Friday, April 29, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.6

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. We've heard both Craig's and Harris' introductory remarks. Now we move on to Craig's first rebuttal.

<clip Flowery words>

This reminds me of a point that I wish I had made earlier. Let's go back to the conclusion of Craig's first non-argument.

<clip Earlier flowery words>

It seems to me that another one of Craig's tricks is to toss around some words that will tug on the hearts of his listeners, distracting them from the content of the discussion, or perhaps I should say, distracting them from the lack of content. I want to go one step further and say that there is something even more devious going on. I have often been absolutely baffled by the assumptions that superstitionists make about asuperstitionists. They seem to think that lacking any superstitions leads one to be a Hitler-style monster with absolutely no human feeling whatsoever. I think that at least part of the reason for this comes from here: a guy like Craig presents a speech that is devoid of any meaning, provoking the ire of people who care about truth. He concludes his speech with some words and opinions that all people, even his opponents, agree with. People who care about truth jump up indignantly and point out that his argument is garbage. Those who have fallen under the spell misunderstand us. They think that we are objecting to the obvious points, like love being good and oppression being bad. It might seem like a stretch, but given the blatant disregard for honesty rampant among prominent superstitionists, I would not be surprised at all to discover that this is a deliberate tactic, designed to cause the audience to have a bad feeling about asuperstitionists. You guys let me know if I'm going off the deep end.

<clip (03) 14:21 Ontology/semantics>

Be suspicious of anyone who brings up technical details unnecessarily. What Craig is saying here is interesting for geeks like me, but for non-geeks, it's not going to mean much, except perhaps that Craig must be really smart in order to discuss concepts like these, and because he seems smarter than I am, he must know better. Basing our morality on the well-being of creatures that can suffer is a simple, everyday concept, just like going for a walk with a friend. One need not be a mechanical engineer to appreciate going for a walk, and one need not be a trained philosopher to know how to behave. If you're trying to dig into a subject, by all means let people load you up with as much jargon and complexity as you can take. Yes, it's good to know what words like ontology and semantics mean, just because one's life is enriched by the knowledge. But it is not necessary to know what these words mean in order to understand any part of this conversation. I think this must be yet another tool in the art of persuading people without referring to truth. Perhaps one can give the impression of being an authority simply by virtue of talking over the heads of the audience. Perhaps I'm just recognizing another flaw in the debate format. It seems that open, honest conversation can take us so much further.

<clip (04) 1:09 Book plug>

Sounds like good material for another Quality Control series. Anyone have a copy they can lend me for a few weeks? I'm serious. If you have a copy you're willing to lend, send me a PM.

<clip (04) 1:29 No objections to theistic grounding>

We haven't heard any arguments in favor of a theistic grounding for ethics. Besides the fact that Harris is here to invite everyone to think about morality in a new way, Craig simply hasn't said anything of any value, nothing worth disagreeing, or even agreeing, with.

<clip (04) 1:49 Nazi comment>

Glad he pointed this out. I was afraid that Harris was going to get away with his nefarious plan to introduce Nazism to our great nation.

<clip (04) 4:18 Pleasure/misery, good/evil>

Really? Why? Why can't we all just agree that pleasure is good and misery is bad, and see where it takes us? Why must we pretend that without the leprechauns in the back yard, we're completely adrift? And before any superstitionists start claiming that I'm advocating the pleasure of child molesters, let's not forget that we're not talking about hedonistic pleasure; we're talking about flourishing and well-being. It's a misrepresentation for Craig to use the word pleasure here; it leaves too much room for, or perhaps even invites, misunderstanding.

That's 6.6. Thanks for watching.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Wow, you guys. Five thousand subscribers. I don't know what to say, except thanks. Thanks for subscribing, thanks for participating in the conversation, thanks for all your positive (and often hilarious) feedback. Some of you are such regular contributors here that I sort of feel like I know you. That's cool. It seems that I should say something profound here, but I'm clueless. I guess I could tell you a bit about myself, but I'll skip all the boring stuff.

I spent about 30 years, starting from age 13, convinced that I'd burn in hell for eternity. Some time in early 2010, I started to talk myself out of that fear. Looking back, I can see very clearly that when you're terrified of eternal torment, it's really impossible to give a damn about anyone else. As my fear wanes, I find myself wanting to make some sort of contribution to the world. So far, it seems that I have a knack for exposing lies and hypocrisy, and YouTube gives me a forum for doing just that. We'll see how it goes.

Yeah, still nothing profound coming to mind. I guess I could mention some administrative details.
  • I have an FAQ. The link to it is on my channel page.
  • I keep transcripts of all my videos on a blog that I call "In Search of A Defensible God". Link in the love bar.
  • I have a secondary channel called GreatBigSnore, where I keep my growing list of questions for superstitionists. I've also toyed with making a series called "In The Box" on that channel. Two episodes so far. I'm waiting to see whether I get any new inspiration for that one.
  • The Quality Control collection seems to be the reason for most of the attention my channel gets, but note that I have other collections; one covers the New Testament of the bible, one is a sort of first stab at discussing Islam, and one is an attempt to cover the Qur'an. I paused this last collection in order to start the Quality Control videos; I'm not sure what the fate of that collection will be. All of these collections are organized into playlists that you can access from my channel page.
Coincidentally, it seems that I've hit another milestone tonight: between my two channels, I have 300 videos. This is #301. Cool. Ok, it's clear that nothing profound is going to come out of my mouth. Thanks to everyone, and welcome to the conversation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.5

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The purported focus of the debate is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?" Craig has claimed that there can be no foundation other than the supernatural, although he has presented not a single argument in favor of this claim. Harris mostly ignores the question, realizing that it is not the question that the human race should be asking right now. Rather, the question we should be asking is whether there is any basis for morality that is better than the coercive morality we currently employ. Harris opens with a comment that really confuses me:

<clip (02) 9:47 Craig scares atheists>

Where does this come from? How can anyone intelligent enough to recognize Harris' intelligence think that Craig is anything but a buffoon? Craig has zero skill as a philosopher, zero skill as a thinker. It seems to me that the only skill he has that he can use in this situation is his preacher-style persuasiveness: delivery, rhetoric, that sort of thing. Listen to his words and he's a complete flop. It's basically impossible for any honest, decent person with a couple of neurons in his head to blow a debate with Craig. Harris sums up his entire argument:

<clip (02) 11:14 Once we understand morality in terms of human well-being...>

Harris is suggesting that we consider morality in terms of human well-being, and pointing out that because science is becoming better all the time at measuring well-being objectively, we can use science to find a kind of morality far better than what we have now.

<2 clips (03) 0:09 Morals come from us.>

This is something we need to be shouting from the rooftops. Not only is it true that the concepts of good and evil come from us, but it's also true that they must come from us. No one is going to tell us what is right and wrong; we have to figure it out for ourselves.

<clip (03) 10:27 Medicine comparison>

Just as a person's conscious desires and his physical health are two different things that might not agree, a person's conscious desires and his overall well-being could be in conflict. Often when statements like this are made, someone, sometimes even an asuperstitionist, will think that we're facing a Big-Brother society in which some elite has the right to override people's desires arbitrarily. I'm not sure where this paranoia comes from. How is it that upon hearing a proposal that we put a stop to the mistreatment of women and girls, one's first impulse is to fear that the door is now open for the government to monitor everyone's masturbatory habits? No one wants 1984. This is about compassion, not control.

<clip (03) 10:54 Science is in the values business>

And no one makes a sound in protest that we think of these as axiomatic. No one expects anyone to provide some airtight case for the foundation on which we base the value of consistency. We just assume that consistency is more desirable than inconsistency. No one needs to introduce a space ghost in order to compel people to value consistency. Actually, the world could have been a better place if Yahweh had intoned, "Thou shalt always stick with truth, honest debate, and logical reasoning with consistency." Of course Yahweh would have been out of a job long ago if that had been one of its commandments.

<clip (03) 12:07 If someone doesn't value evidence>

This makes me despair. Superstitionists often don't place the same value on evidence and reason that the rest of us do. Many of them place very little value on truth and honest debate. Seems like there's just no point in talking to them. Similarly, if someone doesn't value human well-being, which does seem to be the case among superstitionists, then it's impossible to have a conversation about morality. To be fair, some of them do seem to have some sense that human well-being is a good thing, but they give it appallingly low priority relative to their other fixations. Most superstitionists are therefore unreachable; all we can do is put the message out there and hope that some of them have better values.

<clip (03) 12:28 What does it mean to claim that science can't answer important life questions>

What he said. That's 6.5. Thanks for watching.

Monday, April 25, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.4

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The purported focus of the debate is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?" However, Craig has re-framed the question somewhat, asking, "Without 'god,' to what authority can we appeal in order to bend others to our own will?" We finished the previous video with Craig asking the dishonest question, "How does Harris propose to solve the value problem?" Here's his dishonest answer:

<clip 1:04 The trick he proposes...>

Listen to his voice. Look at the faces he makes. Listen to his implications. The rest of his point is delivered as though he is pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. He presents Harris' perfectly reasonable statements as though Harris had lost himself in some kind of philosophical thicket, or is attempting to confuse his reader.

<clip 1:16 We should define good...>
<clip 1:35 it makes no sense to ask...>

Let's go back to the book. I notice that the part Craig is quoting here is on page 12. I wonder if he read as much of the book as I have, which is still about half. Harris says, "If we define good as that which supports well-being, as I will argue we must." Harris isn't playing any trick on the reader. He hasn't even presented an entire claim, as he clearly indicates by saying, "as I will argue." Harris goes on to say that per this definition, the question makes no sense. Why would a devotee of the Supreme Being need to misrepresent Harris in this way? Why would a devotee of the Supreme Being have to do all this play-acting? Why are these tactics needed by a god with so much to offer?

<clip 2:22 Harris isn't talking about morality...>

As though that's a bad thing. What could possibly be a worthier goal than promoting the flourishing of creatures that can suffer? How is that not about moral values?

<clip 2:36 His claim about science...>

No, Harris hasn't made that claim. No one needs to claim it, as it's obviously true. Harris is saying that because science can tell us about the flourishing of sentient beings, science can help us find a morality that is a gigantic improvement over the one we have now.

<clip 2:46 Flourishing of corn>

Yes, invent a preposterous claim and attribute it to Harris, then throw in some preposterous parallels to make it appear that Harris is making some kind of obvious mistake. Craig wraps up by continuing the pretense that the value problem needs to be solved and that Harris has failed to solve it.

<clip 3:22 Arbitrary and idiosyncratic redefinition>

Arbitrary and idiosyncratic redefinition, you say? Something like defining love so as to allow for the eternal torture of billions upon billions of humans? So as to allow for creating a largely falsified universe so as to make it impossible for people with brains to do the one thing they must do in order to avoid this eternal torture?

Craig goes on to pretend a deep analysis by discussing moral duties, as though it's not obvious that exactly the same arguments can be made concerning duties as can be made concerning values.

<clip 4:06 Is-ought>

Unfortunately I see that many of my fellow asuperstitionists are getting stuck on this same point. Harris is not saying that science can tell us about ought. He is saying, "Let's consider what might happen if we define ought according to the only genuinely moral foundation we've ever known, and use science to move forward." Perhaps once all of us asuperstitionists understand Harris' message, we can present it better to the superstitionists.

<clip 4:37 What foundation remains?>

The flourishing of creatures that can suffer seems like the most worthy foundation I've ever heard. Why not go with that until we find something better?

<clip 4:53 When a lion kills a zebra>

Actually, the seeds of a better morality have been with us all along even in statements like this. When a lion kills a human, it hasn't murdered the human. Nor does it deserve punishment. We might have to lock it up, or even kill it, but not because it deserves such treatment. Rather, it's to protect the rest of us. We could apply this to humans: forget about deserve and punishment. The first priority is to protect the rest of us from a murderer. After that, let's look to science to see what to do with the murderer. Let's look to science to see whether executing or imprisoning the murderer for life really does have some kind of therapeutic value for the bereaved, or for society at large. If not, then let's not execute or imprison for life. Let's look to science to find out what's best,  or at least to seek something better than what we do now. Craig neatly sums up the entire problem with our current morality.

<clip 5:21 Who or what imposes...>

Craig spends a couple of minutes blathering about his objections to Harris' notions concerning free will, but these are irrelevant points. It seems to me that he brings them up only in order to insinuate that Harris is suggesting that we let killers and rapists roam the streets. Leave it to the superstitionists, with their astounding abilities to believe the most preposterous notions, to believe that we want that kind of world.

That's 6.4. Thanks for watching.

Friday, April 22, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.3

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The purported focus of the debate is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?" However, Craig has re-framed the question somewhat: "Without 'god,' to what authority can we appeal in order to bend others to our own will?" We're about halfway through Craig's comments on what Harris calls the value problem.

<clip 14:21 If we were to restart human evolution, people with a different set of moral values might well have evolved.>

Obviously true. But consider this point, which I've made before but which seems especially relevant here. Think about the rudimentary morality we see in social animals. Part of this morality is a rudimentary capacity for empathy. An individual will have some sense of the pleasure or suffering he witnesses in other individuals of his group, and this sense will have an effect on the way he behaves toward his fellows. Add to that a gigantic cerebral cortex that runs elaborate simulations of the mental and emotional states of your group-mates, and empathy for others grows to freakish proportions. Add civilization, and especially writing, and each generation of humans starts on the shoulders of the previous generation. Alongside the sick rationalizations that have passed for morality since humans first started thinking like humans, something amazing has grown: empathy that extends beyond the family, beyond the village, beyond the race, even beyond the species. Human morality—the bad kinds—is a result of human rationalization haphazardly applied to social instincts; the good kind of human morality is a result of human empathy combined with culture. Neither kind of morality is a result of any supernatural force. With this in mind, let's reconsider Craig's statement:

<clip 14:21 If we were to restart human evolution, people with a different set of moral values might well have evolved.>

If we were to restart evolution from the dawn of animal life, we would not be surprised at all to see animals with eyes, given that eyes have evolved independently some 40 times in Earth's history. Similarly, given that empathy is so prevalent among social animals, we might not find it too surprising to see it appear again. Big, complex brains like ours likely would never evolve, and therefore nothing like human morality would ever appear, either the ugly kind we're still stuck with or the good kind that will hopefully replace it. But given brains that appreciate metaphor and symbolism the way ours do, it would not seem surprising at all to see two kinds of morality appearing again. The first one, just like our first attempt, would be really sick, twisted, and arbitrary. Probably homosexuality would be ok but picking your nose would be an abomination. However, the second one, given time, civilization, and writing, would look a lot like the amazing kind that we are slowly discovering.

<clip 14:31 If people were raised like bees, women would kill men.>

Yes, just as when people are raised under superstitionism, they often do seem to think it their sacred duty to kill each other. However, let the bee-people discover writing, and they'll eventually jettison their false-start morality, just as we are striving to do now.

<clip 2, 3 0:45 Dawkins "indifference" quote>

True, but Dawkins also has mentioned many times and in many ways his hope that we can rise above the brute facts of our existence. In The Selfish Gene, he says, "We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism—something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world." Here, he is advocating the same ideas that Harris is advocating: let's use our higher brain functions to create a morality, one that is beneficial for all sentient beings.

<clip How does Harris solve the value problem>

Craig misrepresents Harris by even asking this question. Harris makes it very clear in both his book and in his Huffington Post article that there simply is no value problem. As a reminder, the value problem goes like this: there is no scientific basis to say that we should value well-being. Sure, that's obvious. But there is also no scientific basis to say that we should value truth, or the desire to understand how the world works, or factual evidence and logical coherence over guesswork and incomprehensible arguments. It is just as reasonable to say that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad as it is to say that an argument that contradicts itself is illogical. I like the way Harris concludes his argument that there is no value problem: "We need not apologize for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps in this way. It is far better than pulling ourselves down by them."

That's 6.3. Thanks for watching.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Questions for Theists 2011

Months ago, a couple of Ray Comfort's stooges created a program called "On The Box." As part of their unveiling of the program, they invited agnostics and atheists to ask questions. So far I've posted 75 one-minute videos asking them questions, and they've never responded even to one of them. I never really expected them to; the reason I'm posting them is to reach out to anyone in that audience who is looking for truth. Still, I'd like to hear someone in the superstitionist community at least attempt to answer these questions. I posted them all to my backup channel so as to minimize clutter in my subscribers' mailboxes. Now I've created a playlist that includes all of them, and I'm inviting all theists to try their hand.

Here are some guidelines that will hopefully minimize any waste of time and energy. I'm looking for answers to my questions, not your opinions of me as a person or my abilities as an interpreter of Yahweh's mysteries. I'm not interested in whether you're offended by me or the content of my videos. If you can't tell which parts of a question are relevant to the overall point, if you can't recognize that pouncing on some trivial inconsistency in my delivery is not the same as finding a flaw in my argument, if you want to argue about how superstitionists are no worse than asuperstitionists, then just go away; I'm seriously not interested in anything you have to say. If you have some logic like (1) I have unassailable biblical proof that Yahweh is purple. (2) Yahweh is purple. (3) Yahweh must exist, because something that doesn't exist can't be purple. Then just go away. I'm also not looking for your claims that these questions have already been answered. Obviously, the reason I'm asking them is that I have never heard an answer. I'm also not interested in your protests that your particular strain of the superstitionist pox doesn't adhere to some belief on which I'm basing a question. If you don't adhere to the doctrinal basis for my question, then shut up and move on to the next question. For example, if I ask a question about eternal torture, then I don't need to hear that you don't believe in eternal torture. Also, I'm not interested in any so-called facts from the bible that correspond to nothing that qualified experts consider fact. And to be specific, qualified experts are people who are educated and trained in appropriately related fields, preferably who have published in at least one respectable, peer-reviewed journal. The garbage spewed out of ID organizations does not count as respectable, nor does anything published by a religious institution.

After I had made about 45 videos, Ray and pals changed the rules, so I asked a bunch of my YouTube friends to re-record my questions. So the first 45 or so videos in the playlist are from them. After that, you have to put up with this face.

Theists, surely the Supreme Being of All Things can spare just a little time to help you answer these questions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.2

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The focus of the debate is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?" We've heard Craig's non-arguments in favor of his claim that "if there is a god, then we do have a sound foundation for morality." Now we move on to his non-arguments in favor of his second point.

<clip 10:59 If there is no god, then there is no foundation for morality.>
<clip 11:10 If "god" does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values?>

Let's recall that for Craig, objective means binding. His question again boils down to the same question he asked before: "To what authority can we appeal when attempting to impose our will on others?" Hold on to that thought.

<clip 11:43 Within atheism, there is no way to claim that human well-being is objectively good.>
<clip 11:59 Harris calls this "The Value Problem.">

I haven't finished Harris' book yet, but so far I haven't found anything there about the value problem. From what I can tell, value problem is the name Harris used in his Huffington Post article in January of 2011 to refer to a certain class of criticisms of his ideas. He sums up the value problem as follows: "There is no scientific basis to say that we should value well-being, our own or anyone else's." His answer, which seems to go over the heads of his critics, is to replace the term well-being with the word health, saying, "There is no scientific basis to say that we should value health, our own or anyone else's." Here we can see why people object to Harris' ideas: they can't imagine a morality based on anything other than coercion. But consider: we don't cast about for a justification to make sick people well--we just accept that making sick people well is a worthy goal. Harris is proposing that we stop bothering about finding a justification to promote the flourishing of sentient beings and just decide and agree that promoting their flourishing is a worthy goal. Then, just as we use science to understand better the continuum from healthy to dead, we can use science to understand better the continuum from suffering to flourishing. And just as we use science to decide how to treat the sick, we can use science to decide how to treat sentient beings in general.

I like to think of this morality as invitational rather than coercive. Rather than order each other about in the name of our cosmic cookie, let's simply look at the already available science that shows what best causes sentient beings to flourish.

<clip 12:05 The purpose of Harris' book is to explain the existence of objective moral values.>

As I say, I haven't finished Harris' book, but even just having read half of it so far, I'm pretty sure that this is absolutely not the purpose of Harris' book. The only sense in which Harris discusses objectivity is in the sense that we are rapidly becoming able to use science to determine, with minimal bias, whether someone is flourishing or suffering. Harris' thoughts on objectivity are really not about morality at all; in fact, he uses the word rather sparingly, at least in the first half of the book.

<clip 13:09 A sort of herd morality has evolved among humans.>

Let's talk about the emergence of morality for a minute. Yes, all social animals (for this discussion I'll ignore eusocial species) have a kind of morality that is nothing more than a simple result of natural selection. The basic idea is that in societies, individuals who cooperate tend to have more reproductive success than those who don't. That can be considered a kind of morality, but it's not the morality we're really talking about here.

The other kind of morality, the one we're currently saddled with, is an unfortunate invention of humans, a clumsy set of rationalizations built on top of our instincts. Consider the fact that many social animals form troops that defend a particular territory. Watching a band of howler monkeys declaring their ownership of their land to their neighbors, I can easily imagine the visceral feelings of love and pride for one's people, hatred and fear of anyone outside the group. The human brain is a very powerful machine for fabricating justifications and explanations. Once our brains got involved, twisted so-called moral concepts started popping up everywhere: we treat each other well because we're good. We can kill those others because they're evil. We deserve reward; they deserve punishment. We couldn't see that all we were doing was slapping justifications on top of our instincts. Now we can see it, and not a moment too soon. If we don't change this, the superstitionist hope for the world to end horribly will become a reality.

That's 6.2. Thanks for watching.

Monday, April 18, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.1

Here I continue my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The focus of the debate is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?"

<clip 7:10 "In tonight's debate I'm going to defend two basic contentions: (1) If "god" exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties and (2) If there is no "god" then we do not have such a foundation.">

Naturally, Craig doesn't tell us what he means when he says "god". This is a deliberate omission. It allows him to jump back and forth between using the word "god" to refer to "Yahweh" and using the word "god" as some kind of abstract concept. He does this often, using whichever definition suits him at any given moment.  I have complained about this trickery before, so I won't beat it to death here. Just keep in mind that Craig is very slippery, and he deliberately keeps his audience in the dark about what he means when he uses the word "god". This trick becomes extremely important in some of Craig's later arguments; I'll point it out when we get there.

<clip 8:00 If "god" exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.>
<clip 8:07 Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral values.>

So note here that he is clearly not talking about Yahweh. Craig's term theism applies to any god or gods. It's also pretty clear that he intends his less-philosophical audience to think Yahweh here, while using the word theism to keep himself out of trouble with the philosophers, who would howl in outrage if he were openly to discuss Yahweh in his arguments. Having shined a bright light on his intentions, let's have a look at his arguments in support of his claim.

<clip 8:22 On the theistic view, objective moral values are grounded in "god".>

So he claims that theism provides a foundation, then attempts to support the claim simply by saying that according to a theistic view, "god" is the foundation. He intends it to sound like a supporting argument, but really all it is is a statement of doctrine: he might as well say that it is his own personal view that morality is grounded in "god". So he's still not saying anything in support of his claim. Further, he continues to be slippery here. He says theistic view, but he doesn't really mean theistic. No sane person would claim that theism in general necessarily makes any connection between morality and any god. So here he really means Yahwism, by which I mean worship of Yahweh, in case that word sounds strange to you.

He spends a minute quoting some obviously non-factual statements of belief made by St. Anselm about the nature of Yahweh, but fails entirely to provide even a trace of support for his original claim that theism provides a sound foundation. Naturally, he wraps up with this:

<clip 9:03 Thus, if "god" exists, objective moral values exist.>

Typical superstitionist tactic: tell your audience that you intend to argue your point, spend a couple of minutes saying absolutely nothing of any value, then tell your audience that you have made your point. Dembski also did this in his recent debate with Hitchens. Craig has utterly failed to make any point so far. In order to make it seem that he's doing a thorough analysis, he provides another point that he intends to support, but in this context, it's no different from the point he has already failed to make:

<clip 9:10 Theism provides a sound foundation for objective moral duties.>

To his credit, he's consistent here: he fails to make his second point in exactly the same fashion that he failed to make his first point:

<clip 9:19 On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by "god's" commands.>

Then more empty words, followed by:

<clip 9:46 Our duties then, are constituted by "god's" commandments.>

<clip 10:16 On this foundation...>

On what foundation, exactly? He hasn't laid any foundation at all. All he has done so far is waste everyone's time.

<clip 10:45 I think it's evident...>

You've got to be kidding me. This is his entire argument in support of his claim. I want my money back.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God's Quality Control 6.0

Here I discuss some of my thoughts on the debate between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame on April 7, 2011. The focus of the debate, at least on paper, is this question: "Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?" I can tell you right now that the answer is "neither." The foundations of moral values lie in the human capacity for compassion toward any creature that can suffer.

Many of my viewers have asked me to explain further my frequent condemnation of what I call coercive morality, or sometimes punitive morality, and my frequent allusions to a kind of morality far superior to anything we see in the world now, either in religious or secular circles. I have, like Sam Harris, felt for many years that there is almost always a clear distinction between right and wrong, but until Harris' talk at the TED conference in February of 2010, I never could find an intellectually satisfying basis for making the distinction. Since that talk, and specifically since hearing Harris point out that morality seems always to boil down to the well-being of creatures with a capacity for suffering, I think I've discovered a solid foundation. In this series, in addition to performing my usual quality control services for the superstitionist community, I hope also to elucidate the vision of morality that I have begun to see. Not with the expectation of agreement from everyone, but to stimulate further conversation with anyone willing to participate, in the hope that we can all get just a little closer to truth and social harmony. Don't think of this as a monologue; join in the conversation, criticize, challenge. Let's work together to see what we can come up with.

<clip 5:20 "To say that moral values and duties are objective is to say that they are valid and binding independent of human opinion.">

Umm, no. To say that they're objective is to say that their content is independent of human opinion, so he's close. But the objectivity of morals has absolutely nothing to do with whether they're binding. Craig shows the fundamental flaw in his morality from the very beginning: it is coercive. Superstitionists have no stomach for moral suasion; they find it far easier to say that you must behave this way, and the reason you must behave this way is that their god will kick your ass if you don't. Or that the government will kick your ass, because we've spent millions of dollars lobbying for a new law that requires you to behave this way.

The debate becomes a bit difficult to follow from the very beginning, because of the difference between Craig's definition of objective and that of Harris. While Craig's definition involves justification for coercing the behavior of others, Harris' definition simply applies to whether it can factually be said that a given behavior is conducive to the well-being of the sentient creatures involved. Harris draws an excellent parallel between morality and nutrition. I'd rather eat ice cream all day long and skip the broccoli. Why do I pause sometimes in ice cream consumption and eat broccoli? Is it because some authority demands it of me? No, it's because it promotes my physical health. If someone wants to encourage me to eat in a certain way, my response is not Craig's childish "Says who?" and the answer is not the lazily coercive "Says my god," which results in a ridiculous and unavoidably inconclusive argument over whether your god really said that, or really meant it the way you think, or whether you're spiritual enough to know what your god meant, etc. Rather, my response is "Why?" and the answer is, "Because it is healthier for you," which results in an actual conversation about where you got the information and whether it's based on legitimate research.

<clip 7:00 "...what is the best foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties?">

Again, the outdated framework clouds the issue. What Craig really means here is, "To which authority can we appeal for justification when attempting to compel others to behave a certain way?" This debate promises to be much like the Hitchens-Dembski debate, where the debaters are talking about two completely different things. This bothered me at first, watching Hitchens talk past Dembski. I would expect such silliness from superstitionists, but couldn't understand why Hitchens would do it. I understand now. He (and now, apparently, Sam Harris) had no intention of debating, but rather to deliver a long-overdue message of genuine hope to anyone who will listen.

That's 6.0. Thanks for watching.