Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Faith != God

(For those that don't know, "!=" is a common programming operator for "not equal".)

There was a recent debate between conservative radio host Dennis Prager and atheist author Sam Harris. There were many interesting points in this debate, and I may discuss it again, but one subject that particularly stood out to me was Prager's attempts to confuse the existence of God with the belief in God. This is especially apparent in this embarrassing paragraph from his closing statement:

You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?
This argument is so profoundly stupid that I had to ask a friend to verify that I had read it correctly. Prager repeatedly states -- even after Harris clearly and specifically points out the logical fallacy -- that the essentiality of the belief in God is a strong argument for the existence of God. On the contrary, as Harris states, this simply proves a point that no rational person would agree with: that belief in God exists. This fact that they both agree on in no way suggests that that belief is at all accurate, as Prager claims that it does. The last sentence clearly shows that Prager considers belief in God (something that Harris at least hypothetically agrees is "essential to human survival") to be the same as God ("one thing that does not exist"). I can only conclude that this is an attempt on Mr. Prager's part to make readers dismiss the debate as unfair by painting himself as a complete and utter moron. I guess that means that I'm not a "fair-minded reader" that he can easily imagine.

Belief in God has tangible benefits -- particularly for more primitive, unenlightened cultures of the past -- that few rational people would deny, but faith -- as a belief that can be neither proven nor disproven -- is utterly indifferent to its own accuracy. In the absence of the potential for proof, faith can only ever act as a placebo for the believer. To anyone who did not realize that, and for whom the placebo effect will no longer work due to the revelation, I apologize.

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