Sunday, November 26, 2006

Debate Harris:Prager

A debate between Sam Harris and talk radio twat, Dennis Prager was posted recently. It took place, I believe, over a month ago. It's great to read because you can really get into the mind-set of a defender of Judeo-Christian conservative and dissect the disease under the microcope. Harris is at his best here, offering unshakably crisp evidential arguments. Dennis Prager does the typical talk radio conservative tactic and tries to appeal to contorted reinterpretations of history and round-about facts as if they contribute to his stance. Examples:

Prager says at one point that he knows of no intelligent atheists. Yes, no kidding. He says they may have great minds but they lack wisdom. Part of his argument is that this is because atheists are totally bizzare due to the fact that they can't see beauty in art, music, and nature without instantaneously coming to the conclusion that there is a creator. Obviously Mr. Prager has never been a serious student of natural selection or basic biological science. Unfortunately, his talk radio audience is surely comprised of the same types of people, for whom a reasoned argument debunking this using the science behind natural selection would fall on completely deaf ears. They take it a priori that beauty is an inherent aspect of the primordial nature of things, and it does not occur to them for a milisecond that beauty may be just a neurological creation of natural selection.

This bastion of ridiculousness also makes the blanket statement that spending time in universities warps people and this is why higher learning is almost linearly associated with atheism (10 % of the lay public are atheists, 40% of doctors, 60% of research scientists, and at the highest levels of distinguishment- 93% of members of the National Academy of Scientists are atheists). I can only imagine that Mr. Prager would like to see the Judeo Christian religion forced down people's throats in the college setting to offset this glaring bias towards atheism as education level grows. I'm sure his talk radio fans (most no doubt with very little science education) eat this explanation up without any internal controversy. Prager makes the suggestion that social scientists are even more atheistic than members of the hard sciences, a stat Harris nor I, am aware of. Prager uses this to suggest that the colleges themselves purposely lead people to atheism. But as I have ranted on for so long about, studying human behavior - self-deception, unconscious bias, interpersonal manipulation etc... perhaps more than anything leads people to be atheists and *certainly* must lead people to dismiss the brainwashing of organized religion in a very strong way. Prager wouldn't catch this.

Here is the actual statement he made:

You write that, "There is little question that exposure to a scientific education reduces the likelihood that a person will believe in God,"

a point I fully acknowledged in my last correspondence. But exposure to other areas of higher education, specifically the "social sciences," further reduces the likelihood that a person will believe in God. We therefore have two choices about how to interpret these data. One is that the more one knows, the less likely one is to believe in God. That is your interpretation. I have another interpretation—that contemporary higher education increases factual knowledge but decreases wisdom. With some exceptions, I believe that the more time one spends at a university the more foolish he or she becomes.

Prager would never understand the following statement made by social scientist Mahzarin, at the conference (not a perfect quote):

Mahzarin said that a humanities person might read a poem and fall to their knees and believe, an atrophysicist may look into the cosmos and fall to their knees and believe, but those of us who are social scientists who deal with human beings, when you do that there is very little reason to see God.

Prager and people like him are simply upset that observing human nature lends no reasons to believe in God. It's not a brainwashing of college students that makes them nonbelievers, it is learning more about reality that makes them unbelievers. It ins amazing that the "conservatives" have invented a loophole out of this obvious fact by pretending that institutes of higher learning just magically became bastions of secularism. Hello? No shit. What do you want, Pat Robertson to come preach at Harvard?

Then Prager makes the following claims, which I find to absolutely hysterically absurd:

I have in fact made the case for the unique legitimacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition in 25 essays I wrote in 2005. Suffice it to that Judeo-Christian values alone gave humanity the notion of the sacredness of human life; linear history and therefore the idea of moral and scientific progress; universal standards of good and evil; the abolition of slavery; the scientific method; the development of democracy; equality of the sexes; the greatest experiment in non-ethnicity-based society (America); the greatest music ever composed; and the greatest art ever drawn.

Ok, it should be obvious that this is a profound warping of reality for reasons that anyone who has read the bible will point out immediately. Prager is equating virtues of modern western civilization with it's Judeo Christian background. I think someone else pointed out that according to this logic, in 100 years a future Prager like person would write something like this:

Suffice it to say that Judeo Christian values alone gave humanity the notion that evolution through natural selection was a better way of understanding the origins of life, that homosexuals should be given the right to consecrate their affinities for each other legally, and that women should be allowed to be members of the Roman Catholic priesthood, and that the eradication of numerous diseases using embryonic stem-cell research was all made possible by our society's deeply entrenched Judeo-Christian heritage.

Sound silly? Imagine going back in time to a group of Christians just a couple of centuries ago and trying to tell them with a straight face that the Judeo-Christian religion was responsible for eradicating slaverly, equality of the sexes, scientific progress, multicultural pluralistic societies etcetera.

The obvious fact is that these things happened DESPITE the Judeo Christian religion, not BECAUSE of it. Religion fought it every step of the way!

And any advancements such as the civil rights movement which were inspired in part by the faith based community were made possible as well by the ability of religious people to begin to reinvent their religion and to literally IGNORE their own Judeo-Christian scriptures in favor of a more modern, secular, pluralistic society. MLK got his doctrine of non-violence from Ghandi who got it from the Jains.

These people astonish me. After watching these forums and debates, it goes to show that clever people can find any twisted and contorted reinvention of the spirit of history to support their desired positions. The difference is intellectual honesty. When you read the debate, you see that Prager needs to result to vaccuous intellectual dishonesty to defend himself. The extent of his argument is simply that god has to be true because nature is mysterious. And since the Judeo Christian religion inundates the modern world, that particular God must therefore be the one true God. The problem is that, for the minions of believers, this is not considered a bad use of logic, as long as it tells them what they want to hear.

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