My initial impression of Sam Harris and Project Reason is that they’ve taken a potentially amazing concept (the idea of finding agreed upon shared values in society, based on some sort of objective measure of what is “right”) and injected it with fatal flaws by insisting on this idea of militant atheism or whatever you want to call it. In a bizarre and perhaps slightly inappropriate analogy, if shared values are early Christianity, then militant atheism is the wrong side of the circumcision controversy at the Council of Jerusalem.
Also, it annoys me that they so conveniently ignore the argument of root causes and symptomatic effects when it comes to religion, staking out other arguments in great detail but breezily asserting that we can be certain that the best way to eliminate various problems is to eliminate religion, in the absence of any reasonable data to prove this point.
Anyways. That aside, my other issue with these ideas is the lack of a practical application at a real world level, making it overly intellectual and, yes, a bit elitist (or, if elitist is too strong a word, at least irrelevant to many people.) So, I’m just curious, as a hypothetical in a “real world situation”, how one would apply these ideas. A few examples:
- I work with autistic children, many of whom are left handed. In some Islamic cultures (I’ll admit my ignorance as to which ones and why,) children are not permitted to write with the left hand, essentially meaning that we can’t teach them to write by hand at all (if you’re autistic, for the most part, learning to write with your non-preferred hand just ain’t gonna happen).
- A doctor sees a patient who is using contradictory or harmful practices prescribed by cultural or religious beliefs
- I’ll steal from the recent news here - a teacher is concerned when a student practices football in the heat for hours without water because it’s a fasting time, but it would be discrimination to tell him not to play
Situations like these raise the following questions for me:
1. On the one hand, having an open discourse on religious values (not a right to steam roll people with alternate beliefs but simply the ability to even bring it up and talk about it,) would be helpful - on the other, where does that leave us, really, except back at “it’s a free country”? Sometimes people make decisions based on religion and culture, and sometimes people just make bad decisions, but in the end they’re free to do that, and in most cases should be.
2. What practical advice does any of Sam’s work contain on achieving this dialogue in a real world scenario? Because in most real world situations there’s no way to even begin a conversation like this respectfully, at least not with current societal expectations.
A white racist and an afrocentrist are simply not going to embrace each other’s mindmap.
A Jew and a holocaust denier will never be able to agree on ‘what really happened”.
It is impossible to have a reasonable conversation when one or both of the participants have unreasonable beliefs.
And let’s face it, all beliefs constructed by the human brain concerning the actual nature of man are ego and anthrocentric and inherently flawed.
Compounding the equation is the fact that the “person” and its beliefs are the same phenomenon.
It is unlikely…....and probably not desirable…...that the incredible diversity of human experience merge into a consensus reality.
I can understand the point of view that “If you and I have core differences in our beliefs based on religion, we will never reach consensus.” I would argue, however, that people will always have core differences in beliefs, and we must continue to do our best to reach a reasonable consensus as a society anyhow. The question is how?
Let’s say that you are trying to reach a consensus with someone who believes that the earth is actually flat.
My point is that in such a discussion there is no place to start.
If you try to convince them that there is no evidence to support their assumption, you will get nowhere.
They are convinced that the world is flat.
Their mind is made up.
End of discussion.
I would also argue that going after a core belief first with the idea that it will solve or help your problem is possibly foolish and at best should be presented as an experimental hypothesis, not a fact. In my mind, it’s akin to walking in on a fight where a sister screams at her brother “Girls rule, boys drool!” and assuming you will resolve the hostility between them by showing the little girl scientific evidence that boys do not, in statistical terms, drool on average any more than the average girl.
Have you ever heard anyone say:
“By golly, I see the logic behind your argument!”
Everyone believes that their conclusion concerning reality are correct.
It’s just that some are based omn logic and some are based on hope.
Again, this idea that spreading atheism is a noble and humanitarian cause kind of sticks in my craw. You want to spread atheism just because you think you’re right and everyone else is wrong? Fine! I think it seems rather self serving to wrap oneself up in the cloak of righteousness and world-saving when doing such a thing, again, in the absence of any evidence. For all we know, going after religion is the absolute worst method on the planet for reaching shared values. Assuming that something feels intuitively correct does not a scientific case make.
I am not spreading atheism.
Atheism is not a belief.
It the absence of belief in a world view that in not supported by any evidence.
Can you support you belief in a god?
Can you explain the suffering (not only human suffering) in the world?
Either your god can’t…..or won’t intervene.
There is no evidence to support the belief in a God.
Actually all the evidence indicates the absence of supernatural being at the helm.
Religion in itself is probably neutral in its overall influence on human beings.
But the magical thought out of which it arises creates a make-believe reality in which anything becomes believable.
It creates factions whose natural inclination is to destroy each other.
It is based on fear and hope and can come up with nothing to support its foundation.
I’ll add, I think the knee jerk response to this argument is to point out something dreadful done in the name of religion or associated with religious power - the recent Catholic Church abuse scandal, for example. I’m not saying for a second that people shouldn’t seek to right these injustices, but if you are targeting cases of abuse and injustice, then that is a separate stance and not what I’ve seen endorsed here. There is a difference between people who happen to be religious doing wicked things; and religion actually causing people to do wicked things. I’ll repeat: an intuitive assumption does not equal valid evidence. For all we know, religion itself is a completely secondary and non-causal factor in various behaviors, and targeting religious beliefs as opposed, say, education, poverty, heck the phase of the moon, is a complete and utter waste of time in trying to actually resolve an issue. Or maybe not - my point is that we don’t know.
Christians “do good” because they seek eternal life and fear retribution.
I much prefer the charity of those who are more secular.
If Sam Harris wants to publish research to support his position then great, I will rethink my position. In the meantime, I can’t help but have serious doubts as to why such a brilliant person has so stubbornly ignored such a gaping hole in his argument for so long. You want to help people, join the One Foundation, write a book for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whatever floats your boat - but pick something that is data, and not rhetoric, based. You want to tout your opinions because you think they’re right? Fine, good for you, but stop dressing them up in World Avenger clothing until you can back up that claim.
You claim that there is a God.
I cannot prove the absence of a creator.
The burden of proof lies on the one who says something exists.
Perhaps you would help me understand why you believe the way you do.
Edited for clarity:
Obviously, the above argument references broad spectrum sociological issues, i.e., does extremist Islam cause terrorism or do a combination of factors result in people who are terrorists and extremists?
Deluded ethnocentric beliefs cause terrorism.
On more localized issues such as “Can an open minded scientist do productive research on our origins when working with a strict creationist?” - well, no, obviously not. Hence my frustration and uncharacteristic ranty-ness here, I think this is such a great topic but being handled rather badly in the long run.
This is an arena in which ideas concerning the nature of realty compete.
So far, the scientific method, is the most effective thing devised to weed out
ideas that are not based on fact.
It is where vaccines and antibiotics come from.
Can you think of any medical advance that can be credited to religion?
Ok, to be fair I did a little searching and I have seen Sam Harris vaguely, vaguely address these issues, but again, in such a minimalistic way as to be ridiculous when held up against his other, more well thought out arguments. The suicide bombers involved in 9/11 were, according to him (I wouldn’t know,) middle class, therefore religion must have been the deciding factor.
Ok. And, the rest of your argument, data, evidence is… WHAT?! (Bangs head into wall in frustration.) Never mind that there were multiple cultural and societal factors at play in that society, never mind that you don’t see a lot of middle class Muslim suicide bombers in this country, never mind a million and one alternate scenarios (i.e., there are mentally disturbed middle class nut jobs in every society but it takes an impoverished, oppressed society to pull them into this kind of act,) never mind that one fuzzy case study does not equal anything approaching conclusive data .... (Tears out hair.) Seriously?!
How many secular suicide bombers have you seen?
Again, it’s not the theological argument that bothers me here, it’s the giant hole in his logical argument that he refuses to address. It only reaffirms my belief that human beings (save perhaps .0001% of them) are not really capable of entirely flexible and logical thought; but will always mix in their own prejudices, hopes, and biases and call it “logic”.
If logic were a priority for the human brain, it would never be able to make even the most mundane decision.
If you get a chance read “The Believing Brain” and “Why People Believe Weird Things” by Michael Shermer.
They offer wonderful insights into me machinery of belief.
You do not get to pick and choose which arguments you want to fully address because some of them are inconvenient for you, as a theist I at least say, right up front, “Hey, I’m not engaging in rational debate on this because it’s not a rational, logic based thing.” Geez, at least be honest about it!!
My point is that there can no rational discussion on the existence or non-existence of Santa.
The same thing applies to ufos, purple angels on the moon and God.
I’m repeating myself, I know, and going in circles, but to summarize:
I see no real evidence that doing away with religion across the board is helpful, other than “Well, I think atheism is right and true and that must always be the best route to go, only good things can come of it.” No, no, that is actually theist type logic, not evidence based logic.
I never said that the world would be better off without its belief in Santa or God.
Some social scientists postulate that the overall benefits of religion outweigh the horrors they impose.
There is no way to tell for sure.
It does, however, alarm me that all of the Republican candidates profess a profound belief of a big guy in the sky who is on America’s side.
It scares the hell out of me when one candidate calls for mass prayer meeting to court the favor of the creator of the universe and when a female contender claims to have crumpled up under her husbands demands.
I don’t believe that hope for relief from our screwed up economy should be placed in the hands of a force that has no actual existential reality.
I see no real evidence that doing away with religion would solve or alleviate any of the problems Sam (quite admirably, I will give him that,) is concerned about. Alternately, it is quite possible that some other track actually would be helpful, and focusing on religion is an absolute waste of time and resources.
I see no real evidence that, even if both of the above were true, it is in any way possible to influence religious choices (especially extremist religions, the ones presumably of most concern,) by simply telling them “Yeah, we think you’re wrong and this is why.” Common sense tells me this would probably have the exact opposite effect, although I can’t back that up. This is highly relevant; however, in that if simply espousing atheism to extremists does nothing, well - why on earth would people do it? Because exercises in futility are super fun? What does this accomplish except, possibly, to produce hostility towards secularism?
It is frustrating for us non-believers to see those inclined to religiosity return again and again to an empty trough.
There is no evidence that God exists.
(There is actually more evidence that he doesn’t)
There is no evidence that intercessory prayer has any effect at all and yet people continue to get down on their knees and plead for help.
If one expects help from a supernatural force, those areas that might offer some relief become neglected.
Parents will watch their babies die while praying to an imaginary god.
That makes me sad.
I see no real evidence that Sam or Project Reason has decided to give any of the above much further thought, although hopefully I am mistaken.
What am I missing here? What is the actual point of any of this outside of the old separation of church and state debate, which, while we may need to enforce more effectively, we theoretically agreed to a couple of hundred years ago?
I have not felt this frustrated with a philosophy since I was introduced to strict behaviorism in grad school, seriously. In fact, Skinner purists are one of the few groups who can cause me to write equally rant-y posts.
To be fair, I haven’t read Sam’s work in it’s entirety or seen all of his debates, so maybe I’m just missing the point here or taking bits and pieces out of context, I don’t know. Everything I’ve seen thus far, however, paints a frustrating picture of a near miss at something quite meaningful - or, more cynically, a brilliant debate-artist whose ultimate goal (either originally or as things progressed,) was to carve out a successful niche socially and financially. I will keep an open mind and hope that’s not true.
There is hope that a rational world whose beliefs are not based on superstition would be a better, safer place.
Perhaps that is not so.
Perhaps we will never know.
Perhaps we will never know.
Probably not, until someone with some basic social skills joins this particular team (not speaking to posters here, just the universal “you”). Hey, not a problem for me I guess, I’m not an atheist. This whole thing just seems like a Business 101 exercise in how to set up a losing proposition -
Offer to take away something that currently serves to fulfill a need on a moral, social, functional, community and emotional level and offer nothing in return but a void and vague promises of answers that might one day be found by doing long and boring literature reviews!
Morality does not come from God.
Social animals evolve behaviors that help them survive and reproduce.
Monkeys have morality.
Dogs have morality.
Children have morality.
Even Democrats have a little morality.
Make your salesmen sardonic and often vaguely superior / hostile males on message boards! If people like to be welcomed with smiles, open arms and coffee hours at a new church, they’ll really love sitting home alone and getting combative replies on the internet
Do you want hugs and kisses or the truth?
Focus entirely on an abstract philosophical question and blithely ignore more practical concerns at a local and global level! Global poverty? Nah! Global atheism - yeah! Make vague promises of the awesomeness to follow if your beliefs are adopted, without any specific data or plan as to where and how this will happen.
(t) I suggest no plan and neither do the worlds religions.
Their only plan concerns their own path to immortality.
Make everything an abrasive all or nothing proposition - you’re all in on this or you’re all out - to be absolutely sure you exclude people who would normally be on your side! If you sense hesitation, be sure to point out how wrong headed you think your customer is - it’s a deal sealer every time!
They are immune to reason.
Perhaps a cold spritz of logic is what they need to see the lunacy upon which their hopes rest.
Darwinism doesn’t just apply to nature. This movement has some serious adaptation problems. I predict a better suited creature taking its place at some point.
The only hope that the reasoning mind has to awaken from its somnambulistic slumber is reason itself.
Edited to add:
Like the new blog post on Warren Buffett. Perhaps Sam is quietly moving on to more sensible matters after all.
I don’t care what Sam does.
I don’t care what Sam does.
Ah, well, bizarrely enough, as of lately, I do. I don’t know why exactly - friend, SIDs death, existential crisis… it’s a long story. I guess I’m doing what people have done since the beginning of time, looking for answers where there are none.
Anyways, I look up through the above threads and see they’re taking on a nasty tone. I want to apologize for that. That’s not who I am or at least who I want to be, I’ve just been frustrated lately. Maybe I want to reach through my computer monitor, shake Sam Harris, and scream “Answer me damn it!!! Somebody give me an f-ing answer!” but no one can, and I’ve been unfairly harsh in the process. I’m sorry for that.
In a nutshell:
We are conceptual beings.
We are the dream of separation.
We ask conceptual questions about a conceptual reality.
A strangely familiar peace descends when it dawns that reality can never be condensed into thought.
You are the best that life has to offer.
Step out into the Great Unknown-Unknowable.
That was beautiful toombaru.
I feel compelled to add, after all of my complaints, I actually saw an interview with Sam Harris on The Big Think and I must say I find him rather enlightening and delightfully rational as soon he gets away from the topic of “Religion makes people do bad things!” It’s a shame, because that’s the one area where I just don’t follow his reasoning at all, but it seems to be about 70-80% of his public persona. I was surprised to find that he’s a joy to watch when speaking on other philosophical matters. Well, the importance of keeping an open mind and all, I guess…
One of the flaws in human thought is the assumption that “authorities” know what they are talking about.
Actually, everybody is guessing.
Religion doesn’t make people do bad things.
Evolution makes people do bad things.