Sam Harris: On God

manicstreetpreacher presents another gem from the master of the reductio ad absurdum

The beginning of the above clip is taken from ABC Nightline’s Face-Off from 23 March 2010 featuring atheists Sam Harris and Michael Shermer against sophist-merchant Deepak Chopra and believer in belief Jean Houston on “Does God Have a Future?”

Harris’ opening statement is a brilliant description of the basic characteristics of the Almighty creator of the universe adhered to by the vast majority of religious believers.  Stick this in your pipe and smoke it, all you sophisticated “scholars” of religion:

We can talk about religion as it is for most people most of the time, or we can talk about what religion could be, or should be.  Or perhaps what it is for the tiniest minority of people…

If we talk about consciousness and the laws of nature, we won’t be talking about the God that most of our neighbours believe in, which is a personal god, who hears our prayers and occasionally answers them…

The God that our neighbours believe in is essentially an invisible person.  It’s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with once species of primate.  Lucky us!

He’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked.  He most certainly does not approve of homosexuality.  And he has created this cosmos as a vast laboratory in which to test our powers of credulity.  And the test is this: Can you believe in this God on bad evidence, which is to say on faith.  And if you can you will win an eternity of happiness after you die.

And it’s precisely this sort of god or this sort of scheme that you must believe in if you are to have any kind of future in politics in this country, no matter what your gifts.  You could be an unprecedented genius, you could look like George Clooney, you could have a billion dollars and you could have the social skills of Oprah, and you are going nowhere in politics in this country unless you believe in that sort of God.

So we can talk about anything we want – I’m happy to talk about consciousness – but please notice that when we migrate away from the God that is really shaping human events or the God-talk that is really shaping human events in our world at this moment.

Full Debate Video

Full Debate Audio

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7 Responses to “Sam Harris: On God”

  1. PaulJ Says:

    I watched this whole debate a while ago. I think it was right after Deepak Chopra in this clip when Michael Shermer said something like “You want to know what we mean by woo-woo? That’s woo-woo.”

    Sam Harris was razor sharp as usual, but my recollection is that Jean Houston seemed to be conducting a debate all of her own, entirely unconnected with what anybody else said here.

    Sam is getting a lot of adverse criticism for The Moral Landscape. I’m only a little way into it, but from what I’ve seen so far (his TED talk, and some of his articles and blogposts on the subject), his essentially pragmatic approach to morality strikes me as eminently sensible. Of course, there are plenty who will misunderstand some of what he’s saying — just as they did with The End of Faith — and use that as an excuse to dismiss the whole.

  2. Hammiesink Says:

    I swear to god, take away creationists, fundies, and Biblical literalists, and atheists wouldn’t have a case.

  3. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Hello again, Martin!

    Skip to 3:30 for Harris’ response to this kind of argument that “atheists pick on the extremists and use them to caricature the whole”.

    “Most Nazis are really good people. They don’t spend a whole lotta time thinking about the purity of Ayran blood… You’ve taken extremists like Hitler and Goebbels and Himmler to misrepresent the whole.”


  4. Hammiesink Says:

    Except that I just don’t find support for the hidden assumption that ALL Christians are loony creationist/fundie/literalists, like the Nazi example would indicate.

    When I listen to Luke’s interviews with theist philosophers, almost every single one of them is incredibly NOT like that. Even ones you would think are. Many of them seem to be aware that Biblical literalism is not supportable. That YEC is silly. That fundamentalism is dangerous.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      If only all these serious “scholars” had anything more than an utterly negligible impact on the way that religion is actually practiced by the masses.

      Where are the theologians in the gay rights debate? Silent, it would appear.

      Are Catholic “scholars” submitting learned treatises to the Vatican questioning their policy of spreading anti-scientific dogma and downright lies with regard to condom use in the Third World? Certainly none that have been reported by the mainstream media.

      If Alistair McGrath or Alvin Plantinga wrote an open letter to the Bishop of Carlisle following the Right Reverend’s decidedly Old Testament take on the true cause of the North Yorkshire floods in July 2007 ticking him off for his fundamentalism, then I must have missed it.

      Fifty percent of Americans believe in YEC. Forty five percent give or take believe that the Second Coming is certain or likely to occur within their lifetimes. These are the people who decide the next resident of the White House.

      Go figure.

  5. My favourite philosophical disproofs of God’s existence | manicstreetpreacher Says:

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  6. Against Theology | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] Sam Harris defines the God of the religious community at large: […]

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