Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sam Harris: Deep Thought for Shallow Minds

Sam Harris is a grave embarrassment to atheism, intellectuals, and the Stanford University philosophy department…His ignorance of the basic tenets of the faiths he targets most directly is astonishing…Harris is also shamelessly intellectually dishonest. Anyone planning to debate Sam Harris would do well to ensure that there is a moderator, preferably one with a shock collar, as Harris is one of those slippery characters who invariably attempts to avoid answering all questions posed to him while simultaneously accusing the other party of arguing in bad faith and failing to address his points. (Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist, p. 113,114,115)
The above quote comes from a chapter entitled, “The End of Sam Harris” [an obvious allusion to Harris’ book, “The End of Faith”]. As one reads Day’s withering deconstruction of Harris’ thought and body of work, one realizes that his characterization of Harris is not a caricature. It’s an accurate portrayal. Day’s chapter on Harris is well documented and his logic is irresistible.

Thus, having read Day’s treatment of Harris, I was somewhat intrigued when a devout atheist, a few weeks ago, challenged me to watch an address given by—you guessed it—Sam Harris. This particular devotee refused to even interact with me until I had witnessed first-hand the object of his adoration.

So I indulged him. I watched. I also listened. And while I am under no illusion that any amount of truth will shake the atheist’s faith, I've come to the obvious conclusion that Vox Day couldn’t be more correct: Sam Harris is astonishingly ignorant of the Christian faith.

Harris begins his lecture with this little gem: “Christianity is founded on the claim that the Bible was dictated by the Creator of the universe.” This is a total misstatement of fact. In no sense is “God dictated the Bible” a foundational truth claim of Christianity. In fact, it’s not a truth claim of Christianity at all. No orthodox Christian believes God dictated the Bible.

Rather, Christians profess that God used the individual author’s intellect, thought, vocabulary, and syntax in the writing of the sacred text. Each human author’s style and idiosyncrasies is readily apparent. God superintended the writing, yes, but He in no sense dictated it. Hence, the Bible is entirely, in the original autographs, the inspired word of God and man.

How can we trust anything Sam Harris says, regarding Christianity, when he is inexcusably ignorant of what he claims to be a foundational truth claim of the faith? Is he intellectually lazy and incompetent or is he intellectually dishonest and untrustworthy? (I suppose it need not be either/or…it could be both/and.)

But let’s move on. Not only is Harris witless as to what the Bible is, he is also breathtakingly clueless as to what it says. Harris builds a case for religious sexism on this stupid premise: “While man was made in the image of God, woman was made in the image of man, according to Christianity.”

So says Sam Harris. But what does the Bible say? “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Does Harris not know this is in the Bible? Could such a level of illiteracy be feigned?

He continues his baseless assault by alluding to the Bible’s “wives submit to your husbands in all things.” Conveniently, he fails to mention “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church,” which appears in the same passage—the very next sentence. (Oh, my, Sam, how hellish would this world be if every wife respected her husband and every husband cherished his wife—the horror of it all!)

Harris asserts that one way theists “defend God” is to claim that “religion is useful.” Granted, many folks see a utility to religion. But what Bible verse or Christian creed or confession espouses a utilitarian view of religion? What Christian offers: “I believe in the resurrection of Christ because I find it just so useful”? What a silly notion.

Predictably, Harris makes a lot of noise concerning morality. He proudly preaches, “The most atheistic societies on the planet, like Sweden and Denmark and the Netherlands are in many respects the most moral.” Has he not considered that perhaps these countries are “most moral” [whatever that means] due in part to the residual effects of a strong Christian heritage?

Furthermore, on what basis can he affirm “superior morality” when he denies the very existence of an objective moral standard? In his unbelievable denial of the generally and specially revealed moral Law of God, Harris goes so far as to compare human moral capacities to “chimpanzees comforting each other.”

Presumably he means the same ethical chimps that mercilessly maul their primate cousins for breakfast, cannibalize their infant offspring for lunch, and munch human limbs and faces for snacks—all of this, it seems, without a twinge of regret.

Is this the pinnacle of atheistic moral reasoning? Is Sam Harris the brightest of the “Brights”? If so, perhaps Alister McGrath’s assessment is correct and we are indeed entering the “twilight of atheism.”


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