Sam Harris

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Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, author, proponent of scientific scepticism, and founder of Project Reason, a charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and values in society.[1] He is best known for his books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape. He has been criticised for being intolerant of religious belief, and for positive bias shown towards eastern religions.[2][3] He has also been caught citing notorious peddlers of parapsychology such as Rupert Sheldrake and Dean Radin, he takes a range of alleged paranormal phenomena more seriously than do most scientists.[4]

Harris is a prominent face in the so-called new atheism movement, along with fellow atheists Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens, the "four horsemen".

He received a Bachelors of Arts in philosophy from Stanford and earned a Ph.D in neuroscience from UCLA in 2009.[5]

Contents

Project Reason

Project Reason is described on its website as "..a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world." Its advisory board includes many well known scientists, sceptics and atheists, including the following:

The End of Faith

Sam used his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason to argue that unjustified beliefs, specifically religious beliefs, need to be challenged. He defines a belief as a "lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person's life."[6]p. 12 He argues therefore that certain beliefs about earning admittance to the afterlife can be very dangerous, especially in a world where access to nuclear weapons is becoming easier.

He dedicates a section of the book to the problem with Islam.[6]p. 109 He considers Islam to be a special case of religion, due to the amount of text in the Qur'an that would need to be ignored for it to be a truly peaceful religion. He uses the results of a 2002 survey by the Pew Research Center which posed a question to Muslims of whether they felt suicide bombing or other violence against civilian targets could be justified in the defense of Islam, which revealed shockingly high support in many countries.[6]p. 125 Elsewhere he sees Islam as violent, anachronistic and opposed to important western values, notably free speech. Harris blames western liberals for being more concerned with political correctness and with avoiding asccusations of racism than with defending western freedom. [7]

Sam seems to show greater respect at the end of the book for Eastern religions that he does not show for Western religions. He admits that Asia has had a fair share of "false prophets and charlatan saints", but the country has also developed some wondrous insights into consciousness by direct experimentation with meditation.[6]p. 215-217 He also argues that this spirituality or mysticism does not need to be attached to a single dogma and can be experienced and experimented with in a scientific manner.[6]p. 217 This is part of a larger argument he makes in the book: it needs to be acknowledged that spiritual experiences can be experience regardless of religious belief, and they are not evidence of any claims other than the experiences themselves. This makes mysticism a rational enterprise that can make claims about experiences and consciousness without attempting to attach them to claims about the universe as a whole.[6]p. 221

The Moral Landscape

In The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that science can provide a system of morality.[8] He was notably savaged for this, including within the philosophical and atheist communities. Specifically, he was criticized for breaking Hume's law and straw manning ethical and moral philosophies.[9] Harris has "responded" to these criticisms.[10]

Neuroscience

Harris has conducted research on the neuroscience of religious belief.[11]

Bibliography

  • The End of Faith (2004)
  • Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)
  • The Moral Landscape (2010)
  • Lying (2011)

External links

Footnotes

  1. The Project Reason website
  2. Harris has repeatedly spoken positively of eastern mysticism, the most striking example of this is found in his book, The End of Faith. Matt Dillahunty, host of The Atheist Experience, suggested that readers could just skip that section of the book, and reviews from the sceptical/atheist community frequently reference his views on meditation and other practices associated with eastern religions. Johann Hari and Meera Nanda commented on this tendency of Harris, see The Sea of Faith and Violence and Trading Faith for Spirituality: The Mystifications of Sam Harris, respectively.
  3. Islamophobia and Sam Harris' Tyranny of Reason, Daily Maverick
  4. Sam Harris: A Man of Faith? The Skeptic's Dictionary newsletter #74
  5. About Sam Harris
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W.W. Norton & Company.
  7. The Reality of Islam
  8. The TED talk based on the book
  9. See the reviews by Kwame Anthony Appiah; Scott Atran; Russell Blackford; Robert Todd Carroll; Troy Jollimore; Thomas Nagel; Massimo Pigliucci; Josh Rosenau
  10. Harris's Response to Critics
  11. Harris et al. The Neural Correlates of Religious and Non-Religious Belief. PLoS ONE 4(10)
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