Pot. Kettle. Black. Another response to Chris Hallquist

Posted on 01/13/13 54 Comments

A couple days ago I posted a critique of Chris Hallquist’s critique of William Lane Craig which you can read here. This morning Chris provided a reply aptly titled “Reply to Randal Rauser on Craig and Harris.” So I just couldn’t resist typing up a quick response.

Chris begins: “Randal Rauser has put up a response to my post on William Lane Craig’s misrepresentations of his opponents, focusing on my (very brief) comments on the Craig-Harris debate.” First a word on the “very brief” statement. Chris’s comments on the Craig/Harris topic are relatively brief in that they constitute only about 20% of his entire article. However, they also effectively display Chris’ motivated reasoning and confirmation bias as he seeks to develop a one-sided case-building process against Craig. Once we see how unfair Chris is in this test case we can approach the rest of his critique of Craig with a shaker of salt.

In his response on the “psychopathic charge” issue Chris begins as follows:

“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.”

Let me make two observations here. First, if one concedes that God exists where “God” is described as a maximally wise, knowledgeable, powerful and good being, then it would follow trivially that whatever God commands is something we ought to do.

Second, there are many different ethical systems that would defend the possibility of “intentionally blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren”. For example, a utilitarian could defend the action if it were to maximize the good in society. (And thought experiments in which this would be the case based on utilitarian assumptions are easy to come by.) Does Chris think we ought to start labelling utilitarians psychopathic?

And what about Harris? Not only does he endorse the torture of enemy combatants (The End of Faith, 197), but consider what he has to say about the danger posed by an “Islamist regime” with nuclear weapons:

“In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unspeakable crime–as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day–but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.” (The End of Faith, 129)

Ironically, Harris doesn’t endorse utilitarianism (see The End of Faith, 272). And yet this is one of the boldest bits of utilitarian reasoning since Paul Fussell’s famous essay “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.” After proposing nuclear first strike Harris’ scenario ends as a Greek tragedy in which much of the world is left in smoking ruin because, as Harris puts it, certain people believed in something as absurd as unicorns.

How many school buses of children would we be killing by engaging in a nuclear first strike of an Islamist nation?

While I could talk all day about how dangerous Harris’ rhetoric is, my real point here is to point out Chris Hallquist’s selective moral indignation in treating the respective positions of Craig and Harris. But that’s not all. Chris also misrepresents Craig’s position. Since Chris Hallquist is well acquainted with Craig’s writing he will know that Craig always stresses that God’s commands to commit genocide were for a unique time in history. Craig emphatically denies that God might command actions like blowing up the school bus. (A few years ago at a conference I delivered a paper where I discussed the case of Dena Schlosser amputating her daughter’s arms under divine command. Craig was in attendance and he made it clear that on his view Schlosser was cognitively malfunctioning. Craig did not consider it a live option that God might have commanded Schlosser to kill her child.) Consequently, Craig doesn’t believe God ever would command the killing of a school bus full of children in the way Chris describes. So for all Chris Hallquist’s stentorian moral indignation at how Craig allegedly misrepresents others, Chris engages in his own misrepresentation of Craig’s position.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

Now let’s return to Harris’ position. In contrast to Craig’s view which allows the justification for putative moral atrocities only during the brief occupation of Canaan more than two millennia ago, Harris argues for the justification of putative moral atrocities in our current and future geopolitical engagement. Thus he defends torture and allows for the possiblity of nuclear first strike, an action that will result in the killing of untold school buses full of children. The difference can hardly be over-stated: while Craig’s discussion is concerned with defending a particular reading of ancient Hebrew texts, Harris is even now laboring in the public square to move the concept of nuclear first strike into the space of conceivable geopolitical options.

Before concluding I’ll take a moment to address another point briefly. Chris then writes:

“Furthermore, when I talk about “what Craig insinuated” in my original post, I’m talking about the fact that Craig made a big deal of denying that Peter van Inwagen and Tom Flint are psychopathic. That only would have been relevant had Harris said all religious believers are psychopathic, which he didn’t. By bringing this up in spite of that fact, Craig is insinuating that Harris did say that.”

Chris seems to think that Craig invokes the names “Peter van Inwagen” and “Tom Flint” just as two random “religious believers” thereby insinuating that “all religious believers are psychopathic”. On the contrary, I took Craig to be invoking the names of these two Christian philosophers (not random religious believers) to show the absurdity of demonizing all academic defenders of and sympathizers with divine command theories of ethics. It seems to me that this is yet another place where Chris misrepresents Craig’s position.

And now to conclude. In the penultimate paragraph in his essay Chris observes:

“as Harris says in the debate, “this to me is the true horror of religion. It allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions, what only lunatics could believe on their own.” The horror here is in the fact that there may people with a perfectly normal helping of empathy, who would normally never think of hurting a child, but who would approve of blowing up a bus full of children if they thought God wanted it.”

Here we see that Chris Hallquist’s follow-up essay ends on the same note of selective moral indignation that characterizes his original essay. While he chastises Craig for holding a view he doesn’t even endorse and defends Harris’ “psychopathic” rhetoric, he remains utterly silent on the imminent moral horror of and danger posed by Harris’ own position.


  • RobMcCune

    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.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      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.

      • Robert Gressis

        I actually think, at least from a philosophical point of view, that your pointing out that if DCT is true, then an all-knowing, all-good God exists, is pretty much all you need to do to dispel the idea that DCT is psychopathic (after all, if you really know it to be true that God is commanding a prima facie horrible act, then it seems like it must be true that that prima facie horrible act is either ultima facie good or a test of your morals). That said, it is arguably as dangerous as utilitarianism, for, like utilitarianism, it in principle rules out no act. This makes it dangerous in the hands of unscrupulous practitioners, though of course every moral theory is. Still, I think that the fact that no act is in theory off-limits makes utilitarianism and DCT *more* dangerous than most moral theories.

        That said, we’re talking about DCT, not Adams’s modified DCT.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Good points. I don’t know, however, that utilitarianism necessarily is more dangerous than deontology. Revealing the Jews hiding in the crawlspace to Nazi soldiers seems quite horrible too. And who knows what those ethical egoists will come up with next.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          “That said, we’re talking about DCT, not Adams’s modified DCT.” Actually we are talking about Craig’s DCT which is a version of Adam’s modified DCT.

          • Robert Gressis

            Oh, is it? I had no idea! I just figured that Craig was following Quinn, not Adams. Interesting, then, that he should take God’s genocidal commands literally; Adams, for instance, thinks (if I recall correctly) that Abraham should have told God that he wasn’t going to sacrifice Isaac.

            • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

              Yeah, Craig states he got the position from Alston who got it from Adams. The difference between Quinn and Adams is that Quinn sees the relationship between Gods commands and moral obligations as causal. Adams thinks they are identical. Craig clearly sides with Adams on this. I think Craig differes from Adam’s in the role biblical authority plays in there thinking, and I also agree that Craig’s treatment of the commands in Joshua are probably a popularization of some things Quinn said in response to Rachel’s. I actually wish some of these connections were spelt out better because I think Craig’s position is widely misunderstood and much more interesting when its read against this backdrop.

  • R0c1

    Hi Randal – Robert/R0c1 here … Sorry to do an old bait-and-switch on you, especially after all your work to say that Hallquist is holding a double standard! However, I think this makes a better case for my point than the other link:


    I originally said that Hallquist confirmed my intuition that Craig is an unreliable source of information on the subjects he debates. There is no question that Craig understands the material. What I doubt is that anyone should let their guard down and expect not to be mislead. Better to treat Craig like a mostly honest, but clearly biased, used car salesman, than a true scholar.

    From the link above, Craig repeatedly presents a case for 3 “facts” as if there is just no other reasonable way to interpret the stuff that came out of the early church. He does this all the time. Can you agree it is misleading?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “What I doubt is that anyone should let their guard down and expect not to be mislead. Better to treat Craig like a mostly honest, but clearly biased, used car salesman, than a true scholar.”

      Your advice of not letting your guard down is fair enough, but it also applies in every circumstance. As for your equation of true scholarship with absence of bias, if only the real world were like that. In the past I’ve pointed out many of Craig’s biases as I perceive them. What I don’t accept is that the identification of bias means one isn’t a scholar. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of scholarship (for better and for worse) is the identification of a scholar with a particular position and a commitment to defend that position come hell or highwater, even if the only people who still agree with him/her are a small cadre of graduate students.

      As they say, when you eat an orange you consume the pulp and throw the peel. It’s the same when you read a scholar’s work, including that of Bill Craig.

      • R0c1

        “What I don’t accept is that the identification of bias means one isn’t a scholar.”

        Sure, I don’t want to argue over labels. The categories I have for “true scholar” and “used car salesman” are fuzzy anyway.

        Craig claims to have an inner witness that can’t be defeated with any evidence at all, no matter how strong. That doesn’t fit my mental model of the way a “true scholar” sees the world, YMMV.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          So you dont believe in other minds, or the external world then?

          • Walter

            I think there is a simple yet decisive criticism of Craig’s Holy Spirit epitemology: at least for the majority of Christians, the
            Holy Spirit (if such there be) fails to present the truth of
            Christianity in such a way that it’s anywhere near being on a par with ordinary Moorean facts.


            • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

              Ahh an assertion from an atheist webblog. How compelling? The point is all of us recognise inner witnesses which can not be defeated by argument to paint this an unscholarly is to assume an epistemic stance which is not credible.

              • Walter

                Why should it matter if the article comes from an atheist’s blog? Did you even bother to read the full article?

                The point of the article was to show that believing in other minds and an external world in a properly basic way is not the same thing as believing based on an inner witness that an incarnated God man was

                A)born of a virgin

                B)performed supernatural feats like walking on water

                C)resurrected from the dead

                d)ascended through the sky on his way outside of the universe

                • Matthew Flannagan

                  Walter, the reason I said that is I did my masters thesis on Plantinga,s reformed epistemology and through that process became very skeptical that an athiest blog in one paragraph could deliver a decisive refutation of his position, I am sure ex apologist is a smart guy, but he is not that brilliant.

  • Mark

    It seems to me that you’re confused about what Hallquist and Harris are alleging to be psychopathic. Namely, you think they’re calling psychopathic any moral system according to which inflicting great harm on innocents is sometimes necessary. But it should be obvious from context that they’re actually calling psychopathic any moral system according to which inflicting great harm on innocents *for trivial reasons* is sometimes necessary. And among those trivial reasons they’d include things like “doing it because God finds it entertaining enough to command.” But the reasons that Harris is sympathetic to torture (e.g., gaining crucial information to save innocent lives) are not going to be among them, so there’s no hypocrisy here. At least, there’s no hypocrisy on this count.

    You seem to indicate that Craig thinks that God wouldn’t order us to murder children for the sake of things like his entertainment. There are two problems with this. First, probably Hallquist/Harris would pick out instances in the Old Testament of God commanding horrifying things for reasons which, while not being quite so trivial as entertainment, they still consider the same order of magnitude of lousy. Second, since it’s the *possibility* of a moral theory having a certain moral consequence that’s claimed to be psychopathic, it’s not clear how what God would or wouldn’t do in actuality is relevant. It may be that Great Leader would never order his toddler son to be shot in the head just for laughs, but does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned about whether we should do it if he did?

    Finally, I note that while I haven’t read Harris, 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.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      And so the elaborate apologetic defenses begin.

      Chris Hallquist is rightly concerned with engaging the arguments of people rather than caricatures of those arguments. So when did Craig ever claim that the reason God commands certain actions is because it gives him “entertainment”? Please provide specific citations.

      Next, note that on many types of utilitarianism you have a moral obligation to blow up the bus if it maximizes societal good. I would have thought Chris would be worried about any moral system that allows for the possibility that such a heinous action may constitute a moral obligation. But now you say that he’s only worried about the theistic moral systems that do that.

      Congratulations for making his position look even worse and more arbitrary.

      And one more thing. Responding to the observation that Craig doesn’t support p with the claim that certain biblical passages could be interpreted to support p is a non-sequitur so large that if it were an iron wrought structure it could span the Grand Canyon.

      • Mark

        I didn’t say Craig believes God orders people to murder each other for fun. I didn’t say Harris or Hallquist believe that Craig believes this. (In fact, I strongly implied the opposite.) The point is that DCE has the apparent consequence that *if* God orders me to murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it. It’s this implicature, rather than the implicature’s antecedent, that’s allegedly psychopathic.

        Utilitarian justifications for extremely harmful actions are always founded on empathy. Divine command justifications for extremely harmful actions are not, at least in potentia. Utilitarians who advocate sacrificing busloads of children or the moral equivalent are nevertheless advocating the welfare of those who would receive whatever greater good would arise; while these trade-offs may never actually be worth it in practice, there’s at least some empathic pull there. Not so with DCE. I suspect Harris and Hallquist would point something like this out as a salient difference between the two. The distinction may collapse upon reflection, but it’s not obviously arbitrary. Again, DCE entails the possibility of *trivial* justification for heinous actions, where utilitarianism does not.

        The non-sequitur you name is not a non-sequitur if Craig also agrees with interpretation p.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Thanks for your response Mark.

          I’m going to respond to one bit of it here and another bit in an article. First the quick response:

          “The non-sequitur you name is not a non-sequitur if Craig also agrees with interpretation p.”

          Craig doesn’t, so it is.

          • Mark

            Well, sure he does. In particular, Craig thinks it was morally obligatory to have participated in genocide if you were an ancient Hebrew at a certain point in Biblical history, the reasons for which Harris and Hallquist wouldn’t consider too much better than being just for fun.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Mark, I’ve expended a lot of effort to demonstrate that ethical accounts like that Craig provides are indefensible and should be abandoned. But caricaturing his views by imputing to him views he doesn’t hold (e.g. your “just for fun” thesis) simply distracts from the real issues. When you do that you give Craig an out to point out rightly that he never defended such a position. This takes the spotlight off where it belongs, viz. on the views Craig really does hold and defend.

              • Mark

                I didn’t caricature anyone. (And for the second time, I never said Craig thinks God commands genocide for fun.) Craig really thinks it was O.K. at a certain point in time for Israelites to kill children just because God wanted to show Israelites that they were special. As far as the authors you’re criticizing are concerned, this is a completely insane justification that isn’t even in the same ballpark of recognizable human values as utilitarian considerations re: nuclear proliferation. And maybe the authors are completely wrong to think that. But I don’t really see you contending with them either way.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  “Craig really thinks it was O.K. at a certain point in time for Israelites to kill children just because God wanted to show Israelites that they were special.”

                  That’s NOT Craig’s view. While I reject the justifications Craig does provide for God allegedly commanding genocide, he never provides this reason you give. This is a strawman.

                  • Mark

                    ‘But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4). This command is part and parcel of the whole fabric of complex Jewish ritual law distinguishing clean and unclean practices. To the contemporary Western mind many of the regulations in Old Testament law seem absolutely bizarre and pointless: not to mix linen with wool, not to use the same vessels for meat and for milk products, etc. The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds of mixing. Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that. These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.

                    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites#ixzz2I0wU8tmf

                    I don’t see how I’ve misconstrued that paragraph.

                    • mark

                      Also, he then goes on to say:

                      ‘By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable. It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.’

                    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                      Mark actually you did misrepresent Craig here is what you said

                      “Craig really thinks it was O.K. at a certain point in time for Israelites to kill children just because God wanted to show Israelites that they were special. “

                      The phrase “just because” suggests Craig’s position is that its permissible to kill children for the *sole* reason that it showed the Isrealites they were special.

                      One only has to read the whole article ( as opposed to the selected posts) you put forward to see this is not true, if one is also familiar with Craig’s other writings on God and Morality the claim is almost certainly false.

                      First, Craig believes that an action is obligatory only if a *loving and just* God commands it, he is clear that God, cannot just issue arbitrary commands. Here is what he writes in “On a the Philosophical Foundations of a Christian World View “For our duties are determined by the commands, not merely of a supreme potentate, but of a just and loving God. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth, and His commandments are reflections of His own character. Thus, they are not arbitrary, and we need not trouble ourselves about counterfactuals with impossible antecedents like “If God were to command child abuse “

                      Note what he says here, its impossible according to his divine command theory for God to command something that is contrary to his own character. In the same book Craig states that a general command to harm others would be contrary to Gods nature and so God could not allow such a command.

                      “The case of Abraham and Isaac is the exception that proves the rule. Issuing a general command that we should seek one another’s harm would be contrary to God’s loving nature, but in the extraordinary case of Abraham and Isaac, it was not unloving of God to so try Abraham’s devotion, and God had good reasons for testing him so severely.”

                      He states that only in exceptional cases where there are good reasons, to do so could it be possible for a loving and just person to command killing.

                      Second, in the article you cite Craig reiterates that this is the moral theory he is enucating. He states “According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God.” This is clear, the commands must be commands issued by a God who is “loving” and hence compatible with love.Which is why he asks the rhetorical question

                      “All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature?” this is the crux for Craig because on his own theory the actions commanded must be compatible with being loving just compassionate and so on. If this were not the case he would not need to answer this objection it would be irrelevant.

                      Craig then gives *several* reasons which he thinks jointly show that the command is compatible with God’s loving nature. He argues for example that God’s actions suggest he waited 400 years for them to repent and then only when the culture was corrupt did he bring down judgement and so he had “morally sufficient reasons” for commanding Israel to slaughter them.

                      When he turns to the Canaanite children he does say what you attribute him however immediately after wards he states

                      “Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

                      So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? “

                      The moreover ,suggests this is a reason in addition to the one you provided, and the reason is clearly utilitarian, the claim is that the killing of the children brings about a greater happiness or benefit to them which outweighs the harm.

                      So Craig’s position is not as you suggested, his position is that one is justified in killing only if a *loving and just God* one who is “essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth” commands it. Hence the action must be one that a fully informed rational loving compassionate impartial fair person would knowingly endorses in the circumstances

                      Moreover, he also believes that it’s impossible for a being with these characteristics to issue a general command to harm or kill others. A loving and just only command killing in rare exceptional circumstances when some greater good was served. his position in principle is analogous to Harris’s

                      Its also worth noting Craig states the argument in this section is hypothetical as he notes in a follow up post “I’ve come to appreciate that the object of God’s command to the Israelis was not the slaughter of the Canaanites, as is often imagined. The command rather was primarily to drive them out of the land . The judgement upon these Canaanite kingdoms was to dispossess them of their land and thus destroy them as kingdoms. Had the people fled before the advancing Israeli army, there was no command to pursue them and hunt them down. No one had to die. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated for the reasons I described. We don’t really know for sure if those who remained behind included women and children or just soldiers. But I’m assuming a “worst case” scenario for the sake of argument.”

                      Now you may not agree with Craig’s arguments, I don’t agree with all of them, but you do have to present them accurately.

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      So Craig’s point, as he has repeatedly said, is not that God wanted to show the Israelites were special, but rather that he wanted to secure the purity of his people. Now this requires Craig to defend a thesis which I think is absurd, namely that the Canaanites were so wicked that the entire society had to be wiped out. I critique this absurd argument by pointing out that it would justify contemporary genocide against a country like the United States. See my article here:

                      While I think Craig’s arguments here stink, they are nonetheless quite different than what you describe. You describe a morally trivial ground. Craig in fact endorses a morally weighty but utterly implausible ground.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          I didn’t say Craig believes God orders people to murder each other for fun. I didn’t say Harris or Hallquist believe that Craig believes this. (In fact, I strongly implied the opposite.) The point is that DCE has the apparent consequence that *if* God orders me to murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it. It’s this implicature, rather than the implicature’s antecedent, that’s allegedly psychopathic.

          Utilitarianism has the same implication: if it maximised happiness to torture people for fun then it would be permissible on utilitarianism to torture people for fun. In fact every ethical theory has this implication: take some property P which is taken by a theory to be co-extensive with moral obligation. It will be true that if P were a property of torturing people for fun then torturing people for fun would be correct.

          Utilitarian justifications for extremely harmful actions are always founded on empathy. Divine command justifications for extremely harmful actions are not, at least in potentia.

          That’s false, on a divine command theory an act is obligatory only if God commands it, God is understood on this theory as a being with certain character traits such as being loving “compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so forth” because he has these character traits essentially his commands are consistent with and reflections of his character and so various actions which are unloving or harmful or which a loving emphathic person would not endorse are actually ruled out by a DCT,

          All the above shows is that either you or Harris or Halliquist are unfamiliar with what divine command theorists including Craig have endorsed.

          Utilitarians who advocate sacrificing busloads of children or the moral equivalent are nevertheless advocating the welfare of those who would receive whatever greater good would arise; while these trade-offs may never actually be worth it in practice, there’s at least some empathic pull there. Not so with DCE.

          Actually false. Its interesting that Craig, explicitly states that a general command to harm people is incompatible with Gods nature and so cannot be commanded by God, it can only be commanded on rare occasions where he has a morally sufficient reason for doing so, when he argues about the Canaanites he explicitly suggests this could be endorsed by a loving God because it brings about a greater good.. So this is simply false. So the two situations are actually on par. Only by caricaturing others views can you get a different conclusion.

          . Again, DCE entails the possibility of *trivial* justification for heinous actions, where utilitarianism does not.

          Again completely false, no DCT in the literature today has this implication. Its incoherent to claim that a loving and just person would knowingly commanded something cruel for trivial reasons, and the false hood of this claim is pointed out pretty much by every DC theorist writing including Craig.

          How about you and Harris and Halliquist stop attacking straw men and familiarise yourself with the literature.

          • R0c1

            Thanks for this Matt. I’ve been critical of DCT in the past and I think I need to change my mind about that.

  • Pingback: A bad objection to divine command theories of ethics

  • 1981cudd

    Sam Harris defends torture and allows for the possibility of nuclear first strike? What a ridiculous thing to suggest and if I may say so, beneath you to say Randal.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Harris develops his case for torture and the possibility of nuclear first strike in “The End of Faith”.

      Since I already quoted his proposed scenario where nuclear first strike against an Islamist regime might be warranted, let me say a bit more about Harris on torture. He defends the practice by arguing that our aversion to the practice is based on the morally insignificant behaviors that people exhibit when under torture. If, however, torture could be administered with a pill that provides no measurable external stimuli, Harris argues that we should be in favor of it.

      That’s what Harris says. Don’t shoot the messenger.

      • 1981cudd

        where in End of faith does Harris develops his case for torture and of nuclear first strike in?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I already cited the place where he raises a scenario in which nuclear first strike might be necessary. For the culmination of his case for torture see p. 197 where Harris concludes that if we are willing to engage in warfare and anticipated collateral damage we should be willing to torture.

          • 1981cudd

            well well why am i not surprised, a theist quote mining, why don’t you post the hole of what Harris has to say on the nuclear first strike and torture issues, and let the reader judge whether you have represented his views fairly. For example ” The End of Faith,” pages 128, If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Harris then goes on to say in the very next sentence, “Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime”. The last sentence is all ways left out by critics of Harris, dishonest don’t you agree?

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              So I guess you’re conceding that Harris advocates for torture. Is it so difficult to say you were wrong and offer an apology?

              As for the nuclear strike, the fact that Harris says a first-strike would be an “unthinkable crime” is not surprising since he rejects utilitarianism as a formal ethical theory. But note what he doesn’t say, namely that because it is an “unthinkable crime” we ought to do nothing. On the contrary, he clearly views the scenario he’s described as a Sophie’s choice in which the ethical demands of the situation may require the “crime” of a first strike. And that was my point: he’s moved the possibility of a nuclear first strike into the space of moral and geopolitical reasons.

              • 1981cudd

                I do not concede that Harris advocates torture, he simply considers torture as the lessor of two evils, as any sane person would do(.”We often drop bombs knowing that innocent people will be killed or horribly injured by them. We target buildings in which combatants are hiding, knowing that noncombatants are also in those buildings, or standing too close to escape destruction. And when innocent people are killed or injured—when children are burned over most of their bodies and live to suffer interminable pain and horrible disfigurement—our leaders accept this as the cost of doing business in a time of war. Many people oppose specific wars, of course—like the war in Iraq—but no public figure has been vilified for accepting collateral damage in a war that is deemed just. And yet anyone who would defend the water-boarding a terrorist like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad will reap a whirlwind of public criticism. This makes no moral sense (to me). Again, which is worse, water-boarding a terrorist or killing/maiming him? Which is worse, water-boarding an innocent person or killing/maiming him? There are journalists who have volunteered to be water-boarded. Where are the journalists who have volunteered to have a 5000 lb bomb dropped on their homes with their families inside?”) Sam Harris . Harris is simply arguing that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board which seems perfectly reasonable to me. calling Sam Harris an advocate for torture is to misrepresent his views.

                • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                  So if its the lesser of two evils that means what? that we should do it perhaps? or is Harris commited to saying we should do what he considers the greater of two evils?

                  • 1981cudd

                    Harris is not saying torture is ethically justified, he simply considers torture better in ethical terms than dropping bombs as a means to an end. To simplify, if i where to ask you which is worse rape or murder? you would obviously say murder. Would it be a fair to then accuse you of advocating rape?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      Cudd, you’re wrong on this one. Let’s say that you catch a teenager keying your car. In scenario 1 you respond by smashing all the boy’s teeth with a sledgehammer. In scenario 2 you respond by beheading the boy. One can say that scenario 1 is “better in ethical terms” than scenario 2. But that doesn’t mean scenario 1 presents an ethically justified response to the situation.

                      Is the outcome of torturing a person better than the outcome of bombs dropping on a civilian population? That question obscures the salient ethical question: is torture ever ethically justified?

                      Many ethicists believe that torture is never justified. Harris argues to the contrary that there are conditions where torture is justified, and he presents thought experiments like the torture pill and the parallel conceptually with collateral damage to make his case. There is no question that Harris is defending the ethics of torture. There is also no question that many folk, myself included, think torture is always wrong and thus Harris’ arguments are deeply flawed.

                    • 1981cudd

                      Randal which is worse in ethical terms torture or murder?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      That question suffers from multiple ambiguities. It is like asking “Which is better in terms of nutrition, an apple or an orange?”

                      Which apple? Which orange? What’s the diet of the individual? Do they have any allergies?

                      So let’s take take your question in one concrete way, shorn of ambiguities. Would I rather that I participated in the waterboarding of an enemy combatant or the murder of an enemy combatant? In that case I’d rather that I waterboarded the individual than that I killed him. But I definitely wouldn’t want either one on my conscience.

                    • 1981cudd

                      you say ” I’d rather that I waterboarded the individual than that I killed him. But I definitely wouldn’t want either one on my conscience”. Sam Harris holds the same view” I hope my case for torture is wrong, as I would be much happier standing side by side with all the good people who oppose torture categorically. I invite any reader who discovers a problem with my argument to point it out to me. I would be sincerely grateful to have my mind changed on this subject”.

                    • Matthew Flannagan

                      Cudd how can Harris hope his case for torture is wrong if as you say he never made a case for torture? That quote is just another example that Randal’s characterisation is accurate.

                    • 1981cudd

                      To say Harris makes a case for torture and leave it at that is a misrepresentation of his view. His case for torture is simply this; Which is worse in ethical terms, torture or murder? The point is that unless you have an argument that rules out torture in IDEALIZED cases, you don’t have a categorical argument against the use of torture.

                    • Steve Willy

                      It’s pretty obvious at this point that Harris’ defenders don’t know what they are talking about and have no desire to learn. Time to stfu you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting basement dwelling neck bearded megadouchers.

                    • Matthew Flannagan

                      Actually Cudd he says torture is ethically justified at least twice in the above paragraph and once says its ethically necessary. I even highlighted the sentences for you where he does so. He also states explicitly he is giving an argument for the limited use of torture.

                • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                  Also here are Harris words on the subject

                  In one section of the book (pp. 192-199), I briefly discuss the ethics of torture and collateral damage in times of war, arguing that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board. Rather than appreciate just how bad I think collateral damage is in ethical terms, some readers have mistakenly concluded that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary. This is not the same as saying that they should be legal (e.g. crimes like trespassing or theft may sometimes be ethically necessary, while remaining illegal).

                  I am not alone in thinking that there are potential circumstances in which the use of torture would be ethically justifiable. Liberal Senator Charles Schumer has publicly stated that most U.S. senators would support torture to find out the location of a ticking time bomb. Such “ticking-bomb” scenarios have been widely criticized as unrealistic. But realism is not the point of such thought experiments. The point is that unless you have an argument that rules out torture in idealized cases, you don’t have a categorical argument against the use of torture. As nuclear and biological terrorism become increasingly possible, it is in everyone’s interest for men and women of goodwill to determine what should be done if a person appears to have operational knowledge of an imminent atrocity (and may even claim to possess such knowledge), but won’t otherwise talk about it.

                  My argument for the limited use of coercive interrogation (“torture” by another name) is essentially this : if you think it is ever justifiable to drop bombs in an attempt to kill a man like Osama bin Laden (and thereby risk killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children), you should think it may sometimes be justifiable to “water-board” a man like Osama bin Laden (and risk abusing someone who just happens to look like Osama bin Laden). It seems to me that however one compares the practices of “water-boarding” high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms. And yet, most people tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare, while considering it taboo to even speak about the possibility of practicing torture.

                  I would say he is clearly saying he thinks torture can be ethically justified.

    • Steve Willy

      Spare us the faux outrage neck beard boy, it’s exactly what Harris says. No amount of pseudo-intellectual puffery can change that fact, you Hitchens-Dawkins parroting basement dwelling megadouche. Yours is a petty, trivial, localized, earth bound philosophy, unworthy of the universe.

  • Pingback: A bizarre response from Randal Rauser

  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    I think this has already been pointed out to you several times, but Harris doesn’t condone preemptive nuclear strikes. He has clarified those views in his official webpage, and what he is basically saying is that if Muslim fanatics get their hands on nuclear warheads, a nuclear war will be impossible to prevent; he is not saying that we should bomb Muslims first. He also clarified his views on torture and they are apparently not what you say. But it also must be pointed out that many people do constantly misrepresent Harris (as shown by Theodore Sayeed’s two articles dissection of him), which shows that either Harris tries to backtrack from this views, he simply is a bad writer, or a combination of the two. Heck, I even remember one poster’s comment saying something along the lines of “Classic Harris, always changing his views”.

    • Steve Willy

      “clarified those views on his official website” = he did advocate preemptive nuclear strikes against people he deemed overly religious! until someone pointed out how manifestly immoral that would be. Then, in true atheist form (i.e. acting as if there is no of objective truth) he simply lied to avoid the backlash. And the typical gnu atheist/proto-neckbeard simply took Harris’ explanation on faith.

      • RobMcCune

        Since your other post to me is awaiting moderation I just want to say congrats Steve in actually engaging in human conversation. I agree that Sam Harris back peddles like mad to avoid responisibilty for what he says.

  • Steve Willy

    The bottom line is that Hallquist is garbage and its unfortunate that you dignified this sophomoric, solopsistic winer with a response. His Patheos bio says it all: “disillusioned with academic philosophy,” he dropped out of school to pursue his own undisciplined non-academic philosophy. And now he’s pushing this self-congratulatory, self-referential fan fiction about how atheism has already “won” and so there is nothing left to discuss (yet he doesn’t shut up). He has basically taken a typical GNU atheist/proto-neckbeard’s combox rant and tried to somehow stretch that out into a money making enterprise (complete with the obligatory self-declaration of victory at the end). Hee is the posterchild for what happens event marginal intellects are allowed to overeducate themselves with no practical goal. If he was doing anything else.besides spreading the “goood news” of atheism , his philosophical prowess would be laughed at and no.one would give him second thought.