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Sam Harris
Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation. He is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of...



An Atheist Manifesto

Sam Harris argues against irrational faith and its adherents

Update: (2/08/2006 1:35 p.m. EST) Read Sam Harris’ additional arguments about The Reality of Islam

Editor’s Note: At a time when fundamentalist religion has an unparalleled influence in the highest government levels in the United States, and religion-based terror dominates the world stage, Sam Harris argues that progressive tolerance of faith-based unreason is as great a menace as religion itself.  Harris, a philosophy graduate of Stanford who has studied eastern and western religions, won the 2005 PEN Award for nonfiction for The End of Faith, which powerfully examines and explodes the absurdities of organized religion. Truthdig asked Harris to write a charter document for his thesis that belief in God, and appeasement of religious extremists of all faiths by moderates, has been and continues to be the greatest threat to world peace and a sustained assault on reason.

An Atheist Manifesto

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?


The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.


It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. Consequently, we do not have words for people who deny the validity of these pseudo-disciplines. Likewise, atheism is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (87% of the population) who claim to never doubt the existence of God  should be obliged to present evidence for his existence and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day. Only the atheist appreciates just how uncanny our situation is: Most of us believe in a God that is every bit as specious as the gods of Mount Olympus; no person, whatever his or her qualifications, can seek public office in the United States without pretending to be certain that such a God exists; and much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions appropriate to a medieval theocracy. Our circumstance is abject, indefensible and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.

We live in a world where all things, good and bad, are finally destroyed by change. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant, never to meet again. Friends part company in haste, without knowing that it will be for the last time. This life, when surveyed with a broad glance, presents little more than a vast spectacle of loss. Most people in this world, however, imagine that there is a cure for this. If we live rightly—not necessarily ethically, but within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors—we will get everything we want after we die. When our bodies finally fail us, we just shed our corporeal ballast and travel to a land where we are reunited with everyone we loved while alive. Of course, overly rational people and other rabble will be kept out of this happy place, and those who suspended their disbelief while alive will be free to enjoy themselves for all eternity.

We live in a world of unimaginable surprises—from the fusion energy that lights the sun to the genetic and evolutionary consequences of this lights dancing for eons upon the Earth—and yet Paradise conforms to our most superficial concerns with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is wondrously strange. If one didn’t know better, one would think that man, in his fear of losing all that he loves, had created heaven, along with its gatekeeper God, in his own image.

Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm of biblical proportions would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. Nevertheless, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran: Their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence; their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God’s grace.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is—and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

One wonders just how vast and gratuitous a catastrophe would have to be to shake the world’s faith. The Holocaust did not do it. Neither did the genocide in Rwanda, even with machete-wielding priests among the perpetrators. Five hundred million people died of smallpox in the 20th Century, many of them infants. God’s ways are, indeed, inscrutable. It seems that any fact, no matter how infelicitous, can be rendered compatible with religious faith. In matters of faith, we have kicked ourselves loose of the Earth.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? There is no other way, and it is time for sane human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities or he does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: The biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion—to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources—is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

Continued: The Nature of Belief
Dig last updated on Dec. 7, 2005

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By Jonas South, January 10, 2006 at 7:43 pm Link to this comment
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RE: Ken’s comment 460. ‘What all the religious contributors here are seeing is not athiestic arrogance…but impatience and exasperation…

Your exasperation is understandable, and shared. I try to keep mine in check, if only to better understand the relatively few ‘end timers’ who are leading our headlong rush into a religious conflagration. Others mainly limit their own potentials.

How do so few manage to mesmerize so many? Some psychological studies suggest that blind trust in a leader is hard-wired into the human brain, evolved to ensure the success of the hunt perhaps. Since before recorded history, authors of organized worship understood all too well how to use this to their advantage. They evolved other means to assuage the deep-seated fear and need to deal with the vagaries of life, and the finality of death. If this is true, then any lesson that teaches rationality at its core, must recognize the need to re-wire the brain. Or at least provide an alternate way to deal with the fears and needs.

The task is arduous, but not insurmountable. Take our fear of the finality of death, for example. Science states with near certainty that all of us will be reunited with our dearly departed, our energies (E and M being interchangeable) will commingle in the meaningless timeframe of some five billion years, when our Sun subsumes our world, while ‘we’ assume a different form. Will this help some of us face the finality of death, or console us the loss of a loved one?

Or take the fear of a society set morally adrift without the anchor of a Ten Commandment, or other religious laws. Would it satisfy some to learn that entire societies have thrived under moral codes devoid of religious traditions? What if we teach that a man once lived five centuries before Christ, who wrote the following: ‘Death has always been the duty of the Ancient Executioner. But when Man takes on that job, it is like the novice who aspires to be the master carpenter: his finger will suffer for that inexpertise.’ If I live by that moral code, would I suffer for not being exposed to the more ambiguous, ‘Thou shalt not kill?’

Even the devout cannot deny the obvious, that organized religions satisfy the emotional and psychological needs of their followers. These followers are always going to be in the majority, for how many can avail themselves of an elite education, or otherwise overcome atavistic inner drives? The task of the non-religious then, is to come up with rational, and thereby more attractive alternative teachings that will satisfy those needs. The early church started from humble beginnings. So can we.

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By Roberto, January 10, 2006 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment
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To Bala Habal (465): No, Bala. The burden of proof lies on you. Any one can claim the existence/reality of any whimsical idea or “vision” they can dream of (pink elephants who discuss South Park episodes, little naked and invisible Mexicans who live in my ear and tell me to do things, etc.).  Should we believe every one categorically off the bat? Of course not.  You claim it, you prove it.  It’s moronic the other way around.

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By sharpstick, January 10, 2006 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment
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I enjoyed your smackdown of Andrew. It’s obvious he hasn’t thought enough about what he believes and therefore, doesn’t believe anything really.

Larry (38):
For Christine:  My, but you’re sure of yourself… you must be god.

Sorry Larry, she’s just sure of herself. And it doesn’t surprise me that you would think someone is a god simply by being very sure of themselves. If people want to pray and believe, then that’s their right, but when they start affecting other people’s lives is when it’s wrong. It’s very wrong right now, wouldn’t you agree?

Bob (141):
1) God doesn’t exist.
2) There isn’t an invisible, intangible, completely undetectable pink fluffy bunny lives under my bed and causes me to have cravings for carrots.

You can’t prove those either, now can you?

The real problem with religion (either a religion of god or religious atheism) is that it somehow makes people incapable of rational discussion.  Sad.

Unless I missed something, Christine never said your 1 and 2 were not POSSIBLE. Just that we have zero evidence that they are. So, by all means Bob, tell everyone about YOUR bunny and maybe I’ll come visit you in the looneybin.

Rational:  based on or in accordance with reason or logic.

Gee, forgive me Bob, your argument clearly fits this definition.

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By Bala Habal, January 10, 2006 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
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Before asking those who believe in God to prove his existence, maybe you should prove to us first that God doesnt exist!? then we can say that you found the truth! Till then; God exists!

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By Gary, January 9, 2006 at 10:58 pm Link to this comment
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Many Atheist and “Believers” have one thing in common.  The more they write, the more ignorant they appear.  I have enjoyed the debate though.  If we say God bless the USA, God owes Sodom and Gommorah and apology. My concern is not that people do not believe in God, but the one’s who do are so weak in their belief that no one can tell the difference.  Believe me atheist friends, (God)does not need a majority to impact the world.  You may just find that out sooner than later.

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By waynels, January 9, 2006 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment
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“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  All the rest is commentary.

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By peter swanson, January 9, 2006 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment
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To Jonas.  We all need a little humility, true.  But if you’re a rational thinker you are alot more likely to have that humility than if you’re a religious zealot. We are “the glory, jest and riddle of the world”, and “the proper study of mankind is man”  Pope.

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By Roberto, January 9, 2006 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
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To Lynda 1/5:
You’re joking, right? At least I hope you are. That was a good one.  But in case you’re actually for real: Hey look! I can write in tongues, “ohh bala bala, sarih maleki bala bala marakashi deli sha, bala bala…” God MUST be real. Any body can utter gibberish in a self induced trance.
Oh, and the other day I saw a documentary on indigenous peoples in which many of the participants in their religious ceremony where possessed by spirits and yelled out a bunch of unintelligible stuff.  Do their gods and spirits exist too? I mean, the same thing you described that happens to you (tongues, spirits moving) happens to them—and to schizophrenics and intoxicated folks.  If you were born and raised as a Muslim or an Inca from back in the day you’d say it was Allah or an Inca deity that moved you.  But you happen to be a Christian.

So the Almighty actually listens to you and appeases all of your requests?!  You must be real tight with him.  Since he doesn’t listen to me or anybody that I know (Christian or non) may I throw in a few requests? Can you ask him to cure my aunt from cancer? My entire family is christian and they (and their entire church congregations) pray incessantly for her cure and apparently God is too busy with the “something that i really need,” of yours.  So pretty please with Splenda on top, can you forgo one of your personal requests and help out another? How about helping out many others, Lynda. You can pray for no kids to die from hunger this year.  Wow, yes, I am so relieved now that you and god are on the case.  Because you will pray for these things (unless you only pray for yourself and don’t care about god’s other children) I’m sure.
I’ll keep sponsoring Fernando and his little sister Yaniza from Guatemala just incase this may be the first prayer/request god doesn’t answer for you though.

Oh, Lynda, Lynda what are we going to do with your deluded kind. You know I’m almost certain that if you’re not writing your comment as a joke, deep inside you don’t really believe. Your comment that “And the Lord speaks to me and it seems so real,” and your last sentence “i would rather live as if theres a God and find out there isnt than live as if theres not a God and find out there is.” suggests that all you want is security from a ‘hell’ and if god truly enters your body and it only it only SEEMS real then maybe there SEEMS that such a being exist.  Seeming is not actual.
Do yourself and all of us a favor and open your mind and educate yourself with some history, sociology, world religions and a little neuro-psychology.  You’ll find out there’s a whole world out there very different and at the same time very similar to your Christian view.
I still think you’re joking. God help us if you’re not.

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By Ken, January 9, 2006 at 2:03 am Link to this comment
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To Jonas South,

Sorry, I can’t let your contribution pass unanswered.  Why do atheists not display some humility?

Because inevitably the religious never do…and we have no choice but to respond as we do.  When religious leaders and apologists start saying “maybe we don’t know the absolute truth…maybe we aren’t the chosen ones…” AS THEY INVARIABLY DO (even if only implicitly)...then we can discuss the humility of non-believers.  Until then we have no choice but to face down irrationality.

And if your life is dreary without religion…well…that says more about your life than it does about the “benefits” of religion.

What all the religious contributors here are seeing is not athiestic arrogance…but impatience and exasperation…

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By Jane Alexander, January 8, 2006 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment
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Well, Chuck D, you don’t seem to have understood a word of what Sam Harris wrote.  He is not just talking about one, two or three religions.  It is the phenomenon of faith itself that does not bear the scrutiny of the reasoning mind.  All religious faith of any kind falls into this sphere. 

It is religion itself that asks us to take a “leap of faith”.  Your use of that phrase in your final sentence completely undoes your argument, and so you end up confirming exactly what Sam Harris was saying! 


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By Jonas South, January 8, 2006 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
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There is little Sam Harris wrote that can be denied by a good atheist-the rational Man, and emotionally mature to boot. How secure we are in the knowledge that matter and anti-matter co-exist, and the universe is racing to rip itself apart by the seams. Or are we? While darkness enshrouds the greater part of the universe’s energy, and the mundane electron plays havoc with our best scientific brains, can the Rational Man not be a little more humble? As Laotse warned some twenty-five centuries ago: ‘He who claims he knows, does not know.’

By humble, I do not mean to wink at the rules of the ‘end times’ game, or even to meet them halfway. I mean that, for one moment, put yourself in the shoes of the majority, the self described Christians of North America. You laugh at us, they say, (‘It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.’) call us ‘idiots’ and ‘lunatics’. We choose to turn the tables, and call upon you atheists to disprove the improvable (which is little like the tiny electron’s challenge). Furthermore, they say, what do you have to offer us? How do you console us when a loved one dies, brighten our dreary days with rituals and festivals, draw our communities together in song and sonnets, and satisfy our craving to be more than our shell of a body. Are these not legitimate needs, developed in our neuronal network, as you atheists claim, over eons of evolution?

No. It is not enough to ridicule what is clearly irrational, or to blame that alone for the slaughters of the past and present. With a dose of humility, we also must satisfy better what are, after all, humanist needs.

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By Joe R, January 8, 2006 at 8:21 am Link to this comment
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I liked the article but was more facinated by the comments.  I would like to suggest that morality, which most people like to link to religion, is really a survival stragedy that has evolved over time.  Without morality, the human social structure would never have developed to the extent necessary for humanity to survive in it’s pre history.  We act morally to each other to get along with our peers.  There are certain taboos that cannot be tolerated by society regardless of the religion or race involved.  Morality is simply a way for human beings to get along without killing each other.  Without it we would never have survived the ice age.

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By Jess, January 8, 2006 at 1:54 am Link to this comment
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Religion has always made me sick to my stomach just knowing that most everyone around me bets their life on it. In history women, jews, blacks, homosexuals, and other purely innocent people have been slaughtered at the hands of religious bigots.

When I was in 4th grade they had a program going on where at a certain time of the school day, kids would go out to this trailer outside the school and learn about the bible. My parents never paid the money for me to go because we were moving to a different area soon. I was the only one in my class that didn’t go. My teacher was angry that she couldn’t go because she had to babysit me. She made me copy articles from my text books word for word onto notebook paper. This was pointless work but there was nothing else she had for me to do. Everyone saw me as a non-believer soley because I didn’t go. I wanted to cry. I had this fear of being different. I had no idea I had the option of believing anything else or at least I didn’t have the option of voicing it. I just played along until I met my roommate.

She, too, was an Atheist. We were at a going away party for her boyfriend the summer before our senior year in high school. He was being sent to Chile on a missions trip by his hard-core Christian mother. Apparently it gave her something to brag about to her church friends. My friend was worried to death about his safety because of troubles she’d read about going on in South America at the time. She was angry that his mother had not taken it into consideration and had placed her religion over his safety. Everyone grabbed a slice of pizza and then bowed their heads in prayer. I stopped praying years before this because I felt it was rediculous. Instead I bowed my head and glanced about the room wishing that someone else was doing the same. It was as though I was in a mad house where everyone was bowing their heads and trying to send telepathic thoughts to an imaginary friend that they all shared. Suddenly our eyes met and a rush of relief fell over me. I wasn’t alone. There was someone out there that saw how rediculous these people are. As relieved as I was that I saw her, I still find it frightening that we were the only two atheists in that room of over fifty people. Fifty people honestly thought some higher being was listening to them.

Thanks again for the wonderful article.

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By Rita Schmitz, January 7, 2006 at 6:44 pm Link to this comment
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What it all boils down to is that religion is control, pure and simple.  Religion is politics. You do not need to be elected, but can stand in a pulpit and control the masses. Best example being the early and mid-“evil” Catholic church. All the church had to do was keep the masses cowed and under control with threats of hell and damnation.  Include an inquisition or two, and voila! Instant control, the operative word here.  Lack of education and printed word made it easy until the upstart for Reformation appeared on the scene.  Then all hell broke loose.  Polls are not an indicator. How many people, even if they did not have a religious inclincation would say “no”?  People are sheep!  They say what is the line of least resistance.  If you acknowledge that you question religion or have a particle of disbelief you leave yourself wide open for the door knockers to save your sorry soul! So how many answer that loaded question truthfully? As for me, I only believe in the creative power of the Universe. I don’t KNOW, admit I don’t KNOW, and will happily live with the mystery.

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By Chuck D, January 6, 2006 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment
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Discrediting 2 or 3 major religions doesn’t prove that atheism is the only viable option remaining.  this article doesn’t show that religion is incompaible with reason, it just shows that the religions discussed are. To make the leap of faith from saying biblical religion is absurd to the idea that atheism is the only rational way to view the world is just as absurd.

Just so we are all on the same page here, showing that one religion is absurd does not show that atheism is the only other availible view. I agree with most of the article, but to make that final leap of faith is just irrational.

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By peter swanson, January 6, 2006 at 9:57 am Link to this comment
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Our history as a species is a history of reason replacing emotionality and irrational beliefs.  It goes slowly, but it goes.  The process is much like individual psychotherapy.  There is no quick fix.  Respect and sympathy for all and discussion and openmindedness push things along faster, but outrage and confrontation have a place in the process of change.  As a personal observation, I’m just unhappily surprised at the strength of religious belief in this country.

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By Mark Sashine, January 6, 2006 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
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To Osiris and other ’ Egyptians’

I was not talking about facts, interpretations and legends.  I was talking about a historical spirit of the religious doctrine. As such Christianity is unique. It does not mean it is right, it does not mean it did not take from the wisdom of others( Hercules was one predcessor). But as a perfect human product it is unique and no other life form can worship such thing. As for the Devil I meant it methaphorically.

We can argue about it for years. But I would not say’ what a tosh’ to anything.  I did not say anything like that about the totally arrogant article of the author we discuss.  And for me arrogance is a Devil’s trick no matter how atheistic I am. History, human treasure is bigger than all of of us and we have to be careful in our judgements.

And I do not think anyone else but human could invent the wheel.

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By Stan, January 6, 2006 at 3:40 am Link to this comment
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Colm: you’re right that atheists can have concern for the future, just not as big an incentive for them, IMO. But i shouldn’t have used that statement.
You are dead (no pun intended) wrong that there is no distinction between evidence that is testable and that which is not. Whatever you or I claim to be true is pretty much useless as evidence (except to you or I) unless it can be duplicated by others or grounded on some real foundation. It’s that kind of profound misunderstanding that leads to so many people to accept without proof all of the various silly things that the internet is inundated with: alien abductions, psychics, mediums, conspiracies, wacky medecine etc etc.

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By Ken, January 6, 2006 at 2:57 am Link to this comment
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To Lefty,

Schizophrenia????  Hahahahahahahaha

So how do we decide who’s schizophrenic and who isn’t???  How do WE know who to believe???

And yes, I do lump falwell, mohammad and jesus together, on the basis that they all claimed access to revealed truth, claims that no one can verify.  It is undoubtedly safer therefore to treat them with skepticism at best…and even contempt. You don’t think that jesus/mohammad were any better than falwell, do you?  How do you know?

And if you do admit that they may not have been (and any objective and thorough reading of the bible and the koran would lead anyone to conclude that they weren’t) then both the christian and muslim edifices come tumbling down…they were just men after all who had an IDEA.  History is full of people like that.

And, yes, I can read…I quoted you verbatim!
You claimed to refer to objective evidence…WHAT OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE????  There isn’t a shred of objective evidence about the truth of religious claims…Religion is a subjective human construct.  Claiming a niche for god on the basis of the unknowable (or even the not yet known) is precisely the point.  The fact that people are duped into believing the subjective claims of prophets is why atheists are provoked into making the noises they do, because WE HAVE NO OBJECTIVE REASON TO BELIEVE THEM.  So on the basis that there is no objective evidence we must assume there is none.  Are atheists really asking for too much!!!  In no other field of human thought or endeavour are we being asked to suspend our critical faculties like this.
You’re reaching, Lefty.
Try again

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By marc desmarais, January 6, 2006 at 2:28 am Link to this comment
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Regarding Maurice E Hardy’s comments “Are you saying, “Why believe in a God?”, since He allows so much pain and suffering in the world?”

The answer is clearly no. You and I can sit together and read Sam’s writing a thousand times, and we’ll never find in his writing the sentence “Why believe in a God since he allows so much pain and suffering in the world”.

Now then, regarding what he actually does say,  the issue seems not to be about “suffering in the world”, neither does it seem to be “suffering for certain individual engaged in certain activites” (clearly, pain from putting your hand in a fire is a good thing, it tells you not to do that).

This issues Sam raises has never been “pain” by itself. It has never been “pain” in the context you put it in either. Sam seems to have raise the issue of “pain” in a certain context, and has not made this context hard to understand.

The issue is “pointless pain”.

Regarding the subject of “pain” in the context of “pointlessness”...I have a specific question that never gets answered by fans of a benevolent god.

My specific question is: when the Nazi doctor Mengele did surgery on two 9 year old twins boys (specifically) and surgically opened their backs, cuts their veins and cross connected the veins to each other and then sowed the two boys together back to back to create artificial siamese twins (specifically), and the two boys later died, what was this benevolent God trying to teach these two 9 year old boys with this pain?

Specifically, those two boys (not “humanity”).

For the theory of God to hold, their must be a convincing answer to this specific question.

(ps, I’m an ex French Canadian, now American, with not a drop of Jewish blood in my veins, I’m also a member of the human race).

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By Marc Desmarais, January 6, 2006 at 2:03 am Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood says: “One weakness of this familiar argument is the dishonesty that suffuses it - and when..”

Wait a minute. Before we proceed with the “and when…” we need to deal with this claim. Peter Attwod needs to explain to the rest of us what his rational is for this claim, and what the supporting evidence is.

To make a claim like that, w/o bothering to make the case for it, and to continue as if the claim was fact, and uses it as a base to launch futher arguments, is…well..(some would say) intellectually dishonest.

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By Marie, January 5, 2006 at 3:37 pm Link to this comment
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Great article – quite a holistic representation of atheism

It is worth investigating the concept of God in greater detail – moreover what it means.  Omniscient and omnipotent are two main characteristics given to God by the ‘pious’ or ‘faithful’ followers – I take it this is accurate to assume.  As Sam says, human standards of morality is what is used to establish God’s goodness, therefore it is fair to judge God by human standards of morality – fair enough.  Taking the line of this argument, it would also be fair to assume that this ‘God’ was invented by humans to serve a human need.  Form this gist of the article, I can generalize that this human need would be some sort of reassurance or security either in life or death or both. So I can also conclude that humans are intrinsically insecure beings who NEED some sort reassurance that they will be looked after, or life is far too dangerous. And so a father figure was invented, one to be feared as he makes the rules and turns the tide to punish the unfaithful.  Because humans need something from God, it is natural that we assume that God to needs something from humans too – and so a trade relationship is formed. God as the omniscient and omnipotent benefactor and humans as his humble servant.  When God messes up (its evident he does this on a daily basis) and human needs are not being met, the ‘faithful’ believe that their loss will bring them closer to their God through their sacrifice as God sacrificed his only son for humans – a fair trade right?  Some indeed would be angry or loose their faith in this God who is quite obviously incapable of holding the office of ‘Godhood’ in which we employed him in the first place.

Personally, no such being exists in my world – it is obvious that such a being exists in some people’s worlds.  Therefore the existence or the non-existence of God is a relative concept.

The important question here is not the existence or the non-existence of a God, but moreover what the purpose of such a belief is.  This depends on the attributes, need or job description you dispose to this particular deity – indeed if this is a deity.

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By Lynda, January 5, 2006 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
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now for you people that dont believe in God i would not like to hurt your feelings but i would like to say thats pretty stupid. how i know theres a God because if i pray to God for something how is it that i happen to get it???? you think just luck can do that???? I dont mean something stupid like a brand new pair of tennis that i dont need i mean something that i really need and i just get it i know that thats God when i can feel his presence and get the HOLY SPIRIT yeah right like just nothing can move through me and give me the holy ghost. I know theres a God because he answers my prayers and performs miracles for me. And the Lord speaks to me and it seems so real DUH LIKE NOTHING IS JUST GONNA SPEAK TO ME. And being able to speak in tounges how is it that one Sunday in church i can just automatically speak this lanuage unheard of????OF COURSE NO ONE JUST PICKS UP A LANUAGE LIKE THAT. It has to be the Spirit of the Lord and besides i would rather live as if theres a God and find out there isnt than live as if theres not a God and find out there is. Think about it

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By Dave Summers, January 5, 2006 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment
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My own conviction that a monotheistic “god” is nonexistent relates primarily to human behavior, to human longing, wishing or yearning and to the historical observation that human inhumanity to humans, combined with the effects of natural disasters, render even false hope (immortality or eternal life in an invented or dreamed or imagined “heaven” or “hereafter”) better than or superseding no hope at all.  While a “god” permitted 300 or more years of bondage in America, its victims were forced to appeal to a mystical “supreme being”, creating a necessary “hope”, which sustained a time & space for multiple lifetimes; but such hope or motivation is an essential of the ages, yet does not prove a “god” existence or presence.  It merely proves the creative powers of humankind in the face of tragedy or atrocity or genocide or loss that’s irreversible.  Once humans witnessed the effects of sectarian belief, especially the omnipotent, omniscient & beneficent aspects, all were sustained for manipulation & exploitation as means of local or provincial or world control.

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By Colm Osiris, January 5, 2006 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
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Mark (#441):

So the Devil exists and God doesn’t? Someone’s blindfolded you, and I wonder who?

Think about it logically. How can this be? And where exactly did the Devil come from, since God can’t possibly have created him?

If humankind created him, then humankind can uncreate him too.

And I won’t even go into the creation of Satan as the Devil by the church, though it makes me wonder how you can believe in something it created, but not in what supposedly created it?

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By Colm Osiris, January 5, 2006 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
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Mark Sashine (#441):

You said

“It is impossible to love any God of Rome or Jewish invisible God or Allah, or Buddha”

Why? Have you conducted an experiment? What utter tosh. It’s possible to love anyone or anything.

“Only Jesus, the God who became a human, lived a human life”

Was Buddah not human? (Okay, I know he’s not divine, but it was your list!)

“Only Jesus ... experienced death and resurrection”

I could name a half a dozen other gods that this applies to. But see post #228 from Bob, the Atheist from California. To which list I would only add Odin, who hung on a tree for three days and received the Runes.

“Only Jesus ... deserves love and asks for it”

Why does he deserve it more than the others mentioned in Bob, the Atheist’s post?

As far as meeting other species is concerned, Christianity, as many posters on here have said, is not unique, and I would make just a small bet here that we are not the only species to have incvented the wheel. Call it a hunch!

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By Colm Osiris, January 5, 2006 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
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Stan (#440):

Do you have children? I do. Do you care that their lives should be safer than yours? I do. Do you care about people’s dignity, let alone their civil rights (whatever they are)? I do. Do you care that huge numbers of people don’t even have clean drinking water? I do. Do you care that the possibility exists that we are polluting the planet so seriously that we could be (probably are) affecting the climate itself? I do. From what you said

(i think you’re wasting your time “creating a better tomorrow”, since you won’t be around to see it)

I doubt it very much. You are very sad.

Wanting a better tomorrow has absolutely nothing whatever to do with religious belief or the lack of it. It has to do with a belief in and empathy with humanity. Some religious people work for a better future, and some don’t. Atheists and agnostics likewise.

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By Mark Sashine, January 5, 2006 at 6:26 am Link to this comment
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Christianity differs from all other religions in the world due to its intrinsic humanity. This religion is uniquiely human. All other religions can be imagined to be developed by any other forms of intelligent life: not Christianity.  The main concept of Christian God is the necessity to love Him.  It is impossible to love any God of Rome or Jewish invisible God or Allah, or Buddha. And those Gods do not ask for love. The ask for following and obedience. Only Jesus, the God who became a human,  lived a human life, suffered as a human, experienced death and resurrection deserves love and asks for it. Love is an intrinsically human emotion, a unique human quality. When God is loved he gives unlimited Hope and that is because He is God.

If we meet other species in the Universe and there will be a question of what did Humanity bring to the treasure of the Intelligent Life in the Universe, the answer will be:  a wheel and Christianity.

I am an atheist.  But as much as we love the obvious we cannot and should not reject the   treasure of human history ( including other religions). And one more thing: the actual rejecting the religion does not make us better than the ones who worship.  That is because even if God does not exist, the Devil surely does and the biggest trick the Devil ever pulled is convincing people that he does not exist.

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By Stan, January 5, 2006 at 5:16 am Link to this comment
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Ryan: I have no qualms with your argument—i agree with you about organized religion. I dont think religion is about jumping through hoops to get into heaven, if i did i would have used “climb everest and get into heaven” as my hypo! I’m purposely trying to differentiate between societal ‘religions’ and personal belief.
All I’m saying is that what you see as rational and non-miraculous, i see as spiritual and holy. Call me a hopeless romantic, but i think you’re wasting your time “creating a better tomorrow”, since you won’t be around to see it.

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By Stan, January 5, 2006 at 5:07 am Link to this comment
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Gary (426):
You assume that God must create something from nothing. The more rational way for a creator to go about creating is to use preexisting materials—in this case, God uses God. Since there’s no good explanation of how the ‘big bang’ occurred, as far as im concerned the God hypothesis fits the bill. Happy New Year-S

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By Lefty, January 4, 2006 at 11:28 pm Link to this comment
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Ken wrote:

“. . . But if it’s possible that evidence for the existence of god is not yet known, then how come so many have claimed to hear his voice and act on his behalf for the last few thousand years???” 

Uh, Schizophrenia?  BTW, I said objective evidence, not subjective evidence, Ken.

Ken also wrote:

“If it’s ‘not yet known’ then jesus, mohammad, [sic] falwell et al were (and are) bluffing.”

Hahahahaha!  These 3 are of equal dignity in your mind are they?  To answer your question, as to Falwell, yes. As to Jesus and Mohammed, is their any objective proof that these persons actually existed?

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By Paula, January 4, 2006 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment
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This is quite an interesting discussion.  As a lifelong atheist, I can tell you that I do not cling to atheism as a creed.  It is only when christians attack my morals that I get irate.  That, and when they try to push religion onto me and my children.  Or push merry christmas as the only winter greeting.
  We can’t prove to religious people that there is no god.  As people have pointed out, it is as absurd to atheists to believe in god as it is to believe in thor or zeus.  But it is very important to most americans to believe.
  The number one way christians attack athiests, in my experience, is by insisting that only religious people have morals.  Hateful, war-supporting, slavering capital punishment pushers will tell me with straight faces that they are more moral than I.  I have been asked multiple times why I don’t just go kill people, since I am an atheist. 
  By the way, I work with an ex-Marine sniper, who killed people in Iraq and Columbia.  He is Catholic and tells me that the commandment was mistranslated; that it says thou shall not murder, not thou shall not kill. (As another poster pointed out).  In his opinion, since he was told who to kill, and they were bad people, it was OK.  He thinks that I am immoral.
  You cannot reason with people like that.
  I think that there are 2 reasons that americans are so much more likely to be fervently religious.  One is that the right wing in this country has spent billions to push religion.  They own radio station, they’re on TV and they publish many books (including the LaHaye books where believers get rewarded and we burn). Religion has been used by rulers throughout history to hold power, including Hitler.
  The other reason is one that is rarely mentioned, but seems to be widespread.  I think that human beings have an innate sense of justice and fairness and we are offended by everyday instances of evil people prospering and decent people getting screwed.  Religion offers justice in the end.  No one seems to offer this as a justification for religion in these arguments, but religious people frequently say, “He’ll burn in hell for that”, or the like.  I don’t think that humans are alone in their belief in justice.  If you have 2 dogs, you know that you cannot pet just one, or give just one a treat.  They believe in equality, just as humans do.
  I am happy to live my life without ever thinking about supernatural beings-do they exist?  None of us would, if it wasn’t for the fanatics pushing it in our faces.  As the tiny believers in justice (children) proclaim, “They started it!”

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By Al, January 4, 2006 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment
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Types of atheists:  strong and weak.  Strong atheists believe God doesn’t exist.  Weak atheists are just not theists.  There are also implicit atheists who lack theism without consciously rejecting it, like a child before he/she is taught to believe in God.
One can be an explicit, implicit, or critical atheist.  Explicit and critical go together, whereas implicit is separate.
Implicit atheists could also be called agnostics.
Practical atheism involves acting as if God doesn’t exist, meaning you act as if all the rules of God don’t exist.  Naturally this is a disturbing thought for Monotheists.
Some weak atheists are apathetic about God.
Strong atheist often argue that God is inherently contradictory, thus impossible, or that the properties of God are incompatible with our observations of nature.
Ignostics think the question of whether God exists is a meaningless question due to a lack of falsibility.  To an ignostic, God is just semantics.
We may not know if there is a God, or we may say deities exist but it’s impossible to know them.  Perhaps we don’t know now if God exists but we may in the future once we get enough information.

Personally I tend to agree with the naturalistic world view in that natural and supernatural events are one in the same.  This world and the so-called ‘supernatural’ world should be studied in the same way as anything else. The natural world is all that exists.  However, we’re currently learning what the nature of nature is—it’s an ongoing debate.

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By Tom Mc Kenny, January 4, 2006 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
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I love your writing Sam. I read your book “End of Faith” and thought that you write like I think. It was the first book I’ve read from cover to cover in years! However, I feel there’s a need to write about Bible errancy and what’s wrong with religious dogma in a more novice manner. Many people not that well versed get quickly turned-off as soon as the language gets a bit lofty. But I’m glad your writing the good fight. Going against religion in this country makes me feel like a smaller David against a larger Goliath. Thanks Sam.

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By Al, January 4, 2006 at 11:01 am Link to this comment
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I think if I were Mr Harris I would state God doesn’t exists because of all the evidence that God doesn’t exist.  There are many supposed proofs to the nonexistence of God that I’ll leave it up to you to investigate if you like. 
If you’re assesment of Mr Harris is correct, then I agree with you.  He hasn’t made a good case for the non-existence of God.  He’s merely appealed to our ignorance.  However,  there is no reason to believe God exists merely because it’s possible God exists, or because we don’t know for sure if God doesn’t exist.  Anything is possible.  Appealing to one’s ignorance about whether God exists or not merely proves that we don’t know one way or another; our ignorance doesn’t necessarily suggests God actually exists.  Sure God may exists, but he may not as well.  That’s an agnostic position.  It doesn’t disprove a strong atheistic position against the existence of God, it only states that we cannot know one way or another. 
Are you saying Mr Harris is defending atheism through an appeal to ignorance?

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By Colm Osiris, January 4, 2006 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
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Stan (#388)

Do not patronise me: you are not sorry at all for your arrogance. How dare you judge my evidence without hearing it?

Harvey (#391)

Evidence is not specifically tied to any one theory - if it fits a theory, then that’s great for that theory, but that doesn’t stop the same piece of evidence supporting a completely different theory as well. Proof, well that’s another kettle of fish completely.

And as for the need for testing:

As we are talking about things which at least might be outside the three dimensional material universe which is all we can perceive with our five senses, then of course science cannot “prove” them. As long as science retains its cartesian perspective, complete with the need for empirical proof, it will miss out on a great deal of knowledge, and the Great Schism will remain split.

And before either of you jumps to any conclusions, no, I am not a christian, and no, I do not believe the creation story either.

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By Ken, January 4, 2006 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
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Lefty:  Flawed reasoning once again.

You asserted:
The flaw in Mr. Harris’s argument is (and I submit that it is irrefutably reasonable and logical to assert), that the fact that there is no KNOWN objective evidence of the existence of God, does not exclude the possibility of objective evidence of the existence of God, that is not yet known.

Maybe it doesn’t exclude this, as you say.  But if it’s possible that evidence for the existence of god is not yet known, then how come so many have claimed to hear his voice and act on his behalf for the last few thousand years???  If it’s ‘not yet known’ then jesus, mohammad, falwell et al were (and are) bluffing.

Sounds like logical contortioning to me…

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By larry, January 3, 2006 at 11:05 pm Link to this comment
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Comment by Harvey Ardman
They create what, Larry? Knowledge? I don’t think so. Facts? Nope. Of course artists are thinking as they create, but there is nothing irrational about their thought. It is thought without words, but not without reason. They are creating, identifying or elaborating visual or auditory patterns which have nothing to do with words. But it does have its inner logic, otherwise it would be just noice (in the case of music) or random scribbling (in the case of art). This is why, by the way, Jackson Pollack is not as beloved as Norman Rockwell.

My point is, your mixing apples and oranges. Art and knowledge are not the same.

Larry’s reply:
So you’re saying Jackson Pollack’s visual ideas are not as organized as Norman Rockwell’s?? you’ve got to be kidding. I would argue the opposite.
& I don’t think there’s an artist out there that will agree to the statement “…Art and knowledge are not the same.” But lets look at it another way:
Singer was having some problems inventing the sewing machine, he had a dream of natives threatening him with spears, he noticed the spearpoints had eyes in them, he woke up & realized the eye needed to be in front of the needle not behind (no source on this, but I read it somewhere).
Was this logically/rationally derived knowledge??? There are many other examples. Such as:
“Friedrich August von Kekule had a dream of whirling snakes, of the structure of benzene - the organic chemical compound made up of a ring of carbon atoms. He reported the dream in the following words many years after it took place, in a speech at a dinner commemorating his discovery.
“I turned my chair to the fire [after having worked on the problem for some time] and dozed. Again the atoms were gamboling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly to the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by repeated vision of this kind, could not distinguish larger structures, of manifold conformation; long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together; all twining and twisting in snakelike motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lighting I awoke… Let us learn to dream, gentlemen.”
From Creativity, Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert Weisberg published by W. H. Freeman 1992

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By Al, January 2, 2006 at 6:46 pm Link to this comment
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Re:  why is there something rather than nothing?

Break this question into two for the sake of argument:  why is there something?  Why is there nothing?
To ask why there is nothing amounts to an absurdity appropriate for a Samuel Beckett novel perhaps.  He is a great and funny writer sometimes. Who or what could possibly ask such a question if nothing were to ‘exist’?  Nothing doesn’t exist at all. 
Look at it this way, some words refer to existents, but the word ‘nothing’ refers to a purely abstract concept—thought turned in onto itself.  When you use the word ‘nothing’ you mean only the concept of nothing, not nothing itself.  No one can ever grasp what nothing ‘is’ concretely since nothing doesn’t exist. To ask why ‘is’ there nothing, commits the error of reification (through implication) because nothing doesn’t exist at all!  There is no nothing to inquire into outside of our own minds.  How could you assign any external identity to nothing? 
But we presumably can grasp what something ‘is’ since existence is a given, and implicit in statements about existence as observed through the senses.
As far as I can tell, a scientist is mostly concerned with how the Universe works, rather than why it exists at all.  Why anything exists at all, is a philosophical question.  And the question of why there is something rather than nothing, seems to reify the concept of nothing and set ‘nothing’ up as something you could inquire into and learn about.  You can only gain knowledge about things that exist.  Knowledge about the workings of existence—the material universe—is what many scientists appear to concern themselves with.
Thanks for your comments.  Good night.

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By Victor Panlilio, January 2, 2006 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment
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Since people have been citing Einstein, here’s one of his famous quotes:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”


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By Dave Wilson, January 2, 2006 at 4:06 am Link to this comment
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Two quick points.  As an Atheist I often hear the argument that there has to be an explanation for how everything was created.  My response is that just because things exist does not mean they were “created.”  And that I sleep just fine at night not knowing the origin of life and the universe.

Second, religous people so often want to condem Atheists for “attacking” them.  They claim Atheists are being unfair to them.  My repsonse to that is when religion is kept in their homes and their churches where it belongs, I’m perfectly happy to ignore it.  But when they force religion into my government, into my courts, into my schools, onto my money, and anwhere else that my taxes or my dedication to my nation contribute to their religous belief system, I must object.  Place a 20 foot tall virgin mary on your church property if you want, but don’t you dare place a Christian scene in the public park that my taxes pay to support.  Don’t you dare make my children prey before school.  And how dare you bring me before a judge who has the ten commandments on the wall behind him and claim that he is impartial.

I honestly don’t care if God exists or not.  I just wish the believers would stop trying to force-feed him to me.

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By Louis Linng, January 1, 2006 at 9:31 pm Link to this comment
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So Mr. Harris assures me of what any kid in my neighborhood could tell you “lifes a bitch and then you die”.  Of course his bank account will not suffer for this device “to gather fools into a circle”.

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By Gary, January 1, 2006 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment
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But Stan, your response in #382 entirely misses my point in #363.  There is a big difference between the two ideas to which you refer.  For now, suppose we look at just two possible and rival answers to the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The first answer is “Because the something of which we have knowledge is eternal.”  The other answer is “Because a personal super being caused the something of which we have knowledge to come out of nothing.” If we take a rational approach, then we must consider the first answer to be better than the second answer.  It is better on the basis of evidence and on the basis of parsimony.  The First Law of Thermodynamics summarizes a great deal of evidence.  This Law states that matter-energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only changes form.  Thus, there is little or no evidence of something coming from nothing, which is a condition required by the second answer.  Furthermore, the second answer (God did it) requires three assumptions more than does the first answer.  It assumes 1) that something came from nothing, 2) that there was a cause of this change, and 3) that a personal being was the cause.  The first answer makes none of these additional assumptions.  And thus, the first answer (that something is eternal) is a more parsimonious answer than the second answer (that God created something out of nothing).  We must learn to be comfortable with the fact that we just don’t know the answer.  However, we can determine which answer is more PROBABLE.  Based on evidence and parsimony, the first answer is more probable.  If we say that we don’t KNOW that “something is eternal” but that we believe it to be more likely than any other rival hypothesis to explain the existence of something and to be perhaps 90% likely, then we are not operating on faith.  On the other hand, those that espouse the God hypothesis generally have confidence in their belief totally out of proportion to the evidence (sometimes even being certain of its truth) and completely disregard other rival (and better) hypotheses.  This is why the God answer is faith based whereas the first answer is not.  Gary

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By Donald B. Ardell, January 1, 2006 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment
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I found this article by Harris, like his book THE END OF FAITH, persuasive and spot on.  If more of us speak out, in varied forums, we might have a positive influence on the majority of believers who are not aware of the harm caused by keeping religion (like sex and politics) out of polite dinner and other conversations.  As a wellness promoter, I like religion to most of the skills needed for healthy lifestyles, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence and more.  Here is an example of the essays I write, inspired by Sam Harris, the late Carl Sagan, Paul Kurtz and so many others. 

Are Slavery, Cannibalism And/Or Religion Compatible With A Wellness Lifestyle?

“When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”  Emo Philips

“I’ve never understood how God could expect His creatures to pick the one true religion by faith -it strikes me as a sloppy way to run a universe.”  Robert A. Heinlein (Jubal Harshaw in “Stranger in a Strange Land”)

The answer to the essay title question must be, “It depends.”  It depends on what kind of a society you value, what kind of world you want to live in.  For much of human history, slavery and cannibalism were normal, acceptable, even desirable.  Only in the past century have the two fallen out of favor, save in few benighted hellholes like The Sudan or parts of Alabama.  Religions, on the other hand, continue to exert a strong hold on most nations, including Republican America.

Resolving the question as to whether slavery, cannibalism and/or religion are compatible with a wellness lifestyle also depends on the meaning given to the three terms.  I’m an expert on wellness.  I can tell you what I mean by wellness.  Alas, my notions about the concept, especially the emphasis on evidence-based science and reason and a broad focus encompassing three dimensions and at least 16 skill areas, are not shared by all.  For some, wellness is no more than a motley mix of spa treatments; for others, it’s a buzzword to promote products.  In any event, I believe I can be objective about wellness, since my enthusiasm for it is conditioned upon convincing effectiveness-data that supports it.  I don’t know of any Western supporters of either slavery or cannibalism living at the present time, but there is no shortage of enthusiasts for religion.  I make no claims of expertise regarding religion, which seems an asset for addressing the question at hand.  The advantage is that most religious experts cannot be objective about religion; they are trained to resist information at odds with their faith.  They are defenders of religion, not objective evaluators.  In fact, some are viewed as representatives of religion deities!  You want objectivity from priests, rabbis, imams, shamans, witch doctors and such?  Forget it. 

The basic nature of wellness is that of a mindset or perhaps philosophy that embraces personal responsibility for all aspects of life.  It usually entails a conscious choice to seek exceptional physical and mental health.  Wellness seekers believe strong evidence associates certain mental outlooks (e.g., optimism, positive relationships) and behavioral traits (e.g., vigorous daily exercise and sound nutrition) with a good and satisfying existence.

Religion, at least as this non-expert sees it, entails a belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny.  The Oxford dictionary defines religion as “a belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship.”  However, the word religion has many definitions, all of which “embrace sacred lore and wisdom and knowledge of God or gods, souls and spirits.”

So, with these brief caveats and definitions noted, let me address the question posed in the title of this essay: “Are Slavery, Cannibalism And/Or Religion Compatible With A Wellness Lifestyle?”

I suggest an emphatic no regarding all three.  I will make the case for excluding slavery and cannibalism later, if requested.  Here is a summary why I think wellness and religion are incompatible.

For starters, wellness (unlike religion) need not and must not be taken on faith.  There is evidence, via controlled studies, that wellness lifestyle practices reduce a person’s risk of illness and increase his/her prospects of being fit, calm, serene, positive and cheerful more often than not. There are many other attractive states associated with wellness.  On the other hand, there is no evidence for the existence of the gods religions promote.  The only evidence associated with religions seems to be the historical record of atrocities committed in the name of one or another of them.  This alone would suggest that religion is incompatible with wellness.  Can you imagine wellness enthusiasts burning sedentary folks at the stake?  Bringing dissenters to trial for blasphemy? Space limits and concerns that I might frighten readers militate against providing a litany of the sins of religions over the millennia. 

Wellness is kept up to date as warranted by new studies and lessons from human experiences; religions are unchanging, for the most part, though they do they evolve in the interest of survival, just like species and other institutions.  (A recent example is seen in the Catholic Church.  Plans are underway to eliminate the infamous netherworld called “Limbo,” a special place for babies who died without being absolved of “original sin” by the rite of baptism – see Ian Fisher, “Vatican Considers Consigning Limbo to Oblivion,” New York Times, December 27, 2005.)  Today’s three major religions seek to defend inviolable rules and guidelines laid down at a time when most folks were goat-herders and nomadic traders.

Religious authority does not respect dissent or independent inquiry, whereas wellness thrives on it.  Religious dogma is set and interpreted by higher earthly powers, channeling a deity.  Zealots with such mindsets often insist on imposing their values on everyone else.  Wellness promoters know that such a lifestyle cannot be embraced and clearly not sustained unless chosen freely and pursued diligently in accord with unique, individual circumstances and potentials.

Religious dogmas are a hazard to science, democracy and wellness, as is evident from even a casual assessment of the theocratic tendencies of the Bush Administration.  Please - don’t get me going on this topic.  I could resort to cannibalism—or slavery.

These are a few reasons why I think religion, like slavery and cannibalism, is not compatible with a wellness lifestyle.  What do YOU think? 


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By Cinea, December 31, 2005 at 10:04 am Link to this comment
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My main quarrel with your article is that you are trying to dispute something metaphysical by using examples of human behavior. What humans believe or don’t believe is irrelevant to what exists or doesn’t exist. We only believe in the science we discover after we discover it.

Whether humans should or should not believe in God is an interesting question that might be addressed by examining the connection between belief and behavior and trying to establish some causality. I don’t think this article does a thorough enough examination in this vein, but the article is short, and I won’t fault the lack of research methodology in a piece written for a non-scientific vehicle.

But to argue whether God exists is pointless, at least in this manner. It is like arguing whether apples contain worms by pealing every orange in the orange grove.

My secondary quarrel with your article is perhaps unfair because for the sake of justifying your arguments, your definition of God necessarily derives from the very religions you criticize. But my reading of your article infers that your objection to the belief in God is propelled by your own very Westernized view of God as a beneolent Caucasoid man living in the clouds. I fear you are more influenced by religious convention than you would want to admit.

I am in agreement with posters on this board whose arguments are largely ignored because they state the obvious. We can’t prove or disprove what we cannot prove or disprove. A better question than whether we should believe in God, perhaps, is whether God is only an invention of man, or some other science of which we have only the merest glimpse.

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By Todd Smyth, December 30, 2005 at 10:06 pm Link to this comment
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It’s interesting that both fundamentalists and atheists require a literal and selective interpretation of the bible to distort the meaning of faith and justify their positions.  They are dependent on each other to reinforce the others distortion.  The early disciples had no such book to quibble over for hundreds of years.

Distortions of faith have led to all of the bloodshed attributed to both the church as well as atheists like Stalin.  Hitler was actually portrayed as a Christ like figure and used the church to gain and maintain power in Germany as George Bush has done in the US.  Neither was or is the least bit Christian.

See: Hitler’s Christianity:

It’s also interesting that while Fascism and Communism are considered extreme opposites, in both of them the government controls the means of production and the distribution of wealth.  I think the similarities are probably fanatical control issues, paranoia, selfishness etc.

Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it doesn’t promise anything good will happen in this world.  In fact, it promises mostly bad things will happen.  After Adam and Eve and the fall of man, the world was turned over to Satan.  The basic premise of the Bible is that if you live your life a certain way, despite the bad things that happen in the world, you have a shot at eternal life after you leave this world. 

Jesus was sent to make a path so we could find our way to god.  That path has something to do with avoiding selfishness, arrogance and greed, overcoming fear and leading a life of humility, peace and love.  Following that path is called “Faith.”

“I love your Christ.  It’s just that so many Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

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By Lefty, December 30, 2005 at 4:43 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Harris’ reason and logic seem irrefutable in every respect except one - the implication that, based on reason and logic, atheism must be right.  Mr. Harris states the following:

“The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.”

I don’t understand what “refusal to deny the obvious” means.  Perhaps it is an intentional double negative, yet I am still unable to comprehend it.  My understanding of atheism is that it is an insistence that God does not exist.  Assuming, arguendo, that that is what Mr. Harris means, then that definition of atheism cannot withstand the scrutiny of Mr. Harris’ own logic.  The gist of Mr. Harris’ argument, as I understand it, is that: There is no objective evidence of the existence of God; therefore it is unreasonable to believe that God exists.

The flaw in Mr. Harris’s argument is (and I submit that it is irrefutably reasonable and logical to assert), that the fact that there is no KNOWN objective evidence of the existence of God, does not exclude the possibility of objective evidence of the existence of God, that is not yet known.

Therefore, it is equally unreasonable to assert that, based on reason and logic, God cannot exist, as it is to assert that, in the absence of objective evidence, that God must exist.

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By Richard Rasmussen, December 29, 2005 at 2:48 am Link to this comment
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As a rationalist and atheist, I would like to speak out in favor of tolerance.  I believe that demonizing religion is not only simplistic and unproductive, but bad for rationalism as well.  Indeed, such caustic, abrasive rhetoric may be more off-putting to some people than a lack of belief in a supernatural deity.  It discourages people who might admire rationalist ideas and methods of thought but who have no desire to declare war on the religious beliefs that their families hold dear.  Instead, we should strive to create a climate in which religious unbelief is seen as no more antagonistic to religious belief than, say, Catholicism is to Mormonism or Buddhism is to Christianity.  In our culture, most people see these as just different belief systems, and people convert from one to another all the time.  I believe we should agree to disagree without rancor, compromise, and work together to create a more enlightened, more humane society.

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By Michael, December 28, 2005 at 6:06 pm Link to this comment
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Perhaps those who are adamantly engaged in the support of theism or its antithesis are overlooking that it is faith as a basis for human interaction that is primarily at question here.  Faith is the mechanism wherein all forms of absurd leaps of illogic, no mater theistic, naturalistic, poly-theistic, etc, are given sufficient weight so as to form the basis for human congress.  It is only by bringing the mechanism into question that the results of its very operation become absurd and, in the end, quite contrary to the best interest of its participants.

So by what measure are we to judge? Faith gets a free pass by virtue of the fact that it is faith but reason, by definition gets no such free pass.

What can be the object of faith? Is it not possible to have faith in anything? Is nothing beyond the possibility of faith? Cannot one have faith in both the existence of the impossible and the possible alike? If so, how does one distinguish based on faith alone? Can one have faith in the sanctity of Genocide as provided in scripture; how about fratricide, rape, public execution? Are not all atrocities blessed if one simply has faith? Where is the inherent morality in faith then?

What faith cures illness, solves crimes, feeds the starving, or in any way advances the cause of its adherents? Name a single worthwhile accomplishment in the history of consciousness that’s sole source is conclusively identifiable as faith and faith alone.

Faith provides nothing, garners nothing, informs nothing, teaches nothing, solves nothing, comforts nothing and values nothing. It is the vestigial cancer of a primitive, terrified psyche that lacks the courage to look fearlessly into world without the comfort of a presupposed ending. Faith is the refuge of the timid, superstitious mind and to sanctify it is to reduce curiosity to eternal servility. Faith forever traps the believer into the world of its object and allows no progress, change, enlightenment or advancement. Faith is sacrosanct blindness in a world dying for sight. Faith is the aggrandizement of ones own incapacity for its own sake. Faith is an admission of failure as an object of worship. Faith is the last sanctuary of a coward…

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By Jesse, December 28, 2005 at 2:21 pm Link to this comment
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A few years ago I was freed from the bondage of Christian fundamentalism (raised from birth) and have never been happier. Personally I’m drawn to Humanism and even Existentialism (love Satre and Camus) and are shunned by family and childhood friends for my “apostasy” from the true Christian faith.  Nevertheless I enjoyed your book and particularly enjoyed your statement in your Manifesto: “If he exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.”  I don’t know whether God exists or not, but from my own experience and observations, the portrayal of Yahweh, Jehovah and Allah in the Old and New Testaments and in the Koran depict a jealous, angry, spiteful, inadequate and cruel God and as a result, will get no reverence from me (I don’t consider Jesus as God and actually enjoy some of the parables he supposedly verbalized). 

Since I feel like I’m still developing intellectually, I have to reconcile my beliefs in my mind simply.  For example, if one was to believe the silly story of Adam and Eve, I would have preferred that God zap them away and start over.  No need to allow 6000 years of human suffering to prove a point.  However,  most convincing to me, is the inability of the Holy Bible or any other “divinely inspired” religious text to explain or acknowledge human existence prior to the supposed creation of the first humans 6000 years ago, coincidentally where the Hebrew writings originated.  Humans have so much potential, only if they could put down their intellectually stifling and socially divisive religious texts, and realize it.

Glad to be free from the dark ages,

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By Bryan, December 28, 2005 at 10:59 am Link to this comment
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Thanks Jake for reminding us that atheist dogma relies as much on faith as any other religious dogma.  Therefore, the most honest position for people who rely on evidence is the agnostic position.  But I guess Sam doesn’t have the nerve to admit this.

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By Lisa Weir, December 28, 2005 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading the manifesto; I plan to purchase and read the book as soon as possible.  I also enjoyed the comments. 

One of the most troubling/frustrating questions with regard to religion to me was brought up by Leslie Allison in post #76 (see below).  I too, have on many occasions just sat and wondered how extremely intelligent people can just buy right into this and embrace it so wholly?  I would love to see someone write about this and explain this phenomenon.  I’ve felt so “let down” over the years when people who I respect and admire for other reasons begin spewing on about religion. Thanks Leslie for bringing this up and thanks to Sam for the article.  I’m a first time visitor via an external link; I’ll be sure to return.

Comment by Leslie Allison on 12/08 at 7:12 am

Another “well-said” piece, Sam. Thanks. But, as you are pursuing neuroscience, I have a request for you and other like-minded atheist writers. I would like you to address the questions: Why do people, especially intelligent people, cling to these unsupportable beliefs? And: What can be done to facilitate their abandonment?

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By Steve, December 27, 2005 at 10:22 pm Link to this comment
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I’ve read this article and I am wondering one thing. What is our alternative? What will an atheistic society offer me? From reading the Bible I understand that I am accountable for every action done and that the situation in this world is a result of our collective disobedience to God’s law and His desire for us. God seems to get blamed for either doing destructive things or not doing anything at all. I often wonder if those who do not believe have ever read the bible in it’s entirety or at least tried to read more that just certain sporadic passages? Are we as a race not brave enough to admit our own depravity and evil, as thoroughly evident through out history? Furthermore, what will elevate us to that sought after place of world peace and cooperation? Will atheism bring us there? If so, how?

I am not here at present to defend the God of the Bible, even though I believe in Him. I am here to listen to the solution offered by atheists. Should I put my faith in a system or a person who believes in nothing but science? Is all the scientific evidence we have full proof or is it based on certain theories, which haven’t been proved beyond a reason of a doubt? I am not perfect, so why should I put my faith in a system created by a person who is also not perfect? I’m searching for something concrete here, not something that only refutes what I already believe.

I welcome responses to my email address at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By Dave Summers, December 27, 2005 at 12:23 pm Link to this comment
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Remember, fellow secular humanists, atheists, nontheists and freethinkers, we know (as Ingersoll knew): “all prayers end in the air which they uselessly agitate”, hence our nonprayerful 2006 resolution is to seek and to uphold truth & reason while striving to expose sectarian fallacies, especially their repetitive attacks on science via distortion or denial or annihilation of truth.  And may we never forget that the joy is in the striving, irrespective of “the misery, the clamor, the woe, the strife” which faith-heads promote, disguised as “good or divine or benevolent or a god’s will”.  Our aim is to enlighten the world via truth & reason, simultaneously avoiding any exploitation of fear, ignorance, & human yearning for a nonexistent “god”.  Any “prayer” for us should be, instead, the truth of Swinburne:  “We thank with brief thanksgiving whatever gods may be: that no life lives forever, that dead [folk] rise up never, that even the weariest river winds somewhere safe to sea”.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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By Bill, December 27, 2005 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
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You can not disprove something that isn’t true, so stop offering it as a bloody challenge.  There is no credible evidence for reincarnation, and your belief in it does not require me to disprove it.  Believe what you want, but bring forth evidence if you want others to be interested.  I am constantly amazed at the stupid things people can believe .... astrology and scientology probably top the list (but country music and rap are right up there).

Also, whether Einstein believed in god or not, is irrelevant. Truth is not based on a few peoples opinion, it is based on evidence and fact. 

FACT: evolution is the best explanation for life on earth and man.  All science is just theories, but they are far better answers then religion.

FACT: there are areas of contention amongst EDUCATED scientists about the definitve explanations for evolution.  this does not invalidate it.  It just means it needs tweaking.

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By Jason, December 27, 2005 at 11:56 am Link to this comment
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We as humans are all with breath in our lungs, blood flowing from extremity to extremity, and feelings and emotions someplace inside us.  The problem with America (maybe the world) is that we tend to view other people as just another brush stroke in the revolving painting that surrounds our daily lives.  Compassion is definitely lacking and I have been guilty as anyone.  Next time you pass somebody on the street and it could be a stranger or an aquiantance you see occasionally—look at them, I dont mean gaze in their direction.  Look at them, look at their skin and hair, look at the expression on their face and think about that person going through life struggles just like you. I loved this article, and live as a true athiest and appreciate life around me and realize that our existance is so fragile.

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By Gary, December 27, 2005 at 11:06 am Link to this comment
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In #312 Stan asks what an atheist would do if challenged in an apparition by “God” to climb Mt. Everest in order secure a cure for cancer.  All atheists are not necessarily rationalists, but I will attempt to offer an answer from the perspective of a rationalist who is an atheist.  I don’t think that the evidence which Stan presents justifies the belief that the atheist in his example was visited by “God”.  There is no physical evidence to support the belief.  There were no other witnesses of the event.  There was no replication of the incident.  There is just not enough evidence to support the claim of a visitation from “God”.  I would conclude that the experience was a very unusual one occurring in an altered state of consciousness and perhaps represented some wishful thinking.  I think similar points apply to persons who experience “alien abductions” and “near death experiences” in the modern world and to persons 2000 years ago who experienced encounters with gods or angels.  A really intense subjective experience which “seems real” is not enough in itself to conclude that something objective has occurred.  A claim of a visitation by God is a claim about something happening in the objective world.  The brain is an incredible mechanism capable of all sorts of unusual productions in the “subjective world”.  (Look at vivid dreams and drug induced hallucinations for other examples.)  Gary

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By Roger, December 27, 2005 at 12:30 am Link to this comment
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Whenever I read such a great piece it gives me a fleeting peace of mind.  But then the wave of despair hits me as a realize that not one bit of this will educate anyone who is not already on the side of critical thought and reason.  I try not to think in these terms as daily I wallow through the sea of ignorance that is the religious base of these United States.  It gives me a bit of ease to realize that many of these ( 90% ) people probably think of religion more as a superstition than a real belief base. ” I’d better say I am a member just in case they do a spot check!”

Religion is the poster child for “LACK OF CRITICAL THINKING” that is so rampant in society today that it should put bird flu on the back page.

It dissapoints that most will ever see that the emperor has no clothes.

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By Peter Attwood, December 26, 2005 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment
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Answers to #348’s very good questions:

1) The commandment is not, “You shall not kill,” but literally, “No murder.”  This does not override the earlier commandment to put to death murderers because they have treated God’s image in man with contempt (Genesis 9).  Moses says more in prescribing death for a killer who hated before or lay in wait, but not for an accidental or impulsive killer - thus showing that not the death but the hatred is what really deserves death.  By the same reasoning, the death penalty in the US is biblically forbidden since it is not actually imposed for murder but for being black, poor, or without competent representation.

2) How could Jesus say “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” -“these things” plainly including things that as a student of the prophets Jesus knew would not happen for a long time?

I answered this very good question before, but it was blocked by the moderator, like most of my responses, but if you see this, we got lucky.  But to be sure of getting your answer in future, email me directly too so I can reply to you anyway if my answer to you is not posted.

Here again is my explanation:

It turns on how the writer is using the word “generation.” If we import into his words some other meaning, of course it won’t make sense. That’s how it works when people do that to the words we say.

Matthew’s gospel identifies itself as “the record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” It claims 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the captivity, and 14 from the captivity to “the Christ” (pointedly NOT to “Jesus Christ”) - Christ is simply the Greek word for anointed. When you count them up, you find that indeed David is the 14th from Abraham, and Jeconiah at the captivity is the 14th from David, but Jesus is only the 13th from the captivity.

Thus the 14th generation Matthew refers to is the descendant of Jesus Christ, which is his church (Matthew 16:17-18). “Church” is the Greek word “ekklesia” used for the assembly that governed a city-state democracy.

“Generation” as used in the Bible can be a long time, spanning a number of biological generations, as Matthew shows by dropping some, following the practice of other biblical genealogical lists. Thus Jesus claims that his people will be here to the end, for the whole thing, contrary to the wishful thinking of the “rapture” people who think they can enjoy living just like the rest of the world that tramples the poor and then be whisked out of their SUVs before the trouble comes down.

Absurd as some may find this prediction, it remains that 2000 years later here we remain. This does not happen to the words of most men that expect a people descended from them to be around forever.

Matthew’s use of a long narrative to describe the birth of a new generation is intentionally parallel to the description in Genesis 37-50 of the “generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2), the transition from Jacob to his 12 sons who became a nation. Both these narratives teach that a generation of God’s people happens not through biology but by God working with people.

A background lesson here is that we become devoid of understanding when we assume that people are just stupid if they don’t make sense to us. That conceit is an especially American habit, so as Americans we should all take special care to guard against it.

If we figure that even when others seem wrong they may not be as dumb as we think, we’ll be trained that way to think straight. I think the Bible is written that way because all of life is like that - punishing the conceited with stupidity and rewarding the humble with wisdom. I don’t expect everyone to agree!

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By Sean Heslin, December 26, 2005 at 1:04 am Link to this comment
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dinosaurs ? where do they fit in all of this? I cant begin to understand how people can say there is a higher power god whatever look at the time line of how long they roamed the earth {dinos} compared to the lenght of time fully erect man has been around acouple hundred thousand years to 6,7,8 hundred millions of years you think we are going to last that long?not with the morons running this country .with the christan crap he has been doing {war with the muslums mideast}we will be lucky to be around 20 more years.

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By Paul (The Netherlands), December 25, 2005 at 4:47 pm Link to this comment
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Rationality is in essence the attitude that you try and criticise ideas, concepts, values as forcefully as you can. That which withstands this criticism you accept but only tentatively i.e. you always keep it open for future revision (under new criticism which is applied as the need arises). Meanwhile (to counter the alleged impotence due to universal skepticism) in praxis you act according to your best current position (theory). So all preference is CRITICAL PREFERENCE. This in a nutshell is Critical Rationalism as advocated by the great 20th-century Austrian philosopher Karl Popper. One of his pupils, the American William Bartley, wrote a great book that deals with religion from a critical rationalist perspective. The importance of Bartley’s contribution is that he demolishes the notion that rationality needs a foundation, say the acceptance of a faith in reason. The latter is often called the tu quoque argument and in fact somebody here made use of it, saying religion and atheism is just Pepsi and Coke. So luckily the rationalist does not need any dogmatism to tentatively - i.e. until the time He finally starts showing us in some way that he does exist - reject religion. The rationalist can simply say: sorry but the idea just doesn’t stand up.

Bartley’s great book is called The Retreat to Committment and is of course heartily recommended!

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By Rajiv, December 25, 2005 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment
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This is great! Unconditional agreement on every point. I had read the book some time ago.

The best part is the attack on liberal piety and tolerance and even serious respect of religions, in scholarly circles. Some time ago I saw Bill Moyers discussion on PBS with a prominent Jewish, Christian, Muslim scholars and religious authorities, and even liberal Hindu author; on the book of Genesis. It really was a hilarious show, I just couldn’t help laughing. The most entertaining was Karen Armstrong, a firm monotheist.

Has Bill Moyers ever talked to you?

Also enjoyed Christine responses (#109) to Andrew, agree with Christine every bit.


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By Jon, December 25, 2005 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
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Harvey Ardman #398,

I’m not trying to justify or prove the existence of a god by saying Einstein believed in one. I’m just saying Einstein believed in a god..

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By Sylvia Barksdale Morovitz, December 24, 2005 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
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“Oh thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the road I was to travel in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!”
Omar Khayyam

Most of you posters probably know Omar, the old tentmaker and astronomer poet to the kings of Persia.  He lived in the latter half of the eleventh century and died within the first quarter of the twelfth.  The wisdom he embodied is part and particle of immortality.  In the 103 verses of his Rubaiyat, he profoundly broke my heart but then mended it as perfectly as the human heart and soul is capable of being.

“Do not go blindly into that good night”  Robert Frost.

From our first philosophers and poets, great thinkers have attempted to heal the human mind of belief in an all powerful essence existing somewhere out there in the universe.  Woefully, the words and thoughts of logic and reason that brought us truth have failed to take effect.  When handing in my health history to a German pain specialist last year, which called for highest education, he remarked, “oh, a philosophy major, huh?  The dead study”.  Asking why he would refer to it as a dead study he explained, “well, philosophy teaches truth and truth is a thing humans cannot accept”.

I believe I was around twelve years old when I began doubting god.  Shortly after entering school a child learns that Santa Claus, the easter bunny and the tooth fairy were all fantasy.  No one dared mention that god also was a fantasy.  Fearing becoming an outcast, I pretended to believe and this pretense lasted until I took up the study of philosophy with the U. of Chicago.  There, I met others of my ilk and set aside pretense.

I’ve studied the bible from front to back and still sometimes refer to it for it’s historical values.  I believe that it would require only the most learned professor of religion to grasp any meaning in the old testament; other than the violence it projects.  It’s unusual for me to attempt to relate what it was that drove those men to write so non sensibly.  It’s been surmised by some that they often partook of hallucinagenic mushrooms and perhaps it’s an explanation.  Whatever the case may have been, I’m sure they’d all cringe in horror at what their words have done to mankind, were they able to know.

My summation of ths most difficult and troubling subject is as follows in a few words:


“I sent my soul thru the invisible;
Some letter of that afterlife to spell,
And by and by my soul returned to me and
“I, myself, am heaven and hell”.

“Oh threats of hell and hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain-this life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is lies;
The flower that once has blown forever dies.”

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By Harvey Ardman, December 24, 2005 at 8:08 am Link to this comment
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Yiffzer, all Einstein was saying is that he didn’t know everything and he wasn’t sure everything could be known. But he certainly didn’t stop trying to find out.
Nonetheless, although Einstein may have known more about the universe than most of us, he didn’t know any more—or less—about God than any one of us.
If something is unknowable, it is just as impervious to genius as it is to ordinary intellect. And vice versa.
So, unless Einstein was talking about equations and proof, he wasn’t working from any more knowledge than John Wayne was.
At any rate, it is a testimonial. We also have testimonials from Jimmy Swaggert and his ilk.  None of them prove anything. They’re opinions, not proof.

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By Jbuuty, December 24, 2005 at 5:22 am Link to this comment
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It is good to see upon reading this article and the comments that follow, that arrogance and intolerance are not the unique domain of the religious.

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By Matt Mylar, December 23, 2005 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
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Re: Jon’s comment #390 and 395

Why the weasel words when someone calls attention to an incorrect statement in your posting? Come on, Jon, what meaning were you trying to convey when you said, “why did people like Albert Einstein believe in a god?” That’s a rather misleading statement, I would say.

Why are people like Jon so disingenuous.

Please note: Nowhere did I define what “disingenuous” means to me.

If you want to know Einstein’s feelings about God, visit this web-site.

Here is a quote from that web-site:

“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. [Albert Einstein, 1954, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press]”

Jon, you’ve just been proven wrong.

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By Philip, December 23, 2005 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment
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Christine….if you are still out there.
I really enjoyed your postings and responses. I don’t think you are hostile enough hahaha!
It can be very hard to hold your temper, and sarcasm, in the presence of such delusional thinking. Most humans are still quite primitive, but you’d think they would be able to reason their way out when presented with the great body of scientific knowledge which completely invalidates ancient belief systems and the supernatural. I know….they avoid such knowledge and reason like poison.
Love to correspond with you. Good to know there are women as radical as I am in my contempt for the superstitious and foolish.

Philip .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By Yiffzer, December 23, 2005 at 3:18 pm Link to this comment
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#398 - that’s a bad example right there. John Wayne did not know what he was selling in the advertisement. But Einstein knew what he handled. It is fair to say if he has discovered the amazing physics and the intricate mathematics, he should understand where all that power came from. Life is a puzzle, is it not? He is one of our puzzle solvers towards the end that we all hope to witness (but will never since we are not allowed to).

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By Harvey Ardman, December 23, 2005 at 3:01 pm Link to this comment
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Jon, Einstein was a physicist and mathematician, and no more of a theologist than you or I.

Anyhow, testimonials are nice, I suppose, but they are not evidence and anything but proof.

Just because John Wayne appeared in Chesterfield advertisements, telling us how healthy they were doesn’t—didn’t—prove a thing.

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By Stan, December 23, 2005 at 9:01 am Link to this comment
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I would agree with 90% of what you said, since i dont believe there is a “literal word of God” lying around.

However, i don’t think you can condemn religion as a whole just because some of its proponents employ an Orwellian version of religious discourse. I mean, can anyone seriously imagine Jesus going into Iraq and bombing the hell out them?? And yet people who claim they’re Christians defend this action. It boggles the mind, really.

How would you define Evil?

Religion does “entail” one thing: A greater respect for and perspective of the future. I’m not saying an atheist has no respect, just that there is obviously less incentive for him to account for the future. And yes, i understand that acting for future benefit bears the risk of ignoring the present, but most religions expressly counter this danger by emphasizing the here and now.

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By Rich, December 22, 2005 at 9:34 pm Link to this comment
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I read the article posted.  I think that Sam has created many valid points that I have tried explaining to others that are blind to the obvious.  I think its almost funny how people hide behind this belief of “Heaven and Hell” If you don’t believe in all the same things they do….. Thats just IGNORANCE!!  Sam GOOD JOB!!  I thought your paragraphs were also very informal!!!!

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By Jon, December 22, 2005 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment
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Bob #392,

Nowhere did I define what “god” meant to Einstein.

“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.” -Albert Einstein

With a quick google search and wikipedia search, my statement is backed up.

“Some of history’s greatest scientific minds, including Albert Einstein, were convinced there is intelligent life behind the universe. Today many scientists say there is no conflict between their faith and their work.”

Prove me wrong.

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By jkoch, December 22, 2005 at 3:21 pm Link to this comment
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Were God simply a vast omniscient Being, His existence might be of no more consequence any other abstract thing or principle people want to believe.

In fact, God is of consequence only to the extent that people attribute to Him some sort of ethical authority.  Sometimes this God may be simply a benign hope for order and goodness.  Often, though, it becomes a scheme of how everyone should think and behave.

Here the trouble starts.  How to know what rules God prescribes?  By what authority?  The Bible?  The Koran?  The Book of Mormon?  The Wiccan Credo?  The politician?  The televangelist?  The telemullah?  The private musings of Homer Simpson?

Believers get irate at doubters.  But they go beast when confronting each other.  They ridicule, incarcerate, or hospitalize anyone who claims to talk to God or know His instructions, unless they happen to coincide with their own.  Of course, God wants X, not Y.  May a lightning bolt strike down anyone who thinks otherwise!

Is it clear that believers behave any better than non-believers?  Or that one set of believers out-performs another?  Why, then, do places where believers abound, such as the USA, have higher murder rates than Japan or Scandinavia?  Yes, some religious communities may have lower divorce rates or pay higher tithes, but the statistics obviously omit those who are unable to comply and get booted out or leave out of shame.

If belief in God entails anything, then how is it that believers can have diametric positions on such basic things as the death penalty, abortion, or war?  Religion merely sharpens their tempers.

God and politics make a horrible combination.  If one ruler or one country can claim Divine sanction, any opponents are obviously in deep doo-doo.  Religion can quickly become a repressive tool or a mask for self-aggrandizement.  Places ruled by clerics are not necessarily peaceful, prosperous, or nice. 

Believers have an awful hard time explaining why evil exists or what to do about it.  To what extent is religion the operative basis of their answers?  In fact, they must quickly distinguish the World of Sin from the Kingdom of Heaven, and their decisions seem to presume that sin rules the roost most of the time: Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.

To paraphrase Anselm, one might simply define God as “that than which no more divisive can exist.”  However, it is very clear that God-talk is cemented into American discourse. Anyone aspiring to public office in the USA must at least evince some sort of adherence to the American Religion and invoke God’s blessing on US success at war and material abundance.  Pray for health, good looks, and success.  Americans would not tolerate a leader who calls for repentence, humility, or surrender of worldly power and possessions.

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By mike, December 22, 2005 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment
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I would not call myself a christian in ne way shape or form. I however do believe in a being of power but not so much a god of the church…i did enjoy this article cause the writer has the balls to say the things that most people think but shy away from saying.However some of the post are ignorant views of people who never experience the coruption of the church. I hear people saying look at the bible and how it contradicts itself of one guy sayin you would end up in a loney bin..well the bible wasnt meant to b taking literally as some people do..even people of the church take it to far. Plus if u are a christian a lutheran…well ne thing other then jewish and u believe in Jesus Christ then you ignore the old testatmant and the new testatment is your truth. When jesus came to earth he earsed the spitful nature of the old testament. Again i am not a christian. I use to b a lutheran and i had a paster that i loved at my chruch. All the young people in the church could recognize with him haveing been an alcholic and had strugles in his life. He wasnt afraid to share the hard realities of life and dicuss them…but most of all he did not judge ne one or think u an awful person for not believing. Our church didnt believe in what he was doing and they went behind his back and had him removed. Our head pastor was at the center of this. I then found out that the real reason they kicked him out of our chruch was not becuase of wat he was preaching but that he voted down a positon at the church. A position at the chruch caused all this back stabbin and hatred. What kinda religious shit is this they preach on thing and then do the other. I from there on removed myself from chruch and no longer consider myslef a christian. HOwever i feel i have a great understanding of both sides having been very into my church. I feel that the only way to really make up your mind is to try them both. That is a lot harder then it seems now knowing how i feel i dont htihk ill ever step into a church. The only reason i believe in a higher being is because the odds of the world forming the exact way it did is 1 chance in 10 the 40000 power. They compare it to a tornadoe randomly going through a junk yard and when its done a fully function boeing 747 is there ready to fly. Just seems to me that either A. We are really lucky to be alive and shouldnt worry about such mundane things as god. or B. There is a creater but obvioulsy as stated in this article doesnt give a rats ass about wat he created and therfore we shouldnt worry bout him either. Thats my rant i hope u enjoyed im sure that someone will flame about this.Remember im not here to change views i really enjoyed this article and it definitly opens some questions to the faith of god. Thnx u

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By Bob, the Atheist from California, December 22, 2005 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment
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Jon, #390 comment.
What makes you think Einstein believed in God?
Einstein spend considerable time REFUTING that rumor. He did not believe in a personal God.
Do some research before posting untrue assumptions. Please.

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By Harvey Ardman, December 22, 2005 at 11:58 am Link to this comment
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Colm, maybe I should clarify what I mean by evidence.

I mean replicable tests that, if successful, a reasonable person would find utterly persuasive, such as those used to describe natural phenomena like the tides.

Reincarnation is just another variety of afterlife, in my opinion, and I have neither seen nor heard of any conclusive evidence that would persuade me there is such a thing.

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By Jon, December 22, 2005 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
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Interesting viewpoint. How exactly can be sure that reincarnation doesn’t exist?
“One cannot possibly know that something exists without some knowledge of what it is that exists.”

When you claim that something is nonexistant, can one produce knowledge in support of this claim? If you cannot, your assertion is arbitrary and utterly without merit. If you can, you have accomplished the impossible: you have knowledge of the nonexistant. Thats not very good proof in your favor of the argument, is it?

This question seems out off place somewhat, but
why did people like Albert Einstein believe in a god?

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By John Michael, December 22, 2005 at 11:28 am Link to this comment
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Great article.  It is just common sense after all!

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By Stan, December 22, 2005 at 11:04 am Link to this comment
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Ryan: I’d be pretty vain if i supposed God’s thought process were the same as mine: I don’t claim to know how God “thinks” or even if that is an appropriate word to use! And i never said the “test” had consequences in case of failure—you’re the one that mentioned going to hell, not me. If it were a hollywood movie, cancer would be cured whether you failed or not so long as you tried (although the going to hell option would be more entertaining, IMO). If it helps, please substitute the commitment to finding a cure option that you suggested (thanks, i should have used that as a better hypothetical). Don’t know enough about schizophrenia to answer with conviction, but i believe shizophrenia has a pathology that can be diagnosed and detected, which would differ from my example. Schizophrenics “get better” with medication, I dont think any medication could change the behavior or condition of the person (you or I) in my example. But i understand what you are saying, i just disagree. I do agree that subjective “evidence” is a tricky thing, however, as i would say to:

Colm: Sorry, proof is not “as subjective” as the useless weak evidence you refer to. Evidence should be testable—how is “evidence” of reincarnation testable??

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By LizzyCucullu, December 22, 2005 at 10:36 am Link to this comment
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Have faith that God plans to settle this issue once and for all.  That’s right; God has informed me that he, along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost, will be guest on the next Larry King Live. He plans to rebut the Harris article, discuss in depth his plan for human salvation, perform a few miracles and make a few predictions to prove once and for all that he is real (and relevant).  I’m warming up the recorder for posterity’s sake.

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By Colm Osiris, December 21, 2005 at 4:55 pm Link to this comment
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Harvey Ardman said (#384):

“Reincarnation has the same problem as belief in God. No evidence.”

As many people have tried in vain to point out, there is a difference between evidence and proof. There *is* evidence of reincarnation, but proof is another thing entirely, although it is actually as subjective as evidence.

All that is happening here is that Sam and others are substituting one system of belief (faith) for another. They are obviously entitled to do so, but to call it “truth”, that is pure arrogance.

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By Harvey Ardman, December 21, 2005 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment
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No Jon, no reincarnation either. You live, you die. That’s it. No heaven, no hell, no past lives and no future ones.

Karma is a psychological phenomenon, in which you yourself unconsciously arrange to get what you deserve.

Reincarnation has the same problem as belief in God. No evidence.

It certainly is hard for us to accept death isn’t it? We dream up impossible fairy tales to try to take the sting out of it.

I think the best solution is probably simply not dying, which is what Ray Kurzweil is suggesting. If we didn’t die, we’d have no need for religion.

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By Jon, December 21, 2005 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment
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Allow me to throw a new spin on something.. To justify God’s “killings” of the people in the tsunami and Katrina.
Lets say I believe whatever happens, happens for a reason. Cause and effect. I drop an egg (cause) It breaks. (effect) Now stretch that into a religious belief and you have karma. I make fun of blind people and my karma is that I go blind. Now I also believe in reincarnation and “group” karma. Which means if you were apart of a gang or army that believed in purging humans who were different for whatever reason you recieve karma as group with the gang, army, etc. So in past lifes those people who died in Louisiana killed and murdered people in past lifes.

It was there karma to die.
Does that paint a different picture of God in an atheist opinion? How does one refute the existence of a God on the grounds that he is not there because people are dieing?

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By Stan, December 21, 2005 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment
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Gary, your response #363 really focuses the whole debate. You state: “something just IS and will always be” That sounds very close to a description of God. There’s no evidence of that postulate, just as you claim there is none for God. So, if you have “faith” in this belief, why criticize the believer for believing in God, when from a logical standpoint there’s no difference between the two statements??

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By Colm Osiris, December 21, 2005 at 11:10 am Link to this comment
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Santa333 said:

“WE ALL live in our own heads, don’t we?”

Of course we do. There is no such thing as true objectivity.

So this discussion is only interesting from a semantic point of view.

Anything else is just guesswork and superstition.

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By Harvey Ardman, December 21, 2005 at 11:07 am Link to this comment
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It is necessary, I fear, to reply to #377, by Jayde, but where to begin?

“...this article had a seemingly legitimate purpose for being written…”

What? Why “seemingly”? Do you mean that if the truth be known, there was no legitimate purpose? Do you mean non-believers or doubters should keep their mouths shut, or that their opinions should not be circulated?

“Every argument you made could easily be contradicted by proof [yes, I said ‘proof”] from the Bible.”

This leads me to wonder if you are familiar with the definition of the word “proof.” Let me quote the dictionary: “The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true.”

To put it simply, Jayde, if proof truly existed, we wouldn’t be debating it. What we have is an assertion without evidence. It is also an assertion—without evidence—that the Bible itself has divine origin. And there is plenty of evidence that this long, complex, and contradictory collection of metaphors and half-remembered historical events is entirely man-made.

Doubt me if you like, but read Karen Armstrong’s “The History of God,” which describes in great detail how the Bible came to be, who decided what it should include (and what it should not) and when, and why. If you can read that book and still believe the Bible is the word of God, then you are not subject to persuasion. The idea has calcified inside your head.

Next, you set up a straw man: most atheists/agnostics doubt God because “such awful things happen.” That wasn’t Sam Harris’s argument,  although it’s difficult to dismiss. What Sam was saying, among other things, is that we have no replicable evidence, no hard proof of God’s existence and, in fact, to belief in God, you must have faith, which means accepting as truth something without evidence.

Then you proceed to talk about tragedies and tell us they happen for a reason. They sure do, and in most cases, we can discover the reason, through science—the reason for the tsunami, the reason for Katrina, etc. These are not mysteries. We don’t always know enough to predict them in advance, but figuring out why they happened is well within the power of experts in the field, no faith needed.

So, Louisiana and Mississippi got blasted because they’re gambling centers? Thank God for letting Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Monaco survive. And by the way, God, a question: why did you come down so hard on the 9th ward in New Orleans, the poor black ward where gambling is minimal, where the Mardi Gras doesn’t go? And why did you preserve the French Quarter, where all the sinners play? That’s puzzling.

And California? Almost 34 million people live there and probably 33 million have nothing to do with Hollywood money-hungry adultry and movie star false gods. Why push the innocent 33 million into the ocean as well? And oh yes, that ocean business. Yes, parts of California may break off from the mainland in a few million years. Will Hollywood still be there? Only God knows.

Now you say that we’ve never seen $10 million, but we know it exists and why isn’t the same with God?  That’s pretty simple, Jayde. I’ve seen lesser amounts and know that if I had the wealth to arrange it, I could have $10 million sitting in a pile on my living room floor tomorrow, and all my friends could see it. But no one on Earth has the power to make God appear, except perhaps in his own imagination.

One of these things—the money—is real. The other—God—is, at best, speculative.

My problems with your post are many. Your understanding of science is filled with misconceptions. Your understanding of the very idea of proof is fatally flawed. Your conclusions are so naive my teenage son could make mincemeat of them without breaking a sweat.

Your post illustrates the basic problem with religion, and with belief in God. It rests entirely on faith and nothing else. Perhaps that was enough before we began to understand the universe and the way it works. Now it is only a proclamation of ignorance.

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By Dave Summers, December 21, 2005 at 10:03 am Link to this comment
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To Sam (& other freethinking colleagues):

Obviously “the need for a new Enlightenment” is profound & long overdue among the “faith-heads” who have responded to Sam’s brilliant & highly rational or objective Atheist Manifesto; no longer should they be characterized as “brainwashed”.  Instead they’re brain-drenched, perhaps bordering on that irreversible state of parenchymal edema whereby the cerebellar tonsils are crunched into the foramen magnum with complete compromise of the pontomedullary vasomotor & ventilatory centers.  If not so compromised, “mind-closure” would best describe the cognitive state of their believing in “that which is not”—a god, a heaven, a hell, angels never heard on high and, worst of all, immortality of Homo sapiens, when, as Ingersoll knew, “nothing but truth is immortal”.

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By Myron Hoitomt, December 21, 2005 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
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In response to Jayde #377. Jayde, lets assume that your logic is correct, which is everyone in New Orleans must suffer for the sins of some of their citizens. Lets break this assumption down into a smaller unit. Assume that a member of your family murders someone. Logically, your entire family should be imprisoned and possibly face the death penalty.

Does this make any sense? Can you possibly understand how ridiculous your interpretation of religion is?

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By Jayde, December 21, 2005 at 7:05 am Link to this comment
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while this article had a seemingly legitimate purpose for being written, i couldn’t help but feel sorry for you the entire time i read through it. every argument you made could easily be counteracted with proof (yes, i said “proof”) from the Bible, but why waste the time and effort when your narrow mind you have obviously hinders you from seeing the truth? in no way am i condemning you for your beliefs, i just can’t begin to comprehend how some people can be so blind and ignorant to the fact that God really does exist. the most common argument i hear from athiests/agnostics is either (a) if there was a God, why would he let such awful things happen? and/or (b) why can’t you prove that He exists? first of all, let me summarize this for you: without suffering, there would be no compassion. have you ever stopped to think that (yes, while tragic events they were) hurricanes rita/katrina (and all other disasters for that matter) happen for a reason? have your feeble minds not stopped to consider the posibility that maybe, just maybe, God is inevitably wiping sin from the face of the earth with natural diasters that have a scientific explanation to them so that you doubters will have the “proof” you need to accept them? for instance: mississippi and louisiana are the two most commonly known states for gambling. new orleans not only has mardi gras (a sin-soaked parade every year where females flash people for beads) but one of the highest murder rates in the country? and what about california and all the earthquakes (which will eventually result in the state gradually falling off into the ocean). with its money-hungry, adultery filled, movie star whores that become full of themselves, therefore making themselves false gods? i can’t even begin to understand how such obvious signs don’t even begin to flicker in front of the eyes of doubters, when they shine brightly in front of mine! how can you be so ignorant? i’m sure you’ve never seen ten million dollars in person, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you know it exists. and why is this? because you have faith in something you “know” is there. not comparing God to money, but it’s the same idea.. if you truly open up your mind and allow yourself to see that He’s real, you’ll know that He is. i’m so sorry you have to live your life so blindly.

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By Rick, December 20, 2005 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment
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I blogged on an analogous topic concerning religion the other day.

It simply boggles my mind how people trust science when they go to the doctor, design a bridge or fly to Tokyo, but they don’t trust the same process when it comes to evolution, etc.

The big problem is that government by faith has been practiced for the last 5 years… as opposed to government by reason.

The work of our enlightened founders is being undone in the span of one administration.

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By Jon, December 20, 2005 at 10:12 pm Link to this comment
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“One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence.”
There you summed it up, you explained why religion exists. From religious people’s point of view the evidence is proportional. Most people have these experiences that can be explained scientifically but they, like man before them, dispose of the experience by placing it under the definition of a “miracle” according to their belief system.

Excellent read, a good reference.

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By Santa333, December 20, 2005 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment
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Jena said:
“Atheism is the faith-based religion that nothing exists beyond the physically self-evident”
  “the physically self-evident” (seems to me to be) the brain’s natural self-acknowlegement and culturally filtered feedback response to ALL internal and external stimuli…

Wow! I just made that up! Not bad! huh?

  I call myself an atheist, self-defined specifically by my “disbelief” in any anthropomorphic gods.

What “may” exist beyond MY understanding and my experience is admittedly, beyond my ability to grasp.

“Egocentricity” seems to me to be just a fancy word for “personal reality”
  WE ALL live in our own heads, don’t we?

Anybody live in other heads than their own?
  (in “your head” maybe!)

  Thus I feel that when my head dies, the World will die also.

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By Ben, December 20, 2005 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment
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There is a perfect bunglemump. One of the attributes of its perfection is its very existence. (If it didn’t exist, it would be an imperfect bunglemump.) How can you doubt the Truth of this bunglemump? It *must* exist, for to be perfect (which it is), it has to exist. All hail the bunglemump.

PS There is also a perfect munglebump.

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By Jenna Clayton, December 20, 2005 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment
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Atheism is the faith-based religion that nothing exists beyond the physically self-evident. This faith is propped up by a deep belief that logical conclusion based on objective observation of the physically self-evident is always superior to any evidence presented by emotion and intuition. Faith is faith.

It takes little time or brainpower to shoot holes in the god concepts held sacred by most religions; the contradictions are everywhere, and are enormous and comically obvious. And it takes no level of genius to recognize that religion has led (and still leads) countless individuals to commit countless acts of cruelty, injustice and savagery. But to use these things as proof supreme that there is nothing beyond what can be measured with instruments is itself faith, a faith as deep and sure as any religious person’s belief in whatever god or gods. In both cases, theist and atheist, there is an egocentric conclusion based on interpretation of the evidence at hand, with some types of evidence being seen as completely trust-worthy and others seen as completely untrustworthy. And in both cases the vital evidence, seen as proof, is everywhere, obvious and irrefutable.

There is a very fine line—but a vital difference—between healthy skepticism and a closed mind. One view allows for a careful navigation of present reality, knowing neither the destination nor the purpose, open to continual surprise via new connections and insights; it is a unifying view in the extreme. The other view already has its sacred truth, determined in the past and worshipped as absolute in the present, and can only see present reality through that lens, shaping and filtering a seemingly objective intellect to suit those predetermined ends. It continually divides while hiding behind a superficial appearance of unifying. Whenever evidence is judged by the finite mind as admissible or not then there is a tendency towards a closing of that mind; conversely, whenever evidence is accepted without logical reflection or possibility of countering evidence there is a tendency towards superstition. Neither is optimal.

To simply observe without judgement almost always precludes both a closed mind and blind faith—two faces of the same coin. Granted, this is a statement of the highest blasphemy to one who holds the logical intellect as supremely sacred. The world, humanity, nature, love, music, poetry, color, dance, art, raising a family are glorious things to be savored in each new moment. Blind faith in either religion, the visceral—theism—or the cerebral—atheism—throws a dark veil over those everpresent glories. When every sight and sound in every moment is witnessed in awe and delight, then theism and atheism are just words, and truth will continually show itself, everywhere and undeniable in every moment.

Happy holidays to all,
Jenna Clayton

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By V.A. Austinson, December 20, 2005 at 11:23 am Link to this comment
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Great piece Sam…thank you!! Truth is not a belief.  Perhaps the religious element within each of us can only come to recognize itself when the walls of any particular religion have crumbled.  Biological evolution is a fact.  Spiritual evolution is a fact as well.

To Harvey Ardman:  Good point…after all, Jesus was not a Christian.

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By Ward Roland, December 20, 2005 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
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In order to discount it, Ben Blish (in #300) overextends my simpler question “why are we here?” into a loftier “what is the purpose of life?” Actually, I mean simply to offer that reason cannot and probably never can explain our presence in the universe. That unknowability is the immoveable object that counters the irresistable force of what will be an eternal search for the answer. That urge doesn’t by itself justify religion but, for those who would futilely wish it away, it’s a reason to seek a ‘third way’: a convergence of advancing objective knowledge with the evolution of human capacities that will trump reason. At this early point in our evolution, it’s naive, arrogant and unnecessarily unhopeful to believe that the sensory is the highest form of cognition—when, yes, there is creditable data to suggest the contrary.

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By Ricky Jimenez, December 19, 2005 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment
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Promoting atheism yields very little.  What is so much more important is to get believers to acknowlege that they have no right to take away the lives and liberties of those who believe differently.  Perhaps, explaining that their beliefs have no better proof that the others, helps.  I do agree that theocracies are a menace to civilization’s continued existence, but far less than converting them to atheists is needed to defuse the situation.

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By C. M. Baxter, December 19, 2005 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment
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Well, this is my second attempt at posting this comment.  Here goes…

Victor Pantilio writes:

Ok, I’ve read all the way to comment #300 and still no answer to the question I posed back in #148:  “Why is there anything at all rather than nothing?”  I’m not talking about open vs closed systems, I’m talking about existence vs non-existence.

It seems that you’re asking someone to explain “existence”, which I take to mean the total of that which exists.  Notice that any explanation of any aspect of existence, a tree for example, must refer to something that existed prior to that which is being explained.  Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “tree” as:  a woody perennial plant…etc.  “Plant”, here, is the reference in point since plants existed prior to trees.  Again, Webster defines “rock” (2-c-1) as:  consolidated or unconsolidated solid mineral matter…etc.  And again we see that “mineral matter” must exist prior to rocks.  Now, if we try to explain the entirety of existence (the total of that which exists), we find no reference prior to or outside of existence with which to formulate an explanation.  It becomes obvious, then, that existence cannot be explained, yet is itself the source of all explanations.  Again, anything within existence can be explained by reference to prior actions or entities while existence itself cannot.  Therefore, the question:  “Why is there anything at all rather than nothing,” is nonsensical and impossible to answer.  Existence simply exists.

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By Johnx, December 19, 2005 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment
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I can only say the atheists’ faith is greater than those who believe in creation.

How do you measure it to suggest one is “greater than?”

The fact that our beliefs have lasted this long to me is proof that they are true.

Exactly how long does a belief have to last for it to expire and be deemed a truth?

This is a training session, and part of that training is to live in a world with pain and sorrow. I feel sorry for you.

Free your mind instead.

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