Why are you quoting Sam Harris on Israel? (Religion is not the problem!)

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Why are we all suddenly going to Sam Harris for insight on Gaza?

Intelligent Design advocacy groups are doing it. Some of my Christian friends on Facebook are doing it. People are gleefully quoting some recent comments from Sam Harris about why he doesn’t criticise Israel but is sharply critical of Hamas. Here’s the snippet being passed around like reefer at a Green party conference:

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle [sic] every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

Sam Harris is well known for publicly and vocally opposing religion. He does it very, very, badly, in my view. His actual arguments against religious beliefs are a fiasco (as seen in his debate against William Lane Craig – check out the review) and his attempts to supplant religious approaches to morality with a moral philosophy of his own with science as its foundation was, in my view and that of many others, remarkably poor (as I explain in a presentation on Sam Harris, Science and Morality). In short, as far as people sympathetic to Christianity are concerned, there’s nothing markedly positive or helpful about what Dr Harris has had to say. This is not to say that he has nothing worthwhile to say about anything, it is only a commentary on his arguments in which religious people probably have the most natural interest.

And yet, I have seen some of my Christian friends, and nobody else, repeating Dr Harris’s comments about the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as though the fact that he said it somehow gives us reason to look twice. I did a bit of snooping around, and yes, some others have taken an interest in them, but the Evangelical interest is easily the strongest.

There’s a kind of trophy status attached to seizing onto an instance of agreement between us and other people who strongly disagree with us about something important.

There’s a kind of trophy status attached to seizing onto an instance of agreement between us and other people who strongly disagree with us about something important. I grant that I could be misreading this, but the impression I get is that some Christians feel that if they can find instances of their anti-religious opponents agreeing with them about something (something that has nothing to do with the ideological opposition), then somehow extra legitimacy is granted to the idea on which they agree. You see this in all sorts of contexts. For example, a couple of times I’ve read proponents of the doctrine of the eternal torment of the damned in hell claiming that it somehow counts in favour of their claim that Scripture teaches this doctrine that Bertrand Russell – an atheist – believed that it was taught in the Bible. And why would he get it wrong? Of course. When I want to make sure I’ve got my interpretation of the Bible right, I’m always sure to check what Bertrand Russell said about it. It’s true that if you’re in debate with somebody then citing their agreement with you on something related to the issue at hand may count as an instance of a “hostile witness,” a person agreeing with you when it’s not in their interests to do so. But that’s not the case here. Harris’s thoughts on Israel and Hamas have nothing to do with whether he is a theist or an atheist.

Naturally none of this is a reason to think that Sam Harris is wrong about the Israel-Hamas conflict. But I just don’t see why it is Christians more than anyone else who are sharing his comments as though they have some sort of status by virtue of who said it. What is it about Harris, in your view, my fellow believers, that makes him an especially likely candidate for offering sage advice on such things?

But there’s a particular reason why I haven’t shared these thoughts from Dr Harris with approval. Although there is something in it that I agree with, like a lot of social commentary from those who have a particularly strong beef with religion (note: I am not talking about people who just happen to not be religious), it contains just a little bit of poison.

Dr Harris believes in imposing views onto people. So do I.

Dr Harris believes in imposing views onto people. So do I. Neither of us are anarchists. And notice that he doesn’t criticise Hamas simply because they want to impose views upon people. He wouldn’t fault anyone for that alone – because again, he believes in imposing values upon people: Views that promote human flourishing. So he does not make a criticism that broad. But notice that when it comes to the evil of imposing views on people, Harris does not simply zoom right down to the level of Hamas’s policies in particular: Oppressive, harmful and so on. Instead he remarks negatively that the values in question fall into a particular category: Religious. What if a political value is grounded in a person’s theology, as was, say, John Locke’s doctrine of human equality? Are they forbidden from advocating policies that reflect those values? What if an atheist agrees with J. L. Mackie that without religious foundations we should embrace an error theory of morality, where all moral claims are false? Does Harris think that a person like this must not advocate any policies that depend on moral assumptions?

In short and to get right to the point: If certain views or values are harmful and rob human beings of dignity, then surely that is why they should not be imposed on people. Whether or not they are held for overtly religious reasons does not tell us enough about the content of those values to know whether they are good or not. Toxic values that are held and imposed for religious reasons are no worse than toxic values that are held and imposed for non-religious reasons. Why are my Christian friends endorsing the concern that specifically religious values are particularly nefarious? Do you really think they are?

Similarly, when Harris describes the kind of person who would oppose the sort of values that Hamas would impose, he does not take a bird’s eye view of things and say that it is those who love freedom, equality, dignity, justice and so on. Instead he selects from that group one type of person in particular as the model of a person who would oppose the values that Hamas would impose upon people: “Secular.” Why express such favour of the attitude that is respectful, inquiring, honest, creative, has ambition, values excellence, etc and is secular? Why not just extol the mindset that is respectful, inquiring, honest, creative, has ambition, values excellence etc? What does being “secular” add here, other than the caveat “and they are not religious”?

I understand that you might agree with Dr Harris’s stance on who, on the whole, is the nobler player in the game of Israel vs Hamas. But I am somewhat surprised about who is sharing his sentiments, given the rhetoric with which it is laced (and knowing what Harris thinks in general about religion and secularity). His perpetuation of the innuendo about the particularly insidious nature of “religious” views is flat out wrong, and his deification of the concept of “secularity,” effectively meaning godlessness, is a mistake. Why are Christians gobbling this up and passing it around? Don’t be so desperate for political affirmation.

In the interests of thinking critically about what we share with others (and in full awareness that I could do better myself)

Glenn Peoples

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{ 72 comments… add one }

  • Jason July 30, 2014, 7:44 pm

    I have to agree with you on this Glenn. Not that I’d actually read Sam Harris’s views in the first place. If I want an insular, one eyed perspective on something I can always consult myself. :)

  • phil July 31, 2014, 2:43 am

    Perhaps theists acknowledge that there is value to using reason, acknowledge that Harris bases his beliefs in reason and not faith in the supernatural, and understand that people unindoctrinated by Christians as babies might listen to a reasoned man over someone whose belief system is less than rational…

  • Frank July 31, 2014, 5:59 am

    …or not.

    Rather, perhaps theists acknowledge that there is value to using reason and understand that people unindoctrinated by atheists as babies might listen to a reasoned man over someone whose belief system is less than rational… and therefore find no need to appeal to the likes of Sam Harris for support.

  • Charles Humberton July 31, 2014, 10:07 am

    In short, Glenn, do you believe the problems in the Middle East right now find their origin in religion?

    Charles

  • Matthew Flannagan July 31, 2014, 10:43 am

    Charles, are you referring to Afghanistan? Because you might find in fact many of the troubles there began with the communist invasion of that region.

    But to your question, “do you believe the problems in the Middle East right now find their origin in religion?” No they have origin in specific types of religious beliefs. Your question is like asking “do they have origin in politics” and then claiming we should reject all political beliefs including democracy.

    Charles

  • Charles Humberton July 31, 2014, 12:15 pm

    This is why, Matthew, I asked if the ORIGIN was religious (earliest historical cause). Surely, particularly the Middle East conflicts are fought because each side believes that THEIR god (or God) owns the title deeds to the land and that he has given them to one of the sides in competition. Of course, this is an over-simplification of the matter. This is why I asked about origin. This is why it is important for Israeli archaeologists to establish through their discipline whether any evidence exists for ownership of the land. If this has been done, why is there still war there?

    I am a Sam Harris fan, not because he is a sceptic, but because he makes arguments difficult to refute. He is also a humanist, which by its very nature, is human-centric, not god-centric. Any cursory glance of these conflicts will establish this fact, especially in the case of innocent children. Do you think any religion is human-centric?

    Charles

  • Glenn July 31, 2014, 2:53 pm

    Charles, what I have sought to point out here is that whether a belief is overtly religious or not should not be the basis on which we evaluate it. There can be religious beliefs that are good for people and there can be religious beliefs that harm people – just as with non-religious beliefs.

    Imagine my confusion, then, when somebody starts asking me whether or not the origin of the conflict here is “religious” or not. I’m going to answer with a question:

    Imagine that the answer to your question is “Yes, the conflict began because of beliefs that were religious.” I am not saying that this is true, but let’s imagine that it is true. In light of what I have already said, Charles, what significance would you attribute to this answer? That’s my first question.

    In addition, I wonder if you could answer this: Stalin’s purges. Did they have their origin in beliefs that included beliefs about God, or were the beliefs secular? (You might think that this is irrelevant to your question, but it’s not). That’s my second question.

    Cheers
    Glenn

  • Charles Humberton July 31, 2014, 3:06 pm

    Would you not agree then, Glenn, with Stephen Weinberg’s assessment that: “Good people will do good things, and bad people bad things, but for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”?

    Who could possibly view the torture, death, and destruction in the Middle East without concluding such actions to be psychotic? This is Neptune Eating his Children! As Hitchens and others say, Stalin is not a good example of “Atheist” dictators because they know, knew, and understand how to manipulate the mass desire to worship something, or someone; hence the buildings filled with portraits of themselves (as with Hussein etc).

    Belief, in Latin, Credo, means “I accept, I confess.” In a scientific age, perhaps the common sense the New Atheists debate with is what we should be taking notice of.

  • Glenn July 31, 2014, 6:22 pm

    “for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”

    Ridiculous. What evidence would you offer for this extraordinary claim?

    “In a scientific age, perhaps the common sense the New Atheists debate with is what we should be taking notice of.”

    When they do that, I’ll listen. But in the meantime, I asked you a question.

  • Charles Humberton July 31, 2014, 8:19 pm

    Do you think it’s good to chop bits of flesh of babies’ genitalia who have no say in their parents’ (based on their parents’ religious propitiations) decision?

    What about cutting out the part that allows girls to enjoy relations?

    Do you think shunning family members who no longer share a central religious body’s particular interpretation of the Bible or who cannot conscientiously act in accordance with certain religious policies reflects a god of true love?

    Strapping a bomb on one’s chest to rid a deity of his enemies and ensure one’s own trip to a better place?

    Multiply stabbing one’s daughter because she has been raped and now brings her family dishonour?

    Tell me, Glenn, when you watch endless footage of children in ditches with their brains blown out, the elderly lying on streets, their faces distorted and racked in pain before they left this miserable place, is the first thing you think: ‘how 2,000 years of religious teaching has improved these peoples’ lives?

    You must surely have realised, based on plenty of evidence, that the only moderate religion is one that lives within the boundaries of a secular country that has an army and a police force. As Hitchens predicted, too, soon Western tolerance will one day be at an end.

    Would you like some more proof, Glenn? I have plenty more and I can make specific citations too, if you like.

    Do you also not agree that common sense is actually no longer that common?

  • bethyada July 31, 2014, 9:32 pm

    Good people will do good things, and bad people bad things, but for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.

    Really? They were good and got religion and became evil?

    But for bad people to do good things, that takes Jesus!

  • Glenn July 31, 2014, 10:31 pm

    Charles, you certainly do engage in Sam Harris’ style of argument. When your apparent argument runs dry, without acknowledgement you leap to another one.

    You claimed that in order for an otherwise good person to do bad things, religion is required. I asked you to substantiate that claim.

    You didn’t even begin to offer any substantiation of the claim. Instead, you basically say: Well this religious practice is bad, and this thing that these religious people do is bad and so on. Charles, we can both sit around and pick out people or groups who are or are not religious and point to examples of things they do that we think are wrong. Easy. I’m not interested. That does not substantiate the claim and I think you know that. If you don’t want to offer substantiation, that is fine – say so very clearly. But acting as though you are offering substantiation while evidently not doing so just treats everyone who reads this like a fool.

    You’ve claimed that it takes religion to get a good person to do bad things. Again, you are welcome to offer evidence for this extraordinary claim. But you are here now, at Right Reason. The usual “new atheist” rhetorical flourishes will not work. And if this is what you meant by the common sense used by the new atheists, I can only shake my head.

    I also asked you question about Stalin and religious and secular beliefs. You ignored that, too.

  • Mike August 1, 2014, 6:27 am

    Charles,

    Good people do bad things all of the time and it has nothing to do with religion. Your facts simply point out that humanity is flawed. Maybe they don’t commit murder but do regularly people lie, cheat, etc.

    If your response to this is that “that simply means that they were not a good person in the first place”, I have a Scotsman that I would like you to meet.

    -Mike

  • Mike August 1, 2014, 6:29 am

    *that should read

    “but people do regularly lie, cheat, etc” not “but do regularly people…”

    sorry

  • Charles Humberton August 1, 2014, 7:39 am

    Bethyada, name me one moral statement or moral action said or done by the theist that could not be said or done by a non-theist.

    When you’ve answered this, name me one immoral (or evil) statement or action done by a theist BECAUSE they are religious!

    If you were in a restaurant and were choking, would you prefer I perform the heimlich manoeuvre or…pray for you?

    One works in the real world, the other doesn’t.

  • Ciaron August 1, 2014, 10:01 am

    Charles,
    I think a cursory Google search will show this “challenge” has been exposed for what it is.

  • Charles Humberton August 1, 2014, 10:07 am

    Glenn, I throw myself upon the arbitration of your readers; did I or did I not give 5 examples of unethical or evil acts performed by people BECAUSE they hold certain religious beliefs?

    Actually it was Stephen Weinberg who said this; I just agree.

    I was not arguing that evil does not exist but that the violence in the Middle East has its origins in religious difference and hatred. Even more saddening is that, if both groups concerned (and others) have Abraham as their alleged progenitor, then it is brother against brother; warfare Christendom too has engaged in right down history.

    Secularism came about not because of religion, but in spite of it.

    If the Middle East had become secularist and democratic, would any of this be the case today?

  • Charles Humberton August 1, 2014, 10:08 am

    Ciaron, what do you mean? Give details.

  • Glenn August 1, 2014, 10:29 am

    “Glenn, I throw myself upon the arbitration of your readers”

    Fair enough, but be warned: My readers are pretty smart. Thanks for your comments, Charles.

  • Ciaron August 1, 2014, 11:20 am

    Charles, the problem is that it is a loaded question. Obviously, the theist and the atheist have differing views on what is moral and where morals are grounded. The theist will put forward an answer, and the atheist will reject it because it doesn’t fit his moral presuppositions. It is not an honest challenge, but more akin to a shell game in my opinion.

  • Charles Humberton August 1, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Mike. Children have minds like blank slates. It is only when they inherit the prejudices, pet hatreds, personal opinions of their parents, that this begins to shape the thinking of that child. If they are taught that females are inferior to the male, that a deity favours their race over another; has given them land that is presently occupied by the deity’s enemies, etc, can we say these are practical and peaceable paradigms to inherit? Many children are taught ‘holy books’ by rote like, as Richard Dawkins suggests, “demented parrots.”

    For humanity to be ‘flawed’ we must first establish what ‘perfection’ is. Which of the religions is the ‘true one’? Whichever you choose, it will still teach tribalism, separatism, and a form of Jihad (personal struggle).

  • Charles Humberton August 1, 2014, 12:27 pm

    If it is the moral argument to which you refer, it isn’t the concept of vicarious redemption I have trouble with as much as vicarious sin-debt. One follows the other as all mankind deals with the stigma of “the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons.” Tell me, which Western country makes children pay the debts of the parents? The answer will determine whether a lingering Middle-Eastern paradigm is ‘more moral’ than evolved Western ones. Certainly Middle-Eastern children are paying that ‘debt.’

    Atheists (I am not one) can successfully attempt to justify what they believe to be a heightened sense of morality with useful arguments. Do theists have equal validity when largely depending on what are more or less tautological paradigms? Simply saying ‘God is like this,’ or ‘God is like that’ doesn’t progress the moral argument at all as all these claims are unfalsifiable.

  • Glenn August 1, 2014, 1:59 pm

    Charles, respectfully: When a very specific issue related to religion comes up, there’s a tendency among the new atheists to tip up the back of the truck, as it were, and dump every thought they have ever had about why they oppose religion, regardless of relevance. I can see their influence on you. I don’t think you’ve done a good job (or indeed any job) of maintaining that actually, religion is the problem with oppressive or harmful beliefs. I asked a couple of specific questions and you juts ignored them. But that aside, this isn’t the place for laundry lists of why you don’t like Christianity or any other religion. If you’ve run out of things to say about this, that’s OK.

  • Mike August 1, 2014, 2:27 pm

    Charles,

    Your initial comments said nothing of children so I won’t address them (as I didn’t bring them up).

    Do you really believe that “good” atheists never do bad things? Do they never make mistakes or treat people poorly? Do you not believe that everyone makes mistakes when it comes to their treatment of others or their behavior?

    So my question to you…

    Do otherwise “good” atheists ever do “bad” things?

    If they do, then your original point is empty rhetoric.

  • Ciaron August 1, 2014, 3:05 pm

    Charles,
    I do not refer to the moral argument, simply that the definitions differ for each party , and the atheist will never accept the theists answer. But I think you knew that already.

  • Frank August 2, 2014, 2:31 am

    “In short and to get right to the point: If certain views or values are harmful and rob human beings of dignity, then surely that is why they should not be imposed on people. Whether or not they are held for overtly religious reasons does not tell us enough about the content of those values to know whether they are good or not. Toxic values that are held and imposed for religious reasons are no worse than toxic values that are held and imposed for non-religious reasons.” – Glenn

    “In short, Glenn, do you believe the problems in the Middle East right now find their origin in religion?” – Charles

    Charles, it’s evident to me that you didn’t engage Glenn’s argument. Instead, you instigated a new argument—Stephen Weinberg’s categorical statement that “it takes religion for good people to do bad things.” When you were challenged on that point you offered anecdotal “proof” that religious people sometimes do bad things, which, of course, is not proof for Weinburg’s claim by any stretch. When Glenn showed you why it was not proof (substantiation) you pivoted to another argument, this time a regurgitation of Christopher Hitchen’s pathetically innocuous challenge which Ciaron addressed succinctly.

    I understand that you think religion is the source of all evils, but you may do well to put down the axe and consider what is actually being said in discussions like these. Give them a fair listen. For example, you said the following:

    “If you were in a restaurant and were choking, would you prefer I perform the Heimlich maneuver or pray for you? One works in the real world, the other doesn’t.”

    Listen to what James said in the New Testament letter that bears his name:

    “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.”

    You see, there is no dichotomy between faith and works (practical action) in the real world. Like James, a reasonable Christian would perform the Heimlich on you and not just sit there praying—because he’s a reasonable Christian! He might pray for you afterward. There are bad examples of religious people everywhere; that shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus was murdered by bad religious people. But to categorically lay aside the claims of religion because of their example is unreasonable and reactionary.

  • Glenn August 2, 2014, 11:20 am

    “Charles, it’s evident to me that you didn’t engage Glenn’s argument.”

    See what I mean, Charles? My readers are discerning. And that’s exactly what happened.

  • Charles Humberton August 3, 2014, 3:53 pm

    Glenn, based on my comment at “Charles Humberton July 31, 2014, 8:19 pm,” I wonder if you would like to comment on this passage of a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Sam Harris:

    Part One:

    Sam Harris vs William Lane Craig – Is God Good?
    2:00:05
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwcZNWd3iSo

    Questioner from the audience: “Yes, Dr. Craig, in your refutation of Mr. Harris, you rely very heavily on the distinction between ‘is’ statements and ‘ought’ statements where you could take the entire collection of known ‘is’ statements and never be able to logically derive an ‘ought’ statement. So I have one question for you: Is the statement ‘God exists’ an ‘is’ statement or an ‘ought’ statement?

    William LaneCraig: That’s an ‘is’ statement

    Questioner: So you can’t derive any moral objective duties from it.

    William Lane Craig: Not from that alone.

    Questioner: Then you have unstated premises in your argument.

    William Lane Craig: Well, I’ve stated them clearly. I said that they’re based in God’s commandments and that moral obligations and duties arise in response to imperatives issued by a competent authority. And so I would see that our moral duties are grounded in the imperatives issued by the good itself.

    Sam Harris: Can I just add one piece there? I want to bring back this notion of psychopathy because it now strikes me as even more relevant than I thought. So, this idea that morality comes merely from the mere issuance of a competent authority. One of the features of psychopathy is an inability to distinguish true moral precepts that relate to the wellbeing of people, and things that merely issue from a competent authority.

  • Charles Humberton August 3, 2014, 3:59 pm

    Part Two:

    (Sam Harris continued): You see, if you ask children sitting in a classroom, “Is it okay to drink a soda in class if the teacher gives you permission?” most of them will say, ‘yes.’ If you ask them, “Is it okay to punch your neighbour in the face if the teacher gives you permission?” the children immediately recognise the distinction between moral infraction and mere conventional rule, and this is very young children; but children at risk of psychopathy don’t. Children at risk for psychopathy think that rules are just given by an authority, so the teacher tells you you can punch a child in the face, you can punch a child in the face. This is, again, I’m not accusing religious people in general of being psychopaths, but there is a psychopathic core to this moral world-view.

    This Divine Command Theory that Dr. Craig is advocating suggests that if God only tells you to sacrifice your first-born son, it is GOOD to do it; that’s where goodness comes from. And so you’ve got people waking up in trailer-parks all over America suffering some form of mental illness that’s destabilised them and made them vulnerable to this way of thinking and there are people who kill their children thinking they’re Abraham, who just didn’t just get interrupted by an angel; and this is the kind of morality that you get out of Divine Command Theory that again offers no retort to the jihadist other than, ‘sorry, buster, you happen to have the wrong god.’

    William Lane Craig: But that’s exactly your retort, Sam; that God has not issued such a command and therefore you’re not morally obligated to do it.

    Sam Harris: If God did he would be evil. I can get behind that God. If God has issuing that command…

    William Lane Craig: Well, you see, the problem on atheism; you don’t have any basis for making that kind of moral judgement.

    Sam Harris: I’ve tried to give you a basis…I’m sorry.

    (Audience laughs and claps)

  • Glenn August 3, 2014, 4:39 pm

    Charles, what does that debate or its discussion about the basis of morality have to do with this? Where did that come from?

    I have reviewed that debate before in some depth, here. Harris lost that debate quite convincingly, as even most atheist reviewers acknowledge.

    In short, Harris knows virtually nothing about a Divine Command Theory of morality, and his comments that you’ve quoted here demonstrate that fairly convincingly. He is just assuming that if a Divine Command Theory of Ethics were true, then it somehow follows that there is no connection between right and wrong on the one hand and our feelings of empathy on the other – but he never shows that this follows (because in fact it does not). He appears to assume, moreover, that if a Divine Command Theory were true, then it would follow that moral obligation would be arbitrary and God could, in theory, command just any terrible thing. But he never shows this either,

    These are old objections to a divine command theory and they have been rehearsed many times, but Harris acts like he has just stumbled onto them and has never heard any of the responses.

    You might find it useful, Charles, to browse through the blog posts here on Divine Command Ethics. But that is surely not what this blog post is about. Also – check the blog policy. Double posting to get around the length restriction is generally frowned upon. if you need to write an article, start a blog. No “Part Two” next time. :)

    As a reminder, on July 31 I left you with two clear questions before you start posting your lists. Any time you want to come back to the discussion, come with answers to those two questions please.

  • Charles Humberton August 4, 2014, 10:03 am

    So tell me, Glenn, does Divine Command Ethics depend on Biblical exegesis of those commands? If so, who do you think has the right interpretation?

    Also, seeing that Israelis believe they are God’s chosen people, does this justify their actions in the Middle East based on God’s moral objectivity?

  • Charles Humberton August 4, 2014, 10:07 am

    Actually Frank. I offered proof by means of citations for all my ‘anecdotes.’ The offer still stands.

  • Charles Humberton August 4, 2014, 12:24 pm

    Chaps, here’s the strength of what Weinberg says. He isn’t saying evil is down just to religion, just that people who ordinarily wouldn’t, will commit heinous acts (by 21st century humanistic standards) for religious reasons. By its very nature, such acts must pass by the humanistic conscience for such ‘traditions’ to survive and thrive.

    Here’s the religious paradigm of Divine Command Ethics (please bear with me):

    Prior to Sinai, the only law was conscience. Nations fought for power, over-riding ‘conscience’s law’ for pragmatic reasons (conquest etc). We would expect this of ancient peoples.

    Just before Sinai, ‘God ordered’ his people to sack, destroy, and annihilate the inhabitants of Canaan. This involved the killing the native women and children in some cases.

    At Sinai, Israelites were told it is wrong to murder/kill. This was GOD’S law to ISRAEL. Yet the Mosaic Law prescribed the death sentence to most serious crimes, including the contravention of Sabbath laws.

    David kills Goliath, slays sundry peoples, yet spares Saul, God’s ‘chosen one'; God kills many thousands of his people because David took an unauthorised census; Absolom tries to kill his father; David kills three ‘brave men’ despite their loyalty to him; God kills David and Bath-Sheba’s baby because of the father’s ‘wicked acts'; Solomon enslaves God’s people to build God’s House; Sundry kings kill others for political reasons.

    Then Jesus tells those under the Mosaic Law that not only that ‘love is the Law’s fulfilment,’ but also that even having hatred in their heart contravenes the ‘law.’ Christianity is formed; various members who apostatise become ‘as dead’ for their heresy.

    Finally, Jesus is seen in vision riding a white horse of righteous war against God’s enemies, killing masses who fail to please God and not becoming members of his father’s kingdom (including again, apparently women and children).

    Conclusion: Human history is replete with ‘righteous wars’ in which men show they are far better at following God’s example than they are obeying his intended law for mankind. This is the greatest problem with Divine Command Ethics: the zeitgeist changes with the circumstances and only require that a person BELIEVES he is doing God’s Will for them to carry out their chosen act ‘in God’s name’.

    By this standard, surely, Glenn, war in the Middle East is justified, isn’t it?

  • Frank August 4, 2014, 12:51 pm

    “Charles, what does that debate or its discussion about the basis of morality have to do with this? Where did that come from?” -Glenn

    “You might find it useful, Charles, to browse through the blog posts here on Divine Command Ethics. But that is surely not what this blog post is about.” – Glenn

    Charles, what do you think Glenn meant by those two remarks? Take a minute to think about it. Glenn has been overly kind in humoring your tangents, while at the same time reminding you that those tangents are irrelevant to the topic at hand. I, for one, like his suggestion that you start a blog.

  • Glenn August 4, 2014, 6:10 pm

    “So tell me, Glenn, does Divine Command Ethics depend on Biblical exegesis of those commands?”

    Charles, what does this have to do with whether or not Sam Harris’s comments about religious vs secular beliefs are well-framed? And how on earth does it help to answer the two questions I presented to you?

  • Charles Humberton August 4, 2014, 8:14 pm

    Frank, your tone tinged with hostility and lack of hospitality is most heartening. You see, I don’t mind being criticised-this is healthy.

    I must admit to wondering what sort of website this is. The mission statement on Right Reason says, in part, it seeks to:

    “Firstly, to provoke readers and listeners to critically engage philosophy, theology and biblical studies as they relate to academia, culture, history and the most important questions in life.
    Secondly, to demonstrate – and to encourage others to demonstrate themselves – that a perspective of Christian belief is not only compatible with the above, but absolutely conducive to it as an intellectually defensible worldview that has much to commend itself to the honest and fair minded critic.”

    I’m also wondering, Frank, how it is you say my comments are tangential:

    “Why are we all suddenly going to Sam Harris for insight on Gaza?… Sam Harris is well known for publicly and vocally opposing religion. He does it very, very, badly, in my view. His actual arguments against religious beliefs are a fiasco (as seen in his debate against William Lane Craig…his attempts to supplant religious approaches to morality with a moral philosophy of his own with science as its foundation was, in my view and that of many others, remarkably poor (as I explain in a presentation on Sam Harris, Science and Morality). ” – quotes from this article.

    Is this an apologetic website? If so, who are people here, apart from praising the proprietor, and referring me to other articles, will not engage directly with my agnostic grievances?

    Is this a polemic website? If so, then surely any writer of an article should be prepared to accept argument that supports the person he seeks to criticise and directly defend his views.

    Is this an evangelistic website? If so, then, like the first-century Christians, should not any Christian be prepared to defend ‘the faith’ afresh at every opportunity afforded him?

    So far, all that has happened are comments designed subtlely to tell me I’m not welcome. Are my challenges making anyone here uncomfortable? If not, what is the problem?

  • Glenn August 4, 2014, 10:49 pm

    Charles, I have already covered Harris’ poor performance in debate over God and morality in other posts. I mentioned them in passing in this blog post and I supplied links to them. That was a preface to my comments in this blog post. If you do want to go back and see what I said there, by all means have at it, and comment on what you see there. You may find that the questions you’re raising about those issues have been addressed there, who knows?

    Charles, just to stop me wasting time (sorry if that comes across as “hostile”), can you just say whether or not you have any further interest in talking about Sam Harris’s remarks about imposing beliefs on people? Of course you’re welcome (please don’t start playing the martyr), but that doesn’t make it a good idea to just decide to bring up whatever subject you like and make the thread about that. Sorry if that seems inhospitable, but you have shown no interest in coming back to that discussion or even mentioning my two questions.

  • Charles Humberton August 5, 2014, 7:42 am

    Glenn, theists are far better at playing the martyr; they invented it. The problem is you have failed to address my specific ideas. Do you feel you’re wasting time with me?

    When it comes to Christianity, I think it’s a bit rich to suggest that atheists attempt to ‘impose’ their ‘beliefs’ on people. Why don’t theists understand that atheism is NOT a belief system; that it’s the very opposite? Of course it’s because with only tautology to bluff their way through the accepted scientific method, they must attempt to sound modern instead of making arguments dating back to Tertullian, and Aquinas. Hitchens also once presciently remarked that atheist ‘preach’ because theists keep pressuring society to chip away at their own democratic freedoms to accommodate their beliefs (ID in schools etc).

    Harris more than demonstrates the modernity of his arguments. I would like to restate your arguments against Harris like any other apologist and have a two-way conversation.

  • Glenn August 5, 2014, 10:22 am

    “I think it’s a bit rich to suggest that atheists attempt to ‘impose’ their ‘beliefs’ on people. Why don’t theists understand that atheism is NOT a belief system; that it’s the very opposite?”

    I think you’re wrong about how atheism is best construed, but that’s not really important here. Nobody said anything about atheists imposing their beliefs in the sense of imposing atheism onto people. What I said is that Harris, like me, wants to impose beliefs onto people because neither of us are anarchists. We agree that values should be imposed by law onto people. Atheism has nothing to do with this.

    “I would like to restate your arguments against Harris like any other apologist and have a two-way conversation.”

    That’s great, and it’s good that you now interacting with the conversation started in this blog post. Of course you are also welcome to have a two way conversation about Harris’s arguments about morality, I just ask that you do it in the appropriate thread (I linked to it earlier).

  • Charles Humberton August 5, 2014, 12:22 pm

    Glenn, what do you mean that Harris ‘imposes’ his views by law or otherwise?

    “In short and to get right to the point: If certain views or values are harmful and rob human beings of dignity, then surely that is why they should not be imposed on people. Whether or not they are held for overtly religious reasons does not tell us enough about the content of those values to know whether they are good or not.” – above article.

    There are two major links between Aztecs sacrificing one of their tribe to the sun, and circumcising a male child. Both are done to appease a deity, and both are done without informed consent of the victim.

    How do you feel about circumcision as a propitiation, against the humanistic view of human consent, Glenn?

    And perhaps more importantly, do you feel Israel’s claims and historical actions are somehow better the Hamas’s?

  • Glenn August 5, 2014, 2:25 pm

    Charles, Harris does not personally or directly impose his views onto others by law. But he and I – and you, I expect – certainly believe that it’s appropriate for views to be imposed on people by law. This is just another way of saying that laws should exist. We are not anarchists. Some things should be required by law and some things should be prohibited. We might not agree about what should be required or prohibited, i.e. our views may differ, but as long as we think laws should exist at all, we believe that views should be imposed on people.

    I don’t understand how your questions about circumcision or the Gaza conflict are related to this issue. Could you explain, Charles?

  • Charles Humberton August 5, 2014, 7:27 pm

    First Glenn, your use of the words ‘views’ and ‘impose’ I find problematic. Secular governments seek not to impose views but democratically-decided concepts. This is built from centuries of experience of what in the natural world proves beneficial for the majority. In short, laws are imposed, not ‘views.’

    I’ll get back to you on the moral questions I posed. They need a bit of explaining. Thanks for your patience.

    —————–

    Glenn, I would like to ask you some questions related to the Weinberg comment I made at the beginning of my comments:

    Do you think there is any truth in the viewpoint Christopher Hitchens had of Mother Teresa (The Missionary Position)?

    Are you non-political about the present conflict in the Middle East? Is there a right-and-wrong (moral argument) about the issues there?

    Are you able to give any examples of verifiable evidence in Bible archaeology of Jews/Hebrews as portrayed in the Bible prior to the time of the “House of David” Tel Dan inscription? How far back can you go?

    These questions are disparate but there is a connection.

    [Admin note: these comments were combined into one.]

  • Glenn August 5, 2014, 7:57 pm

    Charles, if you do not believe that laws are imposed on anyone who wishes to break them, go ahead and break a few and let the authorities know about it. Again, we believe in imposing views on people. You do. I do. Sam Harris does.

    I don’t know what Christopher Hitches said about Mother Theresa. Is it something that falls within our subject here?

    I don’t know what you mean about “non-political” when it comes to my views on Gaza. That seems like a tangent, but I offered some thoughts about that in a recent post called “Questions about Gaza.” It’s the blog post immediately before this one.

    Your question about archaeology and Jews is very clearly irrelevant. Sorry, but you must have known that when you asked it.

  • Matthew Flannagan August 6, 2014, 11:37 am

    “Bethyada, name me one moral statement or moral action said or done by the theist that could not be said or done by a non-theist.”

    Answer : Murder theist’s by the thousands because you believe theism religion is false and dangerous and should be eradicated from society.

    It takes belief that theism is false dangerous and should be eradicated from society to motivate them to do actions like this.

    Of course simply doing a little study of that subject called “history” and say looking back a few decades prior to 9/11 when there was this time called the “cold war” would have told you this as well.

  • Charles Humberton August 6, 2014, 12:22 pm

    You asked me about Mother Teresa, Glenn, and yes, it is very much to do with the moral argument and whether religion is the problems.

    Christopher Hitchens said in The Missionary Position:

    (1) Mother Teresa believed that suffering was a gift of God

    (2) She was not a friend of the poor, but a friend of poverty

    (3) Took large donations from known criminals, not to fully fund and equip new hospitals, but mainly to build new convents with her name of them.

    (4) That nurses under her authority wouldn’t sterilise needles because the recipients were dying.

    (5) While the Catholic Church bans contraception, Mother Teresa believed and trumpeted that no abortion is not only a moral-absolute (under no circumstances) and should apply equally to all whatever their personal beliefs.

    There were no footnotes, bibliography, of references in the book, yet, while controversial, Hitchens was never sued for his claims.

    Glenn, you asked me to prove that religion can make good people do bad under its influence (the only other human concept I can think of at the moment is patriotism); that the natural human conscience can be subverted by belief to commit heinous acts.

    I don’t think even Hitchens believed that Teresa of Calcutta was evil, but certainly her outwardly good acts appeared to be motivated by twisted reasoning that this meant a net-loss to those under her authority and influence.

    To add a few more overtly religious situations that demonstrate Stephen Weinberg’s conclusion are:

    (a) Paedophilia is treated as a sin, and not a crime, the perpetrators are hidden in a religious system, moved, or little or no co-operations is given to the secular authorities.

    (b) Religious extremists murdering abortion doctors

    (c) Religious parents refusing medical treatment because of their Biblical beliefs

    (d) Telling children they will go to Hell if they don’t accept the religion of their parents

    My question on political neutrality pertains to whether your writing is influenced by political opinion.

    My statement about Biblical archaeology is quite relevant as if there is not sufficient basis for historical proof, then can we rely on the Bible to inform us morally?

  • Glenn August 6, 2014, 12:47 pm

    “Glenn, you asked me to prove that religion can make good people do bad under its influence”

    No I didn’t. I have no idea what you’re talking about, sorry.

    “My statement about Biblical archaeology is quite relevant as if there is not sufficient basis for historical proof, then can we rely on the Bible to inform us morally?”

    Surely this just shows why this is not relevant. Where on earth did that issue pop up? I haven’t said anything about the Bible and morality here. Charles, I’m struggling to understand what is going on with your comments. I made some pretty clear remarks about these words of Sam Harris, and you’ve been firing out completely random remarks that have nothing to do with any of this. I asked you two direct questions in reply to your opening salvo, and you have just ignored them, going off on tangents. What are you doing? No offence, but it’s like you loaded up on stimulants before coming here.

  • Charles Humberton August 6, 2014, 3:03 pm

    Then Glenn, could you explain what you meant by this:

    ‘”Glenn July 31, 2014, 6:22 pm

    “for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”

    Ridiculous. What evidence would you offer for this extraordinary claim?

    “In a scientific age, perhaps the common sense the New Atheists debate with is what we should be taking notice of.”

    When they do that, I’ll listen.”

    Is this quite clearly a question asking for evidence, or am I mistaken somehow?

  • Glenn August 6, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Charles, look carefully at the claim you made and for which I asked for evidence:

    “for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”

    Now, Charles, look – closely – at your recent claim:

    “Glenn, you asked me to prove that religion can make good people do bad under its influence”

    Think about those two claims. Read one, then read the other. Go back and forth between them and scan them for similarities and differences. Here they are again:

    First claim:
    “for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.”
    And the second claim:
    religion can make good people do bad under its influence”

    If you’re not sure, ask a friend to tell you whether or not they think these claims are the same (genuine suggestion).

    Now Charles, I only want you to tell me one thing. Do you understand that I asked you for evidence to support the first claim, and not the second? Just a Yes or No will be fine – but please answer before we continue to discuss anything else. Until now you have refused to converse by answering any questions, so that needs to change.

  • Charles Humberton August 6, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Matthew, you seem to have the courage of your convictions in this claim. I’m sure you can easily match the 9 examples I showed where ordinary people become capable of unwise-to-psychotic actions under the influence of certain religious doctrines.

    Your comparison seems somehow to be related to the classic theistic argument that “atheists kill for atheism.”

    Try this:
    Twenty psychopaths are irresponsibly released in the public at large. They all set up cults and 10 are responsible for multiple deaths because they think they’re Religious messiahs (Branch Davidian, Heaven’s Gate, People’s Temple) and 10 kill and maim because they believe they’re political messiahs (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot) – or both. Surely you must realise that what informs their actions is only the parameters of their own psychopathy – whatever their delusional beliefs. Their actions betray this. Even Jesus stated this (Matthew 7:20)

    What Weinberg is saying, is not that religion per se is responsible for all the woe on Earth, but that only an institution as religion can make people act in a way their consciences normally would not allow them unless certain pressures through their ‘belief in belief’ (Daniel Dennett) convinced them to do them.

    The fact that the choking man in a restaurant is assisted by the Heimlich Manoeuvre shows the action to be common both to humanism and religiosity. Prayer, however, to the humanist could be done, but would appear superfluous under the circumstances.

    Can you convince me otherwise?

  • Charles Humberton August 6, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Glenn, quite by co-incidence, I appear to have answered everything you ask for in my comment to Matthews. I honestly did not read your last comment first – weird, eh?

    Of course, it was Weinberg who made the first claim. Perhaps I may see subtleties you may not at this stage such as that, unless you can inform me otherwise, ONLY religion and partriotism (“My country right or wrong”) can make people perform acts against their natural (‘God-given,’ if you like) consciences. The assumption made is that all members of such communities are in FULL agreement with ALL actions obliged by those who run these institutions, but as I show in the 9 examples, no-one can objectively say that stabbing a daughter (actual case) or depriving a child of medical help for religiously-held reasons, would have happened BUT FOR those religious beliefs.

    And, yes, they are extreme examples. This is deliberate to illustrate the strength of Weinberg’s contention!

    This is why Harris says:
    “This Divine Command Theory that Dr. Craig is advocating suggests that if God only tells you to sacrifice your first-born son, it is GOOD to do it; that’s where goodness comes from. ..” He then gives a possible modern outcome of such thinking.

    William Lane Craig’s is not just a Divine Command Ethicist, but also a Bible-Inerrantist. Of course, much is taking for granted if one never questions the allusions of a holy book.

  • Glenn August 6, 2014, 9:15 pm

    “Of course, it was Weinberg who made the first claim.” Sure, but you’ve endorsed it so it’s your claim.

    Charles, you have ignored my last post entirely and just posted the latest of what’s on your mind. I thought you wanted a two-way discussion. Forget your last comment (I’m not even going to refer to it again), go back and read my reply to you, and then please answer the simple yes / no question that I asked you. Without wanting to sound like a dictator (!), this is your last shot.

  • Charles Humberton August 7, 2014, 7:42 am

    Glenn, you must think me naive enough to answer any complex question yes or no. After all, this is philosophy. Surely you must realise that my attempts are only to explain what appears complex but which should be as easy as 2 plus 2.

    Perhaps you think I am saying that all religion should be banned. No, the subject of your above article involves the Middle East question. This is why I asked about ORIGINS of cause, not the present-day politics. Britain too is under threat, like Europe, of eventual religious take-over. No, religion should be the right of everyone, but it should not be privileged above all other beliefs and certainly should not gain theocratic power over their fellow countrymen! The West should comletely secularise along with all its positive principles learned both from The Enlightenment AND religion.

    Your thinly-veiled threat in your last comment is typical of those who will not hand over their sword. I can see why you seem to admire William Lane Craig; he too determines the parameters of his debate (“you must break down my 5 arguments and then erect your own argument for why atheism is true”). This is not an argument, just the usual theocratic bullying.

    May your desert god go with you.

  • Frank August 7, 2014, 8:08 am

    Wow. Just wow.

    Charles, Glenn was not asking you to “answer a complex question yes or no.” His question was very simple. On purpose.

    Here’s a suggestion: listen to what people are saying to you and respond to THAT, not to whatever conversation you’ve prefabricated in your head. You are engaging with real people who are saying real things. You need to learn to a) listen to what they say, b) seek to understand what they say, and c) respond to what they say.

  • Glenn August 7, 2014, 6:38 pm

    “Glenn, you must think me naive enough to answer any complex question yes or no. After all, this is philosophy.”

    Charles, What? Are you saying that the question was so complex that there wasn’t a yes or no answer?

    See, the question I asked you was literally no more complex than that question I just asked now. Here it is again:

    “Now Charles, I only want you to tell me one thing. Do you understand that I asked you for evidence to support the first claim, and not the second?”

    See what I mean?

    I’m sorry Charles, but you have done almost nothing but evade the topic at hand (you did briefly take a foray into it), and now you are deliberately evading basic questions. You have trolled me.

    PS – Your last comment was simply inappropriate flaming, and I removed it.

  • Charles Humberton August 8, 2014, 10:08 am

    Glenn, one parting shot.

    Religion, and particularly Christianity, re-wires brains only to send messages, not to receive them. I don’t need proselytising, and I don’t need saving. I can’t see why you even have this website if you are not prepared to debate directly with those who have genuine religious grievances. It would explain, however, why you have so many obsequious acolytes.

    Against the common-sense of secularism and humanism, Christianity shows what it is – an anachronism, but I understand why you avoid the light of science and modernity when all you guys have is tautology and denial.

    If you wish a serious adult discussion DIRECTLY on the points I make you will need to stop your condescending questions and tackle my ideas head-on. If you can’t come down off your salvation hobby-horse then you are wasting both our times. I will move on.

    And may your desert god go with you.

  • Glenn August 8, 2014, 10:58 am

    Charles, to date you have declined to answer the two questions I asked about the claim you made when you first arrived; that in order for otherwise good people to do bad things, that takes religion. The fact that you have not yet responded to those questions does make it ironic that you’re complaining about me not directly interacting with you.

    You’ve generally tried to divert away from the issue raised in this blog post. However, when you raised other issues, I provided links to threads where that was the issue, so that you could read what was said there, and if you still had those questions after reading, you could raise them in those threads. To date you have not done so. With respect, Charles, this only adds to the irony of your claim that it is I who am not directly interacting.

    You can take your ball and flounce out if you want. But if you return, I only ask that you return with an answer to my simple questions and requests for evidence, requests that until now you have not addressed. Thanks Charles.

  • Charles Humberton August 8, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Glenn, your question was inane as I had answered in great detail already. Whether I qualify the TWO statements I raised (“can”) doesn’t change the strength of Weinberg’s statement. At the risk of sounding like a broken record; Weinberg is only condemning religion ONLY in that its mechanism contains the ability to get ORDINARY people to do fanatically-dangerous acts against others, including their loved one in loyalty to certain religious dogmas! Religion is almost unique in this; the other being patriotism, though it is the unfalsifiable claims about afterlife in religion that can make people go war. Not to go to war is harmonious with humanism (except in defence against religious nutters).

    Glenn, you can’t make statements like: “Sam Harris is well known for publicly and vocally opposing religion. He does it very, very, badly, in my view. His actual arguments against religious beliefs are a fiasco (as seen in his debate against William Lane Craig…” and expect fans of Harris’ level-headedness to sit back and not defend his prescience. Ironically, it may be the philosophy of the New Atheists that becomes the salvation of this stupid world hell-bent on bending the knee to religions like Islam.

    If you are capable of doing so, PLEASE make a rebuttal to THIS comment, only without references to other writings of the ridiculous claim I am out of harmony with YOUR POINT.

    PS. At great risk of actually having a discussion, if you think I am not getting what you are saying, you can always tell me what YOU think is the difference between the two statements. This would be less patronising.

  • Glenn August 8, 2014, 12:44 pm

    “Glenn, your question was inane as I had answered in great detail already.”

    Charles, when I first asked you for evidence, clearly you had offered none, so I don’t understand how my question is inane.

    More to the point, ever since that first request, you have not offered even one piece of evidence for the very strong claim you made: In order for good people to do bad, that takes religion. I now wonder whether or not you even understand this claim. The claim does not state that sometimes religious people do bad things or that people can be motivated by their particular religious beliefs to do bad things. No, the claim is much stronger. The claim you endorsed is that in order for good people to do bad things, religion is required. In other words, religion is a necessary condition of otherwise good people doing bad things.

    Thus far you have not offered any substantiation of this claim, so this continues to be the issue on the table. In spite of me repeating the claim back to you numerous times and asking for evidence, you have not retracted it. You’re still making the claim and still offering no evidence. You’re going to have to either offer some evidence for this claim or else you should really retract it and say that you’ve changed your mind.

    “Whether I qualify the TWO statements I raised (“can”) doesn’t change the strength of Weinberg’s statement. At the risk of sounding like a broken record; Weinberg is only condemning religion ONLY in that its mechanism contains the ability to get ORDINARY people to do fanatically-dangerous acts against others, including their loved one in loyalty to certain religious dogmas!’

    Well that’s a different claim altogether. Now you’re saying that religion “has the ability” to motivate otherwise good people to do bad things. Nobody ever disagreed with this. May I infer from this that you retract your support for the claim you actually started out with?

    “Glenn, you can’t make statements like: “Sam Harris is well known for publicly and vocally opposing religion. He does it very, very, badly, in my view. His actual arguments against religious beliefs are a fiasco (as seen in his debate against William Lane Craig…” and expect fans of Harris’ level-headedness to sit back and not defend his prescience.”

    That’s fine, which is why I have provided you with a link to my analysis of that very debate where I offer some explanation of where I think Harris’s arguments collapsed. I also provided you with a link to an episode where I focus on Harris’s arguments about morality and science. I certainly do not require that you sit back and not defend Harris if you believe you can. I am more than happy for you to interact with my explanations for why I say this about Harris – which is why I provided you with the links to do so. To date you appear not to have made use of that opportunity.

    “PS. At great risk of actually having a discussion, if you think I am not getting what you are saying, you can always tell me what YOU think is the difference between the two statements. This would be less patronising.”

    The difference is that the first claim – the one you have endorsed and for which I have asked for evidence – states that in order for good people to do bad, religion is required. You’ve now accepted that this is false, saying that patriotism can also do the job. It’s false for other reasons too, but it’s for you to defend it, not for me to disprove it. After you offer your evidence for the claim, I’m happy to comment on it. This is the key thing: This claim is that religion is required in order for otherwise good people to do bad things.

    The second claim just says that religion is one thing that can motivate people to do bad things. That is not controversial if it just means that some people are motivated by their particular religious beliefs to do bad things. This claim does not state that religion is required. It only claims that sometimes, some people’s religious beliefs will do the trick. I never asked for any evidence for this.

    That is the difference between the two statements. Charles, it looks clear that you have abandoned the first claim completely, so you have no motivation to offer any evidence for it. Is that correct?

    The first claim – that in order for good people to do bad things, that takes religion – is utterly, hilariously ridiculous. You have already granted this, suggesting patriotism as another kind of value that will do the job. I wonder if I can coax you to think of some other examples. What about allegiance to a political party? What about allegiance to the crusade against religion as the source of all evil? The truth, Charles, is that irrational devotion can get people into moral trouble. There is no reason to think that religion has cornered the market on irrational devotion. And if you think that religion is always irrational devotion, then why not just defend that position?

    Nice to see you focusing on the issue! :)

  • Charles Humberton August 8, 2014, 7:59 pm

    Glenn, there is a scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Ark B gets sent to Fintlewoodlewick (prehistoric Earth) on which were hairdressers and Telephone Sanitisers. Perhaps philosophers should have gone with them too, or as Peter Atkins describes them, they are only lesser obscurantists than theologians.

    I simply can’t believe that you can make such wild differentiations between what should be a simple, thoughtful comment as: “for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

    Let me illustrate it this way:

    The other day I was listening to a Muslim woman describe how her love for the Prophet transcended her love even for the Koran. As I marvelled at this human phenomenon I remembered that Christians often talk in the same language of ‘loyal love.’ It is truly remarkable that such emotions can run deep for dead people – unless their is a BELIEF, somehow that the person lives and that their presence, either in word or action, can affect their daily lives in the natural world. This is absolutely fine! Nothing at all wrong with this and is even better if they keep their illusions to themselves.

    Now imagine that Christian Scientists fall into the unenviable situation where their child falls gravely ill and only medical intervention can provide the help needed. The mother and her husband fall into prayer and gain much comfort, but the child dies. Though they may feel there is a “good reason” why God ‘took that child,’ no objective observer could ever imagine the ACT of deprivation is not evil, even though the parents are ‘good.’ This is why secular governments take children into care and make them wards of court.

    A woman feels deeply her love for her God and though she knows she will miss her child, she feels its a great honour that her child is chosen to detonate a bomb strapped to her chest in a bus and that she will see her once again in heaven. Does this explanation, Glenn?

    Shakespeare is loved and read all over the world. Actors verily worship the ground his genius walks on, but that doesn’t they will emulate any of the number of murders or wars portrayed in his plays because of that love. Why? Shakespeare makes no demands for such and never formed a religion or cult. Though, for some, it fills the ‘god-shaped-gap,’ only religion has the software POTENTIALLY to make good people do evil things.

    If I say I admire the Americans for dropping heavy food-supplies into Africa during the Ebola epidemic, I say this knowing that this is likely stimulated by their religious fervour and genuine love for mankind, this is completely harmonious with my conclusion that part much of that contribution or all can be contributed or matched by secular atheists.

    The fact that SOME Catholic priests saved many Jews during the pogroms of WW2 means only that their humanistic consciences outweighed their natural religious prejudice.

    I’ve run out of room. So much more to say.

  • Glenn August 8, 2014, 8:30 pm

    “I simply can’t believe that you can make such wild differentiations between what should be a simple, thoughtful comment as: “for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.”

    There’s nothing wild about it. Just say what you mean. You said it takes religion. Then later you admitted that maybe it doesn’t really take religion – patriotism can do it too. I have now suggested some other things too. The fact is, a lot of things can do the job. It does not take religion. I differentiated between this statement (“for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”) and a second, different statement (“religion can make good people do bad under its influence”). I’m sure that on reflection you agree that these statements are different. But in any event, I am interested in the first statement. That’s the one for which I asked for some evidence, and I am still waiting.

    You have – once again – skipped providing any evidence for this claim. You just provided an example of where a woman might do something bad because of her particular religious beliefs (blowing herself up). But I’ll just remind you again, it has never been disputed that some people will do bad things because of their particular religious beliefs.

    “only religion has the software POTENTIALLY to make good people do evil things”

    Nonsense. Completely untrue. Provide just one piece of evidence for that. Just one – you have offered none yet. I have already supplied a short list of other commitments that can do the job besides religious commitments.

    Charles, you’re not actually going to defend this claim, are you? Come on, it’s becoming obvious. In reality, Charles, to get a good person to do bad things, it doesn’t take religion, does it? You know that as well as I do. Just admit that you’re not going to provide evidence for it, instead of continually dragging in some much weaker claim that is not in dispute and trying to convince me of it.

  • Charles Humberton August 9, 2014, 9:16 am

    please remind me of the date you showed other human concepts that can “do the job” and I will debunk them. This is so easy.

  • Glenn August 9, 2014, 11:37 am

    “This is so easy.”

    If it were so easy, then surely by now you would have offered just one piece of evidence for your claim that in order for good people to do bad things, that takes religion. I am still waiting.

    Oh, and the date was August 8. But when you reply, please offer the evidence that I am still asking and waiting for. This is becoming a bit of a farce until you do that.

  • Kenneth August 9, 2014, 1:16 pm

    Charles, this is becoming a bit silly (hi, by the way). Back on the 31st of July you stated your position (quoting somebody else to do it): “for good people to do bad things, that takes religion”

    Ever since then, Glenn has been repeatedly asking for some evidence of this very strong claim. You have repeatedly ignored this request, either changing the topic to something else, or else trying to change your original claim and defend that new claim. Each time, Glenn has reminded you of your original claim and repeated his request for evidence (and complained about you trying to divert the subject instead of answering the question).

    It has become utterly absurd, Charles. On the 8th of August alone there was a back and forth between the two of you where he was practically begging you for a scrap of evidence, and he became exhausted, it would appear, saying: “Charles, you’re not actually going to defend this claim, are you? Come on, it’s becoming obvious.”

    And then you replied, you timewasting troll, by saying “please remind me of the date you showed other human concepts that can “do the job” and I will debunk them. This is so easy.”

    Again, no evidence! Charles, you have no evidence. You never had any. You are trolling everybody. I like to think I keep my cool fairly well, but watching your persistent, childish game of avoiding the evidence and wasting other people’s time drove me crazy. Glenn has the patience of a bloody saint!

  • Glenn August 9, 2014, 1:27 pm

    See what I mean, Charles? My readers don’t miss a beat. :)

  • Charles Humberton August 9, 2014, 7:44 pm

    It’s quite laughable that you talk of evidence, Glenn. Despite my giving no fewer than 9 (I have more) evidences of evil acts being done ONLY because of religious belief – – YOU HAVE OFFERED NOTHING other than philosophy for your view! This is so typical of theists whose heads live off-world (in the clouds).

    Glenn, I presume this is the knock-down argument to which you refer:

    ” I wonder if I can coax you to think of some other examples. What about allegiance to a political party? What about allegiance to the crusade against religion as the source of all evil?’ – August 8.

    The reason why it is so easy to debunk these claims is the same reason why metaphorically, ‘all roads lead to Rome” all evil ultimately find their origin in religious superstitious delusion.

    Here’s a current example:

    “In a poll conducted by Levada in the autumn, more than two-thirds of Russians agreed with the statement that “Stalin was a cruel, inhuman tyrant, responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people”… In the same poll, 47 percent of respondents said Stalin was “a wise leader who brought the Soviet Union to might and prosperity”. And in a Levada poll last month, 49 percent said Stalin played a positive role, while 32 percent said it was negative – roughly the opposite of a 1994 Survey.” – Dead 60 years, Stalin’s influence lingers in Putin’s Russia
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/05/us-russia-stalin
    idUSBRE9240O120130305

    Then there is a development:

    “The people have forgiven him for the repressions, the collectivization, the elimination of cadres of the Red Army and other inevitable errors and tragedies of those cruel military and revolutionary times… Yet the idea of tuning Uncle Joe into Saint Joe has so far won little official backing from the Orthodox Church, which was one of Stalin’s chief victims… Despite the church’s reluctance, St Petersburg’s Communists are convinced their vision will come to pass. They have already commissioned religious icons depicting Stalin with a halo round his head that have reportedly sold very well around the city.

    Could Josef Stalin be made a saint?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/2445683/Could-Josef-Stalin-be-made-a-saint.html

    And it is ironic that you cite such as The Crusades to ‘coax’ me to give examples. All this does is point to Christian religious delusion. Bearing the sword for Christ is no less evil than bearing it for any other imagined figure. Christ said those who took up the sword would die by it.

    If you would like to see photos of the Stalin icons, just type this in and look at Google images. God-shaped gap, buddy.

    Do you have any more, Glenn?

    I await evidence, Glenn.

  • Charles Humberton August 9, 2014, 7:47 pm

    Kenneth, if you have anything useful to say, such as anything within the kingdom of reality, then please share.

    Now I see why Glenn allows name-callers like you on, while putting me on moderation

    Hi by the way.

  • Glenn August 9, 2014, 8:11 pm

    “It’s quite laughable that you talk of evidence, Glenn. Despite my giving no fewer than 9 (I have more) evidences of evil acts being done ONLY because of religious belief – – YOU HAVE OFFERED NOTHING other than philosophy for your view! This is so typical of theists whose heads live off-world (in the clouds).”

    Charles, let me remind you of a few things:

    Firstly, I have offered evidence for every claim I have made here. I claimed that Harris did poorly in his debate with Craig, and I supplied evidence, linking you to my review of that debate. I claimed that Harris did a poor job of providing his own basis for morality, and I provided evidence for this, linking you to my explanation of why you should accept this assessment.

    So let’s be very clear: For every claim I made, I have provided evidence.

    You, on the other hand, have offered zero pieces of evidence. Not one. Not even a hint of one, for your very strong claim that in order to get good people to do bad things, that takes religion. Never forget: Zero pieces of evidence. Absolutely none at all. Nothing.

    You have stated examples of people doing bad things where they were motivated by their particular religious beliefs (this is where your 9 pieces of evidence comes in), but I simply remind you, yet again, that nobody has ever denied that this can happen. Remember that we are talking about your very strong claim that in order to get good people to do bad things, that takes religion. Thus far, you have not offered any evidence at all for this claim.

    “Glenn, I presume this is the knock-down argument to which you refer:”

    It was no more than a list of just a couple of examples of other forces that can get a person to do bad things, in an effort to encourage you to start to think about the possibility that there are all sorts of beliefs that can do the trick.

    “The reason why it is so easy to debunk these claims is the same reason why metaphorically, ‘all roads lead to Rome” all evil ultimately find their origin in religious superstitious delusion.”

    Well this is an assertion without any foundation in truth. But OK, let’s take a look at your first attempt ever to offer some evidence for this. Here’s what you offered:

    In a poll, more than 66% of Russians said that Stalin was cruel, and 47% said that he was wise and brought Russia to prosperity – and a poll shows that public opinion on Stalin is shifting.

    Well, so far nothing. No evidence. Then the “development” that you speak of:

    Communists in St Petersburg would like to See Stalin made into a Saint, a proposal that does not have the support of the Church.

    So far still nothing. Charles, you haven’t even started yet to offer an argument for your claim that in order for good people to do bad, that takes religion. You’ve given literally nothing that supports this conclusion. And you certainly haven’t falsified the observation that other things cannot get good people to do bad. In fact you have openly accepted that you were wrong, because patriotism can do it too. So why carry on arguing? Why not just admit that the claim is absurd?

    “And it is ironic that you cite such as The Crusades to ‘coax’ me to give examples.”

    I never referred to The Crusades, Charles… Still waiting. It’s silly to start telling me that you are waiting for evidence. The claim is yours, the evidence will come from you or not at all. So far it has been not at all.

    PS: With respect, Charles, you may need to toughen up. You may find it unpleasant when people observe that you have provided no evidence at all for your claim yet, after many days, and it is a bit embarrassing to read. But that does not amount to “name-calling.” Sorry, people have eyes and they can easily see what is happening here. Your comments were going into moderation for a while because you were deliberately ignoring my request to post on this topic, and not some random topic of your choosing. This tactic worked, as you are now posting on topic (although avoiding my requests for evidence for your strong claim).

    PPS: If your next post is not composed of evidence for your claim, I will finally decide that you have no intention of providing any and I’ll simply block you. Don’t waste my time any more. Either provide explicit direct evidence for your claim, or else be a man and admit that you wrote out a cheque that you can’t afford to pay for.

  • Charles Humberton August 10, 2014, 3:45 pm

    This is a rather obvious tautological piece of smoke and mirrors you’re trying to pull here, Glenn. You haven’t accepted that Weinberg’s statement was, by its being briefly analysed, qualified in its strength. It was not a sweeping statement. What has happened here is what often happens when the mind closes down to the danger of delusional belief versus scientifically provable and established truth. I will however, state that ALL religiously-inclined minds are ticking timebombs.

    Did you not get that it wasn’t so much that Russian opinion was shifting, it was how survey questions are worded? Our god-shaped-gap is present in ALL of us. This is why it CAN be a general statement that attempts to alert us of the POTENTIAL for religious uprising and war (Middle East).

    How long would it be, Glenn, if secularism in Western governments was taken away, before the remaining dominant religion brought back the Inquisition, stocks, public censure, removed the right to free speech, demanded obedience to the strictures of their holy books etc?

    The reason why religion contains the software is that it was developed in the minds of our distant ancestors afraid of all the frightening acts of nature. Feeling they had to appease the elements, gods were born. Changing (evolving) the programme is happening slowly, but the millions today who have their minds wired for specific religions develop emotional attachment to their beliefs. The fact that religion won’t die tells us nothing of its truth value.

    Take time out of your busy schedule, Glenn, to listen to Unbelievable, 7 May, 2011; Was Osama Bin Laden the True Face of Islam? Present with Justin are two very level-headed Muslims who, at least superficially, bring hope that religions can live in peace in the West, but take particular note of his phone-in contributor. It becomes clear very clearly that this man believes there cannot be peace until all of Britain is united under Sharia. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Clerics have declared that ‘they’ will integrate, but not assimilate. This is only the start.

    Glenn, please contribute to this conversation in real time. If I am able I will read the references you mention, but in the meantime, use bullet points to convey your debate points as to why you think Harris is such an unconvincing debater. Then I will see clearly where your philosophical point of view is going.

    PS Go ahead and block me, Glenn, if you feel that threatened by my view. People can ignore my ‘crap’ as is their democratic right. Obviously as a religious person you must feel that somehow my view will affect the faith of others. I am presently attempting to re-wire my own brain regarding a religion I have been associated with who likewise view reasoned argument in challenge as apostate.

    Do as you wish, it’s a free country. Your hard-nosed bullying tactics do not impress me. I imagine this is why you have so many foot attendants who worship the ground you walk on. I am not one of…

  • Glenn August 10, 2014, 4:14 pm

    “It was not a sweeping statement.”

    Thanks Charles. So after my repeated requests, again and again, for evidence, and after you repeatedly implying that your claim was true, you now, finally, after all this – and only after several people started to point out that you had failed to offer any evidence at all – tell me that well, really I shouldn’t take the claim literally after all.

    That’s your escape. That’s your excuse, when you couldn’t avoid scrutiny and when you were being put on the spot and everyone was watching. That’s it – “Oh wait, I didn’t really mean it the way it was written.” And then – amazingly – you try to imply that I am at fault for not realising this all along.

    How can you not be burning with shame, Charles? I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but your argument has become a circus.

    For what it’s worth, I find it literally impossible to be “threatened” by a stance for which no rational reasons have been given. Thanks for your answer. Bye.

  • Frank August 11, 2014, 8:04 am

    Epic fail, Charles. The illogic and arrogance you’ve demonstrated is truly embarrassing.

    Btw, don’t flatter yourself by thinking that the only reason other guests, such as myself, disagree with you is because we are footings of Glenn Peoples. If Glenn, or anyone else, on this blog displayed the same rabid incoherence as you have, they would have gotten the same reaction you got.

    Don’t quit your day job.

  • Riley Jones September 2, 2014, 3:05 am

    There is too much nonsense in this article to even know where to start. Sam’s position is quite clearly not one of being for any use of violence to fight Hamas. His position is that Israel as a state is not acting in a way that Hamas would behave if they had the same power. He also clearly states that Israel has to handle it’s own sentiments to groups similar to Hamas. If Israel is to maintain it’s position as a moral highground. It’s also rather ironic you quote his debate with William Lame Craig as an example of losing a debate hard, when Sam obviously owned the whole thing and dismantles Craig’s ridiculous Divine Command theory. Along with arguing for his position, something that obviously slipped you by. And that is not something you can hold him accountable for. You are using extremely dishonest quotemining and distortion in this article and you know it.

  • Glenn September 2, 2014, 9:45 am

    Riley, as far as Harris’s convincing defeat at the hands of Bill Craig in debate goes, I have provided a link to my review when I explain exactly how he lost. Nothing that Harris said in that debate “slipped by” me. Maybe the link slipped by you.

    As for the rest, it doesn’t even look like you read this article, other than perhaps by skimming for keywords.

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