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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sam Harris - Myth Buster or Myth Maker?, part 1 of 10

Please note that this post has been moved to True Freethinker where it was posted at this link


  1. Hi Mariano,

    I just discovered your posts and I hope you'll permit me to make a few observations regarding your analyses of Sam Harris's statements about religion and atheism.

    I will not be able to read everything today, but I will eventually read all 10 parts.

    Allow me to begin with part 1, your interpretation of atheists and the meaning of life.

    You assert that any meaning (of life) atheists concoct is a self-induced consoling delusion. I disagree. Life is what you make of it. How you choose to live your life and the decisions you choose to make are very real with genuine rewards and consequences.

    I would say this applies equally to theists. Our decisions and the events that affect us define the meaning of our lives.

    Some people happen to believe the meaning comes from their God(s), and some believe their path in life has been chosen for them in advance. Others believe it comes from within.

    Problems arise when the beliefs of one conflict with the beliefs of another, or bring harm to another.

    If a man believes it is his duty [perhaps even his purpose in life] to eliminate non-believers in the name of his God, that's a problem that affects those around him. Should such beliefs be allowed to continue in modern society?

    Your generic reference to politically motivated atheists does fail to mention the cult-like nature of their political machines and their sometimes close associations with major religions. But let us take your statements at face value.

    In that context, each of the typical examples (e.g. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc.) had willing followers not unlike today's religions. People willing to kill for, and die for, their leaders. And each was opposed by those who did not share their beliefs.

    So I ask, if we are not going to tolerate these leaders and the actions of their followers, why should we tolerate religious leadership and the actions of their followers?

    Should we tolerate the actions of a man who wishes to eliminate non-believers/apostates - that is to say those who do not share his beliefs? I should hope your answer is no. We care not whether his purpose in life is thought to come from a God or from within. Under no circumstance shall his actions be tolerated.

  2. Hello Reason4Yourself;
    Thanks for your readership and comments.

    If you have noticed the latest, and last, post on this blog I note that I am no longer posting here but only on Atheism is Dead for atheism related issues.

    I mention this because I began to write you back about purpose and it turned into a whole page. I realized that I had been kicking around some ideas about meaning and purpose in the nether regions of my mind and took the opportunity to write them down. Thus, I have posted it as “Atheism and Meaning and Purpose.”

    I should note that the reason for referencing “consoling delusion” was to in order to employ a term that Sam Harris uses and turn is around on him.

    Overall, we, of course, agree.

    Yet, I may be tempted to argue that in an absolutely materialist universe where Darwinism rules the day bringing harm to another is not problematic and is, in fact, beneficial. For example, in this blog you will find a post entitled Sam Harris: The Rape Comments in which I quote him to the effect that rape played a beneficial evolutionary role.

    If a Pope, Imam, Hitler or Stalin seek to war against others for whatever reasons then may the fittest win. Also, wiping out thousands or millions of people makes various resources available for the fittest to become fitter still.

    I would further argue that Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc. had willing followers as a result of our evolutionary heritage as we used to willingly follow the alpha male in our packs/bands as animals, later tribes, cities, nations, etc.

    Thus, I would not conclude that Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc. had willing followers “not unlike today’s religions” but that they had willing followers not unlike yesterday’s evolution.

    My point being that a cult of personality is what it is regardless of whether it is religious or atheistic. And if you are more likely to survive the struggle for existence by attaching yourself to the cult, the cult leader, the alpha male, then more power to you. Nature does not care about one bio-organism harming another it only cares about survival of the fittest (if it can be said to “care” for anything at all—just a little anthropomorphism).

    And so, speaking from a theistic worldview: indeed, we cannot tolerate such leaders and the actions of their followers—religious or atheistic.
    Yet, in order to not tolerate them and stop them by whatever means we either have to admit that we are functioning from an animalistic desire to survive as the fittest (even by appealing to atheistically baseless concepts of not harming others) or by admitting an ethic outside of, up, above and beyond ourselves.

    If you deny that a genocidal tyrant is legitimately fulfilling a genuine life purpose then it is clear that you are comparing their actions against something else: you are not comparing it against nature since they are surviving as the fittest and hundreds of thousands of species have gone extinct and so you are comparing their actions against the meaning that God gives to our lives.



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