Those of you who have read "The Irrational Atheist" might be surprised to learn that one of its primary targets, Sam Harris, would see fit to ask for my assistance with one of his scientific studies. And it may surprise those atheists who believe that I hate science even more to know that I was happy to help out with any scientific study, much less one that is designed to investigate the question of whether religious belief and ordinary belief are correlated with similar brain states.
Now, there is no question that I was extremely hard on Mr. Harris in my book. To be blunt, the careless and flawed cases he made against faith in general and Christianity in particular in "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" all but begged for such savage treatment. But it was never anything personal, because intellectual discourse is a rough sport and the New Atheists made it abundantly clear that the rule of no respect was in effect from the start. Nevertheless, unlike Richard Dawkins, Harris merits a measure of respect for his ready willingness to engage in debate with the other side and answer the hard questions without evasion; for example, here are Sam's responses to seven questions I asked him two months ago.
Now, regarding what is intended to be a neurological experiment, as I mentioned in the chapter devoted to Daniel Dennett, no one who subscribes to a religion that upholds the principle that the truth shall set you free has anything to fear from the scientific method. From the Christian perspective, it is irrelevant what an individual's brain state happens to be, whether he is contemplating the salvation of his soul or a sale at the local supermarket. Science is neither pro-Christian nor anti-Christian, it is value neutral. While it can certainly be used for evil purposes, it does not behoove the Christian to fear the potential for its abuse, because as the Apostle Paul tells us, we are not given a spirit of fear.
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I am more than a little skeptical that science can be an effective tool for investigating the supernatural. If there is a supernatural capable of being investigated through natural means, logic dictates that the success of such investigations entirely depends upon supernatural forces meekly submitting to being metaphorically poked and prodded without willfully interfering with the experiments. Therefore, any scientific investigation of immaterial must find a means of distinguishing between the complete absence of the supernatural and the interference of the supernatural providing a false negative; a logical necessity that never seems to come up when the question of science and the supernatural is raised by scientists.
Still, these caveats aside, I see no reason why Christians should not cheerfully aid scientists in their quest to better understand God's creation, the material and immaterial aspects alike. As a part of his current experiment, Mr. Harris has prepared a large set of stimuli in the form of questions which are intended to inspire a belief response. He is in the process of refining those stimuli, and as an atheist whose perspective on Christianity cannot exactly be considered objective, he therefore requires assistance from Christians to ensure that the religious stimuli are valid from a Christian perspective. While he hasn't had any problem finding atheist volunteers, (more than 14,000 atheist surveys have been completed), it should come as no surprise that despite his famous letter to them, Sam isn't quite as dialed into the Christian nation.
So, in the interest of science, free inquiry and simple curiosity, I should like to encourage every Christian reading this column to take at least one of the four surveys located at Sam Harris's website. Some of the questions may strike you as obvious, others may strike you as stupid, and some even border on the insulting. But regardless of their perspicacity or relevance, I would appreciate it if you would help Mr. Harris by giving one or more of these very simple, multiple-choice surveys a shot and also pass word of it onto your Christian friends. There are few testimonies of belief more powerful than those of a faith that does not fear to be questioned any time, in any manner, by anyone.
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Sam Harris may not be bleeding by the roadside, but I think it would still be an act of good Samaritanism to help him out. I hope you'll consider doing so. And speaking of the parable, it insensibly reminds me that if you haven't gotten around to reading "The Irrational Atheist" yet, you can download the entire text in PDF, DOC, PDB or LIT format for free, or buy the hardcover right here at WND.