by Denyse O'Leary
A pundit frequently sought by the media to speak against traditional religion on behalf of the current atheist campaign is perennial neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.
From what I can tell, Harris is misplaced among professional materialist atheists. As David J. Theroux notes, he has bought into a variety of New Age and Eastern beliefs such as reincarnation. That has subjected him to many materialist attacks. Remember, materialists "know" that there is no soul .
Harris's dilemma has a simple explanation: He is in neuroscience, and he knows perfectly well that neuroscience does not confirm materialism. That fact is regularly updated at my new neuroscience blog, the Mindful Hack.
Yes, yes, many neuroscientists are convinced materialists. But that doesn't mean that neuroscience confirms the success of materialism any more than the fact that mid-twentieth century Russian leaders were convinced communists confirms the success of Marxist economics.
It just means that the people who are fronting the party line can cause any amount of trouble for dissenters. I have it on reliable evidence that many atheists are indeed gunning for Harris.
Is Harris really an atheist? Yes, but here's the deal: He is an atheist of the traditional, NON-materialist variety. Many people, particularly American Christians - and for very understandable reasons, as we shall see - do not realize that many atheist traditions are non-materialist. (Many atheistic traditions are also pacifist and/or tolerant of other faiths.)
The skinny: Theism means believing in God (or gods). Atheism means not believing in God (or gods). Atheism does not - in principle - mean believing that human beings are merely meat puppets or that there is no free will. That sort of belief is properly called materialist atheism.
The stress here should be put on "materialist." The materialist honestly believes that humans are merely animals with accidental big brains. Darwinism is the materialist's creation story because it supports such an explanation, where almost no other system of belief would.
Eastern traditions such as Buddhism, however, are completely different. For them, mind comes first and is distinct from the brain. Thus, Buddhism can - and does - accommodate belief in gods but may not consider them essential to salvation. So one could be a Buddhist and an atheist - but no serious Buddhist could be a materialist.
Thus, to me, the puzzle is not why Harris is a non-materialist atheist. That is not even uncommon. Historically, most atheists have been non-materialists. Materialist atheism only became common in the twentieth century, with the advent of the "meat puppet" approach to humans, which owed a lot to Darwinism. No, the puzzle is, why does Harris want anything to do with the materialist atheists? They view him the same way they view anyone who thinks that the universe is top down instead of bottom up.
But Harris is only an incidental target for the materialist Darwinian atheists (and I am not even sure why he remains in their company). As we will see, traditional Christians are their primary real target.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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