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Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe Debate
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Here's the link...sorry it doesn't allow embedding.

It's a pretty good debate. The first hour is a back and forth between the two guys, and the last 45 or so minutes is a Q&A. A few exchanges and lines I liked in particular. When Wolpe said that his belief in god and souls was a metaphysical claim and that he didn't need evidence to assert it, Harris ripped that to shreds with a funny analogy to someone who believes Elvis is still alive, and uses the same argument: he doesn't have and doesn't need evidence; he can claim that he just knows it and that his claim is not subject to scientific scrutiny. If you argue that Elvis is a physical being, and not like god, then the analogy can be applied to any other gods other than the Abrahamic god. Someone could claim that they worship Poseidon, and that his existence is metaphysical and doesn't require evidence. Such a person in modern times would be laughed out of the room, but they have no more justification than the believer in an Abrahamic god.

On the question of the production of art under religious motivation throughout history, I liked Harris' reply: Great art and music and architecture were created by religious people because that was the dominant game in town. The vast majority of chicken pluckers throughout history were religious, but it doesn't mean that religion motivated them to pluck chickens.

And finally on a topic that got a lot of air time in the debate, the role of atheism in some of the worst regimes in the 20th century (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot). Harris rightly points out that the fact that they were atheists was incidental, not causal. It wasn't that those societies were too skeptical and rational. You can't say they were motivated by atheism any more than you can say they were motivated by a lack of belief in astrology. Their negative beliefs are not at issue; their regimes were so utterly noxious and cruel because of the beliefs and values they did espouse, such as the primacy of the Arian race and the belief that Jews were evil-minded conspirators.

Wolpe asserted that when you purge religion from a society, you get a vacuum of values and that the end result will be a morally bankrupt society.

This is interesting, because it bears directly on American society, and the view that America is either a secular or a Christian nation. The First Amendment is an attempt to insure that the government will not establish or force religion on anyone, and that citizens are free to hold any religious (including an areligious) view they want as long as it doesn't impinge on the rights of anyone else. The Constitution also prohibits candidates for public office from being subject to any sort of religious test. These are rules whose purpose is to purge religion from the sphere of government, to create a secular governing body which does not favor or punish any religion or creed, thereby ensuring the religious freedom of its citizenry. So while religion hasn't been forcibly purged from society, the government is set up to be secular. However, the positive values that our Constitution puts forth in the form of individual liberties and democratic representation are a stark contrast to the paranoid, suppressive dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin.

So America is a great example of a secular government overseeing a society where people can choose to believe what they want. And it seems to be working pretty well.


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