An Atheist Manifesto by Sam Harris

Here’s an interesting piece on atheism by Sam Harris on TruthDig: Imagine There’s no Heaven. It is a well written, if untimately flawed piece.

Basically Harris shines the light of rationality onto God and organized religion, and finds it wanting. To sum up: belief in a loving, omnipotent God is irrational. I don’t have a problem with that.

He then goes on to justify intolerance of any religion or religious-based behavior because of that. This I have a problem with.

When you say that religion is irrational, that (to me at least) begs the question, and what else do you do and think is irrational. Who among us can stand under the harsh spotlight of Reason, and not have flaws revealed? Not me, and not anyone I know, have ever met, or have even heard about in passing. If we aren’t going to tolerate religion, then are we going to tolerate any irrational behavior or thought?

There are so many irrational things that people believe in, from Santa Claus to the latest diet fad. Are we to all conduct our lives in the most rational means possible? Taking no drugs (illicit ones, caffine, nicotine). No gambling. Eating right (no chocolate chip cookies), exercising and sleeping enough. All the everyday stuff. That’s pretty standard, and something many aspire to.

But you can go well beyond that. Have you taken the time to fully analyzed all the candidates running in the next election? Have you done an analysis of your living arrangements, to find the optimal place to live in the country (minimal natural disasters, low pollution, etc.)? Did you buy the safest, most reliable and fuel efficient car, and do you always take it in for service as scheduled? Do you always drive the speed limit? Have you analyzed all the possible career choices you have, and matrixed that against your skill set to find the optimal job? And then analyzed all the possible companies to see which ones offer the best benefits and work conditions?

And have you analyzed your own personality in detail (we know you’re rational, but what else?) and that of prospective spouses to see who would be a good match? Did you also factor in their health, job prospects, fertility, and family medical history? Or did you let something irrational like that thing called ‘love’ influence you?

And if you take all the irrational things out of your life what’s left? Well, you’ve got the objectivist view: you’re an animal, and your goal is to survive and reproduce. I believe we do need to incorporate the core values of survival and reproduction into our morality, but that’s not much to go on in and of itself for a sentient being. Is there anything else?

So no one out there is completely rational. If we ever do meet Vulcans, I sometimes think it would be really good to move to their planet. However, we currently live on a planet full of Humans, none of whom are rational all the time. Or even much of the time.

Tolerance is a good thing. And tolerance of irrationality is a very good thing, because it surrounds us and pervades our lives.

So in my view, tolerating irrationality is quite rational.

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