In this highly anticipated, explosive new book, the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation calls for an end to religion's monopoly on morality and human values. In The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values to dismantle the most common justification for religious faith -- that a moral system cannot be based on science.
The End of Faith ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In its aftermath, Harris discovered that most people, from secular scientists to religious fundamentalists, agree on one point: Science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Even among religious fundamentalists, the defense one most often hears for belief in God is not that there is compelling evidence that God exists, but that faith in Him provides the only guidance for living a good life. Controversies about human values are controversies about which science has officially had no opinion. Until now.
Morality, Harris argues, is actually an undeveloped branch of neuroscience, and answers to questions of human value can be visualized on a "moral landscape" -- a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks and valleys correspond to human states of greater or lesser wellbeing. Different ways of thinking and behaving -- different cultural practices, ethical codes, modes of government, etc. -- translate into movements across this landscape. Such changes can be analyzed objectively on many levels, ranging from biochemistry to economics, but they have their crucial realization as experiences in the human brain.
Bringing a fresh, secular perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong, and good and evil, Harris shows that we know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, cultural relativism is simply false -- and comes at increasing cost to humanity. And just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality. Using his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of our "culture wars," Sam Harris delivers a game-changing argument about the future of science and about the real basis of human cooperation.
Sam Harris is an American non-fiction author, and CEO of Project Reason. He received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA, and is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University. He has studied both Eastern and Western religious traditions, along with a variety of contemplative disciplines, for twenty years. He is a proponent of scientific skepticism and is the author of The End of Faith (2004), which won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), a rejoinder to criticism of his first book, and The Moral Landscape (2010).
Author Sam Harris argues that Islam is not simply a peaceful religion that has been corrupted by extremists like Osama bin Laden. "The only problem with Islamic fundamentalism are the fundamentals of Islam," says Harris. "To call Islam a religion of peace ... is completely delusional."
Philosophical view that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances, or social situation. Rather than claiming that an action's rightness or wrongness can depend on the circumstances, or that people's beliefs about right and wrong are relative to their social conditioning, it claims (in one common form) that what is truly right depends solely on what the individual or the society thinks is right. Because what people think will vary with time and place, what is right will also vary. If, however, changing and even conflicting moral principles are equally valid, there is apparently no objective way of justifying any principle as valid for all people and all societies. This conclusion is rejected by consequentialists (seeconsequentialism) and deontologists (seedeontological ethics) alike.
Originally Posted by 50crowley
...Sam Harris never really acknowledges or even entertains the idea that violence is a symptom of ignorance, and ignorance is a symptom of resource deprivation...
Islam & the Middle East is case in point. Only 20% of the world's Muslims live in the Middle East & North Africa, yet nearly all religious violence is centered on the region. How can this be? Shouldn't all Muslims be violent?
Ossama Bin Laden was a Saudi Billionaire. Hardly a charity case or a profound example of a resource deprived person.
If resource deprivation is the only reason for violance - where are the thousands of Jainist suicide bombers? Surely, you're not implying that the average Jainist has more resources than the average Mulsim.
As for Islamic violence - it also exists outside the Middle East in places like Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Russia, south Philippines, and even in Fort Hood Texas. Having said that, Sam repeated a number of times that not all Muslims are violent.
I am glad somebody here has the ability to challenge Mr. Harris's ideas instead of just jumping on the bandwagon because they see him wearing a suit and using big words. Don't listen to all these critics. They are not worth your time.
Sam Harris never really acknowledges or even entertains the idea that violence is a symptom of ignorance, and ignorance is a symptom of resource deprivation. In other words: The societies that have been "well endowed" (in terms of resource abundance) by nature are the ones that become educated, civilized, and empathetic, while the ones that never have enough food, water, and build-able/sell-able materials constantly fight over what little they have and are extremely hostile to those who have more of what they want/need.
Islam & the Middle East is case in point. Only 20% of the world's Muslims live in the Middle East & North Africa, yet nearly all religious violence is centered on the region. How can this be? Shouldn't all Muslims be violent? The fact of the matter is that the lack of resources and resulting political turmoil in the Middle East are what cause violence and extremism, NOT the religious beliefs and practices that dominate the area.
Anyone who writes off the beliefs of nearly a quarter of the worlds population is one of (or a combination of) three things: egotistical, ignorant, and/or racist. I don't know which of these traits apply to Sam Harris, but I guarantee you they do.
Sam Harris has insight into evolution and somewhat into ethics. But his vision of religion and Islam are both so mundane and ignorant. He parrots the most ridiculous claim, choosing to identify as the icons of religion precisely those people who acts are so counter to religion: fundamentalists. He then slips into the convenient binary of fundamentalist-moderate. A moderate is good insofar as they DONT follow their religion. Someone who has NO religion is best. That must be the logic.
Sam's view of religion is impoverished, especially his view of Islam. Of course, the view of many 'believers' or card-carrying members of a Church (mosque, synagogue, &c) are also usualyl quite impoverished. Religion is the Way, the Siraat al Mustaqeem, in other words religion is the way marked by clear understanding of the nature of phenomena, including even our regular or habitual understanding of phenomena. Saying that one is 'religious' means nothing unless that person actively seeks truth, the nature of phenomena, and actively discourages the misconceptions that cover an authentic understanding of the nature of phenomena. The religion, or 'din al fitra' does not cover truth, while those who cover are kafir, which means quite literally 'one who covers' and has etymological relations with shroud and grave. The discovery, or uncovering of truth, is an exhortation that is natural to the constitution of any animal that CAN attain wisdom but must do so through struggle. Iqra, or the exhortation to discover, happens only with Jihad or struggle. In doing so, one embarks on the Way or siraat al mutaqeem, and is therefore a Muslim or one who submits peacefully. Peaceful submission does not mean that one feels good, but rather that one understands the nature of phenomena, and in doing so, their understanding is correct and suitable, giving everything its balance and measure, and in perfect harmony with the world around them. That is Islam, or peaceful submission. Islam is proven by heart and action, not by words alone.
By talking about what he patently does not know about, Sam is actively courting not knowing, he is being ignorant. He is mired in suffering, a suffering that will inflict itself on millions of innocent muslims as the words of Sam and people like Sam build a national western character of anti-Islamic prejudice.
Sam knows none of this, and does not even bother.
I just don't think that Sam Harris has studied the Quran. Much of the Quran is centred on the quest for knowledge by a genuinely existing rational animal. The first lines spoken by Mohammad are "Read in the name of God who created humankind from a clot (sperm egg) and taught them by the pen,". This exhortation to 'Read' is not passive, as the word "'Iqra" means to proclaim a discovery. The closest idea of that word is seen in the word "Eureka!". This spirit of discovery animates the entire Quran and there are many natural observations Mohammad makes, from orbits to seasons to animal behaviour. Moreover, not only is the quest to know a human preoccupation, but that quest is preformed by a biological AND rational/creative animal, one that is not only born naturally but expresses itself.
Many of what we consider repugnant verses in the Quran may simply be Mohammad's observations of and reflections on social phenomena of his time. What is more important than the actual observation is the spirit of discovery, the desire to learn and understand, that underpins Mohammad's reflections. What is 'eternal' to humankind is not any particular discovery but the act of discovery. That is a fundamental theme in the Quran.
For example, one often finds verses ending with "for those who think" or "for those who reflect" or "for those who ponder" or "for those who use reason". Furthermore, the Quran often speaks to natural or social phenomena in such a way that it precedes the observation with a "and have you not considered?" or "do you not see?". Here, the question is a rhetorical one.
To interpret the Quran as aversive to knowledge or change is simple misinterpretation, in other words it is a wrong interpretation. In fact, to interpret the Quran as neutral to discovery is complete misinterpretation of the Quran. One of the chief themes of the Quran is knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge. The Quran completely supports the quest for knowledge. However, this support for knowledge is not just knowledge of a certain type. In fact, the drive for knowledge is, in some sense, divinely mandated. Truth cannot and must not be subject to the interests of power. The search for truth is a modus operandi for any rational and creative animal. This search, happens, 'in the name of God,' as the Quran states quite clearly. Thus, if power is even to be considered, it can only be the power of God, and since God's power is not challenged by any fact, so no truth ever challenges the power of God. In other words, the search for truth is completely open and encouraged by God.
Would it not be a little more accurate to say that religion 'borrowed' its values from its inventors - humans? If the enlightenment didn't throw out the baby with the bath water, that is a credit to the power of reason, and to human solidarity. It is not a credit to religion.
The notion that religion is responsible for things like the Gold Rule, or is somehow the author of the morality espoused (if not always practiced) by men of the enlightenment, is quite... odd. You write like an educated person, so you are either cutting-and-pasting, or trying deliberately to mislead.
Or perhaps are profoundly confused.
Wait... are you a sock puppet? Did I just fall for it?
@tt314: You are being quite particular in your evaluation of the arguments put forth by Dr. Harris. That kind of selectiveness is the hallmark of the religious and dogmatic, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that this lecture has been your only exposure to him, and further, that you have been slightly distracted while listening.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you acquaint yourself more thoroughly with his ideas on the subjects of religion and morality.
In the meantime your objections seem more than a little empty, and your claims spurious, to anybody who has more than a passing familiarity with Dr. Harris' work.
Since somone offered me a penny for my thoughts, I decided to put my two cents in, giving someone a decent profit. Not being a scholar of either Christianity or Islam, I'll try to appeal to common sense which may be an oxymoron. Somewhere in the Bible it is stated, something along the lines of: "By their fruits, Ye shall know them." During the Irish "Troubles," I never heard of either side exclaiming, "God is great!" as they attacked the other, even though there was a religious element to the Catholic/Protestant conflict, which was political as much as religious. The Germans, during WWII, declared, "Gott mit Uns" (God with us.) to legitimize their aggression and, I believe, had it included in some of their military uniforms. (God is always the first recruit in most wars.) Probably most of us with some access to electron-ic media, or the movies are familiar with the exclamation, "Allahu akhbar!" (sp?) just before a bomb goes off, or a plane is crashed in which a Muslim is involved. If they were not inspired by their Islamic teaching, what, then? And where does the idea of 72 virgins originate? (Probably from the fevered imagination of a muslim, virgin, male. An experienced one would know better!)
@altareq, Thanks for giving us the perspective of a conspiracy theorist which is also a Muslim fundamentalist. Also illustrating what he mentions that some people do have mental illness, and without first accepting that evidence is necessary for knowledge any discussion is pointless. You can't convince someone through evidence that evidence is necessary. Religions always set up wars. Your own Quran spells out battles at the beginning of your very religion. The crusades were nothing but one religion attacking another. These refute your claim that religions have never set up wars. The very backwardness of your argument means nobody of any sanity will ever join your cause. My condolences. Thanks all the same for being a good example though.