That said, Sullivan does develop on interesting strain of thought: he speculates that perhaps people are hard-wired for religious faith, or something of the sort. Now, as an argument for the truth of religion, this is transparently specious. The mere fact that we are hard-wired to tend to believe something doesn't make that thing true. And, predictably, Harris make short work of Sullivan's argument.
Now Sullivan has a response. He doesn't actually try to defend the notion that religion is true because faith is, allegedly, programmed in at some level. Rather, he argues that, since faith exists, it ought to be tamed and channelled:
I argued that because we may be programmed by evolution for faith, faith may be intrinsic to being human and therefore something we should engage rather than deny. You make the solid point that we are also programmed by evolution for rape. Does that make rape defensible? Of course not, even though, as you point out, rape is a very effective and very natural way to disseminate DNA. But my response would not be to say that the evolutionary impulse to inseminate should be resisted entirely. I'd argue that the sex rive should be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. So rape cedes to consensual DNA dissemination. Similarly, the drive for faith needs to be channeled respectfully toward others, i.e. moderated. Fundamentalism cedes to toleration. Hence my insistence on maintaining the humility apropriate for such immense claims about the meaning of everything; and hence my support for a faith that is live-and-let-believe in its social manifestation.
OK, so let me get this straight. Sullivan isn't saying that faith is true. He's saying that since faith is hard-wired in, people might as well believe something relatively harmless. I suppose so -- I mean if people have to believe in a Great Sky Being, far better for them to believe in one who commands them to eat their vegetables, exercise regularly, and generally be nice to people, rather than one who commands them to Kill The Infidels! But so what?
I never really made much sense out of Leo Strauss, but isn't this his argument? That there are certain higher truths that only the enlightened elite are ready for while the masses have to console themselves with comforting lies. It's the "you can't handle the truth!" theory. So at at the end of the day, Sully seems to concede that atheism is more-likely-than-not true, but since people are going to believe something, he wants them not to be fundamentalists.
I never took him to be a Straussian.
Oh, and by the way: Happy Easter!
UPDATE: A perceptive but anonymous commenter tells me that I've got Strauss all wrong. Well, I said I never made much sense out of him, so it wouldn't surprise me if my commenter is right. So instead of calling Sully a Straussian, I'll call him a "You can't handle the truther."