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Day 4 (Prager): Why Are Atheists So Angry?

From: Dennis Prager To: Sam Harris Subject: Your Task is Far Greater than Mine I will leave it to our readers to identify who relied on “maneuvers.” To help them judge I will cite your words and not rely on … Read More

By / November 21, 2006

From: Dennis Prager To: Sam Harris Subject: Your Task is Far Greater than Mine

I will leave it to our readers to identify who relied on “maneuvers.”

To help them judge I will cite your words and not rely on paraphrasing your views as you have mine.

You write: “You have observed that very smart people, like Francis Collins, occasionally believe in God.”

I didn’t write that. I wrote that some eminent scientists believe in God and that some of them have come to believe in God through science. The issue was scientists and belief, not “very smart people” and belief. In fact, with no implication intended regarding you, I have almost never encountered “very smart people” who do not believe in God. The vast majority of atheists I have met had fine brain matter, but if “smart” includes wisdom, intellectual depth, profundity of thought, and moral insight, I have encountered such people almost exclusively among believers in the Judeo-Christian God. (For the record, I have also met fools who believe in this God.)

You write: “I trust that attentive readers will notice where you have misconstrued me (or rendered a tortured interpretation of Collins, polling data, etc.) and then pressed a false charge.”

I continue to defend my understanding of Collins—in fact, on my radio show I asked him about the waterfalls and he sustained my, not your, understanding. (The entire interview with him is available through my website.)

You never took my bet that the vast majority of violent criminals were not religiously active when they committed their crimes. Instead you redefined “religiously active” to mean belief in the biblical God. Everyone who uses the term knows it doesn’t refer to belief; it refers to being active within a religion, such as with regular church or synagogue attendance, Bible study, etc. You know as well as I do that such people are not proportionately represented among America’s violent criminals. So you redefined “religiously active” to avoid the wager.

You write: “While the usefulness of religion might be worth debating in another context, it is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.” I agree. My argument is that unlike Judeo-Christian America, secular societies—generally meaning those of Western Europe—lose their will to survive (by not reproducing), and stand for nothing (they were largely morally worthless in the Cold War against Communism and are worthless or worse in helping to keep Israel alive against Muslims who vow to exterminate the Jewish state.) When people realize this, they may conclude that something that is necessary for society to survive—belief in the God of Israel—may in fact exist.

You write that the Judeo-Christian tradition “even produced Stalin.” I have to admit this is a first in a lifetime of debating atheists. I can only imagine that you are referring to the fact that Stalin attended a Christian seminary as a youth. So what? Stalin was a passionate atheist who murdered untold numbers of Christian clergy, destroyed virtually every church in Russia, and forced Soviet students to study “scientific atheism.” If those violent pro-atheism policies were produced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, then words have no meaning.

You write: “Useful delusions are not the same thing as true beliefs.”

That is certainly true. However, if what may be a “useful delusion” is responsible for Judeo-Christian civilization’s abolishing slavery, discovering science and the scientific method, affirming rationality, believing in progress (the Torah was unique in repudiating the cyclic view of life), elevating women’s rights, affirming universal human rights, establishing the sanctity of human life, and so much more, then I would be loathe to dismiss it as merely a “useful delusion.”

You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?

You conclude: “If nothing else, our debate clearly reveals how difficult it is to change another person’s mind on this subject. Perhaps some of our readers had their views shifted one way or the other. Whatever the result, I’m very happy we took the time to correspond.”

I, too, am happy we took the time to correspond. But I never entered this debate with any hope that I would change your mind on this subject. The motto of my radio show is, “I prefer clarity to agreement,” and that is why I agreed to this. I wanted readers to attain clarity about the differences between atheism and Judeo-based theism.

And with that goal in mind, I will end with my re-wording of a superb summary of the argument for belief in God that was made by Rabbi Milton Steinberg (1903–1950), a rationalist (and non-Orthodox) rabbi: “The believer in God has to account for the existence of unjust suffering; the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else.”

And that is why your task, Sam, is infinitely greater than mine.

All the best,

Dennis

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