Is God Necessary for Morality? (Kagan vs Craig 2009) part 2

Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Thoughts | 3 comments

This is a continuation from my blow-by-blow account of the debate between Dr Shelly Kagan and Dr William Lane Craig from 2009, which can be read here.

I had originally intended to continue my critique of this debate as it unfolded, but the more I watch, the more I see Dr Craig’s ground slipping away from under his feet. I had intended to make an impartial judgement of the arguments on both sides, but unfortunately for Dr Craig, Dr Kagan is the only one making any real sense in this debate. I’ll continue by making this a commentary on the arguments presented by both sides, and why I feel that Dr Craig has no leg to stand on.

The opening arguments of this debate give enough of an insight as to where the two debaters stand, and from here the debate becomes more of a conversation and a “Q and A” where they both ask questions and do their best to answer questions asked of them. But before I go on, I’d just like to point out a few things.

Firstly, Dr Kagan’s approach, that morality is a byproduct of humanity’s evolutionary past, just makes sense. The millions of years of evolution as social animals that our species has undertaken is a long time for things to change and adapt, and there is no doubt in my mind that the social constructs that we have developed over these many years are beneficial products of the thinking mind. Decisions of right and wrong, though somewhat subjective to the situation, are the same worldwide. In actuality, Dr Craig quite eloquently puts forward the case of evolution, and has in his own treatise given the points that I would have given to illustrate the idea of evolutionary morality.

The biggest problem I see with Dr Craig’s arguments come from his leaps of judgement. “If there is no God, then there can be no objective morality.” While Dr Craig seems to make this statement make sense, it doesn’t really stem from anything but his own preconceived judgements about how human society, and the human animal, have evolved over time. To say, as Dr Craig implies, that humanity is incapable of the self-organising structures of morally binding social contracts is to deny humanity’s great capacity for building a working society.

Dr Kagan points out that all it takes for there to be a moral objective for humanity is for the humans involved to be able to recognise the things that would he harmful to others, by recognising it in themselves, and from this comes our morality. There is nothing further required by intelligent, thinking and feeling, rational, reasonable beings, such as humanity. Dr Craig keeps digging at this, trying to find a foot in the door, but ultimately he fails to reconcile his own preconceived bias, that there must be a God for this to be the case, and by this continues to lose ground.

Dr Craig, and people like him, will constantly refer back to the idea that life is meaningless if there is no cosmic significance for our lives. Saying things like “Without God, and his blessings, our lives are nothing but a meaningless journey toward oblivion, both on a personal and a universal scale.” This is Craig using an emotional draw-card which appeals to people on a level of self-importance. Every person likes to feel that their lives have meaning, and theists say they have the answer to what this meaning is, and it comes from God. Yet people who dismiss the possibility of God can still have a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning, and a sense of worth without having to answer to a cosmological being. I see Dr Craig using several emotional draw-cards during his debating time; he plays to the fear of worthlessness as discussed above; he plays to the fear of being related to filthy monkeys; he plays to the fear of determinism; and he plays to the fear, ultimately, that there is no God. Clever debating techniques indeed, but all they are in a real sense is playing us against some of the irrational fears that people have.

To punctuate the fear of worthlessness, he uses examples of the finality of death and the finality of the end of the universe. The problem is here, according to his beliefs, Christian creationist beliefs, the end of the universe will never happen anyhow, we will all be destroyed by Judgement before this. The real problem though lies in his disingenuous framing of time spans, and how the end of the universe is something that the human race is very unlikely to see even in a naturalistic sense.

The root of this debate, and the reason that we keep coming back to it, is that people come into a debate like this with a preconceived notion that states that either we are children of evolution, that our minds and brains and societies and bodies are the product of natural processes, or that somewhere along the line, God stepped in and said of humans “You are special to me, here is a way for you to stop killing one another,” or even that God shaped man as he stands today. You know which of these answers I stand behind, but it seems to me impossible to convince someone who has the preconception of a God that there can be any other answer. The God-claimer will always say, “but how did that happen?” and reduce the argument to one of farcical irreducible complexity, and claim victory on those grounds.

I am the first to admit I would go into a debate with a preconception of humans as evolutionary beings, but the difference with that is, if evidence was presented to me that could dissuade me of my standpoint, I would be the first to admit I was wrong. But there is no evidence in the God argument, only the “God-Of-The-Gaps” which says that god fills the holes in our understandings of the universe and ourselves.

I really can’t add much more to this debate, except to say that Dr Kagan has a much stronger argument than Dr Craig. This is why I will probably never become a debater. But I’d like to hear your input on these points and ideas. Watch the videos here if you wish and join me in conversation about these points.

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3 Comments

  1. That evolutonary morality,not Social Darwinian, is what I maintain.That i find to b e objective,not absolute.

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  2. “I see Dr Craig using several emotional draw-cards during his debating time; he plays to the fear of worthlessness as discussed above; he plays to the fear of being related to filthy monkeys; he plays to the fear of determinism; and he plays to the fear, ultimately, that there is no God. Clever debating techniques indeed, but all they are in a real sense is playing us against some of the irrational fears that people have.”
     
    Firstly, these are not “irrational” fears.  Fear can be a perfectly reasonable response if it is proportionate to the situation that evokes it.  And what could be more reasonable than the fear of a being who subjectively feels the infinitude of its self-worth, objectively observes the differences between it and other living creatures, subjectively intuits the apparent reality of its free-will in the face of practical decisions, and is constantly aware that it had no hand in the creation of the vastness, complexity and mysteriousness of the environment in which it exists, so the obvious conclusion is that something far greater than it did; BUT is never offered certainty concerning any of the above while being persistently aware of its finitude and fast approaching, apparent, disappearance into nothingness.
     
    Debates concerning morality or any of Kant’s three antinomies of reason are, and should be, “emotional”.   Do a review of a government debate on what traffic rules should be implemented, that should be more to your “rational” taste.

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    • @sjacks Incoherent remarks and ad hominem at the end.  She is quite right that he is using the bogeyman of determinism and the desire some feel for a “cosmic meaning” without any real argument. Craig never explains why God is necessary for morality, turns naturalism and “the philosophy of atheism” into straw men– a stock tactic of his.  He never explains how God is the ground of morality or how the claimed existence of God connects with and creates or grounds morality.  Nothing there at all in the way of argument.  He merely assumes that everyone will recognize how this will work.
       
      I was a graduate student and TA with Kagan and he is an first rate philosopher.  Craig Lane is a charlatan blowhard evangelical who impresses the faithful.  Most of the students in my graduate seminars of the past would do better.

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