Beliefnet

In books like The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, atheist author Sam Harris contends that religion and its claims to truth are to blame for many of the world's problems. Blogger and Conservative Soul author Andrew Sullivan argues that faith is a legitimate choice for intelligent people. For several weeks, Harris debated Sullivan in a no-holds-barred blogalogue. Read Harris' final posts here--and check Andrew Sullivan's blog for his responses.


Sam Harris

Andrew Sullivan
From: Sam Harris  To: Andrew Sullivan 03/20/07, 2:20 PM

Dear Andrew -

Many thanks for your latest essay. I've got too much to say, so permit me to jump right in:

You write that "we are evolutionarily programmed for faith." While this claim seems debatable, let's just accept it as a given. What can we conclude from this? We certainly can't conclude that any specific religious doctrine is true (or likely to be true). Nor can we say that religious faith is desirable in the 21st century, or even compatible with our long-term survival as a species. Here is your quotation from Justin Barrett, with a few, minor edits:

"[Viking] theology teaches that people were crafted by [Odin] to [rape and pillage]. Why wouldn't [Odin], then, design us in such a way as to find [raping and pillaging] quite natural?
We probably do have a genetic proclivity for raping and pillaging. Clearly, rape is an excellent strategy for getting one's genes into the next generation, and a wide variety of species engage in it (orangutans are notorious; they've even raped humans.) But who is going to argue for the moral legitimacy of rape based on the fact that it has paid evolutionary dividends?

The fact that we have a biological tendency to attribute agency to forces in nature does not suggest that it is wise (or moral) to nurture this disposition. And the fact that we find it difficult to conceive of our own nonexistence does not mean that we are likely to persist in some numinous form after death. If the history of science tells us anything, it tells us that we shouldn't rush to draw metaphysical conclusions from our failures of intuition. We now know a fair amount about how bad our intuitions can be--with respect to causality, probability, logical dependence, and a wide range of other parameters that determine our commonsense (and erroneous) view of the world. Spend a little time thinking about the Monty Hall problem, and once you understand it, witness how difficult it is to explain to someone who has never thought about it before. Even profoundly simple situations can confound us.

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