John on December 24, 2006 at 2:43 pm
Gotta love the LA Times. They’re just so blatant about their biases. Today, on Christmas Eve, they give over-exposed, uber-atheist Sam Harris a chance to proselytize. Sam’s “Ten Myths and Ten Truths about Atheism” is ostensibly a chance for him to set the record straight, but in reality it’s just another excuse for him to attack faith using warmed-over snippets of his book.
I’m going to fisk a few of these, just because I hate to see liars prosper. I won’t copy over all of Sam’s piece, only the parts I’m responding to. Use the link to read the whole thing. So here goes:
1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.
Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived.
Atheists must not be that sure since non-religious persons are more likely to attempt suicide. As for life being “really and fully lived” What the hell does that mean, Sam? Seriously, this is just the type of romantic language which hard-nosed atheists like to trample on when offered by Christians. Yet here you are offering the abundant life.
In reality, atheism offers no guide to full living. Any life, from that of a selfless saint to that of a mass murdering psychopath has been “fully lived” as far as atheism is concerned.
2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.
People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.
This is his full response. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and others have decided that a big problem with winning folks to their side are the conspicuous number of mass graves generated by officially atheist societies. As a result, they are eager to write these societies off as not atheist enough.
Sorry, Sam, but it won’t work. Your analysis is correct so far as it goes. Such regimes are dogmatic personality cults. What you fail to realize is that the absence of a contextualizing story for existence doesn’t turn people into selfless individualists. Instead, it makes them all the more susceptible to political/religious movements of exactly the sort run by Hitler, Mao and Stalin.
As for personality cults, you seem to be running one. The same could be said for your pal Dawkins. Have you seen those “dear leader” photos on his website? The sun is literally shining around him like a halo.
3) Atheism is dogmatic.
As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Fair enough. Believe what you will. I just happen to think your vision of existence leaves a lot to be desired.
4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.
The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, “The God Delusion,” this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don’t know precisely how the Earth’s early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase “natural selection” by analogy to the “artificial selection” performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.
Tip-tap. Tippity-tap. Now we’re seeing a little dance around the question. The import of the question isn’t whether or not something besides chance might have been involved in creation or the genesis of life. The import of the question is this: Is our existence a matter of chance. And as far as that question goes, the honest atheist can only answer yes.
5) Atheism has no connection to science.
Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God â€” as some scientists seem to manage it â€” there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.
Could be that. It could also take us right back to that personality cult question. Scientists, like everyone else, run in packs. Ultimately, being a biologist, chemist or physicist doesn’t give one any more insight into the questions of our existence than being a car mechanic.
Part 2 of my response to Sam Harris later. Right now I’m off to church…
Update: Here’s part 2.