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.

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