by Kyle Butt, M.A.
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Sam Harris wrote a caustic book against all religious faith that he titled, The End of Faith. As with most of the modern atheistic writers, Harris related numerous atrocities committed in the name of religion as evidence that religious faith is inherently flawed. To press his point, he stated:
Whenever you hear that people have begun killing noncombatants intentionally and indiscriminately, ask yourself what dogma stands at their backs. What do these freshly minted killers believe. You will find that it is always—always—preposterous (2004, p. 106, ital. in orig.).
While Harris is wrong to categorize New Testament Christianity with other faiths (see Butt, 2007), he is right to conclude that people today who indiscriminately kill noncombatants are deluded by some type of preposterous belief. Unfortunately, Harris fails to see that by making this statement, he has condemned atheism as a preposterous belief.
The term “noncombatant” is not difficult to understand. It simply means any person who is not actively engaged in a war, riot, or combat situation. Generally speaking, this term describes innocent women and children. For instance, Harris listed several examples of situations in which men, women, and children were killed simply because they belonged to a certain ethnic group. If we were to ask what category of human beings could best be described as “noncombatants,” we would be forced to conclude that babies necessarily fit the category. Thus, any modern belief system that advocates the killing of innocent babies must be backed by a preposterous belief—according to Harris.
When we look into Harris’ writings, we discover that his atheistic philosophy completely justifies the indiscriminant killing of unborn humans. Harris, like his atheistic cohorts, supports abortion. How could Harris miss the connection between his pro-abortion stance and the indiscriminant killing about which he rages? The answer is clear from his own writings, because he posed a very similar question:
How is it, after all, that a Nazi guard could return each day from his labors at the crematoria and be a loving father to his children? The answer is surprisingly straightforward; the Jews he spent the day torturing and killing were not objects of his moral concern. Not only were they outside his moral community; they were antithetical to it. His beliefs about Jews inured him to the natural human sympathies that might have other wise prevented such behavior (2004, p. 176).
Harris correctly concluded that the Nazi soldiers justified their villainous deeds by claiming that Jews were less than human and not worthy to be in the same moral community as the Nazis. Of course, Harris does not believe the Nazis had the right to hold this belief. And he believes that they were guilty of real moral wrong. Yet, shockingly, only one page later he implies that his brand of atheism is in the same position as the Nazi soldier’s belief. He states:
Incidentally, here is where a rational answer to the abortion debate is lurking. Many of us consider human fetuses in the first trimester to be more or less like rabbits: having imputed to them a range of happiness and suffering that does not grant them full status in our moral community. At present, this seems rather reasonable. Only future scientific insights could refute this intuition (p. 177, emp. added).
The Nazi soldier killed Jews all day and justified it by saying they were outside his moral community. The atheistic popularizers like Sam Harris support the indiscriminant slaughter of innocent, unborn children, and justify their belief by concluding that unborn babies do not have “full status in our moral community.”
According to Harris, we must look to see what preposterous dogma undergirds the atheistic community’s support for abortion. When we do, we find the irrational idea that humans are natural organisms that have evolved from lower life forms over billions of years. This outrageous belief strips humanity of the dignity that comes only with belief in a divine Creator. Furthermore, the atheistic assertion establishes humans as the final authority that determines which people should be granted full status in our moral community.
If atheism is true, it would be morally acceptable to redefine humanity’s moral community to include animals, or exclude certain categories of humans. Furthermore, it would be morally justifiable to indiscriminately kill noncombatants based on arbitrarily chosen criteria like age, mental capacity, or physical ability. But Harris has correctly stated that any belief system that allows such actions “is always—always—preposterous.” According to Harris, then, we must conclude that atheism is preposterous.
Butt, Kyle (2007), “All Religion is Bad Because Some Is?” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3546.
Harris, Sam (2004), The End of Faith (New York: W.W. Norton).