Donald's Reviews > The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

The End of Faith by Sam Harris
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's review
Jan 16, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: philosophy-theology-culture
Read in February, 2006

I found Sam Harris's book interesting and disturbing, but it should be classified as fiction. Nearly every argument he asserts is specious. Apparently, he reads only those who support his own position (philosophical suicide). He conveniently dismisses atheistic regimes as "religious" by assigning an ambiguous religious or mythological type of totalitarianism to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the rest of those who tortured and killed religious believers. He cites Northern Ireland and the Israel/Palestinian conflict as religious at its base; the fact is that these are tribal, geographical, and political. Hitler exterminated Jews from a Racist-Darwinian belief, not a religious conviction. He argues from no philosophic framework that hasn't been cogently discredited in the past fifty years.

Essentially, THE END OF FAITH is a diatribe based upon his prejudicial dismissal of belief, not on sound philosophical argumentation or factual presentation. Like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett, each has an a priori commitment to materialism.

Harris is obviously intelligent. But, just as he accuses those who place their faith in religion, he is guilty of the same crime. The Christian apologist Paul Little was once asked, "Why do intelligent people reject religion"? He replied, "They don't believe for the same reason unintelligent people do; they simply don't want to believe."

It is not that I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone; it's that anyone who reads this book should be aware of other philosophical and theological framework that is obscured from the regular reader. In all fairness, the reader should be knowledgeable of each position he attacks.
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Nipsey Russell donald, i dont understand this statement: "His assertion that people of faith believe in written myths are patently unsubstantiated" - what do you mean by this. while it may not be true 100% of the time, isnt it obvious that it is true MUCH of the time? Many/most christiand believe in much/most of the bible, jews the torah, muslims the koran, etc etc...realizing there are other faiths and some may not have a written sacred text.
So if its very frequently true, how can you say its "patently unsubstantiated"? I'm not trying to bait you, i just didnt get this statement.

message 2: by Donald (last edited Jan 26, 2008 06:12AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Donald Nipsey,

You are correct, "patent" is an unfair exaggeration and too strident a comment. I will rephrase the statement in the review when I can think of something more appropriate. However, I believe that Harris is unfair to the texts - his intent in the book is not to take on all "scriptures" with exegetical and/or hermeneutical precision, but his is aim is derived from a contempt toward all sacred texts that each belief holds as true. Obviously, these various texts disagree and he points to difficult and contradictory issues within themselves and each other. To his credit, he intends to arrive at something true, as opposed to the post-modern position that there is no Truth. That's another issue entirely.

Harris spends time pointing out contradictions. Fair enough; by definition, all religious texts cannot be equally true since all major religions disagree on cardinal issues. But this argument doesn't prove that a text CANNOT be true. Developing an argument from differences about truth-claims does not disprove the existence of a truth-claim.

In defense of the Old and New Testaments, much of what the texts state has been found to be more true than untrue. You may disagree, but much has been discovered in the last 100 years to substantiate many of the claims made in scripture. Archaeology, cosmology, and biology (I note respectfully that you have read quite a bit from Dawkins) have not disproved the Bible. Interpreters vary, even in orthodox circles, over how to interpret Scripture. Science has contributed to hermeneutics, not refuted it. For example, not all interpreters of Genesis believe that the creation took place in six twenty-four hour days; the text does not say that explicitly.

Scholarship has actually buttressed much of what once was dismissed outright since Hume's skeptical empiricism came onto the scene. Having read many of these nineteenth and twentieth century theologians, I am not unfamiliar with these critiques. They came by their positions honestly, but the evidence since has displaced their claims, yet still, some still hang on.

Harris finds it disingenuous to call himself an atheist, as does David Shermer and Bart Ehrman, two former Evangelicals. He seems to know that this label might someday get him into trouble. As I said in my brief review, he is quite intelligent. Atheism is a specific belief in disbelief, which is a metaphysical proposition itself.

I hope I satisfactorily answered your question.


Nipsey Russell so....i think my (stated) objection to your first post is actually based on a semantic misunderstanding. i was interpreting the word "myth" more in the sense that i see on wikipedia (i know, i know, but it was the first result and captured what i was thinking): "a sacred story concerning the origins of the world or how the world and the creatures in it came to be in their present form". That is, in the sense that it didnt pass judgment on the veracity of the story.

that said, i find it hard to believe that "many" of the claims of the bible have been substantiated. Even if some historical statements are relatively accurate (and one would hope!), the parts that matter are certainly "Wrong" - either the patently* ridiculous tales of the supernatural or the faulty/inconsistent morality.

thanks for the thoughtful reply, donald.

*sorry, couldnt resist!

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