Sam Harris

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Sam Harris is an American author and atheist. He has written several atheist advocacy books, including The End of Faith (2004) and Letter to a Christian Nation. In 2009, Harris was awarded a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Contents

Views

Sam Harris believes that discussion of religious claims should not be taboo but should be evaluated in the same manner as any other belief. He also argues that beliefs have consequences. [1]

No religion is objectively true

Given the numerous religions and their different standards of avoiding hell, "every believer should expect damnation on mere, probabilistic grounds." He also criticises the evidential basis for religion as "terrible or nonexistent", pointing out the unreliability of testimony of miracles. [2]

Religion is harmful

Sam Harris considers religion's harmful qualities, such as terrorism, territorial claims and sexual anxiety, outweigh it's positive aspects.

"Can anyone seriously argue that it is a good thing that millions of Muslims currently believe in the metaphysics of martyrdom?"

Religious believers give "tacit support to the religious differences in our world." [1]

Harris argues that even if religion provides morality or gives our lives meaning does not automatically imply the existence of God. [2]

He suggests that since it is impossible to coexist with Islamic states given the existence of disruptive technology, therefore there is no option by economic and military intervention to depose theocracies and impose western civil society or at least benign dictatorship around the world:

"It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. [... Where this is not possible, it] seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap. But benignity is the key– and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both. While this may seem an exceedingly arrogant doctrine to espouse, it appears we have no alternatives. We cannot wait for weapons of mass destruction to dribble out of the former Soviet Union –to pick only one horrible possibility –and into the hands of fanatics.”"

Ethics and spiritual experience

Ethics discussions and spiritual experiences are important and are generally impeded by religious dogma.

Harris has argued for a scientific basis of morality based on concern for the well-being of conscious creatures. He has expressed these views in his book The Moral Landscape and talks.

Criticism

Racism and Islamophobia

Chris Hedges claimed that Harris is generalising and demonising all Muslims as extremists and pre-modern to justify military occupation. The Qur'an, the Torah and the Bible all contain violence and intolerance, but Harris considers Islamic states to be a special threat while ignoring the possible threat of extremism from other Abrahamic religions. [1] However, most Muslims are not extremist. Glen Greenwald says this focus on Muslims is "irrational" and "disproportionate" and "unjustified".

Harris has defended his views saying they apply equally to white Muslims and other extremist religions but notes the "Not all religious doctrines are mistaken to the same degree, intellectually or ethically, and it would be dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend otherwise." Harris has stated that no one is suffering more from Islam than the Muslims themselves. He thinks that it is obvious that not all Muslims are terrorists. Harris criticises the liberal movement for not addressing the "menace of political Islam". [3]

"My condemnation applies to the doctrines of Islam and to the ways in which they reliably produce these 'bad acts.'"

Security and Militarism

Sam Harris responded to criticism of his justification of torture in extreme circumstances in The End of Faith: [3]

"In one section of the book (pp. 192−199), I briefly discuss the ethics of torture and collateral damage in times of war, arguing that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board. Rather than appreciate just how bad I think collateral damage is in ethical terms, some readers have mistakenly concluded that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may be not only ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary. This is not the same as saying that they should be legal [...]"

However, this stance is condemned by those who consider torture to be unacceptable in any situation.

In this book The End of Faith, Sam Harris wrote that there may be no alternative but for the West to pre-emptive nuclear attack any Islamist state that gains long distance nuclear weapons but such an action by the West would be "an unthinkable crime" and "an unconscionable act". [4]Based on this, Harris likely regards pre-emptive nuclear attack as a "necessary evil". Harris calls for the scenario to be avoided altogether by moderate Muslim countries to prevent it, presumable by discouraging nuclear proliferation. Chris Hedges responded to Sam Harris: [5]

"I mean, Sam Harris, at the end of his first book, asks us to consider a nuclear first strike on the Arab world. Both Hitchens and Harris defend the use of torture."

Perhaps because Hedges did not include all Harris's qualifications that any nuclear target must be a long-ranged nuclear armed Islamist state, Harris says Hedges is misrepresenting his writing: [6]

"After my first book was published, the journalist Chris Hedges seemed to make a career out of misrepresenting its contents—asserting, among other calumnies, that somewhere in its pages I call for an immediate, nuclear first strike on the entire Muslim world."

However, Hedges is not criticising Harris for calling for an "immediate, nuclear first strike on the entire Muslim world" but rather for considering the use of nuclear weapons in any military capacity.

Harris has also been criticised for supporting racial profiling for airport security checks. Harris has defending his views as being practical: [3]

"My position on profiling is very simple: We should admit that we know what we are looking for (suicidal terrorists) and that certain people obviously require less scrutiny than others. [...] But given scarce resources, we can’t afford to waste our time and attention pretending to think that every traveller is equally likely to be affiliated with al Qaeda."

What triggers religious extremism?

The Qur'an, the Torah and the Bible all contain violence and intolerance and have been available for centuries. His critics point out that if religion was the cause of extremist, it would be uniformly occurring in time and place thoughout areas that follow Abrahamic religion. This uniformity of extremism is not observed. Harris responded by saying religions in the West have been attenuated by modernity. He compared the Islamic world to medieval Europe. [1] However, most people still profess religious belief in the majority in most "modern" countries.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Religion and Politics: The End of the World? A Truthdig Debate, Royce Hall, UCLA, May 22, 2007 [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 [2]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Response to Controversy, Version 2.3, Sam Harris blog (April 7, 2013) [3]
  4. Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pages 128-129
  5. Charly Wilder, I don’t believe in atheists, Salon, Mar 13, 2008 [4]
  6. Dear Angry Lunatic: A Response to Chris Hedges, Sam Harris Blog, July 26, 2011 [5]

Presentations and writings


v · d Atheism
Terminology   Etymology of the word atheist · Weak atheism · Strong atheism · Agnosticism · Atheist vs. agnostic · Tenets and dogma
Contemporary literature   The End of Faith · The God Delusion · God: The Failed Hypothesis · Letter to a Christian Nation · God Is Not Great · Irreligion · 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
Classic literature   Why I Am Not a Christian
Atheist and secular groups   Atheist groups · Secular charities · How American Non-Atheists view Atheists
Contemporary authors   Richard Dawkins · Daniel Dennett · A. C. Grayling · Sam Harris · Guy P. Harrison · John Allen Paulos · James Randi · Victor Stenger
Internet non-believers   Reginald Vaughn Finley · PZ Myers
Writers and philosophers   David Hume · Robert Ingersoll · Friedrich Nietzsche · Bertrand Russell · Carl Sagan
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