We are currently reviewing Sam Harris’s book “The End of Faith.” Let it be noted again that I am only covering highlights here, used in the loosest sense of the word. We are also here not going to be covering the multiple times that he mentions beliefs without evidence as those have been addressed in the first post reviewing this book.
Harris does have some interesting information in this chapter. I found myself reading the theories on memory and belief with interest. I am for good philosophy no matter who does it. I am not saying that I necessarily think that Harris is right on everything yet, but I am saying he does raise up issues that I think need to be addressed by theists and non-theists alike.
Unfortunately, most of this chapter as we go through is the straw man. There is an illustration that needs to be addressed though. Starting on page 74, Harris presents three different stories and asks if we can believe the source of information.
#1-The anchorman on the evening news speaks of a fire in Colorado that has claimed 100,000 acres and is still spreading.
#2-The claim of scientists that DNA is the basis for sexual reproduction and the characteristics that we have is because of our DNA.
#3-The Pope says Jesus was born of a virgin and resurrected bodily after death, he’s the Son of God, created the universe in 6 days, and if you believe this, you go to Heaven when you die, and if not, you go to Hell to suffer for eternity.
Let’s look at these.
#1-I have little problem believing. It’s straight forward and could be verified especially in our day and age. I could check something like Google Maps and see if a fire is burning, for instance. Now let’s suppose something else was the statement.
What if it was a statement on politics for instance?
Many of us know we’d immediately be asking questions. Is the reporter’s opinion valid? Is the source of the information the reporter is receiving valid? All of a sudden, we’re not as sure. Some might think it’s more or less valid depending on if it’s Fox News or MSNBC. It might depend on if it’s the Washington Post or the New York Times.
#2-Most of us would not have much problem especially since this seems unanimous amongst scientists. Again though, we would be wary of statements that introduce their worldview. Most Americans today, for instance, don’t accept evolutionary theory on the naturalistic level. Some people get skeptical about new health advice that comes from scientists debating to themselves whether different diets truly work or not.
#3-I am a Protestant. I would not accept the Pope as an infallible authority. That does not mean I would not consider him an imperfect authority. Let’s suppose that we took Harris’s statement and took out “The Pope says” and put instead these words in the front.
“The Roman Catholic church believes that”
All of a sudden, I think Sam Harris even would say “True.” If an Imam stands up and says what Islam teaches, I’d be more prone to accept that. If a Seminary professor at a Calvinist seminary wants to tell me what Calvinists believes, I’d give it more validity.
I’ll also note that Harris probably intends to mean young-earth creationism with the statement of six days, which not all Christians accept.
Now why do I accept the statement about Christ being the Son of God or what the Bible says? Not because they say so simply. That’s blind faith. I say so because I do believe that there are valid reasons for believing such, but such reasons Mr. Harris has already decided in advance do not really exist. He has built up a straw man entirely.
In the next chapter, Harris looks at the history of Christianity. We shall look at his look tomorrow.