Sam Harris on the Lunacy of Belief

Sam Harris on the lunacy of belief "The problem is that religion..allows perfectly sane and perfectly intelligent people to believe en masse (thanks Martin) what only idiots or lunatics could believe in isolation." That's pretty strong. Watch this if you haven't already.


Butch said...

Pretty strong, but pretty true.

Hallq said...

I like how Harris can present that material in the meekest demenor you ever seen.

Dave Armstrong said...

Isn't it interesting that here is this droning theme about Christians being insane or mad or lunatic again (I know, slightly qualified), yet this very day I defended you against the same charge on my blog.

What good is accomplished by this? You rail against Christian "confidence" and arguments against atheism as if this were the most amazing, improper thing in the world, yet many atheists on this board continue on with the "mentally ill" canard that was already old and ragged and refuted by the mid-19th century at the latest.

So it's wrong for a Christian to be merely confident in his stand over against atheism (as you have argued again and again in vociferously objecting to my abominable confidence in my case), but fine for the atheist to routinely say that Christians are nuts or psychotic (or believe things that only lunatics and madmen believe, which is scarcely any different)? And you call that treating others respectfully, and in accord with your claims in your post about discussion here?

What isn't adding up? Or do you simply freely accept double standards and expect to be treated fairly and respectfully by Christians while you trash their opponents' intelligence and mental stability?

Dave Armstrong said...

Typo: delete "opponents'" in the last sentence. I meant to do that myself in my editing but missed it.

John W. Loftus said...

Dave, I knew you would object. ;-) Hey, Sam the man said it, not me. the joke's on you. LOL

Martin Wagner said...

As usual Dave, understanding comes slowly to you. Harris's point is not that Christians are all insane lunatics. It's that the practice of religion takes beliefs that, in an individual, would be seen as a sign of mental illness (belief that one is loved by and in communication with an invisible magic being), and renders them mainstream in such a way that, by being believed en masse, are no longer considered crazy. Somehow, by taking a crazy belief and spreading it to millions, it's suddenly a belief that non-crazy people have no trouble adopting. It's a very interesting sociological issue, really.

Dave Armstrong said...

Right, Martin. Big difference (that I was already well aware of, thank you).

If we talked this way about you guys, you wouldn't tolerate it for a second. In fact I know that you don't now, because y'all are always rightly complaining about "anti-atheist" sorts of Christians who think you're all immoral; by definition, and going to hell, etc.

Martin Wagner said...

Imagine a world without established religion, in which you encounter an individual who says to you, "I commune with an invisible magic being, who loves me and answers my prayers, and after I die I will go live with this being in eternal paradise." In that world, that individual would be dismissed as crazy. But we live in a world in which established religion is at the heart of every culture, and large groups of people make the same claim. Only because they are large groups of people, and because their claim is backed by instutions and churches, it is not considered a lunatic claim, nor are its believers lunatics (indeed they function normally in every area of day to day life), even though they have no greater evidence to support their claim than the lunatic in the religion-free world.

So it's an interesting phenomenon. Religion makes people who aren't lunatics believe things that you'd think only a lunatic would believe. Why is this? This is the point Harris is raising, and is a very different thing from saying "Believers are all lunatics."

Anonymous said...


In Christ,

- Calvin

Steven Carr said...

Jacob in Genesis has a dream and believed his dream was reality.

Paul says he has gone to Heaven.

Acts says Paul saw a real flesh and blood person while in a trance (presumably teleported from Macedonia)

Acts 14 says Paul was stoned to the point that people thought he was dead, yet he got up and walked away and was well enough to continue his journey the next day (Didn't he have any broken ribs or a fractured skull?)

And Jesus talks to Satan in the desert.

If I told people I talk to Satan, I would be locked up.

But people like Plantinga say that these sorts of beliefs are all properly basic, provided you are the sort of person who can look at a flower and believe that there must be a God who has made it.

rondo said...

Sam Harris was interviewed on Christian radio station KCBI in Dallas a few weeks ago. The host was Dr. Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell Bible Institute. Dr Johnson had with him a Christian philosopher who teaches at Criswell whose name escapes me.

Both Dr Johnson and the philospher seemed to be unable to conceive that atheism primarily means an absense of belief and does not require a materialistic philosophy. Sam argued that atheism was an unnecessary term-" lack of belief in unicorns does not require a special term". Dr. Johnson claimed it was because atheism was a minority position.

The philosopher stated that all Sam's arguments against Christianity had been answered many times. Dr Johnson asked if Sam had any new arguments to offer. Sam replied, "Well, with respect to other religions, both of know what it is like to be an atheist with respect to all religions except Christianity."

To my utter amazement the philosopher could not allow that the term atheist was legitimate in that example, since "he believed in God, and atheists dont believe in God."

In exasperation Sam exclaimed "You guys seem to live in an echo chamber, & you wont let any new information in."

It was an enlightening and frustrating exchange. My hat is off to Sam Harris who always seems to handle himself with a calm demeaner. I doubt I could.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of lunacy, would you believe this:

Anonymous said...

I believe a major problem when discussing belief systems within Christianity is that the systems reward belief without evidence. One of christianity's favorite scriptures is Heb 11:1,2 "1.Now faith is the assurance of {things} hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2.For by it the men of old gained approval." (NAS 1995 Version)

In all religions, the more a person believes, the greater his prominence is, and this person is held in very high esteem. Perhaps responsibilities, or "privileges" of various kinds are given to him or her. They also belong to a community, one where friends and family exist. There is not a lot of reward for leaving such an arrangement, to say nothing of the claim that such ones who do leave, or even question Christianity will be damned for eternity.

Notice the loaded wording of the above passage from Hebrews; "conviction for things not seen" (i.e. unable to show evidence for). Too often, Christians are guilty of doing just this, looking at "unseen things that they hope exist so that they can have conviction in it", yet at the same time they ignore physical evidence and realities. What causes them to do this? Their reward system. There has to be something in it for them, not just in the future, but even now. (at this point, I would be remiss to point out the political advantages the religous right of this country has enjoyed thanks to getting the evangelical vote out for the Republican party. Again, there isn't a lot of incentive to change if you are politically in power. Why would you? You have what you want...)

Sam Harris in his book "The End of Faith" speaks very eloquently to the fact that religion has been above critical analysis from time immemorial. Thus, myth and superstition still reign supreme. The fact is that until the last 200 years, no one has bothered to hold Christianity and religion as a whole accountable for their claims. Today, they cannot engage in relgious persecution as was the case during the dark ages, but they do engage in a demonizing of people who disagree with them. Often, instead of answering questions, labels such as "athiest", "apostate" etc come to the fore when thiests are unable to defend what they believe. Why should they try to defend their beliefs? According to Hebrews, faith by its very definition involves believing in things that you will never see evidence for. So you either have faith or you are an evil person. At the very same time, many christians will take to task any number of non christian religions for their lack of belief and worship of Jesus, even though these other religions share the same basis for belief as any christian: faith in something they haven't seen and cannot prove exists beyond what a few ancient scrolls tell them to believe.

In my opinion, to argue this point succesfully with the Christian community, one needs to first do their very best to avoid the semantics/labeling of non believers that the evangelicals often engage in. One must also recognize that you can't argue evidence with people who have been brought up to believe all their life that evidence isn't necesarry for belief. It is better to use the precepts of hypocrisy that do exist in religions, the willingness to pick and choose what one wants to believe, as a better tack to debate why faith is a major impediment for the progress of mankind. Make people of faith defend why they believe, and use the bible or any other holy books against the arguements they give. It isn't hard to do.