17 Oct 2010

Religious Toleration and Moderation

Religious 89 Comments

A few weeks ago, David Ranallo–a self-described kind-hearted libertarian atheist–asked that I blog about this video from Sam Harris. I agreed to do so, even though I don’t think Harris makes a good case. If you are pressed for time, I think you can just watch the last 5 minutes of this and get the gist of it:

(If you want to hear more, here is Part 2 of the above talk, which I haven’t watched.)

So here are my reactions:

* Yes, I totally agree with RanalloHarris that religious views–just like views on physics and literature–should be held up to scrutiny. In fact, from my perspective the single most fundamental question a person needs to answer is, “Does God exist?” Your answer to that question will ramify throughout your being and your life.

* As RanalloHarris himself admits (in the 11th minute of the video, I believe), religious fundamentalists actually do this quite well. For example, American evangelicals have no problem saying publicly that Islam is wrong, etc., and that people who don’t think like them are going to burn in hell. (Note that I personally don’t endorse the inflammatory, self-congratulatory tone that these statements often take.)

* RanalloHarris’s real objection, in this talk, is to religious “moderates,” the watered-down, we-can’t-judge-anyone-else’s-beliefs crowd. I actually agree with him. In the political realm, this is like the middle-of-the-roader who says, “Well we need some government, it just has gotten out of hand in the last few decades.” I’m not saying you need to be either a totalitarian or an anarchist, but I am saying that I would like some principles to justify one’s views.

* On this blog, I certainly don’t take the position that RanalloHarris is criticizing. I hope I do not come off as judgmental or offensive, but I definitely think there is an OBJECTIVE ANSWER to religious questions. There is a fact of the matter about such issues as the existence and nature of hell, whether people have souls, etc. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers, but I do claim that I am sure these answers exist. Religious questions are not akin to asking, “What is your taste in music?” or “Do you like Thai food?” I have engaged in battles with commenters on my posts–K Sralla comes to mind–and we never say, “Well, that’s how I feel, I have faith in that view, so let’s stop this discussion.”

* Having said all that, I believe–contrary to RanalloHarris–that one should be respectful of someone else’s religious views. But the reason (at least for me, in my personal life) is that I try not to be a jerk. I also would be very very cautious in criticizing someone’s children, or an artist’s painting that took him a year to complete. For people who are deeply religious, those views are literally the aspect of their lives they hold most dear. For example, the worst insults someone could give to me, would be to say that I am a bad example of a Christian, or that I don’t really believe all this nonsense and must be faking it for some ulterior motive.

* In terms of our culture, I think there is a very good reason we have religious moderation and tolerance: This is a completely understandable legacy of religious wars. Even though I believe there are objective answers to religious questions, nonetheless it is much harder to come to agreement on them, compared to (say) issues in physics. So that’s why, in the interests of peace, Americans (and presumably many other groups, but I don’t know how much) have adopted the idea of religious toleration. “You can believe what you want to believe, just don’t tell me what I can believe.” Also, if you subscribe to libertarian notions of property rights, then “religious freedom” is an obvious corollary.

* Ironically, RanalloHarris–at least in this first part of his talk–doesn’t actually give any arguments against the views he attacks. He just informs the crowd that 44% of Americans think Jesus will probably come back in the next 50 years, and that Catholics think condom usage is immoral. That’s it, that’s the punchline. He doesn’t even make an attempt to bring up their arguments for these views; he just condemns them as obviously absurd. In fact, I think he even goes so far as to say that they don’t have reasons for these views, which simply isn’t true.

89 Responses to “Religious Toleration and Moderation”

  1. Louis B. says:

    Why do you keep calling Sam Harris Ranallo?

  2. AC says:

    I’m a nonreligious reader, I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, and I’m sure there is a standard answer to this, but if you are a Christian, aren’t most of the things you (or most people) do trivial in the grand scheme of things (for example, criticizing the Fed, or say making widgets). What’s 80 years or so of your Earthly life compared to eternity? Not that God would disapprove of an honest living, but shouldn’t you be spending almost all of your time spreading the Word, doing charitable things, etc. If I believed, I imagine I’d be seriously kissing up to the Old Man.

    • fundamentalist says:

      AC, why don’t Christians spend all of their time “spreading the word.” Actually there are many answers to this. I get it from atheists a lot and have often wondered why atheists think it such a devastating critique. But here are a few responses:

      1) According to the Bible Christians are given different gifts. One of those is the gift of evangelism. So Christians try to stick to their gifts.

      2) People will hurt you if you try to tell them the truth. Evangelism is dangerous. Check out persecution.org. Jesus warned about the hazards of evangelism with his “don’t cast your pearls before swine” lesson.

      3) The Bible tells us that few people will believe. Paul wrote in Romans that non-believers already know some truths about God via creation and their own conscience, but they reject that truth and suppress it. They also kill people who try to keep the truth alive.

      4) Mature Christians know there is more to evangelism than just selling. The Bible tells us that God is continually working with every person born from the time they are little. The work is mostly up to God. We are a small part of the puzzle.

    • fundamentalist says:

      PS, it occurred to me that atheists may be suggesting that if Christians don’t devote every minute of their life to telling others the Gospel that we don’t really believe it. However, check out the the conference in Cape Town, South Africa going on this month. Here is one report: http://blog.acton.org/archives/19349-acton-and-cape-town-2010.html.

      Christians hold these types of meetings all the time. The purpose it to find more effective ways of spreading the Gospel.

  3. Matt Flipago says:

    Wow, how completely non-tolerate of someone else’s ethical view point. I also didn’t know quantum physicist came up with an agreed interpretation of quantum mechanics. And exactly who shot JFK?? And his history, pretty bad. It wasn’t medieval belief that life began at conception. I am pretty sure this is a much more recent idea, and I also don’t see the idea it’s absurd. He seems to believe the way he calculates the utilitarian outcome as obvious. Quite frankly if you were utilitarian it is very non absurd to think condoms are immoral, as they decrease the amount of people and net happiness. Let alone the idea that someone could come up with a system of ethical actions not based off utilitarian happiness. And stem cell research, it is extremely sad when they don’t make a difference between embryonic and Adult stem cells. Everyone who isn’t consequentialist exactly like me is absurd beliefs.

  4. Ashley Johnston says:

    I guess it is good that you, Bob, are somebody that I respect that able to discuss this issue with me. Any religious conviction, right or wrong, is by definition not rational. When this irrational, or ‘pre-rational’ as Harris calls it, thinking tends to creep into public policy discussions it is time to take the gloves off. And in spaces that are created or controlled by rational atheists, we have an obligation to marginalize people who proselytize their superstitions when they affect other people, especially myself.

    I heard through the grapevine that a friend of mine was considering quitting her job and being retrained as a theta brainwave healer. I sent it back through the grapevine that this person would be less welcome in my life if she did this. I am glad that to date she has yet to make this move. I thought about Sam Harris when I said this.

    • Ashley Johnston says:

      I was trying to put forward the argument kind of as a strong headed character. Cheesy flame bait I suppose. I was hoping for some insight into the matter. Gene’s responses weren’t very helpful.

      Not having religious conviction is what I mean by rational atheist. Well, at least, it fits.

      I believe the Earth is round because my grandmother’s ghost told me it was. => Irrationality leading to a valid conclusion.

      @RG, I might be a little more interested in why you disagree with my arguments.

      But the ‘healer’ story is true.

      • RG says:

        It is impossible for someone to behave without relying on their belief system. And it is unfortunate and wrong that many people believe it is their divine obligation to force us to behave the way they feel we should. However, it is hypocritical to suggest an obligation to marginalize these individuals.

        I believe the only moral route is to do our best to educate and defend.

        • Ashley Johnston says:

          The religious pride themselves on being immune to reason. Am I really supposed to engage this person. If they approach me I will feel them out, but I no long waste my time seeking them out.

          I’m not sure what you mean by ‘defend’, but marginalizing them is how I defend my community against wasted resources and magical thinking.

          • Sean Corbett says:

            Christians, at least, do not (or should not) pride themselves in being immune to reason. In fact quite the opposite: there is a long tradition of reason and logic in the Church, a discipline called apologetics. Faith is not supposed to be blind, we are supposed to always be ready with a reason for our faith to distinguish it from superstition. Sadly, this tradition has waned quite a bit this century; However I see an intellectual revival looming on the horizon, thanks to the work of folks like William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, Lee Strobel, and Josh McDowell. Try searching YouTube for debates with William Lane Craig for some good material to ponder.

        • RG says:

          Defending your property against attacks I believe is within your natural rights.

          I don’t have an issue with discriminating against any individual or group. It will cost you in the market, but that should be left to you.

          I understood your call to marginalize as gathering a group to force these individuals out of some specific geographical area (your community). This is hypocritical.

          The religious you speak of are simply using the tools at their disposal for accomplishing what we both view as sordid obligations. If they didn’t have the state, they could only use education and defense in order to sustain their belief system.

          The state is the enemy, not those willing to use it to accomplish their goals. Ironically it conjures a uniquely Christian vision: “forgive them, father, for they know not what they do”.

    • knoxharrington says:

      As Harris points out elsewhere, Christians have no problem making fun of Scientology and the inanity of thetans, Xenu, OS levels, etc. and similarly, they have no problems picking apart the claims of Mormons and Muslims alike by close textual analysis, archaeology, logical, historical and factualy inconsistencies but when it comes to their own faith they are blind – which is apparently is what is required – “the faith of a child” kind of argument the doubting Thomas standard notwithstanding.

      I see your points here and I think you raise some valid claims regarding faith intrusion in public policy discussions but you – and I make this as a stylistic point and not a personal attack – come off a bit Randroid. My friends are my friends in spite of the fact that they don’t always agree with me and sometimes make personal choices I disagree with. If my friend wanted to like Beethoven and not Rachmaninoff I would not shun them. I think you can be rational and wrong at the same time. You may not have thought through your position clearly – that doesn’t make you irrational, it makes you wrong. I know many people who believe in God who are rational – like fundamentalist on this blog. I just think he is wrong, sometimes bordering on the willfully ignorant, but not not irrational.

      • knoxharrington says:

        Sorry, OT levels – I just updated my OS on my iPhone and had that in my head.

        • Ashley Johnston says:

          So on an economics blog is where I find people who can discuss religion productively. Good to know for next time. The format doesn’t lend itself well to long discussions, so I’m checking out of this one. I might check back again to see if anybody left a link as to a good place to take this discussion.

          Thx all.

  5. Ashley Johnston says:

    And RIP Benoît Mandelbrot.

  6. Jim D says:

    “If I believed, I imagine I’d be seriously kissing up to the Old Man.”
    I think that would annoy him; it would be too much like trying to earn His favor. About 2000 years ago, He paid a price that cannot be quantified to redeem people’s souls. Including you, the offer is open and powerful.
    Making widgets and being an economist are great vocations. From my limited perspective, the currently practiced economic theories are a dishonest shell game. Pointing out the objective reasons that a business cycle exists and why a bubble is created are honorable endeavors.
    The way I see it, this world has a beginning, a middle, and an end. All the amazing interaction of elements is no mistake, neither are the applications men have put them to. I have a book on the shelf written back in the 1960′s or ’70′s. The author makes the claim that overpopulation would kill millions within a couple decades. What he couldn’t imagine were huge air conditioned farm tractors with computers and GPS equipment; that tells where in a field last year’s harvest was weak, and adjusts the amount of applied fertilizer in that spot to compensate.
    Christians are called to evangelism in different ways and degrees. Some are full time missionaries, others work in factories or offices. We all have a part in this epic; where men are born and nourished, struggle and accomplish, and have a chance to be adopted by the creator. What all Christians share equally is an obligation to fill their roles heartily. My current bible study reveals how much God dislikes mediocrity. Whatever you do, do it well.

  7. Gene Callahan says:

    “It wasn’t medieval belief that life began at conception. I am pretty sure this is a much more recent idea, and I also don’t see the idea it’s absurd.”

    Right. In the Middle Ages, the thought was life began at quickening — when the mother could feel the baby move. It was modern medical science that led to the idea that life begins at conception. Harris clearly believes the facts are whatever he makes them up to be!

    • RG says:

      “The” thought? Just because you read somewhere that someone said that someone believed that their personal view was at the quickening during some particular period of time does not mean anyone else or everyone else held that same belief.

      I’m no medical scientist and my idea of when life starts has nothing to do with anything other than the logical sequence of events that leads a person’s life directly back to that point where sperm fertilized egg.

      It is neither impossible nor improbable that other persons have been putting that same logic together for millenium. It doesn’t take “modern medical scientist” to witness ejaculate and menstration.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Well, RG, most people understand that when someone says “the” thought, they mean the general thought. Apparently you are new to this reading business, but see the next quote — your method of doing history, by thinking up in your head what is “neither impossible nor improbable” has not, in general, proved particularly successful.

        • RG says:

          Aren’t you “doing history” using a week (hah) analysis by relying on an uncited read?

          Using your methodology I can be certain of the Spanish discovery of the American continents by reading some translated reports from the 15th century. I’d be wrong, but at least I’d be doing history with reading business. (I probably wouldn’t find any writings, but I’m certain some Cherokees had a different idea about the history of it.)

          It’s a prior that at least some individuals in the middle ages (however you want to date the era) knew that – warning graphic – ejaculating inside a vagina created life and would thus trace a person’s existence back to that moment.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            “Aren’t you “doing history” using a week (hah) analysis by relying on an uncited read?”

            I don’t know what “an uncited read” even means.

          • RG says:

            I was trying to overcome the language barrier. I thought I was making it easier for you to understand. I call it Geneglish.

            An uncited read is a manuscript, journal article, text file, book, or any other referenced document that the author fails to mention when using it as a basis for argument.

        • Gene Callahan says:

          But, oh moronic RG, I gave a cite in my very next post.

          • RG says:

            I take back my uncited read claim.

            I’m not sure it’s moronic to expect citations within the initial argument, but it’s defiinitely the case when one uses the writings of a few to paint the entire human race at a particular point in time.

  8. Gene Callahan says:

    ‘Gratian, and the medieval canon law generally, merely followed the prevailing scientific view of the period that quickening represented the time at which the fetus was “vivified,” defined as the time at which it was “ensouled.”[32]‘ — Wikipedia, ‘History of Abortion Law Debate’

  9. Gene Callahan says:

    “Any religious conviction, right or wrong, is by definition not rational.”

    “And in spaces that are created or controlled by rational atheists…”

    Um, but atheism is a religious conviction, so by your own “definition,” there are no rational atheists. (The only rational person, per your definition, would be someone utterly without opinions on religion.

    • RG says:

      After reviewing one of your drafts do you ever think to yourself, “Um, I’m one of the leading candidates for supreme douchebag of the English speaking world. Congratulations, me!”?

      I think you should, because it’s what rational people with and without religious convictions are thinking when we read them.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Um, yes, RG. That’s why my economics book has been translated into half-a-dozen languages — because people in all those countries want to know what the supreme douchebag of the English speaking world has to say.

        By the way, how many languages have your books been translated into?

        • RG says:

          You should have your right hand surgically attached to your left scapula to prevent the inveitability of repetitive motion syndrome.

          To answer your question: I’ve had dozens of documents translated into Spanish and Japanese. I’m no rock star like you, but I’m quite comfortable with puffed up out of their element “classless dopes”.

          BTW, I do like your school bus accross the desert analogy.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            Yes, RG, the fact that you have used Google translator to translate some of your “documents” into other languages is just the same as the fact that many people have paid me for the right to publish my book in their language.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            “BTW, I do like your school bus accross the desert analogy.”

            Just so, RG. As I said, back in the day when I agreed with you, I was brilliant. But now that I don’t, I’m “intellectually week.” A sure mark of the thoughtless ideologue.

          • RG says:

            I don’t have a vendetta with you. I know you wrote an intro to Austrian econ, of which I’m somewhat familiar, and that you and Bob go back and forth in the comments section from time to time. If your name had come up in conversation three days ago, I wouldn’t have placed you.

            I was in a particularly agitated state yesterday morning when you were a complete dick to Ashley (who I don’t know from Adam) and became my target, simple as that.

            I was out of bounds for calling you out because it wasn’t my place (it was Ashely’s or Bob’s), but my critique was spot on albeit a bit crude.

            I’ve made my point and gotten some good venting done at the expense of a worthy victim. It’s back to the peanut gallery for me.

            Stay classy, Gene-o…the eye of the tiger is on you.

  10. Gene Callahan says:

    Oh, and Ashley, note your “right or wrong.” This means that, quite bizarrely, you think it can be irrational to have the correct convictions about something!

    • RG says:

      Oh, and Gene, note “you’re a douchebag” with a high level of intellectual weekness reeking from your posts.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        RG, when you learn to spell weakness, let’s talk intellect.

        • RG says:

          Weekness, g-e-n-e-c-a-l-l-a-h-a-n, weekness.

          Ding…(dammit!)

          You cuntinyoo to reaffurm my analasis.

  11. Brian Shelley says:

    It’s videos like this that make it very difficult to take atheists seriously.

    If Sam would walk down the evolutionary path far enough he would discover that moral authority, regardless of its origins, is a powerful tool humans use to gain status and satisfy their wants. Abuse of that authority is inate and inevitable. Thinking that we can root out bad behavior through reason is a more laughable fantasy than any religious conception of heaven. Just look at apes, baboons, and chimps, and what do you see? Violence, rape, murder, theft, etc…even without the nefarious nostrums of religion. As long as violence gets us what we want, we will use violence to get what we want.

  12. knoxharrington says:

    There is a “forest-trees” thing going on here. The trees are the “life begins at conception” controversy laid out above. The forest is his argument that religous moderates, by pursuing a PC/post-Modernist agenda which excepts certain things from “withering criticism,” gives cover to the fundamentalists who run wild in public policy circles – an example of which is the John Hagee or Pat Robertson-types who go along with the Lobby in an attempt to bring about Armageddon. By not allowing religious beliefs to be criticized in “polite society” we exempt the funamentalists from the critique that is required in order to keep their hands off the “nuclear switch.” This is why Harris is particularly worried about Muslim fundamentalists more so than Christian fundamentalists – although he has a big problem with them too. By not critiquing religous beliefs we allow the believers carte blanche and perpetuate wars against victimless crimes. As Spooner wrote so long ago – “vices are not crimes.” The importation of sin by the religious into the public policy world creates the grounds for vast damage.

    • fundamentalist says:

      knox, it depends on the circles you float in, but Hagee and Robertson get a lot of criticism from other fundamentalists, like me. Hagee and Robertson are in the media a lot because the media like to take the crazies and portray them as representative. It’s just one example among many of how dishonest the mainstream media can be.

      If one is going to critique a school of thought, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to go after the best of it, instead of acting like an animal and picking off the weakest and then pretending to be such a brilliant scholar? Yet the mainstream media doesn’t care the least about integrity. Hagee and Robertson are media personalities, not Christian scholars. Most Christian scholars are quiet, humble people who don’t say outrageous things that the media want to loop endlessly.

      We real fundamentalists critique the crazies all the time. But we can’t get any air time from the dishonest media.

      • knoxharrington says:

        You raise an important point. When Falwell and Robertson equated the 9/11 attacks as God’s retribution for leniency toward homosexuals and witches the response was uniform condemnation – and deservedly so. The Sam Harris take on this is “why do they get to say anything at all from a position of power and respect when the premises for that power and respect remain unquestioned?”

        I am against “public education” as a matter of principle. However, if we are going to have the state extract resources by violence in order to “educate” children then fundamentalists don’t just get a pass which allows them to teach my kids certain “facts” drawn from their perspective. The answer, of course, is voluntary education where parents and children get to choose the school they attend which comports with their views. I think Sam Harris, and this is where I disagree with him, would like the government to “educate” according to his views and preclude religious instruction to children – even in Christian or parochial schools.

        As to the crazies – let’s look at Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan, John Hagee, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and the late-Jerry Falwell. If any of them said the things they say without the Rev. in front of their name we would treat them as tinfoil hat candidates – they are just bonkers. But, since they earned a pastoral title (many from California Upstairs Divinity School), we accord them respect they don’t deserve. Bible scholars – in Harris’ typology – would be the moderates who give cover to these imbeciles. BTW – Farrakhan is included because he gets attacked (I guess he is still alive though ill) from the Christian side of things even though he says things that the Hagee-types say all the time, i.e., 9/11 is retribution by God for the harm done blacks through slavery.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      knoxharrington, back in the good old days, we would have grabbed you and tortured you until you recanted, and, if you didn’t, burned you at the stake. Preaching atheism is certainly not a victimless crime: you are desperately trying to spread the sick state of your own soul to others, an act far more destructive than murder, robbery, or rape. Well, given that reality is on our side, and that your position is a rebellion against the real, I look forward to the flames lapping around your feet very soon.

      • knoxharrington says:

        Not to be to mean Gene but if Heaven is populated by the likes of you I’ll take the alternative – and with a happy heart.

        It’s official Gene longs for the return of the Inquisition – and I don’t mean the Mel Brooks inspired musical number.

        BTW – how very Christian of you to wish for me to go to hell rather be converted and go to heaven. I guess we need to move from WWJD to WWGD (Whom Would Gene Damn?).

        • bobmurphy says:

          Incidentally, I’m not sure Gene is a Christian. (I mean that literally–I am not sure what his position is one way or the other.) For sure, Gene is not a materialist atheist.

        • bobmurphy says:

          Not to be to mean Gene…

          There is only one mean Gene, and you are not he.

          • knoxharrington says:

            I should have put my Hulkamania scare quotes around that.

  13. RG says:

    Do orangatans have thoughts about god?

  14. bobmurphy says:

    RG, let’s not call people names on the blog. Especially on a post where the topic is how religious people need to engage in non-emotional, rational debate with their opponents.

    • RG says:

      Sorry, he really got my blood boiling this morning. I felt the condescension and lack of class demanded a response in turn.

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Right, RG. We have someone (Ashley) who shows up here and tells every religious person they are “by definition” irrational. And when I puncture her pretensions, that shows a “lack of class.”

        No, RG, here’s the scoop: When I was an anarchist, you never complained about my lack of class. You thought my intellect was first-rate. You never felt I was being condescending to socialists — you thought I was getting ‘em good.

        But now that I disagree with you on that position, I am a condescending, classless dope. Don’t worry, I’ve seen the same reaction from dozens of my former “friends” — people like Bob, Sandy, and a handful of others being the intellectually honest exceptions here.

        • RG says:

          You and I don’t disagree about Ashley’s viewpoint.

          I have a problem with your condescending tone, regardless of how you’re using it. If I would have seen the “ums”, “uhs”, and “oh by the ways” in other previous posts I would have responded similarly.

          I don’t know your history with anyone else and don’t care. I’ve read some useful insight or yours, but you’re usually a condescending douchebag about it.

          • Gene Callahan says:

            “You and I don’t disagree about Ashley’s viewpoint.”

            Right, so here’s someone who shows up on Bob’s blog, and declares that he is “by definition” irrational — don’t you think that is a wee bit condescending? If so, then isn’t condescension what she herself has earned by her post? If she had stated her viewpoint with any respect at all, I certainly would not have responded as I did. But, as Aristotle said, justice is to give to each what they deserve — and her ignorant post deserved the treatment I gave it.

          • RG says:

            She (or he) began her argument by complimenting the host and then gave personal reasoning for the conviction. I thought it was defensive and a bit shallow, but not condescending.

            You’ve got to cut out all the smug little comments you pepper throughout your postings. Specifically starting sentences with “Uh”, “Oh by the way”, “Right”, etc.

            Bob knew this topic could get heated and he said, essentially, “keep it clean” when debating. You broke that code in your first posting and it really pissed me off. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

        • bobmurphy says:

          Gene’s a socialist!?!

          • RG says:

            I take full responsibility for outing him.

      • Caspid says:

        “Sorry, he really got my blood boiling this morning. I felt the condescension and lack of class demanded a response in turn.”

        Just to let you know, Gene Callahan is Stephan Kinsella without the down syndrome.

  15. fundamentalist says:

    Excellent response to the video, Bob!

    The problem with determining the truth about anything is that very few people care about the truth. Most people just want to confirm their prejudices. How can you tell someone who really wants to know the truth? Well one way is to see if they have honestly investigated the opposing arguments. Christians tend to do just that. Most mature Christians know atheist writings as well as they know Christian writings. I don’t find that with atheists. They seem to be threatened by Christian scholarship so they avoid it. That’s why mature Christians roll on the floor laughing at people like Dawkins and Hitchens. They are so utterly ignorant of the Christian argument. Atheists take their writings seriously because they are just as ignorant.

    • knoxharrington says:

      “The problem with determining the truth about anything is that very few people care about the truth. Most people just want to confirm their prejudices.”

      That is a two-edged sword. Sam Harris is claiming that pursuing the truth-claims of religious traditions is ruled out of bounds – the search for truth is actively discouraged.

      “How can you tell someone who really wants to know the truth? Well one way is to see if they have honestly investigated the opposing arguments. Christians tend to do just that. Most mature Christians know atheist writings as well as they know Christian writings.”

      That is quite simply wrong and a gross overstatement. I know many “mature Christians” who have never encountered an “atheist” argument – nor would they ever pick up a book by Dawkins, Ingerrsol, et al. To do so, would impugn their faith and probably invite divine wrath. And I am not talking about undeducated folk here – I am talking about “mature Christians” who attend churchs pastored by Dallas Theological Seminary graduates – not snake-handling mountain folk.

      “Most mature Christians know atheist writings as well as they know Christian writings. I don’t find that with atheists. They seem to be threatened by Christian scholarship so they avoid it. That’s why mature Christians roll on the floor laughing at people like Dawkins and Hitchens. They are so utterly ignorant of the Christian argument. Atheists take their writings seriously because they are just as ignorant.”

      Bob recently posted on the poll which showed atheists being as well read on the Bible as Christians and significantly better read on world religions generally than Christians. It defies logic and credulity to say that it is “easy” to be an atheist in this society which is incredilby pietistic and dismissive of atheists as cranks and rabble rousers. On that score, I heard Chomsky say one time that the US ranks among devastated peasant cultures in clinging to traditional religious norms (I think that is true BTW).

      funamentalist, please stop making the claim that atheists are utterly ignorant of the Christian argument and are silly, stupid or willfully ignorant. You are not advancing your case by making these claims. I, for one, have stated on here before that I have read, understood and wrestled with the claims of Christianity for the whole of my adult life and was raised in a evangelical Protestant home of “mature Christians” – and guess what – I don’t buy it. But, by your rationale, to understand it is to believe it, to not believe it is to misnunderstand. How convenient. (Church-lady voice)

      • Gene Callahan says:

        Well, knowharrigton, if you are an exception to the rule, good for you. But given the major public atheists figures, I’d say the rule is sound: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris are major ignoramuses, not only of theology, but of philosophy as well. Look at this load of codswallop I happened to comment on this morning.

  16. RG says:

    I find it strange that someone that doesn’t believe in god is called an atheist and someone that believes in god is also called a theist. If I don’t believe in leprecauns, would I be an aleprecaunist?

    For the record: I’m a confirmed Catholic that has devolved into agnosticism with a trace of god fearing left in me.

    • knoxharrington says:

      Good point. Harris, in a separate talk, says that he does not think the term “atheist” is of any use or benefit. After all, no one has to claim to be a “non-astrologer” or “aleprecaunist.” The burden of proof is on the theist – we just haven’t seen enough evidence to convince us.

      The term atheist ascribes positive views, in the mind of theists, when in reality it is purely a negative proposition. You often see “atheist” denote Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. when those dictatorships are actually the perfect synonym with religion – faith in the leader, etc. (look at Eric Hoffer’s work). To say that one is an atheist, in the theist mind, implies a positive assertion that there is no God. I always viewed the term in a more agnostic way – which is to say that I don’t see any proof for God but am open to convincing.

  17. fundamentalist says:

    Knox, personally I would not consider a Christian to be mature if they have not wrestled with atheism.

    “Bob recently posted on the poll which showed atheists being as well read on the Bible as Christians…”

    90% of people in prison claim to be Baptists, too. 90% of Americans claim to be Christian even if they have never read anything in the Bible or have attended church at any time. Again, that argument attacks the weakest part of “Christianity” not the strongest. When I refer to mature Christians, I mean people who have studied the Bible and may not be scholars but are familiar with other religions as well as atheism. As for the survey, it was trivia. Who cares about the things they asked. No one.

    Yet, read something from a mature Christian like Ed Feser in his “Last Superstition” and you’ll see what I mean. The grasp that Hitchens and Dawkins have on the best of Christian thought is a joke. Of course atheists want to attack the weakest Christians; it makes them look like the giants of intellect they are not.

    “please stop making the claim that atheists are utterly ignorant of the Christian argument and are silly, stupid or willfully ignorant. ”

    Well, when atheists prove me wrong I’ll stop.

    “I have read, understood and wrestled with the claims of Christianity for the whole of my adult life…”

    Knox, I’m sorry, but you’re posts tell a different story. Have you studied Aquinas so that you understand his arguments as he intended them and not the cartoon version that atheists such as Hume presented? Have you read Francis Schaeffer? I realize you’re tired of me promoting Edward Feser, but unless you have read at least one of his books then you have no idea what the Christian defense is about.

    • knoxharrington says:

      “Knox, personally I would not consider a Christian to be mature if they have not wrestled with atheism.”

      I was going by the usual Christian formulation of milk v. solid food. By your criteria, I wonder if there are any mature Christians inhabiting the pews in evangelical churches. I don’t mean that facetiously either – most Christians I know have not encountered anything but straw-man type arguments with regard to atheism and feel succored by the fact they “understand atheistic arguments and their faith will-out.”

      Apparently, Bob cared enough about the survey to post on it. I cared enough to look at the questions and sample size. Unfortunately, they didn’t survey scholars but rather the laity. What they found is significant – most believers don’t know enough about their beliefs and if they don’t know their own “beliefs” do they really believe it?

      If I read Feser, et al. and still disagreed would that be enough to convince you? I think not. You would probably find some other author or argument that would “supplement” my shallow understanding. I might pick up the Feser book because I have read positive reviews and it actually sounds like it might be worth reading but I can’t just follow rabbit trails set out by “believers” to satisfy them I have done my homework – because, guess what, my homework will never be completed by their lights until I agree with them. It’s just that simple.

      • fundamentalist says:

        I agree. By my criteria I suspect there are few mature Christians in churches.

        If you read one of Feser’s books I would consider you an informed atheist, which I consider very rare. BTW, you might also consider “Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics” by Norman Geisler. It has most of the best defenses of Christianity in one place. Might keep you from wearing yourself out chasing rabbits.

        • knoxharrington says:

          “How can you tell someone who really wants to know the truth? Well one way is to see if they have honestly investigated the opposing arguments. Christians tend to do just that. Most mature Christians know atheist writings as well as they know Christian writings.”

          “I agree. By my criteria I suspect there are few mature Christians in churches.”

          I think you are being inconsistent here. You say in one spot that Christians tend to honestly investigate opposing arguments and then state that there are very few mature Christians in churches – the definition of mature being familiar with atheist arguments. Do you really mean to say that Christians tend to investigate oppositional arguments to there faith when you say that there are actual few who do so? Can very few people be a tendency? Mature Christians tend to investigate oppositional arguments is a tautology in your formula – to be a mature Christian you must investigate, if you investigate you are a mature Christian? I don’t mean to be snarky here but you seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. You claim that Christians tend to intellectual curiosity about oppositional beliefs, or lack of belief, but then say that they are actually very few Christians who actively engage in intellectual life.

          Related to this – as I stated above – if you don’t know what you believe do you really believe it? Presumably using the milk v. solid food analogy common in evangelical circles it appears that milk fed Christians predominate in churches and don’t really have clue B about what they believe – clue A being a general faith in some general claim.

          • fundamentalist says:

            I don’t have any problem with the idea that most Christians are very immature in their faith. I attend a large church and see it every week. And when I wrote that Christians know a lot about atheism, I meant authors who write about the subject. Atheists who write about religion are ridiculously incompetent. But Christians who write about atheism know their material.

            BTW, Here’s a good example:

            “More troubling is that whether friendly, neutral, or hostile, Ecklund’s subjects seem woefully inarticulate about religion itself … Some resort to tired stereotypes even when they are trying to be kind.”

            Ecklunds’s subjects are atheist scientists in
            “Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think” by Elaine Howard Ecklund. from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/october/22.63.html

            I have found something similar reading about evolution vs creation. Creation scientists know the theory and evidence for evolution better than most evolutionists. Evolutionists will fight straw men all day long, but they will never read a book by a creation scientist.

          • knoxharrington says:

            “I don’t have any problem with the idea that most Christians are very immature in their faith. I attend a large church and see it every week. And when I wrote that Christians know a lot about atheism, I meant authors who write about the subject. Atheists who write about religion are ridiculously incompetent. But Christians who write about atheism know their material.”

            Not to be pedantic but you didn’t say Christian authors you said Christians generally. You can see the reason for the confusion.

            Has there ever been an atheist author who read, understood and had a good knowledge of the Bible and Christian claims?

            “Atheists who write about religion are ridiculously incompetent. But Christians who write about atheism know their material.”

            Just read that quote. You have to admit that is wholly self-serving and not reality-based. You can see where I get one of my chief complaints with you – by your reckoning anyone who denies the truth of the Bible and Christianity simply doesn’t understand it whereas any Christian who writes on atheism utterly and completely understands the arguments and demolishes them QED. I suppose I have to grudgingly admire the tenacity of your faith but (I was going to go into a Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap and Ray Charles joke series here but I will refrain) you exercise absolutely no charity toward anyone who disagrees with you. You assume bad faith, willful ignorance, stupidity, mendacity and incompetence on anyone who deigns to disagree with your position. I respect your disagreement with me but I have to say I don’t know what anyone learns by your posts. They are either the worst form of demogoguery or cheerleading I have seen in a long time.

          • knoxharrington says:

            “And when I wrote that Christians know a lot about atheism, I meant authors who write about the subject. Atheists who write about religion are ridiculously incompetent. But Christians who write about atheism know their material.”

            Everyone should ponder that quote for a moment. For starters, and not to be pedantic, but you didn’t say Christian authors you said Christians – you can see the reason for the confusion when you ascribe intellectual integrity to a whole group of people and then talk about how little they know. But take a look at the second part. Atheists know nothing of religion and are ridiculously incompetent whereas Christians who write on atheism really know their stuff. Does anyone else find that as incredibly self-serving and woefully false as me? It is breathtakingly broad and clearly untrue. I get frustrated when I watch a lot of the theist-atheist debates because you tend to see people talking past one another but to say that, I am assuming all since you did not say most or even some, atheists know nothing of religion is just plain false.

            Once again you smuggle a shibboleth into your posts which, as I have said to you repeatedly is silly, and that is that to know Christianity (truly know it) is to believe it, to not believe it is to have a superficial understanding of it or be mendacious or approaching the topic in bad faith. Does anybody really hold to the position that no atheist understands the theistic argument? Really?

          • fundamentalist says:

            Know, I would be happy for you to prove me wrong. Which atheist writers do you think have a good grasp of theism?

          • knoxharrington says:

            “Knox [sic], I would be happy for you to prove me wrong. Which atheist writers do you think have a good grasp of theism?”

            Robert Ingersoll, George H. Smith, Christopher Hitchens, Robert M. Price, John Loftus – not an exhaustive list but a start.

            Would it be possible to be an atheist and have a good grasp of theistic (mainly Christian) arguments?

          • fundamentalist says:

            Robert Ingersoll, George H. Smith, Christopher Hitchens, Robert M. Price, John Loftus.

            Pick the one that you think is best and I’ll start with him. But don’t pick Hitchens. I’ve already read him and his is totally clueless.

          • knoxharrington says:

            fundamentalist, I guess I would say to start with Robert M. Price and either The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man or Deconstructing Jesus – I think they both are Prometheus titles. Also, the Ingersoll collection titled Challenging the Bible.

            I don’t think the point of Hitchens book was necessarily a thoroughgoing critique of the Bible but I would be interested in your take on where he gets things wrong – you say his errors are voluminous which should provide easy targets.

  18. RG says:

    Are faith and superstion synonyms?

  19. Bragg says:

    I didn’t know Seth Green was a religious speaker…

  20. Gene Callahan says:

    “Harris’s real objection, in this talk, is to religious “moderates,” the watered-down, we-can’t-judge-anyone-else’s-beliefs crowd. I actually agree with him. In the political realm, this is like the middle-of-the-roader who says, “Well we need some government, it just has gotten out of hand in the last few decades.” I’m not saying you need to be either a totalitarian or an anarchist, but I am saying that I would like some principles to justify one’s views.”

    OK, Bob, but consider Aristotle’s position — virtue is usually the mean between two vices. For instance, courage is the mean between cowardice and recklessness. If you accept that, then could you explicate some principle that says just how you should make such a trade-off? Isn’t the correct response “It depends on my educated moral judgment of just how to most closely achieve that mean in the particular situation with which I am confronted”? That is certainly not to say that the correct choice is “merely subjective” — one’s educated moral judgment is and should be open to rational criticism by others, and one should modify one’s view in so far as such criticism hits home — but isn’t any “principle” one formulates to decide such matters merely an abridgment of one’s educated moral judgment, and in no way a substitute for it?

    • bobmurphy says:

      I thought that one would set you off, Gene. OK you’re right, I probably didn’t frame my position very well. All I know is, I don’t like it when people seem to just be against other things, without saying what they are for. So for example, if you’re praising someone for being courageous, I don’t think that is merely saying, “Wow, I’ve never seen someone who so expertly avoided the twin pitfalls of cowardice and recklessness, as this man.”

  21. Ash says:

    Fundamentalist, could you tell me of a few of Hitchens’ arguments which you found to be particularly poor?

    And while we’re here, I would appreciate your answer, or anyone else’s, to Hitchens’ famous “absent God” challenge, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj_uv3tgrXM

    Basically, humanity’s been around for 100,000 years, and your god only chose to reveal himself about 4000 years ago, and only in Bronze Age Palestine, to a tribe of illiterate nomads. Why not China, or Persia, or Northern Europe?

    • fundamentalist says:

      Ash, The errors in Hitchens are too numerous to list on a blog post, but Feser addresses them in “The Last Superstition.” His main problem is that he does little more than channel Hume, who was either ignorant of the Christian defense of God or he was a liar. I choose to believe he was ignorant. In fact, most atheists do little more than regurgitate Hume, so if you deal with Hume you have slain the philosophical arguments of most atheists.

      As for the “absent God” challenge, the first books of the Bible were written around 1,500 BC, or around 3,500 years ago. That doesn’t mean that was God’s first revelation of himself. The history from creation to Moses was passed down orally and that oral history makes it clear that God revealed himself from the very beginning. Again, the “absent God” challenge is nothing but Hitchens advertising his ignorance.

  22. Bugnas says:

    “one should” – is moral proposition and that’s some twisted morality to respect beliefs which lead to child abuse:
    http://www.lostlibertycafe.com/index.php/2009/11/25/mystic-brutality-understanding-religion-as-child-abuse/

    If discussing topics like this makes you angry, uneasy or puts you in denial – the fight or flight mechanism is in work:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response

    And the cause is – surprise, surprise – abuse you experienced during your childhood:
    http://fdrurl.com/bib

  23. fundamentalist says:

    Knox: “I would be interested in your take on where he gets things wrong…”

    I thought about doing a review of Hitchens’ latest book, but that would take a long time and a lot of better thinkers have already done that and they’re all over the web. And the things I pick out Knox and Ash might think are Hitchens’ weaker arguments. So how about this: Knox and Ash should post what they think are Hitchens’ strongest argument. Then I’ll respond.

  24. fundamentalist says:

    PS, A whole lot of the atheist attacks against God and the Bible ask questions, like the one Ash posted: “Why not China, or Persia, or Northern Europe?”

    An important point to remember is that theist claim that God is not just another man. And he is not just a superman, either. He is very different from us and that means there as some things we will never understand about him. So atheists take the attitude that if there is even a small thing that doesn’t make sense to our small minds then none of the rest of it is true. Any mystery at all nullifies everything else we thought we knew. But it’s only reasonable to expect that we can’t know God exhaustively and every reason for every action. That would make us equal to God, or bring God down to the level of mankind.

    And do atheists take the same attitude toward science? Are there no mysteries in science left at all? If not, what are they studying? If so, do those mysteries nullify everything else we know? Of course not. The attitude of scientists is that some day we will find the answers. In a similar way, Christians say that some day God will give us the answers that we need.

  25. Bugnas says:

    fundamentalist, please define god.

    • fundamentalist says:

      According to classical Christian thought, God is the being who must exist in order for the universe to continue to exist.

      • Bugnas says:

        This is unsatisfactory definition similar to this: “Pixie is the being who must exist in order for religion to continue to exist”. Claims like this are unfalsifiable and do not make much sense. The burden of proof rests on someone who presents such claim.

        BTW, I’m not a native speaker, and am not really sure if ‘being’ assumes material form or not necessarily.

        • fundamentalist says:

          It’s not a scientific claim. It’s a philosophical one. The proof is in the logic. It is a necessary truth, not a contingent one. All scientific claims are contingent. For a detailed explanation see Feser’s “Last Superstition.”

          • Bugnas says:

            Well, you didn’t explain how my claim differs from yours. Is it necessary truth as well?

            BTW. just googled Feser, apparently he makes so many logical mistakes that his book is not even worth picking up, if you feel differently – you can join discussions on that book.

  26. Martin OB says:

    I think Harris’s main point is that moderation and religious toleration only make sense, if ever, when different beliefs have no practical consequences. But when other people’s beliefs have an impact on your life (often through legislation), you have every right to leave moderation aside and discuss them openly as any other belief which may have a real effect on your living standards. When beliefs have practical consequencies, then there’s a real coexistence problem that cannot be avoided.

    He is telling non-believers to protect their interests against religious fundamentalists by challenging Western religious moderates to be consistent in their defense of reason and the empirical method for the evaluation of every proposal.

    • fundamentalist says:

      Americans have a totally false concept of tolerance. Religious tolerance originally meant that you don’t kill each other. No one ever intended it to mean you don’t talk about religious matters, as it means today. That’s just stupid. Everyone should be talking about religion all the time if it interests them. Religious people should be forced to give a reason for what they believe and so should irreligious.

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