Examining The End of Faith (index)

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 1, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,Indexes,Reviews

end of faithThe New Atheist movement was launched when Sam Harris published The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason in 2004. In some ways it is the most vicious and the most eloquent attack on religion to come from the New Atheists.

Though I appreciate what the New Atheists have done, I often criticize their arguments. My readers have asked how I think they go wrong. I tackled Richard Dawkins earlier, and both my readers and I learned a few things. I hope the same will be true now, as I try to explain how I disagree with Sam Harris.

But first, let me say what a debt I owe to Harris for his book. I agree with much of what he says, and the tone in which he says it. I also respect his scholarship on many subjects. So my purpose here is not to tear down Sam Harris, but to explore the specific arguments of his that fail, so that we may all ‘correct course’ and build a stronger case against religious nonsense.

Unfortunately, Sam Harris does not nicely summarize any ‘central argument’ of his book, as Dawkins does on pages 157-158 of The God Delusion. Instead, his book is a long, articulate rant against religion. As such, I’ll have to address his arguments in a scattershot manner before summing up at the end.

Contents:

  1. Religion and Suicide Terrorism

(more to come)

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron March 1, 2010 at 6:49 am

Although this is the first book from the New Atheists, can we really trace the origins of the movement to this book? I would say the TED talk by Richard Dawkins in 2002 represents how, where and when the movement started. No doubt this is subjective speculation on my behalf but I wonder if Dawkins speech was the catalyst which set off the movement?

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lukeprog March 1, 2010 at 7:18 am

Aaron,

Meh, I dunno. I think Harris’ book is the biggest, clearest marker of the beginning.

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Rhys March 1, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Harris’ book actually is not too bad. I think it was the second book I read on atheism after The God Delusion. It’s not really a book on philosophy of religion, it focuses more on epistemology, neuroscience, textual criticism, religious history and social commentary.

I don’t really agree with one of his central proclamations that we should not define people by what they do not believe. We do not hesitate to label people as apolitical, homeless, eunuch, emotionless, nudist, broke, single and so forth. We define people by what they are without or what they are lacking all the time, it is just a nuance of our agglutinative language that he should accept.

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ken March 1, 2010 at 7:31 pm

So i guess when i see the mother of a suicide bomber weeping, but consoling herself that her son (instantly)and her family (later) have a place in paradise reserved, it has nothing to do with Islamic teachings.

I’m also told by experts that clitorectomy clinics dont exist in the West, yet when back home in UK i personally walk past one every day.

If the reward of paradise was removed, i cant help thinking the instance of suicide bombing would lessen.

I tend to take these people at their word.

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Tony Hoffman March 2, 2010 at 7:32 am

I am curious how it is that you remove religio- from the umbrella of socio- factors that influence suicide bombing. How would you, for instance, explain the absence of suicide bombings in Eastern Bloc countries controlled by the Soviet Union? It seems to me that secular purposes mixed with suicide-compatible religions are the requirements, and that one cannot be divorced from the other reliably.

An interesting side note (at least to me) is the ability to maintain an army absent religious convictions. I think you can form an army of defense, but it seems to me that at least the U.S. Army fills its volunteer ranks with fervent Christians. (I am curious about the percentages in other Western volunteer ranks, e.g., UK, Germany, Norway, etc.)

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 9:32 am

Tony Hoffman: (I am curious about the percentages in other Western volunteer ranks, e.g., UK, Germany, Norway, etc.)

Satisfy your curiosity and then some;

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/mil_per_percap-military-personnel-per-capita

Excerpts (per-capita);

# 30 Norway: 10.166 per 1,000 people
# 76 United States: 5.216 per 1,000 people
# 101 United Kingdom: 3.603 per 1,000 people
# 107 Germany: 3.456 per 1,000 people

Source: As of 2005 from the World Development Indicators database.

Note: If this is not what you are looking for, select different criteria from the NationMaster.com home page.

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lukeprog March 2, 2010 at 9:46 am

NationMaster is awesome.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

StateMaster (limited to states in the USA) is quite good too.

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Tony Hoffman March 2, 2010 at 10:13 am

Hermes,

Thanks for the link, but I was wondering something slightly different (and that I don’t think is searchable on NationMaster); what percentage of those who volunteer are religious (Christian). My point being that I’d think the sincerely religious are more likely to volunteer to serve.

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Hermes March 2, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Tony, that might be available in specific national data and not available standardized across a large group of nations.

You can probably get some of that for the USA in StateMaster (I haven’t looked), but that still leaves a question of the methods used to do the count when different countries are compared.

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Yair March 3, 2010 at 1:13 am

Israel:
#6, 25.42 per 1000.
#5, 82.59$ per 1000$ of GDP.
Yeah, we’re an army with a country :)

On topic:

I gave Harris’ book a 3/5 rating in my review of it. I think it’s most glaring flaw is that it blasts others fro not using Reason, and then goes about not using, you know, actual science to make its claims, relying instead on anecdotal evidence and gut feelings. Bad form.

Another point I found appalling is his one-dimensional approach to morality. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Utilitarianism – but Harris seems unaware of its problems, and dogmatic in its affirmation.

I do think Harris’ writing is superb, however, especially his moving description on the horrors of the inquisition. His main thesis, that Faith in our age may be destructive to our civilization and perhaps or very existence, is poorly argued for but I sense a grain of truth in there.

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Dan April 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm

So I see you’re not blogging your way through a new book. But whatever happened to blogging through this one? You have “2. …” Did you just give up and move on? Or did you discover the book wasn’t really what you wanted to blog about? Not interested in the book?

I’m just curious because I was excited to see what you had to say about it, and this post has begun to look stagnant.

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lukeprog April 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Dan,

No, the series is still in progress.

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GG April 30, 2010 at 11:17 am

Actually I think his book philosophically is the most sound of the ‘big three’.

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Guðjón Eyjólfsson May 28, 2010 at 6:37 am

You should go looking for common sense. And if you find it you will stop praising Sam Harris. In a secular society the real dangers are secular. They are found in politics not in religion. Sam Harris is genuinely stupit. He thinks that religion can be seriously harmed by intollerace and if he win many followers you will have debates and hatred.If you are serious about getting rid of religion you have to use the same methods that Stalin used. I hope that people in the USA find ways of working to gether to make a better society. Like minded people theist an atheist must be able to work together and if their spend their time arguing about religion that will not be possible.

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