TechSkeptic sent me a link to this Newsweek article from April - The God Debate – a debate between atheist Sam Harris and “Purpose Driven Life” author, Pastor Rick Warren. Harris did a pretty good job exposing many of the flaws in Warren’s arguments, but I still found the article depressing reading. To understand why, just take a look at this – Warren’s explanation for why he believes in God:
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."
That argument was actually put forward by a grown man – one who sells millions of books and is listened to and taken seriously by millions of people. Harris called it “a classic sampling error”. I’d call it a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc boosted by confirmation bias. All well run studies that control for biases such as those show that prayer doesn’t work. Some studies purportedly show that prayer works, but when examined critically all positive prayer studies turn out to be either flawed or fraudulent. But none of that matters to Pastor Rick. Pastor Rick wanted an immigration attorney, Pastor Rick met an immigration attorney, therefore God exists. It’s the distance this man’s thinking is from any kind of rational argument that’s so depressing.
If that wasn’t enough, Warren actually accuses Harris of being “non-rational”. While this Zen like technique might work for a kung-fu master using his opponent’s strength against him, with Warren it just makes you go “What?” The argument makes no sense. And at the end of the debate he actually invokes Pascal’s Wager:
[Harris is] betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble.
The flaws of Pascal’s Wager are well known. But this is the lame Pascal’s Wager with a twist of false dilemma thrown in for good measure. He’s saying, either Jesus is a liar or he’s not. And surely you’re not saying Jesus is s liar, are you? Warren is apparently too dumb to see a third option: Jesus didn’t say the things the Bible claims he said. Funny thing – I’m sure that Harris had a reply to this incredibly
profound lame ending argument of Warren’s. Probably something along the lines of what I wrote above. Although perhaps a little more polite. But for some reason the Newsweek article ended without Harris’ reply, as if Warren’s dumb argument was the final word. And Warren wonders why some atheists are angry.