Sam Harris in Rolling Stone

To commemorate the upcoming fortieth anniversary issue of Rolling Stone, the writers interviewed several artists, musicians, thinkers, etc.

One of them was Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

You can read the interview here.

A couple excerpts:

What are the most profound changes we will face in the next twenty years?

We’re going to be increasingly confronted by the problems of religion, the most acute being the collision between Islam and the West. Islam is a religion that takes the sting out of death. In personal terms, that may be consoling, but in geopolitical terms, we want death to have a sting. We don’t want societies full of martyrs, armed with twenty-firstcentury destructive technology, who grow dewy-eyed with the thought of paradise. The next twenty years will reveal whether Islam is compatible with modernity. If it’s not, global warming will be the least of our problems.

How do you think this time will be remembered forty years from now?

With any luck, we’ll be embarrassed by the state of our discourse in the same way we’re embarrassed by the way our ancestors treated race during the first part of the twentieth century. We’ll be astonished by the smugness and certitude with which people not only held their religious convictions, but imposed them on others through public policy and the law. We’ll look back in wonder that the Vatican was preaching against the use of condoms in the developing world, and that the United States impeded stem-cell research because some imagined that microscopic cells had human souls. Forty years from now, we’ll realize that taking religion seriously was like taking astrology seriously.



[tags]atheist, atheism, Robert S. Boynton[/tags]

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    God is not religion. He hates religion.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Forty years from now Sam Harris and the rest of the atheist-fundamentalists will have so alienated the majority of Americans that there will be a state religion and it will be illegal to teach evolution in the public schools, though there won’t be any of those because the Republican-fascists will have turned education over to for-profit hucksters. There, I can produce prophesy too.

    I thought Sam was in the dog house for being unreliable metaphysics-wise. Kurtz, even, issued a fatwa against him.

    Actually, what I hope is that people will have given up the superstition of scripture-based fundamentalism and the just as idiotic superstition of scientism. It might be easier if those pretending to speak for science had a clue as to the limits of what it deals with and vice versa.

    I’ll leave you with an unanswered question asked at another quality atheist blog last week, What is the “known law of nature” that would be violated by communication with the dead? I really do mean what scientific law, complete with equations, would this violate? Not that I’m advocating belief, just that I’m pointing out that it isn’t a matter that science can deal with. You can choose to believe or not but it won’t be because science can answer the question.

    Sam, when are you going to write that dissertation that seems to be permanently stuck in the pipeline?

  • cygnus_darkstar

    It would seem to me that this is a trick question. It would indeed violate no law of nature to communicate with the dead, assuming the dead can communicate. The problem is that it seems reasonable (from the evidence at our disposal) to say that the dead are not capable of communication. Assuming that the existence of the self is at least dependant on the physical material of the brain (note: this includes epiphenomenalist theories of mind as well as materialist ones; the only one that would be free is cartesian dualism, which has huge logical holes in it), then asking what law of nature would be violated by communicating with the dead is like asking what law of nature would be violated by communicating with a grass clipping or a rock. The question is unintelligible.

  • stogoe

    Forty years from now, we’ll realize that taking religion seriously was like taking astrology seriously.

    One can only hope. Of course, some of us are already there.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    The question is unintelligible.

    The question was asked because an atheist asserted that claims of communication with the dead “violated known laws of physical science”. All I did was ask which laws those were. If you have been an observer of atheism for a quarter of an hour you will hear similar claims made. Oddly, when you ask these devotees of scientific rigor to state which laws they are referring to, they can’t do it. That is because those laws don’t exist except in the mythology of scientism. If atheists and pseudo-skeptics would stop claiming that their faith was solidly based in science, these embarrassing questions couldn’t be raised.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    One can only hope. Of course, some of us are already there.

    Stogoe, let me make your day by pointing out that in forty years I’ll be well over a hundred years old, though we do tend to have very long lifespans in my family and none of us has lost their marbles in the process.

  • makarios

    Forty years from now, we’ll realize that taking religion seriously was like taking astrology seriously.

    Ya, well, comments about the demise of religion have been made since we first walked out of the forest.

  • Polly

    I believe, or hope, that someday science will be able to establish the basis for our “minds” and quite possibly we will know as certainly as we know about gravity and blackholes, what happens after death.
    So far, all evidence we have seems contra-indicative of a survivng self after death. No brainwaves, no neuronal activity, etc. Of course, that’s meaningless if who we are arises from “somewhere else.” But, the brain seems, by all experiments, to be ineffably connected with our behavior and perceptions and, hence, our awareness.

    btw-I’m not sure if my “self” survives a nap. :D

    that the United States impeded stem-cell research because some imagined that microscopic cells had human souls.

    Souls? No.
    Ethics of exploting POCs? dubious, not necessarily wrong, but highly dubious.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Polly, if there is a non-physical component of the mind then science wouldn’t be able to find it because science can’t deal with anything except the physical universe. As I’ve pointed out here on numerous occasions, science can’t even deal with many aspects of the known, physical universe because those things are too complex to be reducible to discrete, observable, quantifiable phenomena that can be analyzed and reproduced or studied by analogy. Science does what it can do very well, what it can’t do it can’t do at all. “The Mind” is a question that will not be answered by science, nor will survival of death, the existence of the supernatural or a supreme being. Those are questions about which science can not be done.

    By the way, the Cartesian dualism question hasn’t been answered, either. It might be in disfavor right now but that doesn’t mean it won’t be revived. I’m holding out for more than two alternatives or components. I’ve got a childlike hunch that as more research is done into higher dimensions, such as the E 8 work done at MIT and elsewhere, it might have some impact on such questions. But probably as suggestion and not as settled science. I think it would be a lot of fun. And fun is good.

  • Polly

    Polly, if there is a non-physical component of the mind then science wouldn’t be able to find it because science can’t deal with anything except the physical universe.

    Agreed. BUT, if science can “map” the mind to the underlying brain functions exhaustively, then there will be nothing left for an immaterial entity to do. Even if it exists, it will be as useful as an indifferent-deity concept. OTOH, if it’s functionally redundant AND persists beyond death, then yes, that is one source of “mystery” that is probably closed off from investigation of any sort…heh, until it’s a posteriori.

    Higher dimensions would still qualify as phyiscal, though an aspect of the material universe we are unable to interact with directly. The difference being it would not be a minded mechanism at work and that universe would still have governing physical laws. Again, speculation on my part.

    I draw no serious consclusions at this point, only my own wagers. The study of the mind is still in its infancy from the perspective of neurobiology. I await interesting and “fun” things, too.

    Re: Cartesian dualism, it seems to be an illusion. I say this based on the multiple layers of parallel processing of the brain. But it certainly FEELS like a theater with an audience of one. I, childishly, hold out hope that I haven’t been decieved by my neurons and future research will vindicate a materialist version of such a view.

    I’m reading a book by Chalmers right now. Though he seems to reject materialism (heresy!) I hope to gain a better perspective. Susan Blackmore seemd to draw extreme conclusions from paltry and, as of yet, not fully understood experiments.

    I still have my own superstitious beliefs:
    Love
    Free Will (maybe)
    Consciousness
    A persisting Self (at least while I’m awake).

  • stogoe

    Polly, if there is a non-physical component of the mind then science wouldn’t be able to find it because science can’t deal with anything except the physical universe.

    ‘Non-physical’ is a meaningless phrase. If there were a non-physical anything that interacted with physical reality in any way, then science would be able to study it and figure it out – it would therefore be part of physical, observable reality. If your ‘soul-a-ma-bob’ doesn’t affect observable reality in any way, it might as well not exist.

    Now back to my regularly scheduled task of not taking Olvzl seriously in any way, shape, or form.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    ‘Non-physical’ is a meaningless phrase. If there were a non-physical anything that interacted with physical reality in any way, then science would be able to study it and figure it out….

    There would be no way for science to “figure it out”. Using an example I’ve grown rather fond of, these higher numbered dimensions that are being mapped out to such spectacularly huge equations now days, what effects do they have on the physical universe? Some might be known but all of them won’t, there are probably many ways that they do that we don’t know about and almost certainly never will.

    All of the properties of science and logic and math are known because of their connection to the physical universe as we experience it. There is no way to know if anything outside of that experience is subject to the properties used by us to understand the universe.

    I will point out that your assertion that “non-physical” is a meaningless phrase, followed by assertions that “science would be able to study it and figure it out” is illogical. Science can not “figure out” anything that is “meaningless”. I’ve noticed a few of the tactics employed by materialists when these kinds of things are pointed out, the declaration that a term is “meaningless” seems to be a favorite. However, you can not declare something is meaningless and then propose to make it the subject of science. That argument fails the simplest test of coherence.

  • Kevin Metcalf

    The question on communicating with the dead is an invalid question for scientific research. It’s like asking what laws of nature does communicating with fairies violate. There has to be some testable aspect placed in a hypothesis and a null hypothesis. There has never been any evidence of communication with the dead other than delusional reports or scam artists looking to make a buck.
    In order for science to do what it does there has to be some testable aspect to the question; not just some vague concept put together in an attempt to prove someone’s point. When I was working a practicum in neuropsychology, I was always amazed at how brain damage could drastically change who a person was in the way of personality and social interaction. If these relatively minor damages in brain physiology can change a person so dramatically I don’t see how there could be any communication with a person when the brain does not function at all.

  • cygnus_darkstar

    olvlzl, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you may have misunderstood my point earlier. When I said that the question was unintelligible, I meant that it was logically incoherent, as per the argument made in the preceeding paragraph.

    That said, cartesian dualism’s main problem is the “mystery of interaction;” which is to say, how does an entirely nonphysical entity causally interact with material bodies (e.g. the brain). Also, if the mind is entirely nonphysical (as cartesian dualism claims), then why is the brain so closely entwined with it? These problems are why C.D. is generally not considered a frontrunner as a theory of mind. There are other dualistic theories (like epiphenomenalism and property-dualism) that get around one or both of these strictures, since they posit that the mind is indeed physical in nature, but consciousness is a nonphysical “effect” of those operations. I tend to lean more towards non-reductive materialism (the materialist form of functionalism), since it doesn’t have the explanatory problems of the reductive materialisms, yet doesn’t require the massive (possibly unwarranted) assumption of a nonphysical realm. Dualism should only really be considered if it can provide a good, predictive model of consciousness, or, alternately, if all available materialist lanes of thought have been shown to lead to true dead ends (not just difficulties).

    Also, higher dimensions do not count as nonphysical, since they do interact with the material world (indeed are part of it). As a physicist, I have to deal with the effects of higher-dimensional realities all the time ;-)

  • grazatt

    Forty years from now Sam Harris and the rest of the atheist-fundamentalists will have so alienated the majority of Americans that there will be a state religion and it will be illegal to teach evolution in the public schools, though there won’t be any of those because the Republican-fascists will have turned education over to for-profit hucksters. There, I can produce prophesy too.
    What can we do to stop this from comming true?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X