Does anyone else think this is one of the best Point of Inquiry episodes to date?
I know I’ve heard Sam speak most of these things before, and he is getting longer segments on NPR and other mainstream outlets lately too. But, I’m really enjoying hearing him put everything on the table in this one.
His point about people going to Africa because they are concerned about the state of their fellow beings being a better reason than going there because they want to be rewarded by a god is a very powerful and under-discussed in my opinion.
I used to work on site at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. I met a lot of people there who have done exactly what he says. Most of them are not particularly religious people, but they were concerned with the world and wanted to help spread healthier practices.
I find that juxtaposing ideas that stand in such stark contrast to each other tends to make a good reductio ad absurdum argument especially in this scenario.
Imagine an epidemiologist from CDC goes to Africa. She is also a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. While there, she helps teach people about how to clean their water and helps provide walter filtration systems. She calmy explains to them that [b:b32bc5cd39]diseases are not caused by spirits, demons, curses, or the gods[/b:b32bc5cd39]. She shows them pathogens under microscope and helps them to learn about the germ-theory of disease.
Later in the day she opens her Bible and begins to preach. She attempts to teach them that only by accepting Jesus Christ as their true lord and savior will they be redeemed and saved from burning in hell. She goes into a lengthy explanation of the "hidden mysteries" of God, culminating with utterly terrifying tales of "the rapture", during which, she explains, any of the villagers who had accepted Jesus would vanish from the earth and join Jesus in heaven and then Jesus would annihiliate the rest of the population. She explains to them that while demons and spirits do not cause illness, Jesus does control the ultimate gates to Heaven and Hell.
A young boy raises his hand and says "I bet we need to use a telescope to watch people go up to Heaven instead of a microscope to see this happen, right? Did you bring a telescope too?"
The young epidemiologist/evangelical has to think about that one for a moment. She admits she doesn’t know and says it is a "mystery of God".
This is a completely absurd set of juxtapositions. To believe that a well trained epidemiologist could hold such views side by side is really beyond belief, so far as I can tell. Even more absurd would be to imagine a Muslim epidemiologist and a Christian both in the same area, both arguing against each other on theology and trying to convert to inhabitants. Yet, they would be able to get along just fine when it came to providing for the physical needs of the inhabits because they both agreed on that because of their scientific training.
In effect, they would be arguing against miracles and demonic causes of disease, yet would be arguing for supernatural intervention in the process of physical death, yet they could never produce evidence via the telescope that the young boy requests. He is left to fight two competing and incompatible ideas in his mind.
On the one hand, he looks around his world, thinking to himself about the germ-theory of disease, and begins to comprehend the physicality of nature and the competition for resources and energy that organisms undergo. He wants to get his own microscope to examine the tiny creatures swimming through the ordinary creekwater and puddles in his village. He is open to discovery and the scientific method.
On the other hand, he lays awake at night, tossing and turning his body in his bed and his thoughts in his head. His body is being tormented by the heat and bugs, but his mind is being tortured by images of burning flames and demonic creatures that he has been told he will meet if doesn’t confess with his lips that Jesus Christ is the lord and savior of the universe.
Unlikely tale? Absolutely. But, while you may not find many university educated epidemiologists (scientists) who hold these kind of antiquated religious doctrines, you definitely will find others who hold these views both in Christian circles and in Muslim circles.
Keep up the good work Sam Harris!