Sam Harris and Bertrand Russell: The Dynamic Duo of Demonstrably Deleterious Delusion

In my essay To Lie, or Not To Lie: That is the Question I pointed out that three atheists – Dan Barker, Matthew Davis and Reginald Finley – have, in lockstep, promulgated the same logical fallacy, one that originated with Dan Barker. In the writings of Sam Harris we find that he too offers support for another logical fallacy, one originating with Bertrand Russell.

Sam Harris writes that Bertrand Russell:

In my essay To Lie, or Not To Lie: That is the Question I pointed out that three atheists – Dan Barker, Matthew Davis and Reginald Finley – have, in lockstep, promulgated the same logical fallacy, one that originated with Dan Barker. In the writings of Sam Harris we find that he too offers support for another logical fallacy, one originating with Bertrand Russell.

Sam Harris writes that Bertrand Russell:

“had it right when he made the following observation: ‘The Spaniards in Mexico and Peru used to baptize Indian infants and then immediately dash their brains out: by this means they secured these infants went to Heaven.
No orthodox Christian can find any logical reason for condemning their action, although all nowadays do so. In countless ways the doctrine of personal immortality in its Christian form has had disastrous effects upon morals_'”[fn] Sam Harris, The End of Faith-Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004 ), p. 78 quoting Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian, ed. P. Edwards (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), p. 35
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If this is what Bertrand Russell got right one would be frightened to death to see where he went wrong. If this is what Sam Harris considers right we can only mourn for him as it is sadly obvious that his is a mind so tragically flummoxed by enmity that he has lost the ability of basic rational thought processes.
What Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris presented was nothing but cynicism attempting to pretend that it is somewhere near the realm of rational, intellect and logic. But let us not fall into the same emotionally charged traps that serve as replacements for logic that Sam Harris and the other New Atheists are constantly laying out for us. Rather, let us see if we can muster some intellect and at least attempt a response.

Here we go.

But first, we have been forewarned: Bertrand Russell, with Sam Harris’ endorsement, has assured us that “No orthodox Christian can find any logical reason for condemning their action.”
Firstly, let us note the extremism and absolutism of the statement: not one single orthodox Christian can find any, not one single, logical reason-period.
Secondly, we should ask just how Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris can make such absolutists statements since if there was one single orthodox Christian who finds any, even one, logical reason they would be proved wrong.

Well, I will declare that I am an orthodox Christian. Now, with all due respect to those more learned than myself – of which the world is saturated – I wish to throw my hat into the ring and see if I, employing all of my scant intellectual faculties, can come up with one, just one, logical reason.

Here we go.

Actually, before we jump into the fray we should wonder if a trap is being set here. Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris point the statement at orthodox Christians. But could it be that if an orthodox Christian quotes the Bible they would be said to be providing an illogical reason? What would be categorized as a logical reason?
In fact, while the claim is that no orthodox Christian can find any logical reason for condemning it is admitted that all nowadays do so. Now we learn, as if we did not know, that all Christians nowadays condemn the actions. Is the claim that they are doing so illogically? Have Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris conducted some great survey of “all” Christians and ascertained, on a case by case basis, that each and every one of their reasons are illogical?

I suppose that we could make our attempt and see where it takes us.

Here we go.

“Don’t murder.”

There it is. We are done.

That is our logical reason for condemnation and it took all of two words. Although, in most translation of the Bible this, one of the Ten Commandments, is rendered as four words “Thou shalt not murder.”

For all practical purposes, we are done; having provided a two word counterargument. Yet, anyone that would put forth, defend and promulgate such a fallacious statement as Bertrand Russell and Sam Harris did may not be able to conceptualize such basic logic.

“Murder” is the taking of an innocent life-it is illegal and immoral while “killing” is the taking of a life due to self-defense, fighting a just war, etc.-it is legal and moral. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably the context will bare out what the terms mean. Since we are commanded not to murder, those children should not have been murdered-that was a manmade, not a divine, command.

If the point was to get people who are heaven bound to heaven asap then maybe a global taskforce could be established the purpose of which would be to ask people if they believe that they are heaven bound. If the answer is “Yes” then their brains could be dashed out on the spot. Why not save some resources?

It should be mentioned that based on the Bible itself and not on subsequent tradition; infant baptism is not a valid practice. While much could be stated with regards to this topic this essay is not the place for it. Succinctly, I will mention that once a study has been conducted of all the texts that mention baptism not only is an infant never baptized but baptism always requires the ability to hear the Gospel, understand it, accept it and only then get baptized. Once such a survey has been conducted it seems that Acts 18:8 encapsulates the whole of references to baptism, “many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” They heard, they believed and then they were baptized.

It should also be mentioned that based on the Bible itself and not on subsequent tradition; baptism is not for the purposes of salvation. Again, much could be stated in this regard but again, this essay is not the place for it. Let us note that the text that does refer both to baptism and salvation is, in fact, not correlating them:

“There is also an antitype which now saves us, baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1st Peter 3:21).

Note that baptism is not here defined as the physical act of getting one’s body wet but as the conscience decision that is being made.

Now that I think about, with my limited abilities, I seem to recall that Jesus’ great commission was stated thusly:

“Therefore go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things, whatever I commanded you. And, behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The great commission states that they, let us call them missionaries, are to teach, baptize and teach. First, teach the Gospel, the initial message, baptize them when they have heard it, understood it and accepted it. Then baptize them and then teach them about the life of a believer. Not baptize and dash their brains out. In fact, you cannot teach, baptize and teach again to an infant. You may get them wet, if you want to call that baptism. But you cannot teach and teach.

Moreover, what appears to be Jesus’ opinion regarding children and their care? Jesus stated:

“And whoever shall receive one such little child in My name receives Me. But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believes in Me, it would be better for him that an ass’s millstone were hung around his neck, and he be sunk in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6 also in Mark 9:41-42 & Luke 17:1-2).

“Then little children were brought to Him, that He should put His hands on them and pray. And the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Allow the little children to come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 19:14 also in Mark 10:14 & Luke 18:16).

We must also ask whether Jesus, the apostles or the disciple did any such thing or taught that any such thing should be done. The answer is; absolutely not.

We may have happened upon another thought: since God has given us life, this life in the here and now world, we are to live that life and let others live it themselves.

Let us conceptualize a school that guarantees that any child that enrolls will end up attending college. Now let us imagine that the children file into class on the first day of their kindergarten class and the teacher states, “You are all guaranteed college attendance therefore, you will immediately be shuttled from kindergarten to the local university.”

It would be interesting to state Bertrand Russell’s statement in the following manner:

“The Spaniards in Mexico and Peru used to baptize Indian infants and then immediately dash their brains out: by this means they secured these infants went to Heaven. No atheist can find any logical reason for condemning their action, although all nowadays do so (except when they support abortion).”

I should admit that I have not conducted a great survey and yet I have an advantage in make a statement that is as broad brushed as Bertrand Russell’s. Christianity consists of absolute morals but atheism is amoral. Note that I am not stating that it is immoral but amoral-not necessary breaking morals but lacking them. Individual atheists may take it upon themselves to condemn such actions but they cannot offer any absolute standards for doing so (they can make epistemic statements but not ontological). They may say that we ought to harm none or cause the least amount of harm or various other generalities yet they cannot claim that these are universal or absolute.

What should be asked of atheists is, “If it is in fact true that infants were baptized and immediately murdered, why is that wrong?” If you they claim that it is wrong then they must be basing their condemnation upon a moral law in which case there must be a moral law author and administrator. If not it is merely keep up with Judeo-Christian morality based semantics.

If this seems to be merely a biased argument let us consult with Sam Harris himself who believes that:

“Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”[fn] Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (W. W. Norton & Company, 2005), pp. 52-53
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Moreover, we may consult with Prof. Richard Dawkins who made the following statement:

“There is no logical connection between what is and what ought. Now, if you then ask me where I get my ‘ought’ statements from, that’s a more difficult question. Firstly, I don’t feel so strongly about them. If I say something is wrong, like killing people, I don’t find that nearly such a defensible statement as ‘I am a distant cousin of an orangutan’. The second of those statements is true, I can tell you why it’s true, I can bore you to death telling you why it’s true. It’s definitely true. The statement ‘killing people is wrong’, to me, is not of that character. I would be quite open to persuasion that killing people is right in some circumstances.”[fn] Nick Pollard talks to Dr. Richard Dawkins (interviewed February 28th, 1995 published in Third Way in the April 1995 edition [vol 18 no. 3])
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“[Nick Pollard:] Suppose some lads break into an old man’s house and kill him. Suppose they say: ‘Well, we accept the evolutionist worldview. He was old and sick, and he didn’t contribute anything to society.’ How would you show them that what they had done was wrong?
[Prof. Richard Dawkins:] If somebody used my views to justify a completely self – centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose roughly what, I suppose, at a sociological level social Darwinists did – I think I would be fairly hard put to it to argue on purely intellectual grounds. I think it would be more: ‘This is not a society in which I wish to live. Without having a rational reason for it necessarily, I’m going to do whatever I can to stop you doing this.’ I couldn’t, ultimately, argue intellectually against somebody who did something I found obnoxious. I think I could finally only say, ‘Well, in this society you can’t get away with it’ and call the police. I realise this is very weak, and I’ve said I don’t feel equipped to produce moral arguments in the way I feel equipped to produce arguments of a cosmological and biological kind. But I still think it’s a separate issue from beliefs in cosmic truths.”[fn] Nick Pollard talks to Dr. Richard Dawkins (interviewed February 28th, 1995 published in Third Way in the April 1995 edition [vol 18 no. 3])
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“I don’t think racism is a good thing. I think it’s a very bad thing. That is my moral position. I don’t see any justification in evolution either for or against racism. The study of evolution is not in the business of providing justifications for anything.”[fn] Frank Miele, Darwin’s Dangerous Disciple – An Interview With Richard Dawkins

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Thus, there is no biological, Darwinian evolutionary, nor intellectual grounds for condemning racism nor killing (here obviously “murder”). Yet, this does not stop Prof. Richard Dawkins, nor Sam Harris and Bertrand Russell for that matter, from breathing down brimstone and condemnation.

Simply stated, our lives have been established to follow a chronological progression. This is the natural and normal state of being.

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2 thoughts on “Sam Harris and Bertrand Russell: The Dynamic Duo of Demonstrably Deleterious Delusion”

  1. The original claim
    I don’t even believe the original claim in the first place.

    To say that “the Spaniards did thus-and-such” is to say that it was a policy to do thus-and-such; and while some Spaniards, and even the Spaniards, did some terrible things in the New World, I need far more than Bertrand Russell’s say-so believe that they had such a policy as he asserts.

    — Ilíon

  2. The commandment does not
    The commandment does not distinguish between “killing” and “murder”. Lawyers do that. Why do you?

    The bible points out a group of people as the “chosen”. That means that one group or race is placed above the others. If you subscribe to the bible’s teachings, you condone racism.

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