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Comments by Sam

Go to: A note about the 'Richard Dawkins Award' being presented to Bill Maher this weekend

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 254 by Sam

As someone who has supported the RDF with a monthly pledge for the last few years I am not at all happy with this award and even less happy with your defensive response to the concerns expressed by a large portion of the skeptical community. It seems to me that the critics in this case are representing the very values that I thought the RDF was trying to promote. If that is a waste of your time, then perhaps that's not the only thing we are wasting...

While Religulous contained some good bits, I don't see Maher as representative of the kind of values that I for one have always associated with Richard Dawkins. It is not enough to just reject belief in god(s). What's more important is the method of thought that lead a person to such a conclusion in the first place. As I see it, the conflict we're in is not limited to evolution vs. creationism or even naturalism vs. supernaturalism; the real battle is between good and bad reasons for believing. By that criterion Maher clearly belongs to the opposing team.

I still think that critical thinking - if applied concistently - can't help but make you a non-theist (as well as a non-"toothfairyist, a non-"trollist" etc.), but that doesn't mean that non-theism also makes you a critical thinker. The best thing that can be said about "atheists" in general is that they lack one particular delusion that theists don't lack. It is clearly possible to be an atheist for the wrong reasons and I certainly think that Maher (but not Dawkins!) fits that description. His hostility to religion seems to have nothing to do with logic and evidence and everything to do with ideology.

I would not expect Prof. Dawkins, whom I respect and admire enormously, to speak out against Maher's views without having first looked into the matter. However, in light of everything that has since been pointed out regarding Maher's antiscientific views this is no longer an excuse, and it breaks my heart to see the good professor's name associated with this disgraceful award.

Thu, 01 Oct 2009 09:48:00 UTC | #402496

Go to: New Bus Campaign

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 1414 by Sam

My personal idea (pardon my lousy english):
"Religion is the conviction that the emperor wasn't nude after all."

By the way, I think a similar campaign highlighting the worst quotes of the Bible (perhaps combined with realistic illustrations of what the verses actually say?) would be a great way of eroding the moral status of christianity in the eyes of the public. Some hot candidates might be:

"slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1. Samuel 15:3)"
"I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters" (Jeremiah 19:9)
"How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones Against the rock" (Psalms 137:9).
"Their little ones will be dashed to pieces Before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered And their wives ravished" (Isaiah 13:16).
"Their little ones will be dashed in pieces, And their pregnant women will be ripped open" (Hosea 14:1).
"Cursed be the one who does the LORD'S work negligently, And cursed be the one who restrains his sword from blood" (Jeremiah 48:10).

Sat, 17 Jan 2009 00:58:00 UTC | #307159

Go to: 'People say I'm strident'

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 153 by Sam

"Do not fear when your enemies criticize you. Beware when they applaud."

— Vo Dong Giang

Vietnamese politician and diplomat

Mon, 27 Oct 2008 08:07:00 UTC | #258671

Go to: When Atheists Attack

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 853 by Sam

I couldn't feel more pessimistic at the prospect of having Jim Jones for president.

Mon, 22 Sep 2008 22:28:00 UTC | #239189

Go to: Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 189 by Sam

You astorkists are just as bad as the fundamentalist storkists. Sophisticated storkiologians are the first to admit that the story about the stork delivering the babies is not to be taken literary, but that doesn't mean that storks didn't use parents to deliver the babies. It is not either or. I see the sex-theory and storkism as complimentary. The last thing that is going to promote public acceptance of sex-theory is equating it with astorkism.

Fri, 18 Apr 2008 10:53:00 UTC | #155401

Go to: Happy Birthday, Richard Dawkins!

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 22 by Sam

Happy birthday Richard!
As i wrote one year ago, words can not express how much i appreciate what you are doing. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to us all.

Religion is the conviction that the emperor wasn't nude after all.

Wed, 26 Mar 2008 10:11:00 UTC | #142287

Go to: We aim to misbehave

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 43 by Sam

Great article!

The whole "rudeness" argument is just another way of silencing opposition and shutting down debate. As Sam Harris has pointed out, what we really need are new rules of discourse that don't grant religious beliefs any special privileges. Once we stop treating religion as an exception to the rules that are applied in every other area of human discourse, it will be dealt a deadly blow because it really doesn't have anything else going for it. In my country it is largely considered embarrasing to be too overtly religious. This is exactly how it should be.

If you took a book like the Bible or the Quran, changed Yahweh or Allah for some hypothetical super-dictator (George Orwell's Big Brother comes to mind) and left out all the supernatural crap while leaving everything else intact, then anyone who apologized for its morals - let alone anyone who actively supported it - would be criticized mercilessly. In fact they would be dismissed as raving sociopaths. Change everything back to its original state, and that same criticizm is percieved as inappropriate and offensive. It is my firm conviction that this has to change. Everything else turns on it. Within the existing framework no real improvement can be achieved. It is not as if the non-confrontational, compromising "nice-friendly-dialogue" approach that some are advocating has not been tried. It is what we have been doing all along and it has already failed miserably.

By giving legitimacy to old rules of discourse secularist like Nisbet, Mooney, Shermer etc. keep reinforcing the very thing that prevent us from changing our situation. As i have written many times, If you are satisfied with the way things are now - if you think our way of dealing with religion in the past has been a tremendous success and want nothing more than to keep the status quo, then go ahead and listen to the appeasement-crowd, because that really is the only appoach they are willing to consider.

Fri, 27 Apr 2007 02:53:00 UTC | #32847

Go to: Kadra attacked in public

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 36 by Sam

Ole, i wish this would lead to a serious discussion, but considering what happened after her exposal of the Imams (basically nothing), i for one am not optimistic..
Makes you ashamed to be a norwegian..

And bear in mind that the people behind this are very likely to be the kind of people who want to make criticism of Islam (a.k.a. "islamophobia") a "hate crime".

Mon, 16 Apr 2007 06:53:00 UTC | #29774

Go to: Postmodernism Disrobed

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by Sam

After debating proponents of every kind of woo-woo imaginable on a regular basis for many years, i find that the single group i have gotten along with the least have been the postmodernists. Although it is hardly possible to disagree more strongly with anyone than i do with right-wing religious fundamentalist, at least we can agree that God either does or does not exist, that one of us is wrong if the other is right, and that it is not only a matter of subjective interpretation whether or not a sentence like "you shall stone him to death" in the Bible actually means "you shall stone him to death". If i don't agree with the fundamentalists on anything else, then at least we can have a meaningful conversation about where and how we disagree.

The postmodernists however only seem interested in undermining any attempt at a meaninful conversation. If we cannot even agree on the most basic concepts of "real", communication breaks down completely, which is of course exacly what the postmodernists want because that way they don't have to be open to persuasion through argument. It is just another immunizing-strategy and a way to make sure that communication fails lest it might cause you to re-evaluate your beliefs. No matter what arguments or facts might be presented, they can always be dismissed as just another "opinion" or "cultural construct" with no reference to anything in the "real" world. They are free to think this of course, but their hypocracy is thinking they still have anything worthwhile to say. I suggest they take Alan Sokal's advice and quit wasting my time:

"Anyone who believes that the laws of physics are mere social conventions is invited to try transgressing those conventions from the windows of my apartment. (I live on the twenty-first floor.)"

There is nothing particularly brilliant about the insight that for the most part things are not "black and white" (the false dichotomy fallacy). The postmodernists however, blinded by the cosmic revelation that thing are not black and white, head straight for the opposite extreme (see the irony of that?) and conclude that it is all grey (the false continuum fallacy). If the distinctions are fuzzy and not black and white, the postmodernists conclude that there are no real distinctions at all.

Because the postmodernists don't see the world in black and white, they also seem to take it more or less for granted that everybody else does, hence the arrogance and condescension that typifies the group as a whole.

Sun, 01 Apr 2007 23:33:00 UTC | #26830

Go to: U.N. Panel OKs Measure on Islam

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by Sam

I stongly recommend listening to the Point of Inquiry episode with Salman Rushdie where he deals very eloquently with the myth of "Islamophobia":

Sat, 31 Mar 2007 12:34:00 UTC | #26562

Go to: U.N. Panel OKs Measure on Islam

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by Sam

It is time people realized that a set of ideas cannot possibly be a victim of intolerance. Intolerance toward individuals or ethnic groups is another matter. But ideas are free game, as they must be in a functioning democracy. We should all write angry letters to the council and let them know how badly they f**ked up in this case.

The only mitigating circumstance here is that the "council, which last year replaced the discredited U.N. Human Rights Commission, has no power beyond drawing international attention to rights issues and scrutiny of abuses in certain countries."

Sat, 31 Mar 2007 12:01:00 UTC | #26554

Go to: Richard Dawkins: Author of the Year!

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 51 by Sam

Congratulations Richard!
You truly deserve this honour :)

Sat, 31 Mar 2007 06:17:00 UTC | #26509

Go to: Richard Dawkins at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by Sam

antipodesman said:
Sam, you're not suggesting that Richard refuses to take a stand when he calls himself an agnostic are you?

Of course not. What i was trying to say was that most atheist are also "agnostics" in the technical sense, which only means that they don't claim to know with absolute certainty that there is no God (or Osiris, Zeus etc..). In that sense I am also and "agnostic" and so is Dawkins - and so, i might add, are those believers who don't claim to know for sure that God exists.

Of course using the word "agnosticism" in this sense doesn't really tell you anything about where a person comes out on the God-question. The word spans so broadly that it becomes essentially meaningless. Personally i don't like the word very much, because it seems to suggests that we are "agnostic" about the existence of God as opposed to all these other things that we know for sure. I don't know with absolute certainty that there is no "God", but that does not mean that i am more certain about anything else.

In everyday speach, however, most people use the words "atheist" and "agnostic" in a different meaning than the technical one. In my experience those who use the word "agnostics" to distance themselves from the "atheists" tend to argue that it is intellectually indefensible to hold any position regarding God's existence, whether pro or con. People like Dawkins and myself on the other hand use the word "atheist" to emphazise that we really do have an position, that we have thought it through, and that we hold the claim that God exists to be false.

Thu, 29 Mar 2007 05:01:00 UTC | #26106

Go to: Richard Dawkins at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 39 by Sam

antipodesman said:
One point by Dawkins shocked me. In God Delusion he made a compelling argument that agnostics should recognize that the burden of proof is on the believers. I was convinced by his argument and even though I too find myself at 6 on his scale of 7 I now call myself an atheist rather than agnostic. Imagine my surprise to hear Dawkins call himself an agnostic. What gives????

The alleged incompatibility between "atheism" and "agnosticism" rests on a false dichotomy. "Agnosticism" only means "not knowing". You don't have to know there is no God to be an atheist, just like you don't have to know there is no Osiris, Zeus, The Midgard Serpent or The Flying Spaghetti Monster to conclude that they almost certainly don't exist. Technically none of this qualifies as "knowledge", so in that sense we should be "agnostic" about all of them. This does not imply in any way, however, that we need to be neutral about their existence, which i think is all that Dawkins was saying.

In everyday speech i take an "atheist" to be someone who does have a position, which is that there almost certainly is no God, whereas an "agnostic" is someone who refuses to take a stand one way or the other.

Thu, 29 Mar 2007 01:38:00 UTC | #26065

Go to: My critics are wrong to call me dogmatic

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by Sam

Keep up the good work, Richard!

If your critics had any serious rebuttals to your arguments, they would not have to resort to the kind of ad-hominems and straw men, we see from people like McGrath.

I have already suggested this on the forum, but i hope i will be forgiven for repeating it here. I would love it if we could have a sequel to The God Delusion, something similar to what Sam Harris did with his "Letter to a Christian Nation". Just as the first part of your miniseries "Root of all Evil?" was also titeled "The God Delusion", a great title for the sequel would be "The Virus of Faith".

For one thing i definitely don't think the many awful criticisms of The God Delusion, like the ones put forth by McGrath, should go unanswered. But it is also a matter of keeping people's attention focused on the controversy between faith and reason. I think the creationist's constant focus on the alledged "controversy" regarding evolution, has done much more to make people doubt evolution than any one of their particular arguments, which are all just a bunch of crap anyway.

The genious of The God Delusion is the way it turns the creationist's own weapons against them. I definitely credit your book for the fact that i don't hear the argument from design as often as i used to when debating believers. They may whine on about alledged "flaws" with your "Ultimate Boeing 747" argument (all they are really left with are the familiar "skyhooks", like "God has always existed" or "God is not part of the physical universe"), but you have pretty much single-handedly spoiled their chance to use it themselves.

As you have begun, we all need to continue. The first step has been to simply get the conflict between faith and reason out into the open. The next step as i see it should be to hijack their "teach the controversy" approach along with the "fairness"-argument ("Shouldn't we present both sides of the issue and let people decide for themselves?"). What is ultimately going to break religions iron grip is not a single argument or line of reasoning, but constantly drawing people's attention to every flaw and weakness in their carefully constructed castles in the air.

Happy Darwin Day!

Mon, 12 Feb 2007 13:44:00 UTC | #19916

Go to: Blashpemy Challenge Interview

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 46 by Sam

The following quote by Sam Harris cuts right to the essence of what this is all about:

If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, many close to me, to persist in a state of unbelief. They, too, will languish in "everlasting fire" (Matthew 25:41). If the claims of Christianity are true, I will have realized the worst possible outcome of a human life. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me should suggest to you just how unsatisfactory I think your reasons for being a Christian are.,139,Reply-to-a-Christian,Sam-Harris

On December 16. 2006 i wrote that...

I, Sam, hereby curse the holy spirit. If there is a God out there who is listening, i pray of him that i may die a horrible death in the near future (today if at all possible). May my soul be sent to the worst part of Hell for all eternity, and may my loved ones suffer the same gruesome fate. Amen.,425,The-Blasphemy-Challenge,The-Rational-Response-Squad#13168

Hasn't happened yet...
...But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.;&version=50;

Thu, 01 Feb 2007 01:30:00 UTC | #18146

Go to: Blashpemy Challenge Interview

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 23 by Sam

Again, the whole point of this is not to insult a non-existant god. This is about turning Pascal's Wager on its head. If there was even the slightest probability that christianity was true, blaspheming against the holy spirit would be a very dangerous thing to do. So the real message being sent here is: "I am so confident that christianity is bul***it that i am prepared to bet my soul on it.".

Wed, 31 Jan 2007 07:45:00 UTC | #18014

Go to: Grief Without God

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 27 by Sam

gimlibengloin wrote:
Sam provided no evidence of Xn's in his "personal experience" making such comments but instead chose to attribute to Xns a response which he said, "I can already hear" but which clearly he can't have been hearing.

What i actually meant to say was that i get this exact objection so often that i might as well go ahead and answer it in advance.

Sun, 28 Jan 2007 13:22:00 UTC | #17552

Go to: Grief Without God

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by Sam

That's the most moving thing i have read in years.

I am just too familiar with this kind of emotional "blackmail" from religious people when a loved one dies. My mother suddenly died when i was about 13. She was an atheist and while she was still alive she made my father promise that if she died before him, she would not have a religious funeral. Her own mother who is a devout christian threatened to boycot the funeral unless they made place for a christian sermon, prayers, psalms and Bible-verses, all so that she could have her own selfish religious needs satisfied.

So we basically ended up having a funeral in two parts: the first part was a beautiful commemoration of the person that my mother had truly been while she was alive. The other half was nothing but an embarrasing parody of a funeral. It was pure hypocracy, but something we had to put up with just to keep peace in the family. I can think of no greater insult to a persons memory than to exploit the occation of his/her death to celebrate and promote a philosophy that the person had been strongly against. As Sam Harris has correcly pointed out, another harmful effect of religion is that it teaches people to deny the real loss of their loved ones instead of learning how to grieve.

I can already hear the christians saying:
"You see? You are just bitter. We can understand that you feel that way [notice the condescending tone] because of your negative experiences in childhood, but there's really no need to take it out on all people of faith like that." In this cheap and cowardly way they hope to reduce any criticism of religion itself to purely personal motives. This is the kind of objections you get when the arguments aren't strong enough to stand on their own merrit.

Sun, 28 Jan 2007 01:55:00 UTC | #17512

Go to: Arguing for Atheism

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by Sam

While i both respect and admire Shermer for his work on pseudoscience, i think he is on the wrong side in this issue.

If you are satisfied with the way things are now, if you think our way of dealing with religion in the past has been a tremendous success and want nothing more than to keep the status quo, then go ahead and listen to the likes of Shermer, because that is what their approach basically boils down to.

Fri, 26 Jan 2007 08:28:00 UTC | #17307

Go to: Beyond the Believers

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by Sam

iamb_spartacus said:
Remember, what Harris, Dawkins and Weinberg (and to an extent, Dennett) argue against is not fundamentalism or extremism, but religious belief itself. And the method they propose is not "to each his own," but to actively agitate against religious belief as a social danger. And yet, to date, they have presented no compelling logical or empirical proof that religious belief is a social danger.

I definitely agree that the root of the problem is faith itself. To quote some of my previous posts:

I would have less of a problem with a religion that had no destructive doctrines, but my main grievance is with faith itself. If we could have a "religion" without faith, i would probably be far less hostile. What i am mostly against is not individual doctines, but false certainties or belief for the wrong reasons.

Quite apart from the fact that i care about the truth, i think faith is inherently dangerous because it allows people to think and act as if something was true whether it is true or not. It is not that believing things for the wrong reasons invariably leads people to accept destructive beliefs. But because such reasons don't discriminate properly between true or false claims, it is more or less "by accident" what doctrines you end up accepting.

Faith is just another word for "belief in the absence of evidence" or "belief for the wrong reasons". The same kind of wrong reasons that motivate some believers to dedicate their life to helping the poor motivate others to fly planes into buildings or blow themselves up on a bus. [...] The main evil that we have to fight is above all faith.

The conflict between faith and reason [...] is in no way limited to specific issues like evolution or stem cell research, not even the (non) existence of God or the supernatural, but more generally: why we believe things in the first place. I see the damage inflicted on science by creationists etc. as little more than random side-effects or symptoms. The real "disase" in my view is believing things for the wrong reasons. What the compatibilists are in fact saying is: "Just keep the wrong reasons as long as it doesn't have any undesirable side-effects."

I am not saying that religion is the only thing that motivates people to do bad things, neither am i claiming that religion always motivates people to do bad things. However, i have no doubt that believing in certain religious doctrines dramatically increases the likelyhood of commiting certain attrocities and i think that in itself imakes religion dangerous. If your faith tells you that something is the will of God and the highest of all ideals, that is a very strong motivation to act. If you read what the Bible actually sais, and not just cherrypick for the nice parts, it is obvious that, as Sam Harris puts it:

"God has given us far many more reasons to kill one another than to turn the other cheek."

Religious moderates and some non-religious "believers in belief" tend to systematically downplay the role of religion in motivating violence, intolerance, antiscience etc. According to them it is more or less by accident that islamic suicide bombers happen to believe in the doctrines of jihad and martyrdom (contrary to what the suicide bombers themselves are in fact saying). The same goes for the practice of stoning, hating homosexuals, letting your children die rather than allowing any medical treatment etc. In each case we are lead to believe that these people have some hidden secular motive for their actions that just happens to correspond exactly to the doctrines of their religions.

Others are willing to admit that literal belief in the doctines of jihad, martydom, the mosaic and sharia laws, original sin, the apocalypse, hell, the sinfulness of medicine or contraceptions etc. may be problematic, but fail to recognize what i take to be the greater evil, namely the acceptance of bad reasons to believe. Prof. Dawkins has dealt very eloquently with three of them - tradition, authority and revelation:
I suppose one might add "intuition" (if taken to mean something like a "gut feeling" or "hunch" etc.), wishful thinking and other such flawed reasons. In short: anything that can lead you to accept something as true even if it is not, because that will also lead someone to accept doctrines that will in turn motivate them to do bad things.

It is of course true that faith also motivates some people to do "good" deeds. Still, i don't think this makes faith itself a good thing. If the only thing that causes you treat other people well is the belief that "God said so" and will reward you for doing it - or punish you if you don't - i don't think there is anything really noble or praiseworthy about your behaviour, even if it may have some desirable consequenses. If this is all that keeps you from treating others badly, you are not moral, and all the faith in the world is never going to change that.

Another problem with religion is, as Sam Harris has pointed out, that it gives people bad reasons to be good, when better reasons are in fact available, and prevents people from recognizing the good reasons. If all religions were abandoned today, then all the good reasons to be good would still be avalable, but some of the bad reasons to be bad would not.

One more thing:
It is rather ironic that the same people who deny any causal link between believing in violent religious doctrines and practicing the very same doctrines, are often more than willing to credit religion for any good deed by religious individuals. It is another example of the double standard Sam Harris is criticizing.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 03:17:00 UTC | #16609

Go to: Beyond the Believers

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 29 by Sam


I think there are two questions that need to be answered separately:

1. Do religious extremists actually believe what they say they believe?
2. Is there a real conflict between really believing what religious extremists claim to believe and peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society?

Leaving the first question aside for the moment, i would like to challenge you once more to tell me - honestly - what you would do if it was definitely true that:

The one true creator of the universe wants those who believe in him to wage war on those who don't and wipe them of the face of the earth. Those who do God's work will have an eternity of bliss after death, while those who don't will have an eternity of suffering. All of this is both good and just for reasons that are only known to God and nothing for us to worry about.

This is not a complete strawman. This is a pretty accurate representation of what millions of people in this world claim to actually believe.It is also a pretty accurate representation of what it actually sais in the Bible and the Quran. In fact you really have to ressort to cherrypicking and the most tortured re-interpretations, to avoid reading these books as an invitation to intolerance and violence. In a sence, the only way for a christian, muslim or jew to get along with other people in a pluralistic society is by betraying the central doctines of their religion. If you really believe, this is probably not an option. Once you seriously believe what the Bible sais, you think and act as if it was true. Extremism is simply what follows - quite naturally - from that. To think that belivers just don't care whether they will have an eternity of bliss or an eternity of suffering is simply not a reasonable option.

In conclusion, i think the answer to the 2nd question has to be yes. If you disagree, then please don't hesitate to educate me, but i'm going to need some serious convincing.

As far as the 1st question is concerned, i don't think you fully appreciate how one simple hypothesis - the extremists really belive what they say they believe - actually predicts the kind of actions we have seen from jihadists, deathcults, the inquisition, crusaders etc. This is pretty much what we would expect if we simply assume that they really believe what they claim to believe (see my previous post for examples). One might even argue that it would be the only reasonable thing to do, given what they believe about God, Satan, sin and salvation, Heaven and Hell etc. I have yet to hear any other explanation that accounts for the facts equally well.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 02:39:00 UTC | #16603

Go to: Some stars and planets in scale

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Sam

...and this is where it gets big...

Typical galaxies contain ten million to one trillion (107 to 1012) stars [...] There are probably more than a hundred billion (1011) galaxies in the observable universe.

Just think how ridiculous this makes the whole idea that the creator of the universe should be obsessed with the beliefs and sexual practices of one particular species of carbon-based life-forms on a single grain of sand in the Sahara desert of the universe.

Mon, 22 Jan 2007 00:52:00 UTC | #16595

Go to: Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 59 by Sam

If you didn't know it already, it would not be obvious that this was a parody. The problem with parodying creationists is that you really cannot come up with anything more absurd than what they are actually claiming... :-/

Fri, 19 Jan 2007 02:36:00 UTC | #16221

Go to: Beyond the Believers

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by Sam

"2. People are not really motivated by religion. Religion is used as a rationale for other aims—political, economic, and social. Consequently, the specific content of religious doctrines is beside the point."

I usually challenge people to tell me what hidden secular purpose is being served by:
- Stoning people for breaking the sabbath.
- Ritual human or animal sacrifice.
- Celebrating the martyr death of your own son.
- Letting your children die rather than allowing any medical treatment.

Sure, you could come up with some far-fetched ad hoc explanation for each case, but see how easily everything falls into place by simply assuming that people tend to do what they think is best, whether or not they have good reasons to think this. Consider, again, the following set of beliefs:

The one true creator of the universe wants those who believe in him to wage war on those who don't and wipe them of the face of the earth. Those who do God's work will have an eternity of bliss after death, while those who don't will have an eternity of suffering. All of this is both good and just for reasons that are only known to God and nothing for us to worry about.

Honestly: If this was definitely true, and you knew it to be true, what would you do? Would it even be reasonable not to fight the infidels given this set of premises? The problem with faith is that it allows people to think and act as if such claims were true even if they are not.

It is not just that the promise of heaven and the threat of hell makes the stakes infinitely high: whether you choose to obey or not decides whether you will have eternal bliss or eternal suffering. But perhaps even more important - at least in my experience - is the false certainty that there is a "hidden meaning" or a "secret plan" behind everything, that we are not meant to understand - the Lord's ways are inscrutinable, remember - but which is none the less righteous and good. Even many moderates i have debated have used this absolutely horrifying excuse not to think in order to rationalize even the worst examples of attrocities in the Bible. This idea that "no matter how cruel this may seem to us, it is all justified by the higher good that we are not meant to understand" may very well be the most dangerous idea ever.

As far as i can tell the only way to avoid the conclusion that faith is dangerous, is by assuming that the extremists don't actually believe what they say they belive. To think that they do believe it but don't care whether they go to heaven or hell is simply not reasonable.

"It's as if a very high, impenetrable wall separated you from Paradise or Hell... Allah has promised one or the other to his creatures. So, by pressing the detonator, you can immediately open the door to Paradise — it is the shortest path to Heaven... In any case, we get to meet the Prophet and his companions, inshallah... We were floating, swimming, in the feeling that we were about to enter eternity. We had no doubts. We made an oath on the Koran, in the presence of Allah — a pledge not to waver. This jihad pledge is called bayt al-ridwan, after the garden in Paradise that is reserved for the prophets and the martyrs. I know that there are other ways to do jihad. But this one is sweet — the sweetest. All martyrdom operations, if done for Allah 's sake, hurt less than a gnat's bite... Tomorrow, we will be martyrs, ... Only the believers know what this means. I love martyrdom... Are you ready? Tomorrow, you will be in Paradise... the first drop of blood shed by a martyr during jihad washes away his sins instantaneously. On the Day of Judgment, he will face no reckoning. On the Day of Resurrection, he can intercede for 70 of his nearest and dearest to enter Heaven; and he will have at his disposal 72 houris, the beautiful virgins of Paradise... We focus his attention on Paradise, on being in the presence of Allah, on meeting the Prophet Muhammad, on interceding for his loved ones so that they, too, can be saved from the agonies of Hell, on the houris... It [the fear ] comes from his fervent desire for success, which will propel him into the presence of Allah... Inshallah, we will meet in Paradise...",,7-1692606,00.html

Now, i can't actually read these people's minds to see if they really belive this crap, but it sure explains their actions better than any other hypothesis that i am familiar with.

In the same article it sais that:
"None of the suicide bombers — they ranged in age from 18 to 38 — conformed to the typical profile of the suicidal personality. None of them was uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle-class and held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires. They all seemed entirely normal members of their families. They were polite and serious, and in their communities were considered to be model youths. Most were bearded. All were deeply religious.

I was told that to be accepted for a suicide mission the volunteers had to be convinced of the religious legitimacy of the acts they were contemplating, as sanctioned by the divinely revealed religion of Islam."

Fri, 19 Jan 2007 01:47:00 UTC | #16211

Go to: Readers Write: Atheist Sam Harris on Torture and Faith

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 34 by Sam

As far as the trouble with faith is concerned, i am all behind Sam Harris and any objection i might have to his views on other topics is not going to change that. His arguments against faith stand or fall on their own merit.

That said, i have to agree with his critics regarding his aparent endorsement of psychic phenomena and reincarnation. If Sam Harris wants to appear credibile when speaking about reason, intellectual honesty and plain speech, it is time for him to publically admit that he was wrong on this. There is nothing embarrasing about being mistaken. It may even be the biggest strength of science that scientists routinely have to correct their beliefs in the light of new evidence or a stronger argument. What is embarrasing however, is keeping one's mistakes once they have been exposed as such.

This is not simply about "meditation" or "studying conciousness" or about "changing ones subjective experience" etc. Ok, so he doesn't claim for a fact that there is such a thing as psychic phenomena, or a trancendent soul or reincarnation, but even calling the studies "credible" or "interesting" lends far more credibility to the likes of Radin and Sheldrake than they deserve.

While i really enjoyed both "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" for their brilliant clarity when dealing with the evils of religion, i also felt rather uncomfortable when Harris strayed from the topic of religion into some of his political and ethical views like the legitimacy of torture, also because it provides religious apologists with a convenient straw man argument against the "dangers of atheism". We need to be wiser than this, folks! In my experience apologists will twist and distort your message in any way they can to try and make it look as if your entire argument stands or falls with your weakest statement, whether it is relevant to your conclusions or not. We have to anticipate their attacks in advance and beat them to it, because without any straw men to knock down they have nothing.

Sat, 13 Jan 2007 02:37:00 UTC | #15393

Go to: You come up here and say that, Dawkins!

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Sam

I would like to turn that on its head: If there was a God who disapproved of my ways, then he should come down and tell me personally instead of communicating through the s**m who call themselves his servants.

Fri, 12 Jan 2007 23:57:00 UTC | #15369

Go to: Pat Robertson: God told me of 'mass killing' in 2007

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 37 by Sam

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21 And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?'— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken... (Deuteronomy 18:20-22);&version=50;

It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, 'You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the LORD.' And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies. (Zechariah 13:3);&version=50;

Thu, 04 Jan 2007 06:07:00 UTC | #14063

Go to: Fallen Angels Assault: Heaven at Christmas

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 11 by Sam

Most of us atheists are living proof that you don't need faith to be moral. If the only thing that keeps you from lying, stealing, raping or killing is the belief that "God said so", then guess what: you, sir, are not moral, and all the faith in the world isn't going to change that.

One of the harmful effects of religion is, as Sam Harris has pointed out, that it gives people bad reasons to be good, when good reasons are actually available, and prevents us from recognizing these good reasons. If we abolished religion the good reasons to be good would still be there, while many of the bad reason to be bad would go away.

Sat, 23 Dec 2006 23:27:00 UTC | #12763

Go to: The Trouble with Atheism

Sam's Avatar Jump to comment 99 by Sam

Quoting Sancus (in reply to my post):

Both ideologies consider people's lives property of the state. They both reject the notion that individuals can, or much less should, own their own lives. This is especially pertinent because religions do the same. Monotheistic religions all believe that God has a claim to our souls and that individuals do not own themselves.

Thanks for your comments. That's an excellent point and i could not agree more.


Wed, 20 Dec 2006 02:38:00 UTC | #12036