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The End of Faith – West of Eden Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Posted by Henry in Africa, book review, Christianity, evolution, faith, fundamentalism, George Bush, God, politics, rationality, religion, Sam Harris, sin, stem cell, United States.

After writing a chapter critising Islam, Harris proceeds to deliver assaults on the religious influence in the West, in particular in the USA political scene.

Harris goes on his attack with a plethora of disturbing examples, which includes a list of influential members in the government such as Dr. W. David Hager of FDA, General William G. Boykin of Special Forces, Tom DeLay of The House majority leader, Antonin Scalia of Supreme Court Justice – and “facts of this sort can be cataloged without apparent end…”.

All this is rather terrifying. Why? Because one would expect that in a civilised society – US being the only superpower in the world – reason and common sense should be the norm. But no, powerful men in the politics are making decisions more or less based on blind personal religious beliefs.

Harris goes on to attack the idea of “victimless crime” in the US – behaviours that cause no harm to anyone yet are punishable. Examples include prostitution and viewing obscene materials. He asks:

… why would anyone want to punish people for engaging in behavior that brings no significant risk of harm to anyone?

The answer lies within the Christian notion of sin, he says, based on the idea that God sees and knows all things at all time – God is watching your own private and harmless pleasures, hence:

Like most costly examples of irrationality, in which human happiness has been blindly subverted for generations, the role of religion here is both explicit and foundational.

Harris devoted a number of pages outlining the prohibited use of certain drugs (such as marijuana and LSD) versus the much more dangerous use of alcohol. The statistics he shows is quite powerful – as a drug, marijuana kills no one and has several medical benefits – comparing to alcohol which not only has no known medical benefit but also kills 100,000 people in the US alone.

In all honesty, I find this section unconvincing. I simply cannot see the reasoning binding religious irrationality and the law on prohibited drugs or other forms of punishable private, harmless pleasures. As a counter-example, victimless crimes are punished in many other non-Christian countries in the world, such as Far East Asia where neither Christianity nor Islam dominates. I personally think that the issue on victimless crimes go deeper than simply blind faith.

George W. BushI am against science that destroys life to save life.” – Bush

Sam Harris then examines the field of medicine, where he examines the hotly debated issue of embryonic stem cell research. His line of attack is quite orthodox – the opposition to stem cell research is simply based on religious ignorance equating the destruction of blastocyst (the state where the embryo consisting about 150 cells) used in research to that of killing a human soul. The consequence of such blind belief is enormous – stem cell research offers the potential of healing sufferers of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson diseases, spinal cord injuries and other major health problems.

On the banning of stem cell he puts it well:

Those oppose to therapeutic stem-cells research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of flat-earth society. Our discourse on the subject should reflect this. In this area of public policy alone, the accommodations that we have made to faith will do nothing but enshrine a perfect immensity of human suffering for decades to come.

Harris concludes this relatively short chapter with a very disturbing and disheartening example:

Under the influence of Christian notions of the sinfulness of sex outside of marriage, the U.S. government has required that one-third of its AIDS prevention funds allocated to Africa be squandered on teaching abstinence rather than condom use. It is no exaggeration to say that millions could die as a direct result of this single efflorescence of religious dogmatism.


1. The Blind Hatred of the Left « Careful Thought II - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

[…] of the Left Here is a small piece (about all I could stomach) from ‘H3nry’ at On Evolution dealing with an atheist’s view of faith. I’ve written in the past about those in the […]

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