A very reasoned and rational response to a growing fanatical population
If you are a Christian that considers him/herself reasonable and logical, you owe it to yourself to read this tiny little book. It is a very quick read but you will find yourself re-reading the book over and over again. Sam Harris’s logic and reasoned arguments are striking not only in their clarity but how they help cut through many of the long held dogmatic beliefs.
The basic premise of the book is that there are many contradictions with Christianity especially with how it is practiced in the United States. The assertion is that nothing has to be "believed" on insufficient evidence. This book is a great source for a logical retort to many religious claims. Buy this book, read it, and pass it along to a Christian friend.
I wish there were more reasonable responses to dogmatic faith like Sam Harris’s little gem.
Another incredible book on people’s beliefs and human fallibility is Carl Sagan’s "Demon Haunted World"
I ordered both Harris’ and Dawkins’ new books from Amazon (which I’ll have to balance out with my E.O. Wilson reading, which I strongly recommend). Dawkins’ book is #1 on the Amazon UK and Canada bestseller lists!!!
I am 1/4 of the way through the new Dawkins Book “The God Delusion”... It is also FANTASTIC!!!!!!! I must say, I am very happy that we have such quality writers putting out such thought provoking material.
Thank you both Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins!
I used to think there was very little material on the skeptical treatment of religion, but I need to revised my obviously baseless opinion.
[quote author=“HolyAvenger”]I ordered both Harris’ and Dawkins’ new books from Amazon (which I’ll have to balance out with my E.O. Wilson reading, which I strongly recommend).
Which is the E.O. Wilson book? I have his Ants which is quite lovely. I know he has a very recent book about environmentalism, but that’s written pretty expressly for a ‘believing’ audience. (Since he wants to bring evangelicals onboard the environmentalist train. And I can understand that, given the dire need we have).
[quote author=“HolyAvenger”] Dawkins’ book is #1 on the Amazon UK and Canada bestseller lists!!!
Well, to be fair, I don’t think that Canada or the UK are really the problem here ... *Ugh*.
And BTW, jeangv, have you read through Robert Ingersoll’s book Some mistakes of Moses or the great Tom Paine’s The Age of Reason? You will see some quite trenchant attacks on the Bible in both places. Of course, these should be read and discussed in schools around the country, but somehow they aren’t ...
Its funny that you mentioned Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason”. It is 2 notches down on my “To Read” list. Of course I know of Robert G. Ingersoll, but I have never heard of his book “Some Mistakes of Moses”, I will have to check it out.
Thanks so very much for the recommendation.
My Reading List:
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins - (This is the one I am reading now)
Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects - Bertrand Russell
Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions - Lisa Randall
Interesting, I was not familiar with Warped Passages but it looks potentially like a lot of fun. Here in NY we get a lot of lectures on these sorts of topics at the Planetarium ...
Why I Am Not a Christian is a beautifully written series of essays, as one might expect from the Nobelist Bertrand Russell. My only problem with it is that the essays are rather short and underdeveloped. I wanted more! The central essay (of the same title as the book) is the best in the collection, but it really is pretty abbreviated. A lot of good arguments there, but again, they are really only sketched out.
Ingersoll’s book is an attack on the Old Testament alone. I don’t think he mentions Jesus. OTOH Paine’s work is an attack on the veracity and value of the entire Bible. (However, it is important to note that he was not an atheist, but rather supported an explicitly ‘deist’ sort of theology).
If you haven’t already picked up an edition of Paine, I’d suggest the Library of America printing—beautifully done with his other great writings. He was a real man of the enlightenment, and suffered for it mightily, both while imprisoned in France and while treated shabbily by the nascent United States.
I had read many great reviews about the book “Warped Passages” and had heard of the physicist Lisa Randall for some time. After hearing her give a talk I realized that her book was a must read. I am very skeptical about the claims made by string theorists but Dr. Randall’s views differ a bit. Anyhow, it looks like a great read (after getting past the obligatory introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Relativity).
You mentioned the planetarium in NY. There is a lecture that I noticed that was scheduled for the position against String Theory. This sounds like a great lecture indeed!
I just realized the lecture is tomorrow at the Hayden Planetarium (I wish I lived in NYC)
Yes, I will be going to that lecture tomorrow at the Planetarium.
Re. string theory, I don’t really know how anyone outside of theoretical physics can have much of an opinion about it. It’s an intra-scientific debate, which has to be fought out until the evidence either confirms or disconfirms the theory.
Personally, I am happily “agnostic” about the truth of string theory. There are lots of very eminent physicists who think it will end up being confirmed as the long expected unification of QM and relativity. There are also some eminent physicists who are less sure.
But one thing that concerns me about public spats on string theory is that the public is the wrong arbitor. We have precisely none of the knowledge necessary.
That said, it is a fascinating debate to watch. I have heard Ed Witten speak on a couple of occasions; he’s basically the definition of a genius—a physicist who won the Field’s Medal, which is the Nobel Prize in mathematics. Believe me, mathematicians have a disdain for theoretical physicists. The fact that Witten got that prize is enough to consider him a genius if he did nothing else. At any rate, he’s a believer in string theory ... but not a loony by any means. I think everyone involved in its development realizes that it will live or die by experiment.
Sorry to interrupt, but the E.O. Wilson books I was referencing are Consilience and The Creation, which is the one about environmentalism, aimed at believers. Consilience is the closest I’ve come to my own Bible! I absolutely love that book. It’s basically about E.O. Wilson’s Enlightenment-spirited claim that all things are knowable, and that this knowledge and the linking of all disciplines of study are the key to “progress”...
The Creation is written in the form of an extended letter to a Southern Baptist Minister or someone similar, but most of it is simply evidence of global danger to the environment and argumentation on why Christians and scientists should see eye-to-eye on this issue.
I read Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation today at the bookstore (short book), and it makes for an emotional, if simple-minded, read. That it is his second bestseller has no doubt been enabled thus so because the book is as “in your face” and as relatively simplistic as his first. Why else would a relatively uneducated mass public buy so many copies?
I would not go so far as to say Letters is simple-minded, because it is just the sort of thing I would have written 15 years ago when I was more narrow-minded about religion, and fairly limited in my understanding of human nature. If I had actually tried to get such a thing published, I probably would have been laughed out of town.
But 1990 was a different time, religion is all the more political today.
Also, if I had written The End of Faith, a better book in some areas - minus the Islamiphobia and pro-torture arguments - and I had made that slightly less simplistic (if still overly “in-your-face”), book a bestseller, I probably could get anything similar published!
Anyway, I do not think Harris is gonna win anyone over with this book any more than Dawkins will with his new one… You know, the one with the oh-so-humanistic title? And, as much as these books serve as atheist-cheerleading tirades for some of the already converted, they will probably disappear down the American memory hole in short time. That they are bold, brutish, and sensationalistic - in these times when the culture wars have also put Ann Coulter and Tim Lahaye on the bestseller list - has surly been a big factor toward their ability to sell. But when the extremism of the culture wars die down again, where will Harris’ and Dawkins’ atheism get them… Or us?
PS: Good news about Harris ... who I really think has a good chance to move on past his atheism and become a humanist ... He claims his next book will be about the mind, and will debunk ‘Free Will’ as hard as he now debunks religion. Now THAT will be a book worth reading!
I’ve read “Letter” now, and note how the mainstream press (and some even on this board :wink:) call it “simplistic”, yet the arguments provided in it are simply devastating. It is certainly true that they aren’t worked up to the extent they would be in a philosophy dissertation, but they aren’t untested arguments, either. They are simply well put, clearly and directly, in the form of a “Letter” rather than an essay. And for that Harris deserves plaudits.
FWIW I think this book is superior to his last in that it leaves out a lot of questionable stuff about eastern mysticism, and sticks to the meat of the matter, which is the rational difficulty with fundamentalist Christianity. It is also less openly belligerent towards middle-of-the-road religionists.
It may well be said that his arguments are only so good because his target is so easy. To that I think he has to plead guilty. This book might not have needed writing in some previous eras. But one only has to look around us now to see why it is so necessary now.
As to whether it will change minds: nobody believes it will change the minds of “dyed in the wool faith-heads” as Dawkins puts it, but I have little doubt it will get some on the fence to re-think the rationalism of their Christian beliefs, which are never ever critiqued in the mainstream media.
I’m in the middle of Dawkins’s book, also very good so far.
Doug, the book is a great first book in favor of atheism! Dawkins masterfully shows up errancy in his comments on metaphors . Theistic evolutionists have a problem with it ,because it shows up their shallow and false theistic evolution. I will certainly enjoy his comments about the reviews @ his web site ,which I encourage others to receive.
I agree with Doug’s view. The book is terrific. Its the review from the people who were its intended recipients that are silly.
What I think we need now is a series of contracatechisms (newly coined word) and a friend and I may just write them.
Little pamphlets that use the texts from schools taught by clerics and nuns to develop secular catechisms that counter the teachings of the schools grade by grade year by year.