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Q&A: Sam Harris

The Christian right, radical Islamists, and secular leftists agree: this atheist is America’s most dangerous man

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Sam Harris takes part in a group discussion on religion and faith on March 21, 2007, at Rick Warren’s Saddleback church in Lake Forest, California. (Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)
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I think the God of Abraham could lose his subscribers in precisely the way that Poseidon and thousands of other dead gods did. It’s not that he needed to be replaced by something that exactly fit the same God-shaped hole in people’s lives, but the conversation can just move on. I do see it as an accident of history that the religions that are current are as well-established as they are. The Bible and the Quran are the center of literature-based cults that I view as accidents of history.

What I’m advocating is not that everyone has to become entirely responsible for their worldview, and everyone has to be a philosopher, everyone a scientist, everyone a doctor. We all rely on authority, and we all are lazy or incompetent in certain areas. The difference in science is that our reliance upon authority is cashed out by a conversation that is searching and competitive and demanding at every stage so that people do not get away with believing things merely because they want them to be true.

So, we need to instill in the next generation of human beings a desire not to be flagrantly wrong about the nature of reality and to have a different conversation around the significance of death. If human life weren’t fragile we wouldn’t be having a conversation about religion. No one would care. The crucial moment is not even so much your own death, but what do you say or what can you think that is consoling when someone close to you dies. Your child dies; what could you possibly believe about reality that’s going to make you feel better? The truth is that atheism does not have an answer to that question that connects all the emotional dots in a way that most people think they want.

Most people want to believe something that makes them feel better and most religious people actually want to believe something to make them feel so much better that death isn’t even a problem. It’s a career opportunity, if you’re a Muslim jihadist. It’s a good thing your child blew himself up. I think we just have to admit that there is nothing that’s truly rational to believe that could pay us the same kind of emotional dividends.

When you stand up as an atheist and talk to believers, do they see you as a Jew or do they see you as an atheist, or are those two things reasonably synonymous to them?

I was never a religious Jew. My mother is Jewish, so for some people I count as a Jew. But for me, being Jewish amounts to little more than just getting all the jokes in a Woody Allen movie. So, for the people for whom my Judaism is relevant, those people tend to be either overtly anti-Semitic or concerned about crazy conspiracies. The YouTube comments that reference my Judaism are completely crazy. For the most part, for anyone who is seriously engaging with my ideas, the fact that I was born to a Jewish woman who herself was not religious nor were her parents religious is completely irrelevant. And the people for whom it’s relevant, they see some other weird Star Chamber-like conspiracy at work.

I remember being asked whether I wanted to go to Sunday school like my friends. I guess I was like 9 or 10 or whenever that decision gets made, and I said no, why would I want to do that? And that was the choice point for me not to have a bar mitzvah, and so that was the end of it. And then as a teenager, I became very interested in death and all of the thinking about it, some of which was religious, some of which was new age or kind of paranormal. I was a 13-year-old who was interested in psychic phenomena.

You can be a Jew for whom all of the trappings of Judaism are very important and yet there’s absolutely no content to your religious beliefs.

When I was 13, my best friend died in a bicycle accident, and he was the first person really close to me who had died. So, from 13 on, I was reading about the religious understanding of death. I read everything from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to Colin Wilson’s books on the occult. And then when I got to college, I became interested in religion specifically and whether there was anything to its claims that could coincide with my use of psychedelics and having experiences that seemed to line up with classically religious mystical experiences. So, the phenomenology of religion became interesting, and then through my twenties I spent a lot of time practicing meditation and going to India and Nepal and studying both Western and Eastern religion but really focusing on the Eastern religions.

I was raised an Orthodox Jew, but my father didn’t believe in God. I think he was some kind of Marxist.

Well, that’s the kind of uniquely distorting lens of Judaism, because only a Jew could say I am an Orthodox Jew but I don’t believe in God. That is not an oxymoron in the same way as it would be to say I’m a devout Catholic who doesn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or I’m a devout Muslim who doesn’t believe the Quran is the word of God. Judaism is, in every form, the least committed to a clear otherworldly vision of what happens after death. You can be a Jew for whom all of the trappings of Judaism, the religion, are very important, and yet there’s absolutely no content to your religious beliefs. You like the food. You like the music. You like the clothes. You like the ethical strictures and the weird rituals, and the limitations on your freedom that can only make sense based on some kind of theology that you now no longer endorse.

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julis123 says:

Interesting interview. What bothers me about about some of these vocal atheists is that  they think that religiously observant people are stupid and that they are smarter. I would like to ask them how they explain the fact that there are many believers in religion, as opposed to say, astrology, who are intelligent people. They sometimes remind me of followers of a religion who think that followers of other religions are simply stupid.

jmm64 says:

 Here’s a question an Atheist cannot answer: Why not be cruel ?

Brian Westley says:

“Here’s a question an Atheist cannot answer: Why not be cruel ?”

Nonsense.  Are you a sociopath?

rakiba says:

You realize when you say that you are revealing yourself more than uncovering atheists?

There are lots of reasons not to be a sociopath without irrational myths created long ago when people knew next to nothing about the world around them: In fact there are nearly 7 billion reason, and that is not counting the animals who also deserve compassion.

uh, gee, this is a hard one…….
1.  cuz ya had a mother?
2.  cuz evolution has built empathy into your brain, so unless you ARE a sociopath…?

Harris actually deals with this question with some depth in The Moral Landscape, where he has a very smart section on why people believe what they do.

“She was barefoot in a Somali village, and as a teenager she was someone
who thought she herself would put Salman Rushdie to death if she could
only find him. And then she became this unbelievable enlightenment
success story based purely on her own wits.”  This completely ignores
the fact that she grew up middle class in Mogadishu, a very cosmopolitan
city, speaking English.  That anyone uses the term “Enlightenment”
seriously? Just…yuck. You are an incredibly biased, western-centric Islamophobe, Sam Harris.  I am ashamed of this Jewish site for giving this man a platform.

Royq says:

David Samuels has this right, exemplifying much of the wisdom of self-doubt that Harris merely evangelizes.  I think it’s in his gross optimism about the prospect of realizing a society entirely free of prejudice and irrationality where he goes furthest astray.  He views particular religious doctrines as accidental, amenable to being remedied, rather than emerging directly from human nature, a curious stance for a neurobiologist.  Likewise, when political movements morph into terrible, even homicidal manias, he attributes it to a kind of seeping religiosity, rather viewing both phenomena, religious and political alike, as vehicles  for expressing certain basic human traits, including the tendency to fall prey to charismatic leaders and the instinct to scapegoat.  We are, as Samuel’s suggests, fragile vessels, and pulling up all of our traditions from the ground, a la Heidegger, or taking total responsibility for ourselves and our fate, a la Sartre and Camus, is beyond most of us,  tethered as we are to family and career and health.  I just can’t quite  imagine the utopian world of freethinkers that he seems to pine for, however enticing it sounds.

That said, he’s a brave man, and I applaud his unapologetic defence of enlightenment values.

whether you are intelligent or not isn’t the issue…..you are following something that is not intelligent and basing it on a concept called ‘faith’ which is by definition not intelligent. You claim religous people are more intelligent that those who follow astrology. That is likely true on average but says nothing about the validity of the subject. Jews are probably, on average, more intelligent than Jehovahs Witnesses…that doesn’t make judaism correct.

Two things that irk me:

“Beliefs really do matter. If you have a bus
driver who really believes in the power of prayer, so much so that it
affects his behavior—he’s willing to let prayer drive the bus from time
to time and he’ll take his hands off the wheel because Jesus is really
driving—all of a sudden beliefs matter, and this person is dangerous.”1 – Are people who do not affiliate with recognized religion entirely free of superstition and irrational thought? I seriously doubt it. What makes things we can label religion more dangerous than any other type of irrational belief?2 – The “religious person” used in these examples is always a straw man. There are plenty of people who would call themselves religious, use god language to describe phenomenon, and participate in religious organizations who don’t believe in supernatural beings, don’t let Jesus take the wheel, and so on. To claim that those people are guilty by association with jihadists is silly. Again, nonreligious people may also be members of extremely large groupings of people whose other members may do evil things.

“The gravity of Jewish
suffering over the ages, culminating in the Holocaust, makes it almost
impossible to entertain any suggestion that Jews might have brought
their troubles upon themselves. This is, however, in a rather narrow
sense, the truth” (Sam Harris, The End of Faith pg 93)

From your comment I take it that you didn’t actually read the whole article because you clearly missed the point.

Here is a question you can’t answer: Why are you such an idiot?

Jews *actually* ARE more intelligent, on average, than Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Since we are dedicated to telling the truth on this thread.

 If your answer is that “God makes me not be cruel,” you better get your head examined.  Judaism explains very little except suffering? Why does it not?

Chris Reid says:


What makes things we can label religion more dangerous than any other type of irrational belief?”

-Religion is treated as an untouchable subject, and is in fact often supported. Other superstitions can be discussed, but religion is given undue deference, according to Harris (and I agree). I think this distinction lies at the heart of your second concern, too.

Since the quote says this “the truth…in a rather narrow sense,” I would presume that the passage goes on to elucidate what that sense is.  We don’t have the full context here to judge the quote.

sammyaugust says:

Where is the discussion of television, radio, newspapers and even the internet and how the have shaped what has and is happening with religion around the world.  My college roommate always said that the 12 Apostles were the greatest ad guys ever born.  Look what they sold the world.  I agree almost completely with Mr. Harris.  I have been on the same journey, different route, for many years and have come to many of the same conclusions.  However, today I see way too much crazy going on and it all seems to be playing to the media and capturing large groups of lazy, discontent, excluded and often delusional people, in this country and around the world. One only needs to look at our Presidential race.  How can anyone seriously think that going back to the Republican policies of the Bush years through the Ryan budget will get us anywhere other than deeper in the Bush hole.  Why do we worship the extremely wealthy, have they become the new Gods of Olympus.  WTF is really going on?  It is all part of what Mr. Harris has been teaching us about.  It is coming to its climax, religion, politics, economy, craziness, all of it at once and it has been fueled by a media with bottom line goals controlled by the new Gods of Olympus?

be careful of the chosen people they always look for ways to calumniate and deceive what the occidental world is trying to build |

 they brought the problems upon themselves they believe the world is antisemite soo they act biased in their minds with that , plus at the end the christian morals are a derivative of their morals so , at some point christians crushing or trying to crush semitic people is not entiles vs “the chosen people” is them against a branch of themselves |

the old testament of bible and the torah are the same bunch of mythical deceitful lies

1984 says:

1. Sympathy/empathy
2. Cruelty can return, even in worse shapes

3legcat says:

 I read the entire article, all of Sam’s books (except Free Will), listened to many of his presentations, and all of his debates.  so yes, i’m a fan of Sam’s, but i agree with Barbara.  Sam Harris has never answered the question as to why beliefs really matter fully, instead he blurs the differences between knowledge, belief and faith and then dumps a cheap straw man like the jesus bus driver, or the locked door, or some other weak analogy.   he knows there are differences, but articulating those differences don’t serve his arguments as well.

RealWorldProgressive says:

Ok, lets throw out the bus driver.
How about a real life example. We had a president of the United States (Reagan) who had messianic preachers come and talk to the national security team about the biblical/Christian ramifications of the rapture/nuclear war. That doesn’t trouble you?
What about a president (Bush II) who knew every decision he made was correct because god himself told him so. What if god decided to wake up one day and order a nuclear strike on North Korea or Iran or Russia? That doesn’t trouble you either?

That’s the exact argument that Sam is making. Just because most of the time it’s not as serious as someone literally taking their hands off of the wheel doesn’t make his argument invalid.

RealWorldProgressive says:

And yet you’d probably condemn Ayan Hirsi-Ali for standing up for women in the Muslim world to the extent that her collaborator was butchered in the street, she was forced out of her adoptive country and without a security detail she’d surely be killed even in America.

Have you, or any of your female relatives (as you seem to be a man) had your clitoris cut off for your own good? Just curious. Do you advocate such a practice? Why or why not?

I’m ashamed that someone like you has so little regard for the suffering of innocent women in the 3rd world. 

RealWorldProgressive says:

Here’s a question the religious cannot answer.
If there is no god, would you yourself go around raping, killing and stealing? So you really want to go rob, rape and murder every woman you see, and the only thing stopping you is a celestial authority that’s going to see you if you do?
That’s a pretty scary proposition. I hope you never have a shred of doubt in that authority, or else you may end up killing a lot of people.

herbcaen says:

yawn

3legcat says:

 Yes of course zealots with real political power are worrisome, but that doesn’t answer the question of do beliefs really matter or are they more often after the fact support for one’s intuition.  Bush has knowledge of how bicycles work, has faith in his ability to ride one, but he believed his prayers confirmed his choice to invade iraq.  there is a deference.

“(Bush II) who knew every decision he made was correct because god himself told him so”

Bush never to my knowledge made that exact claim, but rather he believes in god and that belief gave calm to his anxiety about his decisions.

again most believers make claims to belief not knowledge.

Thank god for Sam!  Keep fighitng the good fight, Sam.

quifzan says:

If anything, history has shown us that rapine and pillage is very common amongst true believers. The history of nations from Persia to India that fell to the sword of Islam is quite revealing when it comes to that sort of behavior. 

Grabbing my popcorns while the count is out on poor Lane who just had her *** handed to her.

Very straight reply there good sir/madam.

Thank you mr. Harris, for again explaining things in a manner that is rational and correct.

You are a beacon of reason in a world of insanity.

Don’t try to figure it out. Just appreciate the wonder and texture of it all. At the human day to day level of existence what matters is coming to terms with one’s existence  and the accumulated joys and sorrows which is life. Whatever lies beyond human ability to perceive is exactly that….beyond our ability to perceive.

Well here it what follows, so be the judge:

“Prior to the rise of the church, Jews became the objects of
suspicion and occasional persecution for their refusal to assimilate, for the
insularity and professed superiority of their religious culture-that is, for
the content of their own unreasonable, sectarian beliefs. The dogma of a
“chosen people,” while at least implicit in most faiths, achieved a
stridence in Judaism that was unknown in the ancient world. Among cultures that
worshiped a plurality of Gods, the later monotheism of the Jews proved
indigestible. And while their explicit demonization as a people required the
mad work of the Christian church, the ideology of Judaism remains a lightning
rod for intolerance to this day. As a system of beliefs, it appears among the
least suited to survive in a theological state of nature. Christianity and
Islam both acknowledge the sanctity of the Old Testament and offer easy
conversion to their faiths. Islam honors Abraham, Moses, and Jesus as
forerunners of Muhammad. Hinduism embraces almost anything in sight with its
manifold arms (many Hindus, for instance, consider Jesus an avatar of Vishnu).
Judaism alone finds itself surrounded by unmitigated errors. It seems little
wonder, therefore, that it has drawn so much sectarian fire. Jews, insofar as
they are religious, believe that they are bearers of a unique covenant with
God. As a consequence, they have spent the last two thousand years collaborating
with those who see them as different by seeing themselves as irretrievably so.
Judaism is as intrinsically divisive, as ridiculous in its literalism, and as
at odds with the civilizing insights of modernity as any other religion. Jewish
settlers, by exercising their “freedom of belief” on contested land,
are now one of the principal obstacles to peace in the Middle
East.”

brad lencioni says:

“again most believers make claims to belief not knowledge”

Common now, if you read this full interview as you claim, then you must realize that you are greatly trivializing religious belief and doing exactly what Harris criticizes modern western secular liberals of doing–dismissing the real functions of the believers faith.

The believer doesn’t just have “belief”, but has faith that his beliefs are also TRUE!! And it is this irrational claim to truth that is precisely the problem. You are the one guilty of creating fallacious straw men of Harris’ arguments.

brad lencioni says:

How about for the same reasons that Yahweh supposedly commanded not to kill (he did have reasons, right? His commands werent just arbitrary propositions, correct? But if he had reasons, then the moral justification of actions truly rests on those reasons, not on the propositions of authoritarian dieties. Thus, morality is rational and independent to mythological superbeings.) 

brad lencioni says:

Barbara, you are the one committing an (atrocious) straw man! Harris says midway through the interview:

“ All I’m arguing for really is that we should have a conversation where the best ideas really thrive, where there’s no taboo against criticizing bad ideas, and where everyone who shows up, in order to get their ideas entertained, has to meet some obvious burdens of intellectual rigor and self-criticism and honesty—and when people fail to do that, we are free to stop listening to them. What religion has had up until this moment is a different set of rules that apply only to it, which is you have to respect my religious certainty even though I’m telling you I arrived at it irrationally.”

So what irks ME is people who critique works they have not read or understood. 

Sam Harris is a modern day saint.

 

Brad.. well put..! Allow me to use your comment in future debates, please.

Awesome article.

I agree with Mr. Harris on so much that it kind of drives me insane that I’m not part of a publicity team for him or something. The points where we disagree are broadly minor and about nuance and terminology. 

Articulate, poignant, facile, adroit, fluent, incisive, acute and whatever other word of the like one might use to describe his treatments of issues are appropriate. If only more people had a similar approach to the world, we might not have so many problems of all sorts today.

shiwonbodhi says:

If you can’t find a reason not to be a narcissist other than religious doctrine then you should have a serious look at yourself. I hope i never have the misfortune of meeting you, or anyone like you. 

intellectual_honesty says:

If all those on the planet who are literate and have the intellectual capacity to truly absorb and digest the writings, discussions, and debates of Dr. Sam Harris my optimism about the future of our global civilization would certainly be heightened. His mind oozes a clarity and and a deeply grounded sanity that our conversations about religion, science, reason, and spirituality desperately need. I have many intellectual heroes and they are all giants – but Sam tops my list.

ge co says:

Religion and atheism are opposite sides of the same coin. The difference is it requires much more imagination and intuition to ponder the relationship between creation and causation.

3legcat says:

 sam harris wrote in End of Faith that religious beliefs matter because they (paraphasing) work in the same way as when one reaches for their keys when they think the door is locked, and in this article a christian bus driver can let go of the steering wheel.  these are his words, not straw men.

yet evangelicals have 401ks, and are concerned about cholesterol.  clearly how operative beliefs are vary greatly, especially beliefs without empirical experience to back them up. 

have you ever noticed how quickly people back a public pronouncement of a miracle, with “i really do believe that” as if to erase the doubt written all over their face?

amoolya narayan says:

please die.

intellectual_honesty says:

There is nothing Sam wrote here that is untrue. When a superstitious, ignorant group of people falsely believe that their particular imaginary God acts as a cosmic real estate agent on their behalf, and then as the ‘chosen ones’, deserve to do – no matter how egregious – whatever they can to procure that land…. well….you can expect horrible consequences.

Brad’s well put comment is a version of Plato’s question:  Is Morality loved by the gods because it is Good, or is it Good because it is loved by the gods?  Forget which dialogue.

This absurd statement is so commonly made that the unthinking start to believe it.  Religion involves the literal belief in myths for which there is no evidence, though there is usually metaphorical truth involved.  Atheism is the refusal to believe that those myths are literally true when there is no evidence for them (which there never is).

This absurd statement is so commonly made that the unthinking start to believe it.  Religion involves the literal belief in myths for which there is no evidence, though there is usually metaphorical truth involved.  Atheism is the refusal to believe that those myths are literally true when there is no evidence for them (which there never is).

intellectual_honesty says:

Yes… well stated James.  For some reason those of religious faith seem to think atheism is a belief system which is so confounding and lacks any depth of awareness. Thank you for replying to ge co it saved me the trouble of doing so.

And, if not for the delicate sensitivities of the religious and religious-enablers among us, we could actually have intelligent, interesting conversations like this one.  Imagine a world where these types of ideas weren’t dismissed out of “respect” for ideas that cannot withstand scrutiny.  Imagine people holding opinions that were not protected by taboos and cultural norms, but supported by logic and honesty.  We could hear a statement like the one above and as a new idea hold it in our mind and ask “What if?” instead of reflexively throw it into some “Do not consider” circular file in our mind.  The only faith worth having is faith that people like Sam Harris will continue to lead people to the type of intellectual honesty and self-reflection that this world so desperately needs today.

ge co says:

 The only ‘absurd’ statement is the one you offered. Your ‘definition’ of what religion requires of any believer is stupendously simple-minded.Only a fool would believe that of the many millions of people belonging to organized belief-systems, all accept every story within as gospel truth. A lot of Old Testament history has been confirmed by biblical archaeology. Atheism is simply the flip side of ‘religion’. It is the religion of no-religion. It demands much less intellectual rigor as pondering the metaphysics of  Creation is too bewildering and confusing for their brains. Atheism is much easier. It only requires a one-word vocabulary. ‘No.’

Atheism is for idiots. The only intelligent position on the question of what may be behind this thing we call Life is agnosticism. To be unsure on this matter which ‘wise’ men have been debating  forever is natural. To adamantly deny the possibility of some Power fueling it all is downright stupid.

Patrick Lang says:

“Much less intellectual rigor”? So, things like quantum mechanics, evolutionary theory, and cosmology are less intellectually rigorous than the religious dogma of simply stating, “God did it”? The vocabulary of the atheist isn’t simply, “no”; rather, it’s “show me the evidence.”

As for the rest of your twaddle, metaphysics is simply the untestable, unprovable claptrap that any 1st-century goatherder could have come up with (and did). Most Old Testament claims have NOT, in fact, been confirmed by archaeology.

Patrick Lang says:

If everyone throughout history though this way, we would still be living in caves. Most things we now understood through scientific investigation were once thought to be “beyond human ability to perceive”.
So, go ahead, feel free to lie there in drooling wonder, while the rest of us actually go out and do something productive for the world.

 You have just acted as an apologist for genocide, well done.

ncwd says:

Why not be cruel doesn’t require a rational, moralistic explanation, although many good ones could be offered. 

When I see someone fall off a bike and I feel a momentary pit in my stomach, a real if fleeting sense of the pain and fear the other person is experiencing.  

That is why I am not cruel to other people.

Patrick Lang says:

Read Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”. Atheists simply don’t require a magic man in the sky to uphold moral values. Morality can be based on reason, on the mutual “well-being of conscious creatures” as Harris puts it.

NO intelligent atheist denies that there is **some** possibility of Some kind of god existing Some-where.  We humans have discovered about 38,000 of them: which do you like?  Most of us, however, would put the probability at something like 0.0000001%, and, as has been frequently noted, there is NO evidence in favor.  Unlike the evidence for, say, unicorns (we have convincing pictures).

Oh, and YES, there is “some power” behind all this.  It is called Energy by scientists and many spiritual people.

There is a difference between being open-minded and giving every piece of half-baked hogwash equal consideration.

What don’t you understand about the ability of mankind to invent technologies which advance the abilities to travel, explore the physical world including our bodies, and every other aspect of our earthly lives and our ability to answer the question ‘ What lies beyond the beyond’?
Obviously everything. Try again.

Not true, an atheist can answer “Why not be cruel?” by stating, cruelty is wrong.  I do not need a deity to tell me what is wrong or what is right, I have enough human compassion to figure these things out myself.

 And what, my clueless friend, do you imagine to be the source of this ‘energy’ ?

intellectual_honesty says:

Ha!  Talk about over-reaction and melodrama!  Jack my boy relax. The only one seemingly acting as an ‘apologist’ would be you. An apologist for the religiously stupid ideas that spawned out-of-control from an early and narcissistic tribal Judaism. What the Jews thought belonged to them decreed from some made-up  and totally imaginary Divine Father figure…. to the utterly insane anti-semiticism that was birthed from the equally ignorant and superstitious faiths of Christianity and Islam (which i’m aware historically has nothing to do with illegal ‘land-grabs’ but other idiotic dogmas) are ALL reprehensible!!  All i was highlighting was the obvious horrific consequences that arise from the actions generated by false beliefs, as
Sam Harris so eloquently elucidates for us.

   The subject of this discussion is not the religious dogma of any sect, It is not quantum physics, evolution or cosmology. It is whether it is to be considered foolish or stupid(choose one or both) to flatly dismiss the idea  that this creation we call Life originated from an Originator on the ground that we cannot approach (his, her, its) abode,  shake hands and fulfill the atheists need to satisfy through the physical senses of touch and sight that something exists. That’s never going to happen. So atheism will continue to appeal to dullards and the contemplating of the  One-Who-Has-Set-Things-In-Motion will continue to be the province of those blessed with the required intuition to approach the fire.

Yeah that Hitler had some good ideas.

Victor, a cogently stated summary of a silly position.  Why is your intuition any more reliable than mine?  (hint: it isn’t).

And what is the “source” of your “source”?  Careful: it’s turtles all the way down.

I have an intuition that the Source of my Source of Original Energy is the right one, and the one that Victor references is the wrong one.  We each have about 1 chance in 40,000 of being right, if we give equal value to all of the “sources” humans have come up with.
Of course, we could make it easy and just declare Victor the Victor.  But that would be kinda stupid, wouldn’t it?  And I assure you, I have splendid intuition.

intellectual_honesty says:

Hmmmm. what is it that you didn’t get in my reply? You prove my point and Sam’s point exactly.  Any so-called atheist regime you can mention in the 20th century – Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, etc… were locked into their own dogmas and dangerous false beliefs – not opposite religious faith but more or less mimicking them! They were not based upon critical thinking, common sense, or dispassionate reason of any kind.
Please do yourself a favor and read or re-read The End of Faith by Sam Harris or The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins or God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens or any of the more prominent new atheists and enjoy a breath of mental fresh air we call freethinking.

 Ah, James my boy, you do like to play word games, don’t you? In your own words,’Oh, and YES, there is “some power” behind all this.  It is called Energy by scientists and many spiritual people.’ So boychik, you defined it and I’m asking you to elucidate a bit more on this ‘energy’ you have brought into the discussion. Namely, its source. As much as you may still have a fondness for playing that childhood game of ring-a-round-the-rosie, you’ll have to do better in the context of your original quote than chase your tail.

We *know* there is Energy.  We do NOT know that Victor’s God exists.  There is evidence of energy.  No evidence of Victor’s God, or any other.

If you feel happier saying “God” created energy, go for it.  I feel happier saying Sqroth created energy.  And I have just as much evidence (and coherence) as you do.

And these are not word games.  They are the use of human reason.

By the content of your comments it’s obvious you have not developed intuition on this most mysterious of questions. But also remember that those who know, don’t say and those who say, don’t know.

 What ‘God’? Where have I once placed the label of ‘God’ on this source.  Take my word for it, on this topic you are not cleared for takeoff.

My claim to knowing, as is clear to any perceptive reader and thinker, is ironic.
Yours is clearly unfounded (and you clearly believe that YOU know the better way).

intellectual_honesty says:

The argument is not whether someone is ‘stupid’ or ‘intelligent’ regarding their belief in religious ideas because some very brilliant people throughout the ages were, or are, theists. It has to do more with where and when these people engage their faculty of critical, reason-based thinking. We have a world-renowned scientists who during the week in the laboratory or classroom are bastions of rational thought but for some inexplicable reason don’t engage their high-powered intellectual gifts in church on Sunday. There are varied reasons for this that Sam actually discusses in his many debates, suffice to say if these great intellects were inclined to ramp up and focus their critical thinking on theism in all its forms then they would basically have to arrive at the same place that most freethinkers and atheists enjoy.

intellectual_honesty says:

Oh yes  - to state the obvious…’expecting’ horrible consequences and ‘supporting’ horrible consequences are two very different things. I hope you realize that rather then being insulting and accusing me of being apologetic for the barbarism of the Nazis or present day Islamists.

You are confused about what Atheism amounts to. Atheism doesn’t entail that God is not possible or that we know that god doesn’t exist. Instead, it is a commitment to the belief that there is no god. If you don’t understand this difference, then you are the idiot.

Victor said “atheism is for idiots.”  Apparently, he is not aware that a-theism means lack of belief in god(s).
If Vic doesn’t believe in god(s), by his own logic he is an idiot. And we know that is not true.

Tim Morgan says:

Harris is crystal clear on the topic:  he is against dogma and for reason.  He simply thinks we should have good reasons for believing what we do.   It is  not overly optimistic to think the tools of reason and skepticism can build a better life.  Why?  Because we have no good reason to think they cannot. 

Your claim that ‘human nature’ dictates some vague need to slaughter requires at least some analysis and evidence.  I feel no urge to be violent.  Nor does Harris.   Do you?  I rather doubt it.  That’s because we’re reasonable people living in a (largely) reasonable society.   Harris and those of us who agree with him have no grand vision of a future utopia.  We just want people to be skeptical and reasonable about reality.   I say again:  it’s not complicated.

 James, I am enjoying this so much but you are becoming so predictably boring. I suggest you devote more time than you obviously have to the differing definitions of ‘atheism’ as currently accepted by leading atheists:Dawkins, Martin etc. Feel free to respond when you have something relevant to transmit. And above all, try to post something which reflects an understanding of the  subject matter.  Something you have yet to accomplish.

sammyaugust says:

This is all nonsense and arguments to justify the past 5000 years of disagreements.  At some point religions started among small groups of people as a way of setting rules so that they could live in peace, survive and hopefully prosper.  As the world’s population grew, these groups came into contact with each other and the struggle for dominance began.  Horrible things have been done by one group, or society, to others.  The reason the Muslims and Jews don’t like each other supposedly goes back to Abraham banishing his wife Hagar and his first son, Ishmael, after Isaac was born as Sarah demanded he do this.  The Jews considered early Christians to be Jews until Paul traveled to Rome converting people along the way and in Rome saying that it was not necessary to be circumcised or to keep the laws of Kosher. The Jews wouldn’t accept this and the battle began.  The Hindu’s have spent centuries defending themselves from the violent forces of the Muslims who believe that you either convert to their ways or die. 

So now it’s 2012 and we are still fighting these same old battles and have added thousands of explanations as to why everyone hates everyone else and why their way is correct.  

People also have faith and believe in the religion with which they were raised.  Good, I am happy they believe and have faith.  It is also a social matter of belonging to a group who believes in God and has traditions.  All of this comes into play when talking about religion.  So what. We all know this.  We also all know that the world is in turmoil.  Perhaps it is overpopulation.  Perhaps it is the pollution from the industrial societies that has made survival more difficult for many and better for others. 

So my questions is why aren’t we discussing the solution to our current problems instead of debating what we already know and have decided.  Shouldn’t we be working on cleaning up the planet and dealing with climate change, production of healthy as close to organic as possible food, and stopping the incredibly careless and dumb wars that are happening everywhere.  It can be done if we focus on it.   If not  we will be having the same explanations while millions have died and millions more are dying from situations that could be focused on now.

intellectual_honesty says:

Victor my energy-filled friend are you an agnostic or an atheist when it comes to the existence of Zeus? Apollo? Poseidon? Ganesh? The Tooth Fairy? Unicorns? Leprechauns, or Santa Claus?  Can you prove these entities do not exist? Do you logically think there is even a ‘possibility’ they exist? If you can not find yourself believing in these things because there is insufficient evidence… then ‘o wise grasshopper.. you are an unbeliever NOT an agonistic in that arena. You can not conceive (and rightly so) that these fairytale characters exist at all, yes? And why is that? Because you have a mind that is not delusional and would require more evidence then fanciful wish-thinking (at least i hope so).  We freethinkers don’t believe in all the thousands of dead/false Gods – whether polytheistic, monotheistic, or pantheistic in nature from humanity’s infancy to the present day simply because there is not a scintilla of hard or soft evidence or even a reasonable argument in their favor. 

Vic: since we are boring each other, and anyone reading this, let’s call the whole thing off.

sammyaugust says:

I think that Sam Harris is correct.  Beliefs do matter.  They shouldn’t, but they do.  We need to find a way to move beyond this before it is too late.  We are getting dangerously close to the tipping point in this world.  Perhaps that is what is supposed to happen according to some natural plan. Who knows.  At this point I guess it just doesn’t really matter. We have all become what we have become for many many reasons.  Beliefs and facts.  What will be we be, always.

Royq says:

Tim, I see that reasonableness as highly contingent, as Samuels suggests.  Look how rampant global violence remains.  Look how comfortable we are vesting our governments in the West with the authority to use violence.  I’m not speaking as a peacenik or pacifist.  I just believe our capacity for rationalization is so powerful, to say nothing of how highly we prize group identity, that the threat of an eruption of violence or extreme social behavior always hovers in the background.  It’s not that I wouldn’t prefer a world in which we continually subjected our own most cherished beliefs, those principles upon which we would  act or urge action to continual scrutiny.  I just think ambivalence is a difficult state to maintain constantly.

There are so many interesting episodes in literature addressing the question.  Two of my favorites are the Furies descending beneath the City at the end of the Oresteia, by Aeschylus, and Bulkington, the hard-bitten sailor who ships back out to sea just days after having returned from a voyage of several years.

julis123 says:

 Thank you very much you just proved my point. If I said that I am a Hindu and if everyone used their critical thinking the whole world would be Hindu you’d say that I was arrogant, a narrow thinker etc… But for some reason if atheists say this about religious believers it’s OK.

intellectual_honesty says:

Please read and understand this slam-dunk passage from Sam again: “There’s been this expectation, and it is a reasonable one, that as we come to understand more and more about the world, the mandates and authority of religion are going to be steadily eroded. You can easily list things for which there once a religious answer for which there is now is a scientific answer and the religious answer is now clearly bogus. What you can’t list are the things for which there was once a scientific answer for which now the best answer is religious.”Julis – do you believe that the sun revolves around earth?  or that the earth is the ‘center’ of the universe?  or that disease is cause by evil spirits?  that the earth is only 6000 years old and humans walked with dinosaurs just thousands of years ago? or that Noah built an ark that accommodated billions of species? or that first woman was birthed from the rib of a man? … or…. this list could go on for pages but you get my drift i hope. These are all explicit religious beliefs and all are false. They are known to be false as most of the remaining tenets of monotheisms are, or will be found to be false, through the march of modernity, science, and critical inquiry. 
Atheism is just the noise freethinkers make when using their intelligence based on reason and logical thought. If there were any evidence at all, or even compelling arguments, for faith-based ideas we would have to consider them.
Your Hindu example above makes no sense at all.  There is a difference in mouthing the words ‘critical thinking’ and actually engaging in critical thinking. 
And yes it is OK for non-belivers ask for cogent reasons and evidence for the extraordinary and supernatural claims that are contained in all the world’s religions.  It, in fact, is the crucial time in history that ruthless examination and a 21st century conversation is brought to bear on what people believe and why…. the future survival of our species demands it.

julis123 says:

 So you’re saying that Robert Auman who won the Nobel prize for economics  is incapable of critical thinking, which is shown by the fact that he is an Orthodox Jew?

intellectual_honesty says:

YES… exactly.  His blind belief and identification with orthodox Judaism it is not an example of the functioning of his bright, penetrating, critical thinking mind.  In the field of economics he may be a mental giant and supremely gifted.  In the critical analysis of his own religion he turns a blind eye and is too threatened to deeply examine the retrograde and superstitious foundations of scripture. 

You have to realize from a very young age his mind has been indoctrinated by his mother, father, Rabbis, friends, insulated culture,, etc… to this religion.   That is most certainly where he received his approval, love, compassion, and emotional comfort.  That baggage is way too emotionally-laden with personal importance and a ‘Jewish’ sense-of-self to dismiss. This is why religion of any kind drummed into young minds is a crime, it is a poison to the human psyche, and for many it becomes steel cage prison confining or debilitating free thought and honest inquiry. Such a shame.

Practially exactly what I said but you got there 8 mins before me while I was still typing.

Humans have this ability to compartmentalise. While having a mercilessly incisive mind when it comes to fathoming out problems concerned with a particular branch of science, such a person may make a decision (conscious or unconscious) NOT to apply that incisiveness to the question of “what’s it all about, really, when it comes down to it?” because of whatever uncomfortable adjustment to the social agenda that would unfortunately make this necessary.  When such unexamined beliefs are challenged, the person is likely to respond irrationally and angrily.  Being guilty of not bearing their full intellectual powers to the problem is likely to afford them the epithet “less intelligent”. In my opinion, justifiably.

TL;DR: people who seriously advocate belief in religion over science are either mad, stupid or evil.

Carl Klapper says:

Atheism is a refutation of a misconception of God. The only true atheism — one based on refuting Existence (“I AM THAT I AM”) — would be an extreme nihilism. I gather that Harris is not that, but rather a materialist.

intellectual_honesty says:

An addendum to my earlier post below…. As Sam stated in the interview above it is common for Jews – even orthodox Jews and Rabbis – to mindlessly and ritually follow a bunch of religious rules and create an ethnic solidarity and cultural identification yet strangely not even believe in a God, Divine Deity, miracles, or an afterlife. Which most likely is the case for Dr. Auman i would assume. I add more in the next post.

intellectual_honesty says:

well said Matt. by merely looking at someone’s credentials and academic background it obviously affords no insight to how they use that trained mind in all areas of life. we have so many of examples of that as to make me cringe!

paul delano says:

 Correction! The muslim hatred of Jews stems from the refusal of the Jews of Arabia to accept Mohammed as a ‘prophet.’ He hoped the Jews’ validation of his ‘revelation’ would solidify his arab adaptation of Rabbinical Judaism. When it became obvious to him over time that the Jews had no interest in converting, he forever turned against them. The main change he instituted was in substituting Mecca for Jerusalem as the direction for muslim prayers.

Iris Ailin-Pyzik says:

Funny.  I recently told someone I didn’t care how religious my neighbors were (whatever religion) but I felt they would be better neighbors if they behaved as though they believed in a deity and would be subject to some divine punishment for misdeeds.

 That would be the socratic dialog with Euthyphro

Tim Morgan says:

Thanks for the reply, Royq.  I agree that any group of humans are susceptible to the threat of group violence or mob insanity.  Yes, we see this often.  But we  rarely see it in places where things like individual rights reign as prominent.   Indeed, it’s mostly the product of tyranny, poverty, suffering (what was happening before Nazism reared?  What are the conditions like in the DRC or Somalia?) and of course iron age belief systems.  In the U.S., we can trace a dotted line from religion to the dumbest ideas in the public sphere.   But it’s on a scale.  Who here thinks we’ll see a secular war break out in Colorado?  Not me. 

While I think understanding history is invaluable, I do not think there is any class of equivalent for where we are at present.  History will *not* repeat itself.   Too much has changed and too many people have more power than even a king had 200 years ago.   It is within this framework of abundance that we can more realistically see a new, better global civilization emerging (and have already).   We may call this optimism, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.  More so, I have no good reason to think it’s not possible.   That many people do not enjoy these things isn’t proof it cannot happen.  We must look at the root cause of their bad behavior.   The fact remains that there is no global terrorist group murdering for the sake of rational skepticism.   Nor will there ever be (then they wouldn’t be rational skeptics!).   Perhaps nothing else needs to be said about it.  

I suspect I don’t fully understand this ‘ambivalence’ concept because I cannot see a pathway to irrationality in my own life.   But that’s why I like to keep it simple:  Any individual must qualify why they hold the beliefs they do, and they must provide good reasons for holding them.   I reject any claim that defining good reasons is a subjective process.   Nor that quality of life is a moving target:  Reduce suffering; promote individual choice;  don’t be cruel; allow for upward mobility.   If religions actually promoted these ideas comprehensively, we wouldn’t be here talking.  But they don’t.  And some of them are worse than others.   

Finally, I cannot concede that Samuels has a point in his misgivings.  His declarations are just plain too vague a statement for me.  To wit, he does not appear have a good reasons for saying it.   It’s more of a feeling, almost like… 

Acting on the promise of reward or the threat of punishment is the lowest level of “moral” behavior.  It is how a child of 4 behaves.  Let us hope you have neighbors who have an intrinsic understanding for good behavior: you will be much better off.  Because they will be much more highly developed human beings. 

Sam Harris is a bigot, nothing more.    There is really nothing new in what he says.  The most murderous dogmatism of the 20th century was avowedly atheist. 

The question that follows though, is why is your morality better than another’s morality?

And yet, in the United States, 10,000 people a year are murdered by gun violence.  Or are those acts to random to count as data points?

As for mass violence?  LA Riots? 

Will there be a secular war in Colorado seems a bit far-fetched and that has little to do with reason or lack of reason. 

 intellectual-honesty’……Let’s try to concentrate on the intellect. You appear to be confused by the myriad of names which cultures assign to their pantheon of deities. As all these systems were created by men, it is perfectly natural that there would evolve a wide pantheon of gods , each renowned for a special attribute which would reflect the attributes admired by the human race. Men shape their gods to fulfill their needs. But these are all simply forms to aid the seeker in directing his wishes to the Incomprehensible Supreme.  Those of a higher evolved spiritual state, whatever the religion or lack of religion,understand that  the Incomprehensible Supreme is Formless and these individuals require no forms of God or Gods.

Whichever form one worships, it is ultimately the same Creator. All in One and One in All. Got it?

So you’re taking it on ‘faith’?

There’s only one Turtle, and that is the Great A’Tuin.

Why is faith not intelligent.  Right now, there are physicists that have faith that there is not one universe but a myriad of multi-verses. 

The first time I read about such an idea was back when I was reading DC Comics “religiously”. 

Now, it’s “Science”. 

What’s wrong with a 401-K plan?  And why shouldn’t one be worried about cholesterol?

In other words, Victor is recommending that we abandon our reason, our ability to make distinctions, to judge the truth-value of statements, and adopt his mushy mysticism.
Sam Harris is more in line with the Buddha, who recommends that we throw out our dependence on a Creator-God or supernatural force, and instead come to terms with how the energies of the universe result in causes and effects.

 Like most of the purported atheists here, you’re hung upon the label ‘god.’ I suspect like most you harbor some long-simmering hostility to organized religion for whatever personal reasons. I suggest you forget about ‘God’ and try to rethink in terms of Incomprehensible Supreme, Life Force, or whatever enables you to overcome this mental hurdle you have erected in understanding.

  Buddhism does not exactly deny the existence of a creator,
but it is not really interested to know who created the universe. Speculations concerning the origin of the universe are held to be
immaterial to that task. And having spent some considerable time in predominantly Buddhist countries, for most Buddhists, the Buddha form has become their deity for all practical human requirements.

If you don’t think that the Buddha denied the existence of a Creator-God with supernatural powers, you are even more misinformed than you have already shown yourself to be.

Victor sez “ in predominantly Buddhist countries, for most Buddhists, the Buddha form has become their deity for all practical human requirements.”
Did  you just “forget” to mention how many times, and in how many ways, the Buddha said that the Buddha should NOT be thought of as a deity?  I am worried about your mind, my friend Victor, in a loving-kindness kind of way of course.

 James, you ignorant dolt. You’re not even capable of understanding the differentiation between the Buddha and Buddhism. The doctrines of the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools deal with the existence of a Creator without explicitly rejecting the possibility. Poor fellow, surely there must be some area of human activity in which you possess enough knowledge to escape playing the Fool.

 Lol! You think your average Buddhist has that uppermost in his thoughts when he is supplicating before the Buddha idol? James,, you are without a doubt, one of the most clueless personalities it has been my pleasure to communicate with on or off the internet. witharerespect,yfmcluelembodiments

Vic: you have revealed yourself.  You are Dan Akroyd!  (Jane, you ignorant slut).
I invite any reader who are not members of your cult to visit Wikipedia and reference their entry on “Buddhism and God.”
As far as your putting more weight on certain factions of Buddhism rather than what the Buddha himself clearly stated, I leave it to the People to make their choice.
You inflated self-image continues to amaze all of us.  Buddhists, who believe in transcending the Self, would not consider you a model.  But I love you.

I can’t help but be intrigued that some theists can postulate an entity they explicitly claim is incomprehensible, and yet claim they can make meaningful statements about it.

It is not an outrageous statement to say that many people have hostility to concepts that have been used to promote harm. That is not however an excuse to dismiss the arguments made.

The idea of an Incomprehensible, Supreme, Life Force (ISLF?) is what remains  when you hack at the earlier superstitions with rationality and science.  It is vague, nebulous and undisprovable.

A look into what we know about the universe shows no need for an originator that possesses sentience or sapience, much less creative intent. Neither is there any apparent requirement for a force beyond physical laws to explain life. If you want to argue for an ISLF that displays none of the above, congratulations! For all intents and purposes, you’re an atheist as well.

If you want to argue for transcendent intelligence, metaphysical spirits or unverifiable magical forces, however you wish to name them then make your case, rather than taking the easy cop out of accusing your interlocutors of ‘lacking insight’, because at this point it sounds perilously close to “If you could hear the voices in my head, you’d agree” territory.

Vic: my psychiatrist thinks you may have some inadequacy issues.   She is looking to explain your sadistic impulses and need to reduce those who disagree with your pronouncements to non-entities.  My loving side hopes that you seek treatment to deal with this need to demean others.  I am praying for you.

 James, a little knowledge can be exactly that…a little knowledge. The Buddha denied the existence of a personal God-creator but never explicitly denied a First Cause and all that implies. He believed such speculation was irrelevant and a distraction. However, as in many other places where one belief-system supplanted another, the old gods were morphed into the new religion or in Buddhism’s case, the new philosophy. This is particularly true in Tibet. As far as your psychiatrist goes, it appears she could use a lesson in teaching methods commonly utilized by the Chan school in China, later known as the Zen school in Japan.

Vic- I take your analogy regarding Buddha and his later revisors.  I shall henceforth rely on what the modern Catholic papacy preaches rather than depending on the teachings of Jesus as set out in the Bible.
Then I will shoot myself in the head.

Rex says:

 That’s not faith, it’s a hypothesis. Science works on the basis of evidence, if a postulated viewpoint does not fit experimental observation it is discarded.
Right now we have no way of proving that multiverses exist – so this is a curiosity and nothing more. If it were proven that they don’t then it would go the same way as other former theories like the concept of the ether, or phlogiston.

Rex says:

 That’s not faith, it’s a hypothesis. Science works on the basis of evidence, if a postulated viewpoint does not fit experimental observation it is discarded.
Right now we have no way of proving that multiverses exist – so this is a curiosity and nothing more. If it were proven that they don’t then it would go the same way as other former theories like the concept of the ether, or phlogiston.

Then why are you on a Jewish website?

Then why are you on a Jewish website?

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We
are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with
books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those
books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which
they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the
arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to
me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”
Albert Einstein

Henk van Setten says:

Basically, I share the views expressed by Sam Harris here. But I do feel that the consequences of an atheist world view replacing a religious worldview (optimistically assuming rationality will eventually erode irrationality, which I hope but am not quite sure of) still need to be thought out much better. On two levels: the social/communal level, and the individual level.
On the social level: whether we like it or not, religion does provide a kind of structured and shared morality (regardless of the actual content of those morals and beliefs). It provides us with a ready-made framework of rules that sometimes can be useful in many ways, for example by offering people shared goals and the feeling of belonging, of not being alone. Now exactly how would a non-religious world view be able to function socially in a similar useful, supporting way? This is a question that, I fear, many atheists tend to overlook or ignore too easily. In my view this is an urgent question, one that deserves much more systematical attention. Actually, together with co-author Frans Couwenbergh I’m right now working on a book about this very question (we hope to publish it by the end of this year).
On the individual level: how exactly do we make sense of our own lives, if there’s no longer religion around to provide us with some easy, pre-defined, reassuring (even when irrational) certainties regarding the whole point of life and death? In a way, religion used to work here as a kind of primitive safeguard against depression, against the feeling that our own life is pointless.
In my own StayOnTop depression blog, I’ve sometimes touched on such individual questions. See for example Never Born (http://stayontop.org/2012/04/02/never-born/), where I tried to argue that if we view our own life not as a gift from God, but rather as the incidental result of a chain of random events, this should make us view our life not as less valuable, but as more valuable. Or see Leaving A Footprint (http://stayontop.org/2012/02/01/leaving-a-footprint/), where I tried to argue that the only reasonable and gratifying way to make some sense of our lives is not by believing in some mythical eternal life, but by accepting that our life is brief and final, and that therefore the best we can do is trying to leave some personal “footprint” for the generations that will come after us.
I do wish Sam Harris success with his crusade against irrational, repressive, violent forms of self-deception. Let’s not give up on hope, and keep working all together towards a better world where people will truly respect each other in a peaceful way, regardless of their beliefs!

Good questions Sir, and thank you for your conscientious and humane work on addressing them.  Belief does certainly provide certain benefits, as you outline.

The problem comes for those of us who are unable to believe in the theological/supernatural justifications for most religions.  Buddhism, Unitarianism, the increasing number of secular Judaism congregations, are some possible avenues that support community and moral values reinforcement while avoiding the need to believe in the unbelievable.

In any case, thanks again from an atheist for your good contributions to the discussion.

Hershl says:

Sorry, Charlie.

The Buddha did exactly deny the existence of a creator.

Obviously, you have not studied his suttas on what he discovered as a result of his nibbana ( enlightenment experience).

Nothing is ever mentioned about anything remotely resembling a separate creator.

Mind is creator and mind is not an entity.

It is pure consciousness at play with no one directing it.

Robert Rodriguez Jr says:

Thanks Sam for your voice of reason and inspiration  - it’s time we start to think with our brains…

No, what it is, is declaring you’re right no matter what the answer is. 

1,000 years ago, Scientists thought that the best way to cure a person from illness was to slice them open and draw their blood – usually killing the patient due to loss of blood (imagine that).

500 years ago, the idea was to put leaches on a person’s body and hope that they would cure them.

40 years ago, scientists were absolutely sure that stomach ulcers WERE NOT caused by the h-pylori bacteria.   Until they changed their minds and after pillorying one of their own for his theory, nearly drumming him out of the business – until they changed their minds. 

30 years ago, we were told not to eat eggs because they were bad for you – so too salt.  Today salt and eggs are back on the menu and we’re even being told that too little salt is bad for you. 
Now, we’re also back to using leaches. 

But the idea that “Science is right all the time” and religion doesn’t because hey, we test science, falls somewhat flat.  Which “science” are we using, as the standard, and what happens when we decide that what was known today as the ‘right’ thing to do, is now wrong. 

The idea that science “works” because it is based on observations means that anything that isn’t observed is missed, and it is the absence of observation that falls short. 

An interesting article, well done.  Mr. Harris’ point of view is interesting, however I did not see that he made a distinction between political manipulation of the Machiavellian sort, and those who are not so motivated religiously.  Herr Hitler would be a prime example of such an individual. I can also see where his “religious background” would lead him to his conclusions regarding both atheism and religion.  But on the whole much of what he said was spot on.
 I must admit, at this juncture, that I am a religious fellow. However not so much in the sense as you two would think it appears. I do believe in G-d and have even had prayers answered in such a way that it would be ridiculous to suppose simple chance or coincidence was the source.  But as Carl Sagan once said, “No matter what then evidence shows, we are committed to a materialist…” point of view (my paraphrase).  So I would not expect Mr. Harris to all at once jump up and say “That fellow might have something there!”  I think the point that was made in the first section was that most people will not tolerate any point of view but their own, is apropos here. The knowledge that there is a “right” point of view would of necessity make others that are incompatible, wrong. (Or in the very least “less-right”). But as I said, it is a good article, and Mr. Harris shows some brilliance. 
      

Rex says:

“But the idea that “Science is right all the time” and religion doesn’t because hey, we test science, falls somewhat flat. Which “science” are we using, as the standard, and what happens when we decide that what was known today as the ‘right’ thing to do, is now wrong.

It’s not that ‘science is right all the time’. Your examples only serve to strengthen the basic fact about the scientific method – that a given theory is only as good as the empirical evidence. Once that invalidates the theory, it is discarded in favor of a better one.
Every scientific theory has to be falsifiable. For example, in the 150 odd years since Darwin proposed it, the theory of evolution has held sound. Millions of fossils have been unearthed, and it would only take one fossil appearing in the wrong geological strata (‘Fossilized rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian’ as the scientist JBS Haldane famously retorted when asked how evolution could be disproved) for people to revisit it.

Faith does not rely on evidence of any sort – if God created the world in 6 days and the world is just 6000 years old it’s because it says so in the Bible and that is not open for debate. (What about the Mayan or Hindu or Native American or Australian aboriginal stories of creation..why can’t they all also be true?)

The idea that science “works” because it is based on observations means that anything that isn’t observed is missed, and it is the absence of observation that falls short.

Yes, exactly. That is the very nature of science. We don’t observe pink unicorns or Santa or the Flying Spaghetti Monster everyday, but does anyone lose sleep over it?
And if we can’t observe certain things, we wait until we can, or construct a theory to explain it (which may be validated or invalidated in future as technology improves).

The recent debate at CERN over particles moving faster than light is an example – it was traced to faulty calculations rather than an actual case of FTL particles. Had it actually happened, you can bet physicists would be revisiting Einstein’s theory on the constancy of the speed of light and it would’ve dramatically changed the field of quantum physics and relativity.

Watching_From_Lincoln says:

 If you seriously look at yourself for too long, does that then make you a narcissist?

“Every scientific theory has to be falsifiable. For example, in the 150
odd years since Darwin proposed it, the theory of evolution has held
sound.”

Just an addition: The main thrust of Darwin’s theory has indeed held sound. Details have been found to be inaccurate, insufficient or missing  (the discovery of DNA for example) have been discarded, corrected or added to it.

 This is the difference between a scientific theory and a dogmatic proposition. An article of faith offers no remedy if it found wanting. The idea that Phaeton carries the sun across the sky in a chariot brooks no correction by facts. You either accept or reject the narrative as is.

shiwonbodhi says:

Nice try, but no. Being vain, self absorbed and selfish makes you a narcissist. Critically evaluating your opinions does not.

shiwonbodhi says:

If you’re referring to Hitler, he was Roman Catholic.

And even if he was an atheist, so what! He didn’t do what he did in the name of atheism. He did it because he was a hate filled megalomaniac, who wanted to rule the world. The argument you are making is like saying dogs are bad because Hitler liked dogs. If you want your arguments to be taken seriously you can no longer play the Hitler card. It’s for fools. 

shiwonbodhi says:

Most atheists don’t deny the possibility of some power fueling it all. We deny any claim man-made religion has made to explain it. Atheists enjoy the right to say “we don’t know yet” everyday. If i was asked to give my best guess on what ‘power’ is fueling it all, i would say the laws of nature and matter itself. But like i said… “I don’t know yet”. I do know however, that it wasn’t Allah, Buddha, Jesus, Zeus, or any of those fictional characters. That makes me an ‘atheist’, and i am not an idiot.

A basic grasp of English reading comprehension is an absolute must, even more so on a subject like this. You obviously have not yet acquired such a grasp. What Buddha said and what the major schools of Buddhism have expanded on the subject are 2 very different things.The Mahayana and Vajrana schools of Buddhism deal with the existence of a Creator without explicitly rejecting the concept. In addition, Tibetan Buddhism remains populated by the various deities which preceded Buddhism

Hershl says:

You need to acquaint yourself with the  actual words of the Buddha.

Insults and pathetic comments are no substitute for scholarship.

As for people ( Mahayana, Vajrayana, which is Tibetan  - learn to spell, it is not Vajrana,) who came on the scene hundreds of years after the death of the Buddha, they never did and do not speak for him.

Consider taking Buddhism 101 before you make a fool of yourself in public again.

 The distinction, my clueless friend,which you still don’t seem to comprehend, is between what an individual is reported to have preached and how those preachings are interpreted by the various schools which spring up in his wake. You must immediately advise all those members of the Mahayana and Vajrayana(thank you for pointing out my typo altho if you had the previously mentioned reading comprehension skills you wouldhave noticed it was spelled correctly in the original comment you chose to respond to) sects that they must cease and desist calling themselves Buddhists because, according to your eminent knowledge, if they do not deny absolutely the existence of a Creator they are not Buddhists. You lack even the basic grasp of logic to even qualify for admittance to Buddhism 101.

Hershl says:

Your ignorance of the teachings of the Buddha, which preceded all those you seem to rely on, is profound.

You are digging a pretty deep hole for yourself.  

However, I have no interest in educating you on this topic.

Enjoy the rest of your day.

thanks for weighing in Hesrshl.  Nice to have an informed voice in the discussion.

Hershl: you correctly describe the original teachings of the Buddha, 
and
you correctly describe Victor’s tactic of demeaning anyone who disagrees with him.

It is so refreshing to hear coherent confirmation of what I think!  I could never explain it as well as you do. 

beemanlee says:

What is so amazing about some people is they actually believe that they can analyzed or calculated to determine if G-d is really real or not. Because they cannot determine this, they wright G-d off as a being a mythology or as a  superstition.  Such is The Faith of any atheist today, their faith is found in their own ability.
What has been forgotten about is the information that is presented to us from within The Torah of Moses, that G-d gave to The Jews for Guidance and Light.
Have we all forgotten about how G-d Fashioned each of us within our mother’s womb.
We are not yet capable of understanding the basics of our Faith without our personal participation being recognized by us as to our Calling in Life by G-d.
When anyone decides that they know more about life science, than G-d, then they have reached a level of arrogance that actually shuts down our ability to reason with G-d.
Remember that G-d looks at the heart and determines whether or not we are humble or arrogant as a person of faith from within our person and from within our Community of Faith.
I believe that anyone who is called by G-d, can recognize the truth and determine if The Source of that truth is from G-d or is from our own evil ways of living in life. When anyone relies totally upon their own knowledge and forsakes G-d’s Way, then we have lost our own way in life.
If we then compare this knowledge that we have gained ourself to G-d’s Wisdom, where will we be found within this Political Maze of left, center or right Ideology?  We are talking about Faith not Myth? All People have some kind of faith in order to live in this material world. Because we put a name to our choice Ideology in front and look at all others as Myth, where do we really stand with G-d in reference to where we are heading on our journey with all other Ideology’s man has been able to come up with at this time in our History as a People, Created in G-d’s Image?

beemanlee says:

 Sam Harris,

Yes, The atheist is America’s most dangerous man!What is so amazing about some people is they actually believe that they can analyzed or calculated to determine if G-d is really real or not. Because

they cannot determine this, they wright G-d off as a being a mythology or as a  superstition.  Such is The Faith of any atheist today, their faith is

found in their own ability.
What has been forgotten about is the information that is presented to us from within The Torah of Moses, that G-d gave to The Jews for Guidance and

Light.
Have we all forgotten about how G-d Fashioned each of us within our mother’s womb.
We are not yet capable of understanding the basics of our Faith without our personal participation being recognized by us as to our Calling in Life by

G-d.
When anyone decides that they know more about life science, than G-d, then they have reached a level of arrogance that actually shuts down our ability

to reason with G-d.
Remember that G-d looks at the heart and determines whether or not we are humble or arrogant as a person of faith from within our person and from

within our Community of Faith.
I believe that anyone who is called by G-d, can recognize the truth and determine if The Source of that truth is from G-d or is from our own evil ways

of living in life. When anyone relies totally upon their own knowledge and forsakes G-d’s Way, then we have lost our own way in life.
If we then compare this knowledge that we have gained ourself to G-d’s Wisdom, where will we be found within this Political Maze of left, center or

right Ideology?  We are talking about Faith not Myth? All People have some kind of faith in order to live in this material world. Because we put a

name to our choice Ideology in front and look at all others as Myth, where do we really stand with G-d in reference to where we are heading on our

journey with all other Ideology’s man has been able to come up with at this time in our History as a People, Created in G-d’s Image?Shalom,Lee…

beemanlee says:

Sam,
Yes, The atheist is America’s most dangerous man!
What is so amazing about some people is they actually believe that they can analyzed or calculated to determine if G-d is really real or not. Because they cannot determine this, they wright G-d off as a being a mythology or as a  superstition.  Such is The Faith of any atheist today, their faith is found in their own ability. What has been forgotten about is the information that is presented to us from within The Torah of Moses, that G-d gave to The Jews for Guidance and Light. Have we all forgotten about how G-d Fashioned each of us within our mother’s womb. We are not yet capable of understanding the basics of our Faith without our personal participation being recognized by us as to our Calling in Life by G-d. When anyone decides that they know more about life science, than G-d, then they have reached a level of arrogance that actually shuts down our ability to reason with G-d. Remember that G-d looks at the heart and determines whether or not we are humble or arrogant as a person of faith from within our person and from within our Community of Faith. I believe that anyone who is called by G-d, can recognize the truth and determine if The Source of that truth is from G-d or is from our own evil ways of living in life. When anyone relies totally upon their own knowledge and forsakes G-d’s Way, then we have lost our own way in life. If we then compare this knowledge that we have gained ourself to G-d’s Wisdom, where will we be found within this Political Maze of left, center or right Ideology?  We are talking about Faith not Myth? All People have some kind of faith in order to live in this material world. Because we put a name to our choice Ideology in front and look at all others as Myth, where do we really stand with G-d in reference to where we are heading on our journey with all other Ideology’s man has been able to come up with at this time in our History as a People, Created in G-d’s Image? Shalom, Lee…

Danny Panzer says:

That you “have even had prayers answered in such a way that it would be ridiculous to suppose simple chance or coincidence was the source” sounds to me a ridiculous assertion in itself. Unless you prayed for the ocean to turn red or for a heavenly voice to call out “Hello Paul Tucker”, I would suggest that the fact that your prayers were “answered” be weighed against the vastly greater number of prayers that routinely go unanswered. So if your faith is predicated on personal experience, you would advise the billions of people who could not attest to such experiences to adopt atheism?

You cannot accuse Harris of intolerance of any view point but his own – is it not eminently clear that all the man wants is evidence and intellectually honest debate? I am quite sure he is in the same boat as Bill Maher who famously opined that if Jesus were to descend during the Super Bowl and turn all the nachos into loaves, he would say “Oh look at that I was wrong, there He is. My bad, praise the Lord.”

Here’s my theory…God watches for millions of yrs the dinosaur age and see’s that this aint exactly what He figured on! So he makes Adam and Eve, but makes one big mistake..He gives them genitals and worse, the Orgazm!  Eve says to Adam..”you want to put that thing where..” But God also gave them free will so Cain kills his brother Abel and loses the only playmate he has.  So then He turns to Noah and which still dont help too much because He is back to animals!  Then God decides to try a new covenant and finds Abraham the first Jew!  Abraham, whose father was an idol (Pagan) maker, asks God ..”You want me to cut what?” From there He  seeks out Moses and he gets all the Hebrew slaves out of Egpyt.  The Hebrews go to Israel defeat the Caanites and live in Jerusalem until the ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans kick them out.  The Pogroms have started and have never left the Jews alone again right up until today! But as the wonderful Geo Carlin says…But he still loves you!  Oh well…”win some, lose some”…

And also Hitler, Stalin, Saddam had real bitchin’ moustaches. How relevant was their lack of a belief in god towards what they did, again?

robdashu says:

People who simply display the trappings of religion without deeply held convictions aren’t that scary, and that pretty well describes most “religious” people.  It’s the few who take dogma literally, and are raised in the hell holes of society that are really scary.  “secular humanists” are named that because there primary driver is the state of humanity, as observed and measured in this world.  Those with religious beliefs want to make the world the way they think their god idealizes it [why didn't he make it that way?] without regard to the effect on humanity that are non-believers.

One group wants to please humanity, one wants to please a purported god.

robdashu says:

Careful, sounds like you’re headed for deism!  The fact that so many brilliant folks in the past have had some religious belief, but did not associate with any formal religions seems an interesting fact.  For instance, America’s founding fathers were deists.  I think this meant they didn’t go to church, but had some thoughts on theosophic matters, which inescapably had some effect on their views of the world.  Nonetheless, they seem to have eschewed dogmatism by choosing this path.  I suspect that many people who wear the label atheist are really deists who don’t know how to express their beliefs!

Here is a video of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and two rabbis: David Wolpe and Brad Artson – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbzd6ZbCowY

This guy is confused. I would answer to him that I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. Or to quote Finkelstein when Hitchens passed away:
No one should be too smug in his certitudes.
And if you’ve made a career of pissing on other people’s mostly
innocuous beliefs, should it surprise that outside the tiny tent called Vanity Fair, your memory stinks of urine? http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/a-brief-comment-on-the-passing-of-christopher-hitchens/

Must have a lot of faith to be an atheist. Making a career of pissing on other people’s mostly innocuous beliefs. Sad life!!!

“don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” That platitude was tired even before it became a go-to slogan for theists trying to seem profound. The irony of using such a smug piece in the same comment where one accuses others of smugness is worth a chuckle.
I do enjoy the fact that so many people who offered vitriol against Hitchens waited until he could no longer respond to them to do so.

BBansari says:

None of your examples indicate that the violence is caused by an excess of reason, or easily occur when you have people living in conditions that are optimally healthy (i.e. people are comfortable, living in a rational environment, their individual rights respected, have all the opportunities available for a good life, are safe and secure, and then get bored and their violent human nature takes over and they randomly decide to kill people, just to pass the time).

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. (also, just coincidentally, the most religious of the “first world” countries) is the most violent *developed* country. It’s a country of over 300 million people, so while 10,000 deaths by guns a year is 10,000 too many, the actual ratio of such violence, to the population as a whole, is lower than in most developing nations. If the US wasn’t so wealthy and advanced in so many other areas, these statistics wouldn’t be as alarming or surprising.

Lastly, if a secular war breaking out in Colorado seems far-fetched, then it would be prudent to ask *why* that it so. Tim Morgan’s point is completely relevant to the discussion, because it takes into account how environment (familial, social, cultural, political, and yes physical) is an important variable, or set of variables, in explaining what people do and why. I don’t discount evolutionary psychology, certainly, but I really don’t see how any credible social science analysis could discount the role of environment in shaping our brain development, beliefs, ideas, emotional responses, and behavior.

BBansari says:

Not just in Tibetan Buddhism, but even in the Theravada. The Tripitika mentions already existent Indian deities as though they really exist, albeit having an inferior status to the Enlighened One (they go to *him* for teachings, not the other way around). They have their role, but that role is not to impart wisdom or guide humanity. They are basically like ghosts or beings sort of like people with supernatural abilities, but are not spiritually enlightened (i.e. free of suffering, mentally at peace, free of karma and its consequences, free of mental distortions, etc.).

There is plenty of superstition in folk Buddhism (some of it comes from Buddhism the religion, but much of it is from pre-Buddhist beliefs incorporated into local practice, as Buddhism has generally tolerated local beliefs and not tried to stamp it out, so long as it doesn’t violate its ethical precepts). But even the Suttas contain some questionable metaphysics.

Regardless, there are real gems in there that are less cluttered by bullshit then I have found in many other religious systems overlaid by mythology and dogmatic theology. I’m not saying Buddhism is necessarily the “best” religion (they’re all flawed, and people can find whatever one works best for them, provided the intolerant strictures contained in them are hedged in by a sane government that doesn’t allow you do harm innocent people or unfairly discriminate) but I don’t think all religions are exactly the same.

If more people meditated and valued compassion in a secular context, without adopting a belief in, say, rebirth or ancestor worship (maybe veneration is okay), the world would probably be better off.

BBansari says:

He’s actually done neurological studies on this. There is no evidence that there’s a difference between what a person privately believes (in the realm of religion) and believing any other proposition related to the outside world he/she lives in. A proposition is a proposition. And being emotionally invested in the truth of a proposition has real consequences for what one believes about other issues related to those core beliefs.

So if I believe there is a real god that does or is certain things, that is no different, neurologically, from believing that the ice cream cone I’m eating is real. Believing either proposition will affect what I subsequently do, how I (re)act, how I conceive of cause and effect, and my reasoning as to *why* I should do certain things. A “personal” religious belief does translate into outside behavior, and into considerations/evaluations of policies – social, political, economic, etc.

Now, if a superstition is not respected, or no longer is, there are reasons for that. The continued belief in the existence of the Santa Claus myth/construct is not respectable for adults. Nor would the majority of people in American society seriously consider the plausibility of, say, the beliefs of a person suffering from schizophrenia, who thinks that nine-headed goblins are chasing him or her, and he/she must do some unconventional ritual to ward them off.

If religious superstitions — I mean *all* of them, including ones in the acceptable “mainstream” religions — did not have social support, and it wasn’t considered rude to publicly question the veracity of them, for fear of hurting the feelings of people who privately hold such convinctions (which supposedly have no effect on what they otherwise say/do in public), would they even survive?

BBansari says:

Research indicates that Harris is right – there is no difference on the level of the brain between believing something theologically, and believing something about the outside world (like the door being locked).

Further, the Jesus bus driver analogy isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. I once knew a girl — one who was well-educated and intelligent — who converted to Mormonism, and had all the trappings of one in a new cult (as to why, I could give the psychological speculation, based on her history, but I won’t because that is not relevant to the issue of the consequences of belifes). She tried very hard to convert others to her new found faith, as the religion itself tells her to do, and actually once argued that if she had sufficient faith in Jesus and prayed, then it wouldn’t matter what she did in the world. She said that if she was in the midst of a bank robbery, and the thieves fired bullets, God would make sure that the bullets wouldn’t hit her.

Are you telling these beliefs are *not* consequential or dangerous in any way?

Was David Koresh’s dangerous actions *not* based on his literal religious beliefs and how they related to the outside world he, and his brainwashed followers he burnt to death, lived in?

BBansari says:

Nothing. I think the point this person was making was that religious people can also reason about cause and effect just as well as anyone, and their supernatural beliefs don’t always translate into a dangerous disregard for living sanely in the world.

Except, again, on the level of the brain, when a person believes in a religious proposition (claims to believe strongly) there is no difference between this and their claim to strongly believe in something tied to the empirical world they live in. They don’t play metaphysical or epistemological games about what “existence” means, or whether supernatural beings are truly “beings,” or what it means to be, or how something non-tangible can be said to exist, or how we can know it if it does, etc. – they simply claim to believe these claims are on the face of it as much as any other truth claim.

Now, of course, these people could be *lying* that they strongly believe these religious claims. But then there would be a difference between that and other beliefs they claim to hold, unless they are *also* lying about the existence of mundane objects (which is unlikely). But there is no difference. And if they are unsure about the belief, well, it turns out the neurology indicates this weakness too.

So sure, people may certainly claim to be religious and act quite sanely, but their faith is weak, if their actions indicate that they have more faith in empirical evidence than the religious tenets they are “expected” to hold, but are quite unsure about. And if they assure us in public that they really *do* hold the tenets of their creed faithfully when questioned by a skeptic (as 3legcat points out, despite doubts written on their faces), well, this can be explained as a cultural preference for the virtue/strength of faith. It doesn’t necessarily indicate genuinely thinking it’s true.

BBansari says:

Correction: 401-K’s can be risky, and there are probably better pension investment plans you can partake in. But high cholesterol levels is certainly a very prudent health concern.

BBansari says:

Apparently you haven’t read, or at least taken seriously the arguments of, secular humanists and secular ethical philosophers (including Harris himself).

If you ask an atheist what reason they have to be good, or as you put it, not be a narcissist, they usually say something along these lines: it’s rational to look at the consequences of actions, and whether we would want to live in a society or social environment where the first principles of morality would be based on hurting others or not caring about their rights; there are neurological benefits to compassion, the security and sense of connection we feel knowing that others would help us just as we would help them; there has been a cultural evolution of altruism (Smith’s expanded circle of sentiments) which will help the future of humanity and save it from self-destruction (which my naturally wired moral intuition tells me is something I should care about); psychopathology is very limiting, both to the person with it, as well as its social costs to others; there is the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker’s assessment of increased goodness (peaceful, cooperative) as a side-effect of higher civilization and the collective drive towards a more satisfying life; even something simple like “seeing the positive results from doing good is reward enough for me.”

You might object – maybe those are good reasons, but they ultimately stem from the emotional or subjective values that individually aware humans have, not any objectively moral “facts” that are intrinsic to the structure of the universe, apart from human assessments.

As for that debate (moral realism without theism) I’d recommend the debate between Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig, one of the few that the great Dr. Craig was said by objective observors to have decively lost: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_l69QN7ixmM.

Lastly, just because a religion can explain almost everything in the world, doesn’t make it, or those explanations, true (in fact, it’s a sign of arrogance, especially if those explanations are not allowed to be challenged by reasonable skeptics). As for “while an Atheist cannot explain anything in the World” that is just bizarre. If you mean scientists who happen to be atheists, they have pretty much been the winners during the last few centuries. They have better methods for studying the world, they have produce many more useful facts in a year than religious dogmatists have for millenia, and they have a much better self-correction mechanism than even the most benign religion, when it comes to matters of verification.

TheNuszAbides says:

but he’s not intellectually honest about his Muslim-world/everybody-else dichotomy. hero-worship is never a beneficial trait. please take a look at
http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/sam-harris-uncovered.html

Quite frankly, nothing dangerous emerges from Sam Harris except the overconfidence of someone who does not understand the limitations of science in general and neurophysiology in particular. Simply put, science is an attempt at building theoretical models to account for measured observations of all sorts of phenomenon. It is the “how” part of the question. As a result, all “natural” or “scientific” truths are mere rules of observation. We observed 1,000 times that by adding A to B then C happens, so we “predict”, “assume” actually “believe” that this is going to happen again. That’s all good and works pretty well on a pragmatic and predictive level BUT there is no intrinsic value to the rule we derived from observation. We still don’t know “why” by adding A to B then C happens, even if we can describe it (combination of molecules, chain-reaction, feedback, etc). In short, Sam Harris is not anti-religious. He’s simply intellectually lazy and skipped the epistemology 101 course at university.

The problem with Harris is that he conflates the ideals of the scientific method with the realities in its practice. To what extent has the peer review process been compromised by bias, gaming, Big Money, or outright fraud? How do you compare the strict empiricism of “hard” science (eg. physics) with the slippery assumptions of “soft” sciences (eg, archaeology, sociology, economics, etc.)?

Furthermore, to what extent does an illogical appeal to authority and dogmatism arise when one wraps one’s ideas in the mantle of ‘science” – as Harris does in this interview when he instructs us that “science” has now taken us beyond the classical criminal law understanding that we should be held accountable as intentional agents for our nefarious actions?

Ironically, Harris seems to be peddling his own reductionist dogmatism, in which Orthodox Judaism, for instance, is reduced to “‘spitting on schoolgirls.” If his argument were, instead, that all belief systems – whether religious or non-religious – should be tempered by intellectual reasoning, I would have no problem with his overall argument.

But since he structures his argument around a highly ethereal category – “religion” – the intellectual rigor of his argument tends to slip. You see it when he tries to squeeze Hitler’s obviously insane viewpoints into the category of “religion” or “cult.” Yes, there’s truth in that, but then one can make a cult out of certain scientific convictions – say, when Malthusian-inflected atheists see no reason why human life per se should be privileged over concerns for other animal forms or the biosphere.

As Harris and Dawkins show, the actual problem is rigid categorical thinking, which can affect everyone, whether religious or atheist. The problem for atheists rears its head when they think they have the science right, and then draw dangerous conclusions from that.

Apart from physics, much of what we deem to be science in fact heavily depends on on certain ascertainment biases and a priori assumptions. So, we must be careful about magically wrapping the mantle of ‘science” around ideas that we know little of other than through the assurances of those high priests who proclaim that their insights are blessed and touched by the cherished mantle.

In the end, the faculty of reason has its place in all human spheres, either religious or otherwise. Yes, one is right to challenge those who take on an overly irrational approach to their religious beliefs. I would just extend that critique to those atheists who smugly presume they get a pass on their own dogmatic ideas simply because they wrap themselves in the holy mantle of “science.”

Umish Katani says:

Only dangerous, forget the polemics, if you disagree with him…. then he is the enemy if you agree with him he is a genius. Wow glass half empty vs half full arguement.
Nice reading but not impressive….

BrianLandon says:

so he is against dogma? Hmm, well, his numbers of deaths attributed to religion are quite wrong——– Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin were avowed atheists.
And Hitler was certainly no Christian–indeed he sent many Christians to the gas chambers and work camps.
But I guess the death toll alone of Communism for the 20th century of over 90 million people is insignificant in Harris’ eyes.
And another fact- of life in North America, over 80% of charities run for the poor, the disenfranchised, and yes, even those stricken with aids are run by religious charities.

Specious reasoning. Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin did not commit genocide in the NAME of atheism. Their atheism was inconsequential in their actions and their regard from their followers was akin to a religious following. They had bad ideas that went unchecked.

Juca Bala says:

Give me an example where nothing produces something and I change my religion.

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Q&A: Sam Harris

The Christian right, radical Islamists, and secular leftists agree: this atheist is America’s most dangerous man