Sam Harris, author of the books, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation, was given a forum at the Aspen Ideas Festival. I’m not sure how I ended up finding the video, “Believing the Unbelievable: The Clash Between Faith and Reason in the Modern World,” but I believe I was referred by one of the Science Blog forums. I can’t remember which one, and, as far as I can tell, only one of these blogs is owned by a believer.
Which is probably how I got lost. There’s a bit of a row, right now, concerning the derision of believers by “Pharyngula.” (Which is surprising, since that seems to be his purpose in blogging.) I was once again struck by the idea that science and religion are incompatible, chased some links, and ended up watching a video from the Festival.
Mr. Harris spent his time at the Festival blurring the edges between “Christianity, Judaism, and Islam,” with a little Hinduism and Buddha thrown in to strengthen his point. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in his viewpoint, although he does grudgingly admit to a questioner that “moderate” Christians and Jews have been influenced by the belief in human rights and equality by secular, outside influences, while Muslims have remained isolated and so have not “evolved.”
Beyond the fallacy of treating all religions as one, Mr. Harris denies that atheism is a religion, using his second favorite technique, mockery and one liners designed to encourage his listeners to laugh with him. He mocks the Second Commandment: “Is this as good as it gets? . . . How about, ‘don’t deep fry all of your food?’” and mocks the idea that agnostics are a separate from believers and atheists by saying, “I haven’t met too many agnostics about Zeus.”
The biggest logical fallacy in which Harris engages is his statement that religions change from without, due to secular ideas about human rights. In fact, the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that we are all created in the image of God.
While Christians have cited the fact that very young children naturally display concern for others and seem to understand the concepts of justice and beauty as proof of God, Mr. Harris believes that this actually disproves the “usefulness” of religion. While he admits that 70% of (I presume, U.S.) college graduates believe in the Biblical God, he strongly commends “peer review” in science.
His major point seems to be that “much of the Bible and Koran is life-destroying gibberish.” He dismisses the rest. While he insists that believers who promote their religions or teach their children to follow them are enabling religious fanatics who kill in the name of religion, shouldn’t Harris, who has been called an “Atheist Evangelist” take responsibility for enabling those who kill and enslave to suppress religion, as in China? Or the Western academic powers that be that harass, deny recommendations, employment and funding to those who fall out of favor, such as Richard Sternberg (see the review at Sternberg’s site and at National Public Radio)?