Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sam and Dennis

Dennis Prager takes Sam Harris to the woodshed.

Sam: “An “atheist” is simply someone who thinks that the God of Abraham should be buried with the rest of these imaginary friends. I am quite sure that we need only use words like “reason,” “common sense,” “evidence,” and “intellectual honesty” to do the job.”

Dennis: “On the other side, we believers look at the evidence and believe that there is a God. In that sense, the atheist has considerably less intellectual honesty than the sophisticated believer. The atheist says he knows, despite the fact that what he “knows” is unprovable. The believer believes because he knows that what he believes is ultimately unprovable. “

… and much more.


Anonymous said...

Hi David -- I don't think that Harris is saying that the Christian God absolutely 100 percent does not exist. I think he's saying the Christian God is as plausible as Zeus, Budda, or any one of countless theories about what lies beyond our powers of comprehension.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

Mr. Harris is saying intelligence and reason will lead to the certain conclusion that God does not exist, but his argument is illogical.

If Mr. Harris made the statement, “A cat is not a dog, and a horse is not a dog, so a collie can’t possibly be a dog”, wouldn’t it sound like nonsense? Well that is exactly what he does by claiming Zeus is not a god and Buda is not a god, so the God of Abraham can’t possibly be a God. Additionally, he also uses ridicule to belittle believers which is pathetic, not persuasive.

Mr. Harris may be right. It is possible there is no God. However, just because there is no Zeus does not mean there is no God of Abraham and God of the Bible and just because Islam gets it wrong, does not mean Jews and Christians get it wrong.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both your logic and your view that Harris is using ridicule. My guess is that he's actually a thoughtful guy who is using provocative language to get media attention and stimulate discussion.

As someone whose view on the existence of God is probably similar to Harris's, my problems with him are twofold:

1.) Most people seem to need to believe in something. And as far as something goes, Christianity is as good as it gets. There is no rule that religion has to include charity, forgiveness, human dignity, or "rendering onto Ceasar what is Ceasar's" (not integrating religion into government). In fact, in the whole sweep of human history, Christianity appears to be unique in including all these concepts.

2.) Harris holds up European secularism as a model. But Europe is on the path to being overrun by Islam through low birth rates and multi-cultural timidity. Historically, people who believe in nothing get run over by people who believe in something.

Buz said...

The problem with "scientific atheism" is that it has as a part of its basis that we cannot look outside the natural world for any answers.

I know some Christians who believe that God, in a miraculous way, brings the sun up in the east every morning, and atheists scoff at people like that because we KNOW the laws of physics which govern the orbits of planets and stars.

Yet when you ask those same people, "what does gravity consist of?" or exactly how does it bend space and time?" they shrug and say, "it is just a property of matter."

Can you see the stupidity and hypocrisy in that? On one hand they belittle others for not understanding what they "know" and yet when pressed on what they "know" we find that it is a very shallow knowledge. On the surface, it seems so much more sophisticated than "Apollo drags the sun across the sky behind his chariot", and yet it really is not.

We know that there are forces which hold the universe together at the sub-atomic level and at the cosmic level. We have names for those forces, yet we know little about them. What is the difference between calling one of those foces Gravity or calling it Thor?

Well, one big difference is that we know how to manipulate gravity - (1) Wings and enough thrust (2) stay away from the edge of cliffs. We don't know how to manipulate God. (At least in the "mythology") He is a person, and beyond our influence and manipulation. And that is a big problem.

Tell me, is it more intellectually honest to say "God, by His mighty hand, brings the sun up in the east each and every morning," or "I don't like the idea of a mighty being that I can't manipulate, so even if he does exist, I'll pretend like he does not. If I close my eyes and pretend hard enough, it will be true!"? Both thoughts deal with things that, ultimatly, are beyond our current knoweledge. The first admits that it is beyond and calls that which is beyond "God". The second says, "I know it all, and I will pretend that which I do not know does not exist."


David M. Smith said...

Hi again Rick,

I agree Mr. Harris is thoughtful. I would even describe him as highly intelligent, as are all of the prominent atheists I know. But so are many other prominent believers including Mr. Prager. [Not prominent as in “seen on TV”, but prominent as in “highly respected by peers”.]

This is another fallacy in Mr. Harris’s arguments against God. Belief in God is not a function of reason or intelligence. There have been brilliant believers and brilliant atheists throughout recorded history. Therefore, Mr. Harris is wrong in his basic hypothesis. Reason does not necessarily lead away from a belief in God; reason can also lead to a belief in God.

There has to be another factor besides reason and intelligence that allows some intellectuals to believe in God while others disbelieve. You lean towards an inner need to believe in something greater than ourselves that leads to a belief in God, but it is just as likely that those who disbelieve have an inner need to reject something greater than ourselves. “Inner need” gets us nowhere in the debate unless “inner need” is planted in us by God himself.

Why do some people believe in the God of the Bible, and some people believe in other Gods, while many other people believe in no god at all? My only explanation is individual will, personal circumstances, and intervention from our Creator and Savior. I still value debate though because I know many people have changed their mind through rigorous thinking and debate.

The uniqueness of Christianity is a powerful argument to consider the claims of the Bible. One of my favorite parts of the Bible is at the beginning of Luke:

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

Even thought there were many eye witnesses and even though there were many accounts regarding the life and sayings of Christ, Luke was still not satisfied. He had too much integrity to just pass on what he had heard. He took it upon himself to investigate and record his findings so Theophilus, and now the rest of us, could know the truth with certainty. To me, Luke is one of the intellectuals throughout history who used reason as a tool of persuasion.

Buz said...

Actually, the place where intellect is a hindrance is where the things we thing we know conflice with what we are told.

I "know" by the best evidence, that the universe is ~twenty billion years old, and the earth is maybe ~four billion. AND it took millions of years for each star to form and billions for them to die. We also know that there are many billions of dead stars. How does that square up with the with the description which claims that God created it all in six days, ~six thousand years ago? It doesn't something does not fit.

Some people will say that science is reasonably trustworthy in these things, so the story of creation must be a myth. Other people will say that science has been wrong before and they will believe the Bible.

It boils down to a balance between two things (1) how much do you trust science, and (2) how well do you know God (note: not know ABOUT God, but KNOW God.) If you have a track record with God, and you have found him to be completely trustworty ... even in the face of evidence to the contrary, then 6 days doesn't sound like such a stretch.

I have not seen "Bruce Almighty", but I was flipping around the channels the other night and caught a few minutes of it ... the scene was one where Bruce was testing God. He had his hands behind his back and asked God how many fingers he was holding up. Each time God would answer, he would change and God would revise the answer to be correct. Finally, not to give up, he had five fingers on his right hand and two on the left and God said "seven", at which point he closes the left fist and holds up the right hand proclaiming "aha!". However, as he looks at his right hand, there are seven fingers on it.

How many times do we try to outdo God with our science? How often do we think that since science says that the earth is four billion years old, that means that there is no God? Aren't we really saying, "if I can't figure it out, it must be way too hard for some old grey-haired man wearing a bed-sheet."?


David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

I always have to chuckle when I hear that something happened a billion or even a million years ago. Science and scientists, just like religion and religious leaders, lose credibility when beliefs are not differentiated from facts. Nothing factual can be known about what happened a billion years ago or even if there was a billion years ago. Thanks for commenting.