070527 – Sunday – Religion vs. Atheism debate

– A friend of mine recently turned me onto an on-line debate between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris on the subject of religion vs. atheism. This territory has, of course, been raked over many times before but this example is well worth reading because of the clarity and power of these two men’s intellects. All of the major points are brought out into high relief. If you consider yourself an open-minded intellectual then you owe it to yourself to spend some time and grind through long but excellent exchange.

Sam Harris Andrew Sullivan

– I’ve decided to put this debate into the category of the PerfectStorm because both of these men believe that religious fundamentalism is going to play a part in the coming chaos. I offer here a quote from Andrew Sullivan as he closes his side of the debate:

…we are in a civilizational crisis outside the monastery’s walls. Fundamentalist religion is on the march, its certainty dangerous, its ambitions terrifying, its capacity for destruction incalculable. In my more realistic moments, I have come to accept the inevitability of large-scale global destruction in my lifetime.

Later: Now that I’ve had time now to read and digest the debate between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris I wanted to make some follow-up comments on it::

– In virtually every debate I’ve ever been in with someone who’s defending religion, the debate process always runs up on the shoals of faith and forward progress ends. Both sides begin with logic and reason but, at some point, the one defending religion comes to a point where they are forced to say, “I cannot defend this by logic and reason – it is by an act of faith that I believe thus.” And I’ll confess here to having been on both sides of this divide.

– I find that debates, in general, are deeply unsatisfying because there is so seldom a 1:1 correspondance between the points and questions put by person A and the responses and answers given by person B. Harris commented more than once on Sullivan’s failure to address his points in the debate. I think that debating, as a form of truth seeking, needs something like, perhaps, the Roberts Rules of Order. Some system that ensures that if A makes a point, that B must reply to it directly. One might complain that asking a question, by its very form and content, can stack things in the questioner’s favor. But, since both sides would ask an equal number of questions, the playing field would be as level as their respective skills at debating would allow.

– As a continuation of the last comment’s theme, I think it would also be helpful if one or more folks sat to the side and sifted the logic of statements made to see if they really are logical or simple one of any number of logical fallacies (such as out detailed wonderfully in Robert Gula’s book, “Non-Sense – A Handbook of Logical Fallacies“). Then, debate might actually product results that materially advanced our search for truth.

– My last comment involves Harris’ belief that moderate religion indirectly supports fundamentalism. I, for one, did not feel that the points offered by either of the debaters settled this point for me.

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