Friday, November 15, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- The Great Debate, Part 1, Craig

Warning: This is a response to a debate, not a carefully crafted statement. I made each response as the debate progressed, stopping the YouTube presentation of the debate to make a comment before knowing what the speaker would say next. Therefore, statements may appear chaotic and disordered, but that is due to the nature of the recording. If, by chance, you find this interesting, it would be wise to play the debate as you read these comments.

As Craig noted in his opening, it is an interesting and compelling point that both parties in this debate agree that there are objective moral standards. They also largely agree, in detail, as to what the standards are. All they disagree fundamentally on, is the source of those standards.

Greg then makes two very broad propositions, both greatly overreaching.  He says one if God exists, therefore we have an objective basis for morality. This ignores the fact that many people have very different opinions about exactly who or what God is and what his moral standards are.

He simply assumes not only that God exists, he also assumes that a God exists who is exactly and doctrinally his god. Consider the gods of the Greeks. Consider the gods of the Hindus. These gods are much more human and far less perfect than his God. So his supposed simple assumption is in fact extremely complex and full of many centuries of complicated and complex rationalizing.

His second assumption that is it if God does not exist there is no foundation for moral values. An assumption that is very broad and sweeping.  Imagine getting your morality from one of the Greek gods who regularly committed horrible acts against each other and against humanity. Are they a sound basis for morality?

This however does show his great weakness. He is convinced that his God and only his God can give certainty. He clearly does not trust science or anyone else's god.

In what ways is God such a sound reliable decider of moral issues? The answer is that Craig assumes that God is perfect. He assumes that God is moral as he, Craig, defines moral.  There is no basis offered in support of these assumptions. He simply states and it is so because he says it is so. He makes no effort to prove these assertions.

He then says as a sub issue that God does indeed provide a solid foundation and only God can provide a solid foundation. But if this is true, how is it that so many believers in God have use their God to justify wildly different values over the centuries? The Aztecs felt it was appropriate to kill human beings, rip out their still beating hearts, and feed them to the gods. According to Dr. Craig this must have been moral. After all, it was based on the moral opinions of the gods the Aztecs worshiped.

I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned Dr. Craig has lost this debate before it even started. His opinions are purely emotional. His essential argument is that this is right because it feels right to me. While this is a typical argument of many human beings, especially in American politics today, arguing that facts are irrelevant and whatever I believe is true must be true because it feels right to me and I don't care what feels to you, is a totally anti-rational argument.

(In fairness, let me note that if you do not require that the  participants in this debate use logic or rationality or actually make their case, then my statement that he has lost the debate is clearly not applicable.)

Then he brings up St. Anselm. Anselm essentially said God is perfect because I think he should be perfect, therefore God is whatever I think he should be. It is a bizarre argument. But again it is a purely emotional argument. Anselm essentially said God must be what I want him to be. Like Craig, he offers no evidence no proof.  It is just so because it feels good to Anselm.

In other words, if we accept Dr. Craig's beliefs as absolute fact then there is no need to test them because since Craig believes it is so, it must be true. But if I wonder if Craig might possibly be even a tiny bit wrong.  It so, his entire argument collapses. Everything he says, everything he believes is based on the fact that his knowledge is perfect. He himself possesses a perfect knowledge of the exact nature of the perfect God, or he is completely wrong in all his conclusions, which are based on the assumption of perfect knowledge of the nature of God.

Again, this ignores the evil gods in whom men have believed throughout history, not to mention all the morally ambiguous gods.

He then goes on to say since God is holy, loving, and perfect, his moral Commandments must also be holy, loving, and perfect. Not only it does this have all the problems identified above, it also indicates the God is in many ways inferior to humanity. We have free will. God does not. God is like a great computer. He, or it, can only do that which he, or it, was built and programmed to do. There are  no choices, no options.

This also means that God is not all-powerful. He is powerless to do anything except the things which he must do. So there's actually no reason to have a God. All we need is a computer that will do these things. All we need is a set of mathematical calculations that make these issues the laws of the universe. There's no need for a God.

This is also a fundamental flaw in Craig's reasoning by his own standards. I little doubt that he is very much an absolutist in regard to believing in the Bible. But the Bible says the God of the Old Testament is a God who can change his mind, a God who has free will, a God with whom you can argue and even force him to change his mind if you make your point well.

Lot argued with God before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra . He made God change his mind and make several points of concession. Craig's God cannot do that. Greg's God is perfect and must always do only the one single perfect thing he mist do, he can make no other choice.  So, Craig's god is not the God of the Old Testament .

To state this in yet another way, Greg's statement really should be: if the God that I believe exists, and if he exists exactly as I believe he must exist, and if I am perfectly correct in this, free of any single error, then it follows that…

Let me interject that I am not upset with all of Craig's opinions about God. I don't agree with all of them, but I do agree with many of them. But that isn't the point. My point plainly and simply is that Craig is incredibly arrogant man. He believes he knows more about God than anyone else, unless of course the person totally agrees with him. Why has Craig been granted this incredible knowledge of God which is denied to so many of the rest of us? He does not address that issue.

Then expresses his contempt of the atheists' view which he says provides no objective bases for believing that human well-being is of any value. He says if we accept the atheist view point, insect well being or hyena well being would be no less important than human well being. His argument is silly. 

1.  Animal well-being may be important and yet still be less important than human well-being.

2. I think this shows a great moral weakness on his part. Like so many who wish to believe that we are a special creation of God above all other animals, he shows contempt for animal welfare, I do not share his opinion. 

3.  Since all known atheists are human beings, it follows that they would be very likely to consider the welfare of human beings more important than that of other animals. Craig's assertion that this cannot possibly be so simply makes no sense whatsoever.

Why would human welfare be of greater importance than animal welfare? One simple answer is pretty obvious. We're human. I would not find it unreasonable if a zebra became intelligent, it fell zebra intelligence was more important than human intelligence.

So why are we more important in the present state of affairs? Because we are the most intelligent, we are the most sapient, we are the most feeling, of all animals. And those of the characteristics that give us our basic rights and a basic desire for, and a right t,o well-being.

Unlike like so many of my fellow Christians, I agree with St. Francis in that I believe all of the universe is a part of us and we are part of it. The animals, the plants, all are our brothers and sisters. We should treat them accordingly. Their well-being does matter.

Craig irritates me by expressing a clear intellectual and perhaps even an emotional contempt for Harris when he says since Harris denies an objective outside platonic test of morality, Harris must find one with in the world within our existing reality. He says this as if Harris is desperately seeking something. But he is not.  He is curious and determined, but not desperate. I also agree with Dr. Harris, of course it's embedded in our world. Where else would it be? This is not an act of desperation. It is a confirmation of a fundamental belief system. Okay, we differ on this point. However, we should not express contempt for each other on this issue.

He then acknowledges that even baboons show morality. But strangely, in making this point which strongly supports Dr. Harris's position, he says this proves that Dr. Harris' position is wrong. What this is actually showing, once again, is his contempt for all other forms of life except the mighty human.

He says baboons only do this because natural evolution made it advantageous to survival. Exactly. What could be more morally objective then something which actually helps you to survive? That's pretty powerful stuff. All Craig offers is God's decree. He declares that survival is irrelevant and unimportant. I cannot help but find this position strange and utterly not understandable.  Craig may not value survival.  I do.

It's a pretty solid objective test, if you live or you die. Nothing subjective in that. On the other hand, what is more subjective than people's opinions about what God thinks?

Until recently Christians were busily spending centuries killing each other over minor theological issues and minor questions of what is or is not moral. Even people reading the same Bible could not agree on what God thought. What's objective about that?

Craig then refers to mankind having developed a herd morality for the same reason under the theory of evolution. I can't resist pointing out that we are not a herd species. We are a troop animal. Herds of cattle and sheep act very differently than troops of chimpanzees, and gorillas, and monkeys, and other primates.

They do so because, being different animals, they have a different set of survival needs and therefore a different moral structure.

I'm also deeply offended that he keeps referring to the atheistic view as if it were inherently distasteful. Well, as it happens I strongly agree with much of what this particular atheist has to say.  Yet, I am a Christian. I am also one of the most deeply religious people people you will ever likely meet. How does he explain that?

Craig points out that most modern biologists believe that evolution could have gone differently and we could be very different creatures than the human beings that are in existence today. This is a factual recognition. He then says that evolution therefore would give given us different morality. I find this an obvious statement. But to him this somehow is a negative.

Clearly he has conflated the meanings of two separate concepts. First is the concept of Objective. This means something that is testable. Something that does not change with the opinions of the commentator. He is then conflates this term with Universal. That is to say something which applies to all beings. This is clearly nonsense. He himself does not believe that animals should be held to the same moral standards as humans. Therefore he himself does not believe thst objective moral standards are also universal. But  he has no problem with criticizing his opponents by saying they don't think it's universal. Will, neither does he!

If our standards do not apply to ducks, or frogs, or elephants, why should they apply to an alien species that evolved differently from us? If, however, there is one absolute all-powerful God, then all intelligent species should all be required to follow the same objective and universal standards of our human God.

It's not impossible to imagine an intelligent species that is by nature a harem animal. That is to say, like wild horses one alien will gather together as many of his females as possible, as many as he can protect, and keep them all for his own desires and interests. This would mean that most young males will never get a chance to reproduce . This would be very immoral for humans, but it would be very moral for this alien species. At the same time, it would also be an objective test. It's just the objective test for humans is different than the objective test for the alien equines. And while some human societies have allowed harem gathering, it is only the rich and powerful who are truly allowed to do this.

I'm afraid Dr. Craig is falling into a very old trap. A Greek philosopher once said if horses had gods their gods would be horses. In other words, we think God is just like us. We think God is just a great big super powerful human being. Not only that, we think God is exactly like us, as individuals. He's just a great big super powerful me.

He then refers to the idea if there is no God, we are only apelike creature with delusions of moral grandeur. I think Dr. Craig has delusions  of moral grandeur. What is wrong with survival? What is wrong with a species behaving so that it lifts itself up? I believe God provides us with guidance and with spiritual assistance when we need it. Not physical assistance, because I'm afraid I can't believe in miracles.  I've seen too many horrible things happen. But rather, spiritual guidance, spiritual assistance. I see nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I would much rather be a risen and still rising ape then a degenerate and still falling angel. If we are apes rising up, then all the horrible things we have done to each other are understandable and it is a wonderful thing that we've come so far and are still getting better. If on the other hand, if we are wonderful, glorious, God created, amazing beings, how could we have been so filthy disgusting and horrible?  We have done vile and evil things. I would rather believe those were because we have not yet completely overcome our animal nature than to believe this was because God did such a lousy job in designing us.

Then he quotes Dr. Dawkins about how utterly meaningless everything is. Well, as it happens I have as much contempt for Dr. Dawkins I have for Dr. Craig on these particular issues. And for much the same reason. I find both to be arrogant, judgmental, close minded, and entirely emotional in all their judgments. I find them to be lacking in any rational basis for their beliefs. Both of them say essentially the same thing. This is what makes me feel good, so it must be true. They then add, this ends the argument because I am always right.

Craig then asks, rhetorically,since he is of course the only speaker, how does Harris solve this horrible problem? First, I don't recognize the problem even exists. Second, I am deeply offended by the fact that he doesn't say Harris's solution is one with which he disagrees. No, he has to say Harris uses a trick! This kind of arrogance, this kind of nastiness, is typical of so many of the deeply religious today. It makes me ashamed to admit that I am also deeply religious. Let us be honest.  Let us say we disagree instead of attacking the other on a personal basis.

Then he complains that the trick is defining moral term in what  Craig says are non-moral terms. In other words, since Harris' definition of morality is  non emotional,  therefore it cannot be a valid definition of morality. It is a bizarre argument. Once again Craig declares the only test of morality is God because I say so. Since your argument does not fit my personal definitions, it must be a trick. It must be invalid. As an argument this is utter nonsense. It works for those who feels emotionally satisfied with Craig's opinion, but it is unable to convince anyone who is independent and thoughtful and therefore wants a reason other than, it makes me feel good to so believe.

Craig complains of Harris' argument that the definition of  morality is that which promotes the well-being of intelligent beings. It sounds like pretty good definition to me. Although I would include any kind of animal which is emotive. That is, which can feel pain or suffering.

He then makes another bizarre statement. He says that if you do define moral good as maximizing animals' well-being that this is aa tautology. He says that since morality is maximizing well-being and maximizing well-being is morality therefore there is no basis for the statement. This is insane. It's like saying if I say duck is a waterbird and that a waterbird is a duck, therefore that is circular reasoning. Definitions must work in both directions. this is nothing to do with circular reasoning. It is a fallacious argument.

Circular reasoning exists when your cause for believing something is the same as believing it. This is not true of definitions.

In fact, it is Craig who is guilty of circular reasoning in his argument. He declares that that which is good is whatever God says is good and it's good because God says it is good, and everything He says is good, so it is good because God says so... And so on and so on.  That's much more circular logic. But it can be interpreted merely as a definition, if we eliminate the unsupported assumption that God is always good, so I will allow it to be so for the purpose of my analysis. Craig's primary problem is that he believes that he is totally correct and that there's not even the slightest possibility that he could be wrong. This permeates everything he says and every series of arguments that he makes. If anyone believes Craig is anything less than totally perfect, his entire argument, the entire basis of everything believes, simply disappears.

His entire argument consists simply of, this is so because I said so. All who disagree with me are wrong. There. I win.

He offers no evidence. He makes no case. He simply declares again and again how correct he is, with an occasional straw man side argument about how awful his opponents are.  I am a Catholic. But I wouldn't even accept that argument from the Pope if he were speaking ex cathedra, which is supposed to make him infallible.

The argument will convince every single person who already believes everything he said. It will convince no one to change his mind.

Nevertheless, to answer the point. What is more objective than, this contributes to welfare or it doesn't. That's pretty objective Why is what Hitler did wrong?   Because it caused suffering grief instead of supporting and expanding welfare. That's obvious, but let's try a religious argument. Applying Craig's argument, what Hitler did was wrong because God says so.  But Hitler believed that what he did what was right because he thought God told him to do these things. In other words, by Dr. Craig's supposedly objective definition, Craig says Hitler was wrong, but Hitler says what he did was perfectly moral and correct. After all, he was convinced that God wanted him to do it.  How can the test of morality be objective when no one can agree on what is or is not moral by applying it?  Not even in the case of Nazi atrocities is there agreement on the "objective" God based morality.

Since all morality comes from God, if God says to torture and murder millions of people to death, then we must do so. This is objective? I have asked this before but I have to keep asking it. Craig's supposedly objective system is one of the most subjective in the entire history of human thought.

On the other hand doctor Harris' is indeed objective. Did Hitler bring well-being to humanity or harm? The answer is simple, obvious, and yes, objective.

Let me add that I do not know exactly what kind of god Hitler believed in. I do know that he endlessly repeated the story, to the boredom of his listeners, of how he was spared from being killed in World War I when a comrade was killed beside him because he felt that God, whatever he meant by that, had chosen him to save the world, among other things, from the evil Jews.

Craig than contemptuously says what about the well being of corn, mosquitoes, or bacteria? My answer is that if there were intelligent corn, mosquitoes, or bacteria, the same objective definition of welfare and morality would apply to them.  Of course it would.  He then says that merely supporting well-being is not objective. But of course it is. Is he seriously saying that it is not bad for well-being to commit murder? Rape? Torture?  That which causes harm is bad, that which promotes well-being is good. How can that not be objective?

He then says that this is arbitrary. What's arbitrary about living or dying?  That which helps you to live and to live comfortably and well are objectively superior to that which makes you suffer and die. What is actually arbitrary is the declaration that God is good because you want God to be good. To offer no proof or evidence of this position, but to simply say it is so because that's the way you want to be, that is an excellent example of being arbitrary. Again, the Craig's circular reasoning and contempt for evidence insult logic almost every time he speaks.

Finally he declares a vast number of unnamed unspecified and unquoted individuals have successfully attacked Harris. Once again he makes an unsupported statement of personal opinion as factual.  That's all he ever offers.

Then he goes on to presumably specify the objections of these supposedly numerous individuals as being: "science is about facts not norms." True. It is not science to say that we should support the well-being of our fellow creatures. However it is science to say that we have evolved to support the well-being of our fellow creatures. Once again Harris's argument is there must be his God to define things or the facts are meaningless.

Clearly what most offends Craig is the fact that Harris's attitudes are objective. Craig demands absolute subjectivity.  Things are right because God says so and to say otherwise apparently is to insult God.  

Of course science does not tell us what we should and should not do, evolution does so.  Evolution developed our morality. We are social animals, therefore we have social morals. We do not have morals imposed upon us by some arbitrary outside source, we grew them inside our brains as we evolved.  We believe things are immoral because they make sense to us. That means, they evolved. Nothing is more objective. Therefore Craig says science can't objective in this narrow case. I just don't how to respond to this man because I insist on using logic and rationality and I found none in anything he has said.

This is always the problem and trying to debate or discuss things with the emotional extremist. Since their entire basis for what they believe is that it feels good to them, how can you possibly attack that position? It does feel good to them. Since you are self limited to facts and reality, while they can say, or frankly make up, anything they want, you are completely unarmed by their standards.  And, trust me on this, they accept no standards but their own.

It is actually clear to me that science does exactly what he says science cannot do.

This is true even if we regard classical natural selection as the reality. That is, that evolution functions only to benefit the survival of the individual. However, if one goes further and accepts the theories of Etheridge and Gould, who believe that not only does evolution work on the basis of the survival of single individuals, but also on the survival of herds or species, then of course morality evolved to provide for that evolution. Admittedly, this theory is seriously controversial at this time, but many biologists believe it to be true. And even if evolutionary benefit is restricted to the level of the individual, making the species or heard stronger makes the individual more likely to survive. So the evolution  of morality makes perfect sense. And yes, being moral is what we should do if we want to survive. How can this not be objective and non arbitrary?

I can't help but get a little bit personal here. I will make a serious effort not to be nasty about it as I have accused Craig of being. Listening to Craig is giving me the same feelings as having lengthy debates with a loved one who was an addict. The endless rationalizations. The refusal to face facts. The constant declarations that it is so because it feels right to me and I'm always right and you're always wrong. That is exactly the situation I once experienced. All I could do was to be rational, thoughtful, logical, and try to deal with facts. Craig, on the other hand, like any addict, can make up any nonsense he wants because it feels right him, no facts allowed.

(A perfect unassailable statement on my part. At least, by Craig's standards. After all I really do feel that way. Therefore, I must be perfectly correct.)

Craig goes on to say that evolution says we're just animals and animals have no morality. Evolution does not say both of those things. On the contrary, evolution says that morality evolved. This means that animals must have some level, or type of morality.  So what he's doing is taking his opponent's argument plus his argument and sticking them together into some sort of bizarre chimera with the horse's headless body and a man's upper body into a sort of weird centaur thing. 

And here we go again with his bizarre logic. He says a lion kills a zebra, it does not murder a zebra.  Well, if a human kills a cow,  it doesn't murder it either. Again, an argument that is so totally irrational, so totally unreasonable, so totally bizarre, that how can you possibly answer it?

I can improve his argument for him, being an old varsity debater, I find it easy. If a human kills a human we often call it murder. If an animal kills one of its own kind, we never call it murder. However, if a human kills a human being because he's executing a criminal, we don't call it murder. And if a human being kills another human being who is an enemy soldier, we don't call it murder.

Craig is saying that since animals cannot murder each other therefore they have no morality. But that's like saying that 2+2 doesn't equal seven, so nothing equals 7. He has isolated one single situation and declares that it covers everything. This is not true. Animals do display morality in a number of situations, as we have described before discussing your ethics class.  Craig's argument is simply absurd. I would laugh at it, except it honestly, I find it both infuriating and pitiful.

He also is cherry picking. It is clear that higher primates, the more involved animals, do display moral behavior. In fact he admitted it so himself earlier in the argument! Yet, somehow, he now he forgets that baboons show some morality. So he admits they do, until he denies they do, depending on whatever is convenient for his argument at the moment. This is intellectual dishonesty.

His dishonesty is not limited to this particular act. He also continually says that his opponents believe things that some of them may, but which many of them obviously do not. In other words, he is setting up straw men. "Since my opponents love to eat live kittens they must be evil."  But most, if not all, of his opponents have said nothing like this, so he should not be saying that. He says to atheists, everything is just social conditioning. Rape is only taboo because we declared it so. It's just social. This is dishonest. Yes, there are some who say that all morality is simply social conditioning, that it must be interpreted in terms of the social milieu. But only a very few say that. Most people, even most of his opponents, do not. 

Furthermore, we know about the Westermark effect don't we? Incest is bad because we we evolved to realize it's bad. An objective moral test! The man's ignorance is appalling.

Although he doesn't say it, another point he should have made is that if we accept evolution as the basis of morality, then we must accept that morality was different at different points in our evolution.  Yes, theoretically, morality was different when we were more primitive and maybe it will be even more different when we are more advanced (sounds like Nietzsche's overman, doesn't it?) but evolving morality is real.  It does tell us what we should and shouldn't do at any given point in our development. This means morality is a work in progress.  Once again, Craig is acting like the Pope and taking rigid, absolute positions.  His justification for this is, I declare it is so therefore it is so.  You must believe, or else. Or else what? Or else we disregarded his silly arguments.

He says rape and other such bad behaviors occur in the animal kingdom all the time, which proves animals have no morals. Excuse me Dr. Craig but that occurs all the time among humans. Which according to your argument means that of humans have no morals.

Again, I could improve his argument, but then I'd just have to go and demolish even the improvement.

He then makes a despicable act which makes me ashamed to admit that I'm also a Christian and a believer if that's how believers behave. He says that according to atheists, someone who commits rape is merely doing something that is not important and that is not at all immoral. That is a lie. I know a number of atheists. Every one of which is very good person. 
They have morals and theirs are much superior to those of some of the Christians I know. For example Dr. Craig should not make nasty smears against his opponents, he especially should not make declarations which are bearing false witness against his neighbors. He says that to atheists, rape is the moral equivalent of Lady Gaga's antics. It is a despicable thing to say.

Craig states that without a moral lawgiver there is no moral law. Once again this is his opinion. He actually makes no case for this being so, he simply declares it like the Pope speaking ex cathedra. Once again he ignores the obvious. If God is a person, God has free will. If God can make a choice, he may do so.  If God changes his mind, then, according to Craig, morality itself changes. 

Yet Craig insists that morality is forever immutable and unchangeable. Therefore, If God is the moral lawgiver, then by Craig's definition, God is forever immutable and unchangeable.  So, God is either a mindlessly rigid, unthinking computer which can never varies its functioning or morals are 100% totally subjective because anytime God changes his mind morals also change.

Craig adds that without God, there is no source of moral duty. But there is. Evolutionary science provides it. Remember the capuchin monkey who has a duty to announce his find of delightful food before he even takes a bite? Craig doesn't criticize this point, he just ignores it. Once again he simply declares things are so because he says they are, therefore he is right because he is never wrong. The man really irritates me.

Now the second problem he finds is that he says Harris says man are basically biochemical robots who have no free will and cannot make choices. If Dr. Harris says that, then indeed there is no morality in Dr. Harris's view.

But even if this is true, it says nothing about the billions of other people with opinions about morality and its source. Craig thinks that he only needs to prove that Harris is wrong in order to prove that he is correct, therefore declaring entire world is wrong except for those who already agree with him. 

This is exactly the same situation as if I said,  this one person cannot explain the Pythagorean theorem. Therefore, no one can explain the Pythagorean theorem. Therefore, the Pythagorean theorem is wrong. Even if you can prove one person is wrong, it does not mean everybody who disagrees with you is wrong.

Craig then proceeds, once again, to totally contradict his own previous statements. He admits that although Dr. Harris is an atheist, he has essentially the same moral outlook that he himself has. But how is that possible for an atheist? According to him all atheists are believe that rape is no different from Lady Gaga acting a little silly one night. The man simply states whatever argument suits him at the moment, even if it contradicts what he said just a few moments before. This is intellectual hypocrisy. 

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