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Sam Harris now taken out to the woodshed. . . March 19, 2007

Posted by Administrator in atheism, Catholicism, Smart People.
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. . .by the Anchoress (who else?). (UPDATE BELOW)
Such a collection of niftiness she is in assaulting another empty attack from the Dawkins/Dennett/Myers/Harris nine-headed hydra of intellectual vapidity.

Permit me to intersperse my own thoughts among his. Harris can be bold. I will be italics.

The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet billions of people claim to be certain about such things.

Many millions of people are absolutely certain that the world will end in precisely 30 years – and it will all be man’s fault – unless we start buying carbon offsets from Al Gore and David Cameron. Faith is a funny thing. As a Christian I don’t demand that anyone believe as I believe, and yet some religions – largely the secularist ones – insist that I believe as they do.

(snip)

…one meets religious moderates and liberals of diverse hues — people who remain supportive of the basic scheme that has balkanized our world into Christians, Muslims and Jews…

One meets postmodern secularists of diverse interests who remain supportive of a basic scheme that is balkanizing our world into environmentalism, anarchism, paganism, pantheism, food-puritanism and other isms, and who have simply embraced a religion outside of monotheism. If you think by abolishing the Abramic Big Three you’re going to abolish religion, well…good luck. Every secular religion I just mentioned comes with its own Liturgies, Rubrics and Rituals, its own Sins, Laws and Saviors.

How…can any thinking person imagine that his experience of sobriety lends credence to the idea that a supreme being is watching over our world and that Jesus is his son?

Until you taste the sinner’s milk and honey yourself, the answer will be elusive. I wish it for you. It’s pretty tasty.

(snip)

It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know.

Hmmm, well, this is one Christian (and I know many others) who has no problem acknowledging that there are ethical and spiritual atheists, but from my perspective they too – in their fervent atheistic belief system – believe (I will not insult them by presuming that they “pretend”) “they know things they do not know.” How can they know – absolutely and with dead certainty – that there is no God, after all?

Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music.

I always take with a grain of salt those believers who tell me that their honesty is more honest than my honesty. I’m funny that way.

Again, read the whole thing.

When I grow up, I want to write like the Anchoress.

UPDATE:

Having read Harris’ screed for myself, I would attach two more caveats:

The problem is that wherever one stands on this continuum, one inadvertently shelters those who are more fanatical than oneself from criticism. Ordinary fundamentalist Christians, by maintaining that the Bible is the perfect word of God, inadvertently support the Dominionists — men and women who, by the millions, are quietly working to turn our country into a totalitarian theocracy reminiscent of John Calvin’s Geneva. Christian moderates, by their lingering attachment to the unique divinity of Jesus, protect the faith of fundamentalists from public scorn.

Like hell. Serious Christians deride fundamentalists such as those suggested by Harris as non-Christian. See Fred Phelps for an example.

Christian liberals — who aren’t sure what they believe but just love the experience of going to church occasionally — deny the moderates a proper collision with scientific rationality.

Again, like hell. I am quite possibly a moderate, and have no trouble with scientific rationality, so long as we are talking about science. When scientific rationalism tries to get into the business of philosophy, which is what the Dawkins/Myers/Dennett kraken keeps trying to do -without benefit of proper training save for an aggressively obnoxious attitude and enough training in science to convince them that they now know the Truth about everything- that is when I object. But when rationalism tries to do that, it isn’t science.

It becomes an issue of faith, just like the Anchoress said above.

Finally:

Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence.

Really? Let’s see the proof, Mr. Harris. You know, good, old fashioned, Third Act of the Mind proof. I haven’t seen it, and I strongly suspect you don’t have it.

Congratulations, Mr. Harris. You just made a faith statement. Turns out it’s not all that hard to do after all, is it?

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Comments»

1. MissJean - March 20, 2007

You last caveat was my reaction, too. 🙂 My sophomores like to yell, “Prove it!” when they hear belief statements like that.

2. maroonblazer - March 20, 2007

Maroon blazer never did provide the link, so this comment is deleted. -Admin

3. demolition65 - March 21, 2007

Please provide a link. Simply saying that Mr. Harris “proved it” and then inviting me to research how he proves it is no addition to the conversation. In essence, it is another statement of faith. Being a good rationalist, I am going to ask you to give a link to video, or even better, a link to an article that Mr. Harris has actually published.

I’ll be looking for that link in the next 48 hours. If I do not have it, the above comment will be deleted.

4. ShagBoon - March 23, 2007

A further comment, if I may offer one.

In response to the request for proof prompted by the final Harris quote in the main post, here’s an excerpt from another recent Harris essay which, while perhaps not proof, might provide some clarity:

“If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness. We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.”

Thanks for the opportunity to add to the discussion here!

5. ShagBoon - March 23, 2007

Hi there – here’s the link requested above, which is the first of a series of subsequent video clips.

6. demolition65 - March 23, 2007

. . .? I do not understand why the video link came in last. I approved it first. Sorry about that.

Anyways. . .

Thanks for the opportunity to add to the discussion here! You’re welcome. 😉

Re: your Harris quote. My recourse to belief in an Absolute due to the existence of morals lies in part upon Scripture. It certainly is true that the Old Testament has its blood-soaked passages. This does not preclude it being divinely inspired, while at the same time this preclusion does not itself require that the Abramic God be cruel. It may be rather simply dismissed as an error in transcription/fading of actual info due to the nature of its centuries-long existence as an oral tradition.

But take Scripture out of it. Harris claims that the urge to morals is “hard-wired.” Hard-wired by what? Gospel Darwinism makes the claim that the law of club and fang would rule: how do actions like compassion and mercy come about from this rule. It appears contradictory.

I don’t see Harris proving anything here, simply making assertions of his own. As I said above, I was looking for 3rd act of the mind proof. That quote does not provide such; it provides a competing and opposing claim, but no proof.

I will look at the video a bit later.

Sorry to be short with you about the provision of a link. But I find that trolls need to be dealt with expeditiously.

And you are apparently not a troll. Please accept my apologies for my incorrect assumption.

7. ShagBoon - March 27, 2007

No worries, and no apologies necessary – I didn’t write the original post referring to youtube, but I spotted it while blog-hopping and thought I would contribute it for consideration.

You write: “Gospel Darwinism makes the claim that the law of club and fang would rule: how do actions like compassion and mercy come about from this rule. It appears contradictory.” How about reciprocity? A community of individuals increases its chances of survival, both literal and genetic – and improves the quality of the lives of its members – when they share scarce resources. Ants, for example, regurgitate food for other colony members to consume – and they have not learned this behaviour from Scripture. Do they resort to club and fang, as it were, with respect to rival colonies? Certainly. Human communities fight wars, too… but, tragically, often for much dumber reasons than mere survival.

There is, too, the question of happiness. I can’t speak for the ant world, but no healthy person, I’m sure, would argue that killing and robbery are conducive to human happiness. Love and compassion are. Perhaps that sounds subjective, but I am instinctively willing to bet my life that it is true. And I simply do not need Scripture – divinely inspired, literal, or not – or, indeed, any religion to advise me of this in order to believe and act upon it.

My opinion, for what it’s worth! I am sadly lacking in the proof you demanded, but I think it’s out there if we only look. As the saying goes, a man can stand on a hill with his mouth open for a very long time before a cooked pheasant flies into it.

Thanks.

8. demolition65 - March 28, 2007

but no healthy person, I’m sure, would argue that killing and robbery are conducive to human happiness. . Depends upon your definition of “healthy.” An alpha male of a Stone Age culture might be deemed healthy if he were to engage in such activity. In OUR culture, it certainly would not be the case for such behavior to be labeled as healthy. So, what is the default setting? Club and fang? Or reciprocity? Call me a pessimist, but I see club and fang more as the default, requiring outside address.

And I simply do not need Scripture – divinely inspired, literal, or not – or, indeed, any religion to advise me of this in order to believe and act upon it.. The notion, for me, is not one of Scripture, in the sense of Holy Writ. It is the notion that there is a Creator (logic informs me of this, not Scripture), and that there must be an Originator of Morality (if you can stomach the term) that speaks within each of us. Scripture confirms it. You have mentioned yourself evidence of this “inner voice.” Harris attributes it to products of evolution. You use ants as an example of this. Ants are hive animals. . .an entirely different means of organization. I don’t see the behavior generalizing to mammals, never mind humans. You sure don’t see such hive behavior even in amphibians, much less reptiles and mammals.

As for this, I am sadly lacking in the proof you demanded, but I think it’s out there if we only look. As the saying goes, a man can stand on a hill with his mouth open for a very long time before a cooked pheasant flies into it.

LOL!!!!!

9. ShagBoon - March 28, 2007

I can always hear the flapping of its roasted wings in the distance, but I can never seem to get my hands on it.

We will have to agree to disagree on the intrisic nature – and priority – of altruism. In my opinion it is demonstrably better to cooperate than to fight. Game theory, specifically the Prisoners’ Dilemma, bears this out. The Stone Age alpha male you describe would not survive long on his own, as he would surely find himself to be rather quickly. And a lonely death it would be. Even if you’re right about club and fang, fortunately we do not live in the Stone Age. But I digress.

The fact that ants are “hive animals” has more to do with their reproductive methods as eusocial insects than with their altruism, I think – although I’m not an expert on the topic by any means. As far as I can tell, reciprocity does not appear to be exclusive to eusociality.

I would point out that there are indeed examples, actually, of reciprocity in reptiles (Egyptian Plovers picking the teeth of crocodiles – interspecies reciprocity at that) and mammals (vampire bats regurgitating blood for hungry colony members). Gross, but encouraging.

To bring this back to my original point: vampire bats and crocodiles do not need to be shown the Bible/Koran/whatever to have their behaviour or motives confirmed for them. Nor, in my opinion, do we.

10. demolition65 - March 28, 2007

“We have to agree to disagree. . .” I’m not convinced of that.

Your examples of reptile reciprocity sound more like an aberration, found very rarely in wild. Though they are noted.

As for the Stone Age man, I neglected to mention that he was the alpha male of a family community. He WOULD be expected to and rewarded for engaging in violence, outside of the family unit for survival, and perhaps within the commnity for discipline. (WHich leads to the interesting discussion that familial reciprocity might be biological. . .yet modern reductionist thought holds the family to be more and more an anachronism.)

I will state again that reliance upon Scripture is only ancillary to the discussion.

That said, I can only hope that you are enjoying this civil exchange as much as I.


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