Craig brings some clarity to morality?

By Ken Perrott 12/04/2011

Interesting! Is there a second wave of interest in Sam Harris’s ideas on human morality?

Sam Harris

Sure, many religious apologists really didn’t want to challenge these ideas until WL Craig had said his bit – preferably by way of a debate with Harris. And they got that debate a few days back. But that is hardly serious – they are reacting more like faithful fans at a boxing match. A common problem with debates. Even Craig appears to have a realistic understanding of  his cheerleaders (although he attributes the phenomenon to “the free thought subculture” and not his own fans).

PZ Myers

But I wonder if that debate might have initiated some rethinking by some of Sam’s original nonreligious critics. Here’s an interesting comment by PZ Myers in his blog post Harris v Craig. He admits to having felt “bugged” after his first reading of The Moral Landscape.’ Then adds:

“I kept trying to make, I think, a judgment based on whether we can declare an absolute morality based on rational, objective criteria. I was basically making the same sort of internal argument that William Lane Craig was making in his debate at Notre Dame, and it’s fundamentally wrong – it’s getting all twisted up in philosophical head-games based on misconceptions derived from the constant hammering of theological presuppositions in our culture.”

I think this is a very perceptive comment. It helps explain  my disappointment with some of Sam’s non-religious critics who fell back on the mantra that “you can’t get an ought from an is.”

Obviously Sam Harris won’t have the full story but he has made an important contribution with his book. Important because he has refused to be taken in by that philosophical mantra. Also because he has mobilised a much-needed debate among philosophers, scientists and the nonreligious about morality. And particularly consideration of the problem of moral relativism.

But Myers is also raising the problem of how theology and religious philosophy has been able to influence even the nonreligious and create “misconceptions derived from the constant hammering of theological presuppositions in our culture.”

So good for you PZ. You were able to recognise where you made a mistake. Perhaps the debate format has in this case actually had a  positive effect. PZ says:  “It was very helpful to see Harris’s views presented in contrast to a dogmatic fool like Craig, and suddenly it was clear where the truth lies.”

And thanks for helping the rest of us see an important problem. Theology and religious philosophy may currently have little influence in the natural sciences. (although they still motivate external attacks such as the legal attempts to impose the teaching of creation). But their dead hand still has an influence in areas like philosophy.

It’s important to recognise this and be aware when it sometimes affects even the nonreligious philosophers. Or scientists who accept some popular philosophical ideas uncritically.

See also: Foundations of human morality.

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0 Responses to “Craig brings some clarity to morality?”

  • I haven’t actually read The Moral Landscape yet but now I’m just dying to see what all the fuss is about.

    I watched some of the debate between Harris and Craig. What can I say. Craig should just give up now, what calm rational Harris did to him can only be called a rout.

  • And in other news…

    Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth…Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love they neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…Nevertheless…such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction…and any deeper meaning is illusory… (atheist Michael Ruse)


    The universe we observe has … no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. … DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. (atheist Richard Dawkins)

    So funny watching the atheist denominations fighting each other and using philosophy to fight philosophy 🙂

  • Rob,

    I doubt most atheists agree on everything other than a disbelief in god(s).

    For example, I disagree with the first quote as I think sentience, empathy and rationality allow us to move beyond purely biological adaptation.

    However, I agree largely with the second quote with the caveat that as a rational, empathic and sentient species we have the capability to develop our own purposes and designs in the universe which wea re part of.

  • Rob – “So funny watching the atheist denominations fighting each other and using philosophy to fight philosophy” – think about what you have just said. Think about the reigionists burining each other’s “holy” books and beheading each other.

    In contrast we are have a good scientific debate about human morality. This is happening in part because of the recent strides that have been made in neuroscience, the understanding of humnan self and consciousness. Science is now taking on the question of human morality – and about time seeing what a mness superstition has made of it.

    Scientists often get into debates. But I have yet to see any book burning or decapitations. The most I have seen is the professional disapproval of Marc Hauser for problems with his methodolgy. Our debates are far more useful than the relifious ones.

    You guys wouldn’t know about that because your mjethodogy is not related to evidence or reason.

    If you find that funny what does the current slaughter of non-muslims make you do. Scream wiuth laughter?

    Rob – what about some comments on my article – Foundations of human morality. It’s a serious attempt to understand human morality and if you disagree with it your comments would be appreciated. After all, I am a scientist – I welcome a reasoned critique. (Out of context quote mining doesn’t count as such).

  • correction

    I think the last sentence in my previous post would be better if it said

    “with the caveat that as a sentient species, with the capacity for rational thought and empathy, we have the capability to develop our own purposes and designs in the universe which wea re part of.”