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Day 3 (Prager): Why Are Atheists So Angry?

From: Dennis Prager To: Sam Harris Subject: Unhappy Correlations Dear Sam: Dr. Collins did not offer three waterfalls as an argument for belief in the Trinity, not even in your isolated citation from his book or in the single sentence … Read More

By / November 20, 2006

From: Dennis Prager To: Sam Harris Subject: Unhappy Correlations

Dear Sam:

Dr. Collins did not offer three waterfalls as an argument for belief in the Trinity, not even in your isolated citation from his book or in the single sentence in Time. All he said was that three waterfalls reminded of him of the Christian Trinity and that after observing such awesome beauty he became a believing Christian.

If a man says that a beautiful flower reminds him of his beautiful wife, he is not saying that the beauty of the flower proves his wife is also beautiful. Natural wonders often inspire a person to reflect on the divine. You see natural beauty and, for that matter, everything else in the universe, and see no Creator, just coincidence. I find that reaction at least as odd as you find seeing in nature evidence for a Creator.

The Collins comments simply indicate that he and other eminent scientists see science as arguing for a Creator God. If Collins had said that the existence of three waterfalls proves that there is a Trinity, I would then share your dismissive attitude. But these comments didn’t even imply something so preposterous.

You write that, “There is little question that exposure to a scientific education reduces the likelihood that a person will believe in God,” a point I fully acknowledged in my last correspondence. But exposure to other areas of higher education, specifically the “social sciences,” further reduces the likelihood that a person will believe in God.

We therefore have two choices about how to interpret these data. One is that the more one knows, the less likely one is to believe in God. That is your interpretation. I have another interpretation—that contemporary higher education increases factual knowledge but decreases wisdom. With some exceptions, I believe that the more time one spends at a university the more foolish he or she becomes.

Only among the highly educated are there still those who believe that men and women are basically the same. Going back a generation or two, support for Josef Stalin, perhaps the greatest mass murderer in history, was almost entirely confined in the West to intellectuals. German Ph.D.s were also among Hitler’s greatest supporters. The moral record of secular intellectuals—Lenin’s “useful idiots”— is the worst of any single group in free societies in the last hundred years.

I am therefore not quite bowled over by data connecting higher secular education with atheism.

You write that, “Your job is to either produce a rational argument for the unique legitimacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition (one that reveals why one billion Hindus are utterly in error about the nature of the cosmos), or to admit that you cannot do this. I am willing to bet the farm that you cannot.”

Don’t bet your farm quite yet. I have in fact made the case for the unique legitimacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition in 25 essays I wrote in 2005. Suffice it to that Judeo-Christian values alone gave humanity the notion of the sacredness of human life; linear history and therefore the idea of moral and scientific progress; universal standards of good and evil; the abolition of slavery; the scientific method; the development of democracy; equality of the sexes; the greatest experiment in non-ethnicity-based society (America); the greatest music ever composed; and the greatest art ever drawn.

As for India, I have traveled there a number of times and lectured there; I have a deep reverence for its people and culture. But India did not give us those contributions. Nor did China and certainly not any of the societies contemporaneous with the ancient Jews who gave us the Torah from which these values emanate.

Presumably you assume that all these world-changing values and unique achievements would have evolved on their own with no Hebrew Bible, no divine revelation, and no Christians to bring the Bible to the world. You are, after all, a believer that everything awesome came from nothing.

That is how you view the world: All things came from no thing; intelligence came from nonintelligence; order came from chaos. I cannot understand why anyone finds these beliefs rationally compelling. I can only conclude that it takes either a university education—the secular immersion that begins in grade school—or an antipathy to religion.

If you want to make the case for secularism producing better people in America, how about “betting the farm” on this: I bet you whatever sum we each can afford that the vast majority of murderers and rapists in this country were not religiously active during the time they committed their violent crimes. I would make a second bet that you won’t take that bet.

Here’s another real-life correlation for you to ponder. For the most part, secular Europe couldn’t tell the moral difference between America and the Soviet Union and can’t tell the difference between Israel and its enemies. Religious America knew the Soviet Union was an “evil empire” and believes that there is a moral chasm separating Israel from its enemies. And secular Europe, like secular America, doesn’t even reproduce itself. Secularism either makes people too selfish to have more than one child and/or shatters any belief in sustaining one’s society and culture.

Finally, I salute you for acknowledging the Islamic threat and for abhorring the moral relativism that pervades the West. Unlike most atheists, you do acknowledge that the moral courage to fight today’s greatest evil is primarily to be found among religious Jews and Christians. I credit that courage to the moral clarity inherent to Jewish and Christian beliefs and to these Jews’ and Christians’ belief in God. I have yet to figure out to what you ascribe the courage among the religious and the lack of moral backbone in secular Europe and America.

You are right that this moral clarity and courage among the predominantly religious does not prove the existence of the biblical God. Nothing can prove God’s existence. But it sure is a powerful argument. If society cannot survive without x, there is a good chance x exists.

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