Sam Harris

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Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, author, proponent of scientific scepticism, Ben Stiller look-alike, 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. 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."

Contents

[edit] Religion

Harris advocates being conversationally intolerant of religious belief, specifically faith claims, and has a strong stance against Islam in particular. He believes that ending religion would do more good than ending rape.[2]

From this perspective, rape is a crime that one man commits against the honor of another; the woman is merely Shame’s vehicle, and often culpably acquiescent—being all blandishments and guile and winking treachery. According to God, if the victim of a rape neglects to scream loudly enough, she should be stoned to death as an accessory to her own defilement (Deuteronomy 22:24).
[3]

[edit] Project Reason

See the main article on this topic: 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:

[edit] The End of Faith

In The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Harris argues 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."[4]p. 12

He dedicates a section of the book to what he sees as the problem with Islam.[4]p. 109 He considers Islam to be a special case, 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.[4]p. 125</ref>

Elsewhere he sees Islam as violent, anachronistic and opposed to important Western values, notably free speech. Harris accuses Western liberals of being more concerned with political correctness and with avoiding accusations of racism than with defending Western freedom.[5]

At the end of the book Harris seems to show a greater respect for Eastern religions than for Western religions. He admits that Asia has had a fair share of "false prophets and charlatan saints," but that Asian cultures have also developed some wondrous insights into consciousness by direct experimentation with meditation.[4]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.[4]p. 217 This is part of a larger argument which he makes in the book: it needs to be acknowledged that spiritual experiences can be experienced 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 subjective experiences and consciousness without attempting to attach them to claims about the universe as a whole.[4]p. 221

[edit] The Moral Landscape

In The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that all moral claims are in principle scientific claims, his contention being that all moral claims are claims about the wellbeing or suffering of conscious creatures and so there must be facts about the experiences of these creatures whether we know these facts or not.[6] He was notably savaged for this, within both the philosophical and the atheist communities; many criticisms focused on the perceived totalitarianism inherent in science telling people how to achieve wellbeing as articulated in the novel 'Brave New World', other criticisms claimed that defining wellbeing in scientific terms to be an impossible task in principle because wellbeing is subjective and different for all. In philosophical circles, he was criticized for breaking Hume's law and straw manning ethical and moral philosophies, or rather for denigrating the debates that occur in within moral philosophy as "boring".[7] Harris has responded to these criticisms by stating that Hume's law is not an actual law of the universe and that it does not stand up to deeper scrutiny, and by comparing the abstract definition of 'wellbeing' to that of 'health' such that the words do not need rigorous definition to be practical. His full response to many different critics is been posted to his website.[8]

[edit] Neuroscience

Harris has conducted research on the neuroscience of religious belief.[9]

[edit] Paranormal

Harris apparently takes a range of alleged paranormal phenomena more seriously than do most scientists (links added by RW):

My views on the paranormal: ESP, reincarnation, etc.

My position on the paranormal is this: While there have been many frauds in the history of parapsychology, I believe that this field of study has been unfairly stigmatized. If some experimental psychologists want to spend their days studying telepathy, or the effects of prayer, I will be interested to know what they find out. And if it is true that toddlers occasionally start speaking in ancient languages (as Ian Stevenson alleges), I would like to know about it. However, I have not spent any time attempting to authenticate the data put forward in books like Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe or Ian Stevenson's 20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. The fact that I have not spent any time on this should suggest how worthy of my time I think such a project would be. Still, I found these books interesting, and I cannot categorically dismiss their contents in the way that I can dismiss the claims of religious dogmatists. (Here, I am making a point about gradations of certainty: Can I say for certain that a century of experimentation proves that telepathy doesn’t exist? No. It seems to me that reasonable people can disagree about the statistical data. Can I say for certain that the Bible and the Koran show every sign of having been written by ignorant mortals? Yes. And this is the only certainty one needs to dismiss the God of Abraham as a creature of fiction.)[10]

[edit] Let's play "Harris or Malkin?"

Harris' stance on Islam is often indistinguishable from certain batshit ideologues. See if you can tell the difference:


Harris claims that these quotations have been taken out of context.[15] We've linked them in the footnotes, you can judge for yourself.

[edit] Bibliography

  • The End of Faith (2004)
  • Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)
  • The Moral Landscape (2010)
  • Lying (2011)
  • Free Will (2012)
  • Waking Up, A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (September 2014)

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

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