Sam Harris, formally Samuel B. "Sam" Harris

Harris, formally Samuel B. "Sam" Harris

American Philosopher, Neuroscientist, Author and Mindful Skeptic, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason

Author Quotes

When considering the truth of a proposition, one is either engaged in an honest appraisal of the evidence and logical arguments, or one isn't. Religion is one area of our lives where people imagine that some other standard of intellectual integrity applies.

When the stakes are this high- when calling God by the right name can make the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, it is impossible to respect the beliefs of others who don't believe as you do.

When was the last time someone was killed over a tobacco or alcohol deal gone awry? We can be confident that the same normalcy would be achieved if drugs were regulated by the government. At the inception of the modern ?war on drugs,? the economist Milton Friedman observed that ?legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement.? He then invited the reader to ?conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order? (Friedman, ?Prohibition and Drugs,? Newsweek May 1, 1972). What was true then remains true after three decades of pious misrule; the criminality associated with the drug trade is the inescapable consequence of our drug laws themselves.

Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another.

While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about. It is telling that this aura of nobility extends only to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Anyone caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane.

While each individual's search for happiness may not be compatible in every instance with our efforts to build a just society, we should not lose sight of the fact that societies do not suffer, people do.

What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents?and her supporters celebrate?the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance . . . Ask yourself: how has elitism become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth?in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an alternative to alchemy; it was a wholesale exchange of ignorance at its most rococo for genuine knowledge. We will find that, as with alchemy, to speak of alternatives to religious faith is to miss the point.

What one believes happens after death dictates much of what one believes about life, and this is why faith-based religion, in presuming to fill in the blanks in our knowledge of the hereafter, does such heavy lifting for those who fall under its power. A single proposition ? you will not die ? once believed, determines a response to life that would be otherwise unthinkable.

We rely on faith only in the context of claims for which there is no sufficient sensory or logical evidence.

We seem to do little more than lurch between wanting and not wanting. Thus, the question naturally arises: Is there more to life than this? Might it be possible to feel much better (in every sense of better) than one tends to feel? Is it possible to find lasting fulfillment despite the inevitability of change?

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

We should reserve the notion of 'morality' for the ways in which we can affect one another's experience for better or worse. Some people use the term 'morality' differently, of course, but I think we have a scientific responsibility to focus the conversation so as to make it most useful.

We should, I think, look upon modern despotisms as hostage crises. Kim Jong Il has 30 million hostages. Saddam Hussein has twenty-five million. The clerics in Iran have seventy million or more. It does not matter that many hostages have been so brainwashed that they will fight their would-be liberators to the death. They are held prisoner twice over ? by tyranny and by their own ignorance. The developed world must, somehow, come to their rescue. Jonathon Glover seems right to suggest that we need ?something along the lines of a strong and properly funded permanent UN force, together with clear criteria for intervention and an international court to authorize it.? We can say it even more simply: we need a world government. How else will a war between the United States and China ever become as unlikely as a war between Texas and Vermont? We are a very long way from even thinking about the possibility of a world government, to say nothing of creating one. It would require a degree of economic, cultural, and moral integration that we may never achieve. The diversity of our religious beliefs constitutes a primary obstacle here. Given what most of us believe about God, it is at present unthinkable that human beings will ever identify themselves merely as human beings, disavowing all lesser affiliations, World government does seem a long way off ? so long that we may not survive the trip.

We will embarrass our descendants, just as our ancestors embarrass us. This is moral progress.

We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.

We will under no circumstances have a problem with Jain suicide bombers no matter how we mistreat the Jains, the Jain religion really is a religion of nonviolence and the more deranged you get as a Jain you become less and less violent.

We're right to say that a culture that can't tolerate free speech is... there are a wide range of positive human experiences that are not available in that culture. And we're right to want those experiences.

What are the chances that we will one day discover that DNA has absolutely nothing to do with inheritance? They are effectively zero.

What evidence could possibly be put forward to show that one could have acted differently in the past?

What have we needed for these terrorists to prosper? We have needed immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world. We have needed an almost willful lack of curiosity about those failures by people in other parts of the world ? the lack of curiosity that allowed us to suppose that totalitarianism had been defeated, even as totalitarianism was reaching a new zenith. We have needed handsome doses of wishful thinking ? the kind of simpleminded faith in a rational world that, in its inability to comprehend reality, sparked the totalitarian movements in the first place.... We have needed a provincial ignorance about intellectual currents in other parts of the world. We have needed foolish resentments in Europe, and a foolish arrogance in America. We have needed so many things! But there has been no lack ? every needed thing has been here in abundance.

What I'm asking you to entertain is that there is nothing we need to believe on insufficient evidence in order to have deeply ethical and spiritual lives.

We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us.

We must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it.

We read the Golden Rule and judge it to be a brilliant distillation of many of our ethical impulses. And then we come across another of God?s teachings on morality: if a man discovers on his wedding night that his bride is not a virgin, he must stone her to death on her father?s doorstep (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

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Harris, formally Samuel B. "Sam" Harris
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American Philosopher, Neuroscientist, Author and Mindful Skeptic, Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason