Tag Archives: Purpose

Sam Harris On Religion as a Force in the World

This is a short video, but it’s very helpful in explaining why religion, western monotheism in particular, is fundamentally regressive and will continue to slow if not reverse humanity’s progress. In our current increasingly precarious position, the fantasy of religion may delay our action on climate change, disease control, or some other vital issue long enough that we will become extinct. The earth will of course continue on without us.

I am very conflicted by religion. On the one hand, religion allows many people to give meaning to their existence, in a way that no scientific or humanist set of ideas can. The majority of people are incapable of accepting a non-religious set of ideas as their source of meaning, and it seems cruel to deprive these people of this source of peace and even joy, despite the unquestionable damage religious beliefs do to both individuals and humanity.

The damage religious belief has done; to humanity, animal life, and the earth; over the ages is the other, perhaps more compelling side of this conflict. Is it right to allow individuals to subscribe to a fantasy that causes them to value their fellow humans more or less based on their beliefs or nationality, or to love or hate them based on immutable traits such as race, skin color, gender, or sexuality? We can argue about whether religion is merely strongly correlated with or an actual cause of this harm.

My study of history tells me that belief in the supernatural, and the abandonment of reason and compassion that accompanies this, is a generally negative trait and should be replaced with something more positive. The open question is whether anything can serve for these people as an effective replacement for religion. What can we provide to the masses of humanity that’s as accessible, highly structured, and compelling as religious belief? How do we compete with a fantasy that assures each person that he’s part of a well planned whole, that there is a reason for everything, that no matter how things look in the present, all will turn out well in the end, and that this end includes an eternal continuation of life?

A Thoughtful Review of Richard Dawkins’ Memoir


Barbara King has posted a thoughtful review of Richard Dawkins memoir on NPR.

I admire Richard Dawkins, and I do agree that theistic religion is fundamentally poisonous to modern humanity. But, like the reviewer, I cannot agree that it’s appropriate to insult believers as stupid, gullible, or otherwise lacking in some desirable human trait.
The traits that allow believers to remain committed to their myths after so many other emblems of childhood have been abandoned are desirable traits, perhaps taken to extreme, but they are as human as any.

Primary among these traits is the human need for meaning, to ascribe purpose to a human life, particularly the suffering present in even the most fortunate lives and the ever-present spectre of death. Religion, by its very nature, is well suited to providing this meaning. A person not inclined to wonder or reflection, and that’s most of us, has in his or her local religion a ready-made worldview that provides answers to questions that science, by its nature, cannot answer. Science is wonderfully adept at telling us how, how things fit together and the causal chains that lead from one state to another. Only philosophy, metaphysics and its branches, can tell us why, why there is suffering, why we are mortal, why some are evil and others good, …

Religion provides meaning for a large number of people, and as far as I’m aware, Dawkins does not propose a viable alternative to religion. I’m all for fully educating everyone in both science and philosophy, but there are a large number of people who, given everything we atheists know about the world, will choose religion. It’s not just a matter of intelligence, as there are a small but significant number of clearly brilliant scientists and other thinkers that have retained belief in their religion despite being exposed to many of the greatest human ideas in science and philosophy.

My conclusion is that there’s something innate in many human beings that prefers religion over the alternatives. I consider it cruel to deny those inclined to religious belief the sense of meaning they derive from that belief, and the peace and joy that brings them, particularly when we have nothing to offer in its place.