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Finally! Sam Harris vs. Andrew Sullivan

Posted on Jan 17, 2007
Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan

Ladies and gentleman, the main event: The nation’s most prominent atheist dukes it out with one of America’s most eloquent defenders of faith. Check out the opening salvos in their “blogalogue” at Beliefnet or

From Sam Harris:

Where I think we disagree is on the nature of faith itself. I think that faith is, in principle, in conflict with reason (and, therefore, that religion is necessarily in conflict with science), while you do not. Perhaps I should acknowledge at the outset that people use the term “faith” in a variety of ways. My use of the word is meant to capture belief in specific religious propositions without sufficient evidence—prayer can heal the sick, there is a Supreme Being listening to our thoughts, we will be reunited with our loved ones after death, etc. I am not criticizing faith as a positive attitude in the face of uncertainty, of the sort indicated by phrases like, “have faith in yourself.” There’s nothing wrong with that type of “faith.”

From Andrew Sullivan:

I’m struck, in other words, by the difference between Christianity as it can be and Christianity as it is expressed by fundamentalists. You are struck by the similarity between my doubt-filled, sacramental, faith-in-forgiveness and fundamentalism. We Christians are all as nutty as one another, I think you’d say. And my prettifying up religion as something not-so-crazy or unreasonable therefore may be more irritating to you than even the profundities of Rick Warren or Monsignor Escriva. At least, that’s where I predict you will aim your next rhetorical fire. I’m braced.

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By Tom, January 31, 2007 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment
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Those who may be interested in a deeper discussion of this debate than I have seen here should check out this site: Debate

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By George, January 26, 2007 at 9:23 am Link to this comment
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“Faith, in principle, is in conflict with reason?  I can’t get my head around that.  Conflict?  Are apples in conflict with oranges?”

They are if you’re suggesting that apples is what you need for a nice glass of orange juice with breakfast!

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By B-man, January 25, 2007 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
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It appears that Andrew Sullivan is having his lunch handed to him in this debate.

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By Manila Ryce, January 17, 2007 at 9:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I always hear that we ought to “keep faith out of politics”. Unless every person in the country is an atheist, you’re never going to rid religion from the political system. And if suppression of freedom of religion is your plan then I say welcome to the USSR. Why not just keep insane people out of politics? Atheists don’t have the market cornered on rationality. They have their share of wackos too. To argue that religion is the problem is a grand oversimplification of the issues. Study Christianity and Islam then tell me that George W. Bush and al-Qaeda truly embrace their teachings. There is nothing wrong with these religions, only the people who claim to be members. Being intolerant of Christians because of Bush is as bigoted as being intolerant of Arabs because of 9/11.

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By Needlerdamus, January 17, 2007 at 9:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why do the religious refuse to notice the fallacies in their arguments?  What is so wrong with thinking for yourself?  Everyone needs to be willing to be wrong if it can be proven that there are no facts—or incorrect facts driving their positions on subjects like God.  Scientists will admit when they have been beaten.  Spiritual questions need separation from everyday common operations of life.  It cannot be proven if Christianity is right and everyone else is wrong.  In fact, all religions claim they have it right and everyone else is wrong.  They can’t all be right (according to them); therefore, they must all be wrong.  Twirl your fork in that metaphysical spaghetti, kids!

Smart people still want to believe in something intangible ruling their destiny (why!).  Or is that just a cop-out used to explain away failures and misfortune?  Is God a masochist?  It would seem that God gets used all the time.  Or…maybe we are control freaks.

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By m'Aimee Hatter, January 17, 2007 at 7:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

oh NOOOOOO!  I predict a gory one-sided bloodbath ending with the decapitated corpse of soft-spoken gay conservative.  What the hell is Andrew Sullivan thinking?  Sam is going to ANNIHILATE him.  Andrew is one of the only conservatives that I actually sort of enjoy, and he’s going to get killed in this arena.  I feel sorry for him.  :( 

bah, screw it.  Get him, Sam.

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By St. Otto, The Faithless, January 17, 2007 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment
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Personally, I prefer Sullivan’s questioning faith over Harris’ cocksure atheism.  This is a weak effort by Harris.  Surely as a trained philosopher he must know enough history of science ro realize that many of our scientific quests were and are motivated by blind, unsubstantial faith in premises that are ultimately false, while many scientific breakthroughs were made by persons of faith.

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By levi civita, January 17, 2007 at 4:08 pm Link to this comment
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Now how is this different from the debate on abortion? I am gonna love wasting my time listening to a nut-head going against a fat-head!

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By felicity, January 17, 2007 at 3:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Faith, in principle, is in conflict with reason?  I can’t get my head around that.  Conflict?  Are apples in conflict with oranges?  Are two parallel lines - at least in Euclidian geomentry - in conflict?  Does the artist’s rendition of a sunset conflict with a photograph of the same sunset?

Faith does not defy reason, nor does reason defy faith.  There is no conflict.

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By Rowdy!, January 17, 2007 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment
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They’d make a great couple… both hotties!

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By Lars, January 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm Link to this comment
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It’s simple: do you believe you are going to die or not? If no, then e.g. we should avoid giving you command over troops and other life and death issues.

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By Jim Reed, January 17, 2007 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment
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Harris is right on the money.  The absurd notions on which the three most popular modern religions are based in whole or in part(virgin birth, an all-seeing all-knowing invisible being listening in on the private thoughts of everyone on earth, a devil causing us to sin, book(s) written and re-written over centuries containing the literal words of god, etc.) show them to be no more worthy than the superstitions of the ancients.  To base one’s reality on such things in the name of faith is nonsense.  To question science on this basis is insanity.

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By HeadlessHessian, January 17, 2007 at 11:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Faith….is a leap of ...well faith!
Science is fact.
Apples and Guanabanas (google that one gang!).
Why bother arguing.  You are wasting your time.

How about if you argue about keeping faith out of politics..that seems a little ...
closer to home!


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