I cannot speak for Mr. Harris, and frankly I don’t think it brings much to any debate simply because the 10 commandments are of no intrinsic value. They are pueril, antequated and obsolete hogwash, with all due respect.
To the risk of being lengthy, here is an essay on the subject. Hope it will be of use to you.
If god has dictated the commandments (rules for short), just how much can we bend these ‘rules’ if we can at all? What can possibly be the punishment for not following these commandments?
Most Judeo-Christian churches will tell you that these commandments are the pillars of the faith and that breaking them is punishable by eternal damnation (capital punishment of sorts), unless, say some Christians, we accept Jesus as our savior, in which case we may be entitled to some probation.
On a more serious note however, there is an obvious absolutism of the commandments.
Let us for the purpose of the discussion consider the seventh rule. Let us imagine for a moment that a person is destitute, has lost his job, his home, everything, and that he is literally dying of hunger. He decides to steal something to eat. Is this individual condemned to hell forever because of this? If not, then we can bend the rules, at least a little bit. If so, this seems somewhat cruel and unjust. Perhaps, in the marvelous plan of the ‘Designer’, no one will ever have to steal because no one will ever go hungry. This is only the first quagmire of the rules.
By comparison, let us consider the first rule. There seems to be no doubt as to the absolutism of this rule. Either one worships this ‘Lord’ or one does not. If one does not and if this Lord is the unique, the one and only Lord, then we are in for it if we do not follow this rule. There is obviously no room here for pardon, no attenuating circumstances.
If one rule is absolute, then all of them must be, just like in a creed, it’s orthodoxy or nothing. Therefore, stealing or coveting someone else’s goods, what ever the reason, is punishable to the maximum. If but one rule becomes disputable, then they all become disputable.
Let us finish with rule number 5. Now this one says, ‘thou shalt not kill’, just what does it mean? Kill what, kill who? Because the biblical ’Lord’ delights in the smell of burning entrails and animal sacrifices, (all through the Old Testament) it most certainly does not mean killing animals. Therefore, it means killing other human beings.
Is there any circumstance where one could kill a person and not break the rule? By virtue of the absolutism of the rules, the answer is ‘no’. This means that if you kill someone in the attempt to protect your own life, you are condemned. This also means that every soldier that ever killed another human, regardless of the side he was on, or the circumstances, is condemned; quite the quagmire here also.
Surely, an all Intelligent-Designer-God would know better than to dictate rules of this nature knowing full well that they could only be absolute and therefore easily broken. Surely, a loving god would not create quagmires to trap innocent people. Does this mean that we should live without rules, of course not.
We are gregarious beings and in order to live in harmony together we need rules of conduct; that is why we have invented Laws. The difference between secular laws and divine commandments is that secular laws are lenient at times and seldom if ever absolute.