Harris’ critique of divine command theory
I had to roll my eyes at part 2 of Luke’s review of the debate, where Luke claims Harris’ entire first rebuttal was “fail” because it was all irrelevant. But Luke simply ignores one of the most important points of the entire speech: that Craig’s moral theory entails that if God were to command the slaughter of an entire tribe, it would be moral, and that if the Taliban really were following God’s commands, they would be moral.
This is, as Harris says, a psychotic view. If he wanted to be pedantic, he could have added “any view which entails that is not only psychotic but also false,” but I don’t think failure to be pedantic invalidates the argument. Pace Craig, it isn’t enough for the divine command theorist to say “well maybe God didn’t command those things,” because they’re still committed to the if-then claim. And Craig’s only response to the illustration of the Taliban was to misrepresent Harris’ position and pretend that he and Harris actually agreed on that issue!
It’s sort of weird to see Luke saying the things he said. The first part of Luke’s review had some good criticisms of Craig’s views, but when he gets to Harris making very similar criticisms, he declares all of Harris’ points irrelevant.
Craig’s “modal argument” against Harris
One of Craig’s arguments in his rebuttal was that, in The Moral Landscape, Harris says that well-being and morality might come apart if “sinners” could flourish just as much as “saints.” Luke comments that that argument is “sound if it represents Harris’ position correctly,” and I do think it was the best point Craig made all night.
From Harris’ book, I get the impression that he really, really wants it to be true that doing the right thing will maximize your own well-being. I think Harris is wrong to think this important, since it seems pretty easy to see how doing the right thing might require some real sacrifices, ones that won’t be balanced out in the long run. And in general, think that Harris doesn’t adequately address questions about how to balance different people’s needs. So in that sense Craig has a point.
Trouble is, the idea that “doing the right thing will maximize your well-being,” and the things Craig quoted, are things that Harris never said during the debate. As far as I can tell, they also aren’t entailed by anything Harris said that night, nor do they strike me as central to Harris’ book. Harris actually makes quite a few gestures in the direction of utilitarianism, which certainly clearly says you sometimes have to sacrifice for the sake of others.
Craig makes a big show of claiming to have refuted everything his opponent said in a given debate, but often his actual strategy is to ignore everything his opponent said there and attack them for things they’ve said elsewhere. This is something I first picked up on when I read the transcript of his debate with Bart Ehrman–I wasn’t impressed with the strategy then, and I wasn’t impressed when he used it with Harris.
Notice the contrast with Harris’ criticisms of Craig: Craig explicitly made divine command theory a central part of his case throughout the debate. He didn’t get up in his opening statement and say, “yup, slaughtering children, establishing a theocracy, I think it’s all OK if you get God’s approval”–but it’s nevertheless clear what divine command theory entails.
On a related note, while I do think Harris’ views are flawed, I also think he often has good responses to his opponents. I do not think he can be refuted simply by saying “is-out problem!” or “Moore’s naturalistic fallacy!” Nor is it accurate to accuse Harris of never having studied philosophy. Please keep those things in mind when you criticize him.