Sam Harris, author of the End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, has been in a debate with Andrew Sullivan, author of Conservative Soul, regarding religion. While Sullivan landed a few well-places shots against Harris early on, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to state Harris had him on the ropes by the end as he goes for the fear-of-death stick (emphasis mine):
But what that really means is: we have learned how to be human through religion. And how can we not be human? And who would want not to be human? What you are asking for, as I have argued before, is salvation by reason. But even after you have been saved by reason, you will die, Sam. And what will save you then?
It’s now time for round two and Harris lands a sucker punch right out of the corner (again, emphasis mine).
And is it really so difficult to imagine one’s own nonexistence? I think it might be easier than advertised. Presumably, you don’t find it hard to accept that you didn’t exist before you were born, so why is it so difficult to believe that you will cease to exist after you die? Think of all the times and places where you now aren’t: The 14th century got along fine without you (well, not so fine). If you are in D.C. at this moment, you are utterly absent from every other city on earth. There are people walking the streets of Rome right now, carrying on without the benefit of your company. Is your absence from just one more point in time and space really so difficult to imagine? (This time and space argument doesn’t originate with me. I believe I’ve borrowed it from Douglas Hofstadter.)
I think Harris makes a great point with this. I have never been asked where I was before I was born. Prior to 1973, I did not exist and someday in the future, I will cease to exist. I think the only reason one could have for not being able to imagine such a “fate” is a blatant egotism that says “I’m too great to die like an animal in the fields. I’m human. I deserve better”.
Harris scores a few more points by pointing out things Sullivan evaded in the first part of their debate such as the lack of a clear line between moderates such as Sullivan and fundamentalists, the inadequacy of the Bible and how cultural success does not prove the factualness of a religion.
It will be interesting to see how Sullivan responds to these and the other things Harris pointed out.