George Smith is the author of Atheism: The Case Against God, and
Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies. He has served as the Director
of the Forum for Philosophical Studies, Los Angeles; been a lecturer
on American History at the Cato Institute; and held the positions
of Senior Research Fellow and lecturer on political philosophy
and intellectual history at George Mason University's Institute
for Humane Studies.
is my firm conviction that man has nothing to gain, emotionally
or otherwise, by adhering to a falsehood, regardless of how comfortable
or sacred that falsehood may appear."
willingness to engage in the give and take of argument displays
a commitment to cognitive egalitarianism -- the proposition that
all people should be treated as intellectual equals, and that
no individual can legitimately claim a privileged immunity from
the burden of proof."
Bacon was the first great pathologist of human reason, and his
mode of analysis -- a mixture of psychology, sociology, and epistemology
-- was used by later philosophers to explain why reasonable people
with good intentions can, and often do, hold incompatible beliefs.
It was thus largely owing to Bacon that religious dissent, which
had previously been condemned as the deliberate (and therefore
sinful) rejection of divine truth, came to be regarded instead
as the innocent by-product of human fallibility. And this doctrine
of the natural diversity of opinion was destined to play a key
role in the struggle for religious toleration."
significant contribution of empiricism was not the eradication
of certainty, but the eradication of infallibility as a criterion
of certainty. And this shift from infallibilism to fallibilism
has profound consequences not only for toleration, but also for
the subordination of faith to reason and theology to philosophy."
leap of faith is a strategic impasse that confronts every Christian
in search of converts; and, as he sees the matter, there is no
wrong way to become a Christian. It is the end that is importnat,
not the means; it does not matter why you believe, so long as
you believe. For the philosopher, in contrast, the paramount issue
is the justification of belief, not the fact of belief itself."
exchange for obedience, Christianity promises salvation in an
afterlife; but in order to elicit obedience through this promise,
Christianity must convince men that they need salvation, that
there is something to be saved from. Christianity has nothing
to offer a happy man living in a natural, intelligible universe.
If Christianity is to gain a motivational foothold, it must declare
war on earthly pleasure and happiness, and this, historically,
has been its precise course of action. In the eyes of Christianity,
man is sinful and helpless in the face of God, and is potential
fuel for the flames of hell. Just as Christianity must destroy
reason before it can introduce faith, so it must destroy happiness
before it can introduce salvation."
for Christianity's alleged concern with truth, Christian faith
is to free inquiry what the Mafia is to free enterprise. Christianity
may be represented as a competitor in the realm of ideas to be
considered on the basis of its merits, but this is mere disguise.
Like the Mafia, if Christianity fails to defeat its competition
by legitimate means (which is a forgone conclusion), it resorts
to strong-arm tactics. Have faith or be damned -- this biblical
doctrine alone is enough to exclude Christianity from the domain
trace the history of ideas that are implicitly atheistic will
leave the historian open to the charge of selective interpretation.
This is a curious charge in a way, since all history is interpretation,
and all interpretation is necessarily selective. If it means that
the atheistic historian who investigates his own heritage will
be prone to bias, causing him to see atheistic tendencies where
others do not, I can only reply that this kind of disagreement
is inevitable. It is inherent in the historical enterprise itself.
Every historian has biases -- or presuppositions, to use a more
neutral term -- that will influence his treatment of history,
but such presuppositions do not make objectivity impossible. Indeed,
it is precisely this inevitable bias that makes objectivity necessary."
argument from design is ultimately an appeal to miraculous causes,
i.e., causes that do not, and cannot, occur in the natural course
of events. This is why an "explanation" via design is
not a legitimate alternative to scientific and other naturalistic
modes of explanation. To refer to a miraculous "cause"
is to refer to something that is inherently unknowable, and this
"sanctuary of ignorance" explains nothing at all. However
much it may soothe the imagination of the ignorant, it does nothing
to satisfy the understanding of a rational person."
cannot erase man's need for pleasure, nor can it eradicate the
various sources of pleasure. What it can do, however, and what
it has been extremely effective in accomplishing, is to inculcate
guilt in connection with pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure, when
accompanied by guilt, becomes a means of perpetuating chronic
guilt, and this serves to reinforce one's dependence on God. Christianity,
with some exceptions, has never explicitly advocated human misery;
it prefers instead to speak of sacrifices in this life so that
benefits may be garnered in the life to come. One invests in this
life, so to speak, and collects interest in the next. Fortunately
for Christianity, the dead cannot return for a refund."
inculcating the notion that sacrifice is a virtue, Christianity
has succeeded in convincing many people that misery incurred through
sacrifice is a mark of virtue. Pain becomes the inignia of morality
-- and conversely, pleasure becomes the insignia of immorality.
Christianity, therefore, does not say, "Go forth and be miserable."
Rather, it says, "Go forth and practice the virtue of self-sacrifice."
In practical terms, these commands are identical.