Needless to say, your attempt to pull theism up by its bootstraps ("since God is definitionally the Creator of such a universe; and the meaning of the universe cannot be in conflict with its Creator") could be used to justify almost any metaphysical assertion. "The Flying Spaghetti Monster who created the universe" is also "definitionally" the Creator of the universe; this doesn't mean that he exists, or that the universe had a Creator at all. Many other chains of pious reasoning could be cashed-out in the same way: "Satan is the Tempter; I find that I am tempted on a hourly basis to eat ice cream and have sex with my neighbor's wife; ergo, Satan exists." Or what if I suggested that what we know about the brain renders the idea of a human soul rather implausible, and one your brethren countered: "The immortal soul governs all the activity in a person's brain; I have no fear about what neuroscience will tell me about the brain, because the soul is definitionally the brain's operator." Would this strike you as an argument for the existence of souls? Granted, there are still many gaps in neuroscience into which a soul might still be inserted, just as there are gaps in our understanding of the cosmos into which the faithful eagerly insert God, but such maneuvers are utterly without intellectual merit. You can insert almost anything "definitionally" into those gaps. The Muslims have inserted Allah, and the Qur'an is His perfect word. The Hindus have inserted Gods of every color and flavor. Why don't these efforts persuade you?

Now let me briefly address your primary charge of "intolerance." The sentences that you appear to have found most troubling are these:

Anyone who thinks he knows for sure that Jesus was born of virgin or that the Qur'an is the perfect word of the Creator of the universe is lying. Either he is lying to himself, or to everyone else. In neither case should such false certainties be celebrated.
What if I told you that I am certain that I have an even number of cells in my body? What are the chances that I am in a position to have actually counted my cells (there are on the order of 100 trillion) and counted them correctly? Would it be unfair (or worse, "intolerant") of you to dismiss my assertion as either a product of self-deception or outright dishonesty? Note that this claim has a 50% chance of being true (unlike claims about virgin births and resurrections), and yet it is patently ridiculous. Some claims to knowledge-even about facts that have a high order of probability--immediately brand their claimants as intellectually dishonest. Please forgive me for saying that it is extraordinarily obvious that neither you, nor the pope, nor any other Christian is in a position to know that Jesus was actually born of a virgin or that he will one day return to earth wielding magic powers.

As far as the Qur'an being the perfect word of the Creator of the universe, the Qur'an itself makes it especially easy to dismiss this idea. The book claims to be so perfect, it could not have possibly be written by a human being, (10:37), and readers are challenged to just try to write a surah equal to any in the text (2:23). Anyone who has actually read the Qur'an (and any other work of significant literature) would agree that this would be remarkably easy to do. The Qur'an declares that if it was not the perfect word of Allah, its critics would find some mistakes in it (4:82). Its critics have found mistakes in it. What's a reasonable person to conclude?

It is not my intention to go on at tiresome length, but your last post has opened so many doors to the winds of unreason that I can't resist running from room to room trying to settle things down. You seem to have taken particular offense at my imputing self-deception and/or dishonesty to the faithful. I make no apologies for this. One of the greatest problems with religion is that it is built, to a remarkable degree, upon lies. Mommy claims to know that Granny went straight to heaven after she died. But Mommy doesn't actually know this. The truth is that, while Mommy may be rigorously honest on any other subject, in this instance she doesn't want to distinguish between what she really knows (i.e. what she has good reasons to believe) and 1) what she wants to be true, or 2) what will keep her children from grieving too much in Granny's absence. She is lying--either to herself or to her children--but we've all agreed not to talk about it. Rather than teach our children to grieve, we teach them to lie to themselves.

You can call me "intolerant" all you want, but that won't make unreasonable claims to knowledge sound any more reasonable; it won't differentiate your claims to religious knowledge from the claims of others which you consider illegitimate; and it won't constitute an adequate response to anything I have written or am likely to write.




From: Andrew Sullivan  To: Sam Harris 1/25/07, 3:54 AM

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus