Woman searchingRecently Sam Harris wrote a book called The End of Faith*, which explains why he thinks faith needs to disappear. Here he describes what it means to him to be an atheist:

An atheist is not someone who can prove that there is no Thor. An atheist is simply someone who says, show me the evidence, and who is unconvinced by evidence like: Heres a book that was dictated by the creator of the universe, and in it, it describes all kinds of miracles that people claim they witnessed, but these people have been dead for 2,000 years, and in fact none of the authors of the book are the people who claim to have witnessed these events, and they wrote the book a hundred years after the events in question. This is not a story that anyone would find plausible except for the fact that it was drummed into them by previous generations of people who were taught not to think critically about it. (Sam Harris)

If that is the best evidence that is available, then I wouldn't be Christian either! This is what's known as a straw man argument: a misrepresentation (caricature) of an opponent's beliefs, created for the purpose of being easily defeated. Fortunately, arguments like the above are not what informed Christians believe. Even when some have faith because of arguments like this, that says nothing about the truthfulness of Christianity.

Secondly, Harris claims that there is no rational basis for faith. Perhaps he should speak to Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga (see also here for Plantinga's papers), William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Greg Koukl and Michael Horner among many others. Or there are many websites available on this topic, such as Rational Christianity, Skeptical Christian and Christian Thinktank. Although I'm sure Harris' book contains many valid critiques of organized religion, the difference between a faith and its followers must always be kept in mind.

Harris does not just claim that religious are wrong, it is his claim that they are inherently harmful. Although he rightly discerns that different religions are necessarily incompatible (he uses the example of Christianity and Islam) he is one of many who misunderstands the concept of tolerance. Disagreement does not equal intolerance! People can disagree and still be tolerant of eachother. Most of Harris' critiques seem to amount to argument from outrage, in the form of "look what terrible thing this religious group did, so therefore all religion must be false and evil", or dismissive handwaving. Harris apparently advocates "laughing" at the people who believe what he misunderstands as being irrational … that doesn't sound very tolerant.

And this brings us to the final point of this post. Sam Harris is entirely free to believe, write about, and try to convince others that his beliefs are correct. And I am entirely free to respectfully, tolerantly, disagree. The role of religious evangelism must be discussion, not coercion. After all, why do Christians have to bother people? Can't they just keep their faith to themselves? Well, Christians do not share their faith because they hate non-Christians! We share it because we LOVE all people and want them to share in what we've discovered. Christians can't keep the truth to themselves because faith, real faith, is in fact too wonderful to keep hidden.

* Disclaimer: I have not yet read the book, therefore my comments generally pretain to the Sam Harris interview which is linked above.