Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Conversation With Sam Harris and Rick Warren

In poking around the Wikipedia entry on Rick Warren, I came across this conversation between him and Sam Harris. The whole thing is worth a read, but I'll talk about a few of my favorite bits.

INTERVIEWER: Do you believe Creation happened in the way Genesis describes it?

WARREN: If you're asking me do I believe in evolution, the answer is no, I don't. I believe that God, at a moment, created man. I do believe Genesis is literal, but I do also know metaphorical terms are used. Did God come down and blow in man's nose? If you believe in God, you don't have a problem accepting miracles. So if God wants to do it that way, it's fine with me.

HARRIS: I'm doing my Ph.D. in neuroscience; I'm very close to the literature on evolutionary biology. And the basic point is that evolution by natural selection is random genetic mutation over millions of years in the context of environmental pressure that selects for fitness.

WARREN: Who's doing the selecting?

HARRIS: The environment. You don't have to invoke an intelligent designer to explain the complexity we see.

It's worse than that. If you invoke an intelligent designer, you've now got a whole lot of additional complexity to explain. How did the designer arise? Not only are you not explaining the existing complexity we see, you're adding a whole new heap of unexplained complexity.

But I like the silliness of Warren's answer about the literal interpretation of Genesis. He believes that "Genesis is literal" but that "metaphorical terms are used". Well, we sure didn't have to go very far in the conversation to find Warren saying things that contradicted each other. Maybe he doesn't understand what "literal" means. And I'd be interested to know if he literally believes in a talking snake and the rest of it.

WARREN: One of the great evidences of God is answered prayer. I have a friend, a Canadian friend, who has an immigration issue. He's an intern at this church, and so I said, "God, I need you to help me with this," as I went out for my evening walk. As I was walking I met a woman. She said, "I'm an immigration attorney; I'd be happy to take this case." Now, if that happened once in my life I'd say, "That is a coincidence." If it happened tens of thousands of times, that is not a coincidence.

INTERVIEWER: There must have been times in your ministry when you've prayed for someone to be delivered from disease who is not—say, a little girl with cancer.

WARREN: Oh, absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: So, parse that. God gave you an immigration attorney, but God killed a little girl.

WARREN: Well, I do believe in the goodness of God, and I do believe that he knows better than I do. God sometimes says yes, God sometimes says no and God sometimes says wait. I've had to learn the difference between no and not yet. The issue here really does come down to surrender. A lot of atheists hide behind rationalism; when you start probing, you find their reactions are quite emotional. In fact, I've never met an atheist who wasn't angry.

HARRIS: Let me be the first.

Hah! Nice. I'm guessing that not only is Harris the first non-angry atheist Warren has met, but that he's the first actual atheist Warren has gotten to know on any level. This is the sort of thing you learn in logic 101. It's called ad hominem, attacking the character of someone, rather than the legitimacy of their arguments. Oh sure, atheists make good arguments, but they're all bitter, angry, narcissistic little people who have daddy issues and just like to fling poop at joyful true believers since they're jealous because their own lives are so miserable.

Well, the atheists I've met are on the whole not angry and twisted. They're nice, gentle people who are decent and happy. They are often frustrated that they live in a society that's dominated by superstition and bronze age beliefs, but that doesn't make them fundamentally unpleasant people.

Anyway, go read the whole thing, if you can stand the annoying ads. They cover a lot of important ground in a relatively short space.

1 comment:

Philip said...

Good read, thanks for posting. It's a bit frustrating because several important assertions go unanswered, by both parties.

I like this exchange:

WARREN: So you are open to the possibility that you might be wrong about Jesus?

HARRIS: And Zeus. Absolutely.