Believing the Unbelievable: The Clash Between Faith and Reason in the Modern World with Sam Harris speaking at the 2007 Aspen Ideas Festival.
Some of the most inspired and provocative thinkers, writers, artists, business people, teachers and other leaders drawn from myriad fields and from across the country and around the world all gathered in a single place - to teach, speak, lead, question, and answer at the 2006 Aspen Ideas Festival. Throughout the week, they all interacted with an audience of thoughtful people who stepped back from their day-to-day routines to delve deeply into a world of ideas, thought, and discussion.
Sam Harris is an American non-fiction author, and CEO of Project Reason. He received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, and is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University. He has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. He is a proponent of scientific skepticism and is the author of The End of Faith (2004), which won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), a rejoinder to criticism of his first book, and The Moral Landscape (2010).
Sam Harris gives a lecture on the dangers of mixing iron age philosophies with modern day technology, common misconceptions theists have about atheists and why we need to build a morality system separate from faith.
Relation of human beings to God or the gods or to whatever they consider sacred or, in some cases, merely supernatural. Archaeological evidence suggests that religious beliefs have existed since the first human communities. They are generally shared by a community, and they express the communal culture and values through myth, doctrine, and ritual. Worship is probably the most basic element of religion, but moral conduct, right belief, and participation in religious institutions also constitute elements of the religious life. Religions attempt to answer basic questions intrinsic to the human condition (Why do we suffer? Why is there evil in the world? What happens to us when we die?) through the relationship to the sacred or supernatural or (e.g., in the case of Buddhism) through perception of the true nature of reality. Broadly speaking, some religions (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are outwardly focused, and others (e.g., Jainism, Buddhism) are inwardly focused.
You are unbelievably incorrect... which is amazing since you seem to want to celebrate after each misstatement and bad conclusion as if it were a won point for your "side". Sam Harris is a logical, almost simplistically reasonable advocate of his POV. You are rising to the defense of God, as Harris suggested you would. Good luck with your superstitions, scriptures and revealed truths...I'll stick to rationality, science and humanism. We will see whose good race is run and whose faith is kept at the finish line.
"While I still think anyone plugging athiesm over agnosticism is either being intentionally deceptive or unintentionally ignorant.."
Atheism is not a subset of agnosticism. To the contrary, it is the other way. Agnosticism is a subset of atheism. You have it wrong. What other misunderstandings could you be harboring that are impeding your progress as a 'cool dude'?
Sam Harris is factually wrong about almost everything he said about Christianity. First of all the religion is not based on the miracles of Jesus. When you look at the Catholic Church the litergury does not revolve around the miracles of Jesus. The miracles often were questioned by the Pharisees at the time and many of the people in his own hometown, without faith in him said mircles could not be performed. Further, to use Harris's own argument, there have been similar miracles done in the old testament, even Moses brought forth water from a rock. Secondly, he states that the second commandment is "thou shalt not erect any graven images", that is just wrong, the second commandment is "You shall not take the name the Lord Your God in vain." What little due diligence it would take to look that up before you give a lecture or write a book falls under the heading of "the least you can do", you can wiki the Ten Commandments. What Mr. Harris does is talk about religion in broad terms taking them all together as a subject and makes the error in this arrogance that he actually knows the content of each, he has proven that he does not. I will speak exclusively about Christianity, I do not know about Judaism or Islam. Religion like many specialties today is like a mine shaft one climbs down. If you want to know about the other mines you first have to climb up out of the one that you are in before you can descend into any other but who has time for that in a single lifetime? He says on this matter that taken together believers would have to believe that 'all the religions' could not be correct and that there is in probability a greater chance that most would go to hell. Well the Bible agrees with him "broad is the road that leads to destruction", yet one has to believe one or the other they could not possibly believe them all at the same time. Besides even if only one was true and most did go to hell that would obviously not be a reason for getting rid of religion all together, that would only ensure that we all go to hell. What Mr. Harris believes is that religion is foolish and even dangerous to man, so he subscribes to none, subsequently he stands an equal chance according to his views of being wrong when in deed he discovers God and be sent to hell. However, as far as religions go there is nothing in Catholocism that says for instance Jews will not go to Heaven, in fact to the contrary."What advantage then hath the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?  Much every way. First indeed, because the words of God were committed to them" Romans 3:1. In fact, in Catholocism you need not be a Christian to be saved. Salvation is determined by God. Baptism is the key factor for salvation but even baptism of blood and baptism of desire will do. "These can be saved by what later came to be known as "baptism of blood" or " baptism of desire" (for more on this subject, see the Fathers Know Best tract, The Necessity of Baptism)."
"Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized" (CCC 1281; the salvation of unbaptized infants is also possible under this system; cf. CCC 1260–1, 1283)."
Further, he speaks glowingly about the accomplishments of Isaac Newton but fails to mention that Isaac Newton although a heretical Arian (those who did not believe in the divinity of Christ) did believe in God and read the Bible incessantly, the same Bible that Mr. Harris believes to be so stupid. Unfortunately, although I can go on, suffice it to say Mr. Harris is not too knowledable about Catholocism or Christianity, he must be too busy working on that doctorate in Neurology.
Originally Posted by solaris
You contribute nothing new: your argumentation has already been repeated by several flavors of so called "dialectic materialists" ranging from Marx (Karl, not Groucho :-) to Fidel Castro.
Nobody claims his argument is new and either way this does not add to it's truth or non truth.
Your argumentation would not hold a three minutes defence before an academic panel.
On the contrary, I would say that true academic panels who are not biased by a religious motive would definatly agree with and defend the logic he uses here.
First of all, science (as a framework) is based in the belief that mathematical axioms (which cannt be demostrated) are so evident that they can be considered true.
This is but one tiny part of science. Much more then this it is using the most elegantly logical explanation to find answers to the questions in the world around us with.
Sencondly (and I am an agnostic with a phd in biomathematics/fisheries-biology), there is noeither a theoretical framework nor any empirical tool available that will allow you to EXCLUDE the existence of a higher technology behind the Cosmos ("God" in human word) or that some of the books you refer to are not information tranferred to humans by "messengers of God".
Yes, there is currently none. but then there is no evidence that there aren't giant teapots flying around the universe randomly spawning pink giraffes either. But we don't seriously consider them now do we. ie that is not an argument.
Finally, you put the bible in light of 21st century political correctness matters - which is a super-error.
Sorry my friend by we don't say the bible and other religions are always going to be relevant, YOU DO!
In my opinion, you are arrogant and your argumentation is worthless both from the historical and scientific viewpoints.
Clearly you need to get an even better education in order to understand simple logic...
"Eden of comforting ignorance"? Wow that is exactly the type dogma non theists are expected to listen to and logical people are repulsed by.
There should be no place for ignorance in this debate and with comments like that I am sure people on both sides cannot possibly take you seriously.
Perhaps you misunderstand or are in the wrong age / frame of mind bracket.
You say: "They seem to KNOW with certainty that believers are believing lies...". I can answer for anyone and everyone by saying that obviously if there are so many beliefs (and all not only disagree with each other on fundamental levels but actually often preclude and almost always - with regard to the Abrahamic religions anyway - WHEN CONSIDERING WHAT THE ACTUAL FAITH SAYS - put the others in very bad lighting. Often this is in the form of saying that all other religions are lies, or worse that the follower needs to take action to stop the other beliefs as they are evil.
We don't need to prove 99 000 religions are wrong and only one can possibly be right. That is logic. We also shouldn't need to state that it's HIGHLY unlikely that yours isn't correct... believers of most other faiths do that for us.
The argument is not with the non theist my friend. Sort out that problem first and then you can even attempt to start convincing someone who logically concludes:
1. There are many religions
2. Many religions preclude others
3. Therefor only one religion, or even less, one idea, can be correct.
Does this make sense to you?
Movement of flagellants derived from a form of penance in the Catholic Church as a new, at their point of view, more efficient way to practice their beliefs in the time of crisis. It does not mean that they were unsatisfied with religion itself. The Black Death killed about a half of the population and actually the most religious half because people gathered in churches for prayer had higher risk to get the disease thus I believe that it was the turning-point towards Reformation,Renaissance, development of science and atheism.
Religion provides a sweet illusion that the world is comprehensible while science makes the universe more inconceivable every day. “I know that I know nothing” this is the essence of science.
If you know some scientific study comparing mental health of believers and non-believers then let me know.
"In the past religion could answer all the questions necessary for life of an ordinary man"
Really? Do you really believe the flaggelants would have found so many followers as to become such a threat to the Catholic Church that they were eventually condemned as heretics if the "ordinary man" had known about the germ theory of infectious disease and the black death would have been greatly suppressed by public sanitation measures?
"...science will never explain the world totally..."
Just why have I never heard a scientist claim that science is designed to explain the world in totality? Oh.... is it maybe because it simple isn't?
"...creating depressions, anxiety and addictions because the more you know the less you understand."
Now, how would you know that? Did you even try to learn more?
Nobody is preaching this nonsence from late Stone Age literally nowadays. My point is that science is like a serpent is tempting people to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge to be banished from Eden of comforting ignorance.
Ladies and gentlemen I am Elliot Carson and I am absolutely delighted on behalf of oursponsor for this track also Allstate to introduce our next speaker. Sam Harris is the authorof two best selling books, "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation". He hasappeared on countless television shows, he has written in many publications, and indeedone could almost say that he was the first to launch a recent and very substantialintellectual and literary trend in the United States carrying over into Europe where peoplespeak very seriously about faith and the lack of faith.His he is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford. He studied religion extensively overmany-many years, he is also one of probably because of the best selling status of hisbooks and the demand for him as a speaker, he is very slow in getting his doctorate inneuroscience but he assures me he will still do that some day. One think now I think thatcan safely be said about Sam in terms of his intellectual impact and his contribution to thefree exchange of ideas. Well I think its probably still safe to say that it will be a very-verylong time before a self proclaimed atheist could be elected to public office in this countryunlike most countries in western Europe.I think since Sam's pioneering book and I think this is some thing that has to be upheldby everyone who believes in free speech and tolerance. The people who are not of faith atleast have the comfort in social settings to acknowledge their lack of faith in a way thatreally has not been the case in much of American cultural and social tradition. Samindicates that he himself didn't use the word atheist of his own opinions until after hisbook, but he again has has generated I think enormous interest controversy and debateand I think that's healthy for people of faith as well as people with out faith. I am verypleased to introduce Sam Harris.How come you are not at Walter Isaacson's talk on Einstein? Even I want to be aWalter's talk on Einstein. Well you all made a terrible mistake, I often can you all hearme okay? I often begin any talk talk on this subject with an apology because I think Iam I am dusting to say to say some very derogatory things about religion and giventhat we live in a country where 90 percent of people believe in a Biblical God. I think I amdestined to offend some of you here. I want to assure you that's not the point.That's not the point of my being here, that's not the point of my writing my books, I amnot being deliberatively provocative. I am simply extremely worried about the role thatreligion is playing in our world. I think religion is the most divisive and dangerousideology that we have ever produced. And what's more is the only ideology that issystematically protected both from with in and with out. It remains to taboo, I mean youcan you can criticize someone's beliefs about on really on any subject but it remains totaboo to criticize their beliefs about God and I think we are paying an extraordinary pricefor maintaining this taboo. So I am going to break this taboo rather enthusiastically overthe next hour and I will I will leave some time for questions and I am happy to takeyour criticism. I also want to point out upfront there is nothing that I am about to say thatshould be construed as a denial of the possibilities of spiritual experience and indeed theimportance of spiritual experience and that's a subject I will come back to at the end.I mean here is my basic concern, our ability to cause ourselves harm is now spreadingwith 21st century efficiency and that we are still to a remarkable degree drawing ourvision of how to live in this world from ancient literature. This marriage of of moderntechnology, destructive technology and iron age philosophy is a bad one for reasons that Ithink nobody should have to specify much less argue for and here arguing for them hashas taken up most of my time since September 11th 2001, that day that 19 pious menshowed our pious nation just how socially beneficial religious certainty can be. Nowsomeone who has spend a few years publicly criticizing religion had become quitefamiliar with how people rise to the defense of god. As it turns out there are not ahundred ways of doing this, there appear to be just three. Either a person argues that aspecific religion is true or he argues that religion is useful and indeed so useful that itmight be necessary or he argues that that atheism is essentially another religion,dogmatic intolerant or other wise where they have condemned and I want to I want todifferentiate these three strands of arguments because there they regularly run togetheron any conversation between a believer and a non believer is is liable to fall into one of these ruts.Lets begin with the specific claim that a given religion is true, there are two problemswith arguing this, the first is that as Rousso and Russell point out over a century ago, theycan't all be true, I mean giving the shear diversity of religions on offer, even if we knewthat one of them was absolutely true, I mean even if we knew this was God's multiplechoice exam, is it A) Judaism, B)Christianity, C)Islam, even if we knew we were in thissituation, every believer should expect to wind up in Hell surely as a matter of probability.It seems to me this should give religious people pause when they before they haveespouse their religious certainties. It never does, but it should. The second problem witharguing for the truth of religion is that the evidence for our religious doctrines is eitherterrible or non existent and this subsumes all claims about the existence of a personalGod, the divine origin of certain books, the virgin birth of certain people, the veracity ofancient miracles, all of it.You consider Christianity, the entire doctrine is predicated on the idea that the thegospel account of the miracles of Jesus is true, this is this is why people believe Jesuswas the son of God, divine etc. This textual claim, this textual claim is problematicbecause every one acknowledges that the gospels followed Jesus' ministry by decades andthere is there is no extra biblical account to his miracles, but the the truth is quiet a bitworse than that, the truth is even if we had multiple contemporaneous eye witnessaccounts of the miracles of Jesus, this still would not provide sufficient basis to believethat these events actually occurred, or why not? Well the problem is that first hand reportsof miracles are quite common, even in the 21st century. I have met literally literallyhundreds at this point, western educated men and women who think that their favoriteHindu or Buddhist guru has magic powers, all the powers asscribed to this gurus areevery bit as outlandish as those described to Jesus.I actually remain open to evidence of such powers, but the fact is that people who tellthese stories desperately want to believe them. All to my knowledge that's the kind ofcorroborating evidence we should require before believing that natures laws have beenabrogated in this way and and people who believe these stories show an uncannyreluctance to look for non miraculous causes. But it remains a fact that Yogis and mysticsare said to be walking on water and raising the dead and flying with out the aid oftechnology, materializing objects, reading minds, foretelling the future, right now. In factall of these powers have been described to Sathya Sai Baba the the south Indian guru byan uncountable number of eye witnesses.He even claims to been born of a virgin which is not all that uncommon a claim in inthe history of religion or in history generally Ghengis Khan supposedly was born of avirgin, as was was Alexander. Apparently parthenogenesis doesn't guarantee that youare going to turn the other cheek. But Sathya Sai Baba is not a fringe figure, he is not theDavid Koresh of Hinduism, his followers threw a birthday party for him recently and amillion people showed up, so there are there are vast numbers of people who believe heis a living God, you can even watch his miracles on You Tube prepare to be underwhelmed, may be its true that he has an afro of sufficient diameter as to suggest a totaldetachment from the opinions of his fellow human beings but I am not sure this is reasonenough to worship him in any case, so consider as though for the first time thefoundational claim of Christianity.The claim is this that miracle stories of a sort that today surround a person like Sathya SaiBaba, become especially compelling when you set them in the pre-scientific religiouscontext of the first century roman empire, decades after they are supposed to theoccurrence. We have Sathya Sai Baba's miracle stories attested to by thousands uponthousands of living eye witnesses and they don't even merit an hour on the discoverychannel but you place a few miracle stories in some ancient books and half of the peopleon this earth think it a legitimate project to organize their lives around them, does anyoneelse here see a problem with that? Speaking more generally, Christianity, Judaism andIslam are founded on the claim that the bible and the Koran were dictated by the creatorof the universe there is a there is a creator, there is a personal God and he occasionallywrites books, he doesn't he doesn't code software, he doesn't produce films, MelGibson's claim to have been toiling all the while under the influence of the holy spirit Ithink this is probably an exception here. But in any case, God is principally an author ofbooks, and this idea has achieved credibility because the the contents of these books aredeemed to be so profound that they could not possibly have been produced by the humanmind. Please consider how implausable this is. Consider how differently we treat scientific tests and discoveries?In the year 1665, it was in the beginning in the summer of 1665 Isaac Newton went intoisolation to dodge the outbreak of plague was incidentally laying waste of the pious menand women of England and when he when he had emerged from his solitude, he hadinvented the integral differential calculus, he had discovered the laws of universalgravitation and motion, he had set the field of optics on its foundation and many scientiststhink this is the most awe inspiring display of human intelligence in the history of humanintelligence. And here no one is tempted to describe this to a divine agency, we know thatthese accomplishments were affected by a mortal and a very unpleasant mortal at that andyou know literally billions of us deem the contents of the Bible and the Koran soprofound as to rule out the possibility of of terrestrial authorship.Now given the depths and breadths of human achievement I think this is almost a miraclein its own realm. It seems to me a miraculous misappropriation of awe. It took twocenturies of continues human ingenuity. On the part of on the part of some of thesmartest people who had ever lived, to significantly improve upon Newton'sachievement, how difficult would it be to improve the Bible, I mean anyone in this tentcould improve the supposedly inherent text scientifically, historically, ethically,spiritually in a manner or movements. I mean consider the possibilities of improving theten commandments and this may seem to be setting the bar kind of high because thisthis is the only part of the bible the only text that the that God felt the need tophysically write himself and in stone, consider the second commandment, "Though shaltnot erect any Graven Images", is this really the second most important thing upon whichto admonish all future generations of human beings I mean is this as good as it getsethically and spiritually?You remember the Muslims who rioted by the hundreds of thousands over cartoons, whatgot them so riot up? Well this is it, the second commandment. Now was that piousmayhem, the burning of Embassies, the killing of nuns, was all of that some kind of greatflowering of of spiritual and ethical intelligence or was it egregious medieval stupidity?Well come to think of it, it was egregious medieval stupidity.The truth is that almost any precept we would put in place of the second commandmentwould improve the wisdom of the bible. How about don't mistreat children?, how aboutdon't pretend to know the things you do not know?, or what about just try not to deep fry all of your food?Could could we live with the resulting proliferation of graven images, I think we wouldmanage somehow. So I submit to you that there is not a person on this earth who hasgood reason to believe that the Bible and the Koran are the product of omniscientintelligence and you had billions claim to know that they are the word of God, in fact 78percent of the American population claims to know that the Bible is the word of God, 70percent of college graduates believe that the Bible is the word of God, so lets leave asidequestions of religions truth for a moment.The second way of arguing in defense of God is to argue that religion is useful and souseful that it may in fact be necessary. Now this line of argument is also problematic for afew reasons, the first is said it really is a total non sequitur. This is not even if religiousbelief was exquisitely useful, I don't doubt there are circumstances in which it is in factuseful but even if it were useful across the board, this would not give us reason to believethe cosmologist and the physicists came forward suddenly and said you know sorry forthat a personal God exists or that any one of our books are his word.The fact that certain ideas are useful or motivating or give people meaning in their livesso it's a fact that that the idea that that God has a plan for me or every everythinghappens for a reason, the fact that such ideas are consoling doesn't offer the slightestreason to believe that they are true and in fact ironically they even if we had goodscientific reasons to believe that these ideas were true, their power to console us wouldn'teven offer an additional reason to believe that they are true. I mean even if the even ifthe cosmologist and the physicists came forward suddenly and said you know sorry forthe misunderstanding guys but it seems there is a God and he he has a plan for you. Thefact that so many of us would would find this consoling would give us further reason tobe skeptical in scientific terms this is why we have phrases like wishful thinking and selfdelusion and self deception, this is why scientists do double blind control studieswherever possible, this is why they submit their data peer review, if we had conqueredany ground in our career of rationality, it is on this point there is a profound differencebetween having between having good reasons for believing something and simplywanting to believe it. Now of course there are other reasons to doubt the usefulness ofreligion, and many of these are annunciated on a daily basis by bomb blasts. I mean howhow useful is it that millions of Muslims believe in a the metaphysics of martyrdom.How useful is it that the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq have such hard felt religiousdifferences? How useful is it that so many Jewish settlers thinks that the creator of theuniverse promise them a patch of desert on the Mediterranean? How useful hasChristianity's anxiety about sex been these last 70 generations? Now those who conflateusefulness and truth in defense of religion generally argue that that religion provides themost reliable foundation for morality. Now again before we even we are even temptedto evaluate this claim, please notice that it is a non sequitur it is not even if even ifreligion made people moral, this would not provide evidence for the existence of God orthat Jesus is his son or any specific doctrinal proposition to which people are attached.Every religion could function like a placebo they could they could be extremely usefuland entirely barren of content.But lets talk for a moment about the supposed link between morality and and religion, itseems to me that religion gives people bad reasons to be good where good reasons areactually available. I mean me ask your self which is more moral? Helping the poor,feeding the hungry, defending the week out of a mere concern for their well being ordoing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it? The truth ispeople do not need to be threatened with damnation to love their children, to lovetheir friends, to want to collaborate with strangers or indeed to recognize that helpingstrangers can be one of their greatest sources of happiness and what kind of morality is itthat is entirely predicated on a self interested desire to escape the damnation? This seems toby pass the very core of what we mean by morality which is at actual concern for thewelfare of other human beings. Clearly it is possible to teach our children to form such aconcern and to grow in empathy and compassion with out lying to ourselves or to themabout the nature of the universe, with out pretending to know things we do not know.You can teach your children the golden rule as an utterly wise ethical precept withoutpretending to know that Jesus was born of a virgin. I mean it's also worth observing thatthe most atheist societies on the planet like Sweden and Denmark and the Netherlands arein many respects the most moral. They have rates of violent crime that are far lower thanour own in the US and they are more generous both with in their own population and inthe developing world on a per capita basis. Sweden which opposed the war in Iraq hasnever or less admitted more Iraqi refugees into its borders than any country and manymore than the US has. So if you are looking for a state model of Christian charity, themost atheist societies at this moment fit it better than the most Christian societies do.What about this notion that we get on morality on a scripture? So clearly we don't get ourmost basic moral impulses at a scripture because he is going to seeing emerging veryearlier I mean toddlers 18 months old will spontaneously try to comfort somebody wholooks upset and a person clearly doesn't learn that cruelty is wrong by reading the Bible,the Koran because you don't already know that going in, you are just going to beconfronted with with endless celebrations of cruelty in this texts and these thesebooks are bursting with celebrations of cruelty both human and divine. The God of theBible hates sodomy and will kill you for it, but he rather enjoys the occasional humansacrifice. I think in the very least we can we can say he doesn't quite have his priorities straight.In the Old Testament, we witnessed the most immoral behavior imaginable. Genocide,ethnic cleansing, sexual slavery, the murder of children, kidnapping, all of it not onlypermitted by God but mandated by God.If you doubt this, take another look at books like exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomyand Second Samuel and Numbers and First and Second Kings, and Zachariah I mean thesebooks on these books, in these books the the most unethical behavior iscelebrated, if these events occurred in our own time, half the prophets and kings of Israelwould be shackled and brought to the hag for crimes against humanity including Mosesfor slottering the Midianites, including Joshua for slottering the Amalachites, includingElijah for slottering the the prophets of Baal.I mean these men by our by our standards today they were utter psychopaths. As wasAbraham for as Christopher Hitchens recently put it for taking such a long and gloomywalk with his son Isaac.Then you might wonder, well what about the Ten Commandments, what about "Thoushalt not Murder". Well the problem is the ten commandments simply give us more badreasons to kill people. I mean what are you supposed to do when your best friend breaksthe Sabbath or erects a graven image or takes the lord's name in vain. You are supposedto kill him and if you are unwilling to kill him, your neighbors are supposed to kill you. Isthis really the best book we have on morality? Is it even a good book? Now happily mostChristians and Jews now disregard the morality on offering the Old Testament and theyrationalize the barbarity we find there by saying oh this was appropriate to the time, it wasappropriate to the ancient world, the idea being that the Canaanites were so ill behavedthey are just getting together a short list of reasons to kill your neighbor and sticking to itwas a great improvement over the the general barbarity of the time. No it wasn't. it wasit was with in the moral compass of human beings then to recognize that killingsomebody for adultery was evil. The Buddha managed it, Mahavira, the Jain patriarchmanaged it, numerous Greek philosophers managed it, so Jews and Christians are simplylying to themselves. When they talk about the impediments to morality that prevailed inthe fifth century BC, and the the other thing to notice is that rationalizing the barbarismwe find in the Old Testament merely renders it irrelevant, it doesn't render these booksmorally wise, I mean it is faint price indeed if the best that can be said of much ofscripture is it a canal be safely ignored? Now in despite what would Christians say on thesubject, the New Testament is not good as to make the bible a reliable basis of morality, infact much of the book is an embarrassment, anyone who would say it is a moral bookmuch less say perfectly moral book and no where is this clear than on the question ofslavery, the truth is the Bible in its totality, Old Testament, New Testament support slavery.If we recognize any thing, if we converge on any point in ethical terms now, is thisslavery is evil nowhere in the bible is either recognized much less repudiated. The slaveholders of the south were on the winning side of the theological argument, they knew it,they never stopped talking about. The best God does in the Old Testament was toadmonish us not to beat our slaves so badly that we injure their eyes or their teeth or notto beat them so badly with a rod that they die on the spot, if they die after a day or two no problem.I think you should go with out saying that this is not the kind of moral insight that got ridof slavery in the United States or consider the treatment of women, and for millennia, thegreat theologians and prophets of our religions have set to work on the the riddle ofwomen hood and the result in various times and places has been widow burning andhonor killing and genital mutilation, a cultic obsession with virginity, just other forms ofphysical and psychological abuses so kaleidoscopic in variety as to scarcely it might havebeen summarized. Now I I have no doubt that much of this is sexist evil in predatesreligion and can be described to our biology, but there is no question that religionpromulgates and renders sacrosanct attitudes toward women that would be unseemly in_____ape. Now well man was made in the image of God, woman was made in the imageof man according to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Humanity therefore is derivative,it's ______. The Old Testament values the life of a woman at one half to two thirds thatof a man, the Koran says that the testimony of two women is required to offset thetestimony of one man and every women is is deserving of one half her brother share of inheritance.But the Biblical God has made it perfectly clear that women are expected to live in inabsolute subjugation to their fathers until the moment they are pressed into connubialservice to their husbands and the New Testament offers no relief and the St. Paul put inhis letters to the Ephesians "wives, be subject to your husbands as to the lord, for thehusband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, as the church is subjectto Christ, so let wives be subject to their husbands in all things".The Koran delivers the same message and on most translations argue it says that thatdisobedient wife should be whipped or scourged or beaten. The 11th century sage Al Ghazaliperhaps the most influential Muslim since Mohamed described a women's dutythis way, she should stay at home and get on with her spinning, she should not go outoften, she must not be well informed, nor must she be communicative with her neighborsand only this of them is absolutely necessary, she should take care of her husband andrespect him in his presence and in his absence and seek to satisfy him in everything, shemust not leave the house with out his permission and if given his permission, she mustleave surreptitiously, she should put on old clothes and take the deserted streets and allies,avoid markets, make sure that a stranger does not hear her voice or recognize her, shemust not speak to a friend of her husband even in need, her sole worry should be hervirtue, her home as well as her prayers and her fast, if a friend of her husband calls whenthe later is absent, she must not open the door nor reply to him in order to safeguard herand her husbands honor. She should accept what her husband gives her as sufficientsexual needs at any moment, she should be clean and ready to satisfy her husband'ssexual needs at any moment.Now recall the blissful lives of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban or think aboutthe the millions of women who even now are forced to wear the veil under Islam orwho are who are forced into these these forced marriages with men they have nevermet and you will realize that these kinds of religious opinions have consequences. Thenet effect of religion, especially in in the Abrahamic tradition has been to demonizefemale sexuality and portray women as as morally and intellectually inferior to men.Every woman it is it is imagined hold the honor of the men in her life for ransom and itsliable to tarnish it with the glance or destroy it outright through sexual indiscretion.In this context rape is actually a crime that one man commits against another man, thewomen is only shame as vehicle and often capably acquiescent being on blandishmentsand guile and winking treachery.In the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 22, God says that if a woman doesn't scream loudlyenough while being raped, she should be stoned to death as an accessory to her owndefilement. There is no escape in the view in the Bible and the Koran that womenhave been put on earth to serve men, to keep their homes in order and to be incubators ofsons, so I think this is a fact that really cannot be disputed, if we ever achieve a globalcivilization that that truly values and honors the the rights and capabilities of women,it will not be because we paid more attention to our holy books.So to summarize, the basic claim that we get on morality from religion is clearly false, theclaim that we are the only species that has moral impulses is also false. Clearly our abilityto cooperate with one another can be explained in evolutionary terms I meanchimpanzee is with whom we share a 99 percent of our DNA find one another'semotional lives contagious just as we do, they are motivated to reconcile after disputes, tocomfort one another. Chimpanzees have even died trying to save other chimpanzees fromdrowning, they react negatively to situations that they perceive as unfair like the unequaldistribution of food, given how precarious all primates are, it is not a surprise thatevolution would have selected for a variety of ethical concerns and social instincts, nowreligious people I think are right to believe that our morality isn't merely a product ofculture I mean it is hard wired in us and it it clearly is massively empowered by ourability to speak and to write I mean language gives us the capacity to extent our moralhorizons beyond our mere family and kin and even beyond our species, but its also itshould be pointed out that language also empowers our hatred and stupidity to aremarkably and we are the only species to my knowledge that can forsake life savingmedical research, demonize homosexuals or fly planes into buildings because of what wetell one another about God. The fact is the basic fact is on this point of morality is thatwe decide what is good in our good books I mean we come to the bible and we see thatjust as in Leviticus if a women is not a virgin on her wedding night, you are supposed tostone her to death on her fathers door step, we choose to reject this parallel of ancientwisdom, and then we choose to emphasize something like the golden rule so that theguarantor of our morality is in our brains, not in our books.So I have spoken about the the problems in arguing the relation is true and in arguingthat relation is useful. The last way of defending God is to argue that atheism is dogmaticintolerance or otherwise worthy of reproach, now as I pointed out in my second book, "ALetter to a Christian nation", atheism is really a term we do not need I mean in same waythat we don't have a word for someone who is not an astrologer, you know it you knowwe don't have websites for non-astrologers, there are no groups for non-astrologers,nobody wakes up in the morning feeling the need to remind himself that he is not an astrologer.The irony is that atheism is completely with out content, it is not a philosophical positionand all religious people are atheist with respect to everyone else's religion. I mean we areall atheist with respect to the thousands of dead gods who lie in that mass grave we callmythology, we think of Thor and Isis and Zeus. You know these were once gods in goodstanding among our ancestors. Everyone now rejects them, well actually not everyone Ioccasionally get hate mail from people who do believe in Zeus but that's another storybut the more importantly every Christian rejects the claims of Islam just as I do. Youknow Muslims claim that they have the perfect word of the creator of the universe, whydo they believe this? Because it says so in the book, sorry not good enough so so thisterm atheism really is misleading, we are talking about specific truth claims and theirevidence relative of.Now what about the charge that atheism is dogmatic? Let's get this straight. Jews,Christians and Muslims claim that their holy books are so profound, so prescient ofhumanities needs that they could have only been written by an omniscient being. Anatheist is simply a person who has entertained this claim, read the books and found theclaims to be ridiculous, this is not dogmatism, there is nothing that an atheist needs tobelieve on insufficient evidence in order to reject the Biblical God you know whatdogma have we all embraced to not take Apollo and Zeus into account as we go about ourday? What would it be dogmatic to doubt that the Illiad or the Oddyssey was dictated bythe creator of the universe. The atheist is simply saying as Carl Sagan did thatextraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, if ever there were an antidote todogmatism, this is it, there is a related claim that atheist and scientists generally arearrogant and this is rather ironic.The truth is that when scientists don't know something, like why the universe came intobeing or how the first self replicating molecules formed on earth, they tend to admit it.Pretending to know the things that you do not know is a profound liability on science, youget punished for this rather quickly but pretending to know things you do not know is thelife blood of faith based religion.Any this is really one of the profound ironies of religious discourse in the thefrequency with which you can hear religious people praise themselves for their humilitywhile tacitly claiming to know things about cosmology and physics and chemistry andpaleontology that no scientist knows.Any person who dignifies Genesis as an account of creation or as even as informative isessentially saying to someone like Stephen Hawking, Stephen you are a smart guy andand you know see there are a lot of equations over there but you don't know enoughabout cosmology, you know it says here that God did this six days and then rested on theseventh and I don't see how you really grapple with the nuiances of the Biblical account.And this would be amusing if we are not having such a disastrous effect upon our publicpolicy. It is impeding medical research and the teaching of science in this country. 30percent of biology teachers in the United States at the high school level don't evenmention evolution because of the the because of the hassle occasioned by the justthe religious hysteria that it provokes in their students and their students' parents.We all remember the recent presidential debate where three Republican candidates for thepresidency solemnly raised their hands to testify that they don't believe in evolution. Andthere was no there was no follow up question. I mean this is embarrassing. And it seemslike every few months the opinion page of The New York Times publishes anotherdefense of this kind of ignorance. There is no question that this is eroding our stature inthe eyes of the rest of the developed world. It's not arrogant or dogmatic to point this out.It seems to me that our intellectual honesty lives or dies in this trench.Now, it's also commonly imagined that atheists think there is nothing beyond human lifeand human understanding. The truth is that atheist are free to admit that there is muchabout the universe we don't understand. It is obvious we don't understand the universe.But it is even more obvious that neither the Bible, nor the Qur'an reflects our bestunderstanding of them. There could be life on other planets, complex life, technicaltechnically accomplished civilization. I mean just imagine a civilization a million yearsold as opposed to a few thousand. Atheists are free to imagine this possibility. They arealso free to admit that if such brilliant extra terrestrials exist the Bible and Qur'an aregoing to be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.It's often imagined that atheists are in principle closed to spiritual experience. But thetruth is that there is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing self-transcendinglove, or ecstasy, or rapture, or awe. In fact there's nothing that prevents an atheist fromgoing into a cave for a year or a decade and practicing meditation like a proper mystic.What atheists don't tend to do is make unjustified and unjustifiable claims about thecosmos on the basis of those experiences. I mean there's no question that disciplines likemeditation and prayer can have a profound effect upon the human mind. But do thepositive experiences, of say, Christian mystics, over the ages suggest that Jesus is the solesavior of humanity? Not even remotely, because Christians have been having theseexperiences but so have Buddhists, and Muslims, and even atheists. So there's a deeperreality here and it makes a mockery of religious denominations.The fact is that whenever human beings make an honest effort to get at the truth, theyreliably transcend the accidents of their birth and upbringing. Just as it would be absurd tospeak about Christian physics, though the Christians invented physics, and it would beabsurd to speak about Muslim algebra, though the Muslims invented algebra. It will oneday be absurd to speak about Christian or Muslim ethics or spirituality. Whatever is trueabout our circumstance, in ethical and spiritual terms, is discoverable now, and can bearticulated without offending all that we've come to understand about the nature of theuniverse. And certainly without making divisive claims about the unique sanctity of anybook or or pegging these most features of our life to rumors of ancient miracles.Finally there is this notion that atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in the 20thcentury. Now, this is actually it's quite amazing to me. This is the most frequentobjection I come across, so I think I should deal with it briefly. It is amazing that howmany people think that the crimes of Hitler and Pol Pot and Mao were the result ofatheism. The truth is this is a total misconstrue of what went on in those societies of thesepsychological and social forces that allowed people to follow their dear leader over thebrink. The problem with fascism and communism was not that they were too critical ofreligion. The problem is that they are too much like religions. I mean these are utterlydogmatic systems of thought. I recently had a debate with Rick Warren in the pages ofNewsweek and he suggested that North Korea was a model atheist society and that anyatheist with the courage of his convictions should want to move there. The truth is NorthKorea is organized exactly like a faith based cult, centered on the worship of Kim Jong-il.The North Koreans apparently believed that the shipments of food aid that they receivedfrom us, to keep them from starving to death are actually devotional offerings to KimJong-il. Is too little faith really the problem with North Korea? Is too much skepticalenquiry? What is wrong here?The Auschwitz, the Gulag and the killing fields are not the product of atheism. They arethe product of other dogmas run amuck, nationalism, political dogma. Hitler did notengineer a genocide in Europe because of atheism. In fact doesn't even appear to havebeen an atheist. He regularly invoked Jesus in his speeches. But that's beside the point.He did it on the basis of other beliefs, dogmas about Jews and the purity of Germanblood. The history of Muslim jihad however does have something with Islam. Theatrocities of September 11 did have something to do with what 19 men believed aboutmartyrdom and paradise. The fact that we are not funding stem cell research at the federallevel does have something to do with what Christians believe about conception and thehuman soul. It's important to focus on the specific consequences of specific ideas.So I want to make it very clear that I am not holding religion responsible for every badthing that a religious person has done in human history, to be balanced against all the badthings that atheists have done. I am only holding religion responsible for what people doand will continue to do explicitly for religious reasons. So I submit to you that there reallyis no society in human history that has ever suffered because its population became tooreasonable, too reluctant to embrace dogma or too demanding of evidence. So inconclusion let me say that I think civilization in the 21st century is passing through abottle neck of sorts, formed on the one side by 21st century destructive technology and onthe other by by Iron Age superstition. And we will either pass through this bottle neck,more or less in tact, more or less painfully or we will destroy ourselves. Now perhaps thisfear sounds grandiose to some of you. But the truth is that civilizations can end. In factevery civilization in human history virtually has ended, over and over again in historysome unlucky generations has had to witness the ruination of every thing they and theirancestors have worked hard to build.We are part of history. There is no guarantee that things can't go spectacularly wrong forus. In fact it's an article of faith in many religious communities that things will gospectacularly wrong. And that this was a good thing. 79 percent of Americans think thatJesus is going to come down out of the clouds and rectify all of our problems with thismagic powers at some point in history. 20 percent of Americans claim to be certain that itwill happen in their lifetime. This is precisely the sort of thinking we do not need. And Ithink it should it be rather obvious that prophecies about the end of the world could wellbe self affluent. So in the uniqueness of our circumstance with respect to the growth oftechnology, I think also shouldn't be ignored not only is technology growing, but therate at which technology is growing is also growing. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil havesaid that the rate is doubling every 10 years. So that if you look at the rate at whichtechnology was growing in the year 2000 as your metric, the 20th century representssomething like 20 years of change. Now we are in the process of making another 20 yearsof change in about 14 years and then seven and then three and a half, if this trendcontinues, the 21st century won't represent a 100 years of technological changes a20,000 years.You know 20,000 years ago human beings exactly like ourselves with the same sizebrains, the same biological capacity for creative thought had been languishing for at leasta 100,000 years and had produced nothing more complicated than a bow and arrow, wewent from a bow and arrow to the internet in 20,000 years. Imagine seeing this muchchange in a single century, and lets be utterly conservative, lets just say we are going tohave as much change in this century as we did last century, even this is sobering whenyou when you recognize who is going to have access to this kind of technology I meanjust just look at how the internet has facilitated the global Jihadist movement amongMuslims, look how difficult it is proving to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.So I think if we accept that the I think quite reasonable premise that is going to remaineasier to break things than to fix them or defend them, the growth of technology is isquiet sobering in the way that it is interacting with religion, especially in a world that hasbeen shattered into competing religious and moral communities and especially amongcommunities who think death is an illusion, that this world is is fit only to be consumedby God's fury and that the destruction of every tangible good will itself be the highestgood because it will be a gateway to eternity. These are exclusively religious ideas, theyhave no basis in fact and you know they are amazingly well subscribed.It seems to me that it is everyone's responsibility to help break this spell.Thank you very much.