Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sam Harris Replies to Critics of His Atheist Manifesto

Truthdig has Sam Harris's response to critics of his "Atheist Manifesto." What follows is the slightly edited comment I posted at the Truthdig site.

Harris presents three basic refutations to his article:
1) Believers in God must carry the burden of proof (Bertrand Russell's argument)
2) You can't rid of religion, so stop trying
3) Religion is not the only viable basis for a moral life

As usual, Mr. Harris only presents the objections to his narrow viewpoint that he can hold up as straw men and then knock down. Only one of these actually addresses a belief in God, which is what the Atheist Manifesto claims to be arguing against. It's much easier to rail against religion than to address people's faith in God. A May 2005 Gallup poll shows that 90 percent of Americans believe in God, while only 4 percent are atheists. It would be my guess that not all of the people who believe in some form of God are pre-rational adherents to mythic religions.

Harris’s atheism is a flatland worldview. He conflates pre-rational and trans-rational into irrational because both are non-rational. Human experience evolves from pre-rational (the religions Harris so often criticizes) to rational (Harris’s own worldview) to post-rational or trans-rational (an understanding of the world based on human faculties more advanced than rational thought). Harris never addresses this objection to his argument.

Another area that he fails to address is that the religions he hates so much are part of the natural development of all human beings. They may be pre-rational, but so is a five-year-old, and no one tries to make the child change its understanding of the world. Harris must learn to accept that human cultures, like human beings, have developmental stages (see Jean Gebser) and that stages cannot be skipped, no matter how much he loathes them.

What Harris could do, if he were about change rather than negation, is work to create life conditions that might allow people who live in the traditionalist/mythic worldview of monotheistic religion to progress to the next step in their evolution. This would actually require that he speak to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, and offer them a worldview that can transcend and include the one they currently hold.

So, Mr. Harris, do you care to put your efforts where they might do some good?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Trans-rational"? What is "trans-rational"? Based on "faculties more advanced than rational thought"? What are these faculties, and how do they work? Explain this and you may have a point. Otherwise, your "argument" is completely nonsensical.

Rationality, by definition, has only one counterpart -- irrationality. Irrationality can take many forms, but in the end, it is still irrational.