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

The intention to do one thing and not another does not originate in consciousness?rather, it appears in consciousness, as does any thought or impulse that might oppose it.

The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle. The obvious must be observed and re-observed and argued for. This is a thankless job. It carries with it an aura of petulance and insensitivity. It is, moreover, a job that the atheist does not want.

The fact that millions of people use the term morality as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of time.

The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are.

The fact that one can lose one's sense of self in an ocean of tranquility does not mean that one's consciousness is immaterial or that it presided over the birth of the universe.

The fact that people are being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana, while alcohol remains a staple commodity, is surely the reductio ad absurdum of any notion that our drug laws are designed to keep people from harming themselves or others. Alcohol is by any measure the more dangerous substance, It has no approved medical use, and its lethal dose is rather easily achieved. Its role in causing automobile accidents is beyond dispute. The manner in which alcohol; relieved people of their inhibitions contributes to human violence, personal injury, unplanned pregnancy, and the spread of sexual disease. Alcohol is also well known to be addictive. When consumed in large quantities over many years, it can lead to devastating neurological impairments, to cirrhosis of the liver, and to death. In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people annually die from its use. It is also more toxic to developing fetus than any other drug of abuse. (Indeed, ?crack babies? appear to have been really suffering from fetal-alcohol syndrome.) None of these charges can be leveled at marijuana. As a drug, marijuana is nearly unique in having several medical applications and no known lethal dosage. While adverse reactions to drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen account for an estimated 7,600 deaths (and 76,000 hospitalizations) each year in the United States alone, marijuana kills no one. (drug war facts) Its role as a ?gateway drug? now seems less plausible than ever (and it was never plausible). In fact, nearly everything human beings do ? driving cars, flying planes, hitting golf balls ? is more dangerous than smoking marijuana in the privacy of one?s own home. Anyone who would seriously attempt to argue that marijuana is worthy of prohibition because of the risk it poses to human beings will find that the powers of the human brain are simply insufficient for the job.

The faith of religion is belief on insufficient evidence.

The feeling that we call ?I? is an illusion. There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is ? the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself ? can be altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of ?self-transcendence? are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are...

The God that our neighbors believe in is essentially an invisible person. He?s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates ? lucky us. And he?s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he?s especially concerned with what we do, and he?s especially concerned with what we do while naked. He almost certainly disapproves of homosexuality. And he?s created this cosmos as a vast laboratory in which to test our powers of credulity, and the test is this: can you believe in this God on bad evidence, which is to say, on faith? And if you can, you will win an eternity of happiness after you die.

The core of science is not a mathematical modeling--it is intellectual honesty. It is a willingness to have our certainties about the world constrained by good evidence and good argument.

The core of science is not controlled experiment or mathematical modeling; it is intellectual honesty. It is time we acknowledge a basic feature of human discourse: 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.

The Creator who purports to be beyond human judgment is consistently ruled by human passions?jealousy, wrath, suspicion, and the lust to dominate.

The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy.

The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments, and a passionate unwillingness to do so.

The dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists. To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among non-fundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt.

Take, for example, the people who think Elvis is still alive? What?s wrong with this claim? Why is this claim not vitiating our academic departments and corporations? I?ll tell you why, and it?s very simple. We have not passed laws against believing Elvis is still alive. It?s just whenever somebody seriously represents his belief that Elvis is still alive ? in a conversation, on a first date, at a lecture, at a job interview ? he immediately pays a price. He pays a price in ill-concealed laughter.

Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give him it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.

The ?war on drugs? has been well lost, and should never have been waged. While it isn?t explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, I can think of no political right more fundamental than the right to peacefully steward the contents of one?s own consciousness. The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time.

The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

The Bible... does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.

The conflict between religion and science is inherent and (very nearly) zero-sum. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.

The connection between facts and values is straightforward and philosophically uninteresting... values reduce to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures; the well-being of conscious creatures is what can be valued in this universe... Now, here?s the one bit of philosophy I?m going to anchor this too: imagine a universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as it can for as long as it can ? I call this the worst possible misery for everyone. The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. If the word bad is to mean anything, surely it applies to the worst possible misery for everyone... the moment you grant me that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad and therefore worth avoiding... well then you have every other possible constellation of conscious experience which, by definition, is better. So you have this continuum here of states of consciousness and given that consciousness is related to the way the universe is, it?s constrained by the laws of nature in some way, there are going to be right and wrong ways to move along this continuum... now this is, in philosophy, a somewhat controversial statement. I do not see how.

The consequences of our irrationality on this front are so egregious that they bear closer examination. Each year, over 1.5 million men and women are arrested in the United States because of our drug laws. At this moment, somewhere on the order of 400,000 men and women languish in U.S. prisons for nonviolent drug offenses. One million others are currently on probation. More people are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses in the United States than are incarcerated, for any reason, in all of Western Europe (which has a larger population). The cost of these efforts, at the federal level alone, is nearly $20 billion dollars annually. The total cost of our drug laws ? when one factors in the expense to state and local governments and the tax revenue lost by our failure to regulate the sale of drugs ? could easily be in excess of $100 billion dollars each year. Our war on drugs consumes an estimated 50 percent of the trial time of our courts and the full-time energies of over 400,000 police officers. These are resources that might otherwise be used to fight violent crimes and terrorism. In historical terms, there was every reason to expect that such a policy of prohibition would fail. It is well known, for instance, that the experiment with prohibition of alcohol in the United States did little more than precipitate a terrible comedy of increased drinking, organized crime, and police corruption. What is not generally remembered is that Prohibition was an explicitly religious exercise, being the joint product of the Women?s Christian Temperance Union and the pious lobbying of certain Protestant missionary societies.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Harris, formally Samuel B. "Sam" Harris
Birth Date

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