In the Movie A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise's defense lawyer character says, "you both live in the same dreamworld. It doesn't matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove!" What really matters for any trial that appeals to opinion or beliefs, is what can be sold to whatever jury.
Religions have had a lot of time, and a lot of personnel, and a lot of money to sell a set of propositions that happen not to be the truth. Religious organizations, particularly fundamentalist Christian organizations, seem to spend a huge portion of the tax-exempt funds that they collect from believers on advertizing their product back to believers and on promoting their secular ends. Yes, secular ends. Politics is part of the secular world. The highly religious political candidates hoping to next mismanage the US demonstrate their lamentable theocratic yearnings.
Over the holiday season, as my recent posts hint, I have been watching Beyond Belief 2006: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival. This was a conference that Roger Bingham and The Science Network organized in November, 2006.
Appropriate Chrismas fare, in my opinion.
During Session 9, featuring (26) Sam Harris, Jim Woodward, and Melvin Konner, discussion became rather vitriolic.
Jim Woodward accused conference participants of making statements about religion without subjecting those propositions to empirical testing. I'm not sure how much empirical evidence for harm directly connected with religion need be put forward before Woodward would concede that religion is sometimes connected with harm.
Anthropologist Konner, in particular, gave an anti-new-atheism speech, arguing for continuing politeness to religion because it offers some hope and does some good, and disputing that religion contributed in any way to the murder of 6 million people who simply happened to be Jews. Konner is an atheist, but his weak pro-religion arguments sounded much like arguments made by theists.
Sam Harris remained calm and logical in face of the attacks, Richard Dawkins grew somewhat heated in response to misrepresentations of his actual position, Woodward maintained his equanimity, while Konner looked increasingly grim.
Alonzo Fyfe has written good summaries of BB2006 Sam Harris: Morality and Religion, Jim Woodward: Empirical Study of Religion and Harm, Melvin Konner: Hope, Benefit, and Prohibiting Religion, Discussion: Faith as a Vice.
This session in particular, and the rest of the conference in general, raised questions about how best to counteract the worst elements of harmfulness associated with religious dogmatism. I don't think that the best tactics would even remotely approximate any of Konner's suggestions.
If nothing else, session 9 demonstrated that, contrary to theistic claims, all atheists definitely do not think according to the dictates of some new fundamentalist religion with Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett as the Unholy Trinity. (The number four is not convenient for this particular theological allusion, so Hitchens shall have to settle for portraying Satan.)