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My reassesment of End of Faith
Posted: 21 May 2007 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I reread End of Faith with as open of a mind as possible and I have come to a number of conclusions that I do not think I really thought about the first time when I was more interested in simply attacking Dr.(?) Harris.

I think the man has a number of good points, even if I do not agree with his final conclusion that all faith is bad. First of all, he is right in claiming that blind faith has caused all kinds of problems throughout history. Many people have died senselessly because of strange beliefs which had no basis in reality. Witch hunts are an obvious example. No rational person would come to the sort of conclusions that those witch hunting came to. Modern day terrorism comes to mind as well. The Islamic willingness to kill every living creature unless they willingly subject to Islamic law is frightening to say the least.

I also have come to agree that the Catholic Church's refusal to support condom use in every circumstance is not a good thing. I agree that the Church has made a grave mistake in not allowing condoms to make their way into the poorest regions of Africa. This is something the Church needs to seriously rethink, because like Sam Harris has pointed out, it is having disasterous results.

My problem, however, is that Harris never directly addresses those people who claim that faith and reason can, in fact, be reconciled. This is what I have a problem with. He never addresses any arguments that a theist may have for the existence of God. I believe that a rational person can believe in God without the sort of faith that Harris talks about. I do not believe that God can ever be "proven" absolutely to exist, but I think that one is able to make deductions from the available facts and come to believe in God. I think the same is true of Christianity. In his bibliography Harris has Richard Swineburn's Existence of God listed, but he never mentions him in his book or attempts to discuss his arguments for the existence of God. That is what I find rather strange.

The other thing that bothers me is his writing style. If one wants to convince unreasonable people to become reasonable I do not think it is wise to call them names or degrade them. I think most of Harris' points are good, but I do not think his forceful style is going to convince anyone who does not already agree with him. One has to learn to be tactful. Even if everything Harris says is true, I think he should tone it down a bit if he desires to actually convince anyone.

All that being said, I read the book and I did not lose my religion. I think he makes some good points and I think it is a book that religionists should read to make them think about their religion, but I think that I am able to believe in God while still being a rational person. To be more precise I think I am able to be a Christian without hating Sam Harris for saying what he said. I also believe, like Sam Harris, that all religious beliefs should be held to the same standard as any other belief and if there is insufficient reason to believe that belief, then it should be thrown out. I do not think that religious beliefs should be immune from criticism. Traditional Christianity certainly could learn a lot from that line of thinking, I believe. I do not think, however, any of my core beliefs are fundamentally threatened.

My last thought is that Sam Harris did not really present anything new with this book. I think he essentially took what Bertrand Russell wrote in his religious and ethical essays 70 years ago and shifted it to a 21st Century context. I am fairly confident that Harris would agree with that. Many of his criticisms of religion are identical to Russell's criticisms of Christianity. Over all, it is a good book even though I cannot agree that "faith" necessarily leads to evil.

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Posted: 21 May 2007 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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[quote author=“AJY”]First of all, he is right in claiming that blind faith has caused all kinds of problems throughout history. Many people have died senselessly because of strange beliefs which had no basis in reality. Witch hunts are an obvious example.

You sound wistful saying how people die senslessly because of strange beliefs.  You sound like there is no gravity weighing you down.  I apologize for jumping out at you like this but I just got done revisiting a senseless killing this morning and I am more than a tad disturbed right now.  That this is happening today, not in the middle ages but today is beyond my comprehension.  I am still trying to fathom it.

please, ajy, take a look at this video shot this past month of a young woman being stoned to death because she sought to marry outside her religion.  Who killed her?  her family and neighbors.

http://www.cnn.com/video/player/player.html?url=/video/world/2007/05/17/black.iraq.stoning.cnn


It does not get much more senseless (your words) than this.

Barbarism is alive and well on our planet.  It has got to fucking stop and I don’t know how to stop it.  People, wake up.

I also have come to agree that the Catholic Church’s refusal to support condom use in every circumstance is not a good thing. I agree that the Church has made a grave mistake in not allowing condoms to make their way into the poorest regions of Africa. This is something the Church needs to seriously rethink, because like Sam Harris has pointed out, it is having disasterous results.

well.  the catholic church recently changed their mind on limbo so maybe that wheel of change is set in motion and will roll on down to africa someday.  Meanwhile, ho hum, as the pope drums his fingers impatiently on his table… hundreds of thousands of Aficans will senselessly die this year because this man will not change policy that will bring life.  This is pure and unadulterated evil of the worst magnitude.

but I think that I am able to believe in God while still being a rational person… Over all, it is a good book even though I cannot agree that “faith” necessarily leads to evil.

Then you missed the point, if you read the book twice and did not get it, there is no reason why any of us should re explain it a third time to you.  But here it is.  Because your religion exists, people suffer and die needlessly.

Noggin

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Posted: 21 May 2007 03:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Originally, my quibble with both Harris and Dawkins was that their arguments don’t seem to allow room for people to believe whatever they want as long as those people don’t use their beliefs to harm others. And that quibble was wholly personal - I hate being told what to believe, and I want all the evangelists to leave me alone. If I understand Harris and Dawkins correctly, faith itself doesn’t allow room for that kind of non-interference belief either. Is that correct?

[quote author=“AJY”]I believe that a rational person can believe in God without the sort of faith that Harris talks about. I do not believe that God can ever be “proven” absolutely to exist, but I think that one is able to make deductions from the available facts and come to believe in God.

If so, how would you define God? I have suggested in other threads that theists might do well to define God as having no interaction with the natural world at all. However, I have no expectation that my idea will ever become popular.

[quote author=“AJY”]Many people have died senselessly because of strange beliefs which had no basis in reality.

I think you missed the point. The problem is the notion of “God’s will.” That notion leads people to exempt themselves from accountability to others or to society, to accept any action as permissible when it’s in the service of their gods. I include the concepts of heaven or hell in this category.

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Posted: 21 May 2007 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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If the nature of the god that you believe in was untouched by any of Sam Harris’ critiques, then perhaps your god’s divine nature is so idiosynchratic as to be a mere duplicate of your subjective dreams? My question to you might be, “what are you willing to do in the name of your god?”  If this AJY-god is essentially beyond description, then surely some of your own actions (as sanctioned by your ineffable god) would give us some idea of what he approves and disapproves?

It is my understanding that in order to be a theist, one has to at least be able to describe his deity in some fashion.  If you say that god is not describable in human terms, then you have no right to refer to him as a deity, in which case you cannot be a theist. It seems to me that a theist must, at minimum, be able to offer some description of the deity that he believes in.  Without that minimal description there is no deity to refer to here, except perhaps some imaginary, personal dream.  I think you already know where this line of questioning is going.

Bob

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Posted: 21 May 2007 08:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“AJY”]I do not believe that God can ever be “proven” absolutely to exist, but I think that one is able to make deductions from the available facts and come to believe in God.

How would one test those deductions? And why should anyone change their lives based on your deductions? I don’t mean “you” specifically, I mean anyone who claims that everyone should obey God. This discussion would almost certainly be an academic exercise if theists didn’t make claims as to what God wants from everyone.

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Posted: 22 May 2007 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“AJY”]In his bibliography Harris has Richard Swineburn’s Existence of God listed, but he never mentions him in his book or attempts to discuss his arguments for the existence of God. That is what I find rather strange.

I also wish Harris had commented on theists like Swinburne (note the spelling) who have extremely sophisticated arguments for their god-belief.  Since Harris did not discuss such persons, I will offer my own opinion on it.

Studying religion will quickly make it apparent that very intelligent people will often believe very ridiculous things.  They sometimes will even come up with extremely sophisticated rationalizations for believing those ridiculous things.  Religion has extremely strange effects on people, all people, to which even very intelligent people like Swinburne are not immune.

 

If you think that the arguments of Swinburne should have been addressed, just think of the “Five Ways”—-the arguments put forth by Thomas Aquinas for the existence of a god.  They were novel and sophisticated arguments, at that time.  By today’s standards, however, they are important in philosophy only for their historical impact.  The flaws in them are widely-known, even if took some time for them to be initially articulated.

Theists and atheists (and everyone else in-between) have slugged it out for centuries, with each side finding flaws in the arguments of the other side, and each side responding with slightly more sophisticated arguments, the other side developing new counter-arguments, and so on, and so on.  It has escalated to the point where you today see extremely tough arguments (like those of Swinburne, Van Til, Plantinga, etc.), but you also see extremely challenging counter-arguments by atheist philosophers.

Frankly, 99% of their arguments and rebuttals fly over my head.  You pretty much have to have a PhD and devote your spare time to studying philosophy to get a handle on the arguments back and forth.  It seems rather odd to me that the creator of the universe would set up the world in this way, but it is much more sensible if what we are seeing is an intellectual arms-race that is completely devoid of the intervention of any omnipotent being that favors one of the sides over the other.  It makes sense in the light of no-god, but not so much if there is a god.

The other thing that bothers me is his writing style. If one wants to convince unreasonable people to become reasonable I do not think it is wise to call them names or degrade them. I think most of Harris’ points are good, but I do not think his forceful style is going to convince anyone who does not already agree with him.

I think his book will have its most important impact on atheists like me rather than theists like you.  His books work as a call-to-arms to those of us atheists that have been rather complacent in our activism.  It has had the effect on me of making me realize the dangers that religion poses and that we must be more assertive in combating it.

Brian

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Posted: 22 May 2007 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“Brian63”]Theists and atheists (and everyone else in-between) have slugged it out for centuries, with each side finding flaws in the arguments of the other side, and each side responding with slightly more sophisticated arguments, the other side developing new counter-arguments, and so on, and so on.

I find the debate frustrating because theists, unlike atheists, define their beliefs in ways that make demands on non-theists. They insist that everyone is required to obey their gods and they warn of everlasting suffering after death for those who don’t obey.

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Posted: 22 May 2007 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“Brian63”]
Frankly, 99% of their arguments and rebuttals fly over my head.  You pretty much have to have a PhD and devote your spare time to studying philosophy to get a handle on the arguments back and forth.  It seems rather odd to me that the creator of the universe would set up the world in this way…
Brian

Sometimes I wonder if it could be any other way though.  If there was a tangible touch point item available to every human that proved to them the existence of deity, would we still be here opinionating as to who and what god is or is not?

Theists argue we already have this tangible touch point.  If it is so tangible why so much confusion with it?  Theists argue that there is no confusion.  Then why so many churches with different opinions.  Theists argue that there aren’t “so many churches”.  Heads in the sand?

I should think one touch point should have been sufficient.  Or keep it interesting… let there be two so a debate could ensue and we would not get so bored.  But hundreds?  why hundreds?  Just look at this partial list:

ministry of Jesus circa 30 A.D.
first known use of the phrase “Catholic Church” * 107 A.D.
Coptic Orthodox 451
Islam 610
East/West split formalized between bodies known today as Catholic Church / Eastern Orthodox Church 1054
Veerashaivas (Lingayats) c. 1150
Sikhism 1469
Anglican Communion 1534
Moravian Church 1727
African Methodist Episcopal Church 1787
Episcopal Church, A semi-autonomous church within Anglican Communion.
1789:
U.S. church formally distinct from Church of England 1789
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1830
Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement followers of Alexander Campbell (Church of Christ/churches of Christ) merge with followers of
Barton W. Stone, i.e., Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1832
Tenrikyo 1838
Christadelphians 1845
Southern Baptist Convention 1845
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod 1847
Ch’ondogyo 1860
Community of Christ (RLDS) 1860
Baha’i Faith 1863
Seventh-day Adventist Church 1863
New Apostolic Church 1863
Salvation Army 1865
Jehovah’s Witnesses 1870
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
(Reform Judaism) 1873
Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) 1879
The Church of God (Seventh Day) 1884
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) 1886
Christian and Missionary Alliance 1887
Ahmadiyya 1889
Unity Church / Unity School of Christianity 1889
Church of God in Christ 1897
Aglipayan Church 1902
Stone-Campbell movement formally splits into: Church of Christ / churches of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 1906
American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1907
Church of the Nazarene 1908
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism 1913
Iglesia ni Cristo 1914
Assemblies of God 1914
National Baptist Convention of America 1915
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World 1919
Kimbanguist Church 1921
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel 1923
United Church of Canada 1925
Cao Dai 1926
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (CC/CC)
North American Christian Convention (NACC) was first
organized in 1927 as the first step in separation
from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ),
a separation which was not fully formalized until 1968. 1927
United Free Church of Scotland 1929
Nation of Islam 1931
Worldwide Church of God 1934
Soka Gakkai 1937
Sathya Sai Baba 1940
United Pentecostal Church International 1945
Church of South India 1947
Wicca 1951
Unification Church 1954
Church of Scientology 1954
Aquarian Foundation 1955
United Church of Christ 1957
Unitarian Universalist Association 1961
Secular Humanistic Judaism 1963
Calvary Chapel 1965
ISKCON 1966
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (CC/CC) Continues Stone-Campbell movement began in 1832.  Shared a common history with the
Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) until 1968. 1968
Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar 1968
United Methodist Church 1968
modern GLBT movement began 28 June 1969 at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC 1969
Church of North India 1973
Vineyard Churches 1974
Uniting Church in Australia 1977
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God 1977
International Churches of Christ 1979
China Christian Council 1980
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 1983
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 1988
Falun Gong 1992


~Noggin

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Posted: 23 May 2007 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Without getting into the details of what you said, AJY, I want to applaud you for allowing yourself, as a person of faith, to have a reasonable dialogue with Sam Harris’ book. I meet too many people who refuse to think critically about their beliefs and it’s nice to hear from someone who does. I’m also not surprised that the book didn’t affect your faith because a single book, no matter how persuasive, could never do that. People lose their faith for complex reasons, as I did some years ago. I also applaud your demeanor in this post. Too often forums like this become viscious screaming matches and dens of name calling that result in nothing more than useless polarization. In a world reeling out of control we need to maintain basic civility towards people we don’t agree with. Otherwise debate can’t exist. And where debate doesn’t exist change often gets dictated, not reasoned.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“ewomack”] In a world reeling out of control we need to maintain basic civility towards people we don’t agree with.

To put it briefly, womack, “f**k civility”. Before you can prescribe for me the requirement to maintain civility, you need to posit the purpose for which one does so. If it is ONLY for your comfort, I am afraid I must decline.

I say again: All you need to do is come up with, and express in plain language, a justification for maintaining civility.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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“I said to them, ‘70,000 people have been butchered and none of you gave a shit.’”

There was silence. A priest had sworn in the pulpit.

“And the reason I know none of you gave a shit,” he continued, “was because none of you fell off your seat when I said ‘70,000 had been butchered’, but nearly all of you fell off your seats when I said ‘shit’.”

-Steve Gilhooley

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Posted: 23 May 2007 07:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Salt Creek”]To put it briefly, womack, “f**k civility”.

I don’t feel like being civil when I’m told I’m going to hell for not accepting someone else’s savior. And I damn sure don’t feel like being civil when believers seek to hijack public schools to try to convert MY children.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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I am sure some believers feel the same way.

No progress is going to be made anywhere if you act like a senseless idiot every time someone disagrees with you on some idea. You can be as uncivil as you want, but no one taks an uncivil person seriously. If you want people to change their minds you are not going to be able to attack the people’s character or intelligence or they simply will continue doing whatever they are doing and will pass you off as a crazy.

Be as uncivil as you want, but you will be better off talking to a wall because no one is going to listen to you or take your ideas seriously.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“AJY”]No progress is going to be made anywhere if you act like a senseless idiot every time someone disagrees with you on some idea.

While I agree with you in principle, I think you miss my point. For me, the issue isn’t about someone disagreeing with my view of the supernatural. The issue is about my personal boundaries and my objection to being pushed around. The eternal damnation doctrine amounts to bullying. To a lesser extent, so does the claim by believers that everyone must obey the believers’ gods. I have the right to refuse to be defined by what believers think and say about me, or by what anyone thinks and says about me for that matter. This isn’t about the supernatural or the meaning of life, this is about me. If that sounds narcissistic, so be it. I shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting to defend my personal boundaries. I shouldn’t have to debate people in order to get them to stop pushing me around. I was taught that if I let people bully me once, they will continue to do so. To my shame, I admit that when a believer tells me I will suffer for eternity because I don’t have certain beliefs, I want to pound the believer into a bloody pulp. I suspect it’s the same motivation experienced by blacks when others call them n——-s or by Jews when people call them k—-s.

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Posted: 23 May 2007 05:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“MDBeach”]“I said to them, ‘70,000 people have been butchered and none of you gave a s***.’”

There was silence. A priest had sworn in the pulpit.

“And the reason I know none of you gave a s***,” he continued, “was because none of you fell off your seat when I said ‘70,000 had been butchered’, but nearly all of you fell off your seats when I said ‘s***’.”

-Steve Gilhooley

Beach, have you read Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illich? If not, I’ll be happy to mail you a copy—one of my top three favorite pieces of short fiction; extremely worthwhile reading.

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Posted: 24 May 2007 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”][quote author=“AJY”]No progress is going to be made anywhere if you act like a senseless idiot every time someone disagrees with you on some idea.

While I agree with you in principle, I think you miss my point. For me, the issue isn’t about someone disagreeing with my view of the supernatural. The issue is about my personal boundaries and my objection to being pushed around. The eternal damnation doctrine amounts to bullying. To a lesser extent, so does the claim by believers that everyone must obey the believers’ gods. I have the right to refuse to be defined by what believers think and say about me, or by what anyone thinks and says about me for that matter. This isn’t about the supernatural or the meaning of life, this is about me. If that sounds narcissistic, so be it. I shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting to defend my personal boundaries. I shouldn’t have to debate people in order to get them to stop pushing me around. I was taught that if I let people bully me once, they will continue to do so. To my shame, I admit that when a believer tells me I will suffer for eternity because I don’t have certain beliefs, I want to pound the believer into a bloody pulp. I suspect it’s the same motivation experienced by blacks when others call them n——-s or by Jews when people call them k—-s.

an alarm in my head went off just about at the above bold print area.

I tried to snip just a portion of your statement there, Carstonio but the whole thing is relevant.

How close to being pushed over the edge are you by the theist believer who you perceive to be bullying you with their belief (I share the same sentiment, btw)?

What is the edge for you?  I assume wanting to, even in it’s most minute interpretation, pound the believer into a bloody pulp does not include the desire to kill them.

How is your edge different than the suicide bombers edge?

You may be able to put your desires or impulses to “pound” in check but there are many who are unable to do so.  For this reason I have much gratitude for Harris’ work, TEOF, as it helped me see there is a need to make sure I am not headed off to the lands of irrationality just as the fundy zealot might be… (or the homophobic Wyoming males, who tortured and killed matt shepherd because he was gay, might be, or…)

just a thought.

Noggin

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