A Review of Sam Harris' The End of Faith Part V

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

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May 25, 2007, Wausau, Wi— The previous parts (I, II, III, IV ) of my review of Sam Harris’ The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, focused on how distorted Harris’s view of religion was, and pointed out that his critique does not really apply to Christianity.  In part IV we looked at how Harris tried to support his erroneous views with an erroneous understanding of scripture.  But Harris not only has problems with his views of religion and the Bible, he also has problems when it come to the alternative he is supporting.

Towards the end of his book Harris says that “it is possible to have one’s experience of the world radically transformed.” He then charges that “The problem with religion is that it blends this truth so thoroughly with the venom of unreason.”  As an example of unreason, he cites that Jesus was “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) But why are these beliefs unreasonable? We saw in part IV of this review, that it was Harris’ use of the Bible in an attempt to discredit the belief in the virgin birth that was itself grounded in error and irrationality. Earlier in his book he simply dismisses the virgin birth as “an untestable proposition.” What he means by untestable is not clear.

It is certainly is untestable in the sense that we cannot duplicate the virgin birth in a laboratory, as by definition are all miracles untestable in this sense. They are unique acts of God, not repeatable events governed by natural law.  In a similar fashion all of history is made up of a series of unique acts of men. We cannot put the holocaust into a laboratory and run experiments on it to see if we can duplicate it, nor would we want to if we could. But to deny the holocaust is correctly seen as itself irrational.  Some believe in the Holocaust because the suffered through it. Most believe in the holocaust because of the historical evidence, i.e. the records and sources which because of examination are deem to be reliable and trustworthy. When the last holocaust survivor dies this will be the only way.

This is normally how we get all of our history. It is the same for the virgin birth, Christians deem the writers of the Bible to be not only reliable and trustworthy, but inspired by God.  Not only is this proposition testable, as I show in my book, Evidence for the Bible, it is the rational conclusion to reach. And despite Harris, testing is not a concept foreign to the Bible.  After all Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Test everything, hold on to the good.” In 1 Corinthians 15, writing about some who rejected the resurrection, he pointed out that Jesus “appeared to over five hundred of the brother at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” Paul clearly saw the resurrection, not as some abstract theological belief, but as a testable historical event, and there was a implicit challenge in his reference to “most of whom are still alive” that if you do not believe it, you should go and talk to the hundreds who saw it.  Of course with the passing of the first century, and the death of the last eyewitness, all that we have left are the sources, but the fact is that there are more sources for Jesus than we have for most events in antiquity and with the discoveries made during the twentieth century, once again it has been the critics that have had to revise their view of the Bible, and believers who were supported.

In fact, when you look at the arguments for and against the reliability of the Bible critically, as I point out in my books, the critics have a huge problem for at best their arguments are based on an a priori rejection of the supernatural and at worst are circular.  When you get past all the blustering, and boil it down, they start with the belief that there is no supernatural. Since there is no supernatural, there can be no real miracles. Since the Bible contains descriptions of miracles, either the writers did not know what really happened or they lied. Either way they are unreliable, and thus we cannot trust anything they say unless it shown to be true by other means. This is a nice and neat little package and everything flows from the initial premise, but notice that no actual evidence is required.  Sure evidence is often thrown in, often haphazardly as we saw in part IV with Harris’ attempt to refute the virgin birth from scripture, but it is really just window dressing and not really needed to reach their conclusion.

What Harris neglects is that all worldviews have fundamental propositions that must to some extent be based on faith.  Within the confines of his worldview, the automatic rejection of things like Jesus really being “the Son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.”  (pg. 204) may seem unreasonable leaps of faith.  But that does not change that fact that Harris also must have faith in his fundamental premises.  As such, in many respects, is argument is self-refuting.

This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking  you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.   

Part I     Part II    Part III     Part IV    Part VI 

May 25th, 2007

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