Sam Harris: What If We're Born In The Wrong Place, To The Wrong Parents, In The Wrong Culture, Given The Wrong Theology?

In the following video, taken from a debate with apologist William Craig, Sam Harris offers a thought-provoking view of religion from the perspective of circumstance. It's something that I have thought about often.

So many of us believe that our religion is true. We believe this with so much certainty that we don't hesitate to characterize other belief systems as incorrect.

A great majority of us are born into a religion. We are indoctrinated into our religions, whether we want to admit it or not. If we had somehow been born to a different family across the globe, in another culture, we would very likely have been indoctrinated into a completely different religion -- one which we would feel to be the one true religion. All other religions, including the one in that alternative scenario, would be false.

Beyond childhood, the religions that we are born into are further reinforced through worship and the reading of scripture. Each of us are further assured that our religions are true, because each of our holy books commands us to believe that they are true.

How are we to reconcile this? Many argue that, if a religion is true, it will find its way to us no matter where we are. We need to remember, that billions of people believe the exact same thing.

Although Harris does not delve into it, I have often extrapolated, considering the probability of Darwinian life elsewhere in the cosmos, that there are unlimited religions currently in existence -- not to mention those discarded, or yet to be conceived.


  1. I wrote this on reddit but will post here too:

    Harris' histrionics are a thin disguise for the genetic fallacy - he fails to assess either Christianity or Islam on their merit, but instead: "a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context."

    Dinesh D'souza provides a wonderful example of this: if I was born in Oxford, England, I'd be much more likely to believe in the truth of evolution than if I were born in Oxford, Mississippi, where'd I'd likely believe only in intelligent design and young earth creationism. Does this say anything about the truth of either claim, or somehow reduce the two to an equal footing? Of course not. The former is defensible on its merits. Just because you won't believe evolution if you're born in the south, doesn't mean evolution is not true.

    Likewise, just because you're born in the middle east and come to accept Islam - that doesn't mean Christianity isn't true.

    Also - Harris is mistaken in suggesting that all Muslims are going to hell on the Christian world view (or implying that they should think they are). The Catholic Church, at least, has argued, theologically, that non-Catholics and even non-Christians can be saved.

    All that being said - your blog looks interesting, and I will be following and looking forward to your future posts!

  2. Matthew, damn.

    Two things you have to know:
    -Harris is talking about the deterministic nature of how our beliefs are formed (geographically etc.) and how it connects to the idea of going to hell for being in the wrong religion (which is a common view whether you like it or not). How "moral" God's morality is or how merciful he is in this case.

    -Saying that W.L. Craig's arguments can be made by proponents of other religions is also a valid critique of his apologetics. His arguments are the equivalent of a scientific theory of Quantum Mechanics which says "the particle turns into the shape of a pony when not observed, but we can't test it"... it goes without saying that alternative shapes can be made up since the test is impossible. Analogous, of course, to Craig's apologetics. If Muslims et. al. can use the rhetoric, then why exactly should we believe Craig that the "Biblical god" is the one.

    Labeling this as histrionics and a genetic fallacy makes it basically impossible to logically argue certain religious claims...which is why your critique is BS. His statements here, if you are willing to put the "ad hoc defensive response" on pause, have grave implications for religious morality, which have never been debunked... at least without BS loopholes e.g. free will (which obviously have their own problems).

    At the end (of this clip at least) Harris explicitly sates that he's making an appeal, "This is exactly how Christianity seems to us...", not a claim of logical truth or falsehood. The irony of all this is that he actually was assessing the religions on their own merits. So the insinuation of a genetic fallacy is "not even wrong".

    If you think that whenever somebody brings up geography and beliefs, or geography and knowledge...that it suddenly equals a "genetic fallacy" you don't understand the fallacy.

    You were fighting strawmen here, as was D'souza in the recent A.C. Grayling debate with his whole misguided rambling:
    "New yorkers believe in General relativity. New Guineans don't. That doesn't tell us whether it's right or wrong."
    No shit Mr. D'souza. But it sure does tell us a lot about the nature of human belief and how probable a religion is with all the data in mind. (What's more likely, a shizophrenic person with a crazy cult starts an out of control chain reaction of indoctrination, or an actual prophet who met a batshit crazy, logically contradictory god etc.) It also creates problems for certain theological beliefs as I've stated in the "Harris section" of my comment.

    Moral of the story:
    Statements on geographic location can be important or a part of a fallacy. It depends on the argument. I've never heard anybody say "Christianity came from the Middle east, therefore it's wrong" before D'souza strawmanned atheists. How classy.