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.