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Science Must Destroy Religion A Response to the 2006 Edge Question

WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?


Most people believe that the Creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of their books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and each makes incompatible claims about how we all must live. Despite the ecumenical efforts of many well-intentioned people, these irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict.

In response to this situation, most sensible people advocate something called “religious tolerance.” While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticizing ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves — repeatedly and at the highest levels — about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.

 

An Atheist Manifesto

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

 

Selling Out Science

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The following op-ed is from Volume 26, Issue 1 of Free Inquiry

With the miasma of “Intelligent Design” slowly poisoning our intellectual discourse, it is amazing to consider that a significant percentage of scientists—40 percent!—still believe that reason and faith are compatible. Science, we are often told, “cannot prove that God does not exist”; religion and science “address different questions”; there are two “magisteria” given for human contemplation, and, as luck would have it, they do not overlap. The United States is now the most technologically advanced society in the history of the world, and yet nearly half of its citizens—45 percent—and some considerable number of its leaders will probably ignore the current debate over “Intelligent Design”—because they are old-school creationists who believe that our species was made out of dirt in the year 4004 b.c.e. by the hand of an almighty god.

 

Bombing Our Illusions II

In my last post, I argued that there is a direct link between Islam and suicide bombing.  Many readers of this blog considered this post to be offensive, tendentious, and even irresponsible.  An addendum seems to be in order.  Criticism of my argument fell into a few broad categories:

1. Sam, you don’t know a damn thing about Islam, the Koran, or Muslim history.  Islam is a religion of peace that has been hijacked by extremists.

This objection is generally put forward by people who have not read the Koran or the hadith (the literature that recounts the sayings and actions of the Prophet). Some readers also pointed out that the bible contains some very scary passages.  This is true, and I discuss the consequences of biblical literalism in my other writing.  But the bible is a vast, self-contradictory book.  It is very easy to just read the “good parts” and ignore all the barbarism found in books like Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Exodus, etc. The fundamental message of the Koran is impossible to ignore and far easier to summarize. And there is no Sermon on the Mount in there to break the spell.  Yes, there is a single line that can be read as a prohibition against suicide (4:29 – “Do not destroy yourselves.”), but this line can also be read as an admonishment to Muslims to refrain from killing other Muslims.  In any case, we are talking about one line set in a wilderness of other passages that clearly admonish the faithful to despise unbelievers. On virtually every page of the Koran we are informed that Allah is in the process of “mocking,” “cursing,” “shaming,” “scourging,” “not forgiving,” “not reprieving,” the infidels.  Had Allah wanted to guide the infidels to the true path, he would have.  So he has cursed them with their doubts.  He allows them to prosper in this world only so that they may have a greater opportunity to heap sin upon sin and more richly deserve the eternal punishment of the fire whose “fuel is men and stones.”  As a basis for religious tolerance in a pluralistic world, the Koran is one of the least promising documents ever written—despite the few lines that, read in isolation, seem to counsel patience, charity, tolerance, etc.  And the hadith is even worse.

 

Bombing Our Illusions

Open the newspaper today—or tomorrow, or almost any day for many years to come—and you will discover that some pious Muslim has deliberately blown himself to bits for the purpose of killing “infidels” or “apostates.” It is likely that the bomber was male, middle class, and comparatively well educated.  It is especially likely that he was guided by the sincere expectation of spending eternity in Paradise.  In fact, suicide bombing is now so commonplace in our world that most of us have lost sight of just how unimaginable it should be.  It is, perhaps, the least likely thing human beings could ever be inclined to do.  What, after all, is less likely than large numbers of middle class, educated, psychologically healthy people intentionally blowing themselves up—in crowds of children, in front of the offices of the Red Cross, at weddings—and having their mothers sing their praises for it? Can we even conceive of a more profligate misuse of human life?  As a cultural phenomenon, suicide bombing should be impossible. But here it is.

 

There is No God (And You Know It)

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most.  Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.  The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe—at this very moment—that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this?  Is it good that they believe this?

No.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle.  The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for.  This is a thankless job.  It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

 

Rational Mysticism

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Tom Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry, has invited me to contribute four essays to this magazine over the course of the next year. This invitation comes after he wrote a mixed, misleading, and ultimately exasperating review of my book, The End of Faith, in these very pages.[1] Having accepted his invitation, I now feel a mixture of emotions about which psychological science has precious little to say. In this first essay, I will resist the temptation to rise heroically to the defense of my own book—but I will fail.

 
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