Reply to Nicholas D. Kristof

 

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December 5, 2006
When Atheists Have Their Say

To the Editor:

Re “A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 3):

Contrary to Mr. Kristof’s opinion, it isn’t “intolerant” or “fundamentalist” to point out that there is no good reason to believe that one of our books was dictated by an omniscient deity.

Half of the American population believes that the universe is 6,000 years old. They are wrong about this. Declaring them so is not “irreligious intolerance.” It is intellectual honesty.

Given the astounding number of galaxies and potential worlds arrayed overhead, the complexities of life on earth and the advances in our ethical discourse over the last 2,000 years, the world’s religions offer a view of reality that is now so utterly impoverished as to scarcely constitute a view of reality at all.

This is a fact that can be argued for from a dozen sides, as Richard Dawkins and I have recently done in our books. Calling our efforts “mean” overlooks our genuine concern for the future of civilization.

And it’s not much of a counterargument either.

Sam Harris
New York, Dec. 3, 2006

The writer is the author of “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.”

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof is one of many commentators to find the tone of the newly resurgent atheism “obnoxious” or “mean.”

Ubiquitous as they are, such epithets are not borne out by an objective reading of the works he cites: Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation,” my own “God Delusion” and www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com (I had not been aware of this splendid Web site; thank you, Mr. Kristof).

I have scanned all three atheist sources carefully for polemic, and my honest judgment is that they are gentle by the standards of normal political commentary, say, or the standards of theater and arts critics.

Mr. Kristof has simply become acclimatized to the convention that you can criticize anything else but you mustn’t criticize religion. Ears calibrated to this norm will hear gentle criticism of religion as intemperate, and robust criticism as obnoxious. Without wishing to offend, I want “The God Delusion” to raise our consciousness of this weird double standard.

How did religion acquire its extraordinary immunity against normal levels of criticism?

Richard Dawkins
Oxford, England, Dec. 4, 2006

 
 
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