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Atheist Alarmism

Posted by Matt Postiff October 25, 2007 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Society 

I decided I should read Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation to learn about the current state of the atheist community. One thing I learned by reading his initial "Note to the Reader" is that he believes we are in a moral and intellectual emergency because of the supposed Christian beliefs of the population of the United States.

His starting point for drawing this conclusion comes from polling data regarding American religious beliefs--such beliefs as a young earth, God's hand in creation, the inspiration of the Bible, the requirement of believing in Jesus Christ for salvation, and the imminent return of Christ. Although it seems far-fetched to me that such beliefs are really so pervasive, let us accept Harris' undocumented data for now, and his first conclusion that the United States really is an odd country in the world because of these convictions.

Harris proceeds to say, "many of us [speaking of Christians] may not care about the fate of civilization." His conclusion is based on another polling datum, namely that 44% of Americans believe Christ will return soon, and only after devastation on the earth. "It is...not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud..."

So goes Harris' argument for the moral and intellectual emergency. But is it a convincing argument? Look back a mere five years before the writing of Harris' book to September 11, 2001. A great disaster did occur in the city of New York. Did a significant portion of the population get some sick glee out of the deaths of thousands of Americans? Did Christ return? Did many people really think great and glorious things were about to happen? Much to the contrary, while a few Christians might have thought they could with certainty ascribe those events to God's direct judgment and a sign of Christ's soon coming, the "significant percentage" recognized the evil for what it was, and prayed for justice and protection.

In short, Harris' conclusion does not follow logically from his argument. Christians are never really glad for evil that is done, even if such evil does indicate that prophesied events are still on the way to fulfillment. His moral and intellectual emergency is fabricated, based as it is on an exaggerated hypothetical situation weakly coupled with some polling data. Harris goes on to respond to this so-called emergency in the remainder of his book. Lord willing, we will look at some more of his arguments in future entries, even if we have to suspend disbelief about his major premise.

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