Sam Harris on Osama bin Laden

“The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not ‘cowards,’ as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”
— Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason)

The message of the crucifix

The most important message of a crucifix was how unspeakably cruel supposedly sane human beings can be when under orders from a superior authority. —Eugene Debs Hartke

Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam

Here’s a quote I ran across this morning:

It has often and confidently been asserted, that man’s origin can never be known: Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. (Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 4)

I’m still waiting to hear some evidence for the existence of a god that doesn’t boil down to god-of-the-gaps. So many of the arguments theists have presented to me basically run like this: You don’t know how X happened, therefore my god did it. And if he did it, he must exist. In that equation, X can equal the origin of the universe, the source of human morality, the origin of species or any number of other things that the world (or often just theists) don’t understand (or refuse to accept).

In some cases, this argument is wrong because we actually do have a pretty good candidate for explaining the phenomenon in question. The persistence of evolution denial shows that people will go to great lengths to maintain that there’s still a gap for their god to live in. As Chuck said above, the people who argue from ignorance often show more confidence than those who point to ideas from science. One of the things that has made science so successful and valuable is that it tries to proportion certainty to the evidence.

But in all cases, this argument is wrong because even when we don’t have a scientific explanation, that doesn’t mean that one particular supernatural explanation is true by default. It’s more honest to say “I don’t know” than to say “Yahweh did it.”

I’m open to hearing evidence for the existence of a god, but please don’t expect me to be impressed by an argument based on what we don’t know. The human race should use ignorance as a motivation to do science and try learn the truth, not to settle on a superstitious explanation and stall our examination of reality.

To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today. (Isaac Asimov, New York Times Magazine, 14 June 1981)


No one is more worried by the actual physical manifestation of a god than his priests; it’s like having the auditors in unexpectedly. -Terry Pratchett, “Pyramids”

Absence of Evidence

Someone requested a comment thread here to discuss Victor Stenger’s article from the Huffington Post: Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence.

Note, unless you want to be condemned to the pits of hell, be sure to RTFA before commenting.

What is Faith?

There are some people in our previous thread and on Twitter who keep asserting that theists and non-theists are on equal ground because they’re both based on faith. I don’t think of myself as having faith, but maybe we just don’t agree on a definition for the word. So, what is faith? Is faith a good thing? Always? Are all objects of faith equally likely to be true? Please discuss in the comments.

Let’s get serious

This is the thread for serious dialogs. I’ll kick things off with a question: Why do believe (or not believe) that a god exists?