A bizarre response from Randal Rauser

Randal Rauser has a response to my response to his response to this post. Well, sort of, because my post was about the question of whether Craig misrepresented Harris, and Randal ignores that issue in favor of criticizing Harris’ moral views and accusing me of having misrepresented Craig. I think commeter RobMcCune gets this issue exactly right:

Whether or not Sam Harris is a repugnant hypocrite has nothing to do with whether or not Craig misrepresented his statement. Since William Lane Craig has up to this point been the topic, I don’t see why Chris should have gone out his way to criticize Harris. No one is under obligation to list a persons faults every time said person is mentioned.

What Craig did is use Harris’ psychopathic comment as a red herring ignoring the claim that Craig’s only possible criticism of blowing up a school bus under as a religious act is that the religion is wrong. Instead Craig becomes indignant at a supposed insult despite the fact Harris clarified that he did not mean to call all believers psychopaths.

That is similar to what most of this post is, namely not answering Hallquist’s criticism of Craig’s statement but rather comparing the ethical views of Craig and Harris on certain issues. I don’t know if Hallquist agrees with Harris’ views on nuclear war or torture, but it was never the point of his criticisms of Craig.

Randal’s reply:

I already explained in the previous article that Craig never misrepresented Harris. However, Hallquist has misrepresented Craig and demonstrated a selective moral indignation when it comes to Harris’ views and conduct.

Seriously, what the fuck?

The way a series of replies and counter-replies works is that Alice argues p, Bob argues not-p, Alice continues arguing by responding to Bob’s arguments, Bob continues arguing not-p by responding to Alice’s arguments, and so on. What Bob isn’t supposed to do is say, “okay, I already explained that not-p, so I’m going to launch an attack on Alice that totally ignores what subject we were talking about.”

(Not that Bob has to reply at all. It’s just that if he does reply, one expects his replies to be on-topic.)

So the reason for not mentioning Harris on nuclear war is that it wasn’t relevant to the point of my post. The same goes for Randal’s claim that I “misrepresented” Craig. Here’s the claim he’s upset about:

Now, on to what I said about the Craig-Harris debate: we need to emphasize that the view Harris referred to as “psychopathic” is the view that intentionally blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren is OK if it’s what God told you to do–that in fact, it’s not just OK, but a moral obligation. That’s actually Craig’s view.

When I talk about Craig misrepresenting his opponents views, I’m mostly talking about him saying things that are false. The case I’ve been arguing with Randal about is unusual in that it’s merely a case where Craig’s comments make no sense without an implied falsehood about his opponent (or so I argued in my previous post).

But when Randal accuses me of misrepresenting Craig, he doesn’t appear to be talking about either of those things. What I said about Craig is as far as I can tell true, Randal doesn’t deny it’s true, and I think it’s pretty damning without any further false assumptions about Craig. Instead, Randal is unhappy that I didn’t mention that Craig thinks God wouldn’t order blowing up a schoolbus.

One reason for not mentioning this in my previous post is that I was just clarifying what Harris was calling psychopathic. It also happens that I don’t think the picture for Craig’s view is as rosy as Randal makes it out to be. Randal says that on Craig’s view, the circumstances of the slaughter of the Canaanites was “unique,” but while Craig has claimed the circumstances were “unusual,” “unique” strikes me as a bit strong here, especially given Craig’s belief in Biblical inerrancy.

Consider that in the Bible, the business of exterminating all the tribes God wanted exterminated apparently took from the time of Moses to the time of Saul and maybe beyond. Consider that in general, the God of the Old Testament seems very big on killing and ordering people to kill. When you take things like that into account, it looks less like “that was a unique circumstance” and more like “lucky us, not being born in that entire period of many centuries we know of as ‘Old Testament times.’”

Now, I expect Randal has some response to that, but the fact that he has some response doesn’t mean I was misrepresenting Craig. For the sake of the original point of my post, there was no reason to get in to any of this. All I needed to do was clarify which view Harris was calling psychopathic. For Randal to try to spin that as me misrepresenting Craig is bizarre.

I’m going to finish by quoting another of Randal’s commenters, Mark (addressing Randal):

I personally find your writing to be a lot more combative and filled with psychologizations than Hallquist’s, as well as failures to fill in certain gaps in obviously charitable ways, so my tentative conclusion is that you’re laboring under more motivated cognition than he.

  • MNb

    Don’t bother too much, CH. I actually read a few of WLC’s posts. This

    “That’s actually Craig’s view.”
    is simply true. Randal R is trying to move the goalposts for the simple reason that he can’t prove you wrong here. From Craig’s site Reasonable Faith:

    “God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses.”
    “Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not.”
    “an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.”
    This is exactly what the terrorists of 9/11 would have argued given the chance to defend themselves. They were morally obligatory in virtue of a divine command.

    “Craig thinks God wouldn’t order blowing up a schoolbus.”
    Which proves that there are no objective ethics. Craig thinks so. The 9/11 terrorists thought otherwise and there is no way within the DCT to prove them wrong. My new JW acquaintances got stuck exactly here.

    As long as Randal R doesn’t explicitely address this point your debate with him will be fruitless. As soon as he does your debate with him will be over.
    So frankly I don’t think it makes any sense.

  • http://www.andrewmbailey.com Andrew

    I’m puzzled by this whole thing.

    Craig subscribes to an ethical theory according to which something is obligatory iff God commands it (that’s not quite right, but let’s omit detail for now). One consequence of this view, it seems, is that if God commands the blowing up of a schoolbus, it is obligatory to blow up the schoolbus. This would seem to follow even if it were impossible for God to give such a command (which is, I believe, Craig’s view).

    Here’s why I’m puzzled. This problem for divine command ethics has nothing to do with divine command ethics (or with the question of who is a psychopath).

    Consider flatfooded utilitarianism, according to which something is obligatory iff it maximizes total utility. It would seem to follow from this that if blowing up a schoolbus maximizes utility, then blowing up a schoolbus is obligatory. Does this present an insurmountable problem for flatfooted utilitarianism? I don’t see that it does (absent further argument); for it is open to the utilitarian to argue that blowing up schoolbuses does not (or even cannot) maximize utility. Similarly, it is open to the divine command theorist to argue that blowing up schoolbuses is not commanded by God (and indeed, on Craig’s view, *couldn’t* be commanded by God). If it’s not even *possible* for God to command something, then it’s not even *possible* for it to be obligatory; and thus claiming that Craig seriously countenances it as obligatory seems way off to me.

    Note that we can play this game for any theory of obligation that says something is obligatory iff C. One could argue against such a theory with this speech:

    “So on your view, it would be obligatory to blow up a schoolbus iff C obtains. C obtaining is impossible, of course; but on your view, were it to obtain, we would be obliged to blow up schoolbuses, and that’s obviously false (and indeed, those who affirm it are psychopaths). Nothing could make blowing up schoolbuses obligatory, but your theory wrongly predicts that something could (namely, the obtaining of C). So your theory of obligation is both false and messed up.”

    This is, I submit, a silly speech. What matters here is whether condition C obtains (or whether it possibly obtains), not whether *if it obtains, such-and-such is obligatory* (at least, if you wish to present a valid argument against the theory in question, that’s what matters). So also, the psychopath argument against divine command ethics is silly.

    • RobMcCune

      Harris wasn’t making a good argument, but Craig misrepresented it as some sort of insult calling Christians psychopaths. It started out as an example Chris used in post about Craig being a dishonest debater, and it was arguably the weakest one. Randall took issue with Chris’ assertion, then went off the rails when Chris replied.

      • Andrew

        Thanks. I care more about the arguments, I suppose, without reference to the character of their authors. Harris’ struck me as unsound (and indeed, silly).

        • RobMcCune

          Indeed, if two people agree on the broad strokes they can only disagree on the details. That’s true of every system of thought ever. From what I’ve seen of Harris that form of argument is fairly common, paint a horrible scenario and claim his critics can’t provide a satisfactory answer.

        • hf

          If you’re interested, I joined a conversation in a track-back and gave my version of the argument starting here. (Skip down if you don’t care about Loeb’s Theorem.) I do note that I think Harris made his own fatal-looking mistake, though I forget where he makes it.

    • Kevin

      “So on your view, it would be obligatory to blow up a schoolbus iff C obtains. C obtaining is impossible, of course; but on your view, were it to obtain, we would be obliged to blow up schoolbuses, and that’s obviously false (and indeed, those who affirm it are psychopaths).”

      Utilitarians wouldn’t say this. They would say that it is obviously false given what we believe to be true about the world, but under different conditions, it’s not obviously false. And no, we wouldn’t necessarily affirm that those who believe so would be psychopaths. Take Andrea Yates for example. She drowned her children, guaranteeing that they be sent to heaven before they were given the chance to rebel God and be sent to hell for eternal torment. This is a very non-psychopathic thing to do. The problem was not that she lacked empathy for her children, the problem was that her belief system was irrational. If her belief system was true, her actions would be seen in a more positive light. On the other hand, divine command theory does not concern itself with the welfare of the participants involved, so you have to divorce your empathy from the commands being given, hence the label pyschopathic. Utilitarianism is built on empathy, whereas DCT removes it, so the objection doesn’t cut both ways. Given certain notions about how people define moral behavior, this is indeed one distinction that people make, so this can be a good counter to DCT.

      • Darren

        Nice, thanks for that clarification.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matthew Flannagan

    “On the other hand, divine command theory does not concern itself with the welfare of the participants involved, so you have to divorce your empathy from the commands being given, hence the label pyschopathic. Utilitarianism is built on empathy, whereas DCT removes it, so the objection doesn’t cut both ways. Given certain notions about how people define moral behavior, this is indeed one distinction that people make, so this can be a good counter to DCT.”

    This is false, pretty much all contemporary divine command theories including Craig’s claim that something is obligatory if its commanded by *God* where *God* refers to an essentially loving person who cares about peoples welfare. So, in fact, the claim that empathy does not enter into the picture is false.

    Its also false given that modern utilitarianism arose out of early modern divine command theories such as those of Berkeley, Locke, Gay, and Paley which held that because God is a loving and impartial being he would seek the welfare of his creatures and so his commands would be co-extensive with those rules general conformity with which promotes the impartially considered welfare of humanity.

    I dont know why people keep caricaturing divine command ethics, the theories of people like Adams, Quinn, Alston and the fact they emphasis that God is loving is avalible to all who choose to read them and the historical theories of Locke, Paley, Berkeley, Gay and so on are avalible to any who wishes to read them. So there is no excuse really for continuing to attack straw men.

    • RobMcCune

      Who exactly are you quoting?

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matthew Flannagan

        The Kevin in the comment above me.

    • Patrick

      “This is false, pretty much all contemporary divine command theories including Craig’s claim that something is obligatory if its commanded by *God* where *God* refers to an essentially loving person who cares about peoples welfare. So, in fact, the claim that empathy does not enter into the picture is false.”

      So what? Craig also believes that his God is the author of genocide, and that the morality of this genocide was determined by whether it had divine endorsement. So who cares whether he defines his God as essentially loving? That just means that Craig THINKS his divine command theory takes empathy into account. It doesn’t mean that his divine command theory ACTUALLY takes empathy into account.

      We aren’t obligated to only evaluate his point of view as he portrays it. We can evaluate his point of view as evidenced by his other beliefs and statements.

      At best, in its closest to coherent form, his position boils down to theological skepticism- a faith based belief that somehow God is taking care of all of the empathy stuff off set where we can’t see him, and so, while he sometimes orders us to butcher children and dump their bodies in mass graves, there’s probably a really good reason that we just don’t know about. But that God is indistinguishable from a demon totally lacking in empathy- there’s no logic that would explain why a perfectly empathic and loving God would order genocide that wouldn’t also explain why a perfectly evil and sociopathic God might occasionally order his followers to be nice to each other. So again, we come around to a moral theory that doesn’t actually take empathy into account in any meaningful sense- it just insists that someone, somewhere is handling that bit, and that we should just ignore empathy ourselves and follow orders.

  • http://carnedes.blogspot.com Carneades-Skeptic Griggsy

    Those who criticize us utilitarians about some point are using consequences and thus, implicitly using utilitarianism!
    We Aristotelians find that eudemonia rules.
    We Epicurean hedonists find long-range pleasure as the goal with short- and intermediate term pleasures as part of that but never as Aristippus short-range policy of eat, drink and be merry contradicts the long-term with their insufferable consequences.
    We Stoics need no supernatural to be stoical, despite the ancient stoic doctrine of mind.
    We Kantians, despite Kant’s faulty argument for God underpinning morality, need no supernatural underpinning. I agree with Alonzo Fife that Kant’s categorical imperative is imperative in a utilitarian sense.
    We humanists thus can account for eudemonia- human flourishing for the better- without invoking the superfluity and superstition of God as the ultimate explanation.
    Mine is thus eclectic – [Google:] covenant morality for humanity- the presumption of humanism.
    Do you read Fife’s Atheistic Ethicist and do your agree with him to any extent?


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