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You should read Sam Harris…


Click the cartoon to enlarge it. 

By John A. David

A student of theology, a bible teacher and a graphics designer. I ramble a lot about Christian faith, apologetics and atheism.

34 replies on “You should read Sam Harris…”

I actually really want to read “Letter to a Christian Nation,” but I haven’t been able to find the time yet. I was really disappointed in Richard Dawkins, so I hope Harris has a bit more of a challenge for me.

By the way – I like the cartoons!

I do not hold the position that historical violence has been perpetrated solely by religious groups. But, a lot of it certainly has.

The difference is that atheists have never killed in the name of atheism or for the purpose of spreading atheism.

I read “Letter to a Christian Nation” and I found it to be a direct, concise criticism of religiosity in the United States. It is also very short, you could read it in about an hour or two.

AJ, what did you find so easy about The God Delusion (I’m assuming that’s the Dawkins book you’re referring to)?

Andrew, it is “The God Delusion” that I am referring to. It wasn’t that it was easy, it was that it was largely useless. I was expecting a more well-though-out book, but coupled with outright fabrications and misrepresentations, it was surprisingly lacking in scholarship. I started off the first time I read it making little notes here and there, but I found that it would be a waste of time – I would be better off noting the reasonable propositions. It sounds very good, but he assumes a great deal of things as fact, which simply are not. He also demonstrates how philosophically unastute he is (is that a word?) when he repeatedly uses logical fallacies and unreasonable conclusions to vague theories. I had just finished Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” and the difference in credibility and reason was immense. All Dawkins does is promote hate and recycle tired propaganda that even an amateur like myself can refute. A simple fact-check of his book would demonstrate how ridiculous much of it is.

I still want to read “The Selfish Gene” and “The Blind Watchmaker,” but they have been pushed further down the reading list as a result of “The God Delusion.” I’ll try Harris next…

Really? I found The God Delusion to be more of a great commentary on science (especially evolution) than an attack on god. In fact, Dawkins spends most of his time simply explaining why natural explanations of our world are sufficient.

Something else to keep in mind is that most prominent atheists are professionals in other disciplines prior to their outspoken atheism reputations. Dawkins is, of course, an evolutionary biologist. Harris is a neuroscientist. Hitchens a journalist.

Many Christian apologists are professional debaters. William Lane Craig comes to mind. I don’t consider Craig a researcher or practical educator any more than I would consider a researcher of Greek mythology to be worth listening to (that is, if they believe Greek mythology to be factual).

I’m not sure if you want to lump Hitchens into this. Any good journalist should have a good background in any topic they write about. I’ll accept that you don’t think that Dawkins and Harris are qualified to speak on the subject (I disagree, but I can accept this counterargument); however, if you’ve ever read anything by Hitchens or seen any of his debates I can’t see how you could consider him unqualified to discuss religion. He usually knows more about religion than the Christian apologists he debates. I’m not speaking only from a biased perspective. I have a coworker who is a young Earth creationist. I told him about Hitchens. He has now watched many of his debates and read many of his books since then (to my surprise). He definitely disagrees with Hitchens; however, he is also a smart open-minded person. He admits that Hitchens definitely knew his stuff. So, I think that this is an unfair slander… 😦

I’m honestly not sure how it can be seen as anything but an attack on God. However, that was not the issue I had with it. I cannot accept the propositions of a man who clearly has little regard for the truth. He is willing to “adapt” it to justify his contentions, and has not demonstrated that he is bound to straightforward presentation of his ideas. I cannot accept the biology (even admitting his knowledge in that area) – an area I am not as well-versed in – because the area that I know something about he has shown a severe disinterest in facts. I wish I was able to sit down with someone and go chapter-by-chapter and discuss the book, because I feel it would be supremely beneficial to both sides. I would like to see how his views – as presented in that particular book – can be defended, and I would like to see the flaws in my own observations. What many people characterize as “stridency,” I label as dishonesty masquerading as legitimate refutation.

Alright, fair enough…but lemme ask you this:

Dawkins’ science is virtually undisputed within the scientific community. As far as the VAST majority of scientists are concerned, life as we know it is the result of evolution through natural selection.

So one of two things are true here: either a vast conspiracy, designed to undermine religious ideas of the origin of species such as creation and ID, is occurring, with 99% of biologists on board…or, Creationism and ID are just bad science.

Which do you think is true?

And can you specify which sciences Dawkins is ignoring or which theories / hypotheses you subscribe to?

“The difference is that atheists have never killed in the name of atheism or for the purpose of spreading atheism.”

They have…Stalin demolished 42000 churches out of the 46000 there were in Russia…what does that tell you?

The same is with religion and yet it is accused of murdering millions. Which of Christ’s commandment says to kill? I do not know one and yet I have to defend my faith to this accusation all the time, as if it says to kill people.

But religion HAS killed millions IN THE NAME OF religion!

That is a fact separate from the fact that none of Christ’s commands involve violence.

The point being that Communism is inherently non-violent until it is adopted by those with a propensity for violence. The same can be said of religion and, indeed, the record of history is rife with examples.

Do you disagree that people killed, tortured, raped, and maimed people over the centuries in the name of religion? Whether those occurrences are in line with a religion’s tenets and ideas is secondary to the fact that it happened.

Of course and that is the exactly my point. If religion, while it does not say to kill, kills. Then atheism, while has no tenet, still killed. Just pick up the records of Atheist regimes. Whether it teaches or not, it still did it.

We can’t have both.

Atheism is not a system of beliefs. It is a general rejection of existing belief systems. It is no more a system than “off” is a television channel. Secular humanism, one may argue, IS a belief system. Atheism on its own, however, is not.

So, pursuant to the comic you made, has there ever been an instance of violence perpetrated in the name of atheism?

Or, is wholesale violence routinely perpetrated due to conflicting worldviews / ideologies…religion and extreme political ideas among them?

In other words, religion may or may not prescribe violent behaviors. It certainly non-existent in Christianity. However, historically speaking, people have allowed their religiosity to justify and even motivate detestably violent behavior.

That cannot be said for atheism.

Now, I will be the first to admit that it is not impossible for someone to be violent in the name of atheism. This has just not been the case thus far. (And I expect it will remain unlikely.)

And the same is my point in the cartoon. As you can see one atheist disagrees because he sees what’s wrong with killing people who are religious, the other does not. People can always take words to their extreme and cause unjust hurt.

I am not saying people have not killed in the name of religion, I am saying, atheism has done the same. On one hand you agree Christianity does not say to kill, on the other hand you say atheism has no code to say, kill. And yet both have and you say that while Christianity certainly do not command killing, it is at fault, and atheism on the other hand is not?

Atheism as a government system is as dangerous as religion is, because both can be abused by corrupt men. That is my point. I am not saying atheism teaches to kill, I am saying, when fallen into wrong hands, it as dangerous as religious power is.

Why are you ignoring Russian / Chinese Communism and Italian Fascism?

Atheism cannot, by definition, be a government system! Autocratic systems, on the other hand, do constitute a system of government.

My point, again, is that the violence perpetrated by Christians was in the name of Christianity. They put crosses on their shields and fought for control of the holy land. It had everything to do with religion. Likewise, skeptics like me we burned and tortured by the Church, in the name of Christianity for four long centuries.

When were people killed in the name of atheism?

“My point, again, is that the violence perpetrated by Christians was in the name of Christianity. They put crosses on their shields and fought for control of the holy land. It had everything to do with religion. Likewise, skeptics like me we burned and tortured by the Church, in the name of Christianity for four long centuries.

When were people killed in the name of atheism?”

And I am not saying that did not happen, only that it had nothing to do with Christianity either.

It has everything to do with an insidiously extrapolated ideology.

Christianity, when too powerful, can commit murder. Or child rape. And has.

Communism, when too powerful can commit murder. Or child rape. And has.

Atheism is not an ideology or philosophy. It is the absence of an ideology.

andrew, you are using a very inclusive definition of atheism. there are other types and kinds. just look at the wiki for it and you will see. atheism is a philosophical position, it is just not a religious one.

Yes, I misspoke there, I should not have included the word “philosophy.”

But how would the rejection of belief in deities result in mass murder?

Or is it more likely that adherence to an autocratic, powerful political agenda could result in the murder of millions.

Or is it also more likely that adherence to a deity, like God, cause a propensity for violence in that one may perceive himself to be directed by God to conduct violence. You and I agree that this is a bastardization of Biblical principles…but sometime mothers drown their kids because “God told me to.”

“but sometime mothers drown their kids because “God told me to.”

This is a work of someone who has serious mental and emotional problems. If she had said that it was not God but the Neanderthal man who told her to drown her baby, would you then blame history for her mistakes? No would not, you are an intelligent man. Why is this any different than anyone killing on their whim? Can individual acts somehow reverse the core of Christianity? no.

I have already said that atheism and Christianity do not teach to kill. But in a system, both can be twisted to carry out acts of violence. A mad man can make a slogan “Deus lo vult” or “for the greater good of man” and slaughter millions of people.

Atheism by definition even by a narrow one, may be very simple philosophy, but in practice it is not. Nothing is simple in practice. It comes loaded with people who have have other philosophies and ideas too.

The driving force of war or large-scale campaigns of violence is a deep-seated tribalism that seems common to most of humanity. Tribalism – the banding together into groups of “us-vs-them” – can manifest in many ways: religion, ethnicity, nationalism, political movements.

The outward reason for war/killing/violence/suppression can sound different from case to case, but what it always comes down to is the belief that “they” are a threat to “us” and must be stopped/killed.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. Thank you.

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