Monday, March 28, 2011

Sam Harris' "Moral Landscape," Part 3

The Ticker's new posting schedule begins with a guest post by Nick Peters which is part 3 of his review of Sam Harris' The Moral Landscape. On Wednesday I'll have a Book Snap on Bart Ehrman's Forged, which I got in the mail Friday.


Chapter three is about belief. In reality, there’s not much to comment on. A lot of it is neuroscience and not having knowledge in that field, I will not speak on it. In fact, it took awhile for me to find anything worth commenting on, but I did find a few points and those will be the focus of today’s entry.

On page 121, for example, Harris says “When we believe a proposition to be true, its as though we have taken it in hand as part of our extended self; we are saying in effect, “This is mine. I can use this. This fits my view of the world.”

This certainly could apply to people like the new atheists. We have seen several times where some atheists, such as one known as Voldemort, will latch onto anything so long as it goes against Christianity. Christ-myther writes a book? Sure! We’ll promote it! Copycat theories on the incarnation? No need to study it! We’ll advocate it! New book by the new atheists? Who cares about right and wrong! It agrees with us!

I would hope readers here would be more astute. I personally will state that if a side in a debate does a better job that they do a better job, even if I don’t agree with that side. I have made it a point to call out Christians who are even arguing for the side that I agree with just because their arguments were so bad.

When I say I believe something is true, I am simply saying that I believe that it is what best describes reality. For instance, I just looked up that in 1993, the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. I could care less about the Super Bowl. I don’t watch football at all. I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. When I look up that fact I am not saying “I can use this. This fits my view of the world.” I’m just seeing something that’s true. Granted, I could use that maybe in evangelizing to a Cowboys fan, but I seriously doubt it.

Harris goes on to say that we like the truth and dislike falsehood. This is not always so. There are some people who will die and go to Hell. I don’t like that truth. My wife and I are at this point in time struggling financially. I don’t like that truth. I would love to believe that all will be saved and that we have finances to survive easy, but I can’t. Truth is more important to me than happiness.

At a later point, Harris writes about the Middle Ages where a belief in witchcraft was omnipresent in Europe and says that a panoramic ignorance on physical causes of disease, crop failure, and life’s other difficulties caused this delusion to thrive. Thus, for Harris, it was all connected with witchcraft in the Middle Ages.
So let’s spend some time looking at Harris’s source for this information.

Well, it’s best to say I’d like to. Once again, he doesn’t give one.

On page 133, Harris says “Knowing what a person believes is equivalent to knowing whether or not he is telling the truth.” What? You can know what a person believes and know entirely that they are wrong even if that person sincerely believes that they are right. It would seem however that Harris cannot tell if Christians are telling the truth or not since he does not know what we believe. (At least, he has not demonstrated that.)

Finally, Harris tells of an experiment where some researchers got admitted to mental hospitals with each complaining that they were mentally hearing repeatedly the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” When they were placed in the hospitals, they immediately stopped complaining of their symptoms and asked to be released. Eventually, none were pronounced healthy and released with a diagnosis of schizophrenia that was “in remission.” Another hospital hearing about this said they would be able to spot them. They were promised some pseudo-patients, but none were sent. However, ten percent of the new patients that hospital had were said to be shams.

Why bring this up?

Because keep in mind, these scientists are the ones who are to determine our human values.

Keep in mind also that for the new atheists, these are the people who are supposed to know better than all of us.

Just something to think about.

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