Two atheists, one, Sam Harris, a rather hardline but rational fellow and the other, Philip Ball, an “accommodationists” (at least in the view of PZ) are going at it and it is a pretty fascinating read.
Ball is arguing that it is folly to outright dismiss religious thinking as incompatible with science. He thinks that religion is here to stay and deeply ingrained and that we have to strive for peaceful coexistence. Harris on the other hand, similar to my last few blog posts, thinks that religion is a dangerous mindset that should be taken head-on.
I agree with them both. I agree more with Sam Harris but I am keenly aware of the difficulties surrounding (what appears to be) attacks on people’s sacred beliefs. Even though I think all of our beliefs are fair game, in a sense, many people feel they never have to defend their religious beliefs. So any “attack” (and by that I mean a debate of ideas) is seen as hostile. That undermines our argument if our goal is to convince people to open their minds to our ideas.
Each of these guys had a great quote (among others) that I thought was worth sharing. Sam Harris describes Christianity accurately but severely:
Jesus Christ, a carpenter by trade, was born of a virgin, ritually murdered as a scapegoat for the collective sins of his species, and then resurrected from death after an interval of three days. He promptly ascended, bodily, to â€œheavenâ€â€”where, for two millennia, he has eavesdropped upon (and, on occasion, even answered) the simultaneous prayers of billions of beleaguered human beings. Not content to maintain this numinous arrangement indefinitely, this invisible carpenter will one day return to earth to judge humanity for its sexual indiscretions and sceptical doubts, at which time he will grant immortality to anyone who has had the good fortune to be convinced, on Motherâ€™s knee, that this baffling litany of miracles is the most important series of truth-claims ever revealed about the cosmos. Every other member of our species, past and present, from Cleopatra to Einstein, no matter what his or her terrestrial accomplishments, will (probably) be consigned to a fiery hell for all eternity.
On Mr. Ballâ€™s account, there is nothing in the scientific worldview, or in the intellectual rigor and self-criticism that gave rise to it, that casts such convictions in an unfavorable light.
Ball, who I agree with in the sense I described above, is a bit desperate and outmatched, I think, but he does sum up a view of agnostics that is well said:
I share your view that many of the alleged â€˜factsâ€™ that comprise most religious belief â€“ the existence of a deity (or deities), that deityâ€™s capacity to intervene in the world in supernatural ways, the whole paraphernalia of miracles, afterlife, saints, sin, absolution, virgin births, resurrections â€“ are not just outside of science but fundamentally incompatible with a scientific view of the world. And while some agnostics might insist that we cannot â€˜knowâ€™ that a god does not exist, this does not compel us to give the â€˜forâ€™ and â€˜againstâ€™ possibilities equal weight. We shouldnâ€™t imagine things into being without good reason to do so.