Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Shop the Truthdig Gift Guide 2014
December 20, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Get Truthdig's headlines in your inbox!

DIG DIRECTOR

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?

No.

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


Get truth delivered to
your inbox every week.


More Below the Ad

Advertisement

Square, Site wide

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By Tom, December 19, 2005 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well, I’d just like to wish everyone here a merry Christmas. Oh, and as a Christmas gift to all of you in 2006, you folks will be getting an answer to a HUGE question that will forever reframe this discussion in a most (il)logical way. I hope that you all will enjoy it, even you too Sam.
Tom

Report this

By Harvey Ardman, December 19, 2005 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To David F. Lamb…

I was intrigued by this statement of yours:

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

As it happens, I am Jewish, or at least I was raised that way. The beliefs I was taught pre-date yours. If longevity is proof of truth, why are you not a Jew?

Report this

By Gary, December 19, 2005 at 10:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #205, Sekait said “Indeed, that is what I find wrong with most atheists. They replace God with Reason as their source of values but dont explain why things are inherently good or evil (even Reason itself is not inherently superior to irrationality and attempting to prove it is means using reason and thus begs the question).”  Well, things are NOT “inherently good or evil”.  Humans decide what is good and what is evil.  Now we can look to biology to give us an answer as to what is painful and what is pleasurable, and this might provide the starting point for an ethical system.  Also, reason is NOT “inherently superior” to irrationality.  It is demonstrably superior to irrationality!  Reason or rationality is a set of methods, attitudes, and principles which has a much better track record than irrationality in the struggle for survival.  Other people, including Sekait, are welcome to place their bet on irrationality in their struggle for survival, but I think I’ll stick with rationality.  Furthermore, I’ll encourage others to also adopt rationality because I think it offers us the best chance of building a peaceful and productive world.  Gary

Report this

By Gary, December 19, 2005 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #202, Victor complains that the atheists have not addressed the question “Why is there something [anything at all] rather than nothing?”  So, I will take a shot at it.  This is a very old question, and many philosophers and theologians believe that it is THE most important question.  Yet, does it suffer from the philosophical flaw of “begging the question”?  Does it presume that “nothing” was the state of affairs at one point and seek the cause, reason, or motive for a change from “nothing” to “something” at another point?  While the presumption of “once upon a time there was nothing” is a logical possibility and ought to be considered, it is probably less likely to be true than the idea “there never was a time when there was nothing, and thus something is forever”.  There are two good reasons for preferring the latter over the former, and these reasons are evidence and parsimony.  The evidence is in the First Law of Thermodynamics which, summarizing millions of observations, says that “matter-energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but only changes in form”.  There IS something and it seems exceedingly difficult both to get rid of it and to produce something more, so difficult, in fact, that The First Law has been codified to describe this condition.  The second reason to support the idea “something is forever” is parsimony.  It is a much simpler explanation than the alternative.  It explains the data, that there is something now, with the least number of assumptions.  Thus, there is something rather than nothing probably because something really had no choice over the matter.  If “something is forever” is true, then a supreme being having a motive to bring something out of nothing is unnecessary.  In fact, no agent, personal or nonpersonal, is necessary to bring about the change.  Something just IS and will always BE.  Gary

Report this

By Gary, December 19, 2005 at 10:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #197, Rick talks about how great a moral teacher Jesus was.  Unfortunately, Jesus said and did a lot of things that are morally repugnant.  Let me give just one example.  In Luke 19:27 (NIV), Jesus says “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.”  Is this the man around which you want to build an ethical system?  Gary

Report this

By David F.Lamb, December 19, 2005 at 8:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I can only say the atheists’ faith is greater than those who believe in creation. You must that the God we refer to as Jehovah, or Yahweh has clearly been misunderstood by those who call themselves agnostics or atheists. He clearly explains his role as our creator in the bible, which we believers believe was divinely inspired, written for our benefit. He doesn’t turn his back on human suffering, but human’s turn their back to Him. The fact that our beliefs have lasted this long to me is proof that they are true. The men who were with Jesus led dangerous lives and were totured and because they refused to deny their faith, and what they saw Jesus do. Anyway, you believe that the universe and the world with all its complexities just happened? Why did some things evlve and some not? How did it all become so interdependant? Why do we all have a hole in our souls, until we accept God? Well, I know you can’t answer that last one, because you don’t understand it and you probably don’t believe in a soul, but do really feel complete? If you think this reality is all there is, then I can see why you feel the way you do, but we believe our earthly existance is temporary, and all our suffering and pain will be forgotten, or shruuged off once we enter the etenal portion of life. 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.

Report this

By Doug Tarnopol, December 19, 2005 at 7:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well, let’s see whether this gets suppressed, Victor! (re: #333)

I have to say, I very much doubt any censorship is going on for some very good reasons: 1. more comments equals more hits equals good for any website; 2. truthdig seems to be all about free speech; 3. it’s a new site, so there’ll be bugs. I posted a follow-up comment (which I should have saved in Word) that never showed up. No biggie.

Anyway, the question of why anything rather than nothing is a deep one that lies on the border of science, philosophy, and theology. Matter has self-organizing properties. If you float alumnium coins (or discs) on water, the nature of surface tension is to automatically arrange the discs in a lattice-like structure. Looks designed when its simply just ordered. I realize this doesn’t answer your question, but it hints at a likely answer. Sorry to qualify: science is always about probabilistic truths, even if they’re 99.9[bar].

Anyway, one might ask why an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent diety would bother to create anything—especially anything with self-consciousness, some amount of free will, or at least the capacity to do nasty things to others. That it’s all just a big test of faith, or that the entire 15 billion year history of the universe exists for one species of higher primate on one planet in one galaxy…well, it kinda stretches credulity. For many practicing scientists as well.

As to why do many scientists believe in God, including even some evolutionists? None of us are totally consistent would be my guess, and one’s deep psychological needs sometimes trump or coexist with acknowledgement of reality, which isn’t always pleasant.

However, I do respect the search for meaning, and I don’t think this article provided much positive commentary there.

I think it’s quite revealing that Harris attacks “liberals” so loudly. Dig this:

“DP: All right, Sam Harris believes that it’s time to call a spade and spade and say that religion is the problem, not the solution. I believe that it is the solution and the problem, because always solutions have problems. That is the way it is. But we both acknowledge that the temple of secularism, the university, has been largely a moral failure, is that fair to say?

SH: Yes.” (http://www.dennisprager.com/samharris.html)

Hmmmm…read the rest of the interview. “Political correctness” is the boogeyman.

Interesting how us-vs.-them thinking permeates, no?

Report this

By Dean Paczuco, December 18, 2005 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dangerous Beliefs

Religion is dependant the perpetuation of various mysteries for its continued observance. A mystery unsolved will retain its power to enthral for as long as it remains a mystery. No small wonder then that religion endures beyond humanities need for it. The convoluted language of religion is so suffused with mystery that those who practice it at professional levels are able to endorse varying interpretations of the same texts while retaining credibility with their followers.

Religion, a barefaced manifestation of the irrational, presents contemporary societies around the world with real problems. Here in the UK the contentious issues surrounding faith are more often than not avoided by those in public life, who seem happy to reassure us with the familiar and unfounded supposition that all religious people go about doing good. The religious voices in positions of power and the media seek to disassociate themselves from the more unsavoury realities of adherence by separating the spectacle of daily lives that have degraded into chaos and violence from the respectable public image they take great care to cultivate. The man responsible for the recent murder in Amsterdam of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, whose religion encouraged him to deal a sickeningly violent death to a fellow human being for expressing a point of view, is no longer just a muslim. He is an extremist muslim and therefore in a sense not a muslim at all. Extremism we are told, has motivated those who have murdered doctors working in clinics in the USA who carry out abortions. Those responsible are not just christian. They are extremist christians. Is it something about the literal interpretation of a religious text or a criminal sociopath that makes an extremist? It can not be explained by poverty and poor education, as virtually all those responsible for acts of terror, murder and extremism in the west have so far been well educated and come from middle class or even upper middle class backgrounds. The fact that religion and adherence to religious dogma is potentially very dangerous to life and liberty should be lost on no one.

The greatest of the challenges facing us all remains how to keep power seeking religions separate from the state. We should not shy away from challenging the absurd. We should not seek to appease groups who claim they are persecuted within wider society by offering them the resources to further isolate themselves from the rest of us. Nor should we give them access to governmental bodies, disproportionately increasing their influence. We certainly should not encourage the absurd by affording these organisations the control of educational institutions and allowing exemptions from laws that the rest of us must obey. And we should not appease various groups such as christian voice and Focus On The Family who declare themselves offended at every turn, by closing down a play or removing a DVD from sale. Kindly holding the hand of a powerful superstition as it undermines common sense is dangerously misguided, however strongly we believe in the rights of others to live their lives as they see fit.

Should I wish, I am free to openly follow any religion. I may choose to deny my child a life saving operation because the particular brand of religion I follow disallows organ donation or even the assistance of medical science. Society affords me the respect to pursue this pernicious irrationality, even when social services step in at the last minute to protect my child. Is the absurdity of religion really deserving of our respect? Belief in deities is extremely irrational. Contemporary adherence to religion is an extreme rebuttal, a denial of life and humanity in favour of the comfort found in rigid guiding rules and simplistic unassailable explanations that cuddle our primal fears. Religion is riddled with extremes. And extremists, as we are all aware, are capable of bad things. When looking around the world it is plain to all who see; the rejection of reason has always, and always will result in conflict. To unquestioningly accept religion is to reject reason and invite conflict.

Report this

By Stephen Huff, December 18, 2005 at 11:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hmm.  I was watching book TV on Cspan and you came on.  The great preacher of Atheism.  As it happens, I am a self-proclaimed agnostic minister.  I became that mostly because I spent a lot of my time smacking atheists down in internet discussion forums.

I am listening to you criticize religious moderates.  You talk about people not driving planes into buildings, not committing mass murder etc.  As though, atheists did not do these things.

The truth is that there has never been an atheist state which did not engage in mass murder almost immediately as part of its political agenda.  The French Terror was an atheist event, the Nazi Holocaust was an atheist event, the Soviet Gulags were an Atheist event and the 30 millions killed during the Cultural Revolution in China were an Atheist event.

Atheism has only one message, that theism is evil.  Such a principle can be applied in a politcal sense only as a hate movement.  A movement that has no positive values to promote but only teaches the evil of its opponents can be nothing but a hate movement.

You are a hate monger.  You teach hatred.  You promote hatred.  Any public or political implementation of what you teach is teaching genocide, mass murder, terrorism and religiously motivated mass murder.

I suggest you consider agnosticism as an alternative.
http://rivendell.fortunecity.com/perilith/919/bio/Church02.htm

History clearly shows that atheism is a negative force.  The history of atheism the few times it has risen to power, is far worse than the history of theistic belief systems.  I takes decades or centuries to pervert Christianity or Islam into a justification for genocide.  It takes only months for atheism to fall that far.

These are historical facts.  Stop preaching hatred and nonsense.

Report this

By steveblackwelder, December 18, 2005 at 1:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As Samuel Clemmons said:” Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Report this

By Doug Tarnopol, December 17, 2005 at 3:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow, lots of comments!

I would very much like to hear from Sam Harris himself.

In any event, let me respond to a couple of things that Beaming Visionary wrote (12:12 am on 12/10):

“Doug Tarnopol wrote:

“Who cares what someone’s metaphysics is? I thought the point was one’s actions, not what one believes.”

“I’m having a hard time with the implicit claim made here, i.e., that beliefs do not influence actions. On the contray, beliefs are clearly the chief motivator of all human actions.”

****Yes, beliefs influence actions—not solely, but I take your point. However, my point was slightly different: beliefs are many; so are actions. Just as most phenotypic traits are not tethered in some Cartesian manner to “a gene”—and “God” has retreated into “DNA” in many self-described rational atheists—no one “belief,” completely unparsed (like, “Christianity” or “atheism”), automatically produces one action or group of actions. It’s just not that simple.

(Most phenotypic traits—professionals, correct me, if I’m wrong!—are polygenic. Many genes have “pleiotropic” effects: one gene affects many traits. All of this gene-trait stuff happens via development, a hugely complex web of interactions and feedback loops. And all of that is evolving in populations. This is an analogy, btw, not some kind of biological determinism. I’m just claiming that most complex things are many-many, not one-one or even few-few.)

That was what I meant when I wrote that a/theism and good/bad behavior are totally uncorrelated, as many have also pointed out. If you find no correlation, you’ve got two variables that aren’t necessarily noninteracting, but you’re probably missing something, no?

Which is (to me) the deep psychological need for total certainty, theistic or not. To deny this need, even if one has overcome it (or thinks one has), is dishonest—to bludgeon the “great intellectual unwashed” with the childishness or insanity or stupidity of their very human needs is frankly mean-spirited. So, I applaud lending the understanding hand to the theistic—if you even need to discuss this at all, rather than organizing on the ground to get rid of the neo/theocons that rule this ex-republic.

While a “manifesto” is a just that, I don’t quite see the point in alienating like-acting people on the basis of metaphysical beliefs that don’t translate arithmetically to certain types of behavior. What we know and can judge on is the behavior. Do you build houses for the homeless because you think Jesus would have or because you believe in the dignity of all human beings by virtue of their existence and essential shared rights, full stop? Who cares? Just keep building the houses so that more folks can grow up, go to college, and have metaphysical debates on blogs, rather than starving, turning to crime…you get my drift.

We have far more important problems to deal with than simply atheism-vs.-theism, and Sam’s at least implicit point, that foundational beliefs (fundamental?) are what is most important is exactly wrong, IMHO. I’ll take any anti-neo/theocon, religious or not, any day of the week over a neo/theocon.

It’s possibly literally suicidal to alienate like-acting (or like-minded, depending on what you think) people, at least in the US, which is teetering toward fascism by any reasonable definition of that word.

“The reason I don’t stick my hands into a pot of boiling water to retrieve cooked spaghetti is that I believe I will experience considerable pain in so doing. The reason I don’t bat an eyelash when a man approaches me on the street and claims the world will end in six hours if I don’t offer him a lap dance is because I believe he is nuts. In each case I have evidence for my beliefs—something the religious adherent by definition lacks unconditionally. (It really would make things easier if fundagelicals would accept that fact that the Bible is evidence of nothing but its own human creation, but the vexing and unfortunate truth is that there seems to be no dissuading those indoctrinated at a tender age.)

“These counter-examples are trivial, but so was the errancy in the example it addresses.”

****I think we have to disentangle the knot of meanings in the colloquial use of “faith,” as others have pointed out.

Anyway, it’s beside the (or at least, my) point. I have a healthy respect for the irrationality of humanity. Ditto its rationality. The key, to me, of Enlightenment thought was, forget the metaphysics; concentrate on behavior. Thus, I couldn’t care less that Jesus is basically a myth—just keep building the houses!

“Atheism is no guarantee of right action, just as theism is not.”

“This is exactly what Sam himself explicitly claims—indeed, he uses examples of ersatz or agenda-driven “atheism,” such as communism and Nazism, to underscore the shallowness of religious believers’ fingering such solecisms as evidence of “failed atheist world views” or what have you.”

****Well, I thought he gave it far too short shrift, and the contortions of some here to prove that Hitler was in fact religious or whatever are also beside the point.

Hitler was a vegetarian. Should I go back to eating meat?

You can find bad-behaving people in any thought-tradition. That they exist isn’t tantamount to the destruction of that thought-tradition, on either (or any) side.

Thus, simply pointing to, say, the Crusades in no way undermines Christianity, for any number of reasons: 1. it assumes that something called “Christianity” caused (literally) the Crusades; 2. it assumes that today’s Christianity is the same as the twelfth century’s; 3. it assumes that what people profess to believe equals what they actually believe, and that those beliefs alone drive behavior in a Laplacian billiard-ball manner.

Ditto the Stalin = atheist = thus atheism is forever undermined. Same poor reasoning; different content.

A little more attention should be paid, btw, to the difference between religion-as-text and religion-in-practice. But that’s just restating my desire to shift this debate from the philosophical/metaphysical to the actual world in such a manner as to change the world in real and measurable ways.

Often (nowhere near always!) I find philosophical argument a bit scholastic, and this manifesto reeked of ivory-tower philosophizing. That said, I will read the book before I judge Sam’s full position.

“To pretend that Sam’s entreaties encouraging rational discourse and the shedding of bogus superstition equates to an embracing of the “secularly” rooted annihilation of human beings is beyonf folly—but it’s also exactly what the local minister wants the members of the flock to think.”

****Agreed. Not what I meant, if this was directed at me.

The notion that a person can’t be rational in many areas, but irrational in others is a bit naive to me, though. That’s how Francisco Ayala can be a top population geneticist and evolutionist and still be religious. You can call it doublethink, you can say it’s inconsistent—fine. I’ll say, who cares?—as long as Ayala’s science is solid and his public behavior doesn’t harm others. That, my friends, is old-school Liberalism (in part). We could use a lot more of that.

“Where facts fail, instill fear and loathing instead. Republicans, buoyed by the rise of Christian idiocy within top-level U.S. government today, routinely use this tactic nowadays as a surrogate for adequate defense of their befriggered positions: Label the other guy unpatriotic or un-American—thereby painting him as the archetypal enemy—and there’s no need to actually offer support for a failed agenda. It’s maddening.”

****Total agreement there. It’s just not limited only to neo/theocons, but it’s so pronounced now that that is why Sam Harris’ manifesto and book have made him so well-regarded (that and being a good writer, of course!). To accuse him of being unoriginal is a little silly, IMHO. All writers hate Homer—he was first!

“Of course atheism per se is not sufficient to bring about positive change. But on a global scale it may well be necessary, and if the examples Sam provides don’t convince people of this, nothing will.”

****They won’t. What might—might—is a reaffirmation of what America should be (even if it never fully was): a land of tolerance and separation of church and state.

I’d be very happy to live in such a country even if every other person was devoutly religious.

Report this

By Peter Newberry, December 17, 2005 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the bible is such bullshit.  I apologize for my response containing no supporting evidence of this claim and really no value to you the reader whatsoever but it felt good for me to type it and hit submit.

Report this

By Ervin, December 17, 2005 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your argument is against religion not God who has no religion.

The gov’t allows us to do things that are destructive to ourselves it even protects us at times while we do it or have it done to us although it can if it chooses to stop us.

Should I say that I am a anarchist because the gov’t allows bad things to happen?

Report this

By Philip, December 17, 2005 at 12:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here’s a thought: how about the pursuit of truth through rational probabilities supported by evidence. If I were to postulate a similarity (based on a rational probability) between God and Santa, I could simply label God as the Santa for adults.

Why simply have faith in a dynamic not supported by evidence in the first place? If a salesman knocked on your door and tried selling you a vacuum for $5,000, and you asked him to justify the price and his response was “trust me, have faith in its powers of cleaning” would you buy it? Likely not. Then why entrust your mind, a far more precious commodity, to the same salesman in different clothing? Once mankind conquers death and the omnipresent need for survival (namely economic in most humans) he will have the time for other pursuits, no doubt intellectual ones.

Report this

By Joseph Cannon, December 16, 2005 at 11:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The opening illustration—a kidnapped girl whose parents believe in a loving God—sets up a false dichotomy. There is more than one alternative to the obviously false proposition of a beneficent creator deity. There is a third position—the Gnostic position, which holds that a Jehovah-like being may indeed exist, but that he is an evil, mad, sadistic, immature or otherwise inferior entity unworthy of adulation or respect. Remember that old “Twilight Zone” episode in which Billy Mummy played an all-powerful child, a creature both pre-moral and omnipotent? That story nicely illustrates the Gnostic conception of the being they call the Demiurge.

I am not saying that I myself hold to this position—merely that atheism is not the sole alternative history has offered. Gnostic thinkers have provided an alternative which will make sense to many people—for example, to anyone who suffers from chronic pain.

Report this

By MetricSU, December 16, 2005 at 9:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Comments like Chris’s (#3) demonstrate how intractable the atheist’s situation is.  I have heard highly educated people make the same tired argument that only those who believe in god have access to objective morality.  I once had a discussion with a couple, he with a doctorate and she working on a master’s degree, about whether they interpreted the bible literally.  She said “I’m a woman, I can’t.”  He said “I do interpret the bible literally; otherwise, hedonism is the only sensible behavior.”  (They are no longer together.)

Chris and others need to read Sam’s book for insight into how one can be a “moral” person without believing in myths. One of my favorite, straightforward observations is this: Every person you see today will sooner or later lose everything that is near and dear to him or her.  Isn’t that reason enough to be kind to everyone and to respect everyone’s human rights? Of course everyone has the right not to be raped, and for Chris to claim that this view is “inconsistent” with being an atheist is just ludicrous.

Many Muslim countries essentially look the other way at the practice of “honor killings.” I don’t need to refer to the ten commandments to know that this is bad ethics.

Unfortunately, Chris is correct in a roundabout way: Many (most?) people are simply unable to function on a morally high plane without the fear of being punished in an afterlife. Anyone who has served on a jury in the U.S. knows that the average American operates at an intellectually low level. This isn’t really anyone’s fault; the ability to reason follows a bell curve in the population, and the mean is not very high in the U.S. This means the lower tail has a long way to go. I do wonder if Sam Harris fully appreciates this nontrivial hurdle that stands in the way of reason.

Report this

By Matt Mylar, December 16, 2005 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My goodness, what a spirited discussion. I’m sorry I didn’t visit this website sooner.

I would like to direct my comments to Peter Attwood (or any other Christian who cares to respond).

I’m always amazed that intelligent, educated people—in this, the 21st century—can believe in something that is obviously a myth. The much vaunted bible is just a collection of gruesome stories, myths and contradictions. For instance, The Sixth Commandment says “Thou shalt not kill.” But the Old Testament is full of killing. Either God is doing it directly; or he’s having some loyal servant do it for him; or He’s telling you to do it to someone else as punishment for some minor infraction (e.g. picking up sticks on the Sabbath).  In fact, the overriding theme of the Old Testament seems to be ... kill, kill, kill!! Sounds like a contradiction to me.

And how about accuracy? In the New Testament Jesus states unequivocally that the Kingdom of God will come during the generation that was alive then. He states this in more than one place. Matt. 16:28, Mark 9:1, Mark 13:30. Well, here we are in the year 2005 and we’re still waiting. So much for accuracy. I suspect that 99 percent of the believers out there haven’t read any part of the Bible except maybe John 3:16.

So, Mr. Attwood, how can you base your belief system on such a flawed document?

Report this

By Drakonik, December 16, 2005 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This article was really interesting. I agree with your points, but they were presented in a way that makes me mildly uncomfortable. I agree with you, but you gave me the feeling that you were TELLING me what to believe, not just offering your opinion.

The reason I don’t like it is because the overly-faithful force, or try to force, their beliefs on others by saying “We’re right, you’r wrong. If you aren’t with us, you’re evil.” You make it seem like that’s what you’re saying. Of course, I’m technically agnostic, so I guess I’ve only got a little bit of say in this. Still, I believe that if you are saying you’re an intellectual, you should present your facts then let the people choose what they want.

Report this

By A thinker., December 16, 2005 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maurice E Hardy, you are incorrect about the barbarism of Atheism.

Pol Pot merely banned religion (and did not profess athiesm), Hitler considered himself Catholic until the day he died (and regularly attended Catholic mass), Mao believed religion was superstition, and part of a trifecta of main institutions holding people down. Stalin also did not profess atheism, and mostly held beef with the Russian Orthodox Church.

To call these men professed athiests is not just misleading; it is incorrect. Please revise your arguments to not be full of shit.

Report this

By Victor Panlilio, December 16, 2005 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

johnx claimed: ‘There is no God.  Well written.  Keep it up.’

G. K. Chesterton wrote:
“If there was no God, there would be no atheists.”

grin

Report this

By Victor Panlilio, December 16, 2005 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Harvey Ardman wrote: “I wish we would spend more time trying to understand the source of Faith. I suspect it is a biological or psychological phenomenon.”

If you want to understand the difference between “1. the universe is somehow the result of natural processes or 2. The universe exists as the result of supernatural processes.” I suggest you read up on (a) Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, and (b) the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics. If you understand these, then you will see why (2) above is a more plausible explanation for existence. It has nothing to do with ‘religious’ faith, but it has a lot to do with faith in rationality itself, and the intelligibility of the universe.

Report this

By johnx, December 16, 2005 at 2:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is no God.  Well written.  Keep it up.

Report this

By Nigel Pond, December 16, 2005 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re Bob Shockley’s comment at 39 above:

Actually atheist is Greek in origin but the point is correct.

Report this

By Harvey Ardman, December 16, 2005 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why are so many scientists believers in God? Well, why not? And what does their profession have to do with anything?

Like everyone else, scientists are confronted with the fact of our existence, that is the existence of the universe, and the accompanying fact—that no one knows how the universe came to exist.

Big Bang or little bang, it doesn’t matter—we haven’t yet explained first cause. So, one can be of two minds about it, without violating reason: 1. the universe is somehow the result of natural processes or 2. The universe exists as the result of supernatural processes.

The scientist who is more comfortable with the latter explanation does not toss out rationality, because until we have more information, rationality doesn’t help us explain the existence of the universe.

So, the fact that some scientists are believers and others are agnostics or atheists has no bearing as to whether or not God exists. It’s kind of like those old Life Magazine ads that show Charlton Heston smoking an Old Gold and saying, “they satisfy.” Yeah, right.

You can’t prove (or in my opinion disprove) the existence of God by citing testimonials, no matter how many you can find, no matter who offers them. No proof exists, or at least none has yet been found.

What I don’t understand is how we can conflate the question of whether or not God exists with the question of whether or not religion, any religion, is valid or useful. They’re two separate issues.

It should be obvious to anyone willing to take a look, that all organized religions are ridiculously elaborate man-made structures, resting on a single pinpoint—if that—of faith.

They are based on a premise that is silly on the face of it: that human beings can have ANY knowledge of God, of his thoughts, desires, values, moods, motives or anything else,  including knowledge of His existence.

Lists of sins and well-defined punishments for them? Man’s work, not God’s. Visions of Heaven and Hell? Man’s work, not God’s. Technicalities about how to worship? Man’s work, not God’s. Biblical messages about God’s thoughts? Man’s work, not God’s.

I wish we would spend more time trying to understand the source of Faith. I suspect it is a biological or psychological phenomenon.

In a way, it seems to me, it is a left-over from our less evolved days, when we had few explanations of anything and therefore had to rely on Faith and mystery for answers.

My dog feels this way, I’ll bet. He has faith that his bowl will have food in it. He has faith that after we leave the house, we’ll return eventually. He has faith that if it’s raining, he can run into the garage and get out of the downpour. He doesn’t understand the “why” of anything, exactly like a Neanderthal man.

Am I saying that those who have Faith are less evolved than those who do not? Well, the idea is appealing.

Report this

By Kevylei, December 16, 2005 at 11:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Harris sez -
Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.

This is an important reminder that athiesm will not present you with a moral standard to follow. Therefore, you need to find a moral standard somewhere.

But lets remember what the point of religion is.  I define religion as a system that teaches mankind how to co-exist by introducing moral values.  Therefore, whether you believe in Christinanity or not, you can still draw certain moral values from the bible.  This is not to say if you follow these values that you are christian; it jsut means you and the bible agree on the same thing.  Religon may be the source of certain unforunate events but many people forget that certain values taught to them prevent them from killing another person.  The bible should be looked at from a literature point of view and not a cookbook on how to live.

Report this

By Ed, December 16, 2005 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The average person, if they see a man on a street corner talking to no one visible, will say, “He’s crazy.”  The average person sees a church full of people talking and praying to no one visible, will not say, “They’re crazy.”  Personally I believe religious belief is really about respecting hierarchy.  Religious people are VERY big on hierarchy.  Note that religious Americans were very anti-communist.  Because, theoretically at least, communism was about dismantling hierarchy.  I laughed recently to hear Colin Powell describe Al-Qaeda as having a very non-centralized power, just groups or individuals doing their own thing, without orders or commands.  Our enemies, for some reason, are always seen as very anti-hierarchy, and the public will naturally hate them for that.

Report this

By DFF, December 16, 2005 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only compelling arguments against Sam’s manifesto that I’ve read so far concern those which discuss the seemingly inherent need in all of us to believe in “something” outside of ourselves:  the so-called “god-gene”. Even if it is not an actual part of our chromosomes, I think it is still a valid concept, if only to identify the “eternal optimism” that mankind seems to value so highly, and which seems to infuse us all. Some believe this optimism may actually have a valid evolutionary purpose. Anything so ingrained in (almost) every one of us must have some purpose, some reason to justify its presence.

My point is that those contributors to this forum who argue that what is needed to counter irrational faith is “sympathy, not derision” are right. The god-gene cannot be taken lightly, any more than human psychology can be taken lightly. And since most well-informed people agree that we made god in our own image, we must take care not to kill “him” outright, lest we kill whatever is inherently good in ourselves, in the process. Babies and bathwater, and all that. Surely, such advanced examples of logical thinking as ourselves can concede the idea that seemingly irrational belief systems, although obviously now outdated, once served a useful purpose?

Let us go forward with our new revelations, but at the same time try and retain those useful parts of “faith” (however few in number) which have served us well thus far. Do we really need to re-trace our paths back two millennia, kill a legend, and then come all the way back to the present, mopping up false dogma shit as we go, to advance civilization, do we? I think not.

Report this

By Steven PS, December 16, 2005 at 12:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The full potential of our instumentality is probably freakishly Brave New World-esque.  We’ve just got to get God out of the way so we can master our domain.  Funny how science disproves astrology and alchemy but retains the same ontology.

Report this

By A different Rick, December 15, 2005 at 8:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

atheist Origin: 16th century French from a+theos, without God in Greek.

I agree that Stalin was indeed an atheist.

I agree that atheists are just as dogmatic as theists.

And I would like to point out that both Dawkins and the article author are burning straw men.  We are not all atheists with regard to Zeus and Thor, and we do not all believe in a whiny, limp-wristed notion of what a “benevolent” god would be.

Report this

By Don Maynard, December 15, 2005 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I loved the refrigerator sized diamond analogy.  Almost rolled me off my chair. So true, so true.  An excellent manifesto. I am copying it.

Thank you for your work, Mr. Harris

Report this

By Philip Zeppetello, December 15, 2005 at 6:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why should there be a god? Why should there be ‘eternal life’? If the believers are right, then all that science has concluded about the nature of the Universe is wrong! All the physical sciences agree on natural processes, ancient ages,evoluntionary change, and the nonexistence of anything ‘supernatural’. Not only is there no evidence for divine creation, eternal life, reincarnation, or any other supernatural explanation for the Universe, there is a mountain of evidence arguing against it.

The ‘supernatural’ is unneccessary. There are no mathematical equations or chemical formulas that require supernatural ingredients to work. Believers are furless, frightened primates, with delusions of grandeur, whistling in the dark, in the presence of death. Science and reason are the only candles in the dark of primitive superstition and ancient theology. The human race will only be free when it sheds the bonds of fear and superstition and sees itself for what it is; the truly wonderous result of unguided, natural processes, that has produced, on this planet, at least, a creature capable of contemplating the Universe that is home.

Report this

By Victor Panlilio, December 15, 2005 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sigh… still no response to “Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?” and no attempt to explain why many scientists are _not_ atheists. I guess either the moderators are suppressing some posts or the question is too daunting for folks to attempt an answer.

Whatever. This thread is now full of noise, and no signal. Feh.

Report this

By Jesus Christ, December 15, 2005 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not this again!  What part of the various “be good to others” stories in the bible don’t you Me-ians not get? 

As for you atheists, the fact is, I could care less whether you accept me as your “savior” or not.  Lead a good life and your reward is obvious.  Explain me away as an abstraction originally designed to justify morality to pagans. 

Just be good all of you!  For Me’s sake!

Report this

By Stan, December 15, 2005 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ryan Muennich:
thanks for that interesting and honest response. I think that’s what separates the ture atheist from believers like myself who are not “dogmatic”. I am able to ‘live’ with the very possible outcome that i will die and that’s it (unlike many if not most believers). However, i am also able to accept that everything in the world does not have to require scientific objective proof to be real. If it is proven to MY satisfaction, I can believe in it without the objective proof, so long as i don’t impose my beliefs on others (a big ‘if’, which is why Sam Harris is right to point out all the evils and hypocrosies of religion). Your reverse hypothetical was lame since there could be no real incentive for me to eliminate hangnails, but assuming the figure was apparently “God” and that i had thoroughly considered my mental and physical state, yes, i would flail myself. That’s probably the only thing that distinguishes our philosophies, which is why i used that example. Cheers-S

Report this

By Harvey Ardman, December 15, 2005 at 11:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Anthony Cerminaro:

Of course I recognized the Santa Claus parody. What I couldn’t understand—still can’t—is why you would offer this as evidence God exists. It’s just the reverse. We all know (even you, I hope) that there is no Santa Claus, despite Francis Church’s eloquent statement otherwise. What Church is really defending is innocence. This is a sentimental notion, but harmless, since we all know it is metaphorical.

But you are using this editorial to support your belief in God. How in the world does it do that, at least for anyone over the age of six?


To Larry:

“There are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge…and these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed by non-rational means.”
Harvey Ardman:
“You’ve clothed the idea in intellectual lingo, but it can be expressed (and usually is) in a single word: faith.”

“No you’re wrong, it has NOTHING to do with faith. Ask an artist or musician. More often than not, they create with non-rational thought processes. Are they not thinking because what they’re doing is not rational?? They are drawing ideas from the subconscious, and it’s certainly a non-rational thought process.”

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.

Report this

By Mark Plus, December 15, 2005 at 9:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Andy writes,

Mark continues: “The bible and other religious propaganda make prayer sound like a supernatural version of OnStar. But in the real world christians face the same hazards as everyone else. A god never shows up like a superhero to rescue them, much less stop by with the rent money and a sack of groceries.”

Three questions:
1. Which specific parts of the Bible are you referring to?

The book of Exodus for starters. Moses pushes his OnStar button to god to send plagues on the Egyptians, part the Red Sea, drop MRE’s (manna ready to eat) from the sky, etc.

2. “religious propaganda”?  Are these Christian books, or holy scriptures of other religions such as the Koran? 

By “propaganda” I mean media which promote christian beliefs. I think the Inquisition a few centuries back used this word to mean pretty much the same thing. Plenty of books in print today talk about using prayer to attain health, happiness and material prosperity. Christian broadcasting often features people who claim they prayed for tangible things and then received them without having to work for them. Of course, any statistician will tell you this represents a cognitive bias where they ignore the instances where their prayers don’t work.

3. What part of the Bible or of your experience has you thinking that Christians are looking for a “superhero” with the rent? 

Revelation says that Jesus will “return,” assuming he even existed the first time around, to solve the world’s problems, after defeating an enemy called “the beast.” Tim LaHaye has made a fortune cranking out novels based on this scenario.

Report this

By Keith, December 15, 2005 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Excellent manifesto - sign me up !
Thank god I’m an atheist

Report this

By Anthony Cerminaro, December 15, 2005 at 6:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is what Bishop Spong says about suffering:

“I do not assume that our world is ever fair. The God I meet in Jesus does not appear to do so either. Jesus is quoted as having said: “In this world you will have tribulation.” The peace he promised was, in his words, “not as the world gives.” When in the Fourth Gospel he is asked whether either the blind man or his parents were guilty of causing his blindness, he said that is not how the world operates. When in the synoptic gospels he talked about those who were killed when the Tower of Siloam fell, he pronounced them no guiltier than any others. The world we live in has what we call natural disasters. They range from hurricanes to tsunamis. They do not just harm the guilty, but whoever was in their path. Job was the book of the Bible that addressed these issues most specifically. He too had no answer but to keep living in a world that will never be fair. Jesus does not give us peace of mind. He gives us the courage to live in this evolving and transitory world without despair. Our job is to transform the world when we can and to accept reality when we cannot. God is not the source of our despair; reality is. God is the power that gives us the ability to address reality just as it is.

I hope this helps,

—John Shelby Spong”

Report this

By Ray Melnik, December 15, 2005 at 6:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It simply amazes me how seemingly intelligent people have some of the most bizarre faith in something so supernatural and completely lacking in evidence. How many centuries more will it take for people to realize that it is up to us to make this planet a better place? How long before they stop relying on a dream to make their lives better?

Report this

By Nazgul, December 15, 2005 at 2:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A wonderful piece.  Thank you.  It is good to know that there are other people out there who recognize the madness of the religions, and the evil that they are perpetrating against our species.  Some of your phrasing will stay with me for a long time, such as “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.”

I take it a step further.  Religions are computer viruses for human minds.  They are communicable mental diseases.  I look forward to the day when humanity no longer suffers under the burden of these parasitic infections, and we are free to pursue scientific excellence and social perfection unfettered by the insanity of religion.

It is a beautiful universe out there, for those who choose to observe the real world:  http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html

“To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing.”  Hypatia of Alexandria

Report this

By Chris, December 14, 2005 at 10:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ryan,
On the issue of someone raping a little girl, her (as well as humanity’s) inherent value are at stake, but an equally pressing point is the question of objective moral truth.  From an athiest’s perspective saying that raping a little girl is wrong is inconsistant.  The atiest can only refer to the wrongness of any action as the breaking of a social construction (social construction being the popular term in our current age of literature for a group of people collectively and arbitrarily making up a concept of shared value and putting such a paradigm into practice).  Therefore, the athiest says that it is my opinion that raping a little (or older…it doesn’t matter…girl is wrong, but that there is no objective or absolute standard to back up such a statement.  From the thiest’s perspective rape is wrong, because he believes, and rightly so, in objective moral truth.  The only way that we can consistantly manifest goodness, courage, justice, and genuine care for each other is if we all appeal to the absolute standard that God has infused into the universe as a reflection of his character.  Otherwise if the athiest (or denier of objective truth) is consistant in our current world, everything will be permissible and the logical conclusion is the chaotic misery of everyone gratifying their personal pleasure at the expense of others.

Report this

By Dave Summers, December 14, 2005 at 8:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Like the facts & reasoning of his book, The End of Faith, this pre-Winter Solstice dissertation by Sam Harris is brilliant and, especially for America, necessary.  He expresses what Madison, Jefferson, et. al. also knew when separation of governance (the 3 Branches, not Congress alone) from the “mumbo jumbo” of religion was emphasized in the First of the Bill of Rights.  I recommend, however, that he, henceforth, join me in refraining from using the “God” word (in the singular & capitalized) without preceding it by an article, “a” or “the” (or “an”, to state the pre- vailing atheistic contention, “an invented God”).  Without the highly essential article, “God”, or that which is not, is converted, deliberately or inadvertently, to acceptance or believing that She or He or It (“Sheheit” or “It” fits best!) actually is indeed “that which is” or “that which exists”.  But isn’t it true that we (atheists, skeptics, secular humanists, freethinkers) know that
“faith-heads” created their respective “gods” and that agnostics
prefer to conclude that it (or she or he) is unknowable? (note: I was once agnostic but “atheistic” now describes me best).

Report this

By piaggio, December 14, 2005 at 7:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It will be virtualy imposible to eliminate religion. It has existed for thousands of years and the vast majority of the world is religious. Given the choice between religious fundamentalism and religious moderation, both of which rely on absurd asumptions, religious moderation at least conforms with modern morals to a large extent, as oposed to literal views expressed in religious texts.
  Name a war that has been started in the name of religion by religous moderates. Religous fundamentalism is far more dangerous to the world. Even if religous moderation requires accepting a few more contradictons, it is still the lesser of two evils. Which is worse: denial of logic, or hatred of others?

Report this

By larry, December 14, 2005 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For Thorrific:
Are you feeling better now? Time to go back on the meds?

Ryan Muennich:
“There is no evidence for your “god.” Again, show me some.  Please.  I’m begging you.”

Ok, here we go, not evidence, but likelihood, and people rarely mention it, but it’s worth THINKING about: god exists or will exist because humans are intelligent.
Look what our technological development has accomplished in only 4 thousand years. Where will we be in another 4 thousand years? What about 4 million years? 10 million years?  20? 50? How long does it take to create a god, or become one?? Perhaps paradise is simply a model of what will be at some point in the future.
If so, the religions may be right after all. PLEASE DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THOSE HAIRLESS APES!

Ryan Muennich:
“Here’s a reverse one for you Stan: suppose a glowing apparition appears by your bed late one night, and says “wear a hair shirt and flail yourself, and I’ll make it so no one ever gets a hangnail EVER again.” Another beneficial result!  I’m curious what a dogmatic “person of faith” would do in this situation.”

Simple answer! He was going to wear the hair shirt and flail himself the next morning anyhow.

Report this

By Andy, December 14, 2005 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A reply to Mark, post #33; (I’m glad you enjoyed my little fable)

Mark wrote: “As a fable about the reasonability of theism, however, it fails.”  - I very much agree with you.  The fable was way too short to cover the ‘reasonability’ of theism.  It was there to illustrate the point in the previous paragraph about the arrogance of atheism.  The idea was that the pack of dogs were “proving” their atheism (the staunch position that there is, in fact, no higher power of any sort; as opposed to non-theism, loosely agnosticism) through a lack of personal experience, the same avenue through which the first dog makes his claim.  If the first dog’s claim is not valid, neither is the pack. 

Mark continues: “The bible and other religious propaganda make prayer sound like a supernatural version of OnStar. But in the real world christians face the same hazards as everyone else. A god never shows up like a superhero to rescue them, much less stop by with the rent money and a sack of groceries.” 

Three questions:
1. Which specific parts of the Bible are you referring to?
2. “religious propaganda”?  Are these Christian books, or holy scriptures of other religions such as the Koran? 
3. What part of the Bible or of your experience has you thinking that Christians are looking for a “superhero” with the rent? 


A reply to Ryan, #35;
- What type of evidence would require to convince you that God existed?
- Also, the note about the levitical law and those “commandments” that are “ignored” - they are not ignored, but taken very seriously.  A very short answer is that they were “undone” in the New Testament.  We could go through them, but you pointed out the large number of them…also, even if I were able to give a reasonable answer for each and every one I don’t think it would change your mind.  In short, look not only at the actual rule itself, but the motivation behind it.  ex: the clothes of two fabrics…what was going on then?  Maybe God was trying to set his people apart from the surrounding actions and clarify that these people are different from those around them.  When the “food” law was repealed through Peter’s vision…Was God still trying to separate his people from those surrounding them, or was he trying to graft the gentile branch into the Jewish root, that had begun taking pride in their separation?

Report this

By larry, December 14, 2005 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“There are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge…and these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed by non-rational means.”
Harvey Ardman:
“You’ve clothed the idea in intellectual lingo, but it can be expressed (and usually is) in a single word: faith.”

No you’re wrong, it has NOTHING to do with faith. Ask an artist or musician. More often than not, they create with non-rational thought processes. Are they not thinking because what they’re doing is not rational?? They are drawing ideas from the subconscious, and it’s certainly a non-rational thought process.

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

Report this

By Analytic Being, December 14, 2005 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s a great article. I’ve noticed in a few comments that people are saying that neither atheism or christianity is correct, that both are flawed, or that neither evolution or creationism is correct, both are flawed. Let me tell you this man, there are fools all over the place. You can be an irrational atheist, and you can be a rational believer. Many would say that anyone who’s a bleliever is irrational. To them, it makes perfect sense because they were protected against reality, and emotionally biased towards anything that counters it. On the other hand, you can have crazy atheists who are totally irrational. One does not need to be rational to be an atheist, it’s the absence of belief in god. Are we all anti-astrologers? Are we all acommunist and afascist? We were all born “atheist.” We were all born ignorant of reality, all things human, all things natural. Some of us, called “atheists,” think that if it is not part of reality and only exists in peoples’ minds and stories, then there is no evidence. They also happen to realize, because they are outside observers of this phenomenon of a higher power, that most people did not choose to believe, rather they were born into it, and it formed the basis for how they perceived reality, and becomes the basis for their existence. Denying that is denying their existence. Yet when something like reality seeps through, evolution in particular, and challenges that, creationism springs up to fight it. It bothers the hell out of them, and for good reason.  That’s all folks!

Report this

By tkhoveringhead, December 14, 2005 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To comment #2,  did you actually read the article?

Report this

By Mark Plus, December 14, 2005 at 12:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Andy writes,

A short story:
A dog walked from a city in Montana all the way into the backcountry of Northwest Canada and met a small pack of dogs.  This pack of dogs approached the visitor with suspicion.

-“Where have you been?” they said. 
-He answered “I came from a city in Montana.”
-“Why are you so happy?” they asked. 
-“My master feeds me and takes care of me.” replied the dog
-The dogs were puzzled.  They wondered aloud “What can you tell us about this ‘master’?”
-The dog replied “He is a human, he walks on two feet and says things in a strange voice and gave me a bowl where food magically appears every evening.”
-The pack retorted “That’s stupid!  We’ve never seen a ‘human’ and everyone knows that food comes from hunting.  Since we get out food from the well organized hunting method, you must be wrong that a human exists.”

The pack of dogs wrote a book calling the first dog an idiot.  The pack of dogs don’t realize that they are the extreme minority and are actually quite arrogant thinking that they have the whole of things figured out in their nice little world.

Funny that you should mention Canada. This resembles how some Americans respond to stories about social-democratic countries with free or heavily subsidized healthcare, generous maternity leaves and six weeks vacation a year, even though that remote, mysterious country called Canada enjoys at least some of these benefits.

As a fable about the reasonability of theism, however, it fails. The bible and other religious propaganda make prayer sound like a supernatural version of OnStar. But in the real world christians face the same hazards as everyone else. A god never shows up like a superhero to rescue them, much less stop by with the rent money and a sack of groceries.

Report this

By Stan, December 14, 2005 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great debate. A bit too much confusion on what constitutes truth and confusion over the difference between belief in a god and belief in a religion.

I have a question for the atheists:
Suppose you are awaken one night by some glowing apparition that introduces itself as “God”, who pulls you out of bed and tells you the following: “Climb Mount Everest, and i will cure all of the cancer patients in the world.”
You rub your eyes, but there is nothing that would lead you to believe that this figure is anything other than a real supernatural being.
You even go to a doctor who tells you there is nothing wrong with your physical or mental state.

Now, climbing everest is a very dangerous thing and you’re not particularly fond of heights. What would you do? Would you deny that you saw or heard anything, chalk it up to some lousy food creating an hallucination, or would you go climb Everest??
I anticipate some of you will point out that many wackos have had visions of dogs or gods telling them to do things, which is why i am careful to say that i am asking YOU, not an insane person, and that the figure’s request would result in a BENEFICIAL outcome. Note also that i do not assume there is a correct response, I am just curious as to what a hardened atheist would do in this situation.

Report this

By Colm Osiris, December 14, 2005 at 6:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very interesting article. But unfortunately, you are arguing from a logical and rationalist point of view, so you were already biased before you picked up your pen: you could hardly argue otherwise!

I believe neither completely in creationism nor completely in evolutionism, as they are both inherently flawed, and the only axe I have to grind is one of the search for truth, so I hope I am less biased than you.

(But then there is no such thing as true objectivity, as we all have subjective minds!)

You don’t mention the original spark of life, and where it came from. I don’t believe you can!

And as for the list of verses from the Koran, well, this is dangerous distortion: I could cite just as large a number of verses from the bible that say the same thing. But of course, christians are not (currently) terrorists, are they? They are not the bogey men which our political system necessitates.

Report this

By Mark Plus, December 13, 2005 at 8:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Stephen Kriz writes,

Blaise Pascal, the father of calculus, recognized that we humans can never know whether there is a God or not.  Such is the plight of the ungodly.  Knowing this, if you bet there is a God and there turns out not to be one, what have you lost?  A lifetime of living virtuously?  However, if you bet there isn’t a God and there is one, what have you lost? Everything.

That is why I accept “Pascal’s wager”.

I thought christians considered gambling sinful.

I also find it odd that christians object to the idea that “we got here through chance,” yet some of them argue that we have to depend on chance that their god exists and that he will deliver on his alleged promises. They seem confused about the role of chance in the universe, in other words.

Report this

By Erica, December 13, 2005 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning.

One more option: Belief out of fear that it might be true

Awesome article!

Report this

By Andy, December 13, 2005 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wow, Mr. Harris’ article was very exciting.  I’m glad that there are people like Mr. Harris who see and can explicate the truth.  These few really intelligent people (many of whom have posted comments) must be those who are slowly evolving to the next step in human evolution.  I’m glad that they can see past the fog that has clouded the minds of nearly all of the 100 billion people who have ever lived, which led them to answer incorrectly the most important question in their lives. 

A short story:
A dog walked from a city in Montana all the way into the backcountry of Northwest Canada and met a small pack of dogs.  This pack of dogs approached the visitor with suspicion.
 
-“Where have you been?” they said. 
-He answered “I came from a city in Montana.” 
-“Why are you so happy?” they asked. 
-“My master feeds me and takes care of me.” replied the dog
-The dogs were puzzled.  They wondered aloud “What can you tell us about this ‘master’?” 
-The dog replied “He is a human, he walks on two feet and says things in a strange voice and gave me a bowl where food magically appears every evening.” 
-The pack retorted “That’s stupid!  We’ve never seen a ‘human’ and everyone knows that food comes from hunting.  Since we get out food from the well organized hunting method, you must be wrong that a human exists.” 

The pack of dogs wrote a book calling the first dog an idiot.  The pack of dogs don’t realize that they are the extreme minority and are actually quite arrogant thinking that they have the whole of things figured out in their nice little world.

Report this

By karl griffin, December 13, 2005 at 7:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great article. Finally somebody who speaks for us 10%‘rs. The Attwood stuff about the 20th century ignores the fact that WW1 was fought by god fearing nations, mostly Christian.
And Hitler was a Catholic, and the German people overwhelmingly considered themselves christian, with much state support for religion, including mandatory prayer in schools. My 82 year old mom was born there in 1923. She assures me there was no American style separation of church and state.
Communism was a 70 yr. “flash in the pan”, compared to 2 millenia of “religious government”. Spare me, Mr. Attwood.
K.M.G.

Report this

By Mitch, December 13, 2005 at 7:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nothing new in this so called manifesto, just one worn out cliche after another. I have friends who are in both camps, as I am sure is the experience of many who read this article.  I find atheist can be just as narrow minded and irrational as believers can be.  This kind of writing does nothing but allow the one writing it to vent and more power to him, if he needs to do this sort of thing go for it.  I enjoy reading them, but they don’t sway me one way or the other.  I do however like a go write, and this was well done if not very orginal.

Report this

By Victor Panlilio, December 13, 2005 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

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. Now read any of the better science websites, and you’ll notice something curious: many scientists are _not_ atheists. Freeman Dyson, John Polkinghorne, Gerard Schroeder—physicists. Newton, Pascal, Godel—mathematicians—all of them theists. It seems to me that there’s a demonstrably false assumption here that scientists ought to be atheists, if atheism is somehow more rational than religious belief. I daresay that none of us posting here (or even Sam Harris) could reasonably claim to be more knowledgeable than the scientists and mathematicians I’ve cited, and yet we feel free to assert that atheism is somehow _more_ rational based on the claims of science and/or mathematics? Too funny!

Report this

By Alex, December 13, 2005 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I had another part of my post that doesn’t seem to have gone through so I’ll retype it again. It’s sort of an expansion on #227 about Socrates’ Euthyphro. As for the person who commented that the atheists capitalize the word god. God the Christian figure is meant to have his name capitalize, as you would capitalize Moses or Jesus. You don’t have to believe he exists but that’s his name and it’s a proper noun. If you’re referring to any god, then it isn’t necessary. Like Zues is a god and Hera is a god and God is a god. Here’s the second part of my post #288 that was actually supposed to come first

This is a quote from one of my philosphy teachers explaining Euthyphro by Socrates.

Socrates asks Euthyphro what piety is

First response: it is prosecuting the wrongdoer

Socrates: you are only pointing out a pious act, not the definition of piety

Second response: it is whatever is pleasing to the gods

Socrates: but the Gods are many and desire different things. How could they ever agree?

Third response: It is whatever all the gods love

Socrates: but do they love it because it is holy or for some other reason?

Euthyphro: because it is holy

Socrates points out that Euthyphro has now contradicted himself, because at first he said what is holy is simply whatever is loved by the Gods, then, following Socrates’ questioning, he changes his mind and says that what is loved by the gods is loved because it s holy.
Either the gods choose what is holy arbitrarily or they do so for a good reason
In the former case we are simply saying that the gods arbitrarily designate moral commands for no good reason; this means that right action is right simply because God decided it was right, and to say that God is good means only that “God does what He pleases.”
Most people would not like to think of God in this way; they want to believe that He is good and good for some reason.
But if God is good for some reason, what we are saying is that the good is something outside of Him and something He discovers.
What of God’s omnipotence then? If God discovers what is good, then He didn’t create it. Moreover, if God didn’t create the good, what did He create? If there is something that has an independent existence apart from him, what’s to stop us from believing that the whole universe exists apart from Him?
We can also conceive of certain logical constraints that we might impose on God: Can he create a rock heavier than he can lift?
Finallay, even if we reject that God is arbitrary and say that he discovers teh good, there is another sense in which we can say that God controls morality. He could have created us diffferently or made the environment we live in quite different, so much so that there might be a more appropriate moral code to govern our actions.
The problem here is that we now have to ask, “why did God create us this way and not another?” Was our creation arbitrary or for some reason? Here the same problems hold as they did in the previous example.

In short, is everything we consider holy holy because God says it is? Then couldn’t he decide rabbit fucking was holy and we’d have to do that? If he decided what was holy because it was there before him, he didn’t create it and he is limited in power. If God says it is holy because it was already holy before he decided it was, then it exists outside of his power and he is no longer omnipotent. He is just a guy who can’t do everything or perhaps even anything.

Report this

By Peter Foelsche, December 13, 2005 at 4:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”

it is not understandable that such a violent book is being handed over to children today.
And that people of such faith can lead us today.

Report this

By Maggie Richards, December 13, 2005 at 2:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A Christian is a man who feels
Repentance on a Sunday
For what he did on Saturday
And is going to do on Monday.
Thomas Russell Ybarra

No man with any sense of humor, ever founded a religion.
Robert G. Ingersoll

Report this

By bud, December 13, 2005 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The raped little girl is insignificant if there is no God.  You become insignificant. I become insignificant.  We become nothing more than mysteriously organized collections of hydrocarbons and it makes no difference what happens to us in any way. Merely compost.

If we claim significance, then what gives us that significance?  What makes a claim for or against a god, any god, important enough to argue for or against anyway?  What damage can religion do if the damage is nothing but a statistical anomoly?

What makes a young girls rape and torture more significant than the old man dying peacefully in his sleep?  Compost, either way.

Report this

By Ben Blish, December 13, 2005 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ward Roland writes:


Even though religion’s province has been steadily reduced by reason, it takes only staring into the lonely void of space to render reason useless in answering life’s ultimate question: why are we here?

This is not “life’s ultimate question.” This is an absurd question. It assumes facts not in evidence by presuming there is a reason and then assigns the ridiculous progeny of that assumption ultimate importance by assuming something else not in evidence: That life has purpose other than which beings, as individuals and groups, assign to it.

What reason do we have to come to this amazing conclusion? What evidence do we have that could lead us to it? What objective fact, anywhere, at any time, supports this line of reasoning?

The answers are simple: None; none, and none.

 

Report this

By Diane Chotikul, December 13, 2005 at 11:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Is there any way to e-mail or print out this article?  I would love to share it with friends…very well articulated!

Report this

By Lya Kahlo, December 13, 2005 at 10:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Blaise Pascal, the father of calculus, recognized that we humans can never know whether there is a God or not.  Such is the plight of the ungodly.  Knowing this, if you bet there is a God and there turns out not to be one, what have you lost?  A lifetime of living virtuously?  However, if you bet there isn’t a God and there is one, what have you lost? Everything.

That is why I accept “Pascal’s wager”. “

Let’s assume there is a god and a heaven.  If you get there and met any other god aside from the one you choose to worship - see you in hell.  Pascal’s Wager is a flaccid and stupid argument - perfect for supporting unsupportable “faith”.

Report this

By Pascal, December 13, 2005 at 9:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Response to Stephen Kriz..P.S. That Pascal “Wager” thing of mine only applies when the choice between “belief” and “disbelief” is voluntary (a person convinced by the facts cannot simply choose to believe contrary to them) and when the “God” is universally defined and recognized by all people. In this World,“Bet on” the Christian God and be wrong: You may go to Muslim Hell! Or one of many other bad places.

Besides, “betting” implies a degree of uncertainty as to the outcome;basically telling God that you have “some doubt” that he exists,but you’re entitled to the “goodies” if he really does.

I’ll pass on a Heaven filled with “Las Vegas” types,and a “god” that would reward THEM, thank you very much.

Report this

By Ken, December 13, 2005 at 3:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Tony Beamer.  You’ve identified a good point…but you’re wrong, because you’re forgetting the element of process. 

It is no coincidence that rising religious fervour across the world is paralleled by a strident criticism of liberal political philosophy.  Liberalism (in it’s original sense of limited government and the primacy of the individual - I’m European, so I realise that liberalism tends to be used in a negative sense by conservatives in the States) is under attack for being rudderless and nihilistic, for offering no structure and no absolute values.  But that’s precisely the point of liberalism to some extent.  It questions who decides what the structure is?  And is that structure the right one for all people.  Ultimately we may FEAR being free more than we yearn for it.  This is the problem of the human condition…

It’s quite possible that without religion we’d find some other excuse to slaughter one another and destroy our planet, but that is the fault of ideologies generally, and that includes religion.  I agree that ‘following the rules of something else’ might result in similar senseless violence and depravity.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  And that’s the big difference between the theist and the atheist.  The theist starts from the position that we need god to justify everything good.  Atheists don’t.  Atheists know that we’ve been making up the rules - both the good and the stupid - throughout our history.  WE must take responsibility now and WE must articulate laws that secure the dignity of the human individual - all of them. Atheism is a premise…nothing more.

Liberalism is the first articulation of a NON-ideology: it’s not just about the ‘freedom to’ do and be what we want; it’s also about the right to be free FROM the ideologies and dictates of others.  This is the first - and crucial - step.  The difference is that while humanity’s critical faculties are stirred easily against claims to the ‘right way, right society’ such as communism and Nazism, our critical insight is much slower to respond when it comes to religious ideology.  That’s the real danger of religion.  Because it draws on something more nebulous (and much older), it takes people much longer to figure out that it’s nonsense - and dangerous nonsense at that.

Liberalism and atheism are much alike.  We need them both to keep nefarious ideologies at bay. We undervalue them at our peril. This is about process.  We’re still figuring it out, and the human journey isn’t over - in fact it doesn’t have a destination.  We have to learn to jettison those things that retard human growth.  While we’re growing we need to recognise when we have a good thing.  Liberalism is a political atheism insofar as it respects the individual and his/her right to choose how to live a life free from spurious collectivist ideologies - both religious and secular - that crush the human spirit.  Our great challenge is to learn to refrain from trying to articulate the ‘moral life’ and recognise that there isn’t just one.  Beyond the basic principles of mutual respect we must learn to leave one another alone, only stepping in when fundamental principles of law are flouted.

For those religious who maybe don’t get the drift of the whole limited government concept, here’s a hint: if you want to remain celibate until you’re married.  Fine.  If you want to eschew contraception or the right to choose.  Fine.  If you believe homosexual relationships to be abominable.  Fine.  But stop trying to legislate for everyone else.  There’s no reason for your opinion to be elevated above those of others.

So, Tony, atheism cannot be a religion minus a god, or the imposition of values on others, because it doesn’t proclaim any values.  Like liberalism it asks that we leave the page blank so we can write our own rules.  It asks that we respect the fact that there are 6 Billion different ways to live a life.  The only caveat is that we don’t infringe on the freedoms of others…and that’s exactly what religions are trying to do.  The religious will claim that we can’t do that, and that the blank page will lead to immorality and hedonism.  Sorry, but all the moral systems we have to date were human constructs (contrary to popular belief) and none of these were perfect either.  Since the UN Declaration of Human rights we’ve started to move in the right direction though.  The UNDHR is by far the best articulation of mutual respect TO DATE (process again) - and it’s a secular document. 

It’s only ideologies such as religion that hold the process up.

Ken

Report this

By George McGinnis, December 12, 2005 at 11:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why did I take time to write a letter. I got this today and no letter of mine was printed or answered…???


You asked to be notified when someone responded to one of
your comments. Well, guess what: someone did:
posted just now on
An Atheist Manifesto

You can see and reply to the comment here:
http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/200512_an_atheist_manifesto/

To stop receiving notifications for this comment, click here:
http://www.truthdig.com/?ACT=2&id=767

Truthdig
http://www.truthdig.com/

Report this

By David Williams, December 12, 2005 at 11:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All said and done, the christian and the like have it over the poor atheist, if they are right they will know (the afterlife et al) whilst the atheist will never know. I rather be honest with myself and others and not succumb to christian mythology and the other crank religions that infest our world. Ultimately science unites, whilst religion divide. Great article.

Report this

By Tom, December 12, 2005 at 10:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Peter,

You are confusing faith with trust.

A baby at six months has a level of trust that mommy will come back. It’s happened before. Every night, generally. Why would a baby think that mommy wouldn’t be coming back?

You trust that the ATM will work because there is ample evidence that it has before. You don’t “believe” the ATM is there at all - you’ve either seen it there with your own eyes, or received directions from a source that has no reason to lie, or that has given you good information, or has a reputation of accuracy. You know that if it isn’t working, the bank will probably repair it. You probably still understand that the ATM may fail, because it is a human device, and we do somtimes make mistakes. If you think it may fail, you don’t have full trust in it. And that is understandable.

People equate science with religion for the same mistaken reason. They mistake trust for faith (belief). We trust that the scientists are right, because they have to prove to other scientists so. If we wanted to, we could recreate their experiments, and see for ourselves. Our TV and VCR work. Buildings generally stay up. I can light my home, and cook my food. This tells us - these scientists, they generally get things right. We see that science works and we trust them! But not blindly. Science admits it can be wrong - it says what it knows, and what is unknown - what we can’t trust. It is understood that better information (truth!) improves trust.

Trust is earned. Science is about building trust in prediction methods. Faith is where trust ends -  you don’t need to have evidence. In fact, if you have evidence, you no longer have to have faith, you have trust.

Hope this helps.

Report this

By Jim Devine, December 12, 2005 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

>One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religion. Many religious conflicts that seem driven by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are religious in origin. (Just ask the Irish.)<

the “Irish troubles” aren’t due to religion as much as due to a combination of several reinforcing factors: (1) ethnicity (Scots vs. Irish); (2) religion; (3) class (the Scots colonialists were privleged by the British); (4) British divide-and-rule techniques. The whole bit about Protestants vs. Catholics in the British Isles is about different ethnic/local identities, some seeing themseselves as gaining from alliance with the Pope, others not.

Report this

By Wendy, December 12, 2005 at 9:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m with Rick on post #197. One doesn’t have to believe in all the dogma to follow the teachings of Jesus. For me, the most important thing is not what we believe, but how we act. Whether I believe the stories in the Bible is irrelevant…do I live my life in a humane, loving, giving way?

I side with Ryan in post #198 in the same way. Assuming that those who do not believe in an interactive, supernatural being are inevitably hedonistic and amoral is to pre-judge, as in prejudice. More likely we non-theists take personal responsibility for our actions, not turning to that same deity for guidance or repentance, but to our fellow humans to hold ourselves accountable TODAY.

One other thing…I continue to see the word “god” bandied around like it only means one thing, but this is false. To some “god” is the supernatural deity, but to others like myself, the word refers to an all-encompassing love. It has nothing to do with a being. There is something greater than me—call it Nature, call it God, call it science, call it universal vibration—but I continue to believe I cannot control my entire world and that there are events beyond my control. It’s that creative energy force that I call God….but I do not imagine it as a being, and I do not believe that it proactively intervenes in my life. It just IS.

Maybe I side with the Taoists or the Buddhists after all. I just happen to like the idea of the Jesus Movement—the feminist, underground one that didn’t make the gospels. I enjoyed the article, and I appreciate the discussion. I hope that with continued discussion “a-theism” can gain more ground as a respectable way of life.

Report this

By brian jowaisas, December 12, 2005 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

it’s interesting that even some of the atheists on this post capitalize the word “god”...as if it actually deserves special recognition due in part to reverence or honor…i think it’s attributable to the indoctrination we have all received at the hands of well-meaning parents, teachers and mentors as we grow up…if the culture indoctirnated us with the belief that goats could fly and one day, if we just kept believing, we’d see it, we’d all believe that clap trap, too…

the brain is susceptible to physiological patterning based on repeated chemical and electrical stimuli…if you say something enough times, or hear something said enough times, the brain will begin to accept it as reality…i’m pretty sure religion, god and all the other dogma associated with it are simply the product of repetitive conditioning…

god, my ass…

Report this

By lightiris, December 12, 2005 at 8:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“You’re just another religion - minus the god. So, tell me why is this any better? It’s not.”

Atheism is religion?  This notion always pops up in these debates even though the idea is deeply silly and reveals a flawed understanding of what atheism is and isn’t. 

If atheism is its own “religion,” then, as someone once pointed out, not collecting stamps is a hobby and baldness is a hair color.

Report this

By Alex, December 12, 2005 at 8:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Now for the first part.

This comment isn’t a single argument, but a response to a bunch of comments before it. I put things in when I remembered that I wanted to mention them so it might be a little disorganized. Also, after further reading I realize most of these points have already been made so if you don’t like redundancy you don’t need to read this, it’s long.

I’ll start off by saying that I don’t think Sam Harris is telling religious fanatics that it’s bad to believe in something that will give you hope. I think he’s trying to tell us that it’s bad to believe in them to the extent that we’ll kill over it. Not to mention getting into such a stupor that we refute all evidence contrary to our beliefs on the grounds that it says so in our book. Well if the Bible was written after natural disasters had occurred, of course it’ll tell us to expect more. And if people disagreed with Christianity when it was being written, of course it would tell us to expect non-believers. But it’s the relentless will of the non-believers that kept them from being exterminated by crusades and allows society today to be full of debate over the subject. I’d like to finish this first argument by saying that an interpretation of the cause of certain events (the Bible, Koran, etc.) is not evidence but one point of view. Hence, “the Bible told me so” isn’t a great argument.

Comparing atheist alienation of theists with theist alienation of other theists is like comparing apples and oranges. On the one hand you have atheists who want everyone else to realize that there is no god and stop fighting over it. On the other hand you have people who believe that a book holds all the answers trying to convince or kill the people who disagree. It’s religion that’s spawning the confrontation, not atheism that is mimicking it.

As for the stubbornness of atheists in their belief and that of religions, I agree it’s a direct correlation. The more one side believes they’re right and the other wrong, the more the other side fights back to make a balance. But obviously the balance is becoming stronger and both sides less violent. Now we live in a world where many (not up-to-date with current events around the world) people can live peacefully, if not happily, with people of a different religious belief. I think we’re moving in a good direction and hopefully for each athiest arguer like Sam Harris there will be another religious arguer like Peter Attwood. The more both sides argue (peacefully, mind you) the closer to the answer we get. Think of how each scientific discovery has had a counterargument by religion. I look forward to a day where maybe we can all agree on something, where all the arguments presented are either proven or disproven. When we know if man was created by a god, if we evolved from single-celled organisms, if that god in fact created the organisms intending for them to evolve. It probably won’t be in my lifetime though, not to say that it won’t be possible in another of my lifetimes if they happen to exist.

Now to refute some of Sarah Sternlieb’s argument. I don’t think Harris was citing that the problems in the US are a direct result of religion, but that problems and the existence of religion have a direct correlation. You can’t account for everyone by saying that teenage girls brought up by religion don’t get pregnant or go to jail just because you didn’t. Maybe the strict religious up-bringing led the girl to rebel? Maybe the parents didn’t like the girl’s sacreligious behavior and kicked her out because they couldn’t handle her by putting a Bible in her face. And shouldn’t you be guilty of abortion if you ever used a condom? What about all those poor sperm and eggs that just go to waste? Isn’t killing something that could potentially become a person as bad as killing something that will most-certainly become a person? And to defend Sam Harris, if he were going to take his toys and go home, why would he put his work out there? If he’s got a book and articles published, that doesn’t sound like he’s giving up to me, it sounds like he’s ready to defend his point. But by all means, Sarah, kill the sacreligious bastard, if you want to, for believing in freedom (a woman’s right to choose) and peace (understanding and compromise between religions). Because Christianity has obviously created all peace, such as the crusades that stopped those satanists from making a counterargument, and the stubbornness that caused those towel-heads to crash into our building on 9/11. Please note that these are not my beliefs but sarcastic remarks made out of frustration, depicting the type of attitude many devout God-fearing people still hold.

Report this

By stupid anonymous, December 12, 2005 at 6:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hassan Ahmad said: “They forget that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed brought peace to violent, merciless people and changed humanity to peace loving, tolerating people. Just because those people went backwards does not indicate the religion is at falt, rather its the people who claim to follow the religion.”

It’s not that those particular religions are at fault, its that the idea of religion and faith is faulty. The same faith which justifies and encourages belief in peaceful religions also justifies and encourages violent religions.

Report this

By stupid anonymous, December 12, 2005 at 6:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Tony Beamer: Religious people follow subjective opinions of what God wants and what they want. Atheists and agnostics follow subjective opinions of what is right and what they want. What, really, is the difference?

Report this

By Ricky Jimenez, December 12, 2005 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Three things jumped out at me when reading Sam’s manifesto:

1. He doesn’t distinguish between atheists, agnostics and secular deists who reject organized religion.  All of them seem to fit his definition of atheist.

2. He blames all sorts of evil on the religious views of the perpetrator.  It may well be that the acts were done for some other reason and religion was just thrown in as a justification.

3. Sam’s stuff is familiar from 18th and 19th century writers, Voltaire, Shelly, Ingersoll, Haeckel, and a zillion more.  So can somebody explain his current cult following?

Report this

By Peter Foelsche, December 12, 2005 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks for this defense of atheism.
I think we can see some Darwinian process going on in religion. Only these religions survived, which somehow are not compatible with any other religion. Religions, which allowed other gods to exist in parallel, usually vanished. So what we are dealing with today is a selection of the most dogmatically of religions. This is still going on today – for example in South Korea – people are leaving their traditional religion behind to become Christians. Or did anybody ever see a proselytizing Buddhist?

Report this

By Alex Baldman, December 12, 2005 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Harris, thank you for injecting reason and rational thought back into today’s world.

There seems to be a lot comments using the Bible to justify the existence of God. My question is - how do you know that the Bible is the word of God and that it isn’t the word of mere mortal men?

Isn’t it possible that the Bible was written by man?

Report this

By Jeff Wismer, December 12, 2005 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No. 144 said:

This is what Christians have to fight for… most of us, if not all of us (believers of faith, God, Jesus) have not believed in a higher power at some point in our lives. Athiests have never believed in anything! They have NEVER seen both sides of the world and we have. I have confidence in saying how can you talk about something that you have never experienced? It’s like me saying wow, sexual interaction with a penis is amazing! Um… hence, my point- I HAVE NEVER HAD A PENIS, HOW CAN I DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS LIKE!
This is disturbing that you had to relate such a horrifying event in a girl’s life to make an idiotic point. If God were real… nah nah nah nah nah!
What has the human race come to?
You are trying to replace experience with your knowledge!

————————————————————————
Sadly, this is what most people who are indoctrinated in religious ideology think.  For those of us that have studied religion extensively, and have been sold hook, line, and sinker to practice their faith, we can say that we’ve been to “your side” and we’ve tasted everything “your side” has to offer, and we wholly rejected it b/c it made us sick. 

I bet I can make most theologians, of either islam or christianity do a tap dance around their belief system, and that ability has nothing to do with atheism, but due to the extent of my knowledge of how theology works.  I learned from teh best modern thinkers of religious ideology, and read the so-called best theologians, and philosophers.  The more I understood religious ideology, the more it made me realize that most people don’t even know what they’re subscribing too, and if they did, there would be a lot less “believers”. 

Anyway, its also interesting that most christians/muslims, would turn this into a your side/my side arguement, when its merely an issue of staying out of trouble.

Report this

By anthony cerminaro, December 12, 2005 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Note to Mr. Adelman. I thought my comment #173 would be recognizable as a parody of the famous, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” editorial from 1897. Here is the whole exchange.

Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas. 


“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.  Papa says “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON
New York, N.Y.

Note: Virginia O’Hanlon wrote this to the editor of the New York Sun in September 1897.

Mr. Church’s response was printed as a column in the New York Sun Sept. 21, 1897.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe unless they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith, then, and no poetry, no romance, to make tolerable this existence. We would have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

FRANCIS P. CHURCH
Editorialist
New York Sun
New York, N.Y.”

Report this

By John Minnis, December 12, 2005 at 11:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good write-up, Sam. Based on some of the responses, I fear we are a long way from reason in the U.S.

Report this

By Alencon, December 12, 2005 at 11:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was very much impressed by your position in “The End of Faith” and I found this commentary excellent.

I would like to comment on two points. First I would like to provide further evidence related to the correlation between societal dysfunction and religion. An article in the “Journal of Religion and Society” entitled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” concluded:

“…the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.”

In other words, the more religious a society, the higher the level of dysfunction such as high violent crime rates, high murder rates and all that nasty stuff. Tom DeLay not withstanding, maybe teaching evolution is PREVENTING more Columbines.

The second is related to your observation that “Religious faith is a conversation-stopper.”

I’ve found this to be true. We are expected to “respect” religious faith. Not only is one, based upon societal convention, not allowed to ask for evidence, one is not entitled to criticize beliefs which are irrational and dangerous as long as the foundation of those beliefs is religious.

I don’t advocate criticizing the beliefs of people who are simply minding their own business and keeping religion to home and church. But when religion steps into the public domain and attempts to mold society to its own conceptions of morality, as is occuring in the US today, then it abdicates any expectation that criticism is off limits.

Even folks that oppose the political influence of conservative religion in the United States often adhere to this concept of “respecting” faith and look upon any criticism of religion or faith as taboo. I find this to be a particularly dangerous position and I applaud you for speaking out against this ill advised form of politeness.

Report this

By Howard Bott, December 12, 2005 at 10:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am grateful to Sam for this tour de force.It summed up the futility of my from-childhood-onwards delusions. All my life I have treated religions like coats in a Salvation Army store. In the end none of them fit.

Eventually I realized that nobody’s god anywhere on earth, as described and preached, was good for much besides divison, fear and false security. I couldn’t see the sense of going to any of that god’s temples since they were the spawning grounds of all the madness. But they also spread generosity and love in the form of serving the homeless, feeding the poor and being optimistic, if ill conceived, lights in our sea-of-darkness world. But Buddhists do this too, most of them managing very well without either reference to or thoughts of any god. Rather than rationalism their way is based on common decency and the constant effort to minimize the bondage of self. But part of my awakening was the discovery that I didn’t need an organization in order to live with kindness and decency. So I satisfied myself by becoming a ‘smile millionaire’ and spending recklessly, helping to the limits of my ability and inclination anyone who crossed my path, being willing at the same time to accept any help they offered me. Nobody and everybody is the foundation of the world’s good.

As I got old I lost the feeling that argument ever served me well, even though as a teen I and my partner were state debate champions. So I decided that the way I lived my life would be my “argument.” (I must say that, if this is a delusion, it is a really good one.)

At seventy I am full of physical hurts and the realization that I am the last living member of a very large family. But I also know that mankind is my family, and I feel right at home in it because it is just as dysfunctional, and just as loving a family as the one I came from.

My idea of god, if I were to call it that, is the spirit of love. This, I have found, is everywhere at all times. Sometimes I am the only one on the scene who believes this. Other times someone else’s living it out before my eyes quickly raises my spirits and ignites my willingness to join in.

I don’t believe in an afterlife so much as a continuous life, this earthly life being only one snapshot in an immense album. I have no evidence for this, of course and will view with respect any postings to the contrary without arguing with them. Just as energy is not destroyed but changes form, I think life does too. When I recall my mind from its patrol of distant horizons of feeling, and center it in myself, all doubt of this vanishes. This too may be a monstrous delusion. If so, I just wish I’d had it earlier in my life.

The best to everyone and especially to you, brave Sam.

Howard

Report this

By PJ Denyer, December 12, 2005 at 10:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Belief in god is silly and ultimately wasteful, but it doesn’t makes people behave any worse in therms of net effect.”

True, but in many countries, including the US and increasingly the UK we are giving increasing authority to people on the basis of their devotion to this fiction. Surely rewarding unreason and a lack of rational thought cannot be a good way forward?

Report this

By Ian Pepper, December 12, 2005 at 9:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear me, if “Truthdig” is already “burying” comments that do not appeal to it, then you are off to a bad start.

I sent this recently, it seems to have been inadvertently mislaid:

Dear Sam Harris,

As a lifelong atheist, I essentially agree with you.

But a few INDISPENSABLE caveats:

1)Tracing apparently vigorously secular and anti-religious crimes (Pol Pot; the Holocaust) back to religion is a dishonest fudge. Let us atheists freely concede that in addition to Communist doctrines of Stalin et. al., contemporary fundamentalist delusions also include:

a)the “market fundamentalism” that, even according to a dyed-in-the-wool member of the political mainstream such as heroic environmental activist Robert Kennedy Junior, has already morphed into the American-style Corporate Fascism which threatens to wreck the planet entirely, and which is based on the principle of infinite growth of physical systems (the world economy, human population) on a physically finite system (the Earth), as well as:

b)scientism, which leads to delusions as bizarre as the one that “science is guaranteed to render nuclear energy safe and clean someday, so we can continue to ignore its dangers in the present,” which is, technically speaking, every bit as wacky as anything any fundamentalist would say about biblical guarantees of an afterlife.

2)People can be devoutly religious and also rational, as long as they are not fundamentalists.

3)Religion may seem irrational to us, but the empirical evidence we atheists claim to respect so much compels us to concede that the “rationality of the irrational” consists in the way in which religious faith often endows individuals with the moral courage, optimism and hope they need to work to improve this world.

4)Religion may be objectively untrue, but it is a poorly chosen enemy. The enemy is injustice and exploitation, and there are atheists and religious people on both sides of the divide. 

5)Atheists are not invariably people of conscience. We are often cynical, cold-hearted, manipulative, bastards. If you have ever fought for social justice, then you have found yourself, inevitably, in the company of devoutly religious activists.


Ian Pepper
Berlin Germany

Report this

By Caroline, December 12, 2005 at 9:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Brilliant.  Thank you for putting it all down in one place.  The monumental egotism of a person who believes that god saved them while killing the guy next door is really rather nauseating, isn’t it?

Report this

By diogeron, December 12, 2005 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Comment by Juanita Rosalina Mandez Vasquez on 12/08 at 11:12 pm

<I’ve always wondered why atheists concentrate on all the bad things in life and argue that it’s always God’s fault when they don’t even believe in God.>

I must have missed something. With all due respect, if you look up “red herring” in a dictionary on fallacies of reasoning, this could be the example. As an atheist, I have never, nor have I ever heard, a atheist blame “bad things in life” on God, probably for the very reason articulated above. It’s a contradiction in terms. We atheists think there are enough “bad things” that humans do to other humans (often under the “banner of heaven”) without dragging supernatural forces into the argument.

Report this

By Dick Marti, December 12, 2005 at 6:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Comment by Anthony Cerminaro on 12/09 at 8:12 am

“Reason leads me to a belief in God, not away from it. My reasoning is simple. Love exists. God is Love. Therefore, God exists.”

This is simplistic, not merely simple. It is also wrong. Even if God exists, such reasoning would lead you nowhere.

Report this

By confusedindian, December 12, 2005 at 12:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion is politics. It is one of the most important ways of controlling people, playing on their fear of loss and eventual death. It is one of the most marvellous and develish creations of human brain.

Religion will destroy humanity because it is counter-reality. At every point in history religion has halted the progress of human beings against nature and death which ultimately will consume all of us.

The cockroaches will laugh all the way until the sun burns out. They will not need a god to outlast man.

Report this

By analytic being, December 11, 2005 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Way up in the first 50 comments someone says that the idea of an “atheist manifesto” isn’t so good, rather what’s needed is the case for “secular morality.” Well, here’s my take on it.

My roommate has often said that morality is something given by god. That without it, we’d all be killing ruthlessly. Well, arn’t “we” all killing ruthlessly with god’s word, or shall I say, in the name of god? Does my roommate love his parents? The Bible says he should. I don’t see him calling them every day, more like once a month.

Well, what is morality? Virtuous conduct would be adequate to describe it. Who or what determines what’s good or evil? For starters, it’s easy to outline a few obvious Goods and Bads. Bad is causing pain to yourself, say chopping off your leg. Good would be being with someone you love. I gave examples of human interactions, one with self, one with others. Bad could also be someone you love getting hurt. Why is this bad? Because it FEELS bad. Fetishes are another story. Being with someone you love FEELS GOOD, vs. cutting of your leg, BAD.

Billions of years of mutations and selection has left us with wonderful abilities, like thinking, and feeling, both emotionally and physically. These have been, not only ignored, but persecuted by religion. The very act of circumcision is an act of mutilation to accept the covenant of god. BAD. Crusaders, Inquisition, Jihad, etc. All in the name of god, all murderers. Yet, this is GOOD in their eyes. Are they without feeling? No. They are human. They just don’t see others as human.

So, to conclude, secular morals would be simply human behavior. Let reason and love flourish. Societies where these are valued, namely in ones where religion is largely absent or does not play a large role in their society, are peaceful and they enjoy life. Visit http://www.violence.de go to the science page, click on The Origins of Body Pleasure and Violence and there you have it.

Report this

By Stephen Kriz, December 11, 2005 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Blaise Pascal, the father of calculus, recognized that we humans can never know whether there is a God or not.  Such is the plight of the ungodly.  Knowing this, if you bet there is a God and there turns out not to be one, what have you lost?  A lifetime of living virtuously?  However, if you bet there isn’t a God and there is one, what have you lost? Everything.

That is why I accept “Pascal’s wager”.

Report this

By Gary, December 11, 2005 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In #174, Thomas Ellis says “Religious belief, it seems to me, is non-rational rather than irrational. It says that simply because we can’t prove, or otherwise know, something with certainty, doesn’t mean that it can’t be true..”  Of course, religious propositions such as “God exists” COULD be true.  “God exists” is an important hypothesis to consider.  The problem is that most religious persons regard the proposition that God exists as certainly true, feel strongly about this, and behave in their daily lives as if it were true.  Most atheists believe not that the existence of God is impossible, but that the weight of the evidence is against it, that the probability of God’s existence is extremely low, and that belief is not warranted when a rational approach is taken.  Let me try an analogy.  Suppose someone gives you a lotto ticket today and claims that he has given you the winning ticket for the lotto drawing six days from now.  You are skeptical, but the benefactor says “just have faith”.  The probability that you have actually received the winning ticket is extremely low, in many cases 1 in 10 million.  It is irrational for you to claim to others that you indeed have the winning ticket, to give away all your possessions, and to withdraw all the money from your savings account and buy the most expensive car because, after all, you will have plenty of money after the lottery drawing.  Based on the available evidence, you are very unlikely to have the winning ticket and to completely modify your life on the basis of this belief is irrational.  The same thing applies to belief in God and other religious propositions.  The evidence for them is little to none, and therefore it is unwise to act as if they are true and completely design your life around such ideas.  There is an approach to learning about the universe and making decisions which has a very good track record; it works.  This approach is called “rational thinking”.  Religious beliefs are almost all irrational because they were reached by methods antagonistic to rational thinking.  For example, rational thinking says “look at the evidence and weigh it” whereas faith says “ignore the evidence”.  Rational thinking says “don’t promote hypotheses as truths” whereas faith says “promote hypotheses as truths regardless of the evidence”.  If religious people would start applying rational thinking to their metaphysical beliefs, as they apply it in many other areas of their lives, we would have a lot fewer problems.  Gary

Report this

By Marco, December 11, 2005 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In comment #153, Ahmed tries to prove the existence of (a) God by applying three laws of physics and claiming that one needs an “exception” to these laws in order to explain our existence. There are several problems with his reasoning:
Firstly, matter and energy are equivalent, and therefore the first two laws that Ahmed mentions are identical.
That leaves only two laws, the first and second law of thermodynamics. Now, the problem with trying to use to those to prove the existence of (a) God is that (1) these laws came into being at the exact instant that the universe came into being, and therefore no exception to these laws is needed in order to explain the universe, and (2) these laws apply to closed systems, meaning that a non-closed system such as the earth (which receives energy from the sun) needs no exception in order to explain things like evolution.

Report this

By God, December 11, 2005 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jeez, all this bickering and shouting over whether i exist or not! I oughta come down there and smack the holy proverbial crap outta ya all. Can’t you all just get along? No need to worship me—that’s all i ask. Now quiet down so i can get back to rooting for my favorite team…Don’t even bother asking. -God

Report this

By Leebuhrul, December 11, 2005 at 4:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

smile God almighty thy name is Sam Harris!!!! smile

This is the best articulated argument I have seen since Samuel L. Clemens.

I bow before thy wisdom and pray that your words may lead us to salvation

Report this

By Gary Weldele, December 11, 2005 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion is just another MEME. I find it ironic that many Christians deny Evolution while Chritianity itself has evolved, and is evolving; acquiring effective tenets while shedding less effective methods for centuries. Religion is just a POWER BASE, effective for those who manipulate the “sheep”, each religion attempting to become the ultimate and only answer to that inevitible “Unknown”. Science is the Savior. Simple and self evident as that simple statement is, it is still not understood by many otherwise “intelligent” people.

Report this

By Smallville, December 11, 2005 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“They can be a great people, Kal-El.  They wish to be.  They only lack the light to show the way.  For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son.”

—Marlon Brando as Jor-El, “Superman: The Movie”

I live every day on Earth, grateful that Superman is up there—in the sky, like a bird, like a plane—to watch over us and protect us.

Report this

By Mike Roth, December 11, 2005 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually, the universe was created by a magic leprechaun named “Lucky” who lives in an enchanted tree at the edge of the universe. One day Lucky will return to judge all of those who have not burned all their money, shaved off all their body hair and painted a green four leaf clover on their chest.

PROVE ME WRONG YOU WICKED UNBELIEVERS!

Report this

By Grant Rogerson, December 11, 2005 at 3:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great article. I read ‘The End oF Faith’ about a month ago at the same time as I read Stout’s ‘The Sociopath Next Door’. Now that made for some interesting connections when it comes to religious leaders pumping the faithful in holy wars and 9-11 style actions of all sorts.

On of the worst aspects of belief is it makes it so easy to have people set aside real morality in favor of carrying out the will of [insert god name here] to [insert heinous act here]. God said it was ok, so it must be.

We don’t need religion to cause us to do harm, but abrogating personal morality - that which comes from such things as respect for family, friends, the law and society - by becoming a slave to religious belief is a sure way to make things much much worse.

People like to make simple connections such as: X was an atheist and a brutal dictator, therefore atheism is not the answer. A matching answer is that since priest X molested 22 boys, religion is not the answer.  Neither comment is warranted. Neither of these little vignettes tells me what any individual might do. 

My own simple connection is in wondering how believers can acquire morality from an imaginary character. Atheism, being nothing more than an absence of belief in the supernatural, says nothing about the character and behaviour of people. But if you want people with higher ethical and moral standards, atheism is a good place to start since atheists are not bound by irrational chains of belief, ancient conflicted texts or dogmatic worldviews. They do, after all, live in the here and now.

Report this

Page 84 of 87 pages « First  <  82 83 84 85 86 >  Last »

 
Jennifer Grey / Truthdig

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Dig Director's Blog

Feb. 6, 2006

In recent days, crowds of thousands have gathered throughout the Muslim world—burning European embassies, issuing threats, and even taking hostages—in protest over twelve cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were published in a Danish newspaper.  The problem is not merely that the cartoons were mildly derogatory.  The furor primarily erupted over the fact that the Prophet had been depicted at all….

- - -
Jan. 26, 2006

While “An Atheist Manifesto” received considerable support from readers of Truthdig, a variety of criticisms surfaced in the reader commentary.  I summarize and respond…

- - -
 
 
 

Advertisement

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 


A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Zuade Kaufman, Publisher   Robert Scheer, Editor-in-Chief
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like Truthdig on Facebook