Pharyngula

Harris v Craig

Darn, I’m going to have to find some time to re-read Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape. It bugged me the first time; 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. You can now listen to Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig and see what I’m talking about. 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.

You can watch it all now on YouTube and see for yourself: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9.

The arguments were stark. According to Craig, if we don’t ground our moral beliefs in a god, then we do not have a sound foundation for our morality. So Sam Harris stands up, gives clear examples of bad moral decisions based on a belief in god and good moral decisions made without reference to any deity, and basically wins the debate in that instant.

But also, Craig lost on style. He went first, and I can see where he’s potent in debates: he’s confident and dominating, and he can rattle off irrelevant syllogisms with faultless aplomb. He’s strict and formal and talks fast. Harris, on the other hand, spoke calmly and casually, took his time laying out his story, and spoke thoughtfully and with sincerity. Watch the two without even thinking about what they’re saying, and on body language and tone, Harris is engaging you and speaking from the heart, while Craig is stiff, strident, and running through the well-worn grooves of repetitive theological rationalizations.

Combine the manner with clarity of thinking behind Harris’s words, and it was a total rout.