From: Dennis Prager To: Sam Harris Subject: The Faith of Disbelief
There is one thing you and I agree on, Sam. You write that you are “quite sure that we need only use words like ‘reason,’ ‘common sense,’ ‘evidence,’ and ‘intellectual honesty’ to do the job.”
Yet you and other atheists—as opposed to agnostics, who simply claim doubts about God—appropriate words like “reason” and “common sense” to maintain a position that is hardly the fruit of reason and common sense.
Is it really reason and common sense that lead atheists to their certitude that everything, all existence, came about by sheer chance? That there is therefore no God, no creator, no designer? Unlikely. Atheist certainty and religious certainty are both faith claims that transcend reason and common sense. But at least religious believers have the intellectual honesty to admit theirs is a faith claim.
Nevertheless, I am not as certain about God as you are about no-God. When I look at the unjust world God created, I have questions, sometimes even doubts. But not atheists like you, Sam. No, they look at love and consciousness, at the grandeur of the universe, at the birth of a child, and they hear Bach’s music and conclude that all of this and everything else just came about by itself.
It is an understatement to say that I do not find that position intellectually compelling. And when held with certitude, it borders arrogance.
On the other side, we believers look at the evidence and believe that there is a God. In that sense, the atheist has considerably less intellectual honesty than the sophisticated believer. The atheist says he knows, despite the fact that what he “knows” is unprovable. The believer believes because he knows that what he believes is ultimately unprovable.
Now, of course, I am referring to the “sophisticated believer,” not to every human on Earth who claims to believe in God. There are many people with simplistic views of God, and many millions who have vile notions of God. If I and all other believers in God are to be lumped with Muslims who believe that slaughtering innocents gets you sex in heaven, then you must be lumped with Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung and all the other atheists who butchered more innocents than all the religious crackpots in history.
Do you not know about people such as Francis Collins? On June 11, 2006, the Times of London reported that “The scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome…now believes in the existence of God … Francis Collins, the director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man ‘closer to God.’”
Is Francis Collins irrational, lacking in common sense, unaware of evidence, and intellectually dishonest? Would you like to debate Francis Collins about God based on the scientific evidence and common sense? I doubt it.
Neither you nor I, untrained in the sciences, would even understand much of the evidence these and many other scientists offer for belief in God.
So, enough of the college dorm clichés about “no evidence” for God. You have not decided to be an atheist because of “no evidence.” As a non-scientist, you are unlikely to even know the evidence that believing scientists offer.
The Times piece quoted Collins:
“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion–letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”
Have you checked those 3.1 billion–letter instructions? I suspect you would understand them as poorly as I would.
In a future response I will address the other points in your opening statement. But I will respond to one now—your argument that Prager’s or Collins’s God is in the same intellectual league as belief in Zeus. Did anyone studying the human genome ever argue for Zeus? What are you talking about?
I’ll answer that question. You are talking as if you are addressing fellow atheists who cheer all these lines that belittle faith in God. They think ridicule compensates for their ignorance of intellectually sophisticated God-belief. But unfortunately for you, in this dialogue you are not addressing fellow believers in atheism or people who mock religion. You are addressing a mixed audience and debating a man who knows his arguments. I heard them in high school.
Next e-mail: Are there teapots in space?
Do: Who is more hubristic: believers or nonbelievers? Bring the Cartesian/Pascalian fisticuffs in the Comments. Also, there’s our “I, for one, think God is dead” forum for the more Nietzschean among you. Go: Dennis Prager’s website. Read: Happiness is a Serious Problem, by Dennis Prager. A transcript of Dennis interviewing Howard Zinn.