The End of Faith Preliminary

Tonight, we’re going to start reviewing Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith.” Before going through the book, piece by piece, I’d like to go through overall first and notice something that I consistently see being said. For all those wanting to check up on what I say, I am reading from the First Edition that was copyrighted in 2004. I do urge you to check and make sure of what I say.

Let’s go through and see what is said on a theme consistently.

Page 15 has Harris talking about different religious worldviews and saying “It should go without saying that these rival belief systems are all equally uncontaminated by evidence.”

I will leave it to the Jews and Muslims to defend their own faiths, but as for me, this is far from the truth. If the body of Jesus is found, let me state this. I will give up my Christian faith immediately. I don’t want any wishy-washy idea of a spiritual resurrection where Jesus Christ simply lives in our hearts. That might be a touching story, but it won’t pay for my sins and give me life beyond the grave.

On page 17, he again speaks of religious belief and says “How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?”

Yeah. That must explain why I’m a philosophy major who enjoys discussing how my faith is reasonable and how rational it is and I lean more on logic than I do on my emotions.

On page 19 we read: “Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.”

I’d like to know what Christians Harris is talking about. I have more of a problem with him than he does. However, is this the way Christianity has always been? No. The early Christian witness was to proclaim the empty tomb. Something that I’ll be sure to note again in this work. I don’t see any references to Christian thinkers in this work. If you read Harris alone, you’d think there aren’t any.

On the other hand, note on page 20 in speaking of religious texts he says “So it is not that these texts have maintained their integrity over time (they haven’t)….”

Unfortunately, while Harris says Christians don’t give evidence, he gives none for this claim. Not a single endnote.

On page 23 we read, “This has always posed a special problem for religion, because every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which it has no evidence. In fact, every religion preaches the truth of propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable. This put the ‘leap’ in Kierkegaard’s leap of faith.”

Now this is just a bizarre claim. Mr. Harris just needs to go to the apologetics section of the bookstore. Now he can say that the evidence is wrong. That’s a totally different claim. Even if a person’s reasons for thinking something are wrong, he still has reasons. Mr. Harris thinks evidence isn’t even conceivable. For what kind of claim is he speaking? I think we can conceive evidence that the universe came out of nothing, for instance.

On page 24, he speaks of untestable doctrines, but what does he mean by this? How would he have history be tested? You can’t do it the same way you do science or philosophy. Harris gives no explanation in this though. He merely asserts it.

On page 25 we read “In fact, almost every indignity just mentioned can be attributed to an insufficient taste for evidence, to an uncritical faith in one dogma or another. The idea, therefore, that religious faith is somehow a sacred human convention–distinguished, as it is, both by the extravagance of its claims and by the paucity of its evidence—is really too great a monstrosity to be appreciated in all its glory. Religious faith represents so uncompromising a misuse of the power of our minds that it forms a kind of perverse, cultural singularity—a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse becomes impossible. When foisted upon each generation anew, it renders us incapable of realizing just how much of our world has been unnecessarily ceded to a dark and barbarous past.”

Any evidence of this claim? Nope. It’s merely an assertion. It’s a completely false one as well. I enjoy rational discourse especially with those who disagree with my faith. I also make it a point to tell people they need a whole lot more than their testimony to share their faith with people.

The following two quotes come from page 29:

“We, too, cherish the idea that certain fantastic propositions can be believed without evidence.”

“The concessions we have made to religious faith, to the idea that belief can be sanctified by something other than evidence—have rendered us unable to name, much less address, one of the most pervasive causes of conflict in our world.”

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to me that Mr. Harris can easily name what he says we are unable to name and he can easily address what he says we are unable to address, what he sees as one of the most pervasive causes of conflict in our world. Harris repeats this straw man so much throughout his book as if he can repeat it “without evidence”, it will eventually be true.

Page 31:

“If we would speak of the baseness of our natures, our willingness to live, kill, and die on account of propositions for which we have no evidence should be among the first topics of discussion.”

Fine. Let’s discuss Harris’s claims. He gives no evidence for them.

On page 35:

“How can any person presume to know that this is the way the universe works? Because it says so in our holy books. How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so.”

Mr. Harris. This is simply a straw man. You want to destroy this argument. Good. More power to you there. It’s disingenuous though to act as if this is all that ALL Christians say.

On page 39, he again speaks of “The paucity of evidence.”

On page 45, we have a lengthy quote:

“It is time we admitted, from kinds and presidents on down, that there is no evidence that any of our books was authored by the creator of the universe. The Bible, it seems certain, was the work of sand-strewn men and women thought the Earth was flat and for whom a wheelbarrow would have been a breathtaking example of emerging technology.  To rely on such a document as the basis of our worldview—however heroic the efforts of its redactors—is to repudiate two thousand years of civilizing insights that the human mind has only just begun to inscribe upon itself through secular politics and scientific culture. We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accomodations we have made to faith itself. Religious moderates are , in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed.”

A statement like this speaks for itself, but one criticism especially. A wheelbarrow emerging technology? These people lived in a time of pyramids and the hanging gardens. They saw chariots and events like a water system Hezekiah built. The Romans had indoor plumbing even. It seems that if anyone is making a claim without evidence, it’s Harris.

Later on page 45 continuing to the start of 46.

“Nothing that a Christian and a Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation. Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world. It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry.”

That’s right. Keep telling everyone the same nonsense and they’ll eventually believe it. Unfortunately, if anyone is familiar with Christian apologetics in any way, they are simply laughing. Harris is banking on his readers not doing any of their own research.

Two quotes from page 48:

“It is time we recognized that the only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us. Nothing guarantees that reasonable people will agree about everything, of course, but the unreasonable are certain to be divided by their dogmas. This spirit of mutual inquiry is the very antithesis of faith.”

“We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it.”

Page 64:

“Faith enables many of us to endure life’s difficulties with an equanimity that would be scarcely conceivable in a world lit only by reason.”

On page 64, he gives a long definition and I suggest the reader go to Tektonics and read “What is Faith?” to see the contrast. Harris speaks of Hebrews 11:1

“Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass (‘things hoped for.’) or for which one has no evidence (‘things not seen.’) constitutes evidence for its actuality. (‘assurance.’)”

He later says “Throughout this book, I am criticizing faith in its ordinary Scriptural sense—as belief in, and life orientation toward, certain historical and metaphysical propositions.”

Does he cite any lexicons? Nope. Does he cite any Bible dictionaries? Nope. Does he cite any commentaries? Not a one!

But then says on page 65:

“Of course, anyone is free to redefine the term “faith” however he sees fit and thereby bring it into conformity with some rational or mystical idea.”

Which is exactly what Harris has done with this straw man.

In fact, most of page 65 is worth quoting and I urge the reader to check it out.

Page 66:

“This is the very same faith that will not stoop to reason when it has no good reasons to believe.”

Page 67:

“But the fact that unjustified beliefs can have a consoling influence on the human mind is no argument in their favor.”

Two on 68:

“The serach for comfort at the expense of truth has never been a motive for religious belief, since all creeds are chock-full of terrible proposals which are no comfort to anyone and which the faithful believe, despite the pain it causes them, for fear of leaving some dark corner of reality unacknowledged.”

Yeah. The Nicene Creed keeps me up at night in pain.

“The faithful have never been indifferent to the truth; and yet, the principle of faith leaves them unequipped to distinguish truth from falsity in matters that most concern them.”

Odd. I have no problem recognizing the straw man from Harris.

Friends. If I keep repeating these sections, I’ll be here all night. I’ll only quote the ones I want to address. I will give references though to all that I see.

The end of page 71 through to the beginning of page 73 is another straw man of faith.

Page 76:

“What process of ratiocination, mystical or otherwise, will deliver the necssary facts about Galileans woman’s sexual history (facts that run entirely conunter to well-known facts of human biology?)

Yeah. You know why Joseph decided to divorce her in private? Because he knew these well-known facts. He knew what it takes to make a baby.

Seriously Harris, do tell us when it was discovered that it requires sexual intercourse to make a baby and how the ancients didn’t know this. Where’s your “evidence”?

The claim about beliefs without evidence enabling a man to be capable of anything is on page 85.

Page 105 speaks the same with a quote saying that religious doctrine and honest inquiry are rarely juxtaposed.

Page 106: insufficient evidence.

More can be found throughout page 165.

Page 176:

“Most of our religions have been no more supportive of genuine moral inquiry than of scientific inquiry generally.”

Later that same page:

“Credit goes to Christopher Hitchens for distilling, in a single phrase, a principle of discourse that could well arrest our slide toward the abyss: “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Is any evidence given for the truth of Hitchen’s claim?

No?

Then we can dismiss it without evidence.

Don’t you love self-refuting statements?

I urge the reader to check the paragraphs ending page 221 starting with the topic of mysticism.

From the epilogue on Page 223:

“While religious faith is the one species of human ignorance that will not admit of even the possibility of correction, it is sheltered from criticism in every corner of our culture.”

I will say more about this in a later post, but at this point, I want to know, if it is sheltered from criticism in every corner, how the heck did he get this book published?

The second paragraph on 225 should be seen but notice this straw man:

“Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith.”

Again, this is simply a straw man. Faith is not blind belief but belief in what has shown itself to be reliable. Trusting in reason is an act of faith as well because reason has shown itself to be reliable. It could be we are fooling ourselves and are brains in vats, but I doubt it.

Page 232:

“As I do my best to spell out over the course of the book, religious faith is the belief in historical and metaphysical propositions without sufficient evidence.”

Which he points out several times! Unfortunately, he does so without sufficient evidence.

Friends. I haven’t even quoted every section, but the case is clear. Before we go through this book, Harris is not arguing against intellectual Christianity. He is arguing against a straw man. We will further see how weak his assessment is as we go on.

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