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Be wary of the righteous rationalist: We should reject Sam Harris’s claim that science can be a moral guidepost


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Say what you will about Sam Harris, the man’s got guts. In The End of Faith (W. W. Norton, 2005) and Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006), Harris, a neuroscientist, rejects the notion that science and religion can coexist. We can’t believe in science, Harris says, and still believe in supernatural beings that part seas, resurrect dead people and keep tabs on our naughtiness and niceness.

Harris slams nonbelieving apologists for religion such as the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould. With typical rhetorical grandiosity, Gould proposed that science and religion need not conflict because they are "nonoverlapping magisteria" that address separate realms of existence. Science tells us what is, religion what should be. Given all the crimes committed in religion’s name, Harris retorts, why would anyone look to it for moral guidance?

I’m with Harris up to this point. I part company with him when he argues in his new book The Moral Landscape (Free Press, 2010)—which comes fortified with blurbs from Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and other antireligious scientific luminaries—that science can take religion’s place as the supreme arbiter of moral "truth". "There are right and wrong answers to moral questions," Harris asserts, "just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics." Questions about morality, he explains, are really questions about human happiness or "well-being," and these questions can be empirically resolved, just as questions about diet and disease can be.

One can raise all sorts of philosophical objections to this position, and the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah does just that in a New York Times review ironically titled "Science Knows Best". My concerns about Harris’s proposal are simpler: I just look at the harm—historical and recent—wreaked by scientists supposedly concerned with humanity’s well-being. Some examples:

—From 1946 to 1948, physicians funded by the National Institutes of Health deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalan prisoners, mental-hospital patients and soldiers with syphilis to test their responses to antibiotics. The leader of this research, John C. Cutler, was also involved in the infamous Tuskegee studies, in which scientists withheld antibiotics from black American males naturally infected with syphilis. "It’s ironic—no, it’s worse than that, it’s appalling—that, at the same time as the United States was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the U.S. government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk," the bioethicist Mark Siegler told The New York Times.

—In the 1950s and 1960s researchers at leading universities embedded electrodes in the brains of mental patients to test whether minds and bodies can be manipulated via electrical stimulation of neural tissue. In 1969 the Yale physiologist Jose Delgado (whom I profiled in Scientific American in 2005), extolled the benefits of brain implants in his book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society (Harper & Row, 1971). Delgado declared that brain implants could help create "a less cruel, happier and better man." In 1970 Frank Ervin and Vernon Mark, two brain-implant researchers at Harvard University with whom Delgado had collaborated, proposed in their book Violence and the Brain (HarperCollins, 1970) that brain implants and psychosurgery might quell violent crime and rioting in inner cities.

—In recent decades prescriptions of drugs for children, including infants, supposedly suffering from psychiatric illness have skyrocketed. Some 500,000 U.S. children and adolescents are now taking antipsychotic drugs, Duff Wilson reported recently in The New York Times, even though some experts believe the drugs "may pose grave risks to development of both their fast-growing brains and their bodies." In another Times article Wilson details how psychiatrists who tout the benefits of antipsychotics receive grants, vacations, meals and other gifts from drug manufacturers. The Harvard physician Joseph Biederman, whose research helped spur a 40-fold increase in diagnoses of bipolar disorders in children between 1994 and 2003, received $1.6 million, "from companies including makers of antipsychotic drugs prescribed for some children who might have bipolar disorder," according to Wilson.

Some will complain that it is unfair to hold science accountable for the misdeeds of a minority. It is not only fair, it is essential, especially when scientists as prominent as Harris are talking about creating a universal, scientifically validated morality. Moreover, Harris blames Islam and Catholicism for the actions of suicide bombers and pedophilic priests, so why should science be exempt from this same treatment?

Clearly, some bad scientists are just greedy opportunists who care about only their own well-being. But those who fervently believe their own rhetoric about saving humanity may be even more dangerous. Consider the harm done in the name of Marxism and eugenics, pseudoscientific (not religious) ideologies that inspired two of the most lethal regimes in history—Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany.

Harris asserts in Moral Landscape that ignorance and humility are inversely proportional to each other; whereas religious know-nothings are often arrogant, scientists tend to be humble, because they know enough to know their limitations. "Arrogance is about as common at a scientific conference as nudity," Harris states. Yet he is anything but humble in his opus. He castigates not only religious believers but even nonbelieving scientists and philosophers who don’t share his hostility toward religion.

Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. "The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." Neuroscience can’t even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we’re going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations’ affairs?

I suspect Harris wants to rely on brain scans to measure "well-being" because he doesn’t trust people to simply say what makes them happy. If a Muslim girl says that she likes wearing a veil, as many do, she doesn’t know what’s good for her, Harris might say. Maybe she doesn’t, but magnetic resonance imaging won’t help us resolve these sorts of issues.

When scientists venture into the moral realm, they should not claim that their investigations of what is yield special insights into what should be. I realize I’m asking a lot of scientists—and secularists—to be humble when religious and political zealots like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are so bloated with self-righteousness. This asymmetry recalls Yeats’s famous line from his poem "The Second Coming": "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." But if we all become zealots, we’re really in trouble.





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  1. 1. c-p-c 4:07 am 10/12/2010

    "It is not possible for science to give moral truths because once science starts to do this it is no longer science, it is an ideology."

    short but true. Thank you paul

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  2. 2. ljvillanueva 6:47 am 10/12/2010

    While the three examples that Horgan uses are horrible, they are not science. Using mental patients and prisoners as guinea pigs was justified only in the minds of bigoted scientists and politicians. Even if science caused these acts, the argument is not that science will always give a perfect answer, it is that it is the best way to reach an answer. In the end, as a human endeavor, it will be subject to human errors, prejudices, and external agendas.

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  3. 3. onetruthnow 1:10 pm 10/12/2010

    Well said!

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  4. 4. solspot 6:47 pm 10/12/2010

    I don’t want to be argumentative; I just want to show you the other side of your point, with 2 examples.

    1. RS said:
    "When scientists do immoral things they don’t do so because science itself advocates for immoral behaviour, they do so because those who want to use science to further their agenda corrupt individuals."

    I noticed that the meaning of this remains unchanged if I substitute the word "religionist" for "scientist", and the word "religion" for "science". Try it.

    2. The same is true for another of your statements:
    "[Religion] cannot prevent people from doing the wrong thing but it can be used to determine what is right and wrong."

    So, I suppose Horgan’s title could apply to the "righteous religionist" as much as it does to the "righteous rationalist", but the subject of his review was the latter. Horgan sounds as if he could be equally hard on a similar book by a scientist who tried to convince us that the bible is literal fact. Just to be fair, maybe your added remark against him was a little harsh.

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  5. 5. solspot 6:53 pm 10/12/2010

    I don’t want to be argumentative; I just want to show you the other side of your point, with 2 examples.

    1. RS said:
    "When scientists do immoral things they don’t do so because science itself advocates for immoral behaviour, they do so because those who want to use science to further their agenda corrupt individuals."

    I noticed that the meaning of this remains unchanged if I substitute the word "religionist" for "scientist", and the word "religion" for "science". Try it.

    2. The same is true for another of your statements:
    "[Religion] cannot prevent people from doing the wrong thing but it can be used to determine what is right and wrong."

    So, I suppose Horgan’s title could apply to the "righteous religionist" as much as it does to the "righteous rationalist", but the subject of his review was the latter. Horgan sounds as if he could be equally hard on a similar book by a scientist who tried to convince us that the bible is literal fact. Just to be fair, maybe your added remark against him was a little harsh.

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  6. 6. Chryses 7:25 pm 10/12/2010

    ljvillanueva ,

    "While the three examples that Horgan uses are horrible, they are not science …"

    Consider the experiment. "What is the progression of disease ‘X’ over the period ‘Y’." If the experimenter were able to secure volunteers as participants, rather than the uninformed, would the results be significantly different due to that difference? If not, then the recorded measurements (temperature, muscle degeneration, etc.) would be equally valid.

    If the experiment with volunteer subjects can be represented as scientific research, then so would the experiment with the uninformed subjects.

    No, I think they were Science, merely Science uninformed by Ethics.

    "… the argument is not that science will always give a perfect answer, it is that it is the best way to reach an answer …"

    Wouldn’t that depend upon the question asked? Is the argument that Science is ALWAYS the best answer to ANYTHING? That seems to me to be extrapolating beyond the bounds of the model, if you’ll pardon the expression.

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  7. 7. robert schmidt 9:32 pm 10/12/2010

    @solspot, I disagree. If a scientist commits an immoral act there is nothing in science that will support that act. Again, what we have is an individual acting on his own. That goes to his character not the nature of science. But when the terrorists flew those planes into the buildings, they were acting with the support of their religion. They were able to find passages within their holy books that sanctioned their actions. The didn’t act contrary to their religion, they didn’t act independently of their religion, they acted with the full support of their religion. The same can be said of any religion, so I am not saying this is only true of Islam. It is true that religion cannot prevent people from doing bad things, same goes for science and the law. But religion is unique in that it holds itself above all other formal systems and that it advocates behaviour that is considered criminal in most societies, for offenses as trivial as not agreeing with them, of not having faith. As has been said, with or without religion, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but for good people to do bad things it takes religion.

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  8. 8. Chryses 5:57 am 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… If a scientist commits an immoral act there is nothing in science that will support that act …"

    That is not the interpretation of Science applied by the scientists who designed and implemented the syphilis experiments in Guatemala and Tuskegee. They believed that the positive value returned from the interpretation of their measurements offset the negative value of involving uninformed experimental subjects.

    "… The didn’t act contrary to their religion, they didn’t act independently of their religion, they acted with the full support of their religion …"

    That is your interpretation of Islam, and that of the terrorists.

    The Islamic religious leaders who denounced the actions of the terrorists disagreed with them, and presumably with you.

    http://www.muhajabah.com/otherscondemn.php
    http://www.unc.edu/~kurzman/terror.htm

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  9. 9. robert schmidt 9:07 am 10/13/2010

    @Chryses, "They believed that the positive value returned from the interpretation of their measurements offset the negative value of involving uninformed experimental subjects." that conclusion was not based on science rather it was based on values. Can you show us the scientific experiment they did to prove that it was morally ok to sacrifice the lives and well being of their subjects for some "greater good"?

    "That is your interpretation of Islam, and that of the terrorists…The Islamic religious leaders who denounced the actions of the terrorists disagreed with them, and presumably with you." But the Islamic leaders that support terrorism have just as much ideological grounding as those that call for peace. They can argue about their "interpretations" but the fact is both positions are supported within the Koran. Both positions are also supported with the Christian bible. There are a large number of atrocities committed by the "good guys" in the bible that were not only supported by god but commanded by him. The differences in interpretations often come down to an arbitrary choice to interpret one passage literally and another figuratively. Again, there is no formal process being applied to make this distinction.

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  10. 10. Titopoet 9:55 am 10/13/2010

    The major error in Sam’s newest book is his his manichean streak. He views the world as divided between science and religion, but such a simplistic view cuts out a great deal of human reasoning. Art, Literature, Philosophy, Judicial and, dare I say it, Ethics are all related but different forms of knowing than are neither science nor religion. The most dangerous part of Sam’s morality is its tendency toward totalitarianism. He ends his book saying most of us are bad at knowing what is good for our own well-being. Add to this the call for a elite group of moral scientists, the logical conclusion is a this elite dictating are morality.

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  11. 11. robert schmidt 12:54 pm 10/13/2010

    @Titopoet, "He ends his book saying most of us are bad at knowing what is good for our own well-being." I think there is very little evidence to suggest that the average person knows what is good for their own well-being. The proliferation of fast food, smoking, venereal disease, divorce, teenage mothers and reality tv suggests that people have no clue. More importantly, policies regarding resource management, foreign policy, social welfare, etc. are heavily compromised by the poorly informed electorate to the point of endangering future generations.

    "call for a elite group of moral scientists," Your choice of the word elite is a republican ploy to make the working class feel that they are being patronized and subjugated by the "educated left". It is nothing more than politics. When I go to a doctor I don’t think of him as some elitist when he thinks he knows more about my health than I do. When I take my care to a mechanic I don’t think that he is an elitist because he thinks he knows more about my car than I do. Scientists know more about their fields of study precisely because they actually study them. The lay-person doesn’t. If you feel threatened by your ignorance, that is your baggage. Personally, I recognize mine and look to people who know what they are talking about to guide my decisions.

    There are two statements about democracy that I agree with; democracies can only work in a nation of gods where everyone is intelligent enough to make the right choice and; everyone has the right to self-determination regardless of whether or not they make the right choice. I think science can tell us what the right choice is, given certain criteria. That does not imply that the people should be forced to follow it. Science provides us with knowledge, what we do with it is up to us. Furthermore, it is the role of government, specifically the legal system, to reduce the effects of one person’s poor choices on another, not to prevent people from making bad choices. Don’t confuse a person’s right to choose with a person’s choice being right.

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  12. 12. Chryses 7:20 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "@Chryses, ‘They believed that the positive value returned from the interpretation of their measurements offset the negative value of involving uninformed experimental subjects.’ that conclusion was not based on science rather it was based on values. Can you show us the scientific experiment they did to prove that it was morally ok to sacrifice the lives and well being of their subjects for some ‘greater good’? "

    (1)

    Sure can. Keep in mind the thought experiments performed by Drs. Bohr and Einstein.

    Many people accept that scientific experiments perform measurements. Using as examples the syphilis experiments carried out on uninformed subjects in Guatemala and Tuskegee, various physiological measurements were made of the subjects. These measurements are recorded values. The Science of the experiment comes from the interpretation of the measured values, indicating support for or against some theory being tested.

    Let us assume that the experimenters assigned a value greater than zero to the proposition that the results of the experiment would advance their, and by extension mankind’s, understanding of the disease, by leading to better, or more effective treatments, etc. Clearly, they did, or they would not have designed and executed the experiments, nor would they have sought and secured funding from the NIH.

    Let us assume that the experimenters assigned a value greater than zero to the proposition that they, the experimenters, should have had informed consent from the subjects prior to beginning the experiment. Many people would agree that there is nothing new here. Informed consent of the experimental subjects, at least as a theoretical proposition, has been considered ethically necessary for some time, particularly when the results of the experiments can damage the health of the participants. As the experimenters did NOT secure prior informed consent from the experimental subjects, they, the experimenters, knew that their decision had a negative value.

    As the experiments were performed, the experimenters had concluded that the positive value returned to or accrued by humanity by the Science gained was greater than the negative value created by failure to secure prior informed consent. Indeed, the negative value was larger than merely that of failing to secure prior informed consent, wasn’t it? The experimenters actively hid the nature of their experiment from the Tuskegee subjects, didn’t they? So the sin was not of omission (low negative value), but one of commission (high negative value).

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  13. 13. Chryses 7:21 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "@Chryses, ‘They believed that the positive value returned from the interpretation of their measurements offset the negative value of involving uninformed experimental subjects.’ that conclusion was not based on science rather it was based on values. Can you show us the scientific experiment they did to prove that it was morally ok to sacrifice the lives and well being of their subjects for some ‘greater good’? "

    Sure can. Keep in mind the thought experiments performed by Drs. Bohr and Einstein.

    (2)

    By arbitrarily setting the (negative) value of lack of informed consent to a sufficiently low value, the positive value returned by the experiments outweighed, and thereby justified the experiments.

    Such was the evaluation of the thought experiment the experimenters performed to justify in their minds the other (syphilis) experiments they subsequently performed on their unsuspecting subjects.

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  14. 14. solspot 7:32 pm 10/13/2010

    RS. I will assume your best intentions, and say that it seems like the heart of your message was:
    "… religion is unique in that it holds itself above all other formal systems…". I find formal systems appealing (as a scientist and a mathematician), and I suspect you do too. Formal systems are rather new to mankind this past 150 years or so. Our ancient ancestors had little familiarity with them, or for that matter with science. So ancient people like us, who liked formal systems, made an attempt to formulate rules, and to guide others by dogmatizing (meaning "teaching") them as "scripture". Their best efforts resulted in today’s religions, BUT we all know that over time, the telephone game works poorly on accuracy, and dogma becomes distorted. Still, I trust that good people tried, as you say, to do good things, and to leave their legacy as religion, because there was no other way before 1500 BP to leave a legacy of rules.

    If we can agree on that, then we have to agree that the "heart" of religiosity today is intended for good. Weinberg’s quote was not accurate; good people don’t do bad things. Osama Bin Laden is not "good people"! Weinberg knew this, so why did he say it? In a formal system, he knew that his statement was contradictory. So why would a man, who was dedicated to truth as Weinberg, purposely manipulate language to make a contradiction appear to be true?

    I firmly beleive that Weinberg was willing to sacrifice formal truth for the sake of his beleif that all religion, all the ‘heart’ of wisdom from the our good and intelligent ancestors, must be trashed. Perhaps you feel the same way, but it doesn’t make Weinbergs words true. Most people know that religion has a "good heart", and that’s what they follow, more by intuition than dogma. Just as people rebel against tyrants, modern religions are being changed to remove the rule of tyrants like Bin Laden from religion. Democracy is the only way to accomplish this.

    It’s tyrants who hold themselves "above all other formal systems". Tyranny of scientists will not yeild any better results than tyranny of religion or communism, or any other form of "deciding what’s right for everyone". Science works best in a democracy, and Americans have ample scientific evidence to prove that theory! As a scientist, I respectfully hope that you agree.

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  15. 15. robert schmidt 8:41 pm 10/13/2010

    @Chryses, "Let us assume that the experimenters assigned a value" the key word being value! Your proposed thought process justifying the experiments contains arbitrary values assigned to human life. Once again there is nothing in science to justify those arbitrary values. Let me ask you this question, how much money would it take for you to agree to die? There likely isn’t a sum large enough (take off the table the idea that you could will the money to someone). So, one could say, the value of a human life is priceless. In terms of a market economy, the price of a good is the meeting point between the seller and buyer, and in this case, the owner of the life would not sell for any price. So how many priceless lives need to be saved to equal in value another priceless life? It doesn’t matter what the scientists were thinking, or what opinion they held; the only thing that matters is what can be proven. I know of no scientific experiment that puts a real value on human life. There are some that put a value on the materials that make up the human body, and insurance companies put a value on "life" but it is on the income potential of the life and not the life itself. Again, nothing in science justifies that involuntary taking of a person’s life to save another. Furthermore, a hypothesis is not proof. Even if a scientist where to hypothesis, like you did in your thought experiment, of a reason to justify an immoral act, it does not mean science condones the act. A hypothesis does not have the same restrictions as a theory as it is not meant to be acted on as though it were factual.

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  16. 16. Chryses 8:56 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… the key word being value!"

    Yes, you are correct. As I brought to your attention, the evaluation of one of the variables in the thought experiment performed by the experimentalists was arbitrarily set to a low enough value to generate the results they needed to corroborate their theory: the experiments were worthwhile.

    Manipulating the data to generate desired results is commonly considered to be Bad Science.

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  17. 17. robert schmidt 9:16 pm 10/13/2010

    @solspot, "good people don’t do bad things. Osama Bin Laden is not ‘good people’". I forgot the name of that fallacy and it’s too late for me to look it up but… Weinberg implied religion makes good people do bad things. That does not imply that all religious people who do bad things are ‘good’. Remember the first line, "with or without religion good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things". Osama is a bad person doing bad things. But many of the people he is recruiting are doing what they are doing to right a terrible wrong. They are making the ultimate sacrifice not to be evil but to hopefully make the world a better place. It is terribly misplaced but that is because once a person has accepted that god has absolute authority and god acts in mysterious ways, anything else is only a tiny leap of faith no matter how absurd.

    I do admit though that I am casting a very narrow net when accusing religion of being uniquely capable of making good people act like evil people. The best argument in my mind against Weinberg’s statement is people that act on behalf of a government or the military. For example, people that supported Hitler and Stalin, may not have been bad people, just ignorant or gullible people. They may truly have seen themselves as victims and therefore justified self-defence. I’m not saying they all did or even many of them did but it is conceivable. Soldiers that fight for a "bad" government may not themselves be bad. It is a soldier’s duty to follow orders, within reason, and as long as they do not violate the Geneva convention, then they are not, in my opinion, ‘bad’, though the end result of their actions may be putting or keeping a tyrant in power.

    The common thread is that irrational systems have great potential for abuse because there is no formal process the average person can follow that will lead them to an unbiased truth. Formal systems / rational systems on the other hand must work for everyone. No doubt there are some questions that have no universal answer because they are a matter of values and personal taste. But the majority of social issues do have a right and wrong or at least more right / more wrong answer and the only way to determine that is through logic and the scientific method. Anything else is arbitrary.

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  18. 18. robert schmidt 9:28 pm 10/13/2010

    @Chryses, "Manipulating the data to generate desired results is commonly considered to be Bad Science." well it isn’t science at all! Which is to my point, your thought experiment was not science and so if that is what the scientists used to justify their actions it was unscientific. Again, the claim that science has been used to justify immoral behaviour is unsubstantiated. If I blame society for my evil deeds it doesn’t mean that society is to blame.

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  19. 19. Chryses 9:35 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    " ‘ That is your interpretation of Islam, and that of the terrorists…The Islamic religious leaders who denounced the actions of the terrorists disagreed with them, and presumably with you.’ But the Islamic leaders that support terrorism have just as much ideological grounding as those that call for peace. They can argue about their "interpretations" but the fact is both positions are supported within the Koran … Again, there is no formal process being applied to make this distinction."

    "… But the Islamic leaders that support terrorism have just as much ideological grounding as those that call for peace …"

    In order to make an evaluation of that nature, one must have sufficient familiarity with the subject material. Do you claim to have studied Islam? If you do so claim, then you will also necessarily need to know Arabic, the language of Islam, and of the Quran. While that is possible, it is, and I hope you believe me when I say, most respectfully, unlikely. The religious leaders, on the other hand, are familiar with the subject matter, and they were the one who condemned the POV of the terrorists.

    "… They can argue about their "interpretations" but the fact is both positions are supported within the Koran …"

    I can only assume you are referring to the Sword Verses, Surah 9: 1-28. However, you acknowledge in the second clause of the sentence that there are alternatives to the interpretation you and the terrorists have (schmidt, #39 "when the terrorists flew those planes into the buildings, they were acting with the support of their religion"). Why then do you feel justified in assuming that your interpretation is correct? As you correctly observe "… there is no formal process being applied to make this distinction." In the absence of a formal process to discriminate between what is True and False, how can you claim to know what you claim to be True is indeed True?

    While it may someday come to pass, when Science CAN tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is a dog (much less than MY dog), that there is a formal process that can evaluate Evil, and differentiate it from Good, but that day is not today. Nor, I suspect, will that day arrive anytime in the foreseeable future.

    Still, it IS fun searching, isn’t it?

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  20. 20. Chryses 9:56 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "@Chryses, ‘Manipulating the data to generate desired results is commonly considered to be Bad Science.’ well it isn’t science at all! …"

    I urge you to reconsider your claim. Bad Science is science, even though it is bad. Are you honestly suggesting that all of the manipulated data sets that have been exposed during the just the last 50 years were not published in scientific journals by scientists who were practicing science?

    "… Which is to my point, your thought experiment was not science and so if that is what the scientists used to justify their actions it was unscientific …"

    Excuse me? Using a standard definition of Science: "a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws", what, might I ask was not scientific? Are you debating the facts of the experiments in Tuskegee and Guatemala? Was the thought experiment not showing the operation of general laws? Did it not assess the facts systematically?

    "… Again, the claim that science has been used to justify immoral behaviour is unsubstantiated …"

    While there may be some who think the medical experiments performed by Nazis on Jews in the concentration camps during WWII were not immoral, many people do think they were, even though the perps justified their behavior by claiming that the experiments were Science.

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  21. 21. robert schmidt 10:11 pm 10/13/2010

    @Chryses, "Do you claim to have studied Islam?" Not enough to be an expert. But, I don’t have to be an expert on the law to be a juror. I just need to hear both sides of the argument and compare. I have heard claims from both sides of the aisle, for and against violence. Neither one has offered compelling evidence to indicated that they are right and the other wrong.

    "The religious leaders, on the other hand, are familiar with the subject matter, and they were the one who condemned the POV of the terrorists." religious leaders also praised the attacks. You are using confirmation bias to support your appeal to authority.

    "alternatives to the interpretation" certainly there are and killing the blasphemers is one of them. That is my point. You can justify anything with the bible. Let us be very clear, once you accept the bible on faith, critical thought / logic are irrelevant. You can’t claim that someone’s interpretation is irrational as the act of faith itself is irrational.

    "Why then do you feel justified in assuming that your interpretation is correct?…In the absence of a formal process to discriminate between what is True and False, how can you claim to know what you claim to be True is indeed True?" that is my point! There is no way to know. My interpretation is irrelevant. That fact that many contradictory interpretations are equally well supported is relevant. If there is no way to know which stand a religion takes, then how can it be used as a moral compass?

    By the way, science can tell you how you know the dog on the couch is yours. That is one of the little questions of consciousness. A big question is how does the brain produce the experience of seeing your dog on the couch.

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  22. 22. Chryses 10:48 pm 10/13/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… That is my point. You can justify anything with the bible …"

    Then how can you condemn it?

    "… that is my point! There is no way to know. My interpretation is irrelevant. That fact that many contradictory interpretations are equally well supported is relevant. If there is no way to know which stand a religion takes, then how can it be used as a moral compass? …"

    I’m afraid you’ve missed the point.

    This debate, if you’ll refer back to Mr. Horgan’s post, is not about using religion as a moral compass, it is about Mr. Harris’s claim that you can do so using Science instead.

    "… By the way, science can tell you how you know the dog on the couch is yours …"

    OK. If that is True, then please explain the Science of ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’. You did claim "science can tell you how you know the dog on the couch is yours", so you must therefore be in a position to describe the science which explains the difference between two dogs, one being ‘owned’ by me and the other not. As there are no physical attributes to the concept of ownership, this seems to me to be difficult for you to demonstrate scientifically, but I am willing to be persuaded.

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  23. 23. robert schmidt 9:11 am 10/14/2010

    @Chryses, "Then how can you condemn it?" I can condemn it because it can be used to justify anything. If it could only be used to justify moral acts then I wouldn’t condemn it.

    "This debate, if you’ll refer back to Mr. Horgan’s post, is not about using religion as a moral compass, it is about Mr. Harris’s claim that you can do so using Science instead." hey man, you’ve taken this on the religion tangent as much as I have. I have made it clear in my posts why I think science can be used as a moral compass and I contrasted that with religion, a parallel also made in the article.

    "OK. If that is True, then please explain the Science of ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’" first you criticize me for going off topic then you try to start a thread on Neuroscience. I suggest you do your research rather than making absolute statements about something you know nothing about.

    Link to this
  24. 24. Chryses 6:43 pm 10/14/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "@Chryses, ‘Then how can you condemn it?’ I can condemn it because it can be used to justify anything. If it could only be used to justify moral acts then I wouldn’t condemn it …"

    As I have shown you, Scientists (vs. "Religionists"?) can also, and do also behave immorally. Science, like Religion is a tool which humans can use well, or use poorly. Rather than condemn a tool, which can, as you pointed out in the above quote, why not work on improving the tool user?

    " ‘ This debate, if you’ll refer back to Mr. Horgan’s post, is not about using religion as a moral compass, it is about Mr. Harris’s claim that you can do so using Science instead.’ hey man, you’ve taken this on the religion tangent as much as I have …"

    I think you will find, if you will but take the time to go back and review what I actually posted, that I have focused on the distinctly limited ability of Science to satisfactorily serve as a basis for your "moral compass."

    "… I have made it clear in my posts why I think science can be used as a moral compass and I contrasted that with religion, a parallel also made in the article …"

    And I have repeatedly shown (with examples, yet!) the shortcomings of Mr. Harris’ and your proposition.

    Link to this
  25. 25. robert schmidt 8:10 pm 10/14/2010

    "were not published in scientific journals by scientists who were practicing science", if they are inventing data, it is not science. If a lawyer gets a witness to perjure himself to win a case he is not practicing law, he is committing a crime. If an engineer fails to apply the appropriate standards to his work he is not practicing engineering. You cannot violate the process and still claim to be following it.
    "dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws", what, might I ask was not scientific?" Perhaps you can’t read your own writing, "facts or truths", lying about data is not facts or truth, it isn’t science, it is fraud.
    "even though the perps justified their behavior by claiming that the experiments were Science." once again you do not seem to understand that just because someone says they are doing "science" does not mean that they are. That is why we have peer review. Science is a formal process. If you do not follow the process you are not doing science, plain and simple.
    "And I have repeatedly shown (with examples, yet!) the shortcomings of Mr. Harris’ and your proposition." you have not. You are mistaking the scientist for science. You have demonstrated nothing that shows that science itself condones immoral acts. All that you have demonstrated is that scientists have committed immoral acts, not the same by a long shot. I on the other hand have pointed out that the sacred texts of both Christianity and Islam condone immoral acts, not just the faithful or even the leaders but the actual doctrine itself is amoral. What’s more I have demonstrated that faith itself is open to abuse as it can be used to justify anything. There need not be any evidence at all to support an immoral act as faith itself exists without evidence. If you believe in god, you can believe in anything, you can believe that he wants you to destroy the world, there is no more evidence to support one proposition over the other. You have conveniently chosen to ignore those comments and instead continue to claim that the value judgement of a scientist is proof that science itself is immoral. No point in having a conversation if you are just going to deny conflicting evidence.

    Link to this
  26. 26. Chryses 9:07 pm 10/14/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… If a lawyer gets a witness to perjure himself to win a case he is not practicing law, …"

    Alas, you are mistaken. While the attorney in question might well be participating in a criminal act, the attorney is, in fact practicing law. Similarly, a scientist who willfully fudges the data remains a scientist. Just as bad a scientist as the attorney in your example, but they remain respectively, an attorney and a scientist.

    " ‘dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws", what, might I ask was not scientific?’ Perhaps you can’t read your own writing, ‘facts or truths’, lying about data is not facts or truth, it isn’t science, it is fraud."

    If you take the time to go back and read my post you quote above (it is #52 if you are interested), you will discover I was referring to my thought experiment, and in it you will find neither lies nor falsehoods.

    You are, alas, again mistaken.

    " ‘even though the perps justified their behavior by claiming that the experiments were Science.’ once again you do not seem to understand that just because someone says they are doing ‘science’ does not mean that they are. That is why we have peer review. Science is a formal process. If you do not follow the process you are not doing science, plain and simple."

    With apologies to the late, great Dr. Pauli, "Not only is it not right, it’s not even wrong!"

    The Guatemala, Tuskegee, and many other similar experiments yielded valid scientific data. The methodology of the science, some of the constituents of the experiments, were unethical. That the data was collected using unethical techniques does not invalidate the data. It is because Science is still served when the data is so gathered, that Science cannot itself regulate itself. I am quite surprised that you are unable to appreciate this, particularly when I have provided as many detailed examples as I have.

    Link to this
  27. 27. robert schmidt 9:43 pm 10/14/2010

    @Chryses, "The Guatemala, Tuskegee, and many other similar experiments yielded valid scientific data." indeed it is possible for a scientific experiment to be immoral. But that does not mean that the experiment itself was justified by science. You don’t seem to be able to understand the distinctions. We have gone over this. Neither science nor religion can prevent people from acting immorally. But what does each system say about the acts themselves. As I have stated, religion condones them. It is in the text. But there is nothing in science that says it is ok to exploit people for the sake of science. A scientist may make that value judgement but that judgement is not itself based on science. But clearly you don’t understand formal systems. The fact that you state that someone can violate the rules of the system yet still claim to be following the system demonstates that. The gulf between us is to wide for us to find a middle ground.

    Link to this
  28. 28. Chryses 9:57 pm 10/14/2010

    robert schmidt,

    " ‘And I have repeatedly shown (with examples, yet!) the shortcomings of Mr. Harris’ and your proposition. ‘ you have not. You are mistaking the scientist for science. You have demonstrated nothing that shows that science itself condones immoral acts …"

    Actually, yes, I have. I shall do so again now.

    If the Tuskegee syphilis experiment (correctly criticized for failing to secure prior informed consent from the unwitting participants) was designed correctly, the data, and the Science drawn from the data (lending credence to one or another hypothesis of the progression of the disease over time) would be just as valid as that derived from a different experiment in which prior informed consent was secured from the participants. You will note that the progress of the disease in similar subjects remains unaffected by the experimenters have secured or having not secured prior informed consent from the subjects. As the Science would be unaffected by the ethical configuration of the two experiments, I have again shown that Science, in and of itself, does not provide the scientist with a "moral compass." Such a tool is provided by other disciplines. Do not, please, misinterpret the above as a claim that Science PROMOTES immoral acts; it does not. What I have shown is that Science does not PROHIBIT immoral acts. Science is ethically neutral.

    "… All that you have demonstrated is that scientists have committed immoral acts, not the same by a long shot …"

    You are mistaken. See refutation above.

    "… I on the other hand have pointed out that the sacred texts of both Christianity and Islam condone immoral acts, not just the faithful or even the leaders but the actual doctrine itself is amoral …"

    That depends upon the context within which the text is assessed. You and I in the 21st century AD, looking at, oh, the wars the Israelites waged 2,500 years ago upon the indigenous peoples of Palestine see naked aggression, ethnic cleansing, bestial cruelty, etc., "and all in the name of God!" What the Israelites saw was securing the Promised Land as their God predicted. Kuhn would call the theories incommensurate.

    "… What’s more I have demonstrated that faith itself is open to abuse as it can be used to justify anything. There need not be any evidence at all to support an immoral act as faith itself exists without evidence …"

    Actually, you have claimed that is so. I happen to agree with you (gasp!), but I was unable to find that demonstration. Perhaps I overlooked it.

    Link to this
  29. 29. Chryses 10:01 pm 10/14/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… If you believe in god, you can believe in anything, …"

    And the reverse is also true, of course. You are aware that a belief that God does not exist is itself an act of faith, aren’t you? You must know that just as there is no proof (formal or otherwise) for the existence of an ethical monotheistic deity (you know, of the Sistine Ceiling variety), there is also no proof that such an entity does not exist. People who profess belief in that which cannot be proven are expressing their Faith that what they Believe in is True, even though they cannot prove it.

    It follows then, that if you believe that God does not exist, you can believe in anything, because, as you have pointed out "… there is no more evidence to support one proposition over the other …"

    "… You have conveniently chosen to ignore those comments and instead continue to claim that the value judgement of a scientist is proof that science itself is immoral. No point in having a conversation if you are just going to deny conflicting evidence."

    The above is a borderline ad hominem attack. I’ll just let it be.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Chryses 6:19 am 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    Do you recall the closing paragraph from post #53?

    "By the way, science can tell you how you know the dog on the couch is yours. That is one of the little questions of consciousness. A big question is how does the brain produce the experience of seeing your dog on the couch."

    You will notice that you made several truth claims. One of them was "science can tell you how you know the dog on the couch is yours." As the pronoun ‘yours’ is a form of the possessive case of ‘you’, and as the post was a reply to me, you have asserted as True the claim that Science can tell me how I know the dos on the couch is mine. All very straightforward resolutions of your truth claim.

    I replied in post #54 "OK. If that is True, then please explain the Science … As there are no physical attributes to the concept of ownership, this seems to me to be difficult for you to demonstrate scientifically, but I am willing to be persuaded."

    It seems perfectly reasonable to me that if you made a claim that ‘X’ is true, that you would be willing to show that you are correct. My post, post #54, was a request for you to do so. I remain skeptical that there is a Scientific process which will demonstrate the abstract proposition of ‘ownership’, but I remain open to you presenting such. Please keep in mind that you may not advance Philosophical arguments to persuade me that you are correct. You must limit your demonstration to scientific arguments, or admit that you were mistaken when you made your claim.

    Given the reasonableness of my challenge (post #54) to your claim (post #53), I did not expect your reply in post #55. "’OK. If that is True, then please explain the Science of ‘possession’ or ‘ownership’ ‘ first you criticize me for going off topic then you try to start a thread on Neuroscience. I suggest you do your research rather than making absolute statements about something you know nothing about."

    "… first you criticize me for going off topic then you try to start a thread on Neuroscience …"

    I have observed that you have attempted to discredit Religion’s ability to serve as a "moral compass" as you call it, which is not the subject of this forum. That is, I believe, a reasonable criticism. I have not attempted to start a thread on Neuroscience. What I did was to question your truth claim.

    to be continued …

    Link to this
  31. 31. Chryses 6:20 am 10/15/2010

    … conclusion.

    robert schmidt,

    You then close with

    "… I suggest you do your research rather than making absolute statements about something you know nothing about."

    What posts of mine have led you to believe that I know nothing about neuroscience? Where have I made any claim at all about neuroscience? You made the claim. Why do you expect me to research it? Shouldn’t you be in a position to substantiate your claim, assuming of course that you can do so? All I did was ask you to substantiate it.

    I’m still waiting.

    Link to this
  32. 32. robert schmidt 9:45 am 10/15/2010

    @Chryses, "You are aware that a belief that God does not exist is itself an act of faith, aren’t you?" Negative hypothesis are difficult if not impossible to prove, therefore the onus of proof is on those that assert the affimative or existence of. It is not up to science to prove god doesn’t exist, it is up to the people who claim he does to prove it. They haven’t done that. So, I may not be able to claim god doesn’t exist but I can proceed as though he doesn’t just I do with UFOs, elves, big food and the lochness monster.

    "What posts of mine have led you to believe that I know nothing about neuroscience? Where have I made any claim at all about neuroscience?" you made several claims that science could not explain how you know your dog is yours. That is a claim about neuroscience. And because the claim is not true that leads me believe you know nothing about neuroscience.

    "science is ethically neutral." science takes no position what-so-ever. It is a process used to understand the universe. It can be used to determine a moral code but It isn’t itself a moral code. I can use mathematics to determine a financial strategy for my business but mathematics itself doesn’t not provide a strategy. Again, you don’t seem to be able to differenciate one system from another.

    Link to this
  33. 33. Chryses 6:34 pm 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    " ‘What posts of mine have led you to believe that I know nothing about neuroscience? Where have I made any claim at all about neuroscience?’ you made several claims that science could not explain how you know your dog is yours. That is a claim about neuroscience. And because the claim is not true that leads me believe you know nothing about neuroscience. "

    "… you made several claims that science could not explain how you know your dog is yours …"

    You are mistaken. That neuroscience cannot – yet – even describe scientifically the process by which the visual image on the retina is transformed into the awareness of a dog is merely a recognition that the discipline has miles to go before getting to the starting gate of the mind, much less serving as a "moral compass."

    "… That is a claim about neuroscience …"

    Nope. It is an observation that you have failed to show that Science can do. That observation is not a claim of what it can do. For those types of unsupported truth claims, I can rely on the True Believers whose Faith in the unproven is, if nothing else, touching.

    "… And because the claim is not true …"

    You cannot produce any evidence to support THIS claim either. Prove me wrong.

    "… that leads me believe you know nothing about neuroscience. "

    I fear that your inference machine is a bit faulty.

    Link to this
  34. 34. Chryses 6:56 pm 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    " ‘science is ethically neutral.’ science takes no position what-so-ever. It is a process used to understand the universe. It can be used to determine a moral code but It isn’t itself a moral code. I can use mathematics to determine a financial strategy for my business but mathematics itself doesn’t not provide a strategy. Again, you don’t seem to be able to differenciate one system from another. "

    "… science takes no position what-so-ever …"

    Yes, that is what ‘ethically neutral’ means.

    "… It is a process used to understand the universe …"

    Yes again! And when it is employed to do so, it is a very good tool indeed!

    "… It can be used to determine a moral code but It isn’t itself a moral code …"

    May I presume that the above is yet another truth claim for which you will never provide any evidence? How many is that now? Let’s see. First, there was the one that Science – neuroscience in particular as I recall – can explain how the retinal pattern is transformed into the awareness of a dog. Then there was the one that Science can explain how I know it is MY dog – is able to provide a scientific explanation of how humans manufacture abstract propositions such as ‘ownership’, or ‘possession’. And now you claim that Science can be used to determine a moral code.

    OK. Show me.

    "… Again, you don’t seem to be able to differenciate one system from another. "

    Ah well, we all have our little difficulties in life. One of yours seems to be spelling (differentiate, not differenciate).

    Link to this
  35. 35. Chryses 7:40 pm 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "@Chryses, ‘You are aware that a belief that God does not exist is itself an act of faith, aren’t you?’ Negative hypothesis are difficult if not impossible to prove, therefore the onus of proof is on those that assert the affimative or existence of. It is not up to science to prove god doesn’t exist, it is up to the people who claim he does to prove it. They haven’t done that. So, I may not be able to claim god doesn’t exist but I can proceed as though he doesn’t just I do with UFOs, elves, big food and the lochness monster."

    Of all your posts, this is among the more impressive.

    "… Negative hypothesis are difficult if not impossible to prove, therefore the onus of proof is on those that assert the affimative or existence of …"

    Translation: Because I am unable to prove that God does not exist, if someone else does not prove God does exist, it follows that God does not exist.

    "Oh Dear! Oh Dear! Class? What is wrong with the logic here? Yes Jimmy? I think you were the first with your had up."
    "Sir; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?"
    "Very good Jimmy, that is correct. Class dismissed."

    "… It is not up to science to prove god doesn’t exist, it is up to the people who claim he does to prove it. They haven’t done that …"

    Do I really have to tell you what is wrong with the above? Hint: what criteria are to be used? Why?

    "… So, I may not be able to claim god doesn’t exist but I can proceed as though he doesn’t just I do with UFOs, elves, big food and the lochness monster."

    By all means, feel free to claim that God does not exist, if doing so makes you feel better! Far be it for me to oppose your Profession of Faith. Incidentally, it is "Big Foot," not "Big Food."

    Link to this
  36. 36. robert schmidt 8:56 pm 10/15/2010

    "@Chryses, "Translation: Because I am unable to prove that God does not exist, if someone else does not prove God does exist, it follows that God does not exist." obviously your ability to read is as good as your ability to form a rational argument. My statement was clear in that it stated a lack of proof does not allow one to claim that something does not exist but one can proceed confidently as though it does not exist. Proceeding as though something doesn’t exist is not the same as saying it doesn’t exist. I cannot prove that there is no meteor headed for my house right now but I am not changing my plans for the weekend to prepare for it, i.e. I am proceeding as though there isn’t one.

    I understand that you god botherers are put out by the notion of having to substantiate your claims but let me ask you this; how do you go about simultaneously believing in; Yahweh, Thor, Zeus, Vishnu, Brahma, Arinna, Ahura Mazda and the dozens of other major and minor gods of man’s invention? It is not possible to believe in them all as they tend to contradict each other. So if you can’t believe in them all, and there is no more evidence to support one over the other, why would you believe in any of them? I guess for you it is easy, since you are irrational you would make an irrational choice and choose the one you like best. But, if there is even one in history’s long list of supernatural beings that you do not believe in then you are a hypocrite. Actually, according to your own dogma you are forced to believe every claim that hasn’t been proven false. The universe is overflowing with an infinite number of unproven beings and phenomenon which you must believe to be real otherwise your last post is just B.S.
    I’m wasting my time on you. Enjoy your fantasy world.

    P.S. pointing out spelling mistakes is petty and a clear sign of desperation. Has your spelling and grammar been perfect? Get over yourself.

    Link to this
  37. 37. Chryses 9:31 pm 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "… since you are irrational …"

    Your ad hominem arguments show what you have to bring to the table.

    I was confident that you couldn’t provide any evidence for any of your claims, and as your last two posts have provided none, and as you seem to have quit, I guess I was correct all along.

    Better luck next time.

    Link to this
  38. 38. Chryses 9:37 pm 10/15/2010

    robert schmidt,

    "I understand that you god botherers are put out by the notion of having to substantiate your claims …"

    Did I ever once claim that God exists? Do please identify the post. Because if you can’t do so …

    You are wrong.

    Again

    Link to this
  39. 39. Jeff with a J 7:26 pm 10/16/2010

    Will you two just shut up and get married already? This courtship has become quite boring.

    Link to this
  40. 40. Chryses 7:52 pm 10/16/2010

    Jeff with a J,

    I fear Bob has left me at the altar!

    Link to this
  41. 41. mateco 5:52 am 10/18/2010

    "Moreover, Harris blames Islam and Catholicism for the actions of suicide bombers and pedophilic priests, so why should science be exempt from this same treatment?"

    Most religions, especially Islam, directly has a bad influence on the faithful, because of what is written in the holy books. Catholicism has problems with paedophile priests, because they have to live in celibacy.

    Conversely, science does not influence you to do bad deeds. It is done by some scientists, but it is not because of science.

    It is unreal how relatively smart scientifically-inclined individuals cannot see this difference.

    By the way, there will certainly be some moral questions that are impossible to completely answer scientifically, just as there are other areas science can’t reach. But we can still analyze some of these questions, and for example, we already know that sharia law is a very bad idea that advances more human suffering and less happiness than a lot of other ideas that could replace it.

    Link to this
  42. 42. Chryses 6:54 am 10/18/2010

    mateco,

    “… Catholicism has problems with paedophile priests, because they have to live in celibacy …”

    Interesting. It follows from your claim above that pedophilia is caused by celibacy. Do you have any evidence to support this claim of causal relationship?

    “… Conversely, science does not influence you to do bad deeds. It is done by some scientists, but it is not because of science …”

    If that is true, then why are papers published in “Nature” contradicting you?
    http://www.nature.com/embor/journal/v2/n10/full/embor304.html

    Link to this
  43. 43. oxygensmith 10:57 pm 01/2/2011

    All I can see when I read a passage out of Sam Harris, or hear when I listen to five minutes of him, is a fascist in liberal clothing, a metaphysician in atheist clothing, and the "rationalist" flip side of Ann Coulter totally informed by identical culture-warrior instincts. Obviously, more even-handed critique of Sam Harris is needed, so I’m glad you (Horgan) took up a task I am not up to.

    Link to this
  44. 44. redchango 3:59 pm 01/4/2011

    Wow, Scientific American actually published this op-ed?!? The guy totally missed the point. What do the Tuskegee experiments have to do with the Moral Landscape? If anything, they’d be low on the Moral Landscape. And the author acts like Harris never defined "well-being", and left it open for discussion.

    But here’s the problem. He did define it! And he did it quite well. Morality relates to flourishing of conscious creatures. Did the Tuskegee experiments, or any of the experiments cited in the article increase human flourishing? No. You don’t even need an MRI to answer that question.

    Link to this
  45. 45. DJohnston36 9:25 am 01/13/2011

    Have now finished Mr. Harris’s ‘The Moral Landscape’.

    I am convinced of several things:

    First is that Mr. Harris flips around on his interpretations of Science as Arbiter of Morality like a fish in a net. If Science supports his own intuitive conceptions of what is right, all is good and it is proof that ‘Science does Morality’. But when Science describes something he considers wrong or troubling then we must seek for the Scientific reasons of such ‘Moral Failings’ (eg. the situation where humans care in decreasing amounts about people the less closely related or socially connected they are is a ‘moral failing’ or Harris, rather than a scientifically demonstrated and perfectly understandable, logical, Darwinian Survival behavior. This proves to me that Mr.Harris’s book is primarily his opinions mixed with wishful thinking; little more than a platform for him to bash the Taliban and other distasteful groups and practices. (Such as Animal Experimentation – a very good subject for Moral inquisition, which is not touched upon by this Neuroscientist ).

    Secondly, and based on the above, Harris decries Religion as Moral Authority and Guide (which I agree with) merely to supplant it with his own Opinion cum Science-Religion (Scientific Harrisianism??). A Religion where forcing women to wear Burqas and performing Genital Mutilation are bad (agreed), but also where ignoring America’s home-grown moral issues is the apparent norm. A ‘Religion’ lacking somewhat in the moral courage to criticize closer to home, it appears.

    Thirdly Harris rejects Morality based on ‘belief’, but ignores the fact that his own Atheism and blind faith in Science is also a ‘belief’. And a belief in a system of thought that cannot agree on ‘The Food Pyramid’, ‘Global Warming’ and which, despite over 200 years of trying cannot provide a solid Weather Forecast.

    I love Science and all it can do for humanity, but this appears ever so much like the carpenter with a chestful of tools, who only knows how to use the hammer.

    And Harris fails to use the hammer well.

    Link to this
  46. 46. mkh 9:39 pm 01/24/2011

    Religions have been with us for ages. At times, everybody had one, and the others perished. Doesn’t that mean that religion is, or was, beneficial to survival? Don’t knock it too quickly.

    Science (Computer Science) has considered how things should be decided and found that an "optimum" does not always exist. Sometimes we can just hope to find some "equilibrium", and then we need a meta-rule to decide what kind of equilibrium we want to achieve. Some problems are undecidable (the halting problem is a classic). Some take too long to compute. It’s scientifically proven that science decision limits.

    Link to this
  47. 47. openeyes999 3:42 am 01/31/2011

    Harris is right that science can determine what can make the most people happy, but he’s wrong that science can determine morality, because morality is in the realm of philosophy. Harris’ whole argument is based on the idea that what is moral is what is best for the most people, but this very idea itself is subjective, as is the definition of "best." Besides, we don’t want to pollute science by mixing it with morality.

    Link to this
  48. 48. openeyes999 3:45 am 01/31/2011

    Science doesn’t choose sides. It simply IS.

    Link to this
  49. 49. DJohnston36 8:38 am 01/31/2011

    One cannot help but admire succinctness and incisiveness of thought and expression. openeyes999, you are exactly right!

    Link to this
  50. 50. Rocket` 10:50 am 07/27/2011

    From personal communications with Sam Harris he has made it clear he is an intellectual chimp trying to be a gorilla. Immediately hurling invective toward another scholar he is apparently personally intimidated by due to something , who knows what. Clear inferiority and limited education and experience for starters.

    Mr Harris claims knowledge far beyond what he possesses. He claims knowledge about Buddhism, in the same communication is instability displayed is proof positive ignorance about deeper Buddhist practice but his personal shortcomings …. ie negatve emotions, which we all have to a degree …. have him, run his life, as indicated by this interaction.

    Link to this

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