Atheism’s Dupes

Sam Harris, author of “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” and “Letter to a Christian Nation,” has graced the LA Times with an anti-religion oped entitled: “God’s Dupes – Moderate believers give cover to religious fanatics — and are every bit as delusional”.

First of all, I have to ask, how the hell can they be, “God’s dupes”, if there is no God, as he continually argues??? And what is it about militant atheists that they can’t refrain from the insults?

Thank Gaia, there are great Christian minds out there that revel in responding to these ever increasing insults against Christianity, such as The Anchoress, and our Curmudgeon Emeritus, Francis W. Porretto of Eternity Road.

The anchoress asks the same question, I did, albeit more elegantly:

“God’s Dupes?” If you’re arguing against religion and theism why would you begin an essay by acknowledging in your title that there is a (Capital G) God and that he is a Duper who has in his grip a legion of Dupees? If you’re committed to the idea of disavowing the existance of God, any God, particularly the nefariously “Iron Age” God-of-Abraham, who has begot so many troublesome children, dupes, why not call it, “The Dupes of Blather,” or “Gadzooks, these Dupes!”

Harris’ oped comes in the wake of Pete Stark’s (D-CA) announcement
that he does not believe in God, and is used as another opportunity to impugn the religious:

The truth is, there is not a person on Earth who has a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead or that Muhammad spoke to the angel Gabriel in a cave. And yet billions of people claim to be certain about such things.

The Anchoress responds:

Many millions of people are absolutely certain that the world will end in precisely 30 years – and it will all be man’s fault – unless we start buying carbon offsets from Al Gore and David Cameron. Faith is a funny thing. As a Christian I don’t demand that anyone believe as I believe, and yet some religions – largely the secularist ones – insist that I believe as they do.

You’ll want to read her entire post. but her main point is well taken:

Harris’ essay simply shows me that religion is religion, even if people don’t want to admit it, or if they want to call it something else. Secular Humanism is a religion. So is fervent Atheism. And as religions, they are subject to fundamentalist interpretation, just like every other religion.

Who are the real dupes, here?

Our Curmudgeon Emeritus takes exception to Mr. Harris’ arguments too, in a perfectly cordial and gentlemanly way, of course:

Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter To A Christian Nation, has made it his life’s work to undermine the religious faith of as many Americans as he can possibly intimidate. Why? The reasons are unknown. They might include any number of things: abuses at the hands of religious parents, mistreatment by religious educational authorities, or his extreme dismay at discovering that Catholic high school girls don’t “put out” that easily after all. But his motivations are less interesting than his tactics. To achieve the atheization of America, Harris has chosen as his tools:

  • Treating all faiths as equivalent;
  • Denigrating the intelligence of religious persons;
  • Impugning their honesty.

A new Lincoln walks among us! Perhaps one really can catch more flies with a gallon of gall. At any rate, Sam Harris is the right man to be the test case.

Read on with satisfaction as Fran dissects and dismisses the arguments.

About these ads

15 Responses to “Atheism’s Dupes”

  1. Bad Says:

    Your objection to using God as a concept referring to dupes is, I think a fairly weak one. It’s perfectly reasonable rhetorically to say that someone has been duped by a conceptual, as opposed to real, thing, particularly in a title. There’s no “gotcha” there.

    As far as I can tell, his argument is that faith is a bad thing, and then goes on to explain why. None of your responders address these arguments, and Curmudgeon Emeritus even bizarrely pretends that there aren’t any (“reasons are unknown”) The closest anyone comes is Anchoress’ attempt to draw a parallel argument about global warming, which isn’t helped much by the fact that she has to exaggerate and caricature her target to even get it in the same ballpark. And she completely fails to address the distinction between method: i.e. arguing based on evidence, vs. on faith. It’s quite possible that people who think there is evidence for GW are wrong, but what they are doing is a very different sort of process than simply believing in something regardless of any empirical process.

    Even if her argument wasn’t silly, it wouldn’t demonstrate what she wants it to. All it would show is that people who are convinced in GW are also dupes, not that religious believers are better justified after all.

    Like

  2. Francis W. Porretto Says:

    Harris’s entire anti-theistic jihad is based on the assumption that he who believes an unprovable proposition is deluding himself to no conceivable gain. But a proposition that can neither be proved nor disproved may yet be true (cf. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem). Indeed, there may be evidence that bears on it. The Gospels, for example, constitute evidence of a certain sort: not conclusive, certainly open to doubt by virtue of their antiquity, but nevertheless written, consistent, assiduously preserved narratives that purport to tell the story of the ministry, death, and Resurrection of Christ.

    But returning to Harris’s reasons for his jihad for just a moment: let’s stipulate that he has objective reasons, not connected to any trauma or emotional insufficiency he might have suffered. If so, he has elected the least effective way to dissuade others from adopting a faith. So he’s either seriously under-equipped intellectually, or his true purpose is to exalt himself over religious persons, who constitute the great majority of the human race and always have. Whom did he think he would persuade by vilifying persons of faith? Even the theistically uncommitted are as likely to react against vitriol such as his as they are to be intimidated by it; many of them know too many thoroughly decent, thoroughly accomplished theists to feel otherwise.

    If we grant Sam Harris the assumption of sincerity, then he’s behaving in a most illogical and ineffective manner. It’s probably more charitable to assume that he’s simply emotionally disturbed and unable to deal with it except through these tirades.

    Like

  3. nicedeb Says:

    Your objection to using God as a concept referring to dupes is, I think a fairly weak one. It’s perfectly reasonable rhetorically to say that someone has been duped by a conceptual, as opposed to real, thing, particularly in a title. There’s no “gotcha” there.

    Dude. Please. No big “Gotcha!” was attempted. I found his title somewhat amusing, given that he’s a staunch, militant. atheist. So did the Anchoress.

    Also, the fact that our curmudgeon Emeritus declined to address his contention that “faith is bad”, *I think* is an indication that he felt it wasn’t worth his time. His deficient methods of persuasion are what he chose to focus on.

    The Anchoress did indeed make an argument for the goodness that comes from faith in a higher being:

    Perhaps “compassion” is “deeper than religion,” but for the most part, when I see “compassionate” folks collecting food and clothing, volunteering to help people learn to read or to construct a resume, working in a soup kitchen, visiting patients in hospital, feeding and educating the poor in Haiti and elsewhere or helping single mothers get on their feet so they can raise their children, I usually see them doing it because they feel called to – thrust forward into serving others by the religious nudge.

    I think a much stronger case can be made that atheism is bad.

    Like

  4. Nick Says:

    Well, having nothing profound, enlightening, or snarky to add (because you’re a level of magnitude above me) I’d just like to say….I didn’t even know The L.A. Times is still in business!

    Like

  5. nicedeb Says:

    Hi Nick. Where ya been?

    Like

  6. Nick Says:

    Hi Deb,
    I have been around, but every spring I end up having to work for a living for awhile. It is the price I pay for refusing to hire illegal aliens. ;-)

    Like

  7. Nice Deb Says:

    Spring, you say? Which suburb of KC do you live in that is experiencing Spring?

    I’m so sick of this cold weather!

    Like

  8. Nick Says:

    Oh dalhin don’t you know? I live in JOCO where the seasons are determined by he County Commission. It can’t even rain here without permission from the City Council.

    They are very important people. ;-)

    Like

  9. nicedeb Says:

    I think I knew that, now that you mention it.

    Like

  10. Bad Says:

    Seems like a defensive sort of “amusement” to me, but okay: so you admit you have no serious logical or grammatical complaint with the title, just inexplicable amusement.

    Also, the fact that our curmudgeon Emeritus declined to address his contention that “faith is bad”, *I think* is an indication that he felt it wasn’t worth his time.

    That’s nice, but striking a “tsk tsk” pose is not the same thing as actually having any coherent response.

    The Anchoress did indeed make an argument for the goodness that comes from faith in a higher being:

    This argument is just the usual “only religious people do good” nonsense. In reality, pretty much everyone does good. It’s just that non-believers have no particular reason to trumpet the fact that they don’t believe in a god as being relevant to their compassion: for most non-believers, their non-belief is a non-issue in their life. Values they do hold are what drive them.

    The same thing happens when you look at charities: religious charities tend to plaster their religion all over the place for attention and even spend resources on religious functions instead of direct charity services. Secular charities tend to just provide charity straight out, without the self-promotion of any particular ideology. So if you count up religious charities, they certainly look more conspicuous… but that’s because they try to be.

    Religious people that mostly hang around other religious people are of course going to see mostly religious people doing good things. But when you try to generalize, this becomes a huge blind spot.

    I think a much stronger case can be made that atheism is bad.

    If thinking it were the same thing as making it, we wouldn’t need the internet. :)

    Like

  11. Bad Says:

    But a proposition that can neither be proved nor disproved may yet be true (cf. Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem).

    I wish people would stop using GIT like this. I agree with the point of your sentence, but it has nothing to do with GIT. GIT is a property of formally defined logical systems, not a general principle for everything, and not something one needs to resort to in order to support basic elements of perfectly normal logic (or modal logic).

    Indeed, there may be evidence that bears on it.

    Evidence IS the standard way to demonstrate that something is true: so if you are appealing to evidence, then you aren’t appealing to faith any longer. Which is great… but doesn’t have much relevance to the idea of believing something without warrant.

    The problem with faith belief is that they are like pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at a friend without knowing whether the gun is loaded or not. Maybe it will shoot magical fairy powder that will heal their injuries. Or maybe it will be loaded and kill them. Or maybe it just won’t be loaded, and everything will be fine. The point is that if you don’t know, you’re better off admitting that you don’t know when it comes time to make the decision on whether to pull the trigger or not.

    But returning to Harris’s reasons for his jihad for just a moment: let’s stipulate that he has objective reasons, not connected to any trauma or emotional insufficiency he might have suffered.

    :rolleyes:

    For the record, I’ve never had any religious or emotional trauma. I was once a confirmed Methodist in a great church community. Somewhere along the way, I can’t even remember when, I simply just forgot to keep believing the necessary things though, and then looking back saw that I had no real justified reason to start believing them again. So that’s where I’m coming from.

    If so, he has elected the least effective way to dissuade others from adopting a faith. So he’s either seriously under-equipped intellectually, or his true purpose is to exalt himself over religious persons, who constitute the great majority of the human race and always have. Whom did he think he would persuade by vilifying persons of faith?

    I’m pretty sure anyone saying anything bad about religious faith would be accused of “villifying it” or full of “vitriol” no matter how polite they were: pretty sure because that happens all the time. People don’t like to have their beliefs challenged, and that’s fine. They should challenge the challenges back: that’s how we learn things in a liberal (the classic kind, not the John McCain kind) society.

    Where it gets a little paranoid is when you start inventing absurd self-conscious motives like “exalt himself over religious persons” instead of addressing the arguments directly.

    Even the theistically uncommitted are as likely to react against vitriol such as his as they are to be intimidated by it; many of them know too many thoroughly decent, thoroughly accomplished theists to feel otherwise.

    Except that Harris doesn’t say that there aren’t decent, thoroughly accomplished theists at all. Which is why his actual books and writings have done so well with the “uncommitted” (which is an obvious source of frustration to many) as opposed to the hype about him being a raging jihadist. Of course, Harris is, in fact, one of the “uncommitted” himself, as am I. Being uncommitted to propositions that do not warrant assent is precisely the point.

    If we grant Sam Harris the assumption of sincerity, then he’s behaving in a most illogical and ineffective manner. It’s probably more charitable to assume that he’s simply emotionally disturbed and unable to deal with it except through these tirades.

    Okay, wow, so here I was thinking you’d finally get to a point at the end of this, but it’s just insults and hostile amateur psychology and nothing more. I’m not a huge fan of even terms like “dupes” and “delusional” myself, but at least the use of these terms is actually provided a justification in Harris’ actual arguments, rather than just being insults tossed out to label people.

    Like

  12. nicedeb Says:

    Seems like a defensive sort of “amusement” to me, but okay: so you admit you have no serious logical or grammatical complaint with the title, just inexplicable amusement.

    Defensive? Oh please, you assume to much. I was going for the easy laugh.

    “RThis argument is just the usual “only religious people do good” nonsense.

    You would be wrong about that. Reread the post, as she goes out of her way to state just the opposite. Talk about defensive….

    The same thing happens when you look at charities: religious charities tend to plaster their religion all over the place for attention and even spend resources on religious functions instead of direct charity services. Secular charities tend to just provide charity straight out, without the self-promotion of any particular ideology. So if you count up religious charities, they certainly look more conspicuous… but that’s because they try to be.

    You got any data to back up your sweeping generalizations?
    Because a quick google search will show you that there are good and bad charities of all stripes, although religious charities are known for having lower overheads.

    This list of the top 10 charities routinely in the red, (courtesy of the Charity Navigator) show 9 secular and only one religious:

    http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=topten.detail&listid=16

    I think a much stronger case can be made that atheism is bad.

    Oh, I see you want me to argue the point. Actually, I’m through arguing with you, but I will, out of Christian charity, offer you this link:

    http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1121/p09s01-coop.html

    Like

  13. Bad Says:

    Defensive? Oh please, you assume to much. I was going for the easy laugh.

    You can’t seem to make up your mind. Either you had a real point to justify your laughter, or you don’t. “God’s Dupes” just doesn’t imply what you pretend it does: leaving your laughter a matter of your own confusion.

    This just seems like the usual “oh, my point didn’t make any sense, but wait wait, I was just joking all along!”

    Reread the post, as she goes out of her way to state just the opposite.

    No, not really. She can’t quite deny the obvious, but downplays it at every turn all to the same effect.

    Myself, I cant see what’s so horrifying about the idea that religious and non-religious folks are both capable of compassion and neither inherently superior to the other. Apparently though, equality and fraternity is just not good enough.

    This list of the top 10 charities routinely in the red

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to demonstrate: it could just as easily be a sign that these charities are undergoing large capital investments, or have had a huge recent need that justified the overspending, and so on. There is no certain meaning here, nor is picking out this single axis and not looking at anything else a useful way to compare anything.

    If you read back, you’ll note that my point was not that religious charities are bad, but that people seem to have a blind spot for identifying non-religious charities because they don’t identify themselves as such, and as such don’t notice that there are plenty of non-religious charities and people out there. They are just far less likely than religious charities to mention this part of their identity, because it isn’t relevant to them providing charity.

    Oh, I see you want me to argue the point. Actually, I’m through arguing with you, but I will, out of Christian charity, offer you this link:

    I’m familiar with real Christian charity, having once happily been a Christian myself and having many Christian friends. In my experience, real Christian charity is neither grudging nor sarcastic, as a means to making a hasty exit.

    The arguments in your link are ones that have been dealt with a million times before, on my blog, and by the authors Mr. D’Souza criticizes but apparently never bothered to read, given that all of his objections were already pre-answered.

    If you really think he makes such compelling arguments, you’re welcome to note which and then defend them yourself. Seeing as Mr. D’Souza is unlikely to participate here though, and seeing as he’s already been ably answered elsewhere, I see little point in doing the work of debunking him all over again when you are unwilling to participate and he is certainly not around to hear.

    Like

  14. nicedeb Says:

    This just seems like the usual “oh, my point didn’t make any sense, but wait wait, I was just joking all along!”

    Of course I was joking—-you moron! Get over it.

    Reread the post, as she goes out of her way to state just the opposite.

    No, not really

    Yesss, really. Why do you force me to do this? I have better things, to do:

    I have no doubt that there are spiritual atheists who also perform such good works.

    So you’re just wrong, admit it.

    Myself, I cant see what’s so horrifying about the idea that religious and non-religious folks are both capable of compassion

    I would agree with you on that. How bizarre that you would think otherwise.

    This list of the top 10 charities routinely in the red

    I’m not sure what that’s supposed to demonstrate:

    How about a refutation of your point that:

    religious charities tend to plaster their religion all over the place for attention and even spend resources on religious functions instead of direct charity services.

    An argument you have neglected to back up with any data, by the way…only to criticize mine…like I have all day to research the internets to counter your weak points.

    The arguments in your link are ones that have been dealt with a million times before, on my blog, and by the authors Mr. D’Souza criticizes but apparently never bothered to read, given that all of his objections were already pre-answered.

    And your debunkings have been debunked. Do you really think you have had the last word on this debate?

    And no, I don’t have the time (I have to leave in about 5 minutes) or the inclination to get caught up in a religious debate with a militant atheist. You’re giving me the douchechills.

    Like

  15. Francis W. Porretto Says:

    Dear Bad,

    “Evidence IS the standard way to demonstrate that something is true: so if you are appealing to evidence, then you aren’t appealing to faith any longer. Which is great… but doesn’t have much relevance to the idea of believing something without warrant.”

    You appear not to be able to spot your own logical lacunae. This is commonplace in persons determined to mount an “argument” that has no substance behind it other than passion. To wit:

    “Evidence IS the standard way to demonstrate that something is true…”

    …IF your intention is to persuade others by evidentiary means. On the other hand, if the whole of your desire is to be left unmolested in your own, innocuous beliefs — and maybe to have a good laugh at persons determined to destroy them — you need do nothing of the sort. Remember, please, that it’s you anti-theists who are on the offensive here, determined to prove to us theists that our convictions are wrong. The side arguing for its position as a matter of fact is the side with the evidentiary burden.

    Alongside that, there is some external evidence for the Christian story: the Gospels. As I said above, they’re not conclusive — it’s easy to imagine that they’re part of an elaborate con-job — but they nevertheless constitute a form of evidence. After all, a written account of a battle that long ago would be considered evidence that the battle took place, even though we would be compelled to concede that the account might have been a fiction rather than a factual report.

    “…the idea of believing something without warrant.”

    Why do you suppose a believer has no reason to believe as he does? Because you don’t believe it? Many persons experience private events — interior developments that cannot be adduced as objective evidence to other persons — that radically change the course of their lives. If a believer were to argue that such an event proves the existence of God, he would be badly mistaken…just as mistaken as you are for dismissing the significance of such events to the persons who experience them.

    Concerning Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem: Yes, it arises from formal logic — “omega-complete” systems, in which self-reference is possible — but they point out an important aspect of all predicate and propositional calculus: Even the weakest systems capable of making significant statements can formulate demonstrably true statements that cannot be proved. Inasmuch as reality is far richer and more multifarious than any formal system, it is reasonable to infer that reality will sometimes lead us to propositions that cannot be proved, but for which no disproof is possible either — propositions that are, in the words of Arthur Herzog, “sufficiently true” that one can rely upon them even though one can never be mathematically certain of them.

    You and Sam Harris have elected the same quixotic anti-Crusade: the attempt to prove a negative. Inasmuch as this is only possible in a formal system, and not even for all the demonstrably false statements in that system, you’ve got hold of the dirty end of the stick. Believe what you please — this is America, not an Islamic theocracy — but however much you might admire Harris and his ilk, please excuse us theists for having a hearty laugh at his overblown tirades. Perhaps he’ll intimidate a few weak-willed souls out of their tenuously held faith; every creed knows its apostates, and many such leave the fold for reasons of peer pressure or to achieve acceptance within some otherwise inaccessible circle. But if that’s to be his life’s achievement, I daresay he won’t have much to savor as he departs this vale of tears.

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Blog Stats

    • 4,708,789 hits
  • free counters
  • Is your cat plotting to kill you?
  • Follow Nice Deb on WordPress.com
  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 554 other followers

    %d bloggers like this: