Friday, December 01, 2006

Beyond Belief Discussion presents a post-conference discussion among participants in November's Beyond Belief conference.

Anthropologist Scott Atran takes Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to task for what he sees as their naïve anti-religious views. However, I have to agree with the rebuttals. Though Atran manages to provide quote fodder for theist bloggers, he's not making a lot of sense. The issue here is dogmatism. People need to get used to having their hare-brained dogmas publicly criticized and ridiculed.

Sam Harris writes:
Were the regimes of Stalin and Hitler actually the products of too much intellectual honesty? Was an overweening demand for good evidence and coherent argument really what built the Soviet gulag and the Nazi crematoria? Are the Swedes — a majority of whom appear to be atheists (poll results range from 45-80%) — gearing up for the next great atrocity? It is amazing to see someone like Atran defend religious dogmatism by pointing out that the consequences of political and racist dogmatism have also been terrible. One of the most conspicuous problems with communism and fascism is that they are so similar to religions. These political ideologies are systems of brittle, divisive, and dehumanizing dogmatism. And they regularly give rise to personality cults which evince all the perverse features of religious hero-worship. I invite Atran to produce a single example of a society that has suffered because its members became too reasonable — that is, too open to evidence and argument, too critical of dogma, etc.

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