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September 6, 2006

Now I really can't wait to read his book

Sam Harris in truthdig, on Francis Collins' ludicrous attempt to reconcile evangelical Christianity and, well, anything sane:

One is tempted to say that it [a world in which certainty about religious belief was supportable by direct evidence, dismissed by Collins as "uninteresting"] might be more "interesting" than a world unnecessarily shattered by competing religious orthodoxies and religious war, only to be followed by an eternity in hell for all those who believe the wrong things about God. But, to each his own.


The fact that a bowdlerized evangelical Christianity can still be rendered compatible with science (because of the gaps in science and the elasticity of religious thinking) does not mean that there are scientific reasons for being an evangelical Christian.


Update: I read the book. Scared me a bit how much I agreed with and also to realize how often he forgets the central lesson of religious tolerance. It's not about admitting the possibility that your beliefs might be wrong, or that the others' might be right, so much as admitting that practical concerns trump the fantastic, in an effort to divorce the proper pursuit of the former from the irrelevant pursuit of the latter.

By allowing the latter to remain separately perceived as somehow "hallowed" or "sacred", you may avoid questions of "holy politics" and get important stuff accomplished without bloodshed over the pointless and improvable.

Sure, we need to attack the specious claims of religious belief, and we need to do so from a sound framework of scientific and logical inquiry, while teaching the next generation what "true statements about the world" might actually mean without reference to the invisible and timeless fictions of the past. But at the same time, if someone believes something fervently but harmlessly, let them - so long as it's kept apart from the practical issues that do have some shared basis in the consensual hallucination we call experience.

Let the old "brick to the head" test triumph; you may believe in God, I may not, but we both likely believe in an oncoming brick enough to duck it as it passes overhead. If your belief allows you to ignore a brick, then may your God save you from your own stupidity. Preferably, the brick hits home and your beliefs are thus tested. :^) But as in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses refusing blood transfusions, or Christian Scientists refusing medical care altogether, don't let the children suffer the stupidity of their parents.

Heather has a great family story about her grandfather (Clarence "Fuzzy" Hesketh), an ex-steelworker who became a minister in the Brethren Church: he went to visit a woman with a sick child, the father refused the child medical treatment on some damnfool religious grounds, and so Fuzzy did what any good Christian would do, he called an ambulance when he got to the bottom of the hill, for to treat the father, while he and the mother took the child to the hospital.