Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wishful thinking

In his article, Religion as a Black Market for Irrationality, Sam Harris lays out his case against religious belief. [1]  It must be noted that two other articles tie in to this one, which I hope to address in coming blogs.  These articles are offered by the author of the text book, About Philosophy, by Robert Paul Wolff, who describes himself as an atheist.  What exactly is Harris arguing for in the article?

It is the belief of Harris that religions believe as they do without rational grounds to do so.  Harris states, "This constraint upon our thinking has always been a problem for religion.  Being stocked stem to stern with incredible ideas, the world's religions have had to find some way to circumvent reason." [2]  According to Harris, the circumventing of reason comes by way of faith.  Faith in Harris' mind is always a blind faith, but is this how faith is defined in the Bible?  Are individuals within the Christian religion expected to blindly follow whatever their tradition dictates?

What is faith?  Does faith mean that individuals are deluded as wishful thinkers?  Faith properly understood can be viewed as belief based upon reality.  What Harris seems to confuse is the difference between proper faith and belief.  Belief does not necessary have a justifier, whereas true faith in anything must have a justifying  anchor.  In this case, faith is not blind, but can be justified as right belief.  When Harris insinuates that faith in religion is blind, he is constructing a straw man argument, while at the same time asking his audience to blindly accept his statements.

In order for faith to be real and true, evidence must exist to support it.  Faith in the Christian God comes through numerous avenues to support the religion's beliefs.  The apostle John makes a statement of faith by saying, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim (1 John 1:1)."  John makes a faith statement based on evidence.

In his article, Harris gives a six point plan on how one can be deluded to belief in God:
  1. First, you must want to believe in God.
  2. Next, understanding that believing in God in the absence of evidence is especially noble.
  3. Then, realize that the human ability to believe in God in the absence of evidence might itself constitute evidence for the existence of God.
  4. Now consider any need for further evidence (both in yourself and in others) to be a form of temptation, spiritually unhealthy, or a corruption of the intellect.
  5. Refer to steps 2-4 as acts of faith.
  6. Return to 2.
What Harris presents in his six point argument is nothing more than a bloated straw man.  Concerning point one, couldn't one say that, "You must want to believe in the non-existence of God."  Would that statement make Harris' argument valid?  It seems that wanting to not believe in God would settle everything from the get go, in Harris' mind.  But, where is the evidence in that statement, that Harris is so fond of?

Harris wants to have his cake and eat it too.  He is willing to disparage religion without himself offering any evidential proof to refute it.  In reality, Harris is the one who bases his belief on the blind faith of atheism, because he is unwilling to show how religion, particularly the Christian religion does not match with the evidence.  Harris concludes the article by saying that religion has a "diminished contact with reality."[3]  Really, Mr. Harris, is that true, or simply wishful thinking on your part?

[1]  Harris, Sam, Religion as a Black Market for Irrationality as  found in About Philosophy, p. 338
[2]  Ibid
[3]  Ibid

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When faith is blind faith, and it is such in many expressions of religion, then Harris is correct. He makes the assumption that there is no faith that is not blind. But no, truth also asks for faith, and when one knows by reason or experience that something is true, then faith is no longer blind, but is turned into trust instead.