The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris delivers a startling analysis of the clash between reason and religion in the modern world. He offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs—even when these beliefs inspire the worst human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris...

Title:The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0393327655
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:348 pages

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Reviews

  • Pete

    There are several currents running through

    , many of which I agree with enthusiastically, some of which I regard with caution, and one or two that I find so strange as to wonder whether Harris wrote the last few chapters while in too.. contemplative a state, as he might say.

    First, some easy floating down the river. Where does your support for the following graded series fall off? (1) Religious scriptures shouldn't be taken literally. (2) No one knows if there's a god or not. (3)

    There are several currents running through

    , many of which I agree with enthusiastically, some of which I regard with caution, and one or two that I find so strange as to wonder whether Harris wrote the last few chapters while in too.. contemplative a state, as he might say.

    First, some easy floating down the river. Where does your support for the following graded series fall off? (1) Religious scriptures shouldn't be taken literally. (2) No one knows if there's a god or not. (3) No reasonable person could believe in anything supernatural. (4) Religious beliefs should not be accorded "respect".

    If you are still nodding after (4), you agree with Harris (and incidentally, me) on the main thesis of his book. It has been pointed out for a long time now that religious ideas uniquely get a free pass. Guests on a Sunday morning talk show may strenuously disagree with each other over taxes, who should be president, or which sports team is better, but to say "Bringing up that god of yours again, eh?" is just not done. You can get away with almost any behavior or opinion if you state that it's a matter of faith. Like many others before him, Harris points out the absurdity and arbitrariness of this situation, and argues that it should change. Religious beliefs should be attacked like other irrationalities; religious stories should not be talked about as if they were true by people who know they could not possibly be true; religion should not shield anyone from criticism. What is new in this book are two arguments that would raise the stakes. First, rather than patiently waiting for atheism to gain footing in the world, the ascendancy of Islamist power and the machinations of the Christian right make it an urgent matter. Second, religious moderates should be chastened as enablers of fundamentalism. Harris states "Religious moderates are, in large part, responsible for the religious conflict in our world, because their beliefs provide the context in which scriptural literalism and religious violence can never be adequately opposed". So far, so good.

    We soon approach some rapids -- Harris sets out on some heavy philosophical terrain about free will and ethics in his trumping up of Islamist terrorism as a force that should command our greatest attention. I don't think he lacks the ability to engage with these subjects deeply, but he doesn't go deep enough in this book. In many places there is too much reliance on the readers' imaginations to fill in details (about surveys, what people would do with a "perfect weapon", what Muslims think about the 9/11 attacks) his research couldn't supply, and not enough exercise of the same imaginations to find flaws with his thesis that religious motives, rather than nationalist, ethnic, or political ones, are the most salient feature of modern terrorism.

    And, at the end of the river, our little raft finds itself in a Shambhala bookstore. Somehow we have gone from demanding the End of Faith to claiming that medieval Tibetan mystics had very useful things to say about the human mind. Perhaps they do, but from what I've seen, it is very low signal to noise. After seeing the word "contemplative" used as a noun for the 10th or 11th time, seeing Padmasambhava trotted out as if he were chairing a neurobiology session, and watching the language melt from the hard-nosed "is" and "is not" to the mealymouthed "seems to" and "suggests that", I began to suspect I was dealing with a manifestation of a Žižekian fetish. The last 2 chapters of the book simply do not belong with the rest. Harris ought to have expanded his spiritual views in another volume and kept

    focused on arguments for ending faith.

    Overall, however, the book is a bracing tonic for atheists, and as we have seen, represents a powerful challenge to the status quo. Its main accomplishment is to have revived this discussion in the public intellectuosphere.

  • Rob

    A greater mystery than human nature and its irrepressible theological imagination is how this book managed to impress so many people. After much consideration, I can only conclude its popularity (along with Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great) is because of the mass hysteria among secularists over religion after the 9/11 tragedy combined with increased politicalization of religion in government and education. This is

    A greater mystery than human nature and its irrepressible theological imagination is how this book managed to impress so many people. After much consideration, I can only conclude its popularity (along with Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great) is because of the mass hysteria among secularists over religion after the 9/11 tragedy combined with increased politicalization of religion in government and education. This is to say the book's popularity is due to external factors, its timing, and cathartic tone. It isn't for the depth of argumentation, scholarship, or insight.

    Any reader familiar with the atheistic works of Lucretius through Bertrand Russell or Antony Flew (who recently became a deist) will find Sam Harris' treatment to be scattered, grasping, and shallow. He has been scolded by (atheist) scientists such as Scott Atran for being thoughtless, unscientific, and offering no evidence (see YouTube.com, Scott Atran vs. Sam Harris). Harris strains an evasive response. This is poignant given Harris' trite pontifications on the primacy of science, as if he is a sugared up kid ready to jump into the now-drained pool of Positivism. Too bad the same Positivism he seeks makes his own endless moral accusations empty ([

    ]). The book does have the verve and personal engagement that is rare. The End of Faith has a pithy prose style that might distract you from lamenting the end of logical rigor.

  • Matthew

    So near the mark, but just off of center. This book makes many laudable points, not the least of which is the critique that allowing faith/religion into the political sphere on equal footing with science and reason will doom us all. My primary complaint with this work, and the reason I knocked off a couple stars, is due to Mr. Harris's illogical and inconsistent privileging of America and fundamentalist Christianity over the more "violent" Islam.

    For example, he argues that we can rest assured th

    So near the mark, but just off of center. This book makes many laudable points, not the least of which is the critique that allowing faith/religion into the political sphere on equal footing with science and reason will doom us all. My primary complaint with this work, and the reason I knocked off a couple stars, is due to Mr. Harris's illogical and inconsistent privileging of America and fundamentalist Christianity over the more "violent" Islam.

    For example, he argues that we can rest assured that the intent of Bush in bombing Iraq was not, as in the case of Palestinian suicide bombings, an attempt to cause widespread civilian death. Mr. Harris was apparently asleep at the wheel when the initial incursion was labeled "Shock & Awe"... I'm sorry, but bombing suburban neighborhoods to cow an enemy is neither strategic (if you buy the liberation myth) nor morally just. The faith of radical clerics in America is treated as somehow less violent because it is Christian, yet he never supports this; I recommend Mr. Harris check out the new documentary,

    . Much more logical to assume that with the most powerful military on the globe, Christian America doesn't

    to do suicide bombings?

    Next, we're assured that these non-Western nations, with their approaches toward death and suicide, could not possess nuclear weapons without annihilating innocent civilians with them. Apparently the possession of these weapons by Pakistan and India means little.... fundamentalist religiosity is extremely violent and politically popular in the governments of both nations, yet they've somehow abstained from blowing themselves, each other, or us up. There seems to be a lot of truth to Arundhati Roy's claim, which he quotes, that there is a racist element underlying some critiques. Mr. Harris appears to fully buy into this trap, while making pot shots at both Roy and Chomsky for presuming that factors aside from religion may also be important.

    Finally, he makes a claim that Israeli treatment of Palestinians and their neighbors is of the highest ethical caliber. This is almost grotesque following the horrific loss of civilian lives in the recent conflict with Lebanon... as with American Christians, Mr. Harris frequently seems confused over whether or not Jewish fundamentalism is also as bad as the Muslim flavors.

    This book makes a number of excellent points regarding the errors of living based on "faith," the violence resulting from those views, and the ability of science and reason to explain and support the best of human virtue. The argument that this is more concerning in the Islamic world, or that we need to look outside our own backyard (or White House, or Senate, or House of Representatives, or Supreme Court) to find religious zealots willing to militarily force their faith-based views upon others, regardless of civilian casualties, is where the book falls apart. I'm eager to see if this is remedied in his follow-up book.

  • Folboteur

    I rate this a five in spite of some legitimate reservations, too well expressed by too many people to bear repeating here.

    The things I liked:

    1. Brilliant writing style. Incisive, funny, powerful. (His followup to this book, a 94 page tract called "Letter to a Christian Nation" displays this skill to even better advantage.)

    2. Sam's recommended actions for the reader. Religion generally gets a free pass to make unsubstantiated truth claims. Stop allowing that. Start questioning, and pushing back

    I rate this a five in spite of some legitimate reservations, too well expressed by too many people to bear repeating here.

    The things I liked:

    1. Brilliant writing style. Incisive, funny, powerful. (His followup to this book, a 94 page tract called "Letter to a Christian Nation" displays this skill to even better advantage.)

    2. Sam's recommended actions for the reader. Religion generally gets a free pass to make unsubstantiated truth claims. Stop allowing that. Start questioning, and pushing back publicly.

    3. Who SAYS "Faith" is a virtue? Again, an unsubstantiated assertion that deserves some pushback.

    4. Analogies: I love that Harris comes up with some new thinking in the atheist arena. Too many authors are trotting out Bertrand Russell gems, and as good as they may be, they're 90-some-odd years old. The best, IMHO, is when Sam asks the reader to distinguish between comforting religious truth claims and his (hypothetical) claim that he believes there is a diamond buried in his back yard, the size of a refrigerator, and that it gives him great comfort to know that at some point in his life he can choose to be very rich.

    In the current climate, one would get him branded insane, and the other would get him branded a man of strong faith. Bollocks to both, I say.

    5. Moderation supports extremism. It's not appealing, and those in the middle are looking for compromise and wiggle room, but it really DOES come down to some black and white, true/false determinations. Choosing to be moderate, as Sam says, betrays both one's faith and reason.

    This may be the hardest pill for Sam to get readers to swallow, because it requires the most sacrifice of one's own foundations (if one is moderately religious, that is.) This proposition simultaneously asks the moderate believer to abandon thoughts that they have held to be sacrosanct from their youth, and then as a consequence, "disaffiliate" themselves from a tribe with which they have strong identification. (tribe/religion... whatever.)

    A compelling read that I thoroughly enjoyed, and which I love to imagine moderates reading and squirming through all the uncomfortable passages. Which is precisely Sam's overall goal... to remove the "comfortability" of lolling around in one's unjustifiable faith propositions, at the expense of the rest of humanity.

  • Paul

    Another yawner from the "New" atheists. This is another book by a pretentious atheist who just can't believe that there are still theists. "Arrrgh! Don't you know we've beaten you theists fair and square. It is just

    that theism is false. If you won't give up your theistic beliefs by our obviously superior rational arguments, then I'll shame you in to giving them up."

    Ho hum.

    Harris trots out the usual dusty canards of the New Atheists: religion is evil, it's the cause of all the wars, it's

    Another yawner from the "New" atheists. This is another book by a pretentious atheist who just can't believe that there are still theists. "Arrrgh! Don't you know we've beaten you theists fair and square. It is just

    that theism is false. If you won't give up your theistic beliefs by our obviously superior rational arguments, then I'll shame you in to giving them up."

    Ho hum.

    Harris trots out the usual dusty canards of the New Atheists: religion is evil, it's the cause of all the wars, it's gonna destroy mankind, etc.

    Of course none of this is ever based on any

    scientific research, odd for the priests of Science. Go read the detailed anthropological, sociological, political, environmental, etc., work by some of the actual

    who study wars &c. Go read your Pape, Pearse, Waller, Rummel, Livingstone Smith, &c, and then get back to me.

    Harris serves up the re-heated evidentialist objection to faith throughout the book. He repeatedly claims that "If you don't have evidence in favor of your beliefs, then your belief is unjustified or irrational." Of course, all we need to do is inquire about

    belief itself. Is it justified and rational? Then it must have evidence in its favor. So, what is it? Assume Harris can give us something, call it E. Call his evidentialist constraint his anti-theistic security blanket ASB. So, he gives us E for ASB. Now, what about E? Does he believe it? If so, is his belief justified and rational? If so, then he needs evidence for E, call it E1. So, E1 backs up E which backs up ASB. Does he believe E1? Is his belief rational and justified? Then he needs E2, and obviously this can go on

    . So, his anti-theistic security blanket just writes one bad check to cover another, and another, and another....

    Harris also sets up a false dichotomy. He claims that there are two kinds of theists, and only two: extremists and moderates. Extremists want to kill everyone if it would solve the problem of heresy and unbelief. Moderates aren't any better. They think that all beliefs,

    , should be allowed. He then says the moderates are complicit in the world's destruction since they allow the extremists to operate. But here we hit upon some major ambiguity. One can allow people to have whatever

    they want,

    they don't

    on those beliefs in a way that is harmful to others in an unjustified way. See the problem in Harris's reasoning? A further problem is that he claims that we cannot choose our beliefs. This is called

    . This is fine as far as it goes. It's philosophically viable, and a strong position. The problem, then, is that he claims we shouldn't allow people to have unjustified beliefs. So can people control what they believe voluntarily or not? A third problem is that I am a theist and I don't fit in either category. Though I fit in the moderate camp in an uninteresting way (the belief/act distinction), I don't think people

    have unjustified beliefs or false beliefs. But, I don't think the extremist solution is correct. Indeed, it is one of those beliefs others shouldn't have. Harris tries to get as much traction as he can out of making false dichotomies like this.

    Another problem is that he still holds to justification is necessary or sufficient for knowledge. This has fallen out of favor with contemporary epistemologists. In fact, almost all agree that theistic and atheistic beliefs can be

    (cf. Plantinga's Warrant trilogy). But this doesn't mean much. Edmund Gettier rather put a damper on all this. So, Harris pulls from some outdated concepts in epistemology. This is rather odd considering he's at Stanford. I'm sure his philosophy profs cringed at his book.

    Here's another example of how Harris makes ridiculous and self-defeating comments:

    - p.63

    i) What about a person's belief in the law of non-contradiction? Is he "vulnerable" to new evidence? Could there be a "conceivable" change in the world that could get this person to question his belief? Isn't the LNC part of what allows something to even be conceivable in the first place?

    ii) What about a person's belief in her existence? Is there a conceivable change that could get a person to question her existence? Who would be questioning it?

    iii) What about Harris's belief on this matter? Is there a way the world could be that would make it false? Then it would still be true since this new belief a "consequence of the way the world is." A conceivable way the world could be that would make Harris question this belief would affirm his strictures and thus not make him "vulnerable." But a consequence of this view is that your beliefs must be "vulnerable" in this way.

    This is all to symptomatic, I'm afraid, of the new atheism. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens &c. are rather embarrassing emissaries for a group that prides themselves on how "rational" and "smart" and "erudite" they is [sic], as opposed to us irrational, stupid, and toothless fundies.

    Yawn, the "New" atheism.

    Go Sammy, it's your birthday!

  • Greg

    What follows is not a review. It's more like some notes and thoughts I had while reading the book... a review will soon be written....

    This is from DFW's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:

    What follows is not a review. It's more like some notes and thoughts I had while reading the book... a review will soon be written....

    This is from DFW's 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:

    I have no doubt that Sam Harris is much smarter than I am. I have little doubt that any criticisms I make will be duly dealt with by persons probably smarter than myself too, or at least better informed than I am on these topics. I'm curious to read some of the religious critiques of this book, are any of them able to refute what he is saying without resorting to religious babble? I'm not really quite sure where you argue with him on the questions of religion, something about the way he posits a definition of belief I think is the weak link in the argument, but I can't put my finger on what it is. That's only based an unease I felt with his reasoning though. Is he harsh on Islam? No, I don't think so. Everyone who is Islam is not a bad person, as a group that can run out into the street waving AK-47's around cheering and celebrating the deaths of a few thousand innocent people, or who find it proper to behead people, or douse women in gasoline and light them on fire, or excitedly show pictures you took with your camera of dead-people on the ground around the WTC that are now housed on your laptop, and not understand how come everyone else around you doesn't think it's a great thing (ok, this guy might just be a sociopath who happened to be Muslim, but still Greg conspiracy number 3 of 9/11, why did he bring not one but two cameras to school with him that day, when he had never brought cameras to school any other day? Greg conspiracies #1 and 2 may be dealt with later). The way that liberals have defended their right to the diversity of their religion has stunk to me for quite awhile. If they are allowed to actively do anti-social things, then we should allow any religious group in our country to do them too, both books proscribe similar things. I don't think a bunch of women being forced outside of towns freezing their asses off and being shunned all because they are menstruating would be looked upon as a cultural difference worth appreciating some

    inspired church decided to do this out in Wyoming.

    Lots of words to say I agree.

    What I had difficulty with was Harris' attempt at explaining a possible ethics. Maybe it was the appeal to a proto-utilitarianism and basing a possible universal moral code on the premise of love and happiness. I'm simplifying here. I actually agree with him, but I don't see it all holding water. Now, because of love we feel for others we want them to have the most happiness and suffer less. This love would radiate outward in our immediate social circle's (this is me talking now not Harris), our family (that we don't hate), significant others, friends, children we'd feel more of a bond with and be more invested in their happiness and suffering. Here is sort of my problem: If me and my very large family, my wife and our 12 children, whom I love very very much, but it pains me to see them go hungry all the time, not have shoes for their 24 little feet, and I can't just seem to provide for them all. I want them to be happy. I don't want them to suffer anymore. Now living next door is an old miser. He never talks to me, I don't like him, nor do I hate him. I know he has 10 million dollars stashed under the floorboards in his house. I know he has no friends, no family and that no one will miss him if he died. I also know that no one knows about the money, I just happen to know someway. Do I kill him? One the happiness and suffering scale the answer could be yes, but we'd still say he has a right to his happiness of life. What if I told you that a letter got accidently delivered to my house yesterday from his doctor, and the doctor told him that he has terminal cancer of the most painful kind, and he only has 6 months to live. Do I kill him now? What if I'm going to do it with a drug that he will never realize he has taken, he will feel nothing from, and he will just pass away in his sleep, with no terror, no violence, no awareness even of his death? Can I kill him now? The answer somewhere in this becomes yes, yes I can kill him. Especially if one doesn't believe in an afterlife, there becomes a point in this far-fetched hypothetical situation; happiness and suffering are at this point vague and unquantifiable, and are a slippery slope. What if I had these 12 kids, they are all on the brink of starvation, and the next door neighbor is a rich miser, no relations blah blah blah, who I know hates life because he walks around his yard all day muttering "I hate my life". Murder here is morally justified, but it shouldn't be--it's that reason why it shouldn't be justified that I think is missing in the framework of a system that Harris is building.

    Harris isn't really offering up a final word on ethics though, he's just pointing towards ways that a future morality could be built that didn't rely on fairy tales, myths, or some of the problematic pragmatic approaches someone like Rorty might endorse. (On pragmatics, wow, was he a little harsh on Rorty and company. I've never been much of a fan of pragmatism, nor spent much time thinking about it, or reading it, but he really did a number on it. I do think that he missed an interesting point that he could have taken up and been in agreement with Habermas, and which I think is a central problem in any talk about religion and irrationality. Habermas has had many different sides to him in his long career as Adorno's successor who lost his balls, so to speak. Habermas' central idea is roughly that if open discourse could happen then it would easily resolve problems; but it's that communication is not possible, that problems continue without being able to find a solution. This brings me back to the DFW quote at the start, the problem between having a discourse on religion and the irrational aspects, and trying to bring someone who believes some really weird shit into congruence with the actual physical world we live in is that neither person are speaking the same language. This isn't relativism, it's not that both are right, or that you have your truth and I have mine in any kind of epistemological sense, it's that both sides could be wrong, but neither of them is speaking a language that the other one understands. Look at the creationist debate. The reason why scientists can't convince a biblical literalist about the validity of their findings is that the words a scientist uses are not even understood by the creationist. Yes they can give definitions of the words that both would agree on, but there is something in their language, in their way of using the language and expressing themselves both to themselves and to the outside world that is not the same as being used by the other person. The scientist can show figure after figure, show pictures, fossils showing every stage for transition from single-cell molecule to human and it would do nothing to the creationist, they would still hear every word as intelligent design, as biblical this or that. And this would be vice versa too. I'd suggest that one possible way to break down this barrier of communication is through something of a deconstruction (a text with no inherent truth can be broken apart any number of ways that are all legitimate, a text with a concealed truth can be broken open to expose that truth, in the first instance there is a case of relativism, but it's of no importance, their is no truth in the text to begin with, it's only making the inconsistencies more apparent by showing the absurdity of the new readings. The second is the more abused version of deconstruction, because it often falls into a relativistic whirlpool of competing 'truths', but in many cases I think it's the job of the reader to read these 'deconstructions' as added layers to the original, where this is going I'm not quite sure, I'll probably add something in the comment section at some point), and I think it's something that late Derrida was pointing to along with his focus on cosmopolitanism (which in reality is probably the only way to truly overcome the schisms of irrational belief, it's in all likelihood one of the major contributing factors of Ancient Greece putting their pantheon of Gods aside, but this is mentioned by Harris, although I don't think he uses the word cosmopolitan).

    Now I should probably go finish the book. I still have a chapter left to read.

  • Nebuchadnezzar

    Harris can pen a clever turn of phrase. Unfortunately, that's most of what he has going for him. The old standby "What's good isn't new and what's new isn't good" very much applies here.

    It's funny how much Harris and I agree on the fundamental issues -- we are both atheists and we both believe that religion can and has done great harm -- yet I found little of value in this work of atheist apologetics. History, politics, and culture are grossly distorted in service of Harris' arguments. The prime

    Harris can pen a clever turn of phrase. Unfortunately, that's most of what he has going for him. The old standby "What's good isn't new and what's new isn't good" very much applies here.

    It's funny how much Harris and I agree on the fundamental issues -- we are both atheists and we both believe that religion can and has done great harm -- yet I found little of value in this work of atheist apologetics. History, politics, and culture are grossly distorted in service of Harris' arguments. The prime offender, of course, being the treatment of Islam. He essentially endorses

    's "clash of civilizations" thesis, which reifies the concepts of "Western culture" and "Islamic culture" as monolithic entities. The use of "Islam" itself lumps Sufism together with Wahhabism, which makes as much sense as grouping Unitarians with fundamentalist Southern Baptists. It reads like he took a Quran from the shelf, flipped through to some choice passages, and then decided that this explained everything about Middle Eastern politics. Much of US foreign policy in the Middle East is conveniently airbrushed out. Harris implores us to take Osama bin Laden at his word, but omits bin Laden's fatwas directed against US military presence in the region, especially Saudi Arabia.

    in his latest book,

    , dedicates an entire section to responding to and debunking Harris' claims about suicide bombing. In contrast to Harris' armchair speculation, Atran brings empirical fieldwork and statistics to bear on the issue and demonstrates quite the opposite of what Harris asserts. Religious education is actually a negative predictor in suicide bombing and those that carry out these operations often have high levels of scientific and technical training, very useful when you have resources for little more than a shoestring operation. (

    is also recommended for a reality-based view of terrorism and suicide bombing.) Certainly fundamentalism of the Islamic stripe is a danger (just ask Theo van Gogh), but foreign policy can't be based on a fundamental misconception of religion and geopolitics.

    The same type of distortions are found in much of Harris' treatment of history in general. To mark them all would be an exhausting task, so I will use the Holocaust as a shining example. Harris more or less pins the blame for the Holocaust on medieval Christianity and Martin Luther. Here he relies largely on Daniel Goldhagen's

    . While it did contain worthwhile original research, the overarching thesis of this book (that the Holocaust was driven primarily by "eliminationist anti-Semitism") has been thoroughly discredited. No doubt anti-Semitism played a large role, but to portray it as the main factor requires Harris to erase the millions of non-Jews (Roma, gays, political dissidents, etc.) who were exterminated in the Nazi concentration camps. Not to mention just leaving out the mountains of other political and economic factors -- the Treaty of Versailles, the dismal economy of the Weimar Republic, etc. One would think that it would not be best to rely on a work that was met with massive controversy by academic historians and perhaps look to the best scholarship that has synthesized the big picture debates in the field, say

    . Once again, though, it feels as if Harris just plucked the first book from the shelf he could find that might support his thesis and ripped it entirely out of scholarly context.

    There are all sorts of other nonsensical arguments peppered throughout. He argues that only secularism has contested literalism and fundamentalism, an ahistorical claim. Explicitly secular challenges to religious power in Europe did not become prominent until the early modern era. In fact, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and John Wesley rejected literal interpretations of the Bible. Another amusing trick is Harris' redefinition of communism as a "political religion." Sure, if you beg the question and redefine all bad things to be religion, religion certainly does look like the ultimate bogeyman. I believe the word he was looking for is "ideology."

    When Harris isn't rewriting history, he spends a number of other chapters laying out a philosophy of materialism or philosophical naturalism. On much of this, I am in complete agreement with him, though the ideas aren't particularly new nor does the presentation seem to add much to what much clearer thinkers have said before. However, even on this, he clearly goes off the rails on a number of points. Harris seems to be some kind of crypto-mystic or crypto-Buddhist. There are some mentions of psychic phenomena with references to kings of parapsychology Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake, who are regarded as fringe cranks within the field of psychology. He also whitewashes the history of Buddhism, presenting the Westernized warm-and-fuzzy version of it. No mention is made of, say, the role of Zen in Japanese nationalism. Apparently, religion isn't all that bad, as long as it's the one Harris likes. His claims for meditation are stretched as well. The most recent and largest meta-analysis of meditation studies published by NCCAM found the research to be rife with methodological flaws and found no conclusive evidence that meditation was significantly more effective than placebo. (

    ) As someone who practices meditation, I actually hope that Harris is right, and he may turn out to be, but more research is needed.

    Further fallacies are perpetrated in his chapter on a "science" of morality. Here, Harris seems to believe he's found a solution to a problem that has dogged philosophers for hundreds of years. In reality, he just commits the naturalistic fallacy, or a violation of Hume's is-ought problem. His follow-up,

    , seems to be an attempt to stretch this fallacy into a book-length work of vulgar scientism.

    Ultimately, Harris' goal seems to be to resurrect some zombified form of logical positivism sprinkled with a bit of pseudo-spiritualism. He styles himself as a Prometheus bearing the torch of reason, but he is closer to the cocktail party philosopher who jumps headfirst into a debate without the vaguest idea of what it's about. A good portion of the material is simply embarrassing to anyone who's studied the history, anthropology, or psychology of religion, US foreign policy, or philosophy in general. Harris is not an expert in anything besides self-promotion -- his citations and arguments make that much clear. Indeed, he claims to support science, but brushes away research such as that of Atran when it doesn't suit his purposes. That's as anti-scientific as any fundamentalist. Reason? No, this isn't reason, it's mostly stuff and nonsense.

  • Emma Sea

    I absolutely reject Harris's key argument that Islam is essentially and inescapably a religion of violence and hate. That's like defining Christianity by the actions of the

    . Given that, it's hard for me to do anything other than dislike the book, but I was equally disappointed in it for other reasons. e.g. compared to religion, "Mysticism is a rational enterprise" based on "empirical evidence." (p. 221). Um, really?

    Very disappointed in this read.

    ETA: As many people have

    , this c

    I absolutely reject Harris's key argument that Islam is essentially and inescapably a religion of violence and hate. That's like defining Christianity by the actions of the

    .¹ Given that, it's hard for me to do anything other than dislike the book, but I was equally disappointed in it for other reasons. e.g. compared to religion, "Mysticism is a rational enterprise" based on "empirical evidence." (p. 221). Um, really?

    Very disappointed in this read.

    ¹ ETA: As many people have

    , this comparison was the wrong one to make. Because the KKK was WAY worse


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