A “University Lecturer living in South Korea” calling himself Skepoet responded here to our episode. He gives a nice quote from Julian Baggini and makes some salient points about our discussion.
One of his comments was that we didn’t seem to find an argument in Harris to critique. Here’s the argument as I remember it that we were focusing on:
If you suspend your critical faculties and “have faith,” then you open yourself up to believing all sorts of horrific stuff, such as, most importantly to the rest of society, commands to violence.
The general response is, yes, if faith is actually a matter of “I can’t think for myself! Think for me!” then this is a legitimate concern, and no doubt that is exactly the experience of faith in some people. However:
1. Per Kant and William James, faith about matters over which no experiential deconfirmation is even theoretically possible isn’t irrational in this way. Granted, most actual religions are not Kant-friendly in this way (so it’s kind of goofy that we spent so much time on this when that’s not the new atheists’ target for the most part).
2. As a practical matter, people just don’t get brainwashed to the point of violence. Other forces in human motivation tend to step in to curtail violence, and when violence does occur, you generally find that the perpetrator had more things wrong with him than just the religious motivation. Religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for violence… which is not to say that they’re unconnected in all circumstances or that more critical thinking wouldn’t be very helpful in preventing the spread of violence. To the extent that religion is against critical thinking, it’s a detriment to any society.
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