Why I Secretly Root For the Atheists in Debates…

I actually felt sorry for Harris because, in debating Craig, he was so clearly out of his depth. Harris studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Stanford, but his Ph.D. is in the new pseudo-science of “neuro-science,” a new inter-disciplinary degree that brings together neurology, psychology and a little philosophy in order to discuss Big Ideas without the burden of actually having to think clearly.

William Lane Craig

In contrast, Craig earned two master’s degrees in theology, a Ph.D. in philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham in the UK, a doctorate in theology under Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich, and then, after all that, spent six years doing post-graduate research at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. What’s more, Craig is a professional philosopher in the analytic mode – meaning, he breaks down philosophical subjects into the various possible options, uncovers the logical assumptions in each of the possible options, and then demonstrates how the hidden assumptions in philosophical arguments or claims undermine the point being made or, in some instances, provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for the argument to make sense. As an analytic philosopher, Craig is quite comfortable with rigorous logic, sufficient reason, proof, demonstrations and so on – and so, when doing battle on the field of pure reason and logic, he is able to expose the arguments of the New Atheists (such as they are) as being little more than empty rhetoric. Here is how a typical debate between a New Atheist and someone like Craig goes:

Craig: But secondly, the problem that’s even worse is the “ought implies can” problem. In the absence of the ability to do otherwise, there is no moral responsibility. In the absence of freedom of the will, we are just puppets or electro-chemical machines. And puppets do not have moral responsibilities. Machines are not moral agents. But on Dr. Harris’s view, there is no freedom of the will, either in a libertarian or a compatibilistic sense, and therefore, there is no moral responsibility. So there isn’t even the possibility of moral duty on his view. So while I can affirm and applaud Dr. Harris’s affirmation of the objectivity of moral values and moral duties, at the end of the day his philosophical worldview just doesn’t ground these entities that we both want to affirm. If God exists, then we clearly have a sound foundation for objective moral values and moral duties. But if God does not exist, that is, if atheism is true, then there is no basis for the affirmation of objective moral values; and there is no ground for objective moral duties because there is no moral lawgiver and there is no freedom of the will. And therefore it seems to me that atheism is simply bereft of the adequate ontological foundations to establish the moral life.

Now, those were fighting words. Craig just demolished most of the argument in Harris’s most recent book in front of a large audience at the University of Notre Dame. You might expect that Harris would at least try to defend his position, to offer reasonable counter-arguments to show why Craig’s attacks are unfair or miss the point of what he is trying to say.


But he doesn’t!

Much to my astonishment and disappointment, Harris just reverts to what Atheists do best – which is to change the subject and begin name calling!

Harris: Well, that was all very interesting. Ask yourselves, what is wrong with spending eternity in Hell? Well, I, I’m told it’s rather hot there, for one. Dr. Craig is not offering an alternative view of morality. Ok, the whole point of Christianity, or so it is imagined, is to safeguard the eternal well-being of human souls. Now, happily, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Christian Hell exists. I think we should look at the consequences of believing in this framework, this theistic framework, in this world, and what these moral underpinnings actually would be. (go to Page 3)

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Robert Hutchinson


Robert Hutchinson studied philosophy as an undergraduate, moved to Israel to study Hebrew and earned an M.A. degree in Biblical studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible. He blogs at RobertHutchinson.com.

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