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Debate on God between Sam Harris and Rick Warren Monday, April 2, 2007

Posted by Henry in atheism, Christianity, faith, God, rationality, religion, Rick Warren, Sam Harris.

This article, titled “The God Debate”, is a transcript of civilised discussion between one of the most famous atheists Sam Harris, and one of the most influential evangelical pastor, Rick Warren. The discussion covers atheism vs. religion, the Bible, morality, and of course, God itself. A discussion such as this is always too short, but it does contain pretty much the typical arguments you would expect from both sides.

Rick Warren Rick Warren

Warren starts off by saying:

“I see the fingerprints of God everywhere. I see them in culture. I see them in law. I see them in literature. I see them in nature. I see them in my own life. Trying to understand where God came from is like an ant trying to understand the Internet. Even the most brilliant scientist would agree that we only know a fraction of a percent of the knowledge of the universe.”

I think this summarises well the mindset of a God-believer – he or she believes in God simply because it is a personal experience, not because of evidence, reason and logic. A discussion on God, as many atheists have conceded, is a waste of time, because there can be no rationale and logic. The atheist and theist are talking about the same topic, but from completely different perspectives.

Warren does not believe in evolution, and as you would read further down the discussion, he seems to think that evolution is a theory of chance. This is very unfortunate reflection of the failure of the scientific education, because as any informed person on this subject knows, evolution is a blind and non-random algorithmic process – known as natural selection – in which chance and randomness is only part of it.

Moving on. Warren gives an example of how an answered prayer makes him feels like he is having a conversation with God, to which Harris predictably bites back and in effect saying what about thousands and millions of other unanswered and failed prayers? Warren doesn’t seem to have much to say except for offering a one-liner “That’s a misstatement there.” It is a shame that this particular thread of discussion is not continued further.

Sam Harris Sam Harris

Now, the discussion turns into morality. I am actually offended by this statement Warren made:

“Thousands died in the Inquisition; millions died under Mao, and under Stalin and Pol Pot. There is a home for atheists in the world today—it’s called North Korea.

Please delight me, what does North Korea have to do with atheism?

Throughout history, millions people have died under the greed of individuals, conflicting ideologies, ethnic differences, and religion. Comparing the millions of deaths caused by religion against other non-religious causes is missing the point. If religion is such a moral must, then it should not cause deaths and atrocities at the scale of millions.

Warren asks Harris just about all other God-believers would ask any atheist:

“Where do you get your morality? If there is no God, if I am simply complicated ooze, then the truth is, your life doesn’t matter, my life doesn’t matter.”

And further:

“For years, atheists have said there is no God, but they want to live like God exists. They want to live like their lives have meaning.”

Here is something that bothers me in this whole atheism-equals-no-moral nonsense. In my still quite limited reading on this topic, I don’t recall any atheists defend themselves invoking Far East Asian cultures. The Chinese, who has the longest and one of the greatest civilisation in human history, has always been no-God-believers. Does this imply, according to Warren and the like, that the Chinese people are always immoral? I am no historian but am pretty sure that at various times during the past five thousand years, the Chinese had the most advanced and best social and moral systems. According to Wikipedia, even a relatively Westernised Japanese society is only of 1% of Christian population, and this country has one of the (if not the most) lowest crime rates in the world.

I think the rarity of the mention of the Far East cultures is indicative of the often short-sightedness on both side of the argument, and especially on the attacking side i.e. the God-believers.

The discussion then turns slightly personal without too much material. However, one thing from Warren catches my attention. Right at the end of it, when asked for some closing thoughts, Warren invokes the infamous Pascal’s Wager – for those who are not familiar with it, this is best explained by his own words:

“We’re both betting. He’s betting his life that he’s right. I’m betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he’s right, I’ve lost nothing. If I’m right, he’s lost everything. I’m not willing to make that gamble.”

I find this extremely incredible, much like a watching a twisted ending in a movie! How sincere of him to believe in God, partly (or even mainly?) because he is playing safe for his life after death!

In conclusion, I think this discussion is worth a read. Both gentlemen are quite eloquent. Although lack of depth as one would expect, it is educational and certainly not a waste of time.

Image The debate continues…


1. Mike Diamond - Thursday, October 2, 2008

According to Jesus, everyone was born saved, Matthew 19:14, this includes atheists. Then Jesus said in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall see mercy.” Notice, Jesus did not say, “Blessed only the Christians they shall be the only ones to see mercy.” Oh no, Jesus just said, “The merciful will see mercy.” If an atheist is merciful, then he or she will live on forever in heaven to come. bornsaved.com, Michael Diamond

2. Ed - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

North Korea is an officially atheist regime. That is probably what Warren meant when he called it a home for atheists. No one in his right mnd would want to live under an atheist regime, because the logical outcome of atheism is the triumph of whatever group or individual is the most ruthless.

3. judy - Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Singapore is an atheist regime which professes to reward meritocracy and give an onion to the poor to ameliorate their lot but not let them proliferate. Also behooves meritorious to look after their loved ones who may be handicapped or unlucky which is the basis of society/fellowship. Could proliferation of churches be a desire for greater fellowship/dependence to balance the precarious living of nuclear families?

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