No rational person, observing that scientists disagree: some think dark
matter exists in large quantity while others do not, some think strings
are a fundamental constituent of reality while others do not, draws this
conclusion: because scientists disagree, the entire venture is illegitimate
and should be abandoned. This conclusion does not follow logically. Nor
would any be so intemperate and rude as to label the venture a "ludicrous
obscenity" on these grounds. Yet our author concludes, from the mere
fact that religious people disagree with one another, that the entire enterprise
is worthless, indeed dangerous:
"Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship,
and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live." (Sam
Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 79).
This is the same as to conclude that, because there is counterfeit currency,
there is no such thing as real coin; because there is error, there can
be no such thing as truth. To the contrary, spurious productions point
to the reality they falsify.
In our author's logic, the fact that two speakers contradict each other
forces the conclusion that neither speaker's statement can be true. To
generalize our author's principle: 'If two speakers contradict one another,
then no statement of that kind can be true.' But in logic as heretofore understood, the circumstance
that two speakers contradict one another means: either statement a.) is
true and b.) [not-a] is false, or statement a.) is false and b.) is true,
or neither a.) nor b.) is true.
So one speaker may say, 'Buenos Aires is in North America,' and another
retorts, 'No, Buenos Aires is in South America.' A third begs to differ,
'You're both wrong, because Buenos Aires is in Asia.' What follows logically
is not, 'All statements about the location of Buenos Aires are false and
futile,' but 'Buenos Aires cannot simultaneously be in North America, South
America, and also in Asia; at least two of these statements are false,
and possibly all three.' Our author's revision of logic is inept.
Although our author repeatedly offers the mere disagreement of religious
viewpoints as proof of their inherent irrationality, he himself is aware
this is a worthless argument. He repeats it only because he lacks the intellectual
honesty to stop using a silly argument. Our author notes, for example,
that ethics and politics stir up endless disputes. Uh-oh -- if this means
these endeavors are a waste of time, then he cannot take up the reader's
time with his pontificating on these topics! But these are the very topics
he wishes to treat; this is a not a philosophy book but a political one;
our author does not deign to argue, but assumes, the intellectual bankruptcy of theism.
The topics he proposes to treat are noted for the proliferation of divergent
and irreconcilable views. Does that mere fact make these fields of endeavor
a waste of time, as we have heard him say of religion? Of course not:
"The fact that people of different times and cultures disagree about
ethical questions should not trouble us. It suggests nothing at all about
the status of moral truth." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 171).
Of course it shouldn't. And yet, he has assured us, a similar situation
in the case of religion shows up religion as an irrational waste of time.
Indeed, in reality, one person might be right and everyone else wrong:
"It is quite conceivable that everyone might agree and yet be wrong
about the way the world is. It is also conceivable that a single person
might be right in the face of unanimous opposition" (Sam Harris, 'The
End of Faith,' pp. 181-182) -- except, of course, if that one person is
a Christian, in which case the fact that not everyone is a Christian, and
that fact alone, demonstrates the falsity and futility of Christianity.
Lately, offering an incoherent and ill-received theory about
morals and neuroscience, our author has discovered that one lone
voice in the wilderness can be right:
"The deeper issue, however, is that truth has nothing,
in principle, to do with consensus: one person can be right, and
everyone else can be wrong." (Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape, p. 31).
The fact that the neuroscience establishment fails to see the
merit in his work does not make him a quack, he wants to assure us,
and yet the fact that religious people differ means that they are
all wrong. There is no intellectual honesty here, only special pleading.
At times our author refines his 'difference of opinion implies irrationality'
argument by explaining that, as opposed to science, religion lacks a methodology
to settle disputes and ascertain truth. Religious people, he suggests,
are handed their confessions by random allotment and ever afterward stare
at other religious people with blank incomprehension. Yet his own experience
shows that this is not the case. Our author does not practice the Jewish
faith, but is rather a Jain sympathizer who frequently presents arguments
purporting to show the moral superiority of Jainism. If such arguments
are impossible and futile, why waste the reader's time by presenting them?
If such arguments are not impossible nor futile, why is only he allowed
to make them?
Readers who recall a more genial atheistic literature, such as that produced
by the late Bertrand Russell, will be taken aback at the raw hatred which
underlies the more recent atheist publishing boomlet. Bertrand Russell
perceived his Christian neighbors as gullible simpletons who believed improbable
things without sufficient reason. He did not wish them ill nor propose
depriving them of their civil liberties. Our author perceives his Christian
neighbors' living up the street as a threat to his existence, a threat
which must be neutralized for him to survive. Sam Harris' goal is nothing
less than to stamp out religion:
"Words like 'God' and 'Allah' must go the way of 'Apollo' and 'Baal,' or they will unmake
our world." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 14).
This author imagines a world made new, a happy, wonderful world where people stroll down the street arm in
arm...because there are no Christians there. A world without any of us is our author's paradise. How wonderful life
would be...if we were gone! One must imagine this is much the same way the Hutus feel about the Tutsis. Our author's
publishing efforts are the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' for New Age atheists. Above all he wants his fellow enlightened ones to
understand that theists are dangerous.
'What a wonderful world it would be if only there were no ________' is a perennial best-seller in the political
marketplace. For generations white Southern politics revolved around demonizing African-Americans and seeking to harm and
disadvantage this population group in every way possible. Our author's political program tracks with theirs. In spite of
the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office, and in defiance of present law which disallows
private employers basing hiring or firing decisions on religious affiliation, our author hopes for a day in which Christians
will suffer the same employment discrimination as did blacks under Jim Crow and will be locked out of positions of responsibility:
"A few minutes spent wandering the graveyard of bad ideas suggests
that such conceptual revolutions are possible. Consider the case of alchemy:
it fascinated human beings for over a thousand years, and yet anyone who
seriously claims to be a practicing alchemist today will have disqualified
himself for most positions of responsibility in our society. Faith-based
religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence."
(Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 14)
"People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the
margins of our societies, not in our halls of power."
(Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 225).
Christians in fact enjoy the same status in sharia-observant Muslim societies
as our author would allow them, as 'dhimmis' who must pay taxes but
may not wield power.
Similarly idealistic Turks once dreamt of how excellent a world it would
be if there were no Armenians. Sam Harris presents a political utopia premised
on the disappearance of a population group. Where does a politics like
his, predicated on demonizing and vilifying a population group, have to
go when it turns out the population group in question has no intention
of going away? How many corpses will have to litter the street to make
a word like 'God' fade from memory?
Sermon on the Mount
Friedrich Nietzsche despised Christianity because he hated Christian morals.
The gentle precepts of the Sermon on the Mount had neutered his ideal,
the "blonde beast" (Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Twilight of the Idols,
'The "Improvers" of Mankind,' 2) who had been "strong and
happy" before hearing the gospel. This present crop of atheist authors, while they dislike Christian sexual morality,
have no quarrel with the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount.
Rather, they accuse Christians, who repeat these precepts and strive to
live up to them, of being the only people on earth who cannot be brought
to heel to them. For atheists, you see, it is easy and natural to live
the Sermon on the Mount.
What Nietzsche realized is that Christian ethics is a system:
"When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian
morality. For the latter is absolutely not self-evident...Christianity is a system, a consistently thought out
and complete view of things. If one breaks out of it a fundamental idea, the belief in God, one thereby breaks
the whole thing to pieces: one has nothing of any consequence left in one's hands."
(Friedrich Nietzsche, 'Twilight of the Idols,' 'Expeditions of an Untimely Man,' 5)
Non-resistance to evil, turning the other cheek, is premised on the idea
that vengeance belongs to God:
"Vengeance is Mine, and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them." (Deuteronomy 32:35).
Although we do not observe atheists to live by the Sermon on the Mount, we are to imagine
that they do. But how can atheists live by this code without fearing that
injustice will prevail? If the heavens are empty, the assaulted innocent
who turns the other cheek allows aggression to triumph.
Thanks to the myopic self-esteem which so richly fills every human breast,
each litigant watches his side of the dispute wave the banner of justice.
But disputes proliferate endlessly, because both parties to the quarrel
quite sincerely believe their cause is the cause of right. Only by laying
the quarrel on the altar can there be an end.
If there is no God, then how can justice prevail when the wronged party
turns the other cheek and lets it go? God keeps the accounts, God knows
who has repented, God knows who meant well and who did not. In any case
He is the offended party: "Against You, You only, have I sinned"
(Psalm 51:4); it is His business not ours. Theists can leave it in His hands.