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Open Letter to Sam Harris on “The End of Faith”

 
pat2112
 
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pat2112
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03 May 2016 13:53
 

Dear Sam,
I am a theist. Worse, I am religious.
Why am I these things? Well, based on what I have read heard and seen here I am just a poor deluded creature who is either to brainwashed or to stupid to know better. Worse than that, I am tribal. I think my tribe is better than everybody else’s because my Good Book tells me so and the rest are just hell bound.
It’s hard for me to believe that otherwise smart people, think such ridiculous things. It’s even worse to hear it from somebody like yourself who puts so much effort in to what you think and discuss, but seems to abandon all reason and adapt a 2 dimensional view of religion based on ‘drive-by’ observation of religious people.
You seems under some impression that if he could just tickle out sensible bits, that we would abandon our religion for ‘reason’. Reason, in this particular case is actually a sly way of saying ‘Naturalism is the correct view of the world and all others are wrong’. Practically every atheist I know is also a naturalist, bound by the senses and will go to some tortured lengths to fit every possible thing in to the box of naturalism.
Further, this idea that all we are concerned about is heaven and hell is a very thin, poorly researched soft bigotry about religion. It seems that a small subset of the behavior of some religious fundamentalists, that they are judgmental, that they regard that their way is the best and only way is such a small minded view. Or that religious moderates are people who are in the regressive left not willing to judge another group is just weird to me. The “moderates” you speak of are better termed as simply as ‘not very religious’.
If you want to be effective in the conversation of ending faith, proposing naturalism over metaphysics or existentialism, you need to be at least remotely accurate in your descriptions of religious people. The fact that you are not hurts your credibility with the people you are trying to reach. As a religious person, who knows intimately many other religious people we are not the deluded creatures you propose. Your descriptions of us is patently false.
It’s clear that you have not deleved into true theology and exegesis. In Christianity, for instance, each letter of every single text has been poured over and analyzed in and out of context. You only need bother to look some of the research in theology to understand that such beliefs are not this ad hoc brainwashing of otherwise intelligent people.
I mean, is your audience, simply your own tribe? Are you talking to naturalists\ atheists or are you trying to convince religious people that naturalism is the correct world view, then you need to know your target audience. If you are targeting atheists, you are already preaching to the choir. If you are targeting religious people, in order to get them to think, you need to get your facts straight otherwise you will be summarily dismissed as a ‘know-nothing’. You are describing religious people based on very thin evidence. You are taking a very small subset of observed behavior and generalizing it over the whole of religiousness. You dismiss it before you even know anything about it. You don’t do that with any other topic. You drill down deeply. You prod and pour over reams of information in order to make an informed decision. But with religion, it seems that you do not approach it with the same vigor, yet you write books against it without understanding.
For myself, I have studied atheism and atheist philosophy and many of your works and find them philosophically incoherent. I counter claim that at the core of understanding existence itself, atheism has nothing of note, worth offering.
The way you speak and proselytize against religion smacks of the street preacher shouting hell and damnation. A condemnation without education. It’s rare that you do this, but you have researched this poorly. You have not even bothered to look at what, for instance, Deuteronomy means to us today or how it’s to be read and taken. Have you considered the original audience of Deuteronomy? Have you looked at the juxtaposition of the Pentateuch over geography and history in the context in which it was written? Have you studied First Temple Judaism and the Talmud? I take it you haven’t and therefore cannot actually speak intelligently on the topic.
You have a long list of religiously affiliated atrocities throughout history. But history tells us much more. The majority of wars from the beginning of history and conflict were not religious in nature, not even close.
It is consistently dismissed by atheists, that the atrocities of the 20th century, which murdered more people than the total of all wars and conflicts, prior to it, throughout history, combined. That you cannot act in the name of ‘atheism’ or ‘no god’. I agree, you cannot act in the name of nothing, but to dismiss that atheism had nothing to do with it is disingenuous at best. The correlation between atheism, secularism and the mass murders of the 20th century by atheist states cannot be ignored. While some of these mass murders could be argued away as incidental, the result of a maniac who is getting rid of people that are simply in the way of their goals many millions were also murdered because they were religious. You cannot simply dismiss that atheism had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with the murders of millions of religious people.
What about the persecutions of the Christians in China, happening right now? An atheist secular state, is at this very moment attempting the fulfill the wishes of atheists, to rid the world of religion. They have moved on from simply taking down or burning the crosses on the churches, they are razing them. They are imprisoning and likely killing (though it has not been reported) religious leaders all over the country. What is their crime? Their faith, nothing more.
If you were to simply describe a country to me without naming it or it’s form of government, where there is no freedom of speech, where there is free health care, where people cannot own property, where the education is free, where religion is suppressed and the people are oppressed; I would need no more information than that to be able to guess with astounding accuracy that it is a secular-atheist, socialist state. Any attempt to remove atheist ideology as a causal factor in these past and present atrocities is dishonest at best.
You speak of honestly dealing with the baggage of religious history, you cannot do so without dealing with atrocity by atheist ideology. In as much that you cannot divorce the Crusades from Christianity, you cannot divorce the mass murders of the 20th century from atheism. They are linked and no amount of linguistic gymnastics will make that, not true. If you are truly concerned with honesty, you simply cannot dismiss these facts. When you speak to the danger of ideas, this should be included.

You also treat religion, specifically scripture as an explanation about the world around and that is prescriptions about it are divine fact. This is false. We have science to tell us about the world around us.  We do not pretend that the Bible is the ‘Great Big Book of Everything with Everything Inside’. We do not pretend that the Bible was written by God. God didn’t write any of it, man did. But we do believe it was divinely inspired. We do believe in revelation, that revelation exists and that certain people have been chosen throughout history to get God’s message out. Now you can argue whether or not that is true, but it elucidates the fact that context in Scripture is extremely important in order to understand it. It’s a rich and intricately woven text that is meant to speak to all mankind on different levels. The Bible isn’t one book, it’s a collection of 66 books and letters (72 for Catholics). When one asks how you should take it, meaning literally, figuratively, etc., the answer is ‘it depends’. It depends on the purpose, context and the original audience for which the particular text was written. Only then can you understand the actual message(s) contained within. Some books are figurative, some are historical, some are poetry and song, some are wisdom books, some are letters, some are gospel, some are prophetic. There is no ‘one way’ to take the Bible. I would suppose this is true for other Holy books of other faiths, I wouldn’t know I haven’t studied them.

You believe that faith should be scrutinized by science. Faith and religion is not subject to science, it is subject to philosophy. For both science and theology are branches of philosophy, but one is not like the other. It does not mean that faith cannot be scrutinized, it can and it should; but this is not a scientific endeavor.
Why are there so many religions? I don’t know. Wouldn’t it make sense that if a religion is actually true, then certainly that one should take over and be the one way. Sure that’s a 2 dimensional view. There may be more than one way. Some religions may be better than others, I cannot judge that at the core of each. I can however, observe behavior of practitioners. I can say the overall behavior as a group Christians behave better than Muslims at this point in time. I can say Hindus as a group, behave better than Muslims as a group, but no better or worse than Christians as a group. And on and on.
Atheists often argue that since God is not more obvious and clear then he does not exist. This poor philosophy.  A lack of certainty in the way to relate or communicate with God does not mean that God does not exist. No one religion is right about everything, but some may be more right than others. Here, I just say that love is better than hate, kindness and mercy are better than meanness and revenge. Those that practice the former are better than those who practice the latter.
How do we know God exists? We do not look to our Holy books to establish this. In fact, the Bible suggests (in the letters of St. Paul) that you do not need to know anything about religion or scripture to know that God exists.
We establish the existence of God philosophically. Early Christians, did not look to scripture to prove God exists they look to Aristotle. Augustine and Aquinas do not look to scripture for proofs of the existence of God, they look to philosophy. God’s existence, at least with Christianity, is the product of pure reason, not religion. The reason we do not believe in Zeus, Thor, Baal, or all these other gods over God is because we cannot philosophically determine those gods exists. Like you, we cannot prove that those gods do not exist, but we can and have proven by pure philosophical deduction that God not only does exist, but must exist for anything to exist at all. And those arguments have NEVER been disproven. That does not mean that philosophers have not tried and have not brought up objections, but the arguments have not been disproven. This is the basis for our belief that God exists. Not because the Bible said so, but because a perfectly reasonable deduction was made. Religion then comes in to try and understand who this God is.

You do not know this because you have not bothered to investigate rich deep theology that has existed and accumulated throughout the centuries. It would do you well to look up what theology has to say. It would do you well to talk to real theologians and apologists who have studied these matters that you discuss in depth. Why not do a pod cast with real, well educated theologians and find out if you are not wrong on what we believe. If you really want to know then it bares investigation, not this pithy cursory glance that you have given it, seemingly without thought. Because, the things you say we believe and what we actually believe are in vastly different stratospheres. It would be a far more credible book if what you say about our beliefs actually line up with them.
Sincerely,
Pat

[ Edited: 03 May 2016 13:57 by pat2112]
 
pat2112
 
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pat2112
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04 May 2016 09:36
 

Somebody asked me if it is ok to comment on my open letter and the answer is wholeheartedly yes, for anybody who wishes to comment.

Whether or not Sam himself reads it, I don’t know, but a good discussion is a good discussion and if people choose to comment, I hope it’s a good discussion.

I am truly honored when people read my stuff, especially when I put a lot of work into it. I am especially honored if they read the whole post. Whether or not one agrees, ideas are being exchanged and that is worth it’s weight in gold to me.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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Dennis Campbell
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04 May 2016 14:16
 

First, you may or may not get much of a response to your open letter.  It strikes me as somewhat rambling and very poorly constructed. However you do have some valid points.  I agree that Sam Harris and others have perhaps over generalized with respect to theists.  You are also over generalizing with respect to atheists. It has long been a established here that atheists do not share any particular coherent system of morality.  As individuals they only share the fact that they do not believe in a God.  As individuals, they may be highly moral, immoral, or amoral.  They might be democratic, Republican, conservative, liberal, authoritarian, or pacifistic.

I suggest that most human warfare has been conducted regardless of religion, but more predicated on the acquisition of resources, territory, and simple political control over others. God, if used at all, is only an excuse. However, the kind of thinking that has some unquestionable authority justifying human behavior is a problem with respect to religion.  Obviously that can be a problem with respect to such an ideology is Communism, which certainly is not religious. It was, however, an unquestioned authority.

I am an atheist. I have no problem with Theists provided they do not seek to shove their particular philosophy down my throat. I do not go door to door selling atheism however theists seem to have no problem doing so.  Theism, at its basis, is ultimately authoritarian.  Atheism has no such implication, although some atheists can be quite authoritarian.

Minor comments as I look at your first post, please separate your paragraphs and perhaps try to make them somewhat shorter.  You might also take a careful look at your grammar. That tends to distract somewhat from your message.  But, once someone has plowed through too much verbiage, your message is reasonably clear.

As I understand it, Sam Harris’ major message is that people should not predicate their morality based upon unexamined premises. Not only unexamined, but premises for which there is no objective basis in terms of evidence.  Citing reams of religious text, is not evidence.

Most if not all of human progress in the last few hundred years has been based upon the scientific method. By human progress I mean increased longevity, health, welfare, and security.  Religion has contributed nothing to such progress.  Please name me one thing that religion has contributed to the welfare of the human race in terms of longevity, health, security, and protection against the elements.

I do agree with you that religion is not to blame for much of the conflict within human civilizations.  Such elements as resources, land acquisition, and political control over other people are more driving motivations. The Catholic Church, as an example, has been a great example of the acquisition of land, resources, and control of other people.  The same comment can be made about fascism or communism.

I hope you enjoy your experience here on this forum.

 
 
icehorse
 
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04 May 2016 14:25
 

In addition to what Dennis said, another point I want to push back on is the connection you make between fascism and atheism. (Is it okay for me to summarize your 20th century examples as examples of fascism - I’m going to assume so…)

This is a common argument, and I think Hitchens defused it pretty well. So, borrowing (albeit poorly), from Hitchens: To characterize the horrible recent fascist experiments as “atheistic” is to really miss the point. These fascist approaches were all highly dogmatic. In this way they were simply replacing existing (dogmatic), religions with a new form of dogmatism. These fascist experiments were most definitely NOT societies of free thinkers.

 
 
Poldano
 
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05 May 2016 00:03
 

I have one disagreement with Dennis.

Theism, at its basis, is ultimately authoritarian.

I disagree. Theism in itself is not authoritarian by any logical necessity, although t is often authoritarian in practice. This is so first, because it is often promulgated by organized religions, and all organizations are authoritarian to some degree by logical necessity, and second, because the concept of deity is usually linked conceptually to authority in human metaphysics. Even atheists are mostly authoritarian in at least a metaphorical way, if only in respect of investing “authority” (as existential necessity) in impersonal causality such as physical law.

 
 
Dennis Campbell
 
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05 May 2016 08:25
 
Poldano - 05 May 2016 12:03 AM

I have one disagreement with Dennis.

Theism, at its basis, is ultimately authoritarian.

I disagree. Theism in itself is not authoritarian by any logical necessity, although t is often authoritarian in practice. This is so first, because it is often promulgated by organized religions, and all organizations are authoritarian to some degree by logical necessity, and second, because the concept of deity is usually linked conceptually to authority in human metaphysics. Even atheists are mostly authoritarian in at least a metaphorical way, if only in respect of investing “authority” (as existential necessity) in impersonal causality such as physical law.

I consider any ideology that holds some unquestionable source or authority as the basis for moral prescriptions as authoritarian.  Perhaps a matter of word use.  Last time I checked no god runs for office but is declared by some sanctified few who tell everyone else “this is the way;” that’s not up for a vote either.

 
 
pat2112
 
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05 May 2016 10:45
 
icehorse - 04 May 2016 02:25 PM

In addition to what Dennis said, another point I want to push back on is the connection you make between fascism and atheism. (Is it okay for me to summarize your 20th century examples as examples of fascism - I’m going to assume so…)

This is a common argument, and I think Hitchens defused it pretty well. So, borrowing (albeit poorly), from Hitchens: To characterize the horrible recent fascist experiments as “atheistic” is to really miss the point. These fascist approaches were all highly dogmatic. In this way they were simply replacing existing (dogmatic), religions with a new form of dogmatism. These fascist experiments were most definitely NOT societies of free thinkers.

Actually, I was not referring to fascism in the least. I am well aware that fascism used religions to justify their actions in order to appeal the the religious in their perspective nations.
The point I am pushing back on is the notion that communist-socialist atheism, whose regimes have a body count that would make Hitler blush, is not separate from their atheism.
What Hitchen’s responds and general response is that one cannot ‘kill in the name of no god’. While that’s true, my point is that the correlation between these atheist states and the deliberate and direct targeting of religious peoples for the crime of being religious is not one that can be ignored. The Soviets, the Chinese, N. Koreans, Romanians, etc. Made no secret of their hatred of religions and justified their murderous actions by illuminating the danger religions posed to the state. No they didn’t do it in the name of ‘no god’ but they did do it to get rid of belief in God. They did it and are doing it because of their atheist ideology.  It’s a militant atheism to be sure, but it’s atheism none the less.
Indeed China, is at this very moment persecuting Christians in their country. This is not history this is the present. They are deliberately trying to quash religious worship in their country. One cannot tell me that this is not connected to the atheism of the state and the communist party. That’s just dishonest at best.
Look, atheism is an ideology, just like theism and religion. While religions can claim to kill in the name of God, they do it in support of their ideology. Atheism may not be able to kill in the name of ‘no god’, but it can kill in support of it’s ideology. Namely the ideology that religion is dangerous and stupid and must be eliminated. You cannot simply dismiss the connection between atheist ideology and the crimes committed because of it any more than I can separate religious ideology from the crime committed because if it.

My point in mentioning this is because Sam lists off atrocities committed by religious ideology and the list is long. But if you are going to connect religion to violence because of bad ideas, you cannot ignore also the bad ideas of those who have an atheist ideology. There is a link and it would be disingenuous to dismiss it.

Violent and absurd ideas do not belong only to religions. They belong also to those who are not religious. Anybody can have a bad idea and do terrible things. Atheism is not a salvo for that.

That does not mean I think atheists here, or even most atheists would even consider, for a second, of hurting anybody regardless of how stupid they may think a person is. I know that Sam, for instance, wants to win with words and ideas. Just like I would not launch of participate in a crusade, nor would I want to kill or harm anyone. I am certain we could share a beer and calmly discuss these big questions without even getting angry.

 

 
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05 May 2016 12:26
 
Dennis Campbell - 04 May 2016 02:16 PM

First, you may or may not get much of a response to your open letter.  It strikes me as somewhat rambling and very poorly constructed. However you do have some valid points.  I agree that Sam Harris and others have perhaps over generalized with respect to theists.  You are also over generalizing with respect to atheists. It has long been a established here that atheists do not share any particular coherent system of morality.  As individuals they only share the fact that they do not believe in a God.  As individuals, they may be highly moral, immoral, or amoral.  They might be democratic, Republican, conservative, liberal, authoritarian, or pacifistic.

Whether or not it gets much traction is not something I am worried about. Some people have read it, so it’s a victory to me already.
Fair enough on your criticisms on my prose. I was trying to cram a lot of ideas into a small space, but I will try to improve my writing, I am aware it could use some work, or I could use an editor smile

I did over generalize a bit, I understand that everyone is different and while may share their atheism, may not share anything else. I was really addressing the sentiment that Sam was putting forth and I am assuming that a fair share of his audience feels as he does. I.E. that Naturalism and Scientism is the proper paradigm through which to view the world (or existence) and the events therein. Likewise, theists come in all different shapes and sizes as well. We fit neatly in to no box. We unify on the point that we believe God exists. We are not robots.

I suggest that most human warfare has been conducted regardless of religion, but more predicated on the acquisition of resources, territory, and simple political control over others. God, if used at all, is only an excuse. However, the kind of thinking that has some unquestionable authority justifying human behavior is a problem with respect to religion.  Obviously that can be a problem with respect to such an ideology is Communism, which certainly is not religious. It was, however, an unquestioned authority.

I am an atheist. I have no problem with Theists provided they do not seek to shove their particular philosophy down my throat. I do not go door to door selling atheism however theists seem to have no problem doing so.  Theism, at its basis, is ultimately authoritarian.  Atheism has no such implication, although some atheists can be quite authoritarian.

I disagree. Theism is not authoritarian at all. Some religions may be. Some people within some religions may be. But theism is simply a belief that God exists. You have theists who believe God exists but has no authority. You have Pantheists who think that God is in everything, but merely passive. But you do have most theists\ religions that do recognize the authority of God. But it’s not authoritarian in the way you may think. It’s not the fundamentalist narrative that ‘you do what God says or you go to hell and burn forever’. We have those whack jobs, but the authority I am speaking about is more natural, that existence is subject to God’s ultimate rule because all of it is sourced from God. <- This is an over simplification but I am going to leave it like that for that sake of space. What I will say about it, is this notion is not merely derived from a Holy book or revelation, but has good logic outside of scripture to back it up. I say this so you understand that this is not a ‘because the Bible says so, that’s why’ tenet. It’s also derived from logic and nature.

Minor comments as I look at your first post, please separate your paragraphs and perhaps try to make them somewhat shorter.  You might also take a careful look at your grammar. That tends to distract somewhat from your message.  But, once someone has plowed through too much verbiage, your message is reasonably clear.

Oh yeah, well you should have put this in your first paragraph where your criticism of my grammar was the main topic. wink.
Like I said I will try to do better.

As I understand it, Sam Harris’ major message is that people should not predicate their morality based upon unexamined premises. Not only unexamined, but premises for which there is no objective basis in terms of evidence.  Citing reams of religious text, is not evidence.

And I absolutely agree with that. My problem is that he is telling people we derive morality, or whatever else from the Bible and do not try to square it with anything else. That is simply false. Patently false. Scripture may lay a foundation, but we have to reason it out against other things as well. And the charge that we dismiss science is just patently false. I love science. But science and theology are two separate things. They do intersect at places, but of those places they do intersect; one is not at odd with the other.

This was my point, of ignoring 2000 years of theology and exegesis that has been painstakingly thought out and worked through. We know that the Bible isn’t clear. We do not think it was supposed to be. My experience as a religious person is that God is seldom what you expect and lurks in places you wouldn’t think to look. I hope you know I mean this metaphorically.

Sam was using the tactic I term the ‘Big Meany God’ claim. He’s pulling scripture out of context to show how mean and bad God would be if the Bible were true. And hence, it’s false. I hate it when Christians pull scripture out of context. I hate when Christians throw a line of scripture in your face. Why is Sam doing this? Why have atheists poured through the Old Testament looking for the worst sounding things they can find, just to make us look stupid? Sam isn’t the only one doing that. I have been on atheist.org, ffrf.com and others and perused their ‘bad bible verses’ sections. The Bible is a big book, there’s a lot in it. Those commands from Deuteronomy were for those ancient Hebrews at that time. And if you understood what kind of people we are talking about, illiterate nomads, not very intelligent and basically only responsive to force the command makes more sense. These were not intellectuals with a firm grasp of nuance, these were people who struggled to survive everyday. They were gruff, harsh, weather-worn folks who didn’t take to kindly to being told what to do. You couldn’t say, “Don’t do this because it’s not right and it hurts people.” They wouldn’t care. It was, “Do this or you will die.” That, they understood.

Further the Pentateuch wasn’t only a scripture, it was a constitution for a theocratic government for the Jewish Nation. It’s the legal constitution of the government of ancient Israel. So first judges, then eventually a king was established to intemperate and apply the law as a situation called for, just like governments do today with their own constitutions. It’s not like everybody had a copy in their houses and read it and applied it on their own as they see fit. There was a legal process in place. That’s why accompanying books like the Talmud is important for interpreting what this stuff meant and how it was applied on a day to day basis.

This is why I do not like people just throwing out scripture passages and attaching their own baggage to it. I don’t like it when Christians do it and I don’t like non-Christians doing it, willy-nilly.

Most if not all of human progress in the last few hundred years has been based upon the scientific method. By human progress I mean increased longevity, health, welfare, and security.  Religion has contributed nothing to such progress.  Please name me one thing that religion has contributed to the welfare of the human race in terms of longevity, health, security, and protection against the elements.

Well, that’s not the purpose of religion. Religion is foundational and hence it does not change and really shouldn’t. It wouldn’t be very trustworthy if it did. That’s a misappropriation of it’s purpose. Theology does grow and advance as we gain greater understanding through out time, but it’s not to contribute in the way science does.  It’s a different discipline. What it does do is lift people up, many times individually and sometimes collectively especially in troubled times.
What it contributes is a foundation for people to do great things. That doesn’t mean people cannot do great things without it, but for many it provides people with personal growth and motivation to go out in to the world and make it better.

If you want a tangible example, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization in the world. As a group, Christians are the most charitable group in the world. They go to the worst places and lift people up. They help people of all walks of life, regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, circumstance or position. If atheists suddenly got their wish and everybody became atheist, who would pick up the slack? Atheists, as a demographic, are the least charitable group. That does not mean that atheists are not or cannot be charitable, but by and large are not. You wouldn’t realize how much of an impact this charity has until it’s suddenly gone. Then you would notice a palpable drop in the collective well being of society here and abroad.

You have to remember, we live in the U.S. Most of the world is still poor and uneducated. That may seem strange to us, but that’s the facts. Most of the world is 3rd world.

It’s by the same sources we are accused of committing all these terrible things and being stupid, close minded and judgmental, that we also reach out to our fellow man, love them and help them, regardless of who they are.

I do agree with you that religion is not to blame for much of the conflict within human civilizations.  Such elements as resources, land acquisition, and political control over other people are more driving motivations. The Catholic Church, as an example, has been a great example of the acquisition of land, resources, and control of other people.  The same comment can be made about fascism or communism.

I hope you enjoy your experience here on this forum.

Thanks!

 
pat2112
 
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05 May 2016 12:45
 
Dennis Campbell - 05 May 2016 08:25 AM
Poldano - 05 May 2016 12:03 AM

I have one disagreement with Dennis.

Theism, at its basis, is ultimately authoritarian.

I disagree. Theism in itself is not authoritarian by any logical necessity, although t is often authoritarian in practice. This is so first, because it is often promulgated by organized religions, and all organizations are authoritarian to some degree by logical necessity, and second, because the concept of deity is usually linked conceptually to authority in human metaphysics. Even atheists are mostly authoritarian in at least a metaphorical way, if only in respect of investing “authority” (as existential necessity) in impersonal causality such as physical law.

I consider any ideology that holds some unquestionable source or authority as the basis for moral prescriptions as authoritarian.  Perhaps a matter of word use.  Last time I checked no god runs for office but is declared by some sanctified few who tell everyone else “this is the way;” that’s not up for a vote either.

Who ever said that God is an ‘unquestionable’ source of authority?
You are questioning it. Certainly, people in the OT questioned it.

It’s ok to question, it’s not taken as offensive to do so. If one wants to have a degree of certainty in their faith, it must stand up to scrutiny.  Christianity has been scrutinized for 2000 years. We do not nod our heads like robots and utter “Yes Master”. It’s a process.

 
Dennis Campbell
 
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05 May 2016 14:19
 

There are at least two major issues here. The first major issue is the proposition that God exists. That has occupied the human race for the last few thousand years, and I do not expect to resolve that here; I’m not quite that grandiose Obviously I do not believe that any such God exists. Just as obviously approximately three out of four of the human race does believe in some kind of a God.

The second issue is one that I do address with great seriousness. And that is what kind of prescriptions, power, control, or morality is associated with a believe in a God.  Neither Theists nor atheists have any claim to superior morality.  Perhaps one difference is that if a theist screws up they can claim that God told them to do so. If an atheist engages in injurious behavior, he or she does not have that rationale.  But, being human, they will likely blame something else.

The existence or nonexistence of any God is of no interest to me. What is of interest to me is how people use that believe in a God or that nonbelief in a god to justify their behavior.  One of the members of this forum has for a long time used his belief in a God to justify condemning everyone else here who does not agree with him.  That kind of thinking I will indeed oppose.

As you may or may not have noticed, according to my biography, I have been a clinical psychologist for the last 45 years. Therefore I have some biases.

[ Edited: 05 May 2016 16:45 by Dennis Campbell]
 
 
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05 May 2016 15:40
 

I will agree that Harris’s critique of religion is very shallow. I recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and was shocked at how shallow his arguments are. At times it sounds like the New Atheists have only heard of Western culture, the East doesn’t even exist for them (which is quite odd in Harris’ case since he’s studied with Eastern masters), and as a result they argue against some absurd God of the Bible as if that is the only concept of God that exists on the planet. In addition, as you say pat2112, these atheists seem to know very little about religion or any philosophy that is supportive of some kind of non-materialist, non-reductive perspective.

This is what I wrote in my journal after reading The End of Faith:

This book was a best-seller for an obvious reason: it is filled with diatribes against Islam, soon after 9/11, and against Christianity, including the scary fundamentalist beliefs of some of America’s politicians in power in this era. But he argues almost exclusively against the Abrahamic God. His argument against God in particular is confined to a very brief theodicy discussion that takes less than one page. He talks about there being sacred elements in life. He even admits that reincarnation might be true. In the end, this may be an effective anti-western-religion book. But not an anti-God book. He mentions Hinduism and Buddhism in passing.

Here’s what I wrote about The God Delusion:

Dawkins attacks the easiest targets. He picks out the most absurd religious believers and theologians and uses them to ridicule religious belief.

He doesn’t seem to have read any philosophy; about the only philosopher he quotes is Daniel Dennett who is one of the new atheist tribe. (Does quote Kant some of course.)

Dawkins could badly use a lesson in the evolution of consciousness. He seems to have no clue why people in earlier times might have magical or mythic beliefs. Quite a lapse in Dawkins’ understanding—he’s this huge advocate of evolution in the physical world, yet he seems to have never thought about there being an equivalent evolution in the way the mind apprehends reality. Perhaps this is because that would give too much credence to the mind.

His ideas for why humans developed religion are preposterous. His premise is that religion is a by-product of some trait that is useful in evolutionary terms—of course religion itself could not be useful—and he suggests that it’s the by-product of gullible children. We survive better if, as children, we listen to our parents’ admonishments. So we have evolved to be gullible in our youth, to believe what we’re told. Thus we believe everything our parents tell us, both the pro-survival advice and the superstitious nonsense. But! This is a theory for why religion propagated, not for why it originated. And he seems completely unaware of that.

His arguments against God are equally lame. First, he is only addressing a personal God, of course. Secondly, it’s all couched in this ‘improbability’ language. But he never really nails it, he just keeps repeating that God is more improbable than a universe starting from simple origins and evolving to more complex. But how simple is a Big Bang? And how improbable is something arising out of nothing?

Plus I get so tired of reading books that never even mention religion outside of the Abrahamic Big Three. How can these New Atheist authors be so oblivious to ignoring half the planet? I don’t get it.

 
 
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05 May 2016 18:21
 
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 03:40 PM

I will agree that Harris’s critique of religion is very shallow. I recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and was shocked at how shallow his arguments are.


I suspect that’s the result of taking a focus as a totality. Because one focuses on shallow fundamentalism doesn’t mean one considers shallow fundamentalism the basic nature of the entirety or necessarily even characteristic of that religions’ practitioners. A focus is not a sum total.

 
 
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05 May 2016 18:34
 
SkepticX - 05 May 2016 06:21 PM
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 03:40 PM

I will agree that Harris’s critique of religion is very shallow. I recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and was shocked at how shallow his arguments are.


I suspect that’s the result of taking a focus as a totality. Because one focuses on shallow fundamentalism doesn’t mean one considers shallow fundamentalism the basic nature of the entirety or necessarily even characteristic of that religions’ practitioners. A focus is not a sum total.

I disagree. I don’t think SH and Dawkins represent themselves as focusing on fundamentalism. They are arguing against God, period. If you’re going to do that, you need to address more than just fundamentalists.

 
 
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06 May 2016 05:33
 

How many gods that he discusses is immaterial, only one will serve the purpose, which is to show how belief in it is irrational. Believing that it expects you to act in specific ways is even more irrational.

Define exactly what this god thing is, then we’ll discuss the possibility of its existence. Then if you win that debate, we’ll let you prove to us or explain to us why this thing gives a damn what you do or do not believe about it,  or about anything else, and how you came to that knowledge.

[ Edited: 06 May 2016 06:29 by Nom de Plume]
 
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06 May 2016 05:43
 
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 06:34 PM
SkepticX - 05 May 2016 06:21 PM
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 03:40 PM

I will agree that Harris’s critique of religion is very shallow. I recently read Dawkins’ The God Delusion and was shocked at how shallow his arguments are.

I suspect that’s the result of taking a focus as a totality. Because one focuses on shallow fundamentalism doesn’t mean one considers shallow fundamentalism the basic nature of the entirety or necessarily even characteristic of that religions’ practitioners. A focus is not a sum total.

I disagree. I don’t think SH and Dawkins represent themselves as focusing on fundamentalism. They are arguing against God, period. If you’re going to do that, you need to address more than just fundamentalists.


Not if you’re just focusing on the veracity of the subject of the beliefs and the associated problem child thinking and behavior. So often I see or hear arguments against what Harris has said or written that are all about things that were isolated out of his scope. If the description of the issue doesn’t fit what you’re defending, you’re defending it against a personal ghost. But I don’t know the specifics of what you’re talking about so I have no idea if that’s the case here—not really interested in going there in any case. I’m not exorcised enough over the fact that Harris is being criticized—not really much of an issue to me personally, but I do know that the lion’s share of his critics are failing to keep up, which is entirely understandable to some extent—such is the cost of a high degree of nuance and focus—but most of that lion’s share is projection and just intellectual laziness, which I don’t think is at all likely in your case.

I think Harris in particular (and Dawkins to a lesser extent) is issued many words by many of his readers because he is a very focused and mentally disciplined dude, and a lot of people are simply not equipped to deal with that—seems to be more and more the case over these last few decades. Often people will criticize Harris for taking a position he explicitly rejects in the very text he’s being criticized for. For whatever reason, our collective ability to maintain context is faltering, often quite problematically. That disproportionately effects nuanced and focused writers and thinkers like Harris. I’m certainly not suggesting there’s nothing to any of the criticism he gets (he gets some of it from me, after all), but as these kinds of themes (memes?) go, this one is very reliable. A huge amount of Harris’ criticism can be addressed, pretty completely, by simply pointing out that’s not the issue.

[ Edited: 06 May 2016 05:58 by SkepticX]
 
 
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06 May 2016 06:17
 
KathleenBrugger - 05 May 2016 03:40 PM

... But how simple is a Big Bang? And how improbable is something arising out of nothing?
... Plus I get so tired of reading books that never even mention religion outside of the Abrahamic Big Three. How can these New Atheist authors be so oblivious to ignoring half the planet? I don’t get it.

I’ll try to be short as possible.

You probably missed many points reading works of SH and Dawkins. Let me just add something to the above.

a) You asked totally surprised: “And how improbable is something arising out of nothing?”
Well, if there is a God or gods, they also had to arise from ‘something ’ or from ‘nothing’.  Do you have any idea to offer how that may have happened?  Although theoretical and plausible, Big Bang has its merits through recent observations and calculations.

b) There are many books about the other religions if you are interested in searching for the truth. However, as Christianity and Islam are the closest to us in many ways. it is logical to examine them in depth, as well it is logical for individuals in the Far East to discuss Buddhism or maybe Hinduism. And trust me: discussing Horus or Oziris in depth is utterly boooring.

 
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