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Sam Harris - In Good Company

#165: June - Aug. 2019 (Non-Fiction)
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Robert Tulip

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Sam Harris - In Good Company

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Harris gives an irritating and superficial dismissal of religion in his short Introduction to The Four Horsemen, ignoring the merits of faith while amplifying its failings. Harris has a violently combative writing style, setting religious questions as polarized matters of true or false, with God either existing or not existing, and any middle ground excluded.

He says “not much need be said to close the door” on belief in God, offering as evidence only the trite claim that the existence of evil proves God cannot be completely good and powerful, and concluding with the rather obnoxious assertion that finding hope and consolation in God requires ignorant lies.

Harris seems incapable of discerning that religious faith could involve some level of parable, a symbolic openness to mystery. He does not recognize that popular religion may be seeking to engage honestly with the mystery of existence, not necessarily making claims that conflict with the laws of physics.

Rather, he seems to demand that if God can’t intervene miraculously to override scientific laws, for example by miraculously curing the Zika virus, then all sympathy for talk of God should be condemned. Dismissing theology as ‘hairsplitting and casuistry’, he ignores how civil dialogue with theologians might offer the prospect that symbolic interpretation of Biblical ideas could have high moral value.

His views reinforce Dawkins' largely correct line that religion lacks humility compared to science, but Harris seems rather arrogant and preachy in his rejection of the prospect that theology may offer some philosophical insight into deep moral problems.

Many scientists have a narrow technical training that does not prepare them with the ability to hold a philosophical conversation that shows respect for religious sensibility. That syndrome makes atheism as a movement wide open to simplistic logic like from Harris, who follows Dawkins’ line that the stupidity of fundamentalism proves that religious is irredeemable. He complains about the stony silence that greets some of his ideas. This negative response might be ameliorated if he showed some openness to the possibility of dialogue with an intelligent and critical faith.
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