Home > Ethics, Human Rights, Morality, Politics, Religion > I Just Met Sam Harris, And I Think I Kind of Like Him.

I Just Met Sam Harris, And I Think I Kind of Like Him.

My newest class on my journey toward a BA in History is Introduction to Ethics. Right out of the gate, my instructor has plunged us into cultural relativism, as well as ethical relativism, which are, if I understand them, theories that deal with morality of different cultures as we now know them. As part of this study, we were required to watch this lecture by noted Athiest and author Sam Harris. I have to admit, this is my first experience with the dude. I can’t say that I quite yet understand everything that he’s talking about, but what I did understand, I agree with. It’s a bit on the long side, but if you can hang in there, it’s worth the watch as well as thought provoking.

  1. January 11, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    The Moral Landscape is a fairly small book by Harris that expands on this talk, and is really really interesting to read.


  2. January 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I’m definitely going to add him to my reading bucket list. Thanks for stopping by, as well as the follow!


  3. January 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    I have read both “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”. I would recommend “End of Faith”.


  4. January 11, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    They’re all good. “The Moral Landscape” is slightly more science oriented than your average book on morality, but that was perfectly fine with me. All three are recommended by this reader.


  5. January 12, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Harris bends the rules like most of his peers do. See the first slide about “wellbeing,” where he sneaks a universal moral equation in the backdoor. But he never proves how randomly colliding molecules produce this. Lions don’t care about the wellbeing of gazelles. His distinction of consciousness proves nothing. Again, in his worldview, consciousness came from the same molecule action that has no moral component.

    It is humorous to see people like Harris compared to other Darwinians like Coyne who insist we don’t have any free will and that morality is an illusion — http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-01-01/free-will-science-religion/52317624/1?fb_comment_id=fbc_10150495256363680_20448457_10150498095578680#f174fa83dc .

    Coyne is just slightly more consistent with his worldview than Harris, but he still can’t go three sentences without contradicting himself.

    “Science” has great value in showing how the material world is put together, and can show why certain acts will result in less pain for you (i.e., don’t hit yourself with a hammer and you’ll have less pain). But it can’t tell you why you shouldn’t hit your neighbor with a hammer if it will help you survive or get your genes into the next generation. Of course we all know that would be wrong, but that is because we are moral creatures with God’s laws written on our hearts. It isn’t the result of molecules colliding after they came into being from nothing and merged to create life without a cause.


    • Jonathan Lenahan
      January 12, 2012 at 8:07 am

      Pretty bold of you, dismissing everything science offers as incorrect in one bold swath and putting God in its place. Look at it from an evolutionary standpoint (a simplified one because I’m typing from a phone). It would be wrong of us to hit other people with hammers because if so we would have died out long ago; there is a rational reason we don’t kill each other except in extreme cases. Killing one another is usually not the first option, both because in many cases it is immoral as well as because from an evolutionary standpoint it would not benefit us to kill each other. If it’s bad to do (I.e. Resulting in your discontinued existence) it isn’t hard to imagine a population growing through the ears to abhor killing.
      I’d like to give a better explanation but I’m limited at the moment; I know it’s incomplete.


  6. January 12, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Thanks for the response.

    “Pretty bold of you, dismissing everything science offers as incorrect”

    No, what is bold is you completely distorting what I said. I said, ““Science” has great value in showing how the material world is put together,” which is the opposite of what you claimed I said. My dispute is with one hopelessly politicized and corrupted sub-branch of one of the dozens of branches of science.

    “It would be wrong of us to hit other people with hammers because if so we would have died out long ago; there is a rational reason we don’t kill each other except in extreme cases.”

    Not at all. If food is in short supply, or if I want more stuff to make me more comfortable to live longer and help my gene pool, then I’d be justified in doing whatever necessary.

    And how would I “know” that it would be bad for others to discontinue living? Remember, evolution, in theory, selects for survivability, not rationality or truth.

    “Killing one another is usually not the first option, both because in many cases it is immoral”

    Sorry, you just cheated as Harris did. Where do you get the concept of “immoral?” Yes, we both know it is wrong, but your worldview can’t ground it. It is an immaterial concept and science deals with material things. I encourage you to search for words like “good,” “benefit,” etc. when writing about these topics. It is usually a sign that you have reflexively assumed something that your worldview can’t support.

    Off to work!



  7. January 12, 2012 at 8:20 am

    P.S. Whatever you do, I encourage you to try and reconcile Coyne and Harris and other prominent philosophical atheists who concede that true morality is a myth. Coyne’s assertion (despite the fact that he contradicts it repeatedly) is that free will is an illusion and that we just think we are choosing things. There is no real good or bad. I think he is wrong, but at least he is trying to be consistent with his molecules to man worldview. Harris can’t ignore that real morality exists (that’s a good sign for him), but he errs in trying to rationalize it. As wrong as Coyne & Co. are, they are (somewhat) more consistent atheists.


  8. January 12, 2012 at 9:22 am

    By dismissing what science has to offer, I meant as in you saying everything dismissing everything except the material. Like I said, I’m on a phone. I perhaps didn’t word it as carefully as possible, but only because I was at a typing disadvantage. I didn’t mean that in the broad sense in the way you took it as, though I can see why you would in this instance. The boldness was more in line with saying we’re moral because we’re made from God, an assertion that you put forth with no lines to back it up. You added it as more of an axiom than as an explanation.

    In your example of food being in short supply, then yes, the people that find it easier to kill would be the ones to live (likely) and pass on their genes so in a thousand years we would have a pool of people that are more likely to regard killing as acceptable. However, such is not the case, and you’re speaking in hypotheticals. Most of the time, we can find other ways than resorting to killing because killing isn’t necessary, and would be a bad first option. You may feel justified in making yourself more able to survive by killing others, but seeing as most have an aversion to killing you would be endangering yourself more by killing than by not because the rest of the people would find you and lock you up. Killing and taking advantage of others doesn’t necessarily correlate to enhanced survival because you have to take the rest of the people into consideration.

    Find a copy of Alonzo Fyfe’s “Selected Essays on Desire Utilitarianism” if you can. You might find it interesting, if not compatible with your world views.


  9. January 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Oh, and as an added note, when I stated that science can study that which is not physical I meant the study of what people of religious origin usually state as not physical such as the soul. Of course science doesn’t study things that aren’t material. That’s an easily misunderstood phrasing on my part in the above comment.


  10. January 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    First, thanks for clarifying your points and then seeking clarification.

    “So, is it your assertion that most athiests (or even all) are moral nihilists?”

    I would be the first to say that not all atheists are moral nihilists (or even most of them). I’m saying that if they are consistent with their worldview they should be moral nihilists. The fact that they aren’t moral nihilists is supporting evidence for my worldview. I reference Coyne’s view of there being no free will and other prominent atheists who concede that their materialistic worldview would not support any sort of universal morality. We all know morals exist, but in a materialistic worldview they are necessarily a fiction.


  11. January 12, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    eMatters, off topic slightly, but I see you run a Christian website. I’m doing a blog tomorrow on the Brazilian girl that was excommunicated by the Church for going through with an abortion. If you get the time I’d like you to read it. Mine is a relatively new website and intelligent opposition or discussion in reference to the views I promote are welcomed.


  12. January 12, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Jonathan – thanks, I’d be glad to. I’ll make a note to follow up. I scanned your piece on the lady with 12 kids and appreciate your rage!

    You are welcome at my place as well. We have several thoughtful skeptics who participate.


  13. January 12, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I planned on following it later today; you’re well-spoken. Looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow.


  14. January 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Great stuff guys! Thank you for the intelligent and civil discussion. Drop by any time!


  15. January 12, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Anytime. Hope to hear from you on my page sometime.

    Jonathan L.


    • January 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      I’ve managed to stop by a few times in the last day, and I like the way you think (and write)! I’ve also added you to my blog roll 🙂


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