Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Problem with Atheism

The Problem with Atheism - 10/02/07

Another great read from Sam Harris. I believe this actually caused a stir amongst some "free thinkers" at the Atheist Alliance conference. It's dead on in my opinion.

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"Another problem with calling ourselves "atheists" is that every religious person thinks he has a knockdown argument against atheism. We've all heard these arguments, and we are going to keep hearing them as long as we insist upon calling ourselves "atheists. Arguments like: atheists can't prove that God doesn't exist; atheists are claiming to know there is no God, and this is the most arrogant claim of all. As Rick Warren put it, when he and I debated for Newsweek—a reasonable man like himself "doesn't have enough faith to be an atheist." The idea that the universe could arise without a creator is, on his account, the most extravagant faith claim of all.

Of course, as an argument for the truth of any specific religious doctrine, this is a travesty. And we all know what to do in this situation: We have Russell's teapot, and thousands of dead gods, and now a flying spaghetti monster, the nonexistence of which also cannot be proven, and yet belief in these things is acknowledged to be ridiculous by everyone. The problem is, we have to keep having this same argument, over and over again, and the argument is being generated to a significant degree, if not entirely, over our use of the term "atheism."

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"My concern is that atheism can easily become the position of not being interested in certain possibilities in principle. I don't know if our universe is, as JBS Haldane said, "not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose." But I am sure that it is stranger than we, as "atheists," tend to represent while advocating atheism. As "atheists" we give others, and even ourselves, the sense that we are well on our way toward purging the universe of mystery. As advocates of reason, we know that mystery is going to be with us for a very long time. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that mystery is ineradicable from our circumstance, because however much we know, it seems like there will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which we must rely upon to explain everything else. This may be a problem for epistemology but it is not a problem for human life and for human solidarity. It does not rob our lives of meaning. And it is not a barrier to human happiness."

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"We will have won this war of ideas against religion when atheism is scarcely intelligible as a concept. We will simply find ourselves in a world in which people cease to praise one another for pretending to know things they do not know. This is certainly a future worth fighting for. It may be the only future compatible with our long-term survival as a species. But the only path between now and then, that I can see, is for us to be rigorously honest in the present. It seems to me that intellectual honesty is now, and will always be, deeper and more durable, and more easily spread, than "atheism."

1 comment:

Stacy said...

Very good speech by Harris. He seems to have it together in a way that no one else is able to be vocal about.

I particularly like this comment:
"One problem with atheis as a category of thought is that it seems more or less synonymouse with not being ineterested in what someone like the Buddha or Jesus may have actually experienced."

I agree with this point, especially when you are talking to atheists who don't believe there is ANY merit in reading the Bible or Christian literature.

His points about happiness in solitude and can we have it "without repeating our pleasures and avoiding are pains" are dead on, and something I've never considered in that way. We all have our definition of happiness, and our personal definitions clash (ie. where true happiness comes from), because we all find happiness in different fleeting things. How awesome it would be to find the core of happiness that everyone could experience the same way.