Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Rise of the Atheists

Author Sam Harris takes on mysticism at Newsweek:

Despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the Earth, more than half the American population believes that the entire cosmos was created 6,000 years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah's Ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the Earth and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, by the hand of an invisible God.

This is embarrassing.
I agree. I've noticed that in the past year or so, atheist views have taken on a much larger public profile than they have in the past. Even South Park noticed the trend in a recent episode (as it nevertheless tried to lampoon atheists as dogmatists who are no less ruthless than the religious).

Nevertheless, this overall trend is heartening, because it indicates a growing debate over the nature of truth and inherent conflict between faith and reason. Not all atheists are our allies on the simple grounds that the absence of faith does not necessarily indicate the presence of reason, yet if this larger debate is the fruit of their hands, it's a welcome opportunity for Objectivists to present their arguments to the public.


FreeThinker said...

Finally! A new era of reason has dawned, let's hope.

Gus Van Horn said...

Sam Harris is very good at making points like this, but his value as an intellectual ally is limited. He is ultimately, a mystic influenced heavily by Buddhism, and appears to have founded or at least be heavily involved in a New-Age cult called "Universism".

LanceThruster said...

Though I have issues with some of Sam Harris' positions, I am uneasy that Objectivists/Objectivism would be the defining standard. On our campus there are two atheist groups, one being Ayn Rand Objectivists. While I am glad for as much diversity as possible for atheists/Rationalists to choose from, Capitalism-uber-alles sets the tone and the Objectivists club seems geared primarily to lobby for Republicanism and Zionism. Much of their arguments in my opinion fly in the face of reason.

Sam Harris has spoken of his Eastern mysticism as being entirely without god but open to tapping whatever potential from human minds focusing on a consciousness that links us all. My knowledge of Buddhism is limited but I see nothing inherently wrong with the Middle Way and the eightfold path.

BTW, the campus Objectivist group seems heavily funded and has not co-sponsored any events to my knowledge with the other atheist group. Seems like a harmless gesture that would promote the entry of atheist thought and belief into the pantheon of religious and non-religious discussions. Surely Rand wasn't against altrusistic behavior in every instance, was she?

I agree that even when spoofed, having atheist views, positions, and characters made fun of in the context of our interactions with others is a positive thing. It establishes that we're here, allows for correction of misstatements and strawman arguments, and shows that the certainty of religuious believers is hardly warranted.