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Sam Harris: The Language of Ignorance

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Posted on Aug 15, 2006
The Double Helix and the Cross
Illustration: Karen Spector

By Sam Harris

(Page 2)

On the question of why God simply doesn?t provide better evidence for his existence:

If the case in favor of belief in God were utterly airtight, then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world, where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?

One is tempted to say that it might be more ?interesting? than a world unnecessarily shattered by competing religious orthodoxies and religious war, only to be followed by an eternity in hell for all those who believe the wrong things about God. But, to each his own.

How does Collins settle the problem of theodicy—the mystery of why there is evil and misfortune in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly benevolent God? He takes it very much in stride:

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Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process. The consequences of that can include the unpredictability of the weather, the slippage of a tectonic plate, or the misspelling of a cancer gene in the normal process of cell division. If at the beginning of time God chose to use these forces to create human beings, then the inevitability of these other painful consequences was also assured. Frequent miraculous interventions would be at least as chaotic in the physical realm as they would be in interfering with human acts of free will.

But why was God obliged to make cell division susceptible to the perversity of cancer? And why couldn?t an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly benevolent God perform as many miracles as He wanted? There isn?t time to entertain such questions, however, as Collins must solve all outstanding problems in the science of cosmology:

The Big Bang cries out for a divine explanation. It forces the conclusion that nature had a defined beginning. I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.

It is worth pointing out the term ?supernatural,? which Collins uses freely throughout his book, is semantically indistinguishable from the term ?magical.? Reading his text with this substitution in mind is rather instructive. In any case, even if we accepted that our universe simply had to be created by an intelligent being, this would not suggest that this being is the God of the Bible, or even particularly magical.  If intelligently designed, our universe could be running as a simulation on an alien supercomputer. As many critics of religion have pointed out, the notion of a Creator poses an immediate problem of an infinite regress. If God created the universe, what created God? To insert an inscrutable God at the origin of the universe explains absolutely nothing. And to say that God, by definition, is uncreated, simply begs the question. (Why can?t I say that the universe, by definition, is uncreated?) Any being capable of creating our world promises to be very complex himself.  As the biologist Richard Dawkins has observed with untiring eloquence, the only natural process we know of that could produce a being capable of designing things is evolution.

Any intellectually honest person must admit that he does not know why the universe exists. Secular scientists, of course, readily admit their ignorance on this point. Believers like Collins do not.

The major and inescapable flaw of ? [the] claim that science demands of atheism is that it goes beyond the evidence. If God is outside of nature, then science can neither prove nor disprove His existence. Atheism itself must therefore be considered a form of blind faith, in that it adopts a belief system that cannot be defended on the basis of pure reason.

Is disbelief in Zeus or Thor also a form of ?blind faith?? Must we really ?disprove? the existence of every imaginary friend? The burden of producing evidence falls on those making extravagant claims about miracles and invisible realities. What is more, there is an enormous difference between acquiring a picture of the world through dispassionate, scientific study and acquiring it through patent emotionality and wishful thinking—and only then looking to see if it can survive contact with science.

Consider the following fact: Ninety-nine percent of the species that have ever lived on Earth are now extinct. There are two very different questions one could ask about a fact of this sort, if one wanted to assess the reasonableness of believing in God. One could ask, ?Is this fact compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God?? Or, one could ask, ?Does this fact, alone or in combination with other facts, suggest that an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God exists?? The answer to the first question is always, ?Well, yes—provided you add that God?s will is utterly mysterious.? (In the present case, He may have wanted to destroy 99% of his creatures for some very good reason that surpasses our understanding.) The answer to the second question is ?absolutely not.? The problem for Collins is that only the second question is relevant to our arriving at a rational understanding of the universe. The fact that a bowdlerized evangelical Christianity can still be rendered compatible with science (because of the gaps in science and the elasticity of religious thinking) does not mean that there are scientific reasons for being an evangelical Christian.

Collins? sins against reasonableness do not end here. Somewhere during the course of his scientific career, he acquired the revolting habit of quoting eminent scientists out of context to give an entirely false impression of their religious beliefs. Misappropriation of Einstein and Hawking, while common enough in popular religious discourse, rises to level of intellectual misconduct when perpetrated by a scientist like Collins. Where either of these physicists uses the term ?God?—as in Einstein?s famous ?God does not play dice??—he uses it metaphorically. Any honest engagement with their work reveals that both Einstein and Hawking reject the notion of Collins? God as fully as any atheist. Collins suggests otherwise at every opportunity.

In his role as Christian apologist, Collins also makes the repellent claim that ?the traditional lore about Galileo?s persecutions by the Church is overblown.? Lest we forget: Galileo, the greatest scientist of his time, was forced to his knees under threat of torture and death, obliged to recant his understanding of the Earth?s motion, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life by steely-eyed religious maniacs. He worked at a time when every European intellectual lived in the grip of a Church that thought nothing of burning scholars alive for merely speculating about the nature of the stars. As Collins notes, this is the same Church that did not absolve Galileo of heresy for 350 years (in 1992). When it did, it ascribed his genius to God, ?who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions.? Collins clearly approves of this sordid appropriation, and goes on to say that all the fuss about Galileo was, in the end, unnecessary, because ?the claims that heliocentricity contradicted the Bible are now seen to have been overstated?.? (And what if they weren?t overstated? What then?) It is simply astonishing that a scientist has produced such a pious glossing of the centuries of religious barbarism that were visited upon generations of other scientists.

If one wonders how beguiled, self-deceived and carefree in the service of fallacy a scientist can be in the United States in the 21st century, ?The Language of God? provides the answer. The only thing that mitigates the harm this book will do to the stature of science in the United States is that it will be mostly read by people for whom science has little stature already. Viewed from abroad, ?The Language of God? will be seen as another reason to wonder about the fate of American society. Indeed, it is rare that one sees the thumbprint of historical contingency so visible on the lens of intellectual discourse. This is an American book, attesting to American ignorance, written for Americans who believe that ignorance is stronger than death. Reading it should provoke feelings of collective guilt in any sensitive secularist. We should be ashamed that this book was written in our own time.



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 contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. Mr. Harris is now completing a doctorate in neuroscience. His work has been discussed in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, The Economist, The Guardian, The Independent, The Globe and Mail,  New Scientist, SEED Magazine, and many other journals. Mr. Harris makes regular appearances on television and radio to discuss the danger that religion now poses to modern societies. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Several foreign editions are in press. Mr. Harris lives in New York City.

His most recent book is “Letter to a Christian Nation” (Amazon)


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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 17, 2006 at 11:44 pm Link to this comment
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Harriss gives a lucid and just account of shallow Collins, not an ad hominem attack . Collins shows himself a poor intellect in these matters, indeed, no better than a special creationist.

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By jon, August 17, 2006 at 10:36 pm Link to this comment
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If there is an almighty god, then the god would certainly wipe out all of the aggressive and bloody christians who violatge his “love thy neighbor” convenant. There you have it, there is no god.

Dead man does not rise from dead. It’s a scientifical impossibility and certainly unproven. There you have it again. The talk of rupture and all of the fairytailes are just fairytales.

If you want me to believe your almight god, simply ask your god to send a lowly angel flying around the capital hill and I will convert.

“put up or shut up” - anon

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By B8ovin, August 17, 2006 at 10:30 pm Link to this comment
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Can god freeze a waterfall even HE can’t thaw? If not why not? If so, why can’t he thaw it? C.S. Lewis missed the boat on two points: two thousand years of Christianity and a few less for other organized religions and man is still fundamentally ignorant of “universal truth of goodness”. Secondly, unlike Darwin, whose work foretold advances in science, Lewis’ work runs counter to new discoveries in behavior. Basing a worldview, much less a universal view on Lewis is self delusional. And I can still see know reason why anyone would find the universe “profoundly harmonious” and conclude that the Christian god is the default creator. There is little less harmonious in style, message and continuity than the Bible. It’s as if I looked into the mirror and took the evidence of my reflection to mean I am the handsomest man in the world.

  And large waterfalls do freeze. I’ve actually seen Niagra Falls frozen in pictures. I conclude from this that Neptune slowed the waters down long enough to freeze.

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By Lee Chauser, August 17, 2006 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
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I just wonder if Evolutionists can be more compassionate than religionists. Afterall, the religionist is sadistic when his faith is questioned. Evolutionists enjoy the prat falls that religionist fall into; that seems sadistic also. Evolution, kills the weak, and allows the strong to survive. Where does compassion come from, and why is it found in human nature. Perhaps you, dear reader, can help me shed any theistic illusions I may be harboring about compassionate human nature. Then, maybewe can go see Jurrasic Park again, have some popcorn, and enjoy the show.

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By Russell P. Rasche, August 17, 2006 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment
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I was disappointed in the total lack of intellectual evaluation of the text in question.  Instead, the author merely provided a diatribe against a belief in a devine being.  I can respect everyone’s opinion, but I atleast expect that a review of a book will be based on an intellectual analysis of its contents, not just an ad hominem attack.

Sadly, this is the state of the liberals in our society today.  They substitute animus and invective for rational thought.

The author has demonstrated his distain for people of faith.  It is certainly his right to believe whatever he wants, but why is he so upset by people of faith.  He totaly failed to educate his readers as to what the offense is.  Is he only offended at Christians or is he equally offended by Jews and Muslims.  I think the author should advise the readers to enable them to properly evaluate his article.

Personally, I am tired of politcal diatribe an hunger for intellectual evaluation.

It is time for the American people to stop feeling about things and to start thinking about things.

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By kapucom, August 17, 2006 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment
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I do not think that Sam has anything against Christians as human beings he seems genuinely benevolent to his fellow man. It is an important mission to point out untenable nature of hero worship (Jesus) and his points are logically irrefutable. It appears that the defensiveness of the people responding negatively to his ideas feel threatened by ideas contrary to the beliefs that have been driven into them for ages. Face it people, if there were a god and he was omnipresent and altruisitc then there would certainly be less ills in the world. Please stop trying to assuage your anxiety regarding your mortality and assume responsibility for your life her on earth .....now! We are all one people on this earth and this religious competition is just modern tribalism.
Remember Spiritual beliefs are stated about this divine Christ and Son of God, but Paul believes in a Son of God, not that anyone was the Son of God. And so the story begins…......

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By Cynthia, August 17, 2006 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
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Bravo!

I share your rage and disappointment, Mr. Harris.  Humans, despite their truly amazing advances, remain plagued by intractable idiocy. 

I wouldn’t trust one shred of “science” from this guy, either, after reading some of his musings.  He reveals himself to be no longer capable of true scientific inquiry, at least from the moment of his rapturous rebirth.

Thank you, too, for reading (and debunking) this tract so we don’t have to.  Just reading the excerpts here makes me want to soak my eyes in bleach.

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By Gloria, August 17, 2006 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
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You go out of the way to not believe. It doesn’t look convincing.
As long as the separation of church & state is honored, I could care less what religion someone else belongs to. It’s personal. It’s their business.

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By Lance, August 17, 2006 at 5:39 pm Link to this comment
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Scientific enlightenment is not an innoculant against dogma.  Consider Johanes Kepler, who spent years of his life trying to explain the orbits of the planets in terms of “perfect” geometric objects - the sphere, the cube, the pyramid, the dodecahedron…Why?  Because as a deeply religious man he believed that only these “perfect” objects would be employed by a perfect deity to organize the behavior of his creation.

Unfortunately, none of the models he created could be fit into the observations that were being made with the improving instruments of the day.

Then, the numbers coming in from celestial observations fell into a simple, elegant pattern.  Kepler developed three simple theorems which, I believe, survive to this day:

I. The orbits of the planets are ellipses, with the Sun at one focus of the ellipse.

II. The line joining the planet to the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times as the planet travels around the ellipse.

III. The ratio of the squares of the revolutionary periods for two planets is equal to the ratio of the cubes of their semimajor axes

Of course, rule I was offensive to Kepler because it did not fit the Aristotelian view of “perfection.”  But consider II.  What could possibly be more elegant than a simple rule that says plot the orbit, put a dot on the orbit to represent the earth’s position each month, and the area formed by each of the near triangles formed by connecting the dots to the sun would be EXACTLY EQUAL.

One would have thought that Kepler would pass out from having looked directly into the mind of his God.  Total, working, celestial perfection revealed in this one simple rule, and born out by all celestial observations to this day.  Yet, Kepler, a scientist who had made one of the most significant discoveries of a millennium, immediately gave in to his religious prejudices and spent the rest of his life fooling with ridiculous, failed models involving the sphere, the cube, the pyramid…and so on.

Religion…BAH!

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By Mad As Hell, August 17, 2006 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment
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“His article is throughout filled with suppressed rage.

Why, Mr. Harris, are you so angry with your creator? “

Maybe because He created so many dunderheads like you who refuse use His greatest gift, the powers to OBSERVE, THINK and REASON, but prefer the easy answers that belief gives you.

“All the desire and belief will not change what is coming.  I, at least have an insurance policy for the afterlife.  If it turns out I am wrong, what am I out?  What is the price an atheist pays is there is an afterlife? “

Pascal’s Wager.  An exercise in pure cowardice, a refusal to stand on one’s principles out of fear.  But that’s what religion does: Tries to scare us to death and then promises us Pie in The Sky with NO evidence.  And, of course, we have to give up our property and our souls in THIS life.

If there is an afterlife, I’ll be awfully surprised.  I’ll be even more surprised if the admission to Paradise is following a set of absurd rituals, and not living an honest and moral life, if atoning for your sins, but keeping on sinning is OK, but not being baptized sends you to hell.  Our universe is logical.  If there is a deity, He/She created a LOGICAL universe.  Surely if there is an afterlife, that is logical too—and it’s existence would simply be based on scientific principles we haven’t discoverd yet.

But irrational faith? Not for ME!

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By Bizby, August 17, 2006 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment
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Response to:
Comment #18811 by Robert O’Brien on 8/17 at 9:24 am

Actually, Robert, Sam’s opinions alone, captured in his book, which became a best seller, have earned substantial amounts indeed.  You can keep the dime.

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By jerry hamrick, August 17, 2006 at 5:10 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Harris,

Thanks for the review.  I suspect that the author was merely part of a team in his scientific endeavors and was therefore under watch at all times.  In my career in business systems I have seen many such examples, where the boss was carefully handled.

Can you give me the source for Dawkins’ remark about evolution and designing things?  I would like to read more about it.

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

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By robert puglia, August 17, 2006 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment
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amazing disgrace; genome loves me this i know for the science tells me so. can’t wait ‘til the particular gene which causes humans to surrender to the idiocy of god is sorted and weeded out. i’d cell my soul for the cure. human beings are no more capable of piety than they are of flight, not from the taint of original sin but because we are not birds. i’ll fly away one day, indeed.

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 17, 2006 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment
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Why the special pleading that one cannot be only good and have free will in Heaven but not on this earth .What is good for the one is good for the other.Theists prove too much in averring that we would be robots on earth if we could not do wrong ; the same applies in Heaven.Theists use the fallacies of all or nothing and strawman in asserting we atheists want paradise when we would settle for some evil , not all the evil . Why the horrid tests as even John Hick knows apply here? This is the definitive disproof of the free will defence. If there why , why not here? I expect circular arguments . Logic is th e bane of the theist.

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By David, August 17, 2006 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment
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using reason to show the unreasonableness of a person’s religious beliefs, even when those believes are intended to be based on reason, is a fools game. if someone has what they feel is a religious awakening and is a scientist then they will most likely want to explain to themselves and others their awakening in scientific terms. you can’t win people over to your position by using godless reason to overcome god centered reason. there must be some common ground related to how people treat each other in society that both sides can talk about under a shared context, regardless of how illogical one side feels the other side is. I think the authors considerable talents sound like a rant which will do little to bridge gaps between different world views. calling somene illogical is like gradeschool name calling playground behavior. all I can think of is someone calling back, as PeeWee Herman does, “I know I am and so are you.”  when will we stop preaching to the choir and engage in productive conversation?

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By Janissary, August 17, 2006 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment
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Bottom line: people like Harris loathe and fear God.  The reason: God stands between them and the power to reduce us all to mere moving matter, susceptible to manipulation and extermination (in the name of “science” and “progress” of course.)  He and Dr. Mengele are true soulmates.

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By SL Aronovitz, August 17, 2006 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment
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Mr. Collins should remember Occam’s Razor is not a disposable. The commentor who mentioned Collins as going from epiphany to redundancy was right on the mark. Good call.

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By John Eitel, August 17, 2006 at 1:55 pm Link to this comment
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Oh boy, Ed, where do I start?  “christianity deals with theodicy by ignoring it.  your response is, in many ways, inadequate.”  No, it does not ignore it- it is a point of emphasis for many pastors and expositors.  If my response is inadequate, yours is inaccurate.  I’m not trying to start a flame war here, but for the sake of others who are reading this, your inaccurate statement must be challenged.

“i can simply put to rest all of your assertions by pointing out that God is omnipotent, which actually means he is all-powerful.”  Then why are you so reluctant to worship Him?  He could easily crush you into dust, if He were all-powerful.  Why should He brook your rebellion?
  “so, any all-powerful being is capapable of doing anything (now whether that means doing anything logically possible is a different argument).  so, if god wants to eliminate NEEDLESS suffering, he can do it.”  And who gets to judge whether suffering is needless or not?  Suffering is suffering, deserved or otherwise.
  “its that simple - there is no need to speak of free will.  there is nothing illogical about preventing or stopping the suffering of a child trapped in a fire.”  I’m sorry, but what did I say about God’s workings being illogical?  If God did stop a child from being burned up in a fire, would you believe?

...  “any worthy god would prevent the suffering of those creatures he spent six days to create from dirt.”  Who decides whether God is worthy or not?  Did we make him, or did He make us?  Is a lawnmower going to criticize its designer for not using a more powerful motor?  If God exists, He is our superior, else there is no God.

“also, you are equating suffering with evil here.  true, there are evil deeds done by men.  but there are plenty of examples i could give of suffering that has nothing to do with free will.  nobody willfully contracts cancer and suffers their final days in a hospital bed, idiot.”  True enough, I did equate suffering with evil, and that was wrong.  Also true, no one chooses willfully to contract some dread disease.  Viewed with a longer lens, though, should it be a surprise that people are getting sick, since some other people consciously chose that making cheap food is easier than making safe food?  When we decide that it’s too much trouble to keep the mercury out of our power plants, and it ends up sickening us?  We are subject to the whims of other people, like it or not, and often those whims hurt us.

“and finally, given free-will a person is able to choose the “right” at any time…  here we can see that there is nothing illogical about god (who can do anything, remember) creating humans with free will who “choose right” EVERY time - ridding the concept of manmade evil from the world…”  Our positions don’t conflict here, except in one place.  We are able to choose the right at any time, but why don’t we?  I believe we have all had situations where we knew what the ‘right’ choice was, and took the other one.  And what if we disagree about what the ‘right’ choice is; what’s right in God’s eyes isn’t always right in our own.  Which ‘right’ do we choose?

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By dkedkedke, August 17, 2006 at 1:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t know.  I’m always skeptical about anyone who starts with an ad hominem in a review of someone elses work.  I’d be more convinced if there were a bit more objectivity and less agenda from Sam.

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By TD, August 17, 2006 at 1:14 pm Link to this comment
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Chris,

Sam doesn’t need to.  Thomas Paine already did in ‘The Age of Reason’.  Over 200 years ago. 

The fact that you don’t know that may attest to that ‘closed minded’ thing you mention.

Comment #18738 by Chris on 8/16 at 10:53 pm

Why is it that Christians are considered to be closed minded?  Their minds are open to the idea that there is something greater than themselves. Why is it that children have to be taught to be good?  They are naturally bad and naturally getting into trouble.  What is it about the Bible and the belief in the God of Abraham that so upsets people? 
I hear people speak of Sam Harris’s logic, but he should use that logic to analyze the Bible.  If he is such an intellectual, he should read the Bible through and logically disprove it…the problem is; it cannot be disproven.  Still, I’d love to see him try.

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By Serge Lubomudrov, August 17, 2006 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only thing that mitigates the good this article will do is that it will be mostly read by people for whom religion has little stature already.

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By Tim in Maryland, August 17, 2006 at 12:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amazing, the anti-theists or non-theists or disbelievers or whatever they call themselves are just as intolerant as they claim the so-called Christians are.  And 99% of the flaming is aimed at the Christians.  Funny how people who claim to have never read the bible because it is “bunk” can de-bunk it.  That is like saying you have never seen a toad, but can tell what is not a toad without someone actually showing you a toad.

If god does not exist, what do you even care for? And as for blaming religion for starting all the problems in the world.  Communism killed nearly 100 million last century, and they do not believe in god.

In-cred-ible.  deny god all you want, but if you are so tolerant, why can’t you tolerate someone else NOT denying god?

Gott in Himmel, the arguments are stupid.

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By lightning_fast_draw, August 17, 2006 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It should be a short drive for Mr. Collins to the Discovery Institute. There he can spend the rest of his days pushing for Intelligent Design being taught in science classes. I’m truly disappointed.

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By Ed W., August 17, 2006 at 11:07 am Link to this comment
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Barry wrote:
“If it turns out I am wrong, what am I out?  What is the price an atheist pays is there is an afterlife? “

well, if you are wrong, you wasted your one chance at life on earth - real nice.

pascal’s wager makes no sense.  what if there is an afterlife, but only asians make it there?  what if there is a place called paradise, but you have to murder others to get there?  so sure, there could be an afterlife, but as far as we know now… there is no evidence that would indicate anything of the sort. in fact science tells us that there is nothing that happens when we die.  think about what your “life” was like in the year 1850?  how did that feel for you?  well its gunna be the same “feeling” when you die. 

come on man, we arent children - there is no need to beleive in the tooth fairy.

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By Umilik, August 17, 2006 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
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Thank you Mr Harris, couldn’t have said it better myself. You are among a diminshing number of bright spots on the intellectual horizon as we slowly head back into the dark ages. How one can write a book like this as a scientist whose training should have predisposed him to reflect on his world through critical and rational thought is beyond me. Not one of Collins’  finer achievements, but probably reflective of the larger degree of intellectual corruption that is taking hold of this country

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By Ed W., August 17, 2006 at 10:52 am Link to this comment
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John Eitel:

christianity deals with theodicy by ignoring it.  your response is, in many ways, inadequate. 

i can simply put to rest all of your assertions by pointing out that God is omnipotent, which actually means he is all-powerful.  so, any all-powerful being is capapable of doing anything (now whether that means doing anything logically possible is a different argument).  so, if god wants to eliminate NEEDLESS suffering, he can do it.  its that simple - there is no need to speak of free will.  there is nothing illogical about preventing or stopping the suffering of a child trapped in a fire. 


you wrote:
“But does that mean that he should interfere in every evil interaction that our hearts dream up in order to save us from ourselves?  Suffering and evil are the natural consequences of a world that rejects God, and He is not obligated to save us from it. “

actually, yes he should.  any worthy god would prevent the suffering of those creatures he spent six days to create from dirt.

also, you are equating suffering with evil here.  true, there are evil deeds done by men.  but there are plenty of examples i could give of suffering that has nothing to do with free will.  nobody willfully contracts cancer and suffers their final days in a hospital bed, idiot. 

and finally, given free-will a person is able to choose the “right” at any time.  that means given the choice to kill or not kill. they can freely choose not to kill.  here we can see that there is nothing illogical about god (who can do anything, remember) creating humans with free will who “choose right” EVERY time - ridding the concept of manmade evil from the world.  so, as it turns out, free will is actually compatible with having perfectly good humans.

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By Renali, August 17, 2006 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
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“Despite all these ‘elitist’ atheists claims,”

uh-oh someon read his Talking points for the day

“belief in God, or belief that there is no God, does not change reality. All the desire and belief will not change what is coming.”

Correct.

”  I, at least have an insurance policy for the afterlife.  If it turns out I am wrong, what am I out?  What is the price an atheist pays is there is an afterlife? “

Ah, I was waiting for someone to trot out Pascal’s Wager. Sad and silly old Pascal’s Wager.

What if, when you die and your “insurance policy” for Jesus becomes null and void when Zeus opens up the pearly gates? 

Ooops.  See you in hell.

Or, since I was in discriminate and rejected ALL gods, do I get to go in because YOU rejected all but the wrong one?

Hmmm.

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By G. Tingey, August 17, 2006 at 10:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And why Yesua ben Joseph’s religion, and not say Mahmud’s or Vishnu’s or Moses’ or ........
Given frozen waterfalls why not Thor?

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By Brig, August 17, 2006 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
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This is a sad business all around. I don’t know anything about Collins’s personal circumstances, so it’s unfair to account for his book in, say, psychological terms. But I think of Antony Flew’s recent acceptance of a metaphysical kind of god. Given the weakness of his reasons for abandoning his long-held and rigorously argued atheism, and given anecdotal evidence of his behavior and health in recent years, it seems clear that Flew’s capacities have deteriorated. Perhaps the same is happening to Collins.

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By Lya kahlo, August 17, 2006 at 9:53 am Link to this comment
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“Why, Mr. Harris, are you so angry with your creator?”

Was this an intentionally stupid question?
how can one be angry with an imaginary creature?

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By Gary, August 17, 2006 at 9:45 am Link to this comment
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re:  comment #18738 by Chris

Chris, I can only speak for myself as to your question.  Here are a few things that upset me about religion.

Religion has been responsible for the deaths and untold suffering of millions of human beings over he centuries.  Many wars today are religious based.  The current Israeli-Hezbollah conflict; I’m sorry, but combative religions dictate that you cannot plop a Jewish country in the middle of a bunch of Jew hating muslims and expect peace.  The US attack on Iraq, (sure it was for oil), but our own president stated that god told him to attack the country.

Religion teaches god and dogma while common sense, reason and science are suppressed.

And how many of our religious right politicians presently running the country have stated that they would like to see America become a biblical society, that we should live by the tenents contained within the bible?  What now Mike?

Deuteronomy 20:16-17 In those cities that the lord god gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, you shall utterly destroy them…
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son…..then all men of the city shall stone him to death with stones.
Deuteronomy 22:21-22 But if the thing is true, that the token of virginity were not found in the young woman…..the men of the city shall stone her to death with stones.
Deuteronomy 23:1 He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the lord.
Joshua 24:19 But Joshua said to the people “you cannot serve the lord for he is a holy god, he is a jealous god, he will not forgive your transgressions or your sin”.
Leviticus 24:16 He who blasphemes the name of the lord shall be put to death.
Leviticus 19:10 If a man commits adultery…..both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
Leviticus 20:27 A man or woman who is a medium or wizard shall be put to death.
These are just a few examples, the list goes on and on, and jesus was no help:  Matthew 5:17-18 Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.

Nowhere in your bible does god or jesus state that slavery is a bad idea, in point of fact, in many places within the bible, guidelines are handed own by god and jesus on how to treat your slaves.

There are literally hundreds of individual items printed in the bible that are ridiculous, contradictory, savage, disproven, illogical and spiritually bankrupt.  I do not want to live my live based on such a document.  A document that you christians call the infallible word of god. Cherry pick the neat phrases that you like, but if you are going to tell me that the bible is how we should live our lives, then I expect you to live by all that is written in the bible, the good and the bad.

In the end though, Chris, it isn’t up to any non-believer to disprove the bible, it’s up to you-the believer, to prove that all contained within the bible is the true word of this god of yours.

Until that time, I shall remain a hard working, conscientious, law abiding, godless human being, who firmly believes that those of any religious faith are the real and future problems in our world.

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By Barry, August 17, 2006 at 9:31 am Link to this comment
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Despite all these ‘elitist’ atheists claims, belief in God, or belief that there is no God, does not change reality.  All the desire and belief will not change what is coming.  I, at least have an insurance policy for the afterlife.  If it turns out I am wrong, what am I out?  What is the price an atheist pays is there is an afterlife?

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By DD, August 17, 2006 at 9:25 am Link to this comment
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“...our president has just used his first veto to block federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research _on religious grounds_…”

Exaggerations such as this serve only to dilute your message.  I believe that the justification given is that it “ends a human life” or somesuch.  I don’t agree with this, but to blindly label it as “religious” is misleading.

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By Robert O'Brien, August 17, 2006 at 9:24 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris is a choleric scold who is not a scientist, but plays one on the internet. His opinions on religion and a dime would not get him a gumball from a gumball machine.

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By John Eitel, August 17, 2006 at 9:22 am Link to this comment
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Oddly, Sam Harris always seems to mention the problem of ‘theodicy’ in these articles.  I don’t believe that any logical construct could lead a person to use theodicy as a means to reject that there is a God, or not (don’t you have to posit a God to even discuss the question?).  Said another way, theodicy is not a primary consideration in contemplating God.

However, since he seems a bit obsessed with this issue, I’d like to deal with it briefly.  He mentions that the existence of evil in the world proves that God is not omniscient, omnipotent, or benevolent.  This is a Maltheist argument and response to this age-old problem, but it isn’t the only one; those who are interested in this can go to answers.com for an introductory discussion.

A primary thrust of the work of Sam Harris seems that, since there is suffering and evil in the world, God as the Christians view him cannot exist.  Actually, Christian theology deals with this problem in several ways, and scholars of all stripes have had some arguments about this.  I’ll put forward that God gave us free will because to do otherwise would make us incapable of worshiping Him and having true fellowship with Him, as was the case with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (well, for a little while, anyway).  We have rejected Him (yes, including Christians).  He still loves us, and wishes that we be reconciled to Him (and provided Jesus as a means of doing that, when it became apparent that we couldn’t keep His laws).  But does that mean that he should interfere in every evil interaction that our hearts dream up in order to save us from ourselves?  Suffering and evil are the natural consequences of a world that rejects God, and He is not obligated to save us from it.

I am preparing a more lengthy response to Sam’s work; I’ll share it with you when it is ready.  Until that time, may God bless you and keep you.

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By Ed W., August 17, 2006 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
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John wrote:
“Your quote above was the most superior summation of the obvious that I have ever read.  It amounts to ‘The atheist does not need to disprove a creator because he simply denies that there is one.’ I am in awe at your prowess.  Well ok.  At least you made me laugh.”

im pretty sure you must have misunderstood me or something…  its quite simple really, allow me to enlighten you with an illustrative analogy:

if you want to claim that you have a “trillion dollar bill” hidden in your house, then i am going to ask to see it.  simple enough, right? now, if after a couple requests to view this bill - and you not cooperating - am i obliged to think that you actually possess such an outrageous monetary denomenation?

what makes you think i should assume that you actually had it?  nothing.  now, the next question is: am i required to prove you don’t have it?  nope.  not if you cant even support your original assertion in the first place. 

a famous example of this was posed by Bertrand Russell, concerning the existence of a tiny teapot that orbits the sun.  if someone were to suppose such a thing exists, we would be at a loss - since none of our telescopes would be powerful or efficient enough to probe the vast galaxy.  but do we simply assume that it could exist?  no - its an absurd proposition in the first place.

and thats my simple point.  if the theist is going to keep making assertions about the the how we ought to operate in reality (based on a single proposition: “god exists”), then he should provide a good deal of evidence to suggest such an existence.  but none has come yet.  ergo, i have no need to disprove anything. 

is this too hard to understand?

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By Bizby, August 17, 2006 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
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In response to:
Comment #18767 by Eric Almquist

Eric, you seem like someone interested in at least trying to reserch what the other side has to say.  Go over to interntet infidels (http://www.iidb.org/vbb/index.php) and argue with them about the scant fossile record.  In truth, the fossile record is astounding—once you acquint yourself with it. 

Further, the old “2nd Law of Thermodynamic” argument is silly—and has been refuted soundly numerous times.  Did you know, for example, evolutionist estimate that something like 99% of sepcies have gone extinct.  Here’s a scholarly refutation of you misinterpretation of thermodynamics:  (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/thermo/probability.html)

And the evolutiary process of mutations CAN be reproduced in a lab.  It happens ever time a bacteria or virus mutates and some of its millions survie antibiotics.

In summary, no, we don’t believe in unicorns.  We don’t believe in anything that is super natural.  And while the science that supports our natural explanations is not perfect, there is no science behind the opposite explanation.  To say, “I don’t know,” is simply not the same as, nor is there any logical or rational justification for treating it the same as, “God must have done it.”

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By Edward Bilderback, August 17, 2006 at 8:30 am Link to this comment
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His article is throughout filled with suppressed rage.

Why, Mr. Harris, are you so angry with your creator?

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By Faithless, August 17, 2006 at 8:21 am Link to this comment
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Good Work, Sam!

As a scientist, you need to be concerned that the Human Genome Project may need to be formally reviewed, if Collins had any influence on its data. Otherwise, we can expect to find “Isaiah 5:21” embedded in some junk sequence, to become the “miracle of the century” in a few years. After all, that’s how the Bible was diddled.

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By JBL, August 17, 2006 at 8:13 am Link to this comment
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Critter: tell me how I can criticize religion in a way that you wouldn’t think pointed to “personal problems.”  Dismissing criticism because you find it rude (and conveniently not addressing any of the points within) is not the height of intellectual discourse.

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By Matt, August 17, 2006 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
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I am afraid that Mr Collins suffers from what the rest of us have come to know as the ‘American Disease’.

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By John, August 17, 2006 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
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Quote of Ed W: “”“The point is that there is no need for an atheist to disprove a creator.  The proposition that there was a creator is simply a ridiculous assumption to make in the first place.  By default the burden falls upon the theist to support his outrageous claims about the supernatural.”“”


Your quote above was the most superior summation of the obvious that I have ever read.  It amounts to “The atheist does not need to disprove a creator because he simply denies that there is one. I am in awe at your prowess.  Well ok.  At least you made me laugh. 

The thing that I find so comical is that atheists devote so much time to an argument that they themselves claim is about someone that does not exist.

I am glad you atheists are so smart in comparison to those stupid creationist who are “recalcitrant-ly” stupid and keep trying to fool me.

What would we all do without the atheist spending so much time preaching what is self-evident about someone that doesn’t exist?  And if creationists are so intellectually disadvantaged, then I do fear you would be more of a gentleman to pick on someone of your own size.

See http://www.vonbora.org for more fun.

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By Ed W., August 17, 2006 at 7:36 am Link to this comment
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Critter writes:

“I’d hazard a guess that such responses are stemming more from personal issues rather than an actual discussion. “

nope.  such responses are stemming from the millions of deaths, wars, ridiculous political stances, morality issues, etc. that inevitably come from believing in certain fairytales.

the question of whether god exists is the greatest debate to be had, at this point in human history.  either he exists, and we are all at his whim, or he does not and all the killing, moral atrocities, and outrageous demands are all unjustified. 

if people just had the courage to be skeptical about the information people feed them, we would no longer need to talk about “killing in the name of god”.  there is no logical reason to believe in god, and this a proven fact.

those moderates who try to hide behind selective interpretation are just as culpable as the fundamentalist who follows god’s word to the “t”.  at least the fundamentalist has a rationale to his beliefs… the moderate simply picks out what parts of god he thinks are best and ignores all the others…? 

we are quickly coming to a point where we can either let go of these unsubstantiated beliefs that have plagued socities since we can remember or keep them and end up killing ourselves rather efficiently. as Sam points out, “a martyr will never make a good neighbor”.

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By Brian, August 17, 2006 at 7:13 am Link to this comment
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Chris, if you would like to post an opposing view point, and back it up with specific arguments on point, then please do so.  Your previous post was just throwing out a few questions.

The reason that mostly positive posts to Sam Harris’ work have been made could be that he built such a strong case for himself.

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By critter, August 17, 2006 at 7:04 am Link to this comment
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What I’ve been noticing is an awful lot of anger and nastiness.

Sure seems like a lot of folks are getting pretty upset with Collins about something they don’t even believe in.

I’d hazard a guess that such responses are stemming more from personal issues rather than an actual discussion.

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By Eric Almquist, August 17, 2006 at 6:22 am Link to this comment
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In response to #18736, your side does believe in unicorns. How else to explain your religious devotion to a theory that life came from non-life and mutated/evolved into different kinds of species in violation of the Law of Biogenesis. You believe we have had an increase in order in violation of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and you believe in all of that despite scant evidence from the fossil record, especially Pre-Cambrian granite. Finally, on top of not being observable in the current world or the historical record, your theories are not reproducible in the lab (remember the disastrous fruit fly experiment?) After all that, you consider yourself more rational, enlightened and scientific. Need I say more?

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By Alma Kee, August 17, 2006 at 5:41 am Link to this comment
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John Lennon…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

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By Stace, August 17, 2006 at 4:45 am Link to this comment
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Isaiah 5:21

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By TomChicago, August 17, 2006 at 4:44 am Link to this comment
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Tolerance of the “churched” should extend only to the point where those folks start seeking “dominion” over everything and everyone else.  It is at that point that the faith-based madness—both of the East and the West—begins to justify the torrent of blood we have today.  Sam Harris simply posits that we “refuse to deny the obvious”, which is eminently sane.

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By Finn, August 17, 2006 at 4:43 am Link to this comment
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While wandering the woods early one morning a number of years ago I too had a revelation upon spotting a deer and fawn in the early morning mist. Damn, I said, that bloody acid was strong last night.

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 17, 2006 at 4:32 am Link to this comment
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What dogmatism! The Buy-bull as literal is so contradictory to itself and to reality .Historians show that there was no Exodus.Archeology disproves the book.What rational person can believe that a donkey and a snake could talk.People do not ressurrect . Its morals are lousy .Gee, read real analyes of the book rather than fundamentalist farfetched ones. As written , in context , what I say against it is so true. In context.One reads it and becomes neauseous .IN context.Fundamentalists and others should learn to read it in context. In contetx.        Answer my previous points if you can ,too. Walter Kaufmann writes critically,but nicely about it in his two books on religion.Yes, one can find good stuff in the book,as he does.

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By Simon, August 17, 2006 at 2:00 am Link to this comment
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Brilliant. But these words are falling on deaf ears. Americans enjoy their ignorance. They’re proud of it. How they got men to the moon despite this is, well, a miracle…

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By Chris, August 16, 2006 at 10:54 pm Link to this comment
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Why is it that only comments that agree with Sam Harris are posted?  Can’t he stand up to the logic and opposing views?

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By Chris, August 16, 2006 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment
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Why is it that Christians are considered to be closed minded?  Their minds are open to the idea that there is something greater than themselves. Why is it that children have to be taught to be good?  They are naturally bad and naturally getting into trouble.  What is it about the Bible and the belief in the God of Abraham that so upsets people? 
I hear people speak of Sam Harris’s logic, but he should use that logic to analyze the Bible.  If he is such an intellectual, he should read the Bible through and logically disprove it…the problem is; it cannot be disproven.  Still, I’d love to see him try.

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 16, 2006 at 10:09 pm Link to this comment
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No unicorns. That is why I am a strong atheist: after all the reams of paper used ,theists just have produced invalid arguments which non-theists just ever knock down! Collins and McGrath just do what is normal for theists . Collins’ moment of epiphany was just a moment where he saw awe at the Universe,but felt he had to ascribe the feeling to a deity ,a redundancy.

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By Annie, August 16, 2006 at 9:29 pm Link to this comment
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I read End of Faith, and loved it. At the basis of most religions is the fear of death.  I woke up after I became a mother.  If “god” had required me to kill my child to prove that I loved him, I would have told him to Flake Off! Then, I thought, (and I was raised very Catholic), “What if, when I die, that’s it—no afterlife?”  Surprisingly, I felt OK about that, and at that moment I felt a load lift off my shoulders and have savored every moment of my life since, after years of “searching” for a religion that fit. None did.  What a waste.  I think that Dr. Collins is getting old, getting scared, and just can’t accept that this life is all we have.  I’m 65 and fine with the finality of my death.

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By Daryl Stewart, August 16, 2006 at 9:12 pm Link to this comment
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This is all well and good, but why on Earth should we attend to a conglomeration of molecules (that calls itself Sam), having undergone electro-chemical stimulation, that emits a particular set of disturbances of various media. If we are only “natural” beings then such output is the determined (or random, taking into account quantum reactions) result of the laws governing physics, not the product of a volitonal, reasoning being. If, sir, there is no “ghost in the machine” (not your quote, I know) then all you have is the machine.

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By Ga, August 16, 2006 at 8:07 pm Link to this comment
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“I am hoping that Sam and anyone else who willingly takes the time would write me and prove that there is or isn’t a creator.”

Are you purposefully being dumb here? Or do you not understand that one cannot prove nor disprove that there is or isn’t a Creator?

You cannot prove that God exists.

I cannot prove that God does not exist.

But, there is no evidence that God exists.

Your believe is not proof.

(Neither the King James Bible nor any amount of text on paper ancient or new, amounts to any evidence whatsoever or God’s existence. That some people “had visions” or whatever is not evidence either. Neither is a water stain shaped by people’s imagination of the “raped virgin.” Any attempt at “proof” is simply “God can do anything,” yada, yada. But still, not proof.)

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By FedUp, August 16, 2006 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment
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Sam,

Thank you for the debunking of Mr. Collins, (I’ll not call him Dr.).
Here’s hoping you will take on C.S. Lewis’ work as a project.  So many ‘reasonable Christianists point to his work as the inspiration for their conversion.

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By Warren Greer, August 16, 2006 at 8:04 pm Link to this comment
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Makes me doubt his work on the Human Genome!

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By Tapu Tuailemafua, August 16, 2006 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
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Sam Harris Malo lava from Samoa!

I am always intrigued by your writings. fear not what you are doing as you are nothing but a breeze of change. For Collins to write this book and for him to support obscurantism is a blow to Science. We in the Pacific believe so much in this “god” you cant see and is the basis of culture plus religion that is contributing to poverty in our small island state. Keep up the good work. Christianity in our context is the “real culprit” that destroys and supporting the pedagogy of the oppressed.

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By Bob DePillis, August 16, 2006 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment
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Sam: 

You quote Collins:

“Would this be a deist God, who invented physics and mathematics and started the universe in motion about 14 billion years ago, then wandered off to deal with other, more important matters, as Einstein thought? No, this God, if I was perceiving him at all, must be a theist God, ... it was certainly not the God of Einstein….”

Then you say,

“Any honest engagement with their work reveals that both Einstein and Hawking reject the notion of Collins’ God as fully as any atheist. Collins suggests otherwise at every opportunity.”

It is clear that Collins is here does NOT suggest otherwise.

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By Ed W., August 16, 2006 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
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Comment #18670 by Stephen Borkowski on 8/16 at 1:41 pm

“I believe everyone has the right to be wrong and will allow for any beliefs about a creator/s. It is certainty that is scary as it has caused a lot of grief. I am hoping that Sam and anyone else who willingly takes the time would write me and prove that there is or isn’t a creator. I am an agnostic Deist because I guess there is something that we cannot conceive responsible, if that word is admissable, for what we experience and I proudly admit that I don’t know whether my guess is right or wrong. I would be glad to be enlightened and would also hope that those people who admit they can’t prove there belief (uncertainty) would also use the word agnostic as an adjective to let people know they don’t know.”


The point is that there is no need for an atheist to disprove a creator.  The proposition that there was a creator is simply a ridiculous assumption to make in the first place.  By default the burden falls upon the theist to support his outrageous claims about the supernatural.

Are you an agnostic when it comes to unicorns and hobbits?  Whats that you say?  You can’t prove or disprove the existence of unicorns?  Well, I guess we ought to settle on the belief in unicorns.  I sincerely hope this isnt your line of thought.

No one with a reasonable intellect is a unicorn agnostic.  But for some reason, you feel the need to hold on to the possibility that there could be a god??  I don’t understand.  What reasons do you have to suspend a decision?  I can only assume its wishful thinking.  Whatever your disposition, I would hope you can admit that there is a need for the term “atheist”.

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By William, August 16, 2006 at 5:17 pm Link to this comment
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This could happen….. but if the waterfall was frozen…. how come the dew on the grass wasn’t.  Must have warmed up that day.  Hummmm
Will

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By Jorge Angulo, August 16, 2006 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment
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I wonder how silly Mr. Harris feels if he understood that he attacks belief with no new arguemnts.  He’s like an evangelical atheist.  Nietzche was more creative.  I find Mr.Harris arguments very unimaginavite.

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By Laurence Boyce, August 16, 2006 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment
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A truly masterful demolition. Sam, we need you, we love you, we’re with you every step of the way.

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By Lorenzo, August 16, 2006 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment
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Well, I know what I have thought when I have seen frozen waterfalls, which is, “It sure is cold out here!” or “How magnificent!”.  To make some connection between the shaft of ice and a 2000 year old Hebrew from the desert would never would never have occured to me and I think I have a pretty good imagination.  What I do understand about religious belief is that evidently nothing is to fanciful or improbable for the believers whether it be vigin births, resurrections from the dead or wafers turned into flesh OR our great imaginary friend, the Creator Sky God.  Many thanks (and Bravo!) to Sam Harris for his erudite criticism and to TruthDig for presenting it. Looking forward to more of Mr. Harris’ work in the future.

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By GTN, August 16, 2006 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
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Julian’s comment(#18659)does not understand my use of the word “infinity” (#18595). A creator that is infinite—one that has always existed—could have no creator. It is only in our experience as finite mortals that we assume all things to have a beginning and an ending. Let’s not presume that what we experience (or can prove accordingly)is all that there is.  ~GTN

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By Stephen Borkowski, August 16, 2006 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment
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I believe everyone has the right to be wrong and will allow for any beliefs about a creator/s. It is certainty that is scary as it has caused a lot of grief. I am hoping that Sam and anyone else who willingly takes the time would write me and prove that there is or isn’t a creator. I am an agnostic Deist because I guess there is something that we cannot conceive responsible, if that word is admissable, for what we experience and I proudly admit that I don’t know whether my guess is right or wrong. I would be glad to be enlightened and would also hope that those people who admit they can’t prove there belief (uncertainty) would also use the word agnostic as an adjective to let people know they don’t know.

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 16, 2006 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment
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They commit special pleading as I stated and question beg .So we have reason to ask who made the creator afer all.To ask who made the Universe   is to beg the question .Why not just accept that it is the ultimate brute fact in which questions can be asked.To quote Quentin Smith:“But the Universe is not just one ultimate explainer among many; it has the unique status of being the First Cause.Post defines a cause as an explainer,and the Universe is the First Cause or First Explainer in the sense that   itis the whole of all the ultimate explainers pl us anything else that has no explanation.”  Why not view the Universe as god ,if one just has to have one .How can one imagine non-existence?

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By SL Aronovitz, August 16, 2006 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment
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The human imagination requires a little restraint and in the realm of religious/romantic imaginations, it needs a whole lot more.

Have you ever been in love with someone who dumped you and you just couldn’t let go; everywhere you went, you thought you saw that person or something that reminded you of him or her. We are indocrinated by society to love, honor, obey, etc.; be it nation, parents, religion, or spouses. The discomfort of bucking that system has its psychological consequences should we not maintain awareness and rationality. Had I loved her and NOT seen her everywhere after my heartbreak, society would have thought me cold and unfeeling. Imagination is dreaming with your eyes open, but at some point we must wake up.

Dr. Collins seeks that passion for something he is passionate for, but he hasn’t sufficiently reigned in his imagination yet. I would likely have seen the woman I yearned for in that waterfall as well. Spinoza rightfully counted ‘hope’ as a negative and destructive trait.

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By Ed, August 16, 2006 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment
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Just the fact that Collin’s book made it into print (by Simon & Schuster no less) just proves the U.S. to be the intellectual backwater that it is. This fairy-tale book also taints U.S. genome research. Best to use Pasteur Institute data.

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By Julian, August 16, 2006 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
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I want to take a stab at addressing comment #18595 by GTN on 8/16 at 10:55 am

GTN asked the following question:  “People keep wondering, “So who created the creator?” The assumption seems to be that everything has to have a beginning. Why?”

One answer to this question is that if our existence requires a creator, why doesn’t our creator’s existence also require a creator?  In other words, why apply the creator requirement to some beings but not others (including creators)?

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By paul kibble, August 16, 2006 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment
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Collins’ book is an ugly and disgusting exercise in reverse evolution, a loathsome march backwards from the complicated and often unsettling achievements of the Enlightenment to the cozy, unquestioning Dark Age of Faith. It is an intellectually shabby and morally bankrupt effort to give theism a thin patina of respectability that it sorely needs. That Collins so spectacularly fails to attain this dubious goal will not matter to the far too numerous True Belivers out there who are only to willing to relinquish their skepticism and sense of free inquiry in exchange for Blessed Assurance.

Collin’s aplologia is not the first attempt by an ostensibly respectable scientist to sneak God in through the back door as an all-purpose explanation for The Majesty of Creation, nor will it be the last. But given the obscurantist leanings of Bush and his fellow Christers and the impact those leanings have on public policy, it is a particularly ill-timed and pernicious example of the genre. Collins has a lot to answer for—-and not just to his Creator.

As for innocent minds that may be damaged by Collin’s thumb-tongued pieties, I’d rather my child view a Brazilian snuff film than be exposed to this crap. At least with therapy, there’s a chance he might recover from the effects of the former. But Collins’ little tome would scar him for life.

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By Mowry, August 16, 2006 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment
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I work for a fundamentalist. There was a time when I had some respect for (or perhaps envy is a better word) the solidarity of his faith. Its unshakeablness. Over time it became abundantly clear
that his faith was hardly unshakable, evidenced by the fact that he would brook absolutley no questioning of its origin or basis. He only claimed to believe absolutely. Why else react with anger,
rather than sympathy to the questions of a non-believer? Its simple fear of the abyss. Its the equivelent of a kid with his fingers in his ears saying “nanny, nanny, nanny, I can’t hear you” when he just doesn’t WANT to hear you. Unfortunately such fear turns violent in the hands of adults who can not bare their own doubts.

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By Howard Mandel, August 16, 2006 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
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Does anybody know anything about who is behind the publishing of this book?

It seems too conveniently timed to the November elections, when republicans are once again trying to stir up their evangelical troops, too be coincedence.

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By Al Thompson, August 16, 2006 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
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Fundamentalists/evangelicals, in conceiving “God,” seem to have a fixation on the idea that “God” must be conceived as, and only as, a person-like Being; a Being who must be conceived primarily as a Creator.

If this is how one conceives “God,” a question that arises is:  Did God create humans, who then at some point began themselves to become creators (of tools, etc.), and thereby begin to make history?

Or, rather, did humans evolve, at some point become creators of tools (etc.); at a later point achieve a level of intellectual development that enabled them to become conscious of themselves at creators per se; and at a still later point create (as one of their intellectual creations) the concept of “God.”  Then, after creating that concept they began giving different meanings to that word (i.e., conceiving God’s nature in a variety of ways—a point developed fairly well by Jack Miles in his book on the subject)?

Fundamentalists/evangelicals would, of course, give a “Yes” to the first question, and a “No” to the second one—likely, without even giving it serious consideration.  But that would be an arbitrary choice.  Giving a “Yes” answer to the second question would also be arbitrary.  However, if one has adopted a more complex concept of “God,” one will find acceptance of the second perspective a relatively more plausible stance.

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By morgan-lynn lamberth griggsy, August 16, 2006 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
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Sahakian says to ask who created the creator is the fallacy of complex questions,but that statement is question begging itself and special pleading in distinguishing a god from anything else for that is the question at hand.That shows my contention again that logic is the bane of the theist.Theists revel in being shallow as far as Iam concerned .

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By Robert H. Fernandez, August 16, 2006 at 11:35 am Link to this comment
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The bookreview by Sam Harris is an extraordinary and impressive piece!  It has made me want to read, not only the book, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, but “Letter to a Christian Nation” as well as other works by Harris.  A great deal of what Harris says in his review is insightful and very compelling.  At this critical time in history, it is imperative that both “believers” and “atheists” read, explore, question, and discuss these matters that are vital to life, as well as intellectual and religious integrity.  As a Christian minister, I am committed to the constant discovery of truth, the scope of which we can only begin to comprehend but a small fraction.

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By Farakon, August 16, 2006 at 11:26 am Link to this comment
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Yes, we all love Sam.  And the best way to let the world know what we think is by pre-ordering his new book.  I did, you should too.

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By GTN, August 16, 2006 at 10:55 am Link to this comment
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People keep wondering, “So who created the creator?” The assumption seems to be that everything has to have a beginning. Why? Because in our limited experience of things, everything we know of has had a beginning and an ending. The concept of infinity tends, therefore, to be beyond our comprehension—except perhaps when applied in geometry, mathematics, and photography. Thinking that the universe evolved out of nothing taxes my imagination more than the infinity of God. Besides, who’s to say that the universe isn’t equally infinite? We have probed far enough into it to know that we may never discover an outer edge. Looking to discover the edge of the universe may be about as smart as searching for the edge of the earth, as they did back when sailors felt a need to be on the lookout for it.  What we should be exploring may be the possibility that God and the cosmos are one. But that’s a job for an agnostic, not an atheist.

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By C Quil, August 16, 2006 at 10:33 am Link to this comment
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Collins must have inhaled a few too many noxious chemicals in the course of his scientific research. How anyone could have spent all that time overseeing such a massive project and then allow himself to slip into such ridiculous conclusions will remain forever a mystery.

I wonder if it is the beginning of a slide into dementia. Something to watch for in the years to come.

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By Bruce Breece, August 16, 2006 at 10:13 am Link to this comment
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Three cheers for Sam Harris,  Once again your brilliant intellect has sliced through and clarified the misleading labors of a globally respected, unfortunately deluded fellow scientist.  Many are grateful for your tireless and thankless efforts in the continuing struggle for a more reasonable rational world.  Well done sir.

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By Clifford Weinstein, August 16, 2006 at 9:33 am Link to this comment
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Sam Harris continues to brighten my day! Excellant review, Mr. Harris.

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By Lee Driver, August 16, 2006 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
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I was recently taken up to heaven by an angel in a dream. An awesomely beautiful place that looked at first to be ice but turned out to be all made of iridescent crystal, subtlely imbued with shifting colors. There were quite a few beings there, most dressed in white hooded robes, talking in soft tones, with a few others like me in street clothes, who were being escorted. A closer inspection of the robes revealed them not to be white exactly but grayish white like unbleached cotton and of a heavenly quality. We came to a great ledge jutting out into the night sky where stars were twinkling. Sitting at a large grand piano also made of crystal was thee central character in the whole place. You could tell He was the central character as He was suffused in light and was the only being of all of those there with His hood down. He had long tangled blond hair and was absolutely absorbed in playing at the keyboard. There was no sound though I knew there was, I just couldn’t hear it. As He played, the colors shifted around in the floor in subtle abeyance to the chords and keystrokes, but more amazingly, every so often after He’d raise his hand in pause like concert pianists do, then hit a note, a new star would plink into night sky. The others would murmur and politely gasp even, and squirt tears. My guide bade me stay put and moved over nearer the piano and spoke with another individual. There seemed to be some disagreement between them as the other shook his head several times. Finally this other shrugged and moved over to stand respectfully at the shoulder of the radiant pianist. The Main Man, His fingers never stopping their float across the keyboard, inclined his head at one point toward the being at his shoulder, listened, responded and played on. This one returned to my escort, imparted something, and my escort returned over to me. He leaned close and spoke these words: “the answer to your question is, and I quote, is ‘tell Lee I have given him everything he needs.’” I burst into tears. I was both elated and crushed to; one, to receive a message, albeit indirectly, from the Creator Himself, but to be denied an audience. I had a meltdown.

Later on, as if waking from a dream, the whole atmosphere of the place had changed and all of the beings there, previously so noble and regal in their bearing, are now scurrying around in obvious alarm. On asking my guide what’s going on and he tells me that the Master has announced the time has come for Jesus to return to Earth and instructed Jesus be brought before Him, but Jesus is nowhere be found.

Again, as if waking from a dream, Jesus is now being brought before the Father. He is reluctant. The two of Them together, move off out onto the ledge out of hearing. Jesus at one point falls to his His knees and is clearly heard to say, “Please Dad, no.”©Lee Driver

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By morgan lamberth, August 16, 2006 at 9:25 am Link to this comment
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That is silly! Sam does not come full circle .He and I show the stupidity of these shallow people quite frankly.

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By Marty, August 16, 2006 at 9:24 am Link to this comment
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Sadly we see in the Language of God another intelligent person succumbing to the special delusion that we are all the work of a personal (and obviously capricious) god and particularly a christian god.  Intelligence alas is no guarantee that a person will not delude themselves with religion to solve the mystery of the universe and our existence in spite of any rationality and facts to the contrary.

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By Broiler, August 16, 2006 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
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Francis Collins—physical chemist, medical geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project—having seen the intricacies of DNA has decided to throw uneducated readers back into the “ant farm” cartoon that is god and the world.

Sam Harris will always be condemned by the simpletons in our world. Like Galileo, he will be viewed as a kill-joy, threat to the apple-cart and “too smart for the room”. That’s the killer; he isn’t “too smart for the room”. He’s simply on the page we all must be on for progress. Try removing “god” as the cause and cure for life’s problems. If we do, we uncover the true causes and the cures become self-evident. The cures don’t become any more palatable, just clear.

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By Ralph Blasko, August 16, 2006 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
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The excerpts from the book chosen by Sam Harris provide another example (as if that was necessary) of the mental gymnastics believers indulge in to support their ridiculous positions. The only standard one should use for belief in anything is evidence - solid, objective, using scientific principles. Without that standard, utilized with an understanding of critical thinking methods, one should be wary of supporting anything significant. Superstition has proven itself to be a cancer on human existance.

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By Mark Plus, August 16, 2006 at 8:41 am Link to this comment
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I don’t know why christians like Francis Collins think that “going to heaven” solves anything. What if you go to heaven, and then choose to rebel against god?

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By Mr. Wonderful, August 16, 2006 at 8:33 am Link to this comment
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The only evidence for the existence of God in this essay is our incredible luck at having someone whose (appropriate) contempt for the idiocies of “faith” is matched by an excellent prose style and a great sense of humor.  (Not to mention some nifty scientific bona fides.) 

Sam, boychik, you’ve done it again.

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By Peter, August 16, 2006 at 8:32 am Link to this comment
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The review by Harris is brilliant, insightful, and FUNNY.  I’ll have to read more of his work.

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By Geerat J. Vermeij, August 16, 2006 at 8:09 am Link to this comment
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Here, here.  Collins is a sad example of an ultimately reeductionist scientist who understands nothing about emergent properties even as he loosely embraces evolution; he really doesn’t understand evolution.  As a feellow Yale Ph.D., I am doubly ashamed of this man.

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By Tomack, August 16, 2006 at 7:56 am Link to this comment
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Sam said we should be ashamed that this was written in our time. He’s only half right: we should be afraid as well. It’s one thing to hear this manure spoken by televangelists seeking money, but when scientists start spewing this blather it lends undeserved credence to an argument so outrageous as would cause a journeyman con man to blush.

Evangelical Christianity and Islamic Extremism (to name two) are really one and the same when we consider their actual physical effects on our planet. Perhaps Collins should take a little time away from genes to study that. But of course, I’m sure that is the way God planned it.

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By hans, August 16, 2006 at 7:54 am Link to this comment
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Writing from an office, where engineers adorn their cubicles with crosses, pictures of praying hands and have bible placed at the ready on their desks, I do not find this book disturbing. This is American reality and as much as love glimpses of sanity from authors like Sam Harris, I am convinced that religious ignorance will dominate this nation’s course to its bitter end.

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By Ted Swart, August 16, 2006 at 7:53 am Link to this comment
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Thank you Sam for a superb critique of the Collins irrationality.  I used to have a physicist colleague who was an evangelical Christian and as such believed in the story of Adam and Eve.  Yet his field was remanant magnetism which allows physicists to uncover the reversals of the earths magnetic field over aeons of time and the existence of Gwondonoland.  The abiltiy of human beings to compartmentalize their lives seems almost infinite.

Ted Swart

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By Pankaj Seth, August 16, 2006 at 7:46 am Link to this comment
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atomism + ontology = dead end

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By Mark Thompson, August 16, 2006 at 7:41 am Link to this comment
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Collins is just another “hammer of Jesus”. When all you have is a hammer [bible], every problem is a nail that you can hit with something out of the bible.
  One might argue that he is a typecast super specialist where anything outside his laser focused speciality has to be in the realm of “magic” for him to understand as his point of reference is so small—deep but small.
The idea that some novel called the bible holds the only key to the mystery of life and also the only directions on how to “lead a good life”  is ignorance personified. It’s a story, like the tooth fairy. 
  I hope Mr. Collins meets his rapture soon as the world has enough narrow minded people “converting” the non-believers from their bully pulpits, bomb sights and gun sights—aka. Gen. [my God’s the bigger tougher god. Everybody else worships idols, Jesus and the bible tells me so] Jerry Boykin.

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By Collin, August 16, 2006 at 6:54 am Link to this comment
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“Disguised”, hardly.  As stated, his credentials are solid.  The Human Genome Project was not the stuff of cocky undergrads.
But he does take that leap of faith and has gone beyond reason.  And so he will be the new poster child for the anti-Christian fanatics.
C S Lewis would be a far better source for answering The Problem of Pain.

Collin

http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com

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By Tommy Donovan, August 16, 2006 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
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The wonderful thing about Sam Harris’s essay is that he refuses to allow religious fundamentalism the same status as science. Unlike many other commentators, who would like to debate the fundamentalists on equal terms, Harris recognizes the dangers of the religious right’s attempting to create a monoculture of thought in America and raises the alarm. We would do well to heed his warning and not take fundamnetalist religion’s efforts as merely a “silly, but misguided” effort. This is dangerous stuff.

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