Newsweek published an article in their November 13, 2006 issue (page 42) by Sam Harris titled "The Case Against Faith" and subtitled "Religion does untold damage to our politics.  An atheist lament." Harris is an aggressive atheist and has authored two books that are on the New York Times best seller list including "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "The End of Faith."  Harris and Richard Dawkins are the heroes of modern-day atheists, and atheist Web sites and materials are quoting from the work of these two writers in increasing amounts.  The article in Newsweek is full of statements that are typical of atheists--erroneous stereotypes, inaccurate descriptions, and misrepresentations of the actual situations.  We would like to take this article and point out some of these things, using the article because of its brevity.

Harris:  Christians "... believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah's Ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake ... ."  Harris calls this "embarrassing."  This is a classic example of straw horse stereotyping.  What you do in straw horse stereotyping is take your opponents views, distort them to make them look absurd, suggest that this is what your opponent believes and then condemn them as being embarrassing.

It is not our purpose here to discuss the proper interpretation of the Genesis account, the serpent, and dinosaurs.  Our point here is that what Harris suggests Christians believe is true of a microscopic proportion of the Christian community (Christian being used here as the belief system of all Americans who accept the Bible to any degree).  Much of Harris's rage is directed toward President George Bush. Mr. Bush and the denomination to which he belongs would reject nearly everything in Harris's statement.  We have pointed out in this journal and in our books and booklets over and over that it is impossible to maintain that God created "light from distant galaxies en route to the earth."  We have also pointed out that the dinosaurs were not on the ark.  Our arguments have to do with a literal understanding of what the Bible actually says, and what is consistent with the biblical concept of God.  Harris's stereotyping is dishonest and totally false, and I suggest it is an embarrassment to the cause of organized atheism.

Harris:  Christians "... eagerly anticipate the end of the world.  It should be clear that this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization-economically, environmentally or geopolitically."

The fact that Christians believe this life is not the best we will ever have does not stop Christians from serving, building, and improving the world.  If Harris really looked at what Christians are told to do in the Bible, he would see they are told to serve, to build, to make a quiet life of service their ambition, working with their hands, be of good report by those outside of Christianity.  From the very beginning, believers were told to take care of the Garden, dress it and keep it.  In contrast to the selfish mentality of survival of the fittest, Christians work toward the improvement of everything Harris talks about, and in fact historically Christian leaders have advanced all of those areas of concern.

Harris:  "... what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality."  Harris goes on to condemn religion that calls gay marriage a moral issue and to then explain that his morality is totally in the area of human suffering.  Anything that does not cause suffering is moral and anything that does cause suffering is immoral.

Some of the problem here should be pretty obvious--if suffering is the only criteria for morality, then getting old is immoral.  The reality is that what Harris has essentially done is to demonstrate that he has no definition or standard of morality that works.  Harris also misses the point that the issue of homosexuality and those who oppose it do so for the most part because of the destructive nature of that lifestyle.  The problems of STDs, family disintegration, personal frustration, and abuse are all a part of the Christian view that God has given the best plan for sexual and nuclear family relationships.  The question is what is best for man and for society as a whole.  Having a fixed proven workable standard of behavior that teaches man to care for one another and put others above self is not unreasonable, divisive, or immoral.

Harris:  "... the soul of a little girl with burns over 75 percent of her body.cannot trump the interest of another soul, even if that soul happens to live inside a petri dish."  This is part of a sweeping attack on President Bush, but it maintains that embryonic stem cell research offers solutions to many of man's problems, and that Christians opposing it are "prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings."

This statement is totally misrepresenting the Christian concerns about embryonic stem cell research.  An atheist may well feel that any medical procedure can be done with no concerns about what moral implications the procedure has.  If you have no absolute moral standard to make decisions by, this is easy to understand.  The concern about embryonic stem cells is the killing of an unborn baby.  This is not necessary to get stem cells because there are other techniques that are better than those using unborn babies/embryos.  We have pointed out in this journal that the "tens of millions of human beings" that Harris talks about, cannot be treated with embryonic stem cells from aborted babies, because there are not enough abortions to meet the needs.  Finding other ways of getting these cells, and learning how to use adult stem cells to address human suffering, is a vastly more favorable methodology.  Harris's portrayal of why Christians oppose abortion as a means of treating disease is misrepresented.  It is not to stop progress or to block the cures needed to relieve suffering, but to do this in a way that offers real solutions without dubious ethical and moral decisions being involved.

Harris:  "Religion is the one area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give good evidence and valid arguments in defense of strongly held beliefs."  If you read the writings of Harris and Dawkins and other atheists who are saturating the web and the media these days, you will see that they are like a lot of us in that they reject anything that they do not believe as not worth their time to consider.  There are many valid arguments for what the Bible says, and for the existence of God.  What tends to happen is that people argue against the existence of God by citing stupid things Christians do or have done.  I am an American.  Does that mean that I agree 100 percent with everything this country has done in the last 10 years?  Of course not.  Yes, religion has done some horrible things--and so has atheism.  Atheists seem consumed with the Crusades, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, the Branch Davidians, and the like.  In doing this they ignore the scientific, moral, ontological, teleological, and philosophical arguments that capable scholars have made for the existence of God.  Atheism has its share of leaders who caused the world's catastrophes--Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Nietzsche, etc.--but using a broad brush and accusing all atheists of supporting these tyrants would be dishonest.  The question is "What does the teaching of atheism lead to, as compared with what the Sermon on the Mount leads to?"  What the system teaches is the issue, not what someone who claims to be a Christian or an atheist does.

It is important that Christians respond to attacks like the ones that Harris has made.  It is not that we will change Harris's mind, but young people need to be able to look at the arguments and the alternatives and make valid choices based on accurate and correct information.  That is getting more and more difficult to do in America today.

--John N. Clayton

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