The Moral Landscape

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sam Harris, author of the new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, makes a clear case for a morality based on the laws of science.


Sam Harris

Comments [55]

Red Rocket Space Ship from NYC

Ed from Larchmont... first you are basing your beliefs on a book whose origins are from a number of humans (that's right humans and not the words of the Lord); their accounts vary from book to book. Once more, it's a story retold about a rabbi's intention to reform his corrupted religion, which baffle me how these thoughts became another religion. Your axiom my dear is about as believable as the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. If you expect anybody to believe these stories please present proof and not that this "happened" or "it's the word of the Lord" or any other explanation that requires faith in someone's word; these do not carry credibility. Now go back and rethink this without taking everything you are told as being real or the truth.

Nov. 26 2010 01:03 PM
Ed from Larchmont

hjs - nice to have fan. These new atheists are smart, and their system is internally consistent. The problem is that their assumptions or axioms are wrong (if you accept their axioms you have to accept their system). Their axioms: there is no God (materialism), there is no revelation of God, evolution and science explains all reality, and others. I don't accept the assumptions and also claim that their system can't explain observed phenomena.

Nov. 02 2010 08:23 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Having claimed to explain the existence of things through evolution, not needing God, they are now trying to explain all of reality on the basis of science as a whole (since evolution can't explain, he states, democracy, etc.) What a weary task. His axiom is that there is no God and no Revelation, and no immortality, it's his axiom. So, his whole structure is incorrect. For example: there is little proof of the afterlife, he said. What about the reports of the resurrected Jesus in the Gospels? He would simply deny it's reality. On what grounds? And that's just one example. Because the material is important, reality has evidence in material things and science can detect things, it's different to point to matter as the cause. Also, he clearly doesn't believe, of course, in the spiritually evil beings (demons), attributing the horrors of the 20th century to 'dogmatic belief'. Again his idea comes from his axiom that there are no spiritual beings.

Oct. 21 2010 06:44 PM
G dL from White Plains

although I appreciate his attempts, a "scientific" culture still has to take great pains to extricate itself from presuppositions. Some interpret evolution as competitive; others as cooperative. But it is a jump to assume that evolutionary psychology shows that men treated women as property only because they didn't want to raise the children of others. The notion of personal property is an idea which is highly varied.

this is not to say that evolution is wrong; but it is to say that we can be easily confused by scientific explanation and cultural tradition.

Second, I found it interesting that after Brian challenged him with a poll about Islam, Harris argued "She's an apologist for Islam." That is an ad hominem argument.

He also makes the presupposition that holy texts have something to do with practical religion. that is an assumption that should be examined empirically. If anything, there's evidence to show that the set of moral laws in texts are not identical to the actual practices of human beings.

Oct. 21 2010 12:34 PM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

@ j from bklyn:

what kind of research are chimps doing on mirror neurons?

Oct. 20 2010 12:32 PM
Connie from nj

"Hardcore atheists (like this character) can be very scary" says Tom from Toronto. If this guy is scary, it's not because he's an atheist. Tom's statement reveals enormous ignorance about atheism. What are you afraid of? Most of us aren't interested in talking you into nonbelief--what's the point? Just don't try to talk me into YOUR beliefs. And yes, I have morals too--I get them from the society around me, just like you do.

Oct. 20 2010 12:30 PM
geTaylor from Bklyn., NY

Of course I will read the book before coming to any final conclusion, but listening to Mr. Harris, there is something about his position that seems to recall a story that ended badly. Not that he is plagiarizing from a work with a poorly written denouement, but that history is filled with promises that the Science Can Determine Human Values (and derivatively, Science Can Determine Effective Means of for Human Values.) And a fair number have ended in tragedy both as stories and as reality.
(I believe the former are termed "dys-topias"; and the latter tyrannies.)

Oct. 20 2010 12:11 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Yesterday the guest said that those involved in religion did more charitable work. Isn't this the kind of society that Mr. Harris wants?

Oct. 20 2010 11:35 AM
pooorpeddler from Monroe

WAMC the Albany NY PBS station gave Sam an hour to express his thoughts. It was an enlightening experience absent of hate but with much criticism of religion. WAMC gave the interview away on CD for a fund raising pledge, they still my have some CD remaining give them a call it is certainly worth a few dollars.

Oct. 20 2010 11:31 AM
Sarah from Brooklyn

Yes, mirror neurons seem to have much to do with our powers of empathy and, one might posit, our common adherence to the notion of the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you) which is the only part of (some) organized religions that I've ever agreed with.

Oct. 20 2010 11:31 AM
Katherine from Brooklyn, NY

I was looking forward to hearing Sam Harris talk about morality without religion, but I was surprised and appalled by his screed on Islam as a religion of violence and jihad. And that he let Christianity off the hook, in spite of getting off to a bad start for the first 500 years. Excuse me? Go read some more religious history, Sam. The violence continued.

Too bad he wasn't given more time to discuss his views (and be challenged).

Oct. 20 2010 11:24 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

hjs11211, in the name of secularism and capitalism this country has murder many.

Oct. 20 2010 11:18 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

I've seen a few documentaries on the behavior of chimps, who clearly display morality (rules for the greater good of the society) an punishment for those who do not act within those rules.

Do they have religion? Um, no.

Oct. 20 2010 11:10 AM
maggie from MNHATTAN

I wanted to hear more. Why can't there be more time to let him present his ideas?
I though he was very reasonable.

Oct. 20 2010 11:09 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

@ Amy

He wasn't given the time to go deeper yet from the little we heard it was anything but "simplistic" or "black & white"

Oct. 20 2010 11:07 AM
vartan from NJ

oh that was so refreshing. finally someone calling out religion for what it is. i am a deeply spiritual person but i really love the way SH counterpoints the idiocy of organized religion.

Oct. 20 2010 11:05 AM
Mark from NJ

Could you had given Sam any less time? What's up Brian? Spent half the hour on the cops? Poor job!!!

Oct. 20 2010 11:05 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Brian you let this guy get away with much. Are you now supporting bigots?

Oct. 20 2010 11:04 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Kind of a bs segment...why wasn't he given more time?

Mr. Harris was just getting started at explaining his view point about Islam and destroying the PC notion of it being entirely peaceful, but Brian of course didn't allow him to finish that point. Gee, wonder why....

In point of fact, neither Christianity nor Islam are entirely peaceful religions in their rhetoric and myths...let's not pretend otherwise

Oct. 20 2010 11:03 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The "greater jihad" is the internal struggle. "Holy war" is the "lesser jihad." They're not mutually exclusive, the way Harris depicts it. For someone who claims his views to be based on science, he expresses a very simplistic, black-&-white way of looking at the world, in this & many of his other statements. Certainly there's a case to be made for morality without religion, but he doesn't make an effective one.

Oct. 20 2010 11:03 AM
Peter from Crown heights


Have Sam Harris back for an extended discussion. It's obvious that there's a lot of interest, and I'd like to hear him go deeper into presenting/defending his arguments.

Good show.

Oct. 20 2010 11:02 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

I think that Mr. Harris is clearly conflating _cultural_ variables with with religious ones with regards to Islam. The way that Indonesians practice religion is very different from those in Turkey or Oman or Saudi i Arabia, and that is primarily due to culture.

I do agree that those political/ideological mass movements (Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc.) were essentially religious in nature, which goes to show just how powerful ideology is and the fact that it can become its own theology.

Oct. 20 2010 11:02 AM
Ken from Little Neck

Tom, be careful about painting people with one brush. I call myself an atheist, but I have serious problems with pretty much everything Mr. Harris has said so far, especially with regards to Christianity and Islam.

Oct. 20 2010 11:01 AM

Brian : "we wish we had more time" Huh?

Dude it's your show. You have the power to set these segments up. You had no inkling that you were going to get a lot of calls?

Who is this grandmaster whose ring you have to kiss to get more time for guests?

Oct. 20 2010 11:00 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

This bigot really has neither understanding of Islamic culture, Islam as a religion nor the cultural politics of reglio- politics of Islam, colonialism and imperialism.
Brian can your producers invite some one that can really explain to your audience as where this politico -Islam comes from?

Oct. 20 2010 11:00 AM

re: violence and islam.
it might be a perversion but a lot of muslims seem to agree with the perversion.

Oct. 20 2010 10:58 AM
Ed from Larchmont

To see an enemy of religion take on Islam, wow. Remember yesterday that people who participate in religion do more charitable work, which makes the kind of society Mr. Harris wants.

Oct. 20 2010 10:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Matriarchal societies, such as the bonobo chimps, generally have small territories. The reason why the bonobos live in a small, rather resource poor territory is that females do not hunt in packs, as do regular, patriarchal chimpanzee societies. The fact is, that females have had to depend on males to do most of the fighting to protect their territories, and if males do not have a family they can call their own to defend and protect, they tend NOT to band together to protect it. In very rare cases, as the semi-mythical "Amazons" women did band together and become unified warriors. But women, burdened with having and rearing the children, could rarely be the warriors. And if you have a territory worth having, someone else will eventually try to take it from you. That's why wars came into being.

Oct. 20 2010 10:57 AM
G. L. from NYC

Nobody can prove what "good" even is! Good and evil aren't measurable or even observable-- they're just human norms. Good = whatever I enjoy and evil = whatever I don't.

Oct. 20 2010 10:57 AM

this guy is an avowed racist. He hates blacks and muslims

Oct. 20 2010 10:57 AM
Joe from New York

I agree with Mr. Harris's views on religion and atheism, but am quite disturbed about his views specifically on Islam. Reading between the lines, it seems like he is calling for nothing less than a war on Islam by the non-Muslim world.

Oct. 20 2010 10:57 AM

Finally we're getting the scientific community to start talking about morality. But they need to start at home, by analysing their own neglect of the moral ramifications of science and techology. A good example is the imposition of GM food without a debate in this country. Really good points Brian to counter the Islamophobia.

Oct. 20 2010 10:56 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Honor killings happen "*throughout* the Muslim world"? I think Sam Harris needs to check before he makes a blanket statement like that. It's more diverse & complex than that.

Oct. 20 2010 10:56 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Matriarchal societies, such as the bonobo chimps, generally have small territories. The reason why the bonobos live in a small, rather resource poor territory is that females do not hunt in packs, as do regular, patriarchal chimpanzee societies. The fact is, that females have had to depend on males to do most of the fighting to protect their territories, and if males do not have a family they can call their own to defend and protect, they tend NOT to band together to protect it. In very rare cases, as the semi-mythical "Amazons" women did band together and become unified warriors. But women, burdened with having and rearing the children, could rarely be the warriors. And if you have a territory worth having, someone else will eventually try to take it from you. That's why wars came into being.

Oct. 20 2010 10:56 AM
Will from brooklyn

This just sounds like a standard anti-Islam screed backed up by a little pseudo-science.

Brian, why are you promoting this guy's book?

Oct. 20 2010 10:56 AM
Tom from Toronto

What an infantile understanding of religion this guy has. Hardcore atheists (like this character) can be very scary.

Oct. 20 2010 10:55 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Exaggeration of Christian history.

Oct. 20 2010 10:53 AM
Pete Heslin from NYC

the "self-serving"/avaricious fallacy proposed by brian is NOT what natural selection describes.

as richard dawkins (and many others) have described, it's not human beings at a macro-level that are 'programmed' to be 'selfish', but rather our genes. morality & ethics emerge from a larger human context & experience.

science -- when done scrupulously & conscientiously -- is inherently designed to serve the social, environmental, & cultural good.

Oct. 20 2010 10:53 AM
Carl Eckkles from Mineola

We have to be careful about ascribing human characterists or intentions to evolution or Nature. Nature doesn't "intend" anything. Once you start giving feelings and motives to natural processes you've created a brand new god. You may as well start worshipping the East River.

Oct. 20 2010 10:53 AM

I dream of the day when legal discrimination (under the label of "religious tolerance") of women is finally banished in the US. Granted, I'd like to see this worldwide, but it's particularly vile in a country that was supposedly founded on the principle of freedom.

Oct. 20 2010 10:53 AM

What does science tell us about the abortion issue? What if science allows us take a baby out of the womb within the first trimester, thereby allowing the fetus to turn into a baby.

Does that then make abortion morally wrong based on scientific advancements?

Or is the author pro-choice?

Oct. 20 2010 10:51 AM
anon from nyc metro

1) How does science decide what is to be considered "well being" or what is to be considered a "better life"?
How does science choose between the individual's well being verses the community, the nation, etc.?

2) Factcheck: Not every religion claims an afterlife in the simple sense.

Oct. 20 2010 10:51 AM
John from Ridgefield Park

How is this book different than Michael Shermer's "Science of Good and Evil"?

Oct. 20 2010 10:50 AM
Maggi S. from Upper-East Side

Science demonstrates that all organisms act out of pure self-interest, which is fine with me. Sincerely, I care far more about the well-being of myself and my children than any vague notion of "society" or "humanity" or "America" or what-not.

Oct. 20 2010 10:50 AM

Make sure to have your dictionary ready if you set out to read a Sam Harris book. Is his motto "Why use a simple one syllable word when when when there are so many difficult polysyllabic words to choose from?

Oct. 20 2010 10:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

There are mathematics-based theories suggesting other universes, so why not an anti-life or after-life?

Oct. 20 2010 10:48 AM
Ed from Larchmont


Oct. 20 2010 10:47 AM

bush the lesser claimed to be a christian. I take him at his word, but his actions didn't seem very christian to me. was he moral?
reagan bush bin laden the taliban they all fight modernity. the "reagan bush palin" ilk fight for 1950s americana. bin laden and the taliban fight for 1300s good old days.
trust science not myths

Oct. 20 2010 10:43 AM
Connie from nj

Morality without religion? Duh.

Oct. 20 2010 10:31 AM

I'd like to clarify: I'm not arguing that belief in God is necessary to have morality but belief in something that science cannot explain. If science could explain it, it would be fact knowledge.

Oct. 20 2010 10:31 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Of course morality would be supported by the natural world. It's built into the nature of things, not just the spiritual world, but nature itself.

Oct. 20 2010 10:17 AM

1. Science does not explain consciousness. (At best, it can claim that a system of sufficient complexity can host consciousness, but there is no suggestion of a consciousness particle or similar idea, and such an idea might imply that the Internet, among other systems, is conscious anyway, a scary thought.)

2. Without consciousness, there is no need for morality. (Who cares if my left shoe acts immorally toward my PDA?)

3. Therefore, science does not explain morality. Q.E.D.

Oct. 20 2010 10:06 AM

you are always good for a laugh!

Oct. 20 2010 09:18 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Mr. Harris' other books are embarrassingly stupid. His practice is to make one blatantly incorrect statement and, before one can list the reasons why it's incorrect and misleading, to make a second blatantly incorrect statement, and then a third. He is a waterboy for the deluded Mr. Dawkins, and I hope this hurts his feelings so it might shock him into some sense. He leads people away from God.

Oct. 20 2010 08:16 AM
j from bklyn

could research on mirror neurons please be discussed. some really interesting stuff there that i've been reading about in the past few years, both chimps and our species.

Oct. 20 2010 02:38 AM

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