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.

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