Let’s refute one of Sam Harris’s arguments.
After three hours of conversation, I turn off my tape recorder, which is around the time I can’t help myself: I push back. When I tell Harris I’m an agnostic, he tells me I’m just confused about the term. (Which according to the dictionary and/or my master’s degree in religious studies, I’m not—but whatever.)
“It’s a safe thing to say,” he tells me, his voice gentle yet cold, “but it’s usually ill considered. You aren’t agnostic about Zeus or Apollo or any of the thousands of dead gods who are no longer worshiped. The atheist says, ‘Bullshit.’ The agnostic says, ‘I don’t know. How could we possibly know about the validity of these claims?’ That is bullshit. If we’re talking specifically about Jesus being resurrected from death, or born of a virgin, or able to hear prayers, this entails a host of scientific claims—about biology, about telepathy, about human flight without the aid of technology. Are these claims that an agnostic wants to accept? Agnosticism is just a way of being polite in the face of people’s unjustified religious convictions. But if you maintained that attitude on other topics, you’d be considered an imbecile.”
1. Is Harris under the impression that all those 1000s of perceptions of God or the divine are all the same? People are not agnostic about “Zeus or Apollo or any of the thousands of dead gods” who are no longer worshiped because their nonexistence is trivial. The nonexistence of Zeus or Apollo has no implication for the human condition. Now, contrast this with the denial of God’s existence. We all know the implications and can see them in the positions and writings of the New Atheists themselves – the sense of self is an illusion, the sense of moral responsibility is an illusion, and the sense of free will is an illusion. God’s nonexistence is tied to the non-existence of self, free will, and morality.
So it is easy to see how one can be an agnostic about God. They don’t see the evidence of God’s existence, but neither can they buy into the notion that our sense of free will, morality, and self are all illusions.
2. As for Jesus being resurrected from death or born of a virgin entailing a host of scientific claims, so what? Is Harris working from the ignorant position that assumes science could verify such events if they did happen? Or is he insisting that if God existed, He could not do any miraculous deed because that would violate the laws of nature?
Harris doesn’t seem to understand that science is irrelevant when it comes to the truth of those miracle claims. If they occurred, science would not be able to detect them. Any working scientist knows that “God did it!” is not a scientific explanation.
Boom. Harris’s argument is silly and incoherent; it’s bad science and bad theology.