On Realism and “Evangelical Atheists”

This statement shows why I love the Scientific community so much (atheists/rationalists/realists very much included). The following quasi-theological atheistic world-view shows many traits I find highly applaudable including integrity, intellectual honesty, and continual self-analysis/doubt, which in the end promote progress.

The point is not that all religious people are bad; it is not that all bad things are done in the name of religion; and it is not that scientists are never bad, or wrong, or self-deceived. The point is this: intellectual honesty is better (more enlightened, more useful, less dangerous, more in touch with reality, etc. ) than dogmatism. The degree to which science is committed to the former, and religion to the latter remains one of the most salient and appalling disparities to be found in human discourse. Scientists spend an extraordinary amount of time worrying about being wrong and take great pains to prove others so. In fact, science is the one area of discourse in which a person can win considerable prestige by proving himself wrong.

If there is an argument against “evangelical” atheists like Dawkins, Weinberg, and myself it must take one of these forms:

(1) Certain religious beliefs are true (or likely to be true); here’s why…

(2) Religious beliefs, while not likely to be true, are so useful that they are necessary; here’s the evidence…

(3) Many religious people are so irrational that it is simply too dangerous to criticize their beliefs. Please keep your mouth shut.

Sam Harris


~ by bonoboi on December 7, 2006.

5 Responses to “On Realism and “Evangelical Atheists””

  1. See, you read this and you realize just how reactionary those are who claim that Harris hates religion. It just goes to show that context acquired by actually listening to what a person has to say is the begining of enlightenment.

    I’m with Sam on this…the end of dogmatic faith is the next step in our evoulution. We should do all we can to help our fellow beings make it to the next level. I’m convinced that the survival of our race may very well hang in the balance.

  2. I see you’re taking Harris’ writings to heart. I am, as well and I too see the importance of his message. I’m glad that this year we’ve seen large steps in “Evangelical Atheism” or whatever term would explain the movement better.

    I agree with you on the issue of the survival of our race (although I haven’t given this much thought before) especially since many of the world’s governments 1. have nuclear destructive power, and 2. are still very religiously-motivated and scripture-based for their accepted direction and morals.

    To ensure safety to our next evolutionary step (or at least to better our now-slacking scientific presence in the world) we are in dire need of true separation of church and state immediately. The average American mind seems more interested in the hundreds of contradictory religious ideals offered to them and much less in what science has to offer. The government supports and even encourages this as well in many ways. We are so behind for where we should be in 2007. Much of the world is now gaining on us or even surpassing us in some areas of vital research such as stem-cells and cloning (because of religious morals associated with these promising areas of study). I really enjoyed Harris’ introduction of Letter to a Christian Nation where he shows how religion is inhibiting stem-cell research which could be causing many many people to suffer and die. All of this because “there may be a soul somewhere in those 150 cells in that petri dish”.

  3. See I really don’t understand why this clear connection between irrational belief and hideous results is so readily ignored or even played as “religion hating”. The AIDS/condom connection is another example Sam gives.

    It’s like folks embrace their faith, give it credit for all the good that coincides and then blame any bad results on “bad” people or on the justice/wisdom/mystery of god.

    We can stop it. Time to spread the good news! 😛

  4. I absolutely agree with Sam Harris that intellectual honesty is better than dogmatism. I also agree that he’s right to criticize religion with the goal of getting people to think critically about religion and especially to attack the very, very wrong idea that religion=virtue.

    I have a subtle point of departure from the evangelical atheists however:

    I think that the total elimination of religion and superstition from our species may be impossible, and that explicitly setting elimination of religion as a goal may be counterproductive. A better goal (IMHO) is to make it clear that freedom of religion means freedom of religion for everyone, and that legislating your own personal religious beliefs leads to other people forcing their beliefs on you. I would rather see secular democracy in these terms than to have religious believers (including potential political allies) fear that creating a shared secular space in the public sphere is just a first step on the path towards wiping out religion.

    Again my criticism is a subtle point, and I agree with Harris on a fundamental level. However I still think he’s being a little disingenuous in this quote to make it look like either you agree with him 100% or you’re telling him to shut up… 😉

  5. I believe in God. But I believe he gives the world its free agency as well giving us our free agency. I believe that this gives God a way out. I believe completely that if he/she gets the credit, it also gets the blame. In order to get God out of a tough spot, like killing millions of children in hundreds of creative ways, the idea that God allows the earth to develope freely is the only answer for me. Disease ultimately makes the species stronger. Earthquakes renew the crust of the earth over time. Volcanoes tell us the earth is still working. Floods clean the rivers and bring new life to wetlands. Fires renew forrests. Every calamity on earth has a silver linning. When people die of these calamities it is usually because we insist on building our house on the side of the pretty volcano. Thank God we are not running the show. He does intervene in our behalf, sometimes. Mostly, we are on our own. Which should be a comfort to us. Who wants a Dad looking over your shoulder all the time? In order for our own kids to grow up we must let them alone. Why would we expect anything less from God?

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