Harris v. Sullivan, redux

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I thought the Sam Harris/Andrew Sullivan blogalogue was over, but it isn’t. Here is Harris’ most recent post, where he offers this critique of Sullivan’s misappropriation of doubt as an element of faith:

It is the willingness of scientists to say "I don't know"-to really integrate doubt into their view of the world-that constitutes their privileged position with respect to truth. As you know, there are an uncountable number of questions upon which religion once offered a faith-based answer, which have now been ceded to the care of science. Indeed, the process of scientific conquest and religious forfeiture is relentless, unidirectional, and highly predictable. Some smart person begins to doubt received opinion-about the causes of illness, the movement of celestial bodies, the nature of sensory perception, etc.-he or she then observes the world more closely (often making shrewd use of technology and/or mathematics) and makes predictions that can be verified by others. What we see, time and again, is a general unwillingness for religious people to seriously interact with this discourse (and even an eagerness to subjugate or murder its perpetrators) whenever it challenges doctrines to which they are emotionally attached. [emphasis added]

Sullivan’s response contains the statement “I have never doubted the existence of God,” which sounds particularly odd coming from a supposed champion of doubt as a foundation of conservatism. Sullivan softens the contradiction somewhat with this later admission:

I should add that this unchosen belief in God's existence - the "gift" of faith - does not prompt me to lose all doubt in my faith, or to abandon questioning. I have wrestled with all sorts of questions about any number of doctrines that the hierarchy of the church has insisted upon. As a gay man, I have been forced to do this perhaps more urgently than many others - which is one reason I regard my sexual orientation as a divine gift rather than as a "disorder"

This plaintive question, implying that atheists have been snubbing good-willed theists, caught me off-guard:

… I think you're wrong that we religious moderates are mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance. I think, rather, we have an important role in talking with atheists about faith and talking with fundamentalists about the political dangers of religious fanaticism, and the pride that can turn faith into absolutism. In fact, people of faith who are not fundamentalists may be the most important allies you've got. Why don't you want us to help out?

This response by Barefoot Bum has a better answer than I could have written:

We'd love for religious moderates to help out, but they're not helping. By using the words "truth" and "reality" to label opinion, which is not and cannot be rationally substantiated (and for which Sullivan disclaims rational substantiation), moderates such as Sullivan make it that much harder to insist on rational discourse on the basis of fact.

He then poses (and answers) this rhetorical question to Sullivan:

Why have fundamentalists in the West so successfully hijacked conservatism and religion, the foundations of Sullivan's belief system, instead of atheism, secularism, and/or liberalism?

I submit is [sic] is precisely the tendency of both religious moderates and moderate conservatives to confuse truth, fact and reality with opinion and preference which has rendered these movements vulnerable to the fundamentalists.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on February 5, 2007 1:25 PM.

Hedges on Christianists was the previous entry in this blog.

reality-based education is the next entry in this blog.

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