Friday, April 15, 2011

Craig vs. Harris

Last weekend William Lane Craig debated Sam Harris, one of the leading lights of the New Atheist movement, on the question whether there can be ethics without God. Harris' position is interesting in that, though he's an atheist, he's not a relativist or subjectivist. In fact, he spends much of his first address in the debate pressing his considerable rhetorical skills into the service of criticizing relativism. Nevertheless, Harris' reluctance to embrace subjectivism comes under Craig's scrutiny and during the course of the nine-part video of the debate Harris' position just unravels.

In fact, by his second address Harris was left with no response to Craig's challenge to explain the ground upon which he based his ethical views so he retreated to more familiar terrain, launching a philippic against religion in general and Christianity in particular. He spent much time on the ethical shortcomings of the Bible and expatiated on the problem of evil, all of which were, unfortunately for him, irrelevant to the debate. Harris, in effect, switched the topic from whether God is necessary for moral good and evil to the question whether the Biblical concept of God is morally tenable - an interesting question, to be sure, but not germane to the topic of the evening.

Even so, Craig did a good job of holding Harris' feet to the fire. It's an enlightening debate and one from which much can be learned about the problem that moral obligation poses for the thoughtful atheist who wishes to avoid nihilism.

Gay History

Their state teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, many of their most productive citizens and businesses are fleeing in search of economically friendlier climes, and the California state senate is darn serious about the crisis they find themselves in. To show just how serious they are and how well-ordered are their priorities they've just passed a measure requiring public schools to teach gay history:
Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people would be added to the lengthy list of social and ethnic groups that public schools must include in social studies lessons under a landmark bill passed Thursday by the California Senate.

If the bill is adopted by the state Assembly and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would become the first state to require the teaching of gay history.

Supporters say the move is needed to counter anti-gay stereotypes and beliefs that make children in those groups vulnerable to bullying and suicide.

Opponents counter that such instruction would further burden an already crowded curriculum and expose students to a subject that some parents find objectionable.

The legislation, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, passed on a 23-14 party line vote. It also would add disabled people to the curriculum.

California law already requires schools to cover the contributions to the state and nation of women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor.
In California one must always offer proper obeisance to the gods of political correctness, I suppose. It's an interesting exercise, though, to wonder what would happen if a lawmaker proposed teaching, say, Christian history and/or Christian contributions to Western civilization. Surely such a bill is needed to counter anti-Christian stereotypes and beliefs that make children in those groups "vulnerable to bullying and ridicule".

I doubt that argument would have much purchase in that context, though. Perhaps if it was a course on Gay Christianity it'd have a chance.