Monday, January 22, 2007

Letter To An Atheist Nation

As 2006 came to a close, I came across articles in magazine such as Time and Wired and a few books, such as The God Delusion and Letter to a Christian Nation, which seemed to reflect atheism was in vogue. Since I haven't written anything of substance in months that wasn't related to our startup, I decided to take some time out during my recent travels to respond in my own way.

As a Christian, it’s always good to be intellectually simulated so I began reading Letter to a Christian Nation. Disappointment is an understatement. Sam Harris’ approach was pop philosophy that made me yearn for Kant and Hume. As most of us have learned since our early years of schooling, context is essential for reading any text which Mr. Harris seem to have forgotten about or is simply ignorant of. I assume it is the latter.

He quotes laws from Old Testament books, such as Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which have little direct relevance to the Christian life. One of the first things I learned as a new Christian from the Bible was that Christ was a fulfillment of the old laws and that they were not always applicable to me. If the old laws and traditions were, then I would be looking forward hosting my future son’s Bar Mitzvah and my love of bacon would be sadly hampered.

His arguments were stale and reflected a certain arrogance that appears prevalent among educated atheists. This is best reflected by Harris’ colleague, Richard Dawkins, who said, “Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist… Either they are stupid, or they’re lying.” Are these really the only two options? I’ve encountered a fair amount of stupid people who don’t believe in God and know many brilliant people that do believe in God. Dawkins and Harris’ pretentiousness reveals the island of unfounded certainty that science places many people on. Even looking back a hundred years, there was a fundamental shift that occurred in science when Mendeleev created the periodic table of elements. Chemistry was the foundation of thinking and the human senses were at its core. With Mendeleev’s creation, the mind became the core since scientists had to begin believing in the unseen and undiscovered elements. Since then more fundamental shifts have occurred, but has the core of Christianity changed in over two thousand years?

It’s also interesting to observe how some leading advocates of atheism stem from the softer sciences that Dawkins and his former colleague Stephen Jay Gould were from. I remember my friend’s father who was a leading materials scientist (his creations are in Motorola’s chips) and a creationist met Gould while visiting Harvard. Professor Gould told him, “I heard of you. You’re not a real scientist.”

It seems these softer scientists might have a chip on their shoulders that lead them to become such advocates of science. The shallow part of my mind would rather listen to the strong constituency of physicists, such as Freeman Dyson, John Polkinghorne, and Charles Townes (Nobel Prize-winning physicist), whose research in the fabric and origins of the universe led them to a belief in God.

One pillar of Mr. Harris’ book is on the question of slavery. It states how “the only real restraint God counsels” on slavery is that we “not beat our slaves so severely that we injure their eyes or their teeth.” First, “slavery” in the Bible is not the slavery of America’s past. It is similar to indentured servitude which is a stark difference most of us learned from our high school U.S. history course. Second, Old Testament laws insured the humane treatment of servants and guaranteed their freedom unconditionally, which no other system of servitude or slavery in world history has done.

Mr. Harris writes that “there is no place in the New Testament where Jesus objects to the practice of slavery,” but in 1 Timothy 1:9-11 you find St. Paul identifying slave traders along with murderers and adulterers as ungodly and sinful. Clearly God is speaking out against the practice of “slavery.”

While he touts the morality of atheist and tries to answer whether atheists are more evil than religious people, he fails to comprehend that it’s not about degrees of imperfection but about God’s abundant grace towards humankind in Christianity. One of my atheist friends understood this clearly when he told me, “Assuming the Bible is true, I cannot accept an unfair religion. I fine it incomprehensible that a highly moral man, such as Gandhi, is going to hell for not believing in Christ while if a man like Charles Manson accepts Christ then he will be allowed into heaven.”

The Gospel offends and it takes faith to accept the stories and values in the Bible. Theories and aspects of science take faith from the low probability that the Big Bang was a random event to actual species jumping within the Theory of Evolution. The conflict is not between Christianity and science, but between the egos and sinful nature of people. If the Queen of Hearts can do six impossible things before breakfast, surely we can believe in two impossible things at once.

UPDATE: More from's Mary Grabar, "Letter to a Stupid Atheist"

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