Friday, March 02, 2007

Sam Harris vs. Andrew Sullivan: Smackdown on Religion

Are religious moderates any better than fundamentalists? Atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan duke it out in a fast-paced blogalogue.

Here are a couple (devastating) excerpts from Sam's responses...

Where I think we disagree is on the nature of faith itself. I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not. Perhaps I should acknowledge at the outset that people use the term "faith" in a variety of ways. My use of the word is meant to capture belief in specific religious propositions without sufficient evidence-prayer can heal the sick, there is a supreme Being listening to our thoughts, we will be reunited with our loved ones after death, etc. I am not criticizing faith as a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty, of the sort indicated by phrases like, "have faith in yourself." There's nothing wrong with that type of "faith."

Given my view of faith, I think that religious "moderation" is basically an elaborate exercise in self-deception, while you seem to think it is a legitimate and intellectually defensible alternative to fundamentalism.

You have simply declared your faith to be immune to rational challenge. As you didn't come to believe in God by taking any state of the world into account, no possible state of the world could put His existence in doubt. This is the very soul of dogmatism. But to call it such in this context will seem callous, as you have emphasized how your faith has survived-and perhaps helped you to survive-many harrowing experiences. Such testimonials about the strength and utility of faith mark off territory that most atheists have learned never to trespass. This reminds me of the wonderful quotation from Mencken: "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

Challenge to the faithful -- give it a read, if you dare...

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Capt. Fogg said...

I saw a CNN item last week, about a family of atheists being forced out of their Colorado neighborhood by neighbors irate that anyone would doubt the existence of "their" God. CNN saw fit to ad that "Atheism is a recognized belief system" I almost tossed the TV out the window.

It's nice to see a well put and rational argument for sanity, but you can't reason with the insane or reason them into being reasonable. They are so trapped in the world of "belief systems" that they can't conceive of consciousness not peopled by spirits and invisible beings and magic. They can't imagine a world without "believing."

Reign of Reason said...

Too true... talk about casting your pearls...

The truly faithful should be labeled insane. If the object of their irrational belief was not held in esteem by most other Americans the psychosis would be obvious. Unfortunately we live in a society in which the obvious must be argued for.

skip sievert said...

Belief is a special interest, when it is used in government then it deprives other citizens of their rights and priveleges.
Belief System`s special interest is just as dangerous as other Special Interests of Price System manipulation.
A good society allows for any belief but does not allow belief Special Interests to make people jump through performance hoops

Reign of Reason said...

I agree Skip... people should be free to believe what they want, but that belief shouldn't drive policy -- that should be driven by factual analysis, no religion.