A Filipino Priest Tries to Refute Harris

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Joined  13-08-2008
20 March 2010 01:19

I’ve found an article in a Philippine broadsheet called Manila Standard,  a response on Sam Harris’ book “A letter to a Christian nation” and it is writer by a man of faith.

A letter to Sam Harris by Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

Total Posts:  15
Joined  17-08-2010
18 August 2010 23:28

Typical apologist statement from a catholic priest. Sorry.

Total Posts:  11
Joined  19-08-2010
25 August 2010 13:31

It is wrong then to blame religion alone for the bloody pages of human history, and if religion cannot take the sole blame, then something else—other than religion—must account for the violence and depravity of which we are capable.

Harris does not blame religion alone for the unjust actions found throughout history. He does, however, find that most atrocities come from dogmatic obedience void of rationality. Such behavior can be seen in peoples’ narrow minded ignorance towards ideologies like Communism; however, religious texts, unlike other instances, seem to always have such consequences because the holy words written are unalterable. Even dangerous ideologies like communism can have modern intellectuals rewriting ideas of the past. That something else - other than religion - follows religion almost everywhere it goes, though granted, is separate. For instance, some religions choose to contradict the holy words of the bible, and not just “reinterpret” unattractive passages, but completely ignore them. Also, you will find faiths such as Buddhism, where the religion is more of a practice than a dogmatic, stagnant, philosophy, do not fall under this particular criticism of religion…

I do not find Harris treating these problems with that degree of philosophical engagement they call for….When he for example claims that postulating God always triggers an “infinite regress…” ETC!

When forming an argument on religion and the likes, one doesn’t need to bring in every conceivable argument. There are many arguments for/against theism that Harris does not mention… Using the first cause / necessary being / first mover / etc. argument to counter Harris’ is an example of Red Herring fallacy. It would be similar to me refuting the Ontological argument by saying something like, “Well St. Anselm doesn’t take into account that a being that which nothing greater can be conceived [god] wouldn’t allow for so much evil!” It seems to me that Aquino is simply playing down Harris’ main arguments and then searching for the weakest part to refute, regardless of its necessity to the main idea at hand. Ironically, the argument Harris is being criticized for not giving justice too is hardly explained, or given enough “philosophical engagement”, in Aquino’s paper.

Harris’ most serious philosophical shortcoming lies in thinking of the traditional concept of God as the only plausible concept of God there is.

If by traditional you mean the god who wrote ancient holy scripts, then yes that is the god Harris focuses his attention on. There are other plausible God’s unrelated to scripture that Harris doesn’t have as much of a problem with (like Buddhism). the real philosophical shortcoming lies with those who simultaneously hold the Bible as written by God’s hand as absolute truth and guidance for mankind while holding that some of what God writes is to be ignored, and not taken as true on face value. 

All this is would be valid objections to a traditional notion of God, but not to the notion of God itself. One need not maintain a notion of an unchanging, unmoved and omnipotent God detached from his creation. One can think of God as that aspect of the universe’s on-goingness by which the interesting array of creatures we now have has come about, the order-amid-chaos that is undeniable, our increasing sense of ethical responsibility and our rejection of the abominations of the past, the flourishing of beauty and harmony without denying that instances of the ugly and the loathsome. If one develops this kind of a philosophy, a man of faith is able to deal with the demands of logical analysis, a theory of signification—and still kneel in adoration before the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

Well, as swell as this little piece of hope is, it is hardly an argument. This isn’t so much an argument as a reassuring testament to the faithful. All it does is affirm it’s self-proclaimed truth and allow the religious to feel strong in the faith; it is sad that during my first read through the article this paragraph came across as the strongest. Doesn’t say much for the argument, does it?

Men and women, Harris argues, have done immense good without any religious motives. That may well be true, but I do not see how that argues against religion

It is supposed to argue against the necessity of Religion due to ethics, that many faithful strongly hold as true. Once again, trying to draw Harris as a man of straw.

Law too has its own share of concepts that have a quasi-mystical ring to them: “equality before the law”, “no imprisonment for non-payment of debt”, “a contract as the meeting of the minds”—and one would have good reason to dismiss them as fictions (and dangerous ones at that!), but it is precisely the hermeneutical project of jurists and of the courts to show us how they can convey a lot of good sense! So it is with the scriptures of all faiths.

fine.. the whole bible is a metaphor, including the idea of a perfect being, which is just a metaphor for humans ultimate aim. Hallelujah… Jurists must interpret the law, but when the law asks to stone homosexuals etc, the laws are altered altogether, not merely reinterpreted. Such is the simplest weakness of the analogy.