I don’t like calling myself an atheist these days, not because I’ve found God or anything (although the idea of an Old Testament God appearing and smiting the human race for its horrors is deeply appealing), but because I find the activities of the Militant Atheists to be deeply off-putting and repugnant. In particular, I have in mind the so-called “Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” (a title that tells you everything you need to know about the egotism of its members): Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. I generally find the pronouncements, arrogance and shallow philosophising of these individuals to be deeply irritating. My favourite philosopher John Gray is of a like mind, and he recommends that anyone similarly afflicted calls themselves a “sceptic” rather than an “atheist”.
Anyway, to the matter at hand. Sam Harris’s latest book is entitled The Moral Landscape. I confess that I haven’t read it, but I have read and heard a few interviews with Harris and have a few observations to make. Basically, Harris’s book presents the thesis that science will help furnish us with an objective set of ethics, all designed to help minimise human suffering and maximise human well-being. Nothing wrong with the latter in theory (although one wonders if Harris has heard of John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism; given the general philosophical illiteracy of the “Four Horsemen” I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t) apart from the fact that all such attempts have failed in both theory and practice and will doubtless continue to so for all the usual reasons. As for science furnishing “objective” ethics, again, this idea is so pedestrian and discredited, it boggles the mind that people still float it.
More directly damning for Harris’s project of coupling the maximisation of human well-being with the elimination of religion is the fact that numerous scientific studies have established that people with religious belief are happier than those without. Now before anyone says that that’s because belonging to any old group makes people happier, it’s also necessary to include the fact that believing in a transcendental deity, a teleological purpose for humanity and something better than the current mess awaiting us on the other side of the curtain all play a massive part. In short, you’re not going to get the same thing from following your local football team than you are from attending church. Now given this to be the case, how can people like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al. claim that the world will be improved by the end of religion when science itself (their god) conclusively proves the opposite? Dare these people show consistency? In fact, if Harris and co. are true to their aims they should be out promoting religion rather than attacking it. Can’t see it happening somehow.