Essays by Sam Harris
We Are Making Moral Progress
As an activity, as a state of mind, science is fundamentally optimistic. Science figures out how things work and thus can make them work better. Much of the news is either good news or news that can be made good, thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques. Science, on its frontiers, poses more and ever better questions, ever better put. The nearly 160 responses to this year’s Edge Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Contributing their optimistic visions are a who’s who of interesting and important world-class thinkers.
The Edge Annual Question—2007
What are you optimistic about? Why?
God’s Enemies Are More Honest Than His Friends
...As to whether atheists and believers can have “a productive conversation,” I am quite sure that the answer is “yes.” But I am uncertain whether this conversation can bear fruit quickly enough to keep civilization from becoming fully engorged by Iron Age stupidity and horror…
10 myths—and 10 Truths—About Atheism
SEVERAL POLLS indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president…
Reply to B. Alan Wallace
...Wallace’s reaction to my book is symptomatic of the very political correctness and intellectual apathy to which Letter to a Christian Nation is itself a response. While my book undoubtedly has many flaws, Wallace appears to be precisely the sort of reader who cannot find them.
Reply to Nicholas D. Kristof
To the Editor:
Re “A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, Dec. 3):
Contrary to Mr. Kristof’s opinion, it isn’t “intolerant” or “fundamentalist” to point out that there is no good reason to believe that one of our books was dictated by an omniscient deity.
Beyond Belief: The Debate Continues
Scott Atran rebukes Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg and me for the various ways we each criticized religion at a recent conference at the Salk Institute. While Atran responded to us in person at this meeting, and has elaborated his views at considerable length here, he has yet to say anything of relevance to the case we built against religious faith…
[NOTE: Almost without exception, whenever Atran attributes a position to me, he has distorted it. Many of these false charges go unanswered in our exchange, as it was just too tedious to keep taking his words out of my mouth. I did not reply to his second essay posted on Edge, as it was a tangle of irrelevancy and pseudo-argument. Please do not trust Atran’s representation of my views in this essay, or in any other context.—SH]
Faith Won’t Heal a Divided World
Most Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and, therefore, divine; Muslims, however, believe that Jesus was not divine and that anyone who thinks otherwise will suffer the torments of hell (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38). This difference of opinion offers about as much room for compromise as a coin toss.
The Case Against Faith | Cover
Faith and doubt inform two important pieces in the Special Report. One, by former Bush speechwriter and adviser Michael Gerson, lays out a new, broader vision for conservative Christians. To offer a radically different view, we invited Sam Harris, an atheist who is the author of “Letter to a Christian Nation” and “The End of Faith,” to offer his perspective on mixing politics and religion…
Do We Really Need Bad Reasons To Be Good?
Either we can have a 21st-century conversation about morality and human happiness—availing ourselves of all the scientific insights and philosophical arguments that have accumulated in the last 2,000 years of human discourse—or we can confine ourselves to an Iron Age conversation as it is preserved in our holy books.
The End of Liberalism?
...Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West…
‘God’s Rottweiler’ Barks
The bestselling author of The End of Faith responds to Pope Benedict XVI’s speech on the interplay between faith and reason. Harris: “It is ironic that a man who has just disparaged Islam as ‘evil’ and ‘inhuman’ before 250,000 onlookers and the world press, is now talking about a ‘genuine dialogue of cultures.’ ”
The Language of Ignorance
In this essay, the bestselling secularist author of The End of Faith delivers a scathing review of The Language of God, a new book by Human Genome Project head Francis Collins that attempts to demonstrate a harmony between science and evangelical Christianity.
Reply to a Christian
“Since the publication of my first book, The End of Faith, I have received thousands of letters and e-mails from religious believers insisting that I am wrong not to believe in God. Invariably, the most unpleasant of these communications have come from Christians.”
Response to Controversy
A few of the subjects I explore in my work have inspired an unusual amount of controversy. Some of this results from real differences of opinion or honest confusion, but much of it is due to the fact that certain of my detractors deliberately misrepresent my views. The purpose of this article is to address the most consequential of these distortions.
The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos
“One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only really be wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is.”
Ode to Reason
Robert Hambourger’s unfavorable review of my book, The End of Faith (“Ode to Intolerance,” Winter 2006) alleges that I do not understand religion—at least as it is practiced by most people, most of the time. While he sought to illustrate this contention by stringing together many disconnected quotations from my book, he showed no sign of actually having understood my argument against religious faith. The fact that Mr. Hambourger has spent some of his considerable academic energies expounding upon “the reasonableness of belief in miracles” is quite telling…
Killing the Buddha
“Kill the Buddha,” says the old koan. “Kill Buddhism,” says Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, who argues that Buddhism’s philosophy, insight, and practices would benefit more people if they were not presented as a religion.
Reply to Leon Wieseltier
Wieseltier writes with triumphal smugness about the ‘‘excesses of naturalism’’ that apparently blight Dennett’s work. He might as well have pointed out the ‘‘excesses of historical accuracy’’ or the ‘‘excesses of logical coherence.’‘
Who Are the Moderate Muslims?
“Ever since the atrocities of September 11th, 2001, there has been a lot of hopeful talk in the Western press about the vast majority of Muslims who are religious “moderates.” Being moderates, they necessarily repudiate the theology of Osama bin Laden and disavow terrorism. Nor would they ever dream of killing another human being over a cartoon. Where are these moderate Muslims? How many of them exist? And how can we best empower them?”
The Reality of Islam
“In recent days, crowds of thousands have gathered throughout the Muslim world—burning European embassies, issuing threats, and even taking hostages—in protest over 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper last September.”
A Contemplative Science
“I recently spent a week with one hundred fellow scientists at a retreat center in rural Massachusetts. The meeting attracted a diverse group: physicists, neuroscientists, psychologists, clinicians, and a philosopher or two; all devoted to the study of the human mind. In many respects it was like any other scientific retreat: we gathered each day in a large hall; we took long walks in the snow; we ate communally. At this meeting, however, six days passed before anyone uttered a word.”
Science Must Destroy Religion
The Edge Annual Question—2006
WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?
An Atheist Manifesto
“Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle…The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.”
Selling Out Science
“With the miasma of “Intelligent Design” slowly poisoning our intellectual discourse, it is amazing to consider that a significant percentage of scientists—40 percent!—still believe that reason and faith are compatible.”
Bombing Our Illusions II
“In my last post, I argued that there is a direct link between Islam and suicide bombing. Many readers of this blog considered this post to be offensive, tendentious, and even irresponsible. An addendum seems to be in order.”
Bombing Our Illusions
“Open the newspaper today—or tomorrow, or almost any day for many years to come—and you will discover that some pious Muslim has deliberately blown himself to bits for the purpose of killing “infidels” or “apostates.” It is likely that the bomber was male, middle class, and comparatively well educated. It is especially likely that he was guided by the sincere expectation of spending eternity in Paradise.”
There is No God (And You Know It)"Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings."
“If anyone has written a book more critical of religious faith than I have, I’m not aware of it. This is not to say that The End of Faith does not have many shortcomings—but appeasing religious irrationality is not among them.”
The Politics of Ignorance
“It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum.”
The Virus of Religious Moderation
“Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a mere wall of water sweeping innocent multitudes from the beaches of 12 countries on Boxing Day, failed to raise global doubts about God’s existence.”
The Edge Annual Question — 2005
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE?
It appears that President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate have failed (for the moment) to bring the U.S. Constitution into greater conformity with Leviticus and the writings of St. Paul…