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



An Atheist Manifesto

Sam Harris argues against irrational faith and its adherents

(Page 2)

The Nature of Belief
According to several recent polls, 22% of Americans are certain that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years. Another 22% believe that he will probably do so. This is likely the same 44% who go to church once a week or more, who believe that God literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews and who want to stop teaching our children about the biological fact of evolution. As President Bush is well aware, believers of this sort constitute the most cohesive and motivated segment of the American electorate. Consequently, their views and prejudices now influence almost every decision of national importance. Political liberals seem to have drawn the wrong lesson from these developments and are now thumbing Scripture, wondering how best to ingratiate themselves to the legions of men and women in our country who vote largely on the basis of religious dogma. More than 50% of Americans have a “negative” or “highly negative” view of people who do not believe in God; 70% think it important for presidential candidates to be “strongly religious.” Unreason is now ascendant in the United States—in our schools, in our courts and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28% of Americans believe in evolution; 68% believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.

Although it is easy enough for smart people to criticize religious fundamentalism, something called “religious moderation” still enjoys immense prestige in our society, even in the ivory tower. This is ironic, as fundamentalists tend to make a more principled use of their brains than “moderates” do. While fundamentalists justify their religious beliefs with extraordinarily poor evidence and arguments,  at least they make an attempt at rational justification. Moderates, on the other hand, generally do nothing more than cite the good consequences of religious belief. Rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, moderates will say that they believe in God because this belief “gives their lives meaning.” When a tsunami killed a few hundred thousand people on the day after Christmas, fundamentalists readily interpreted this cataclysm as evidence of God’s wrath. As it turns out, God was sending humanity another oblique message about the evils of abortion, idolatry and homosexuality. While morally obscene, this interpretation of events is actually reasonable, given certain (ludicrous) assumptions. Moderates, on the other hand, refuse to draw any conclusions whatsoever about God from his works. God remains a perfect mystery, a mere source of consolation that is compatible with the most desolating evil. In the face of disasters like the Asian tsunami, liberal piety is apt to produce the most unctuous and stupefying nonsense imaginable. And yet, men and women of goodwill naturally prefer such vacuities to the odious moralizing and prophesizing of true believers. Between catastrophes, it is surely a virtue of liberal theology that it emphasizes mercy over wrath. It is worth noting, however, that it is human mercy on display—not God’s—when the bloated bodies of the dead are pulled from the sea. On days when thousands of children are simultaneously torn from their mothers’ arms and casually drowned, liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is—the sheerest of mortal pretenses. Even the theology of wrath has more intellectual merit. If God exists, his will is not inscrutable. The only thing inscrutable in these terrible events is that so many neurologically healthy men and women can believe the unbelievable and think this the height of moral wisdom.

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. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.” Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot.

Here we can see why Pascal’s wager, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith and other epistemological Ponzi schemes won’t do. To believe that God exists is to believe that one stands in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for one’s belief. There must be some causal connection, or an appearance thereof, between the fact in question and a person’s acceptance of it. In this way, we can see that religious beliefs, to be beliefs about the way the world is, must be as evidentiary in spirit as any other. For all their sins against reason, religious fundamentalists understand this; moderates—almost by definition—do not.

The incompatibility of reason and faith has been a self-evident feature of human cognition and public discourse for centuries. Either a person has good reasons for what he strongly believes or he does not. People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they possibly can. When rational inquiry supports the creed it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided; sometimes in the same sentence. Only when the evidence for a religious doctrine is thin or nonexistent, or there is compelling evidence against it, do its adherents invoke “faith.” Otherwise, they simply cite the reasons for their beliefs (e.g. “the New Testament confirms Old Testament prophecy,” “I saw the face of Jesus in a window,” “We prayed, and our daughter’s cancer went into remission”). Such reasons are generally inadequate, but they are better than no reasons at all. Faith is nothing more than the license religious people give themselves to keep believing when reasons fail. In a world that has been shattered by mutually incompatible religious beliefs, in a nation that is growing increasingly beholden to Iron Age conceptions of God, the end of history and the immortality of the soul, this lazy partitioning of our discourse into matters of reason and matters of faith is now unconscionable.

Continued: Faith and the Good Society


Dig last updated on Dec. 7, 2005

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By zen_less, December 9, 2005 at 7:20 am Link to this comment
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To all those who posters who claim atheism is just another belief system:

Atheism, is NOT a belief system, it is the lack thereof.  If I don’t own a car, you don’t say to me, yes, you are the owner of a “non-car.”

To all who claim that atheists are are as dogmatic as theists:

Well, goodness me, which is the group with the power?  Which group is foisting their agenda on our judicial, political and educational systems?  Which group has made it so that you have to believe in God to elected to office (look at how Howard Dean had to prove he was a believer) and that we all have to stand for “God Bless America?”  And all this happened while we were just standing back and making calm rational arguments and the Robertsons of this world were screaming at the top of their lungs.  So maybe a little shrillness and exaggeration to prove a point is called for because that’s what people listen to in our society.

And finally, to the poster who suggested we have a little sympathy for the poor deluded religionists:

Great idea, the next time I run into Lloyd Dobson on his way to the White House I’ll tell him how much sympathy I have for him.

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By Renali, December 9, 2005 at 7:18 am Link to this comment
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Sarah Sternlieb
- It would benefit you to do some research before you post such drivel.  Abortions, substance abuse, domestic abuse, incest – all these things have higher rates of occurrence in the Bible Belt of the US than in any other section.

It is an outright lie to say that girls raised with religion don’t get pregnant or have abortions.  They simply sneak in the back door.

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By Andrew Miller, December 9, 2005 at 7:11 am Link to this comment
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There’s not much sense in continuing our little debate.  Your comments suggest that you’re either very young, or too upset to discuss this issue without personally attacking other people.  In either case, it was interesting to talk to you.


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By Federico Kereki, December 9, 2005 at 5:55 am Link to this comment
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A great article—and I would add that the US are on the way to becoming a theocracy, as the much despised Iran.

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By Cynthia Bazinet, December 9, 2005 at 5:47 am Link to this comment
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Thank you so much!  You’ve done an oustanding job once again in articulating what so many of us think and feel on the subject of religious faith.  The responses of those who are put off or are downright offended by what you have written provide a nice little satisfying irony, as well, in that they inadvertently demonstrate so beautifully the points you make. 

Please keep doing what you’re doing; I’ve recommended your book to several friends who have found it as thoughtful, provocative, and ultimately satisfying as I.  Bravo!

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By Arthur Graaff, December 9, 2005 at 5:19 am Link to this comment
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The trouble remains: there is no, and will not be, academic, final proof God doesn’t exist (and I shudder at the thought there might be).

Arthur Graaff

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By Ahmed Alaskary, December 9, 2005 at 5:01 am Link to this comment
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To be honest, I feel that trying to even reason with someone like you over the existence of god is a waste of time because you are so convinced of your own belief. All there is to say is that much of your argument is based on two things:
the justice of god (or the injustice as you put it) and then you focus on the role of jesus in our lives. Now, I’m a Muslim, and so I too believe that Jesus was just a man, but even so, your arguments against religion still do not explain how we are here, because we are here. If you deny the existence of everything and everyone around you (as some athiest philosiphors have), you cannot deny your own existence- ” I think, therefore I am”. If you are suggesting that we are all a cause of a huge series of coincidences then fair enough, but that argument would mean a relience of the laws of science (which you cannot deny govern us). Of these laws, three are concerned with growth and development. The first is Law of Conservation of Matter: (everything must go somewhere), secondly, The First Law of Energy (First Law of thermodynamics): You can’t get something for nothing, and thridly, Second Law of Energy (Second law of thermodynamics): You can’t break even. Now, lets take the second law and work around that basis. To explain it, we take a theory mathmeticians adopt very often, we use the circle theory. Now suppose 15 men and women were sat in a circle inside a room, myself being one of them. Now suppose I said that no one could leave the room until the person to their right got up, would anyone ever leave the room? No, of course not, the system would be cyclical and therefore would not function. However, suppose I said no one can get up and leave the room until their person to their right gets up, all except person x, who the law doesnt apply to, he/she can leave whenever they feel like it. Would everyone eventually leave this time? yes, eventually person x will decide to get up and leave the room, and then the person to his right can get up and then the one to his right and so on and so forth- the system works. For science itself to work, and for growth to happen (which it has, no one can deny that) you need a single exception to the laws that govern us, because without that exception the system is stationary. The first law of thermodynamics clearly states that you CANNOT get something from nothing (i.e energy), that one exception to all the laws is god. The term god is just one given to the all-wise creator over time, it does not limit god in any way, so to suggest, as some athiests do, that by giving god a name or term of reference “humanises” him, is as pathetic an argument as one who says I cannot see god therefore he does not exist, because that argument is also completly destoryed by a method we adopt in our everyday lives- inductive reasoning. I could make 100s of other logical arguments to proove god exists, and please notice how my arguments are not based on emotion as your arguments are. Belief in god is one thing, but not all believers will go to heaven, you give the examples of Stalin and Hitler as people who belived in god but committed evil crimes against humanity, I add to your list, Osama Bin Laden. However, that argument is as pathetic as all your other ones, because since when did these people act as the representatives of faith and religion?? You’ve tried to twist it to make religion seem an evil thing, to aid your cause, but once again I remind you that throughout you make no logical arguments against the existence of god, everything is just emotion. May I suggest you read this small book, partiularly the opening chapter which deals with the existence of god… also, of you feel that you have strong arguments to disporve everything I believe, then please feel free to e-mail me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Ahmed Alaskary

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By Gary, December 9, 2005 at 5:01 am Link to this comment
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Re the comment of Open Jabber #47.  Actually, a careful examination of the evidence both for and against the hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection shows that it is extremely unlikely that there was a resurrection, and therefore to believe that there was, is once again, an act of faith.  For example, Open Jabber talks about the guards that were supposedly placed at Jesus’ tomb.  This is part of the modal story to which Christians are indoctrinated from the time they are children (I know I was), but it is full of holes.  Three of the four Gospels make no mention at all of guards placed at the tomb.  If guards were placed there, it is highly likely that such an important fact would have been reported by all four.  A good reporter just doesn’t overlook that kind of thing.  It is more likely that the story of the guards was a fabrication by the odd man out.  On the other hand, even if that fourth report were to be correct, there is still a problem.  According to the story, those guards were not posted until Saturday, even though Jesus was supposedly placed in the tomb on Friday evening.  Thus, there were at least 12 hours and perhaps many more hours during which the tomb was UNGUARDED, plenty of time during which the body could have been removed by friends or enemies.  The evidence in favor of a theft hypothesis is much stronger than that in favor of a resurrection hypothesis.  Over and over again, when rational modes of thinking are applied, religious beliefs are shown to be deficient.  Because the evidence does not support them, there must be some other reason why they are held so widely and intensely.  That reason is WISHFUL THINKING.  Gary

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By ADEEL, December 9, 2005 at 3:23 am Link to this comment
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The writer is confused. A person how can he understand the existence of God, when he does not know about his own self? Self-consciousness is the first step to comprehend God. In my opinion he should research on self-knowledge in the initial stage, then discuss on God.

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By ADEEL, December 9, 2005 at 3:12 am Link to this comment
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The writer is confused. A person how can he understand the existence of God, when he does not know about his own self? Self-consciousness is the first step to comprehend God. In my opinion he should research on self-knowledge, then discuss on God.

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By Patrick, December 9, 2005 at 3:00 am Link to this comment
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I’m a former rabid Atheist turned admirer of Buddhism.

Buddhism is strictly logical in its philosophy religion, encouraging individual thought and reasoning, not blind faith.  The only disagreement Buddhists have with Christians is the apparently illogical nature of their metaphysic. Otherwise, the bones of the doctrine are praiseworthy, founded as they are on compassion, love and selflessness.

Nevertheless, I agree with Doug Magee:  “Atheism is as wrong-headed as [theistic - ed.] religion when it fails to understand our a priori unity and is destined to scrapping with the faithful as long as it eschews a real compassion for the deluded.”

A serious problem is that many self-professed Christians are the worst possible advertisements for the faith. The bare-bones Christian doctrine is distorted in a thousand terrible directions, and this leads to untold suffering. Many atheists (appalled, quite understandably, by the horrific actions of many of the faithful) therefore turn to the opposite extreme: blind non-faith.  I believe this strict monist materialism is as grievious a mistake as its opposite - blind faith in the duality of the material and the spiritual (the Christian God is fundamentally separate from Man).

I believe that at a very fundamental level, one at which far too many simply will not permit themselves to think (and they should notice in this aversion the trappings of ‘faith in no-faith’) we are all one. The atheist and the Christian still have more in common than in difference between them - both are human, both want happiness and don’t want to suffer. Compassion is far more important than a belief you can justify logically.

When one considers that both theism and atheism are thusfar unproved logically, perhaps one comes to the realisation that all this unjustified talk serves only to deepen the divisions between us. Really it would be far more useful to explore our commonalities, extend our tolerance, strive for knowledge, embrace one another and be compassionate.


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By Victor Panlilio, December 9, 2005 at 1:10 am Link to this comment
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Hmm. Interesting article, but nothing really new. Turns out a very basic question is probably being glossed over by most folks, including Harris himself: “Why is there anything at all, rather than nothing?” All rational discourse about the very fact of existence proceeds from that question, and if you understand the second law of thermodynamics, it should be apparent why the question needs to be asked by all self-professing rational people, whether ‘atheist’ or ‘religous believer.’ The observed tendency of ordered systems is towards increasing entropy, yes? Disorder. Decay. Decomposition. Dissipation of molecules, the sundering of atomic bonds and so on and so forth. If we regard an ordered system therefore as time-limited, even if matter and energy are ultimately conserved, we have to acknowledge that the _organization_ of the system is never static unless we resort to the fiction of an ‘instant’ in time (if there is such a thing), and therefore a human be-ing is a _process_ as much as a state of organization. Is this ‘process’ _ever_ rational (whether atheist or believer or something in between)? On what basis can we make such a claim? Let me quote a cautionary passage from Harry Frankfurt’s wonderful essay, “On Bullshit”:

“The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These ‘anti-realist’ doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.

But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for the person to know. Facts about ourselves are not particularly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial—notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.”

So let’s be clear: rationality is not the same thing as sincerity. Including the sincerity of atheism.

Daniel Choi’s (#130) comment is an example of this brand of sincerity: “Either you believe the bible to be God’s written word (infallible) and therefore believe everything that is in there, or you reject the bible and go with secularism.” The choices aren’t quite so black and white. For one thing, it presumes a literalism that even a scientific illiterate would find laughable. Genesis 1 and 2 contain two rather different, contradictory accounts of the chronology of ‘creation’ (which bear striking resemblances to other creation myths). Now, this is not to say that the stories themselves are to be dismissed out of hand simply because they are NOT historical narratives. But this is a common error that many fundamentalists make—the facile presentation of polar opposites that ignore the nuances of context.

Daniel cited Richard Dawkins. Perhaps Daniel should also cite some of the writing of Francis Collins, whose bio reads:

Dr. Collins received a B.S. from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. from the University of North Carolina. Following a fellowship in Human Genetics at Yale, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he remained until moving to NIH in 1993. His research has led to the identification of genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease and Hutchison-Gilford progeria syndrome. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

Collins also happens to be the Executive Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. He wrote:

I think of God as the greatest scientist. We human scientists have an opportunity to understand the elegance and wisdom of God’s creation in a way that is truly exhilarating. When a scientist discovers something that no human knew before, but God did—that is both an occasion for scientific excitement and, for a believer, also an occasion for worship. It makes me sad that we have slipped into a polarized stance between science and religion that implies that a thinking human being could not believe in the value of both. There is no rational basis for that polarization. I find it completely comfortable to be both a rigorous scientist, who demands to see the data before accepting anybody’s conclusions about the natural world, and also a believer whose life is profoundly influenced by the relationship I have with God. Science is our most powerful tool for studying the natural world, but science doesn’t necessarily help us so much in trying to understand God; that’s where faith comes in.
I reject the notion that spirituality is something that will be explained by the study of the genome. The study of the genome will tell us a lot about our biological nature, about the parts of us that are mechanical, but I don’t believe it will tell us why almost every human being has a sense of longing for God. I don’t believe studying DNA will tell us where the sense of right and wrong we share comes from. I don’t believe it will explain why we have this shared urge to do the right thing, even to the extent of putting our own lives in danger to save another, which would be exactly the opposite of what evolution would suggest we should do. All those aspects of humanity are some of the best evidence that there is more to us than chemicals and DNA, that there is a spiritual part to our nature.
I think evolution is a very compelling explanation for the relatedness of living things on this planet. You can’t study DNA without noting the relatedness of the sequences between us and other animals, bacteria, and plants. But I don’t have any problem with putting that together with my belief in God as the Creator of life and in God as one who desires fellowship with humankind. If God decided to use the mechanism of evolution to create human beings, who are we to say that was a bad way to do it? In that regard, I would be called a theistic evolutionist, as are many people who work in biology and who also believe in God.

Hmm… interesting that it isn’t so black and white after all, eh?

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By Tony Kehoe, December 9, 2005 at 12:53 am Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood wrote, “Atheism gives no deliverance from any of this.  Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot were all professing atheists”.
This is a lie. Hitler was a Roman Catholic; Mao saw himself as a leader in the religious sense of the word; Pol Pot claimed himself to be the reincarnation of the Buddha and, whilst it is true that Stalin was an atheist, he learned his morals in the Russian Orthodox seminary.
Of course, if Mr. Attword DIDN’T know these facts, it implies that he hasn’t done his homework; but surely no pious Xian would fail to check his sources…?

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By david, December 8, 2005 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment
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This is a superb article.

Thanks for articulating the problem of religion so clearly and so relentlessly.

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By NH, December 8, 2005 at 10:42 pm Link to this comment
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Comment by Magnus Rasmusson on 12/08 at 9:12 am

“Thanks for stating the obvious. It’s amazing to me how 80% of this planet is suffering from mass delusion.”

Amen grin

In a couple hundred years, religion is going to be banned on earth.
Just watch StarTrek!
Gene Roddenberry = space nostradamus…

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By Juanita Rosalina Mandez Vasquez, December 8, 2005 at 10:37 pm Link to this comment
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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 find it funny that they always preach about religion and how stupid it is when their creating their own in their pompous cynical minds. Always pessimistic, and always trying to argue and fight about if “God were really real” why would this happen? Uhhhh! I think their just as stupid and ignorant as they probably see us (Christians) and probably don’t realize it because their so involved in their own beliefs and what they’re preaching. 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!

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By Dude, December 8, 2005 at 9:42 pm Link to this comment
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From God’s Word, there are only two kinds of religion: one true, one false; one right, one wrong; one that leads to life, one that leads to destruction.

Many folks think that all religions are pleasing to God. The following Bible verses show that this is not true:
Judges 10:6, 7
Mark 7:6, 7
John 4:24

How do religions measure up to this standard for true worship?
John 13:35
Luke 10:27
1 John 4:8

From the African slave trade. The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Approximately 18,000,000 Africans were delivered into the Islāmic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades between 650 and 1905. In the second half of the 15th century Europeans began to trade along the west coast of Africa, and by 1867 between 7,000,000 and 10,000,000 Africans had been shipped as slaves to the New World.”

What stand did religion take during this time of turmoil in Africa when men, women, and children were sent away from their homes and families, bound in chains, branded with hot irons, and bought and sold like cattle?

Bethwell Ogot wrote in the Daily Nation of Nairobi, Kenya: “Both Christianity and Islam adhere theologically to a belief in the unity of mankind, and yet both gave birth to slave-holding societies permeated with racial prejudice. . . . We should acknowledge the shared guilt between Muslims and Christians, between the West and the Middle East, and the moral blindness that led to centuries of immeasurable suffering for Africans.”

False religion shows its disregard for humans other ways. For example, the Bible says to “love your neighbor,” but religious leaders throughout the world support and promote warfare.

In 1994, many nuns and priests had a hand in the slaughter of people in Rwanda. Religion also had roles in other African conflicts. During the civil war in Nigeria, religions on both sides encouraged the people to fight. One pastor said that church leaders had “set aside the work given to them by God.” He also said: “We who call ourselves ministers of God have become ministers of Satan.”

The Bible talks about how Satan keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.
See 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15
Just as many wicked men pretend to be good, Satan deceives people with ministers who appear to be righteous but whose works are wicked and whose fruitage is rotten.

Throughout the world, religious leaders have preached love, peace, and goodness, but they practice hate, war, and ungodliness. The Bible describes them at Titus 1:16. They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works.

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By Ronald Orf, December 8, 2005 at 9:22 pm Link to this comment
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Open Jabber, no. 47- Your statement that it would be basically impossible for 12 people to die gruesome deaths for a lie is so patently upsurd I cannot believe you would proffer it. What about the 9-11 hijackers, the comet suicide cult, Jim Jones 1100 followers and literally MILLIONS of others who were willing to die for various christian and non-christian reasons. Do you read the papers at all? The “eye witness” sightings you speak of were written long after the fact and not by ALL of the apostles. Later church “scholars” cherry-picked the passages they wanted to include.

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By Bob, December 8, 2005 at 9:07 pm Link to this comment
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I am agnostic.

Have you ever noticed that atheists show every bit as much intolerance as the fundamentalists they so despise?

Atheistic arguments are typically no better than those of the religious.  For example, from Christine:

Here are two equally stupid, nonsensical, unprovable statements:

1) God exists.
2) An invisible, intangible, completely undetectable pink fluffy bunny lives under my bed and causes me to have cravings for carrots.


Well, here are two more:

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

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

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

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By Peter Attwood, December 8, 2005 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment
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I can’t begin to answer it all, so I’ll take a few points:

It always makes sense to know what is said before deciding whether it makes any sense, so let me address a few Bible basics:

To biblical writers, faith is not believing something for which you have no evidence.  That’s what they call presumption, whose consequences are death.  It’s not punishment but what happens when you overdrive your lights in the fog on a road you don’t know.  Religious people generally teach this, not because the Bible does, but because they don’t have good reasons and don’t want to go there.

Faith is being faithful to what you know eve though you don’t see it.  Babies at six months have been shown to know that mom is there even though she stepped out of sight behind a curtain.  The baby is not being presumptuous in this case to believe in what he doesn’t see, and we would not be impressed with his intelligence if he figured mom probably doesn’t exist because he doesn’t see her.

A typical example of how the Bible is perverted in the service of obscurantism is what they do to the statement that “without faith it is impossible to please Him because he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  They claim that you have to work up all kinds of conviction with no good reason to believe it.

In fact, it’s just a statement of how things are.  I go to the ATM because I believe it’s there and will give me cash if I stick my card in.  The ATM doesn’t require any mental gymnastics to work.  But I’m only there because I believed it was there and that it would give me cash if I used my card.  Take away either of those beliefs, and you won’t see me there.  Moreover, I don’t have to believe these with any great certainty; if I think these might be true and I need money, I’ll show up.  Accordingly, Jesus stated that faith like a mustard seed is enough.

Since others have missed it too, I’ll review the bidding on the statement that “the fool has said in his heart that there is no God.”  I’m not asking anyone to believe that because the Bible says so.  I only pointed out that the Bible presents this truth based not on itself but on our experience - that every time we play the fool, as we know this on our own terms, we discover that we were acting on the belief that there is no God.  This does not imply that disbelieving in God will necessarily make us behave foolishly - only that every instance of foolishness rests on having acted on that assumption.  It’s not talking about religious dogma but about a bet made at a particular moment.  It’s only written, by the way, to those given to careful self-examination with a view to getting it right next time, like Ted Williams saying, “Now how did that guy get me out.”

Yes I do understand circular reasoning.  I need to review that argument too.  Here goes.

If the doctor says that chemotherapy will make my hair fall out, that my hair falls out during chemotherapy doesn’t show that he is a bad doctor.  Maybe he is, but that it worked out just as he said is no evidence against him.

If the Bible says that false religion promotes all kinds of bad stuff - murder, robbery, fanaticism, and the like - when that happens this is not evidence that it’s a bad Bible.  Maybe it is, but that things work out just as it says is no evidence against it.

This then takes us to how we recognize false religion.  Jesus defined it like this:

“This is the judgment, that light came into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.  But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

That’s the two kinds of religion in the world - the only two, and we all practice one or the other all the time.  There’s nothing here about the Trinity, or the Bible, or Muhammad or the Buddha.  That’s all commentary.

If we’re trying to justify ourselves, or condemn others to change the subject, we’re loving the darkness.  If our first instinct is to show that someone else is wrong, instead of trying to see how WE might be, then we’re avoiding the chance to see things as they are, and so we’re loving the darkness.

Here then is further evidence of the God I serve.  The truth terrifies us when we love darkness, even when it lacks any coercive power.  The truth is power, depending on no other power, because otherwise people would not find it so essential to stifle it with all manner of lying and violence.

This truth, which touches everybody, and elicits a personal response, shows thereby that it is in fact personal.  People can step out against a fact, and when they learn better, accept correction - nothing personal.  But when we want to kill people for confronting us with truth - that’s personal.  We’re not responding to an impersonal fact.

There’s nothing unreasonable about truth, of course, but it’s more fundamental than reason.  Reason depends on it, because if truth does not own our hearts, our reasoning will serve whatever lie we would rather get to.  That’s why we’ve all heard the word “rationalize.”

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By Question, December 8, 2005 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment
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Do any people post here?  All I see is text.

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By Lurker, December 8, 2005 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment
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I can’t get past the first page. His response to the theodicy problem tells me he doesn’t fully understand.

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By Peter, December 8, 2005 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment
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Here I am living in Canada trying to get rid of my Catholic guilt and fear.  I loved Sam’s book, yet Catholic friends of mine would probably react with horror at Sam Harris.  Their thinking that “faith” trumps reason is not going to go away soon.  Even here in Canada, there are still lots of believing Christians. 

I find that many regular church-goers seem to be non-thinkers, just attending church every Sunday because it gives them a feeling of community, a place to have their baby baptized, a place for marriage and a place to die.  As they say in our very secular, formerly strict Caholic province of Quebec, the Church is now availabe to “hatch, match and dispatch”, but good for not much else.

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By J. J. Ramsey, December 8, 2005 at 7:20 pm Link to this comment
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Comment by Bob, the Atheist from California.  on 12/08 at 12:12 am

“Jesus is a Pagan Godman. All the previous Godmen also had last suppers, were sent to save mankind, were killed, rose from the dead and ruled in heaven, etc. For more information on this in movie form get this DVD. (Sam Harris is in it as well!)”

Aaggh! Such astounding ignorance. It’s understandable, though. To realize the depth of its falsity, one has to do quite a bit of research, as I did when I wrote the bulk of this review of the Jesus Mysteries.

And Mr. Randi, I hope that you are praising what Sam Harris got right, not what he got wrong. Certainly on the problem of evil, his eloquence is much better than his logic. (See for how tricky the issue can get.) When it comes to the religion and violence connection, I smell the rat of oversimplification.

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By Mark Plus, December 8, 2005 at 7:03 pm Link to this comment
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Daniel Choi writes,

The thing is, moderate Christianity makes no sense. Either you believe the bible to be God’s written word (infallible) and therefore believe everything that is in there, or you reject the bible and go with secularism.

Of course. The moderate christians use the same scriptures as the kooks and obsessives. Short of recalling all the bibles and replacing them with rationally defenible versions (sort of like the way Thomas Jefferson edited the gospels by cutting out all the woo-woo stuff about miracles, while leaving Jesus’ moral message intact), the bibles with the texts that can incite irrational behavior will still circulate and compromise the reasoning of the vulnerable.

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By Irving Krakow, December 8, 2005 at 6:59 pm Link to this comment
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Sam’s article is very well written, but like all such articles, it will go to waste. This is because he’s either preaching to the choir, or to believers who are closed-off from reality.

The challenge to people like Sam, and like myself, is to find a way to influence believers in such a way that they will become less committed to their beliefs.

Religion will not disappear as a result of logical assaults. It might be weakened more and more over time if a way is found to undermine the strength of belief by raising the right kind of doubts, doubts which will not go away no matter how hard the believer tries to escape them. This is the real challenge to those who understand the true character of religion.

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By Ellis Weiner, December 8, 2005 at 6:31 pm Link to this comment
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Harry Hughes—

  Damn it, man, you SHOULD be receiving combat pay.  I’ll see what I can do…

  I agree that belief in a god opens the door to belief in supernatural entities.  But it’s worse than that.  It teaches people, whether children or adults, to ignore their good sense, to discount their feelings of skepticism or doubt when confronted with something that doesn’t make sense.  This makes them prey to any demagogue, liar, manipulator, or fraud who invokes religion, piety, or patriotism.  How else to explain our Dear Leader’s voting base?  He doesn’t even go to church, but they think he’s the bee’s knees.

  Once an authority figure—your parents, your clergyman, your teacher—smothers your youthful doubt with the thought-suffocating pillow of “that’s why it’s a mystery” or “there are some things we can’t know” (or, more diabolically, the Jesuitical “Ah, yes, and do you know, lad, that St. Augustine himself asked just those questions when he was a boy your age…”) then you learn to discount your most basic responses.  In fact, it becomes a routine that runs automatically, beneath your awareness.  You “learn” to stop asking or wondering, and just tell yourself what the grownups have been telling you.  Compared to that, belief in crop circles is kind of bracing…

Oh, and, Andrew Miller—

  I’m willing to agree that there are certain kinds of “knowledge” that are non-rational, but then, so is Harris.  E.g., Buddhism.  But those kinds of knowledge—knowledge-of a state, knowledge-of an experience, as opposed to knowledge-that Jesus loves me—are by definition subjective and irreducibly personal.  Harris isn’t condemning all belief in transcendence.  He’s condemning the special pass that Judeo-Christo- Islam has received in polite society, by which its tenets and followers are shielded from serious discussion and accountability.  True, he’s also an atheist, but the only kind of religion he condemns and mocks are based on what Gore Vidal calls “the sky god.”  Your defense of non-rational forms of knowing aren’t really relevant in this discush.

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By Steve Freeman, December 8, 2005 at 6:21 pm Link to this comment
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I took four years of Philosophy and never once heard anyone mention even the possibility of a rebuttal to Pascal’s Wager (yea, it was a religious dept). I howled when I read yours and wished I’d thought of it myself. I haven’t read something so honest and straight forward in a long time—thank you!

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By Filip, December 8, 2005 at 6:19 pm Link to this comment
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Let’s say for a moment that there is God, if so Satan must be there too. What is Satan? Who is Satan? Isn’t he the one that is against God and his plan? Doesn’t he want us, human to fail? Don’t they say Satan greatest trick was to make us believe there is no God?

This is a bad example but let say you are Lucifer and you want to destroy the human soul. would you choose to be some atheist living in Los Angeles and all you ever did against God is that you don’t go to your family Christmas party and have a small blog and a website? or would you want to be president of a powerful country and go to war? Would you want to be a religious leader and commit crime is the name of God? Would you want to be a self called prophet and have many wife’s, wouldn’t you choose to be in a body of some one with status and power?

- 87% of American believes in God, and America has the highest crime in the world.
- 95% of the entire prisoner believes in God.
- 85% of Gang member have some kind of religious symbol tattooed on there body.
- nearly all the war that has been committed was in the name of God.
- the president ask God for enlightens yet God didn’t tell him where the WMD’s are
- American spend more time to go shopping during Christmas time than reading the bible in months of November and December.

WHY would Satan be just some little atheist men? If he could make you to believe there is God and he loves you and cares about you? And makes you to go to war, to kill, have many wives’s, become more powerful by teaching about God.

If there is a God and Evil, the greatest trick Evil did, is to make you believe that God cares as long as you give your life to him and obey him.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

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By Daniel Choi, December 8, 2005 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment
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A great article, well worth reading. However, I think Sam Harris is a bit unjustified in attributing religion as the basis for violent in the world. It’s not religion that needs to be dealt with, but irrational beliefs and practices on the whole; religion just happens to be among those irrational beliefs. Other than that this is a fantastic article.

I’ve lived in a Christian community most of my life, and I think it’s because of the irrationality of Christian dogmas that I’ve turned away from it. I have never gotten a straight answer from Christianity that could be attributed to the real world, and most of what I know and believe come from secular teachings. I think it’s just so sad that many people convince themselves of the bible’s truth without even looking into it themselves. The very fact that the bible tells of God’s character and that God is also its author makes the bible itself highly suspicious (it’s essentially God’s autobiography).

From what I can gather the bible is more of a hate book than a book of love. It shows God as a jealous, short-tempered jerk who only loves those who do what he says. The central message of the bible is “obey God”. The book of Job is a great example of God’s attitude where he inflicts innocent Job with horrendous calamities, and then justifies it in the end by saying that He is all-powerful and therefore, can do whatever he wants (might makes right). I don’t see how Christians could have gotten a kind, loving, gentle, compassionate God from the bible. Some biblical passage may say that he is good and loving, but his actions clearly say otherwise (and anyone who says something and doesn’t act it is a hypocrite, the very thing Jesus condemns).

I’d also like to comment on Sam Harris’ view that moderate Christians are the biggest problem. I used to think it was alright (I used to be a liberal Christian myself) until Harris and other atheists like Richard Dawkins convinced me otherwise. The thing is, moderate Christianity makes no sense. Either you believe the bible to be God’s written word (infallible) and therefore believe everything that is in there, or you reject the bible and go with secularism. If you reject (or interpret according to your own human preferences) even one part of scripture you’re not following the bible, and if you do so you’re not obeying God’s word. Christians should remember that Jesus said that scripture is absolute (Luke 24:44) and you should follow every word. If not you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian. Of course this means you must reject all scientific theories that don’t correlate with the bible (e.g., theory of evolution) and you should be in favor of stoning sinners to death and allowing slavery. I really encourage all Christians to make this choice; either be a Christian and do everything God commands of you in the bible, or reject the bible and live a secular life. As Harris and others have pointed out, it’s the most fundamental believers who are correct about their religion.

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By Harry Hughes, Ph.D., December 8, 2005 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
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Pardon me, but I accidentally submitted my last reply before I was finished writng.  Anyway, I am a New York City native and currently a full-time faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Salt Lake Community College, Utah. The vitriolic remarks I have had to endure because of my total non-belief in any supernatural phenomenon, including god, came as no suprise to me given that I teach in the LDS capitol of the world.  But, what disturbs me is the level of magical thinking among my students; men and women in their early twenties who maintain a literal belief in ghosts, angels, devils, alien crop circles and abductions, Big Foot, the prophecy of dreams, visits from dead relatives, and the list goes on.  It is my opinion that the “foot in the door” for all of these irrational thoughts is the belief in god.  If the supernatural (god) can be invoked to explain the origins of life and the world, then the supernatural can also serve as an explanation for anything. Evolution at this school is still regarded as a heretical “theory”, even by some faculty members. When I try to explain that science cannot accept supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, I might as well be speaking to my shoes.  Furthermore, the mystery surrounding all seemingly supernatural events vanishes instantly under the scrutiny of probability theory, something which too few Americans take the time to study.  On top of all this, I now have to deal with the latest religious gibberish, so-called intelligent design, a “theory” that a 12 year-old person with an understanding of even the most basic rules of probability could easily disassemble in five minutes. I should be recieving combat pay out here. Great piece, by the way.
Dr. Harry Hughes

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By David Steer, December 8, 2005 at 5:41 pm Link to this comment
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Methinks he doth protest too much!
Mind you some people say that Shakespeare didn’t exist. No really, if God doesn’t exist why spend so much effort denying his/her existence?

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By Ted Swart, December 8, 2005 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you Jake for your comment #29.  As you can see from my own comment #101 I agree with much of what you say.  However, your comment that you are “. . . resigned to living with the ambiguity of agnosticism . . .” might perhaps be replaced by a comment such as:

I am comfortable with the freedom which agnosticism provides.

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By Truth, December 8, 2005 at 5:37 pm Link to this comment
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Atheist and proud.  Religion IS the root of all evil.

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By Christine, December 8, 2005 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment
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Response to Andrew Miller:

> You assume that I’m a believer.

No, I don’t, actually. I assume you believe what you wrote.

> I’m not.  I have an interest in these issues,
> and may at some point come to a belief in God,
> but at present I’m more or less standing on the
> sidelines and sorting out my views.

You’re giving credence to irrational views, which is almost as bad as believing in them. Really, you’re quibbling. I look down on agnostics almost as much as religious types. They’re just as lacking in sense.

In fact, I even look down on weak atheists. Let me tell you why.

Here are two equally stupid, nonsensical, unprovable statements:

1) God exists.
2) An invisible, intangible, completely undetectable pink fluffy bunny lives under my bed and causes me to have cravings for carrots.

Unless you recognize both of these statements as being equally without merit and probably worthy of a trip to the mental ward, you are seriously lacking in logical thinking skills.

Is failing to believe in the bunny under my bed an act of faith? Should your claim that there is no invisible pink bunny under my bed be given equal ground with my claim that there is one? I can’t imagine anyone not seeking a philosophy degree reasonably answering yes to those questions. Why then do people erroneously assume the opposite answers when the question is about god and not bunnies?

> My intention was to point out that Harris was
> presenting only part of the issue, in order to
> give his arguments more force. 

No, I don’t buy that for a second. Your comments were clearly an attack (see “straw man”) and not simple obervational comments. You were trying to make yourself feel better about your religious wishy-washyness, not just making an impersonal observation.

> The epistemological debate about the validity of
> other (non-rational) sources of knowledge has
> been going on for several hundred years, and my
> point was that Harris pretends (for the most
> part; he gives a little lip service at the end
> of page two) that it hasn’t.

Wrong. You’re trying again to make a false distinction between good and bad religion, between stupid blind faith and your ridiculous nonsense about non-factual knowledge. He’s tarring you all with the same brush, and it makes you uncomfortable because you don’t like your fellow criminals. It’s not that he’s not addressing you, it’s that you don’t even recognize when you’re being addressed. You’re trying to claim this doesn’t apply to you, when it clearly does. Sorry, you’re just as much of a sap as the fundies.

> Also, you misquote me.

No, I didn’t. I COPIED AND PASTED. How can I possibly misquote when I do that?

> I did not says “there are other kinds of
> knowledge besides factual knowledge…” I said
> that that is a primary claim of sophisticated
> religious believers, which it is.  I didn’t
> endorse the claim, I cited it.

You cited that claim to support your argument, which is definitely an endorsement of its validity. If you’re sure they’re wrong, why bother defending them? You claim you’re on the fence, but why attack one side if you’re not leaning the other way? I think you’re lying to yourself (and all of us) about your motivations for posting here.

> Finally, why are you so hostile? 

Because I hate stupid people.

> Why did you insult me in your post (suggesting
> that I need therapy, or am childish, etc.)? 

Because I really, truly enjoyed it. It’s fun to mock stupid people! If you ever recover, you should try it some time.

> Aren’t these the same morally repugnant tactics
> used by fundamentalists?

You have two arguments in this question, both of which are stupid.

1) That if people you don’t like do something, it must be bad.
2) That it’s morally repugnant to insult someone.

1) Ridiculous. Fundies also have websites, write books, ask questions, make statements, and talk to each other. Am I just like them if I also do these things? Preposterous. Clearly, you don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with doing something that evil people do, you were just trying to support your argument with a little insult of your own, since you clearly intended to insult me (and the original writer!) by the comparison with the fundies. Very interesting, considering your second point, don’t you think?

2) Ridiculous. It’s morally repugnant to rape, murder without cause, torture, or lie to start a war. Insulting someone is at the very worst morally hazy. In the end, the only true moral standard is that it’s wrong to make someone else suffer. Suffering is loosely defined as pain times duration. So if my insults hurt you, one would multiply the depth of your pain by the duration for which you were forced to endure it to get your total suffering, and therefore my total wrongdoing. So. Are you still crying about it? If so, I apologize. I was trying to make you think (which might indeed be painful for you), not make you run out of Kleenex.

Sometimes, you can’t get someone’s attention by merely being polite. And sometimes, you can’t express your anger in a strictly nice way. And usually, it’s much more fun to just go ahead and tell them what you *really* think. And since the harm caused is clearly minimal (tissue?), I’m feeling pretty good about my advice to you to see a shrink. Most people could use a good one anyway.

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By Harry Hughes, Ph.D., December 8, 2005 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment
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Sam, your written manifiesto reads like the inner dialogue that has been running through my head since age 12 years.  Firstly, as you point out, the word “atheist” describes what a person is not and is therefore a true neologism.  I don’t believe in ghosts either, so am I therefore an apoltergiestist? No, I’d be thought of as pretentious and bombastic if I were to use such a term.  Yet atheist is what I am according to “theists.”

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By John Breyer, December 8, 2005 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment
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Leslie Allison has made one of the most shrewd and helpful comments yet.

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By Lytton, December 8, 2005 at 4:38 pm Link to this comment
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I’m an atheist.

Your introductory paragraph is not clearly on point and was chosen almost purely for shock value. It is in poor taste. It also reveals that you have some very strong anger issues about religiosity.

I don’t begrudge humans using whatever mechanism necessary to explain the universe, and that includes religion. Not everyone has the time, training and exposure to become an atheist. Religious belief can save lots of time and energy better spent on survival.

You also don’t do a good job of distinguishing personal belief from organized religion. In each there are some good and some bad things (e.g., organized religion provides many a place to meet others, a good thing, but OTOH the recently-uncovered pedophilia in the catholic church is bad).

I don’t see much good arising from this article: atheists already know what was said and religious believers aren’t interested in hearing it.

And you’re not interested in a dialogue, you just want to vent your anger.

Get over it. Life can be hard. There’s no need to carry the weight others put on you years ago, but that you continue to carry even after they’ve disappeared. Put it down and move on.

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By SoCal, December 8, 2005 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment
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Comment by Anthony Cerminaro on 12/08 at 4:12 pm

I agree with the comments of Mr. Miller (107), Morgan Allen (75) and A. Signalstation (22). The “Manifesto” is disappointing—too simplistic, full of distracting vitriol and sophomoric

With all due respect, until you come up with something that remotely approaches the level of sophistication in this manifesto…………………….

Well lets put it this way, Mr. Cerminaro (and Messrs Miller, Allen, and Signalstation), you are no Sam Harris.

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By Andrew Miller, December 8, 2005 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment
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Harvey Ardman,

Please see my post to Christine.  The gist is that I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a believer, and that I mentioned the idea that knowledge can come from non-rational sources in order to show where Harris’ argument was lacking, not to endorse the idea.

As for whether non-rational knowledge, or “faith” as you call it, is valid…  Well, let’s be clear.  This debate has been going on for a long time, and has been argued (from both sides) by philosophers with intellects that far outstrip ours.  I tend to think (though I wouldn’t say categorically) that non-rational knowledge is possible, but of course, if it is possible, then it’s not possible to discuss it or defend it rationally.  It’s part of a different ballgame.  To some people that smacks of psychosis, to others of a much deeper level of understanding.  To each his own.

And there are certainly monotheists who place limits on God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence.  This has been a fairly prominent (20th century, I believe) answer to the problem of evil in Christianity:  that God isn’t omnipotent, and his value to us lies not in his power to stop us from suffering, but from the infinite compassion that he offers.  Again, I’m not saying this is categorically true; I’m only saying that the issue is much subtler and more complex than Harris implies.

Other people are much better informed about these things than I am.  My only goal was to point out that even I know that Harris isn’t presenting the complete picture, and I think that’s disingenuous.

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By Andrew Miller, December 8, 2005 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment
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You assume that I’m a believer.  I’m not.  I have an interest in these issues, and may at some point come to a belief in God, but at present I’m more or less standing on the sidelines and sorting out my views.

My intention was to point out that Harris was presenting only part of the issue, in order to give his arguments more force.  The epistemological debate about the validity of other (non-rational) sources of knowledge has been going on for several hundred years, and my point was that Harris pretends (for the most part; he gives a little lip service at the end of page two) that it hasn’t.

Also, you misquote me.  I did not says “there are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge…”  I said that that is a primary claim of sophisticated religious believers, which it is.  I didn’t endorse the claim, I cited it.

Finally, why are you so hostile?  Why did you insult me in your post (suggesting that I need therapy, or am childish, etc.)?  Aren’t these the same morally repugnant tactics used by fundamentalists?

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By Harvey Ardman, December 8, 2005 at 3:51 pm Link to this comment
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I guess that means you should be able to find its flaws easily.

Where are your counterarguments?

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By Anthony Cerminaro, December 8, 2005 at 3:38 pm Link to this comment
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I agree with the comments of Mr. Miller (107), Morgan Allen (75) and A. Signalstation (22). The “Manifesto” is disappointing—too simplistic, full of distracting vitriol and sophomoric.

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By Gary, December 8, 2005 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
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In #45 Sharon says “And just who defines rationality and reasonableness…?”  Rationality is a rather specific set of methods, attitudes, and rules, and this set has been gradually developed over thousands of years, mostly by trial and error.  It is an approach for investigating the nature of the world and for making decisions which seems to work better than any other approach.  When rationality is applied to the question “Does God exist?” the answer is “very probably not”.  Because rationality demands open-mindedness, it can’t be said that “God definitely does not exist.”  Rationality is not the only thing we need but it is the FIRST thing.  There may be a few atheists who act badly, but this is because they have not fully applied rationality to life’s challenges.  Unfortunately, the very foundation of religion is irrationality, so it is not surprising that quite a large number of “believers” act violently, knowing through “faith” that they are enforcing God’s will.  Gary

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By Judith, December 8, 2005 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment
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After reading through most of the comments, and there are simply too many to digest thoroughly, I was struck by the sweet message sent by M. Watson who talked about extending a kind hand to those who need desperately to believe there is something, somewhere…someone who looks down on us, who cares and protects us.  As for the rest of the angry outcry, Shakespeare said, “Methinks the gentleman doeth protest too much.” 

That’s what it all seems to boil too.  People have their beliefs and they defend them voraciously.  It’s a bit of group dyamics.  If you can’t see it my way, and if I can’t change you, bring you into my group, perhaps I’ll have to kill you.

Sam Harris says in his book that people do seek spiritual experience, do need it.  He names several religions that are not war-like in their belief that everyone has to be converted or else.

Go back and read it again, or read it for the first time, if you haven’t already.  It’s full of thoughtful kindness as well as disillusionment over the way the world works.  Not just anger.  We all have to get by that anger in order to have an intelligent and kindly discourse.

What follows the debate?

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By Amy, December 8, 2005 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
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I’d like to comment on Bob’s comment in #39.  You say “It’s fine to believe there is a God somewhere.”  This statement seems contradictory to your subsequent comments.  Why is it fine to believe that there is a God but wrong to believe he has certain attributes?  I assert that it is not fine to believe that there is a God somewhere because to do so is to hold a belief with a moderate to high degree of certainty which is out of proportion to the existing evidence.  To do so is to reinforce the habit of irrational thinking on a very important question about the nature of the universe.  I would even say that to believe in God is intellectually dishonest.  Thanks, Amy.

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By Sten Ryason, December 8, 2005 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
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Sarah Sternlieb:

“Teenage girls brought up with strong religious grounding are not likely to be the ones getting pregnant and having abortions; you certainly don’t find Mormon children behaving this way. “

Um, yeah, you do. They just don’t publish the information. Interestingly enough, teens who’ve taken oaths to remain celibate, and whose sex education relies solely on “abstinence only” information, are more likely to become either pregnant or to contract a sexually transmitted disease than teens who are given a more biological, rational introduction to sex education. This was recently shown in a report by the government (currently a very pro-religion group).

As for Madalyn Murray O’Hair, it’s not really a fair comparison, as she was robbed and murdered by an ex-convict. It’s not as if she was the one who’d run off with the money. As for the atheists who “treat others like dirt, lie, cheat and backstab.” Gee, no Christian I know would behave that way…

Atheists do not need some terrifying father figure who says obey me or I’ll spank you (to mis-quote the movie Dogma). Strangely enough, we actually think it’s a good idea to treat others the way we would like to be treated. That laws are instituted by man (NOT God). That an underlying knowledge that this is the only life we have means we should certainly make the most of it, but not at the expense of someone else.

Atheists who profess to admire bad people (such as Conrad Black) because they did so well for their shareholders reminds me that white collar crime did not exist as such until the late nineteenth century. Christians did not believe that well-born people could commit crimes; they merely “broke the law.” Criminal acts were only committed by the lower classes. Crimes such as shoddy supplies to the military, or the non-delivery of goods after payment had been made were defined as “sharp business practices.” In other words, non-ethical capitalism. Committed generally by people who had a profound relgious faith.

Self-professed atheists who think that non-ethical capitalism is always justified are not just atheists, they’re also sociopaths.

Interestingly enough, many fundamentalists buy into this nonsense as well. They view success as ordained by God, and therefore justified. I believe Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were both good, Christian men…

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By Gary, December 8, 2005 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
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Re. Jake’s Comment #29.  Jake, you assume that Sam Harris is certain that God does not exist.  I have not heard him say that anywhere.  Perhaps, it is best to say that “Based on the current evidence, it appears that the probability of God’s existence is extremely low.”  This is not dogmatism.  It leaves open the possibility that new evidence may come along which justifies another view.  But this position is not agnosticism, which you endorse, which fails to make good use of probability thinking.  Atheism is LACK OF BELIEF IN GOD, a position justified by probabilities and the weight of the evidence.  There may be some atheists who are dogmatic, but the overwhelming majority are not.  Gary

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By Harvey Ardman, December 8, 2005 at 2:22 pm Link to this comment
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Andrew, you had me intrigued until I came to this sentence:

“There are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge…and these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed by non-rational means.”

You’ve clothed the idea in intellectual lingo, but it can be expressed (and usually is) in a single word: faith.

That’s what you’re asserting: that we can know about God through faith.

You say that the issue here isn’t the value of fundamentalism, it’s the value of rationality.

Well, the value of rationality is that it leads us toward understanding reality. The value of fundamentalism, if that’s the right word, is that it prevents us from understanding reality.

I don’t know about you, Andrew, but as for me, I’d rather have a shot at understanding reality, rather than adhere to beliefs that forever separate me from it.

I don’t buy it.

Faith is merely the uncritical acceptance of an assumption. Usually, this applies to belief in God, but any assumption will do.

I can have faith that it won’t rain on my parade. Or that my team will prevail. Or that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning.

Faith and $3.50 will get you coffee at Starbucks.

As for “other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge,” that phrase is devoid of meaning. If you think not, name me one piece of knowledge that is not factual knowledge.

If it’s knowledge, it’s fact. If it’s fact, it’s knowledge, assuming we know about it.

I’m also intrigued by another sentence from your post. You say that not all monotheists believe in a God that is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Beg pardon? Either God has the first two of these characteristics, or the term “God” is meaningless.  Can any power that is merely fairly powerful or fairly far-sighted be considered God?

As for omnibenevolent, every monotheist I’ve ever come across insists on that too and says we’d all agree if we knew what God was thinking, but since we’re not God, we don’t.

There are those who simultaneously believe that God is omni-everything but also believe in Satan. This has always puzzled me. God is an omnipotent being or He isn’t God. Where in that is there room for Satan?

We’re also told that we share in Adam and Eve’s original sin, because God gave us free will and we screwed it up. What test could a truly omnipotent God pose to which he didn’t already know the result?

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By Thomas Branson, December 8, 2005 at 2:08 pm Link to this comment
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In his diatribe on Sam Harris’ essay, Peter Attwood exhibits so many flaws in reasoning, that it is hard to know where to begin, but here are a few of the problems: 1) Attwood implies that Harris has presented no evidence against the God of the Bible, but the burden of evidence is on Attwood, not on Harris.  Attwood is the one making the extraordinary claim that God exists.  2) Attwood says that the Bible predicted the criticism from people like Harris.  Of course it did!  Almost anyone could have predicted that.  Many of the writers of the Bible were being taken to task at the time they made their claims and they probably expected the skepticism to continue.  It doesn’t take a revelation to predict that irrational ideas will come under fire in the future. 3) Attwood says that “Atheism gives no deliverance from any of this.”  But it is not meant to.  Atheism is not a program for making the world a better place.  It is a position that there are no good reasons for belief in God.  4) Hitler was not a professing atheist; he was a professing Catholic.  It is not surprising that his soldiers wore on their belts the phrase “God With Us”.  5) Although Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot may have been atheists, they had irrationality as the foundation for their ideologies, just as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam do.  Harris clearly points this out in his essay, but Attwood apparently overlooks it.  6) Contrary to what Attwood thinks, the Bible has not correctly described the world as it is.  According to the Bible, the Earth is flat and does not move, the world was created 6000 years ago, and people are born of virgins, all incorrect.  7) How Attwood can find evidence for God’s existence in Psalm 14 is beyond me.  Because the theist closes his mind to the evidence, he says in his heart that there is a God.  8) People are held accountable for their actions by other people.  Contrary to Attwood’s belief, there is no evidence that they are held accountable by any supernatural deity.  9) There doesn’t appear to be one shred of truth in all of Attwood’s statements.  His thinking is a good example of why a new enlightenment is needed in America.  And perhaps, Harris is the one to lead it.

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By Christine, December 8, 2005 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment
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To Andrew Miller: Sorry, you’re wrong.

You said:

“Second, the real issue here isn’t the value of fundamentalism, but the value of rationalism.

The whole of Harris’ argument is simply that believing in God isn’t rational.  This, of course, ignores the primary claim of sophisticated religious believers (and the claim that Harris should be addressing if he truly wants to debate the merits of monotheism):  that there are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge, and that these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed through non-rational means.”

Your problem is that you believe you have a more “sophisticated” view of faith than what is being attacked here.

The thing you’re not getting is that no matter how you dress it up, irrational belief is still as silly and childish as the fundamentalist attitudes being described here.

You can’t just say, oh, he’s attacking the worst examples, and I’m slightly better, so he should have to attack me separately. Nonsense. What you believe is just as stupid as what the fundies believe, sophistication and all. It’s all just as silly and irrational at the end of the day, and moreoever, you say so yourself: “there are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge, and that these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed through non-rational means.”

I hate to break it to you, but, no, there aren’t. And know, you can’t. And if you think you have, please see a psychiatrist.

This article address you just as thoroughly as it does the less “sophisticated” version of people who like to play make-believe: you just don’t want to recognize it. You’re in denial, just like them. You think you’re better because you say it a different way? Or because you hem and haw and adjust things when the evidence gets too stiff for you?

Sorry, no. You’re down in the dirt, playing with the other children. You’re just not special.

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By Ward Roland, December 8, 2005 at 1:57 pm Link to this comment
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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? That we will never know binds us inextricably, emotionally, and even ‘rationally’ to ‘God’ as the cosmological projection of parents as authors of creation, comfort, correction and condemnation. Similarly, ‘heaven’ is a ‘rational’ projection of the delayed gratification that comes with the discipline of a ‘good’ life. (Psychologists say humans SHOULD hold the delusion that ‘everything will turn out all right.’) So at their best, we should consider a heaven and God as benign extrapolations; at our most objective, as probably inescapable delusions; and at their worst, as more pervertable precursors of the more usable, universal abstractions that we seem, albeit in convulsive fits and starts, to be evolving toward.

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By Andrew Miller, December 8, 2005 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment
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First, let’s be clear: Harris is attacking a straw man.

Not all monotheists are fundamentalists.  Not all believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.  Not all believe that Jesus or Muhammed will magically swoop down to save them from ruin, or that those who aren’t saved are sinners who deserve to die. 

Harris presents a child’s view of monotheism, and then attacks it as if it’s the most sophisticated philosophy believers have developed.  Granted, many people do subscribe to this child’s view, but if your goal is to pick apart monotheism, you should have the intellectual honesty to pick apart its most sophisticated incarnation.

(And no, that incarnation isn’t the “moderate” monotheism that Harris describes on page two.  To suggest that there are only two kinds of believers—fundamentalists who believe in superheroes and moderates who believe only because it “gives their lives meaning”—isn’t just inaccurate, it’s silly.)

Second, the real issue here isn’t the value of fundamentalism, but the value of rationalism.

The whole of Harris’ argument is simply that believing in God isn’t rational.  This, of course, ignores the primary claim of sophisticated religious believers (and the claim that Harris should be addressing if he truly wants to debate the merits of monotheism):  that there are other kinds of knowledge besides factual knowledge, and that these other kinds of knowledge can be accessed through non-rational means.

In other words, if your are a sophisticated believer, you don’t believe in Jesus for the same reasons that you believe in the second law of thermodynamics.  You don’t weigh the factual evidence and reach a logical conclusion.  Instead, you come to that belief through non-rational, non-conceptual means.  These means aren’t easily described, but they have been put forward and debated for thousands of years in the literatures of all monotheistic faiths.

The fact that Harris ignores this body of literature (and in the process ignores the entire branch of philosophy called epistemology), coupled with his use of straw men and hyperbolic language, suggests that he isn’t genuinely interested in debating the value of religious belief, but only in advancing his firmly-entrenched opinions.

A trait, incidentally, that he shares with the fundamentalists.

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By Shari, December 8, 2005 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment
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The ONLY reason believers cling so tightly to their beliefs is out of their greedy desperation for an afterlife.

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By Archeaopterix, December 8, 2005 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment
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Some say gods existance can’t be proved or disproved. Well if it can’t be proved then it doesn’t interact with the physical world and if that’s true, then its existance, for all that matters in this world, is absolute irrelevant, just like the neutrinos existence is.

So let’s go to the rest of their arguments. They must believe that there’s life after death, otherwise the idea of a god doesn’t make sense.

But even life after death doesn’t guarantee the existence of any god.

What if there’s life after death and even there is no god up there?  Then that’s the paradise!!!

But let’s go further then, what if there’is a god, but it’s just a creator, did something, and now it can’t do anything else.

Then souls use that god as a ball and play football with it, or use it to keep doors open or something like that. If god existence can’t be proved or disproved, then this is perfectly possible.

What if we are gods for other beings (our dreams are living or something like that) and our gods are just beings in their own, having further gods and so on?

What if the world is really random? Does poverty ends just because a praying moron (believes he/she) understand the world?  We do not need to understand everything, in fact it is impossible, so why stick to an stupid explanation of everything?  Just to sleep well at night?

If the world is really random or just more complex that we want to accept, and we don’t really fully understand evolution, or thermodynamics, or economics or for that matter, the mechanism of why there’s so much religious people in the world; then we have a lot of stuff to discover, then we have a real purpouse in life, a worthwhile one, and is keep learning about the cosmos, and that’s a really enjoyable one, well at least for smart people.

And yes, the bible was written by human beings. Human priests that needed something to tell to the people to keep receiving their montly fee. Human drunk priests.

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By Uncle Vic, December 8, 2005 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood,

The denizens of the Usenet discussion group alt.atheism cordially invite you to post your opinions about this article so we can hash it over.  If you like, you can crosspost in a few Christian newsgroups for moral support.

We are already discussing it as of yesterday evening, feel free to chime in, or start your own thread.  I realize you have your hands full here, but regardless, we hope to hear from you.

Happy Winter Solstice!
Uncle Vic

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By Dennis, December 8, 2005 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
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News of disasters, natural or man-made, inevitably include scenes of the sufferers at worship. I have yet to see victims of tragedies cursing their god publicly or destroying their temples in retaliation for their god’s attempts to destroy them.

The human need to assign meaning to the meaningless, to seek solace for fear and helplessness hasn’t evolved since our pre-historic ancestors hunkered down in their caves trying to figure out what a thunderstorm was.

Consciousness enabled the development of mythologies to systematize the unknown but consciousness has not evolved to the point where the mass of humanity can move beyond myth. A consequence of this is that most of the thought and the art of all cultures has been directed toward embellishing and expanding mythologies into religious dogma.

The tools of rational thought, logic and science, provide explanations but do not provide psychological comfort and the need for that comfort is so powerful that it requires the maintenance of what I can only call delusional states of mind.

Attempting to bring awareness of this human condition to discussions of faith is pointless. No one will accept the idea that their beliefs are just the result of thousands of years polishing the idols.

It is a kind of sad fun to watch the wheels grinding in the minds of the faithful when they are confronted with the obvious contradictions, hypocracies, and tragic foolishness of our world as they strive desperately (except for pros like Falwell) to fit it into their pre-digested beliefs, to rationalize the absurd.

Unless they are willing to look honestly at first causes, people of faith will forever be stuck in the closed loop of thought that sustains their brand of mythology.

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By Michael Hochanadel, December 8, 2005 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
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Harris is so demonstrably right that all those who disagree brand themselves as ignorant simply by doing so. At a practical level, this is all really simple. Whatever the source of moral structures, they can all be distilled down to easy fundamentals based on the equal, shared and unarguable sovereignty of individuals. Don’t hurt anyone or anything. Keep your beliefs to yourself. Don’t expect your beliefs to govern anyone else.

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By Ted Swart, December 8, 2005 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris’ “An Atheist Manifesto”  article comes under a banner heading with the rhetorical question: “Imagine there’s no Heaven” .  This is the title of one of the essays by Salmon Rushdie in his remarkable book entitled “Step Across This Line”.  Rushdie’s essay imagines speaking to the Six Billionth Living Person and explaining why it is both wrong and unnecessary to succumb to the pressure to accept traditional religious dogma of one kind or another.  Rushdie suggests that “. . . freedom is that space in which contradiction can reign, it is a never-ending debate.  It is not in itself an answer to the question of morals but the conversation about that question”.  He ends by suggesting that “. . . we could refuse to to allow priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak, to be the policeman of our liberties and behaviour.  Once and for all we could put the stories back in the books, put the books back on the shelves, and see the world undogmatized and plain.  Imagine there’s no heaven, my dear Six Billionth, and at once the sky’s the limit.”

Although Rushdie’s essay covers much the same territory as Harris’ article it is a lot less strident and never once mentions the word atheism and does not need to do so. Despite Harris’ truly superb article which draws attention to many aspects of American culture which need attention there seems to be an inherent confusion about what it is that causes man’s inhumanity to man. The truth is that dogmatic atheism and dogmatic religion are closer to each other than meets the eye. Any claim to know all the answers is a false claim and Rushdie is right in suggesting that freedom and contradiction belong together.
In the end, there is very little to choose between Hitler, Stalin, Mao & Pol Pot and the religious fanatics that cause interminable suffering in Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Kashmir, Sudan and elsewhere.  In all these cases unsubstantiated and mindless dogma – whether religious or irreligious—results in unbridled and totally unnecessary suffering.

Whilst Harris is correct in saying that to a large extent “One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence” this contention loses sight of the fact that – time and time again – the evidence available is ambiguous.  Thus it is that I prefer to be classified as an agnostic rather than an atheist. Whilst I reject the overlapping concepts of God espoused by the worlds major religions I find it inappropriate to claim that I know all the answers regarding the nature of ultimate reality. Harris claim that “ Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved” is thus patently absurd.
In his discussion of the impotence of education to reduce the level of human conflict Harris may well be overstating the case.  Certainly, in a negative sense, an educational system which does not ensure a proper understanding of the scientific method does a good deal of harm and serves to encourage nonsensical religious beliefs.  And it is by no means illogical to suggest that if the American educational system ranked higher than it does in world wide comparisons (of numeracy and literacy) this would result in a far larger percentage of Americans accepting what Harris rightly describes as “the biological fact of evolution.” 

Let me not close on a negative note.  Harris’ dissection of the dangers and illogicality of moderate religious tolerance is truly superb. And his statistics about the gap between rich and poor in America —as compared to elsewhere in the world – is nothing short of staggering and extremely frightening. All in all an inspiring and challenging article

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By A.A. Murphy, December 8, 2005 at 11:38 am Link to this comment
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I read Sam’s book earlier this year. It should be required reading in every high school, public and private.

Religion has received way too much deference for way too long. The folks who believe that an invisible god micromanages the universe need mental health counseling. There is not a shred of evidence that any god exists, yet the religious still call the shots on our planet, imposing their madness on the rest of us.

Children should be raised to think logically and not rely on imaginary father-figures to get through life.

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By Theodore M. Drange, December 8, 2005 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
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You just present the Argument from Evil, but there is another, even stronger, argument for God’s nonexistence, and that is the Argument from Nonbelief.  See the book NONBELIEF & EVIL: TWO ARGUMENTS FOR THE NONEXISTENCE OF GOD.

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By Christine, December 8, 2005 at 11:23 am Link to this comment
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To Mr. Attwood and the other terribly sincere delusional types who felt so disturbed and disquieted by the truths contained in this manifesto that they felt the need to thump their bibles and wave their arms around:

That website explains why you have such a hard time reading documents like this. It explains why you come back with bizarre circular arguments that don’t address the real point. It explains, in short, why you have to stay crazy to stay sane.

Religious idiocy is not your fault, at least not entirely. It’s hard to accept the simple truth that no one is watching out for us from above and that we all have to take care of ourselves and each other if we want to survive and find happiness. It’s hard to look the finality of death in the face when cute little pictures of clouds and angels are lying around and look so much nicer and fluffier. Why believe something hard (however true) when you can believe something easy (however moronic)?

If religion were harmless, it wouldn’t matter that you people were insane. It would be cute, like kids believing in Santa is cute. Awww, look at the little Christians. They think they’re going to heaven. Isn’t it sweet? Only it’s not, because you’re willing to ruin other people’s lives over it, doing evil things like trying to outlaw loving relationships just because they happen to between two people of the same gender. It leads you to bad decision making on a regular basis, giving money to build a new church building while there are homeless people without roofs over their heads. It leads you to follow bad leaders like Bush, and listen to bad advice, and think increasingly crazy thoughts until the original message of Jesus (who was a pretty decent guy by most accounts) has been so lost and perverted over the years that most “Christians” since the apostles haven’t even been communists!

Communism was Jesus’s biggest message—love your neighbor as yourself. And he didn’t mean by giving a few dollars to charity or volunteering at soup kitchens, either. Did you see Jesus only giving a small portion of his large comfortable income to the poor? No. He was poor, and gave all that he had to others, and then some. If you’re not doing the same…you’re just a religious idiot with no real understanding of the only core of truth behind a couple thousand years of politics, persecution, and misery. You can thump your Bible all you want, but it doesn’t make you a Christian or a good person. It just makes you an idiot who believes whatever makes him feel good, and can’t even read a well-thought-out argument like this one without running to the Bible like a safety blanket, sucking his thumb and wanting Mommy (or in your case, “God”) to make it all better.

Because I understand the theory of antiprocess, I know none of this is getting through to you, and that you’ll probably try to refute this with your Bible in your hand. And according to your logic, that makes everything I’ve written here true! (According to you the Bible’s statements that people will try to refute it makes it true…so I guess my prediction of your attempt at refutation and the manner in which you will attempt it makes this true, too, huh? Woops, sorry, just tried to use logic. I know you people hate that).

So go ahead. Ignore my warnings. Refuse to address my real argument. Take one thing I wrote out of context, and then quote a semi-related Bible verse that proves I’m going to hell. I know how you people operate, and I know that you’re deluded. But I also know that it’s all in self-defense—it would hurt you so bad to admit that I’m right that you’d go nuts. You’re probably sitting there stewing right now, desperately trying to come up with reasons why it’s okay for you to not be just as homeless and poor and self-sacrificing as Jesus was and still claim to follow him. I’m sure you can do it, since your antiprocess must be incredibly strong after a lifetime of that kind of bullshit. It’ll be fascinating to see what your twisted mind comes up with, actually.

Post away! I want to see the crazy man try to think. smile

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By Dennis, December 8, 2005 at 11:21 am Link to this comment
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The bottom line, great article and I’m glad there are many more like me with questions on religion.  Also, bible or not, my outlook is this, if you want fulfillment out of life, don’t discriminate, we are all of the same blood, don’t judge people and treat them they way you want ot be treated.  The bible has some good in it and take what you will, in my mind it is still a book of fiction or stories with no real proof of being from the voice of god.

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By Robertdfeinman, December 8, 2005 at 11:18 am Link to this comment
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Those who like Sam Harris’ writings might also find the writings of Robert Ingersoll of interest.

Much of what Sam writes today was covered by him 150 years ago in a particularly witty manner.
Fortunately all his writings are available online so you can sample them for yourselves:

Another source that may be of interest is the book by Steven Pinker “The Blank Slate.” He tries to relate the rise of religion to some sort of genetic factor which provided an evolutionary benefit.

Finally, to the immigrant who can’t understand the re-emergence of religion in the US, it puzzles a lot of us as well. The fact is that in much of the industrialized world religion is actively practiced by only 2-3% of the population. If the trend is not reversed it may have negative economic effects for the US as well. Theocracies have very poor economic records. We are already seeing the fallout in areas like stem cell research where the US has lost its lead to the UK and Korea.

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By Ellis Weiner, December 8, 2005 at 10:43 am Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood—

  All of your most emphatic points are erroneous.       

  First, despite your statement to the contrary, the only “evidence” you present is in fact via reference to the Bible.  You say “there are many evidences that God is really there,” but the only one you present is a reference to Psalms.  But how could it be otherwise?  The only “evidence” believers have consists of the Bible (and their belief that it is the inerrant word of God), and their “faith,” which is a feeling. 

  Feelings are persuasive and give us the impression (another feeling) that certain states of affairs out in the objective world are so.  But no matter how strongly a three-year-old feels that people can’t see her when she closes her eyes, she is mistaken.  In fact, it is one of the purposes of every human’s education (at home, in school, wherever) to demonstrate the frequent discrepancy between subjective feeling and objective truth.  It looks as though, and therefore “feels right” to believe that, the sun moves around the earth.  A toddler who believes that is developing in a healthy way.  A 24 year old adult who believes the same is simply ignorant.

    Feelings, then, can lead us to error, no matter how strong, altruistic, harmless, self-evident, or sincere they are.  And in the end, that’s all that faith is.  It’s all it can be.  And while it is well and good to point to passages in the Bible that present truths about people and life, the Bible cannot be used as a source of proof for the existence of God.  This is so fundamental and obvious it shouldn’t require mentioning.  The Bible, it need hardly be said, was written from the standpoint of an already accepted belief in God.  God is one of its protagonists.  You can no more cite Biblical passages to prove God’s existence than you can quote Moby-Dick to “prove” that Ahab was real.

  Of course, in the end you can say that anyone’s endorsement of, say, science is based on a feeling, too—the feeling that scientific facts and theories and Standard Models are, or are probably, accurate.  I believe that the speed of light is a little more than 186,000 mile per second, not because I’ve clocked it myself, but because scientists have long said so.  I take their word for it.  You can say I take it “on faith.”

    But at least science equips us with—insists on—predictability and falsifiabilty.  All scientific assertions have been repeatedly challenged, modified, and updated.  Religion and faith are hostile to this sort of thing; indeed, faith is synonymous with and requires an invalidation of falsifiability.

  Your analogy between attacking the Bible and Christians, and anti-Semitic slurs, is invalid, at least in this discussion.  People who cite The Protocols do so to attack Judaism and promote their own (lunatic) religion.  But Sam and others are not blaming Christianity for monstrosities like, e.g., Pat Robertson.  They’re criticising all religions and religion itself.  The present nightmare circus of Christian fundamentalism and its proud wallow in ignorance is just one example.

  Finally, and speaking of arguments for the existence of God, I would be remiss if I did not point out the fact that you and all readers of this web site will find an additional source of keen insight, inspiring polemic, and unbelievably brilliant writing in the recently-published SANTA LIVES!  Five Conclusive Arguments for the Existence of Santa Claus, available at better and, indeed, some lousy, bookstores everywhere.  You’ll thank me for this.  The holidays are upon us, and it makes a great Judeo-Christian gift.

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By Lisa Smith, December 8, 2005 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
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Peter, in fairness re:
“I observe in one of my opponents your citing the beginning of my argument and leaving out the rest in order to give the impression that I have no “evidence” except a Bible verse.”

The only evidence you cite is bible verse. Although you indicate there is other evidence, you don’t present it in your first post.

If we want to talk about who is more barbarous we can debate endlessly whether the Inquisition, Al Quaeda, Witch Burnings etc, or Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Pol Pot have dibs on the title without it leading necessarily to a productive discussion.  The problem is IMHO, that none of these leaders was rational, but was some sort of power hungry ego-maniac or paranoid who got others to go along with the fantasy world he created.  So I don’t think any of them truly represent the religious or the rationalist mind fairly.

Your quotation of the psalm seems to imply that you believe in God in order to maintain an ethic in your life:

  “that no accounting will be required for my falsehood.  No one sees me, so I will get away with it, and besides, no one is taking care of me, so I have to take care of myself - and to hell with you if that’s what it takes.”

From a Humanistic perspective it is exactly the challenge and need to behave in a manner consistent with moral behavior in the light of the fact that no one does see my transgression that is part of what adds meaning to life and value to the human experience. 

I would be curious how this is then different from a non-atheistic view.

Also then for discussion, how do you counter the difference in giving trends in primarily atheist countries and the primarily theistic US? or the quality of life issues?  Then how do you feel about the question raised about why people believe.


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By grumpY!, December 8, 2005 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
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>> First, movements based on the primacy of human rationality have failed

the point of atheism is not to be a “movement”.

failures in human rationality do not infer that one should believe in something that is not there.

do you wish for the tooth fairy to pick you up should your car stall?

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By grumpY!, December 8, 2005 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
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great article, i too am an atheist. although i have no idea what the intro about a little girl being tortured has to do with atheism, and in fact i think it weakens your essay by introducing a pointlessly malevolent distraction. you should just strip it. atheism has a positive message for people who value rationality.

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By Tim Fuller, December 8, 2005 at 9:46 am Link to this comment
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Question for Peter.

How exactly can you help us stop the Christian crusade?  I’m assuming by the observed intellect present in your responses that you do have a problem with that.  Perhaps you’re just as happy as the next enlightened Christian to take up arms against the infidels?


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By Alicia, December 8, 2005 at 9:39 am Link to this comment
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Very well said Mr. Attwood.  It’s really an apples and oranges argument.  Christians, Muslims, Jews, and athiests alike have their own beliefs.  Everyone’s doctrine discredits everyone else’s. 

All of this is just more discourse to add to the already overflowing cauldron of what people should buy into.  Love it or leave it alone.

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By William Salyers, December 8, 2005 at 9:38 am Link to this comment
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Mr. Attwood, your reference to “dogmatic atheists” is ridiculous. Atheists are not making a knowledge claim. They simply refuse to accept knowledge claims made by others who lack evidence for those claims. There is nothing dogmatic about refusing to believe the unproven. Atheism is not a religion. it is not even a philosophy. To quote the brilliant and incisive article by Mr. Harris, “Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma.”
To paraphrase another comment made here, your response serves more in proof to Mr. Harris’ writing than refutation.

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By Michael Lawrence Alford Jr., December 8, 2005 at 9:34 am Link to this comment
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Once again, well articulated.

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By Jim Miller, December 8, 2005 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
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Now that the issues about the non-existence of supernatural beings is settled, how do we reposition the fundamentalists out of government?

Jim Miller

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By Thomas R Ellis, December 8, 2005 at 9:15 am Link to this comment
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Perhaps the only thing as unsettling as the certainty of a believer, is the certainty of an assertive atheist.  Whether made unconsciously or not, believing or not believing is a matter of personal choice made in the absence of incontrovertible evidence.  Atheism is to be without a belief in God, not necessarily a denial of God’s existence.  Assertive atheism - denying the possibility of God altogether - seems to be based on the conceit that everything is knowable by man if only you use the correct method of thinking.  But this is the same premise of believers who are equally certain.  These two positions seem equally ignorant to me.

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By Mike Purvis, December 8, 2005 at 9:12 am Link to this comment
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I haven’t got a whole lot to add, except to reaffirm that the pain and suffering present in our world is not a sign of the absense of God.

If God were to explicitly reveal himself, then there’d be no need for faith… the world’s economy would simply collapse as everyone spent all their time in Church ass-kissing God for blessings. If he were to always protect the prayerful, there’d be no free will.

I won’t try to presume God’s motives, but perhaps the 80% who felt their faith affirmed could already see the Lord working to bring good to a crappy situation?

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By Jeremy Targett, December 8, 2005 at 8:55 am Link to this comment
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Attwood wrote:

> How are you dogmatic atheists any different
> from your religious competition?  It’s just
> Pepsi and Coke, isn’t it?

This is the very lowest of responses, showing that reason has yet to penetrate the woozy clouds surrounding your mind. The atheist does not cling needily to a belief for which he or she has no sane justification; he or she *refuses* to believe something for which there is no justification. They are complete and total opposites. It does not require faith in anything at all to believe there is no invisible ghost in the sky watching over us, sending down his son to live among us, etc. No more than it requires faith to believe there is no Invisible Spaghetti Monster touching our souls with His Noodly Appendage, etc.

Although I’ve often noticed it’s pointless to expect a believer to follow the reasoning behind the refutation of the “atheism is just another religion” meme.

This is a terrific blog by the way. (And of course a terrific article.)

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By Rolaand J. Kohen M.D., December 8, 2005 at 8:51 am Link to this comment
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I enjoyed the mainfesto, and unable to explain why in 2005 we are seeing in this nation of separation of church and state we are experiencing such a rise in fundelmentalism. The idea of teaching ” Intelleigent Design ” with evolution amazes me. To hear Pat Roberts advovating the murder of the president of Venuzuela makes me wonder where his religion takes him.Bush and his belief that he has taken us to war because God talks to him. Why why in this day and age are we killing each other over whose myth is better. Sam Harris keep working

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By David Barton, December 8, 2005 at 8:37 am Link to this comment
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Quoth Sam Harris:
“If we want to uproot the causes of religious violence we must uproot the false certainties of religion.”

Great idea (seriously). Do you have a plan? Let’s hear it.

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By Harvey Ardman, December 8, 2005 at 8:22 am Link to this comment
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Peter, do you think the world would be better off with or without organized religion? Seems to me that the answer, if you read history, is inescapable: No single factor has cause more death, misery, hatred and division. And it shows no signs of getting better. Just the opposite.

I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, because that, too, is a belief for which there is no evidence. Is there a God? Not only do I not know, but neither do you or anyone else. Besides that, it depends on your definition of God.

I think we can all agree that meditating on First Cause—where did we come from—leads to intriguing thoughts. But it stops there.

And as for all of the rules, traditions, writings, predictions, assumptions, pronouncements of organized religion, they are just evidence of what happens when the fertile human imagination is applied to the task of gaining power over others.

My teenage son said it all quite well. When informed that in some religions, the ideas he was espousing would cause him to go to Hell, he said, “Oh well.” Then he asked what was for dinner. To my mind, this sums up the attitude we should all have toward the enormous and bizzare concoctions we call religion.

If you disbelieve this, try reading Revelations sometime and keeping a straight face. It is such a silly hodgepodge of nonsense that it couldn’t even get published today.

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By Magnus Rasmusson, December 8, 2005 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
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Thanks for stating the obvious. It’s amazing to me how 80% of this planet is suffering from mass delusion.

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By Calvin Hennig, December 8, 2005 at 8:14 am Link to this comment
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1. I concur with the article entirely. 2. I think religion and such beliefs are inherent and instinctive, and that is part of what blinds us. Said differently, we have a strain of emotion beneath the surface driving the belief, creating a need to believe. 3. It is not correct to say that only religion and/or God come up with proper moral codes. Immanuel Kant among others proffered a precept very close to the Golden Rule. Humans have an instinctive moral code all their own that is build in, just as they have an instinctive propensity to belief in god. 4. There is a difference between intelligence and ignorance. Intelligence is spread more or less evenly throughout humanity, throughout groups or bodies of people. Belief in god may feel good but blinds one to reality, thus promotes ignorance. 5. Any cultural historian will tell you that the view of god’s attributes changes over time in any culture. Take the feminist movement and making god feminine. My point is not political nor gender politics. God seems to change because we do. We project onto Him/Her. It is natural to do so. So much for timelessness. 6. Stop being children and take off the blinkers. Such a step will not make you less loving, more immoral, less poetic, or reduce your depth, your spiritual capacity in any way. The miracle is the gift of your feelings and wonder, not the projection of a god who created them. 7. If you must believe, then move toward transcendentalism, that is, a view that god is more a benign spiritual force that does not involve itself in the everyday nor in personal events. That at least will fulfill the instinct while removing the veil from one’s eyes that blinds us to what is really going on.

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By ross jorgensen, December 8, 2005 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
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I was raised in Denmark where Lutheranism was the state religion.  As boy scouts we couldn’t go on hikes on Sunday (we had school even on saturdays- 1/2 day) unless we attended church. This didn’t pay off for me as I am as you are. two points   As espoused often -  give me you child for the first 7 years and he will become me -  and then after all there are only three true groupings good people bad people and evil people within every community   of teachings
  Let us focus on this and read Nietzsche   he is a real commedian who could of written lyrics for Cole Porter or Mort Saul listen to this my man Fred (Friedrich):  ” men men men are just a pair of pants — not their love of men but the impotence of their love keeps Christians of today from - burning us.  To be sure there are enough imbecilic friends and corrupters of women among the scholarly asses of the male sex who advise woman to defeminize herself and shun freethinking —”  on and on and these are our only hope of societal redirection for men.

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By Leslie Allison, December 8, 2005 at 8:05 am Link to this comment
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Another “well-said” piece, Sam. Thanks. But, as you are pursuing neuroscience, I have a request for you and other like-minded atheist writers. I would like you to address the questions: Why do people, especially intelligent people, cling to these unsupportable beliefs? And: What can be done to facilitate their abandonment?

If “every problem started its life as a solution”, for what problem(s) are these beliefs the solution? What human need(s) is/are met by holding and perpetuating these beliefs?

If the adoption of these beliefs is an attempt (albeit unskillful) to meet legitimate human needs, and we urgently want people abandon these beliefs because we think that unless they are let go we face imminent and increasing danger from their consequences, isn’t it important to identify these needs and find reality-based ways that people can meet these needs?

Your writing is so wonderfully logical, but if people cling to these irrational beliefs in order to meet psychological and emotional needs, then I doubt logical arguments will be an effective method to facilitate the change in beliefs we agree is desirable and necessary.

It’s been shown that people with strongly held beliefs (religious or political, etc.) simply reject facts that do not fit into their belief system “frame”. Launching more and stronger factual arguments is perhaps a less effective strategy than working to shift or change the frame itself. How can that be done?

What process did the citizens of the non-religious countries you cite in your article go through that allowed them to give up these irrational beliefs and move forward to live quite healthy and happy lives without them? Can this process be replicated here and in other fundamentalist strongholds? If not would some other process to facilitate this belief system change work here?

You have made a convincing case that something needs to be done – and fast – before people acting on these irrational beliefs cause more harm to themselves and others. I would like you and other articulate atheist writers to talk about what needs to happen next to move us toward solutions.

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By Morgan Allen, December 8, 2005 at 7:56 am Link to this comment
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This article is largely bullshit.  There are plenty of good reasons not to believe in God, the existence of pain and suffering is not one of them.  Theists resolved that potential problem long ago by pointing out that evil events can result in greater good- amputating a limb, say.  Now, naturally, you can always claim that God, being omnipotent, could create a world devoid of suffering, but by the same token He could create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it, etc.  Different problem entirely.  A world devoid of suffering could not conform to the laws of biology, physics and probability as we know them, so there’s no point discussing the prospect.

This articles simply contributes to the inaccurate and negative perception of atheists as morbidly dismissive philistines.

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By James Randi, December 8, 2005 at 7:47 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris has done it again—eloquently, thoroughly, and clearly.  Would that I could express myself so well.

Living as we in the USA do presently, subject to governmental decisions based on “faith-based” notions, I salute this site, and will recommend it at every opportunity.

I trust that Sam will continue to include comments such as those from such as Peter Attwood, thus providing examples of the kind of misconceptions and fuzzy thinking that have encouraged and perpetuated belief in the ideas that we should have left behind in the 14th century.  These quite inadequate rationalizations cannot be invented—they must come from those who are thoroughly deluded and have closed off all access to reason.

Desperate attempts to blame the ills of our society on atheism would be comical if not so damaging.  Selecting out atheists who have brought evil on our species, is a specious and popular ploy with those whose delusions are threatened. When such frantic means are resopted to, we can see a brightening of the prospect for a proper respect for reason, ahead.

Kudos, Sam!

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By Charles Schisler, December 8, 2005 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
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It is absolutely amazing how people, including this author, fail to see what I discovered by myself when just a teenager.
It can be reduced to a brief axiom:

Since whatever it is that exists, is necessarily a part of the Totality - surely no part of it could create the entire Whole of existence! The infinite Universe is eternal.

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By JOE MARTIN, December 8, 2005 at 7:32 am Link to this comment
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Religious people are looking at the end result of millions of years of evolution and saying that it must a super intelligent person to have created all of this. The latest spin on this thinking is called “Intelligent Design.”

Atheists look at the same evidence and believe how amazing it is that all this took place from an accidental mixing of elements in the correct environment that created the primal soup, the microscopic forms of life, and from this goop every thing living today was created by millions of years of evolution.

If you think about it the first thoughts of where we came from and the creation of gods came about after millions of years of evolution. Perhaps if religious people used a different starting point they would believe differently.
Joe Martin Oceanside CA

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By Jeannie Dyar, December 8, 2005 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
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The scariest thing is how religion is infiltrating the world in so many guises…Example: went to see “The Chronicles of Narnia” on a free ticket after hearing things like “if you liked the Last Tempatation of Christ you’ll love this movie”....yet knowing that C.S. Lewis wrote it as a children’s book….also knowing that Lewis was Christian…Well “they” were right…The violence depicted under not very subtle Biblical symbolism could have only come from a Christian.  It is no wonder that the world is as it is when we feed our children such horror and lunacy….not to mention ourselves…

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By ron powell, December 8, 2005 at 7:08 am Link to this comment
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I was about ready to write a long rebuttal of the argument offered by one of the bloggers that Hitler was an atheist, but I came upon this site, which says everything I was going to say and more.

Of course, both atheists and religious zealots have proved that either can do horrible things, a fact which has absolutely nothing to do with Harris’ excellent post.

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By Stephen Johnston, December 8, 2005 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
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Just what we need, a secular atheistic religion. If you believe that dogmas and creeds are so dangerous and cause such misery (which I agree is undeniable), then why promote a new dogma?

I live in Europe and while people are defintely not very religious, I have not found Europeans to be dogmatically athiestic (and have a much more nuanced view about spirituality than the author has), in fact most educated Europeans I know are privately very spiritual people.  If dogma and prejudice are the root of all evil, then the author can be rest assured that if masses of people learned to accept his creed, the world would not be a more tolerant place.

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By Glenn Stoutt, MD, December 8, 2005 at 6:48 am Link to this comment
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Have read the book. Well written. I agree with your presentation. Absolutely no evidence of a personal supreme being.

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By Stronimo, December 8, 2005 at 5:36 am Link to this comment
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Why is religion such a potent source of human violence?

It’s not universal, it just be a Western phenomenon. I’m not aware of religious conflicts occuring between the Eastern religions, there were no Taoist crusades against the Shinto, for example. The curse of religious violence seems to be specific to the followers of the God of Abraham. I’ve read that Yahweh was once a war god, in the pre-monotheist era, and I wonder if that’s the connection (sorry, I can’t a reference for it).

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By Marga, December 8, 2005 at 5:14 am Link to this comment
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Walter Wink mentions in his book “Engaging the Powers” that it seems Christianity for the last 1700 years followed the Babylonian mindset under their human god MARDUK. Zecharia Sitchin explains in his excellent series of books but especially in “The Lost Book Of Enki” Marduks ancestry.
Are we in fact still being ruled by extraterrestrials, by humans from other planets? If that is the case the bible might make sense, however, I believe we humans have arrived at a development (technologically-the nuclear age) where the power of the bible and especially following it becomes suicidal.
Will we have the guts to arrive spiritually (there we still seem to be held back 5000 years ) at the level Sam Harris and so many other critical thinkers are?

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By Nancy Robertson, December 8, 2005 at 4:41 am Link to this comment
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I agree with everything you wrote. Great article.

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By Nick, December 8, 2005 at 4:15 am Link to this comment
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I live in a country where most people take a moderate and tolerant view of most things, so I find it a little difficult to understand the passion that runs through Sam’s article. 

For me, the self-evident explanation for religious beliefs is that they are systems of ideas that have evolved so that people who hold the beliefs are driven to pass them on to others.  Viruses of the mind, as Richard Dawkins so eloquently puts it.

Many people become infected while young and vulnerable, but it’s rarely fatal to the carrier.

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By JOSEPH DANDREA, December 8, 2005 at 2:46 am Link to this comment
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God, Jesus, Ala, Rah, etc., are society’s Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy! People are sheep.

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By Stefan Detrez, December 8, 2005 at 1:32 am Link to this comment
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Look out, Sam!

Some religious nut would love to do to you what ‘unbelievers’ (in Jewish, Christian and especially Muslim sense) ‘deserve’ according to their scriptures.

Too much fibered reason leads to religious constipation.

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By The Vampire Logos, December 8, 2005 at 1:29 am Link to this comment
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This was a well written article with only a few poor/invalid arguments.

1. The “argument from evil” is a weak argument that is only relevant to an omni-benevolent ‘god’, whereas even most “‘god’ of Abraham” believers don’t adhere to such an idea of ‘god’. Most believe that they are among the chosen few who will not be punished for this and that.

2.  Writing an article with arguments against an omni-benevolent ‘god’ along side an argument stating that most Christians would consider a natural disaster punishment for wrong-doing, without making the distinction in argument perspectives, is inconsistent.

3.  Unfortunately, (and strangely) Sam Harris didn’t mention that not only was Hitler not an atheist, but was a devout Catholic who believed he was doing ‘god’s’ work, as noted in Mein Kampf. 

4. The suggested correlation between social problems and religiosity was more comical than convincing and ignored factors such as different countries being socialist vs capitalist, etc. It’s a bit ridiculous to criticize “big company CEO’s” like Bill Gates for instance for giving a small percentage of their net worth to charity when ol’ bill is worth more than the GDP of most banana republics and annually give millions out of his own pocket when he has absolutely no obligation to do just that.

The Vampire

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By Jon Igelsrud, December 8, 2005 at 1:25 am Link to this comment
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Peter Attwood wrote: you’re just stupid

Wow!  Absolutely fascinating approach in defending your position there Mr. Attwood.  What keen and insightful reasoning!!  Did you learn that in Seminary?

Mr. Harris, you’re obviously up against an intellectual giant here.  Bet you didn’t see THAT one coming.

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By P Kelley, December 8, 2005 at 1:12 am Link to this comment
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My hope is that someday “God” will come down from “Heaven” and wash away all the “true believers” of whatever brand. A world with only atheist would truly be “Heaven on Earth.” Just kidding (maybe not), but it is a nice thought.

I feel have some understanding of why religon is. Some years ago my mother passed away. I was and still remain an atheist. However, with her passing I came to realize that death is one of, if not the, major reasons religon exist. It was hard when she passed and I wanted to believe that she was going some place better. To accept that there is no afterlife was something of a trial.

This idea of an afterlife, of something much better that the everyday real world, drives, IMO, the creation of religion. The establishment of a priesthood with all the rituals and institutions all follow from this basic fear of death. The desire that death really isn’t the end is a very powerful incentive for people to believe in religion. The establishment of a god figure that oversees all and judges each, give believers a being to focus their irrational fear of death on and a someone to, hopefully, bring them joy after death.

Of course, you must belong to the correct brand of religion and vigorusly, even violently, defend it. Any science, philosophy, or infidel religion that challenges these beliefs is considered heresy, witness Galileo and now Evolution. Both of which throw these beliefs into question.

When the “true believers” were on the margins of society, they were relativly harmless but now that they have ascended to the halls of power, they are truly dangerous. Since only they know the absolute truth, other views cannot be tolerated. Other views are heresy and must be suppressed.

Thank you for the article. It’s great to read a piece that makes no apology for being atheistic in its viewpoint.

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