On April 7 at Notre Dame University, William Lane Craig and Sam Harris debated whether morality requires God. Dr. Glenn Peoples posted a detailed play-by-play of the debate on his blog, including links to the audio. There are several other reviews listed here.
I have a reflection rather than a review to offer here. At least two of Craig’s arguments could be described as “knock-down” disproofs of Harris’s position. Craig himself used that term for one of them, noting as he did so that such strong proofs are hard to come by in philosophy, but that this one, based on the logic of identity relationships, was certainly one of them. The other had to do with the impossibility of moral realism if determinism in the strictest sense is true, as Harris believes it to be.
Harris’s response to these two logical arguments was to ignore them completely. His rebuttal was essentially a series of word pictures depicting moral outrages for which he held religion responsible. It was an appeal to the gut, not to the head. Now, I would be first to admit that morality has an emotional component, and emotionally-based arguments like Harris’s deserve answers. Craig did respond to them briefly, for example making reference to Paul Copan’s recent work on Old Testament morality.
And yet there is something strange in this. Harris is the founder of Project Reason (“Spreading Science and Secular Values”). In that role he illustrates and represents the New Atheists’ oft-sounded claim that they represent reason in the face of the irrationality of faith. Yet his response to Craig’s logical arguments was mostly in the form of emotional appeals.
There was definite power in Harris’s approach. My guess is that for those who are not oriented toward logical reasoning as a guide to knowledge, he scored more debate points than Craig. But he essentially forfeited the logical argument: the argument based on reason and rationality.
Doesn’t that seem odd for the man who leads Project Reason?
Also posted at The Point