The debate question was: Are the foundations of moral values natural or supernatural?
Winner? By acclamation Harris, but then the deck was stacked against Lane because the event was held at Notre Dame, a Ɔatholic university. By objective measure it was Lane, who managed to stick to the topic and to answer the question of the debate.
What Lane could never make Harris see was the distinction between these two questions:
- Accepting classical God of theism exists, is morality objective (i.e. absolute)?
- Accepting classical God of theism does not exist, is morality objective (i.e. absolute)?
If anybody comments, please don’t emulate Harris and shirk from answering (1). It appears cowardly. Incidentally, just as Lane repeatedly emphasizes, the question is NOT “Does God exist” so please don’t let’s discuss that. (Click over to Ed Feser’s site for definitions about the “classical God of theism”.)
Answer to (1) is yes, to (2) no.
Harris flees from (1) like a child who stole a dollar from his mother’s purse, but he insists (2) is yes. His (listen for complete description) basis begins with the “worst outcome” for every person alive, by which he means pain, suffering, etc. He’s very proud of this, and dismissive of Lane who insists—correctly—that saying “pain and suffering is bad” is a groundless assumption (if God doesn’t exist). Why is pain bad? Because Sam Harris says so. How does he respond to somebody who says pain is good? He can’t: moral truth comes down to a vote, and that’s it. If (2) (there is no God), then it just doesn’t matter what happens to people. We are all dead meat in the end. Better not to have been born. Whatever the majority says is good is “good”, what they say is bad is “bad.” The reason the Nazi’s were wrong is because they were outvoted. Etc. etc. etc.
But the poor man cannot be consistent. He concedes (33:40) “We declare certain events to be right or wrong. But in doing that it seems we are merely projecting our own preferences and desires onto a reality that is intrinsically value free.” This just is to answer (2) no, which is Lane’s position.
Conclusion? Lane won.
Harris must have known he lost, which is why he was so anxious to change the debate. So he tried this:
- (Whether or not God exists) Are some religions bad, i.e. have some people acted badly in the name of God?
I can’t think of a soul, alive or dead, who disagrees with this. Yet his resounding “Yes!” earned much applause. Recall this was a university audience, people who are often pleased with themselves for asserting the obvious (but more research is needed).
He then had a go with:
- Given that evil exists, can God exist?
This is irrelevant, I emphasize, to the debate’s stated purpose, even if per impossible it is turns out the answer is no. The ability to differentiate (3) or (4) from (1) or (2) requires a certain level of sophistication, I suppose.
And then this (~59:00):
- Given God exists and that people who disobey him will spend eternity in Hell, isn’t this awful/rude/unfortunate/not-to-be-desired?
Suppose the answer to this is yes. It’s very odd that this argument is then conflated with this:
- Given (5), can God exist?
To which the weak-minded answer no. My dear readers, this just doesn’t follow. It’s equivalent to a boy saying to his biological male parent, “You’re not my father because I don’t like your rules.” If you can’t see this, please focus on the conditional in (5), which assumes God exists. You cannot start from the assumption that God exists to then prove that God does not exist in an argument like this.
Not unless you’re Sam Harris.
Remember: all comments to count as honest must answer (1) and (2).