The Great Debate: the existence of God

As is typical, the secular media has one again turned to issues of religion during Passover & Easter season. CNN’s Anderson Cooper report did a couple of segments on “What is a Christian?” and various cable channels have done some kind of nod to religion. It’s only fitting, as a recent Newsweek poll found that 91% of people surveyed said they believe in a god. So, there’s definitely a market for stories on religion.

Newsweek, which has regular articles concerning issues of faith, has done an interview-style debate (it’s not a debate so much as a discussion) between the Purpose-Driven author Rick Warren, and atheist author Sam Harris. It’s actually very good, and is well worth reading.

Now, I’m not a big Rick Warren fan; I once considered writing a series of posts pointing out the theological problems in The Purpose Driven Life, but decided that I didn’t have the energy. I’m definitely not a fan of Sam Harris, whose writing often goes way off the deep end, combining bad logic with outlandish, unreasoned statements. However, this little conversation was interesting: Warren represented Christianity rather well and succeeded in not succumbing to what has been the typical irrational, fundamentalist rants that so often make the headlines.

Harris, on the other hand, was controlled and soft-spoken; even the moderator mentioned the difference between Harris’ written and in-person personas. When Warren commented that he thought Harris’ books were angry, Harris responded, “I would put it at impatient rather than angry.” Later, he commented, “To some degree the stridence of my writing is an effort to get people’s attention.” It seems to me that Harris may be one of those people – and I’ve known several over the years – who come off as tigers behind a keyboard, but shrink to pussycats when they are forced to communicate face to face. This is obviously conjecture on my part, but when comparing the 2 personas it certainly seems the case. Sam Harris the writer often seems downright obnoxious. However, I happened to like the Sam Harris in the interview.

I still think that Harris has problems with his logic, and the fact that he seems more anti-god than pro-anything is part of the problem; his responses are largely based on his perceptions of what others believe, which based on his anti-faith worldview he cannot understand. So, even well-intentioned, he will wind up arguing against “straw-gods.”

But, read it for yourself.

I also noted that Rabbi Gellman has some rather zen-like thoughts about the debate, which if nothing else, are entertaining. He seems to ignore or just dismiss the exclusivist positions of both Harris and Warren. I think he is partially right, however, in that often the God Debate centers on facts rather than truth. Only in recent years has truth been relegated to mere facts, and the result is that no one sees the forest for the trees.

God – and therefore, truth – is perhaps not just the Great Debate, but is rather The Debate. I have faith, however, that God Himself is not debating anything at all.

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