The End of Faith Pt 2 – An Exercise in Missing the Point (Book Review)


I liked this book.  Sam Harris is an intelligent and articulate thinker and writer.  He lays out a very compelling argument for people to enter into reasoned debate about tribalism in a globalized world.   We need more thinkers, philosophers, theologians, atheists and deists on all sides to enter into this discussion if we are to understand one another and learn how to live together on this rock we call planet earth.

But Harris’ core thesis; that Faith in an unseen God is unreasonable and must be expunged from our consciousness if we are ever to ahieve lasting world peace, is overly simplistic and completely misses the mark.  Yes religious tribalism is bad but that has little or nothing to do with faith. Harris knows this and tries to have it both ways when discussing spiritualism and mysticism but completely glosses over or ignores it when discussing the major world religions.

I’ve seen this argument time and time again from both atheists and deists alike.  It’s a red herring.

No theologian or philosopher worth his salt will waste any breath attempting to prove or disprove the existence of God.  The “evidence” we have either way is circumstantial at best and you either believe that it points to God or you don’t.  There is no smoking gun and there is no DNA on the body.  Just like the OJ trial 15 years ago and the recent Casey Anderson verdict it’s un-provable so move on.

Therefore; what is at issue here is not faith but religion itself.    After exhausting the limited argument for or against the existence of God, which usually takes nothing more than a single paragraph, what most authors on both sides of the debate (Harris included) are left with is a discussion about the value of various religious dogmatic positions.

Let me be perfectly clear here.  While religion requires faith, faith does not require religion.

What Harris does is give an explanation for the end of his faith but does not provide any evidence that would lead others, who didn’t already share his view to end their own.  What we’re left with is a 200 page argument about various religious practices that are incompatible with a tolerant, pluralistic society but any further attempt to link religion with faith falls flat.

By the end of the book Harris appears to abandon all pretence when discussing mysticism.  Somehow in Harris’ view a mystic who believes that the world can simply be experienced without the need for any scientific analysis, or has he puts it, concepts, is more rational than one who attempts to connect concepts with unexplained experiences through, for lack of a better term, faith.

The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism).  Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time.  It is the denial – at once full of hope and full of fear – of the vastitude of human ignorance. – Sam Harris; The End of Faith

To be fair, Harris doesn’t actually use the term faith here, he blames it all on religion but the implication is clear.  Somehow the “faith” of a mystic is more rational than the faith found in religion, and while this may be true in many cases and may be a reason to abandon your religion, it is not a reason to abandon faith.

I am sure at this point many of my readers are going to want me to continue this line of thought and become an apologist for one faith
tradition or another.  I’m not going to do that.  If you have read any of my previous posts on religion in general and Christianity in particular you know where I stand on this.  While ultimately I do wish all atheists would become Christians the first step in that very long journey is to first recognize the rationality of Deism we can discuss the particulars of faith later.