This is my first post here, so there is a chance that I will unknowing violate a cultural ethic in how I go about my comments here. If so, please give me the benefit of the doubt and feel free to kindly educate me as to how I might better discourse here. That said:
My problems with some of Sam’s thinking is not yet all that clear to me, but I know that my problem comes after recognizing the steps forward he takes. I am very comfortable with a criticism of magical thinking in general, so to the extent that Sam is simply pointing out the actual magic involved with various belief systems I am with him.
One question I have has to do with a specific impression I often take away from hearing or reading Sam debate.
To me it seems clear that Sam wants us to pay strict attention to the causal relation between a belief and the actions it inspires. If he is debating somebody who tries to widen the question of violence by suggesting that Sam is being too narrow in tying it directly to fundamentalist texts, Sam is very quick demonstrate that he sees no reason to mitigate the direct and concrete role that a belief plays in production of a specific behavior: he points out that if the Koran did not talk about the evil of visually depicting Mohammad, we would not have seen the specific acts of violence erupt when cartoons of the Prophet were displayed.
Sam seems to be suggesting that secular individuals are less prone to violence; he wishes to make sure we keep our attention focused in the direct and concrete relationship between a belief and a behavior; therefore I wonder if he thinks that the average man who identifies himself as a Christian is less likely to abuse a woman than the average man who identifies himself as an atheist? Does anybody know?
I respect Sam for always tying his concerns to violence. He is not simply engaging in mental masturbation. He is interested in what fuels violence. This is why he can’t ignore that people who put faith in texts that advocate and specify the significance of violence are often people who then act upon those beliefs.
He respects and advocates that we use our reason. Do we have reason to believe that a person who self-identifies as a rationalist is less prone to violence than a person who self-identifies as religious. If you knew that there was man next door who is just about to hit his wife, do you have any reason to believe he is less likely to have a book on science resting on his coffee table than a religious book? I went to an undergraduate school in which most of my associates and I strongly identified ourselves as atheists. Yet I have no reason to believe that the men and women at my college were less inclined to acts of physical and/or emotional violence than the average students at the methodist seminary school? I don’t know the stats of this type of question, but I think Sam’s general outlook must support the hypothesis that you find less violence in individuals who claim reason over faith.
I hope it is clear that I’m not trying to set up a simple argument against Sam’s points.
I might be wrong, but that seems like mere observation, followed by a conclusion. Another example is the old theory that maggots are formed on rotting meat. It is extraordinarily simple to put a net over a sample of rotting meat (although like most milestones, someone had to think of it) but I don’t really see any way to test nations and atheism.