have to support the idea that there is no evidence that God exists?

  13. DarrenG
    DarrenG says:

    That is an interesting opinion Mihkal. I am currently reading Antony Flew’s book “There is a God: how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind” and he certainly would not share your opinion. I recommend it, although if you are as new to this as you seem then you might find Wikipedia’s article an easier starting place.

  14. Leslie Allan
    Leslie Allan says:

    I must admit I was disappointed with Sam Harris’ contribution to the debate. I feel that he sidestepped the clear and consistent points that Craig was making. At times, it seems that they were speaking at two different debates. This was a prime opportunity for Harris to articulate the ideas and arguments in his book, The Moral Landscape. I recently delivered a talk to the Grace Church of Christ discussion group on this very question of whether morality depends on God’s commands. I think my talk answers the questions posed by Craig and presents a positive case for thinking that ethics is independent of religion and God. I’ve uploaded the full text of my address here >

  15. Terry Higham
    Terry Higham says:

    I am about to self-publish a book entitled ‘The God Debate – Dawkins in Denial’. It contains a great deal of evidence, metaphysical, scientific and historical, for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity, and there are many excellent books available on Kindle which also present the evidence (including Anthony Flew’s). So Mikhal really should get out his comfort zone (as I did when I read Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’) and maybe he’ll discover why atheism is intellectually and morally the deadest of dead ends.

    In the context of this debate, Chapter Nine of my book discusses the Harris-Craig debate in the following terms:

    “Sam Harris exemplifies atheists who think that objective moral values can be discovered by applying science to the analysis of the human condition and has written The Moral Landscape to justify his position. I haven’t read it but I’ve seen his online debate with Dr. William Lane Craig on its main theme.
    “Dr. Craig opened the debate with a philosophical analysis of Harris’ argument, which quite arbitrarily equates the wellbeing or “flourishing” of conscious sentient beings with goodness and the opposite with badness. I would summarise Craig’s critique of Harris as an argument that inherited cultural and social conventions incline most of us to agree that human wellbeing is a good thing and so are efforts to procure it, and that science can help us in this endeavour. But how does this make it morally binding to pursue the wellbeing of others? If we choose to pursue our own welfare primarily or indeed solely, even to the extreme detriment of others, science can observe as a fact that others have suffered because of our behaviour, and the majority of us may view this result as highly regrettable. But is this distinguishable in principle from, say, appalling table manners, offensive to social convention but nothing more? On what basis can science say that this result is morally evil, something we are duty-bound to resist? Craig quoted Michael Ruse’s view that “morality is just an aid to survival and any deeper meaning is just illusory” and Dawkins himself as saying that, from a naturalistic viewpoint, “there is no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference”.
    “Dr. Craig referred to the rarity in philosophical debate of finding a “slam-dunk knock-down” rebuttal of an opponent’s case but thought Harris had given him one. He noted that as tyrants or psychopaths universally condemned as evil had often flourished in human society, it was impossible to equate human flourishing with moral goodness.
    “It was notable watching the debate that, in contrast to Craig when Harris was speaking, the latter didn’t bother to make notes of Craig’s points, but sat in front of his laptop, sometimes gazing at it (to rehearse pre-recorded points?) or looking serious or amused or gazing at Craig. In his use of two periods allotted for rebuttal, he ignored Craig’s demolition of the coherence of his case and instead delivered a diatribe against his pet religious bête-noires of such mind-blowing ignorance and selectivity (often interspersed by “You should think about that”) that to informed viewers his performance seemed surreal.
    “What we should really think about is that, in a debate hosted by Catholic Notre Dame University on whether morality needed God to provide it with an objective foundation, one of New Atheism’s leading apologists saw fit to abandon defence of his own published thesis and scatter so many red herrings around that it was hard to keep count. In one quite inexcusable misrepresentation of mainstream Christianity, Harris stated that Christians believe that God sends millions of Hindus to hell because they worship the wrong God. … But perhaps the greatest (and most ungracious) irrelevancy was his mockery of Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He said that if you think saying Latin words over your pancake will turn it into the body of Elvis Presley you’d be insane, but if you think the same about a cracker and Jesus you’re a Catholic – cue for laughter from attendees from the local secular society. Is this the risible level of argumentation that Stanford University inculcated when it gave him a degree in philosophy?
    “Sadly, when I’ve perused atheist forums and blogs, this risible level of debate often does seem the norm. In the post-debate comments he posted, Harris referred to his refusal to rise to Craig’s bait because he wouldn’t be distracted into putting out the “small fires” Craig had lit, apparently oblivious to the fact that these small fires had consumed his entire house. He congratulated himself for sticking to his pre-debate agenda without realising that he had thus failed to engage Craig’s careful analysis of the key issues – the main purpose of the debate. Predictably, atheist commentators later awarded him victory (e.g. Dawkins himself posted, “Harris won”), and if you prefer style over substance I can see why, as Craig’s style is didactic and repetitive, quite heavy-going, whereas Harris seems relaxed. But if you prefer substance and haven’t the time or inclination to watch a two-hour debate, I recommend the Thinking Matters blog’s analysis of the debate.
    “I suspect that most atheists disagree with Harris and accept Michael Ruse’s judgment that atheist philosophy contains no moral absolutes – a reasonable view if we see ourselves as organic machines arising from random evolutionary mutations, do not answer for our behaviour to a purposeful creator who made us for a reason, and so must, if we see value in rules of conduct, make them up for ourselves. All such an atheist can say is what he personally likes. What is pleasant and useful for him and his circle in society and makes it flourish is good, what is not is bad. So, he cannot condemn others on moral grounds for behaviour he dislikes or even detests, since he must reason that they are pursuing what seems good to them. He cannot even condemn a tyrant like Hitler for exterminating Jews and other ethnic groups considered a threat to his dream of Arian purity or unfortunates considered an unacceptable drain on the Third Reich’s resources, or for his cruel medical experiments on helpless victims. To Hitler, these things were good, indeed necessary.”

  16. harry
    harry says:

    Just watched the video. I agree with you. Dr. Craig crashed Dr. Harris. I also agree with the commenter “beng” that you really need to have some philosophy thinking to fully understand Dr. Craig. The issue that they were debating actually was thoroughly investigated and, in my opinion, solved once for all, by the great Immanuel Kant more than 200 years ago. Dr. Craig’s position is in line with the that of Kant. Kant developed his philosophy in response to then widespread empiricism, which was boosted by the advancement of science. I do not think today’s atheists have a better position than empiricists like David Hume had.

  17. Javier
    Javier says:

    First off, thank you Stuart for the summary. You did an excellent job at helping me understand the debate. As a boxing fan, it was the equivalent of having someone put the prize fight in slow motion and explain the nuances of the fight game to me.

    I see how WLC won the debate, hands down. But for someone not trained to listen to and understand these debate formats, it’s easy to come away feeling Harris put up a good fight or even won the debate. From my perspective, here’s why:

    WLC focused on the question of the debate, while Harris, probably realizing the futility of his argument or maybe premeditated understanding of the hype surrounding this event, used his charm, charisma, and speaking style to speak to those who came to see a battle of wills and brains (a boxing match of words instead of fists). Harris used his time to speak to those who have doubts about both sides, while WLC used his time to win the debate. They were essentially at two different events. In a sense, what Harris did at the debate was demonic. I can’t really fault Craig for staying on point, but it would’ve been nice to see him address some of the other arguments Harris made. I’ve seen him do it on casual formats, so I know he could have. But having true “agnostics” in the audience, it would’ve given me a good feeling to know that they were spoken to directly: “faith is reasonable.”

    Which again, makes me appreciate what you did with this break down all the more. Man, it also inspires me to go to Biola and take philosophy classes from WLC!!

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