I find it fascinating that among the brilliant scientists and philosophers at the conference, there was no convincing evidence presented that they know how to deal with the basic irrationality of human life and society other than to insist against all reason and evidence that things ought to be rational and evidence based. It makes me embarrassed to be a scientist and atheist. There is no historical evidence whatsoever that scientists have a keener or deeper appreciation than religious people of how to deal with personal or moral problems. Some scientists have some good and helpful insights into human beings' existential problems some of the time, but some good scientists have done more to harm others than most people are remotely capable of.This is a silly argument. Atheists do not claim they can solve all the problems of an irrational society. What they (we) claim is that one important step is to reduce irrationality and promote rationality. One big step in that direction is to eliminate religion.
I am one of those people who would rather live in a society that was rational and evidence based. Surprisingly, Scott Atran is happy to remain in an irrational society that doesn't care about evidence. He's right to be embarrassed.
Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris respond to Atran. Read the Harris response. He elaborates on the following point ...
Atran's comments, both at the Salk conference and in his subsequent essay, miss the point. The point is not that all religious people are bad; it is not that all bad things are done in the name of religion; and it is not that scientists are never bad, or wrong, or self-deceived. The point is this: intellectual honesty is better (more enlightened, more useful, less dangerous, more in touch with reality, etc. ) than dogmatism. The degree to which science is committed to the former, and religion to the latter remains one of the most salient and appalling disparities to be found in human discourse.There's another interesting point made by Harris. He explains that there are only three good reasons for appeasing the superstitious.
(1) Certain religious beliefs are true (or likely to be true); here's why…I agree. I'd like to hear from the Neville Chamberlain Appeasers. Which one of these three arguments do you support?
(2) Religious beliefs, while not likely to be true, are so useful that they are necessary; here's the evidence…
(3) Many religious people are so irrational that it is simply too dangerous to criticize their beliefs. Please keep your mouth shut.