Sam Harris moves the debate forward with his latest (and strongest, I'd say) challenge to faith. I'm actually grateful because it gives me a chance next time to fill in more precisely what my faith explicitly includes, and how I distinguish between believing the core of Catholic doctrine, while rejecting other aspects. So far, I haven't explained very well how reason informs a faith that doesn't start in reason - and I acknowledge that's a big challenge. Anyway, here's his latest in full. Here's the blogalogue in full. The pace has slowed a little, but that's a good thing, I think. We're not - or shouldn't be - engaging in quick-fire debate tactics, but in a serious attempt to figure out some common ground on ancient territory made fresh by the religious-political crisis of our time. Stay tuned. Here's a money quote from Sam's latest:

Given your attachment to Christianity and your admiration for the pope (who, as you know, makes far more restrictiveand, therefore, arrogantclaims about God), I suspect there is a raft of religious propositions that you actually do accept as truethough perhaps you are less certain of them than you are of God. I refer now to the specific beliefs that would make you a Christian and a Catholic, as opposed to a generic theist. Do you believe in the resurrection and the virgin birth? Is the divinity of the historical Jesus a fact that is “truer than any proof… any substance… any object”? If these are not the sort of things a person can just know without any justification, why can’t they be known in this way? If a man like James Dobson is wrong to be certain, without justification, that Jesus will one day return to earth, why is your assertion about the existence of a loving God any different? What would you say to a person who once doubted the story of Noah, but whose doubt “suddenly, unprompted by any specific thought, just lifted”? Is such a change of mood sufficient to establish the flood myth as an historical fact? ...

Let me make it clear that I do not consider religious moderates to be 'mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance.' They are worse. My biggest criticism of religious moderation and of your last essay is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a fully reasonable and nondenominational spirituality from ever emerging in our world. Your determination to have your emotional and spiritual needs met within the tradition of Catholicism has kept you from discovering that there is a mode of spiritual and ethical inquiry that is not contingent upon culture in the way that all religions are. As I wrote in The End of Faith, whatever is true about us, spiritually and ethically, must be discoverable now. It makes no sense at all to have one’s spiritual life pegged to rumors of ancient events, however miraculous. What if, tomorrow, a blue-ribbon panel of archaeologists and biblical scholars demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gospels were ancient forgeries and that Jesus never existed? Would this steal the ground out from under your spiritual life? It would be a shame if it would. And if it wouldn’t, in what sense is your spirituality really predicated upon the historical Jesus?

Read the full thing here. I'll respond next week.

(Photo: man at prayer after the 2005 tsunami by Andrew Wong/Getty.)