Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Self-Stultifier

"As long as a person maintains that his beliefs represent an actual state of the world (visible or invisible, spiritual or mundane), he must believe that his beliefs are a consequence of the way the world is. This, by definition, leaves him vulnerable to new evidence. Indeed, if there were no conceivable change in the world that could get a person to question his ... beliefs, this would prove that his beliefs were not predicated upon his taking any state of the world into account" - Sam Harris, End of Faith, p.63

i) What about a person's belief in the law of non-contradiction? Is he "vulnerable" to new evidence? Could there be a "conceivable" change in the world that could get this person to question his belief? Isn't the LNC part of what allows something to even be conceivable in the first place?

ii) What about a person's belief in her existence? Is there a conceivable change that could get a person to question her existence? Who would be questioning it?

iii) What about Harris's belief on this matter? Is there a way the world could be that would make it false? Then it would still be true since this new belief a "consequence of the way the world is." A conceivable way the world could be that would make Harris question this belief would affirm his strictures and thus not make him "vulnerable." But a consequence of this view is that your beliefs must be "vulnerable" in this way.

Yawn, the "New" atheism.

Go Sammy, it's your birthday!


  1. It's SO easy sometimes, it's like criminals who turn themselves in, you do nothing, and they do all the work.

  2. Yes, the "new atheists" are rather boring. So why bother with the soft targets, exactly?

  3. Daniel,

    i) At one level, they present the standard stuff you'll hear from the internet and college teenage atheist. So it's useful to offer counters because unfortunately a lot of atheists think these guys are "da men."

    ii) I don't see many atheists coming down on them as hard as they should, if at all. So, if we could clean up our own backyards that'd be nice. That way I don't have to take out your trash.

    iii) I picked on a philosophical point rather than atheism per se. Harris is giving us what I assume he's learning at places like Stanford from the psychologists.

    iv) I was sent this book by an atheist intent on "converting" me. He paid fr it, this was the least I could do. :-)

  4. That's a fair response, thank you. However:

    I wouldn't hold Christians collectively to "cleaning up" the apologetics backyard (apart from the fact that it's difficult to get them to agree on much of anything collectively). I'd rather skip over the Kent Hovinds and Ray Comforts and go straight to the likes of Swinburne and Plantinga.

    Furthermore, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al. have been heavily criticized from the very start, often by nontheists. One could argue that they have been given excessive attention if anything, although some of it good (and some of it simply knee-jerk).

  5. At any rate, I think the main reason these authors are popular has less to do with the philosophical impact of their arguments, and more to do with the excitement and interest attached to the notion of a popular alternative to theism (be it of the Christian variety or some other).

  6. Daniel,

    You can search this blog and see that we have been just as hard on some Christian apologetics/philosophies/theologies as we have been on atheists. Too, we have critiqued the Drange's the Martin's the Oppy's &c.

    it is true that non-theists have criticized Dawkins et al, but the substance of the criticisms, as far as I can tell, have been that their vitriol isn't helping the atheist community get a hearing. There hasn't been much by way of substantive criticisms. The most substantive I think I've come across is Edis's critiques of Harris's critiques of Islam.

    As far as the popularity of their arguments or alternative voice, both may be the case. But on my end, I can tell you that I run into the *arguments* Dawkins &c use, quite often. Especially their: "Thiesm is going to cause the end of the world cause it is the cause of most wars," stuff.

  7. Paul: The most substantive I think I've come across is Edis's critiques of Harris's critiques of Islam.

    Vytautas: But critiques of critiques are as popular as commentary of commentary. Why not go to the main source, rather than to response of the response? I am not saying that the critique should not be answered, but rather that your not going to have a big crowd reading your book if you have a critique of a critique.

  8. It's a sad fact that people do think Dawkins and Harris are intellectual geniuses. An atheist friend suggested I read Sam Harris if I thought my faith was strong enough, and has referred to Dawkins and suggested reading his book as well.

  9. One of my atheist friends says he has a man-crush on Richard Dawkins and says he believes anything Dawkins says.

  10. Yeah, well I want to play quarters with Christopher Hitchens.