Sam Harris on faith – sensible or silly?

October 3rd, 2011 in clues. Tags: , , , , , ,

I came across an interesting blog recently – Think That Through – where Steven had posted on the topic of What’s up with faith?. Steven is an atheist, and his post was discussing his objections to what he understands to be religious faith. The blog is worth reading, and Steve encourages polite discussion even from people he disagrees with.

The post included a quote from atheist author Sam Harris, which asserted that “a devout Christian” “seems to require no evidence whatsoever” to believe the Bible. Is this a fair statement?

Is faith believing without evidence?

Doubtless some people believe in the Bible without checking out the evidence, just as people may disbelieve in the Bible, or believe in all sorts of other things without checking out the evidence. But is this more typical of christians than others? I don’t know of any evidence for that.

Most christians I know do not believe without evidence, they believe because of evidence. Consider ….

  • The gospels claim to be truthful and based on eyewitness reports. Now while there is a wide range of expert opinion on this matter, the general consensus of scholars is that the gospels are valuable historical documents that tell us a good deal of reliable information about Jesus. And there are many scholars who would say the evidence is stronger even than that. Harris may not accept this evidence, but it is nonsense to say it isn’t there and doesn’t form a basis for reasonable faith.
  • Many christians are highly interested in reading books by CS Lewis and Lee Strobel, or watching debates by William Lane Craig – all of which provide evidence and reasons to believe. Both Lewis and Strobel changed from unbelief to belief because of the ideas they present in their books, and many other people first came to believe in Jesus through such books – eminent scientist Francis Collins is one example.

So it seems clear that Harris hasn’t done his homework. Many christians do care about evidence and first came to believe because of that evidence. His statement may be true of some christians (and some unbelievers) but as a generalisation it is clearly an overstatement. It serves no purpose other than to belittle.

It is ironic that a person claiming to value evidence appears to have made his statement against the evidence. I think an evidence-based conclusion would be that Harris requires stronger and different evidence for religious belief than do believers – another example of our presuppositions helping to determine our conclusions.

Read more about Is faith the opposite of reason? and Why believe?


  1. I would also recommend reading Sam Harris’ short book Letter to a Christian Nation. I can see why you might not want to send him your money, but he does attempt to defend his position there. It’s hard to tell whether or not someone has done their homework or not just from reading a few quotes. πŸ˜‰

  2. Stephen, you have never come across as rude, only friendly, for which my thanks. I intend to comment on your post. I just used the Harris comment as a peg to hang my comments on, my real problem is the idea, which is so prevalent.

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