Showing posts with label Sam Harris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sam Harris. Show all posts

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good From God?"


In 2011, author and neuroscientist Sam Harris debated evangelical Christian apologist William Lane Craig on the topic of morality and god entitled, “Is Good From God?” The debate, largely was an attempt by Dr. Craig to critique Dr. Harris’ book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. As you may know, I have a bone to pick with Dr. Craig regarding his attempts to rationalize the more troubling aspects of his Christian faith, and in the debate he offers several examples which I will criticize.



Dr. Craig opens the debate with his two primary contentions. First, that if god exists, he offers a sound foundation for the existence of objective morals and duties, and second, that if god does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral duties and values. Dr. Craig defines “objective” morality as being valid and binding, independently of human opinion. Both Dr. Craig and Dr. Harris assert the existence of objective morals and duties, and only disagree with what is its foundation. On my blog, I have written repeatedly about how I believe there is exists a certain core of values that are objectively true, and are not relative to anyone’s opinion. And I have argued against the idea that the existence of god is what these objective values are founded in. What I want to do is critique line by line, the objections that Dr. Craig makes against Dr. Harris’ argument that science can offer us a foundation for objective values.

Right off the bat in Dr. Craig’s opening remarks he asserts the ontological foundation for goodness:

11:20 On the theistic view objective moral values are grounded in God. As St. Anselm saw, God is by definition the greatest conceivable being and therefore the highest Good. Indeed, He is not merely perfectly good, He is the locus and paradigm of moral value. God’s own holy and loving nature provides the absolute standard against which all actions are measured. He is by nature loving, generous, faithful, kind, and so forth. Thus if God exists, objective moral values exist, wholly independent of human beings.


One of the problems I have with this statement is the fact that the greatest conceivable being is a highly subjective expression. For example, Muslims and Christians have distinct beliefs on the nature of god. Muslims disagree with Christians that god had to rest on the seventh day after he created the universe because resting is not a property of an omnipotent god. If a god who needs to rest is less great than a god who doesn’t, than it follows that the Muslim concept of god may be better than the Christian concept. So a greatest conceivable being to a Muslims, is different than that of a Christian. And what if a psychopath’s idea of the greatest conceivable being would be that of a sadistic dictator? Could the greatest conceivable being then an aggregation of all these diverse concepts by taking the best from each? God’s nature consists of many things and jealousy is one of them. He is also wrathful, and capricious. Are these the characteristics of greatness?

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Intellectuals


Unlike most guys my age, whose heroes are over compensated sports figures, my heroes are public intellectuals and scientists. I love the public intellectual. Being a typical left leaning mid-Atlantic resident, I love and respect the stereo typical northeastern liberal intellectual. But don't think for a moment that it is only those on the left that I admire. Some of my current favorite intellectuals are those on the right, and even those who believed in god. What I respect more than anything, is not necessarily the positions of the intellectual, but rather their charisma and style.

Two deceased intellectuals I like are William F. Buckley and Malcolm X. They couldn't have been more different. William F. Buckley was a right-leaning, American conservative, though not of the neo-con stripe that we are more familiar with today. With his proper Mid-Atlantic accent, he was wildly articulate, arrogant, snobby, and in a way came to epitomize the old-school, upper class, North Eastern intellectual. He leaned toward the right politically on issues, he was a believing Catholic, and he often debated on this behalf. Malcolm X on the other hand, found Islam in prison, where he also educated himself, and became the loudest and most militant voice of black dissent towards the unjust racism that permeated through nearly all of American culture in the mid-twentieth century. I have sadly yet to read his auto biography, although that is on the agenda. What originally impressed me about him, was his articulateness and style in debates I saw of him on YouTube, even though he sometimes argued in favor of his faith. Just because I am a left leaning atheist, it certainly does not mean that I cannot recognize intellect when I see it, and these two gentlemen were prime examples.

Then of course there are the public intellectuals who are more in tune with my personal views. There's Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomski, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Danielle Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Kraus, Chris Hedges, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, A.C. Grayling, Albert Einstein, David Hume, Massimo Pigliucci, and so on. I love intellect and its high profile ambassadors.

One problem I think many Americans seem to have, is with public intellectuals, or intellectual-types, either running for public office, advising those who do, or being a bit to influential in public discourse. There is this perceived disdain by much of "middle America" for the scholarly, educated, ivy-league breed, intellectual types, presumably because they cannot relate to the regular "folks", who go out and earn a living not just be being smart. It also seems that educated intellectuals tend to gravitate to the left politically, and morally, and regard the uneducated in a condescending manner. They feel intellectuals focus on moral and ethical terms too much in theory, and not in practice. Sure to the scholarly intellectuals racial integration might sound good in paper, but its practical implications were another matter altogether.

One reason why I reject hip-hop culture, but not necessarily its music, is because of the glorification by so many in the culture of ignorance, and their rejection of knowledge. I can never be a part of a culture that celebrates and embraces ignorance as if it were a virtue. But that's just me. I consider myself a private intellectual. I have yet to enter the public stage and voice my intellect in favor of me. That can't come soon enough. Until then, I will rejoice in the intellectuals I find stimulating, and enjoy their better merits.

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