Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Incoherence of Sam Harris (again...)

Atheist Sam Harris is an angry man. People who believe in God, Harris says, are "delusional" and "dupes."

In today's Harris says the following.

  • "The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead." But of course this is not true. See, e.g., William Lane Craig's recent debate with Bart Ehrman here. Or, see Craig Evans's critique of Ehrman et. al. in his new book Deconstructing Jesus. Now I have just listed not one, but two persons, who give reasons for believing Jesus rose from the dead. And, these persons are both alive and "on earth." Are they "good" reasons? Craig and Evans think they are. So do I. Now that makes three persons who believe there are good reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead. But I am sure Harris would not think our reasons are "good." This is because he has ruled out the possibility of resurrection in an a priori fashion. Harris cannot believe in a resurrection because his metaphysical position disallows it. And, Harris is ignorant of New Testament scholarship and the historical reasoning involved. And of course he will pay no attention to such scholarship because his worldview disallows supernatural things like the resurrection of Jesus. But that is the point, isn't it?

  • "Of course, no religion is monolithic. Within every faith one can see people arranged along a spectrum of belief. Picture concentric circles of diminishing reasonableness." OK. And atheism is no different, of course. Within atheism there is a broad spectrum of belief, from Nietzsche's nihilism to Russell's "free man's worship" with it's unyielding-despair-rugged idealism to Dawkins's hate-filled revulsion to Harris's bowing at the throne of "reason" (whatever that might be, as if there is some monolithic position about reason) and so on and on to the village atheist who "stopped believing" because they are angry at Christians and so on... What Harris thinks "reasonableness" is has its problems and non-supporters, even among atheists I feel quite sure. So Harris has made a sociological observation which, I think, applies to all "belief systems" to include the belief system of atheism.

  • "People of all faiths — and none — regularly change their lives for the better, for good and bad reasons. And yet such transformations are regularly put forward as evidence in support of a specific religious creed. President Bush has cited his own sobriety as suggestive of the divinity of Jesus. No doubt Christians do get sober from time to time — but Hindus (polytheists) and atheists do as well. How, therefore, can any thinking person imagine that his experience of sobriety lends credence to the idea that a supreme being is watching over our world and that Jesus is his son?" Here's my response. When I was 21 I was doing drugs nearly every day of the week. I prayed, and in my prayer told God that I believed in Jesus as His Son. From that day until now, 36 years later, I've not done drugs once. So, for me, I associate my release from drugs (and a lot of other stuff I will not mention here) with my prayer to God on that day 36 years ago. I had and still have this experiential reality of a God who loves me and has given me new life. It thus seems reasonable for me to infer that my prayer was causally efficacious. And, I am a "thinking person." I have thought a lot about this over the past 36 years, to include reading volumes of philosophic, psychological, and scientific material about "conversions" and personal transformation. I've even read Heidegger's "What Is Called Thinking?" (!!) Let me try this. For me, Alvin Plantinga is a good example of a "thinking person." I find him "rational," logical, analytic, and - this is my opinion - brilliant. On the other hand, I personally find Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, non-analytic, irrational, highly emotive, and dangerous (in the sense that, if he represents what atheism can offer the world, I feel we're in deep trouble). So here we have a theist, Plantinga, who is a far clearer thinker than the Dawkins of GD. So I feel that a "thinking person" can be a theist just as a non-thinking person can not only be an atheist but even be one of atheism's "champions." What an odd world we live in!

  • Now, before I quote Harris again, please put on your "thinking cap" and see if you can make any sense of what he is about to say. I find it, at times, irrational. "There is no question that many people do good things in the name of their faith — but there are better reasons to help the poor, feed the hungry and defend the weak than the belief that an Imaginary Friend wants you to do it. Compassion is deeper than religion. As is ecstasy. It is time that we acknowledge that human beings can be profoundly ethical — and even spiritual — without pretending to know things they do not know." Oh my, what to make of this! Some brief thoughts: 1) To refer to what I mean by God as an "Imaginary Friend" is to beg the question; 2) "Compassion is deeper than religion." Huh? Which means... what? "Deeper?" Why "deeper?" Oh, and by the way, an atheist such as Nietzsche scorns "compassion." I imagine Nietzsche the atheist would argue that "compassion" is a Judeo-Christian notion and in no way finds a place in real atheism; 3) "As is ecstasy." Huh? "Ecstasy," ek-stasis, is, literally, "standing outside of one's self." What could Harris possibily mean by "ecstasy?" Surely not ek-stasis. And, should he define it, how is it "deeper" than religion? 4) Theists like Plantinga et. al. are definitely not "pretending to know things they do not know." (Even if Plantinga was "pretending," how could Harris know this. Is Harris a mind-reader?) 5) Yes, atheists can be "ethical." But, on atheism, there is no reason to be "ethical." Not really. Again, see Nietzsche.