Sunday, April 10, 2011

Harris Craig debate

Revised 5/1/2011 - here's a link to a single video of Harris-Craig from NDdotEDU:

As a skeptic, I side with Harris, but let me be a little objective in my review. First, the structure of the debate was 20 minute opening statements, 12 minute rebuttals, 8 minute counters, 5 minute closing statements. I'm not sure what this format is, nor whether the terms for the various statements are correct, but you get the idea. A 30 minute audience Q&A followed.

William Lane Craig went first. I've heard that he's the Terminator of Christian Apologetics. The reputation is well earned, he's polished, confident, fast, and word-bombs the opponent. I have to admit, though, that he seemed a decent enough guy, if a little too slippery. He blew through his argument with nary a pause, throwing out many references to Harris' book "The Moral Landscape" which neither I, nor probably many in the audience, have any knowledge of. I'll be interested to go back and listen a second time, because I caught myself thinking "what was that?" several times. It felt like there were some bare assertions and a tautology or two thrown in there that a skilled debater would jump on. His central point is that there is no moral grounding without God, thus an atheist or scientific conception of morality is meaningless. Craig did stress how loving and perfect god is, a point that Harris would take increasing advantage of.

Harris followed, and was slower, more congenial in demeanor, but his few attempts at humor fell flat in that first statement. His central argument is that it's possible to conceive of maximum and minimum well-being, and thus to derive morality from this to achieve maximum well-being for the maximum number of people.

Overall, the 20 minute sessions were won by Craig on style.

From then on, I thought Harris warmed up, took control, and won the debate. The main fault that I see with Craig is his reliance on god, and the assertion that god is both perfect and loving. Harris attacked this, giving examples of god letting 9 million children a year die before the age of five, as well as pointing out the implausibility of the Christian concepts of heaven, hell, and eternal damnation for non-believers by giving a "what if" example of Islam being the one true religion - and its implication for all Christian's eternal souls.

This was a lot more entertaining and congenial than I expected - have a watch!

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