CFI-NYC | Sam Harris: The Moral Landscape

while questions of good and evil right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science but in his new book the moral landscape how science can determine human values Sam Harris argues that science can and should be an authority on moral issues shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life an outspoken proponent of reason and science Harris's previous two books the end of faith and it's follow-up letter to a Christian nation were New York Times bestsellers the end of faith also won the 2005 pen Award for nonfiction Sam Harris is a co-founder and CEO of project Reason a non-profit devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society he received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA ladies and gentlemen without further ado I give you Sam Harris [Applause] so yes you can hear me well welcome thank you thank you all for coming I'm just going to let them dial me in a little less godly well thank you for coming it's really an honor to be here and thank you Michael and Susan for inviting me thank you Center for inquiry and ethical culture and that both these organizations represent something that should really be at the forefront of our consciousness at this moment the possibility of understanding our human circumstance without pretending to know things we don't know so I'm going to talk to you today about the subject of my current book the moral landscape and many of you if you're at all aware of the kind of conversation that gets had in the secular community know that this is probably the most controversial thing I've done I don't know if any of you see that my TED talk earlier this year online so a few of my slides will be familiar to you I Ted you have 18 minutes to to make your case and of necessity you're you're forced to sort of gloss over some some details and the response to Ted it's really been quite amazing to me amaze it's the most vituperative criticism I've gotten I mean you can stand up and say religion is dangerous life destroying nonsense and you sort of know the shape of what you're going to get but if you say that science may have something to say about human values I can tell you it's quite surprising the the the pushback and so in any case I'm going to argue tonight that science can in principle have a lot to say about human values and in fact what we mean by value is what we can plausibly mean by values and questions of right and wrong and good evil must fall squarely in the context of a growing scientific understanding of the human mind and this it's it's often thought there there's this separation between facts and values which is philosophically problematic it's scientifically problematic which is to say that science can't tell us anything about values science deals with facts it deals with measure measurable quantities in the universe and values are not the sort of thing you're ever going to link to physics and chemistry and there's no place to stand within science where we could ever hope to understand these things in scientific terms and I I perceive this to be a one untrue but also it quite a a liability in our culture at this moment so I just want to tell you the kinds of experiences that gave rise to my thinking on this the first thing is that when you as you all know I've spent the last six years or so since my first book came out publicly criticizing religion and really the first thing you encounter when you do this are people's reasons why what you're doing is wrong unseemly something that you should stop immediately and the reason you encounter above all others is that religion is the basis for meaning morality and human values you get this from liberals you get this from moderates and you get it from fundamentalists when I sit down with someone like Rick Warren to debate the validity of religion his first reason for the necessity of believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ is not the tomb was empty on the third day he doesn't give evidence and he'll who will go obviously go down that path with you but but the first reason is there is no basis for morality without a belief in Scripture now I used to think there was absolutely nothing to that and it's clearly a non sequitur that's not a reason to believe that Jesus the Son of God creator of the universe coming back to resurrect the dead I mean clearly even if religion was useful in precisely that way that would lend lend no credence to the specific doctrine of Christianity or any other so it's a bad argument but the fear that is being expressed there I have come to appreciate since I gave my TED talk actually some somewhat earlier than that but in the in the course of criticizing religion I've come to appreciate that this fear is actually worth taking seriously because I'm continually meeting people very smart secular well-educated people who think that something in the last 200 years has made it impossible to speak about moral truth that there's there's absolute that the notion of creating a framework a universal framework by which we could all converge on the same values where we could all start all being humanity as a whole we could all start giving the same kinds of answers to the most important questions in human life that that is just a pipe dream and that there's no intellectual basis to to entertain it and I'll tell you a story which I which I relate in the book which was just seared this into my brain I was giving a talk at the Salk Institute and made noises of a sort that I'm about to make here saying that that we know that facts that values are a certain kind of fact they reduce to questions of human and animal well-being and we know we know we're going to increasingly know a lot about human and animal well-being and knowing this we know that it's not too soon to say that a culture like what we see in Afghanistan under the Taliban is bad by in every sense of the word we could plausibly invoke you forcing half the population to live in cloth eggs is bad okay bad in the sense it clearly it is not a strategy for for producing happy healthy confident people so I said this at the conference and it actually turns out that it's quite it's actually controversial to denigrate the Taliban at a scientific meeting at this point and another speaker came up to me and she said how could you ever say that compulsory veiling is wrong from the point of view of science I said well the moment you see that wrong relates to questions of human and animal well-being then you see that this is this is not a way of maximizing it and she said well that's just your opinion and I said well okay well let's just make it simpler let's imagine we found a culture where they were removing the eyeballs of every third child would you then say that we had found a culture that was not perfectly maximizing human wellbeing and she said well it would depend on why they were doing it and I said well okay well say they're doing it for religious reasons they have a scripture which says every third should walk in darkness or some such nonsense and she said and this is this is to a moral certainty this is our verbatim conversation and she said well then you could never say that they were wrong and this person had just given a talk at the same conference she's a background in philosophy and science and an expert on bioethics she's since been appointed to the President's Council on bioethics she's one of 13 people advising the President on all of the ethical implications of progress in medicine and science generally and she's just given a talk on on on the the moral peril of prematurely using lie detection technology on captured terrorists so she was worried that we might be subjecting someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to nfm fMRI scan and they're thereby invading his cognitive Liberty she was actually especially worried that we might be giving oxytocin a hormone that mediates trust in the brain to capture terrorists in trying to get them to be more forthcoming so on the one hand you see her ethical sensitivities were just incredibly scrupulous and finally calibrated to all of our possible missteps and yet she was quite saying one about the ritual nucleation of children and clearly not connecting to the consequences of the real consequences of the misogyny and religious bamboozlement of the Taliban that is that is a daily reality for people in Afghanistan and so anyways I perceive a real problem there now I have been faulted since Ted and and in in my subsequent collisions with scientists and philosophers on this issue for giving certain very old and very boring arguments in philosophy short shrift and I do that because I actually think that there's a lot of discourse about philosophy that we don't have in philosophy about ethics and and these questions that we don't have to pay attention to so I'm going to I'm going to bypass some of those what I consider intellectual back waters even in this talk there's going to be a Q&A afterwards if there's anyone in this room who's who's a huge fan of meta ethics and other areas in philosophy who thinks I've just blown it and that what I'm going to say over the next 45 minutes just does not get at the core issue please say something please get to the mic during the Q&A and if you haven't been able to do that just at the end raise your hand and say I'm the one with the argument that's going to kind of completely undercut everything you just say because I want to I really want to hear from you now it's it's long been obvious that we've needed a universal morality because a very obvious example was when the UN in the immediate aftermath of world war two tried to put forward a universal declaration of human rights this is completely sensible project given what had just happened in Europe but or there you see the problem in the social sciences in the US and in the West generally this is this the statement of the American Anthropological Association to to a man and woman anthropologists that at that moment and many of them still do believe that this is a fool's errand mu K any conception of human rights is something that one provincial culture is merely foisting upon the rest of humanity it's totally illegitimate and now that's the best our social sciences could do essentially with the Crematory of Auschwitz still smoking this is 1947 and that this problem continues to this day and it's it's this this genuinely scares me because what what it suggests to me and and again I've been slow to concede this publicly because you don't want to give the Rick Warren to the world too much room to move but it suggests to me that we could wake up in a world where the only people who really have the conviction of moral truth or people who have it for bad reasons people who have it because they they think they got it from a voice in a whirlwind because they think the book they keep by their bed is the perfect word of the creator of the universe and when you specifically if you look at our collision with the Muslim world and the empowerment of the Christian Right in the United States you it's very easy to see now I can well imagine waking up one day seeing that it's a choice between a religious demagogues who understands just how bad the problem is in the Muslim world and a liberal who doesn't and that's that's that's no world we want to live in so what I'm going to argue to you is that facts account for values they account for questions of right and wrong because questions are right and wrong and good and evil relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures this is what can be valued in this universe we very simply just imagine a universe in which everything that can have an experience every conscious entity humans animals and everything else experiences the worst possible suffering for as long as possible okay that's bad you know is there any question that that's bad is that we really have to wonder is that really bad you know is there something worse what it seems to be the only thing you have to buy to accept my argument is that that's really what we mean by bad the worst possible misery for everyone okay that's bad you don't you haven't committed an intellectual sin to say it's bad if the word bad means anything it applies there if the word evil means anything it applies to someone who would put us all there now I don't think this is philosophically controversial and I'm going to try to push your your intuitions around to make you sense that this that this division between facts and values falls apart from from every side you scrutinize it but that but here is where it really falls apart to to my mind that the worst possible misery for everyone is clearly the worst state of affairs and then there's every other state of affairs everything else is better okay and the moment you admit that there's this continuum and clearly given that experience is arising out of the laws of nature given that experience is at every level constrained by whatever gives rise to consciousness and to mental life into subjective changes then there are right and wrong ways to move across that continuum there may be several different ways to reach the same space but they're not infinitely many ways to reach that same space so there are right and wrong answers with regard to the question of how to avoid the worst possible misery for everyone and we and we recognize this we have many intuitions about right and wrong that that however loosely track this the primacy of experience so for instance we when we think about our ethical obligations with respect to the rest of the world clearly we're more concerned about how we treat chimpanzees than ants you know is that an accident no I mean there are ways to be misled I mean we hate rats but we think squirrels are cute because they have a fluffy tail say okay so you know not having a fluffy tail really is an instance of bad luck for the rats is it is it right to really treat them differently well probably neurologically so in neurological terms probably not but we have a sense that the possibilities of experience somehow relates to the complexity of the organism now one thing to notice is that it that is a factual claim but we could be wrong about that you know it could be true that it doesn't matter how complex your brain is you could just you could with the brain of an ant can appreciate music better than anyone in this room okay that would that would overturn everything we think we know about how mind is related to matter but it could be true right no reason to think it's true but again this is the we're talking about facts we're talking about claims truth claims that fall within the purview of science and even I would argue religion is playing the same game of putting all the value on well-being the changes in conscious states of conscious creatures it's just that religions tend to put all the value after death so if you think you're going to enjoy an eternity of happiness with God if you believe the right things in this life well then those those are the changes in consciousness you're worried about it would make sense I mean you've got 75 years here and then you've got eternity eternity is where you really want to be well situated and certain hell it means nothing if without consciousness if there's no if there's no conscious entity to suffer hell hell is not a problem so consciousness is still the basis of religious concerns about value now many people think that this notion of well-being is so elastic and difficult to tie down that you it's problematic to to anchor morality and human values to it I'm going to get away from that but I by analogy I want you to consider physical health ok physical health is a genuinely loose notion and clearly changing we have very different expectations of health now then people did when this statute was carved when life expectancy was probably around 25 or 30 and our expectations could change totally in the future I mean we could our descendants could live in a world where you would be expected to be able to regrow a lost limb like a salamander that's biologically possible given certain breakthroughs in science well does that obviate all of our distinctions between health and disease and the president I mean is it impossible for us to have a science of health because that the very notion of health is difficult to tie down no not at all we have the science of medicine and no one ever attacks the philosophical underpinnings of medicine with doubts about you know what how can you say that smallpox isn't healthy you know what I may be terminal smallpox is another way of being perfectly healthy in what would you say to a man dying of smallpox who thinks he's as healthy as you are how could you convince him okay that this is really an on problem I mean you you don't have to convince him some people can't some people are crazy some people are not up to the conversation but so too on questions of human wellbeing and questions of what we should value in this life now is the notion that facts and values are distinct breaks down again when you look at how we describe the most our most basic understanding of the physical universe so you take water we now know something about its structure water is two parts hydrogen one part oxygen we've known this for about 150 years what do you do when someone comes into the room and and doubts this proposition what do you do with a row with a skeptic about water chemistry how do you how do you change their mind well you have to appeal to certain values hey you have to first of all the person has to want to understand the world that is that is a core scientific value there's some virtue in figuring out what's actually going on what is it so what would you say to someone who said listen actually my chemistry doesn't have much to do with understand the world I just want to make everything fit the book of Genesis yeah that's my it's my version okay you that person can use the word chemistry all he or she wants but it's not chemistry in the way that any real chemist would acknowledge and and no chemist would be burdened with the task of saying well if I just can't convince that guy well it's it's maybe there's no truth to chemistry you know maybe I'm wasting my life okay that that again this I think this is if anyone in this room doesn't think this is a tight analogy this is the kind of criticism I get equated morality and human values to questions of the well-being of conscious creatures we have to value evidence what do you say to someone who doesn't value evidence what evidence could you provide that would suggest they should value evidence what what logic could you use to show that the necessity of valuing logical consistency intellectual honesty parsimony mathematical elegance these are all values okay so the notion that many of you I'm sure have heard that you loosely derived from David Hume that you can never get a naught from it is you can never get to to a statement about what you ought to do based merely on a description of the way the world is okay facts to values we we only get to is we only get to scientific statements through odds through values I mean you the only way you say what water is is first you ought to respect evidence you ought to want to understand the world you ought to be logically consistent as yet another way of bridging facts and values and that's when you actually look at what beliefs are my belief is our best effort to describe the world in our thoughts and we form beliefs about facts but and this entails all of what we do in science and history and journalism and it every domain in which we're making claims about the way the world is if you've got to this call tonight based on the expectation that there'd be a lecture here that's that was language spoken into your ear or read on your computer screen granting it credence is what allowed you to make it part of the internal economy of thought and action okay and that's what that's what makes a belief different from a hope I mean you can hope you won the lottery but believing you won the lottery actually opens the door to the emotion and the behavior we also form beliefs about values about morality and meaning and spirituality now many people have an intuition these are very different things misusing the word belief but we actually looked at this with the functional neuroimaging this is the work I did for my dissertation and we put people in a scanner and we gave them statements to read very simple truth claims but we did it from many different categories so from from geography and and ordinary factual knowledge but also ethical claims and it turns out that the difference between belief and disbelief looks very similar you know functionally identical given the tolerances of the technology on the left you have all all categories been together belief – disbelief and then we separated mathematics and ethics so that mathematics was just equations people are looking at true and false equations accepting the true is true rejecting the false is false and without ethics they're looking at statements like it's good to be kind to children yes true it's good to torture children no false the difference between what your brain does in those two conditions looks the same regardless of the content so this is I don't want to make too much of these data but this and the brain appears to think it's doing the same thing when it's believing the virgin birth of Jesus versus disbelieving something else or accepting the truth value of equations so that should make the this this radical disjunction between facts and values look a little fishy to us so as I said I think beliefs are our best effort to map reality in our thoughts and when we seem to succeed at that we call it knowledge ok these are these are the instances where our talk about reality seems to survive every test that reality can throw at it and when it fails we discard it and there's there's a you can't quite see it here but there's clearly an area where our beliefs overlap reality but they don't qualify as knowledge because they're there accidentally true sort of the stopped clock principle of epistemology broken clock is Right twice a day but it's still not functioning as a clock many people are right about certain things but it's pretty obvious that they've there they're right for the wrong reasons and otherwise not to be trusted and so clearly there's a continuum of facts that we can understand that we can map in our thoughts with greater or lesser felicity and and many of these facts relate to how human communities can thrive and we know it's possible to live in a failed state where everything that can go wrong does go wrong we know if you look at a place like Congo at this moment you look at Somalia and this is these are places where the most basic projects of human collaboration are are undercut every moment by just the the impossibility of trusting the stranger the next stranger you meet I mean that when your daily concern is being hacked to death with machetes or being raped by drug-addled soldiers everything else that could conduce to your happiness is out of reach okay now and we know that there's something to understand about how you move from that situation toward a situation much more like the ones in which we live and raise our children and we where you can have intellectual interest you can have free time you have a basic expectation that people will treat you civilly where where crime is not your your moment-to-moment concern all of these things are are fantastically complicated if you're go searching for details but there's some very basic things that we understand about human relations that allow this movement the rule of law being one now for my argument about a science of morality to run through all you have to grant is that this on the left is really worse than this on the right and that there's the movement between these two end of the continuum is not altogether random there's something to be known about that and the facts fall within the the growing purview of science and the facts the facts can be looked at on many levels they can be looked at a level of biology but what is actually happening in the brains of people who live in a circumstance where Trust is impossible these are all this is all we're all talking about brain states even beneath that you're talking about genes that may predispose people to certain behaviors and we note we're beginning to understand something about the neurology of psychopathy you know certain people lack the ability to feel empathy this is this a biological phenomenon and you can look at this on many levels all the way on up to the levels of economic systems and political arrangements but in between clearly we're talking about a growing science of the human mind and and understanding the brain is essential to that as it's one easy way to see that this that there must be right answers here is just to consider what life would be like on earth for two people and just imagine only two people exist and call them Adam and Eve now as ask yourself are there right answers to the question and wrong answers to how they could maximize their well-being in this circumstance they're the only two people on earth well wrong answer number one they could smash each other in the face with a large rock I mean that clearly that's not the optimum collaboration and clearly there's there possible states of collaboration that are open to them which they may fail to find I mean it's it's true that they could they could be such people who would not recognize the prospects of collaboration I mean they could just try to kill and eat each other okay that's not quite as good as defending themselves against other predators and building civilization and becoming interested in the way the world is and inventing music and etc etc now how does this experiment change when you add 6.7 billion more people to it I don't think it does I think it just becomes more complicated so I'm asking you to consider what I call a moral landscape where the peaks correspond to the heights of well-being available to any conscious system and for our purposes humanity and the valleys correspond to the lowest depths of misery and one thing that immediately drops out of this framework is the prospect of there being multiple peaks it might be that there are many peaks that are actually incompatible which is to say if you're on one you can't be on another and if you're struggling to get to one you can't you're actually moving away from another okay so maybe it may be they're Undead I think it's unquestionably true that there are many different ways in which human communities can thrive but there clearly many ways for them not to thrive so the the existence of multiple right answers to the question of human happiness does not mean that there's not a clear distinction between right and wrong answers and by analogy I suggest you consider food and I would never argue that there must be one right food to eat okay but the fact that there are many answers to the question what is food doesn't even remotely Qwest call into question a science of nutrition you know and the throwing as many caveats as you want some people are allergic to peanuts and will die if they eat them we can understand that in the context of chemistry and biology it does not make the distinction between food and poison any less clear or consequential by analogy we can think of chess this is this is to capture the intuition that if something is morally true it must always be true and if you find a single exception to it well then there's no such thing as moral truth this is something you run into a lot so if it's wrong to lie it always has to be wrong to lie okay because if you can find an exception well that means it's not really wrong to lie and moral truth seems to completely evaporate well think of chess don't don't lose your queen as a principle that really is important to follow if you're going to play good chess now are there exceptions absolutely there are moments where this is always the only thing you can do and there are moments where it's a brilliant thing to do and chess is a circumstance of absolute objectivity there's just there are right and wrong answers there is a finite number of games and you can you can describe what is a winning move and what isn't now this is a very good principle to follow and yet it admits of exceptions I think we live in a space where we we know there are certain ethical principles that are very good to follow the fact that they admit of exceptions just simply says nothing about the prospect of there being moral truth there still be right and wrong ways to move toward the closest peek on the moral landscape now this model also entails that there may very well be conscious states that are very hard one that it would take a tremendous effort to experience the very few people experience there or that no people experience but which could be experienced by minds other than our own and and these these might actually be the peaks on the moral landscape you know there might be forms of well-being to be discovered through great effort which none of us know how to make or none of us are even genetically capable of making I been in the habit of in talking about this I I have often said that undoubtedly there's a Tiger Woods of compassion out there now that this analogy doesn't quite run through moment but you get my point I mean just imagine if no one had ever figured out how to hit a golf ball very well at all okay would that say anything at all about the prospects of being able to play like Tiger Woods no it's clearly there's it there there's a horizon past which may be on we all are failing to see and I think that's true when you when you when you see that that positive mental states like compassion really are skills of a sort we've regulating emotion as a skill feeling empathy for others is a skill these are these are to some degree trainable there's neuroscience to back that up and there's a there's a wealth of contemplative experience to back that up but again there's no there there is clearly all of the details here must fall with an evolving science scientific understanding of the human mind now in counterpoint to this I want to spend a few moments talking about the kinds of moral and alternatives on offer which we should be worried about and for that I actually think there's no better case than the sort of death cult behavior we're seeing emerging in the Muslim world and it's it's it's a ideology and it's a behavior that I think very few people are willing to be candid about I just was anyone at the debate last night were they on her cell Ian and the rest yet I mean we are we are all desperate to believe that the problem is not as terrifying as it in fact is that it's you know missteps in u.s. foreign policy the Israelis have been idiotic and how they've handled their fence-mending with the Palestinians and if we just were better citizens of the world this problem would go away I think that is a fantasy that is terrifyingly uncoupled from reality and it is a fantasy that many many well-educated smart academics indulge and many and everyone else indulges it just to be polite I mean anthropologists who will look me in the eye and say there's no one who has ever blown himself up because he's believed in paradise no one believes in paradise this whole martyr thing is just spin it's all politics so here we have Malala maher asan bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed these these guys agree about what is worth valuing in this world and they agree I think they probably agree more than any two people in this room on on the details because they are they're on the same page because they are literally drawing their vision of life out of a book and I think we should we should just look at look at the context of these beliefs and see just what kind of zero-sum collision this entails with with science and any plausible science of human value first they believe that the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran directly from the Archangel Gabriel who was channeling the perfect word of the creator of the universe and that the Quran is an absolutely perfect articulation of the highest wisdom that will ever be espoused in any community anywhere in any galaxy I mean it's just this can't be superseded by any civilization here or elsewhere and we're left with a book we're now hostage the contents of this book which is to speak charitably in no sense the best book we have I mean it is not the best book on any subject you could possibly it is it is a profoundly mediocre book and sit and it the the penalty for saying that especially if you're a Muslim is death okay that's a problem that's a problem with sociological consequences it's a problem with economic consequences it's a problem it's a problem it's not it's not an alternative morality where we are left saying well to each his own okay we are we are right we are absolutely at war with this vision of life now we certainly hope it's a war of ideas but there is there is just this is a collision and the net result of this belief system believing that the Quran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe is a very clear recommendation that the only appropriate attitude while alive is one of supplication to this invisible deity who gave us this perfect book and that this life is just a Waystation leading to a hereafter which is either going to be exquisitely pleasant or exquisitely unpleasant based on whether you believe the right things about this book and it's messenger now this is these are Kashmiri Muslims who are worshipping at a shrine believed to contain a beard hair from the Prophet Muhammad okay now now I actually don't make I don't mean to make light of many of the desirable mental states they may actually be experiencing in this in the context of what are I think clearly delusional beliefs I mean you know the devotion I think is good attitude commuted we've strong communities or something that we want these beliefs are very energizing but I mean it seems to me just patently obvious that given all of the difficulties of being a Muslim and Kashmir at this moment these people have something better to do than worship the beard hair of a man who was to my lights very likely a schizophrenic and the and the the conception of an afterlife that animates all of us I mean it really is a view that this life is nothing but a test of faith this is believed by millions and millions of people we're not just talking about al-qaeda and the afterlife is in the in the Muslim view a garden complete with rivers of milk and honey and enough almonds and virgins to go around this is a this is a startlingly provincial conception of sublimity and this is an analogous to a modern cult thinking of a promising and afterlife where everyone gets to drive a Lexus this is this is this is a this this conception announces its origins in the human imagination at every turn and it's clearly something about which science stands in skepticism I mean this is something in which you can't say there's no conflict between science and this proposition and this worldview advocates a certain treatment of women which is by any reasonable control profoundly unequal and debilitating visit the immensity of human suffering of women in the Muslim world it is it is unconscionable that to the degree to which we've ignored it apologized for it maybe and the people who do this most readily are not I mean the people who are clear about this are are religious demagogues may Rick Warren is very clear about what's wrong with this now he lines up with conservative Muslims on all in all other points that are that we would find reprehensible but but it's the Liberals of the world who say is this you can't who are you who are we to judge what this it proud and ancient culture are doing you know it's a Nicholas Kristof's of the world if i Nick if you're here I would love for you to stand up in the queue a this is not a choice and this is this this has neurological consequences it has psychological consequence this is not another style of being as happy as you possibly can be as a human being okay and that and that that is true even if there's a way to to as a mystic live in a cloth bag on purpose because this is something that is going to cause you to have some great experience you can either there may be some voluntary way to to live a very bizarre life that will pay certain dividends okay but still that's not what's going on here we have we have girls who want to learn to read who are getting their faces burned off with battery acid for doing so and well-educated liberal women in this culture aren't quite sure that there's any place to stand by which we can say that that's really wrong beyond saying that we just don't like it and the style of living has given us what now is incredibly familiar the phenomenon of suicide bombing which is not by no means always directed at us I mean for the most part its Muslims who suffer this horror and this is this is a the aftermath of a bombing of Shia Muslims in Pakistan by Sunni the sunni view Shia as apostates and this is it this is the the a girl crouched over the the body of her dead mother clearly these consequences are bad this is not the visit this is this is not it everything isn't up for grabs and just so you think I'm so you don't think I'm only picking on Islam we consider the Catholic Church briefly here we have an institution that it simply is more concerned about preventing contraception than about preventing child rape it simply is and that is a that is it's conscious policy and it's actual actions in the world it's more concerned about gay marriage than genocide okay this is an inversion if you are consumer allottee relates to questions of human flourishing this isn't morality in the same way that talking about the physics of the transubstantiation wouldn't be physics I mean you could say the phrase physics of the transubstantiation over and over again you could convene a conference about it you could say and you could apply physics to everything else Catholics believe you could talk about the physics that allows the Holy Ghost to be everywhere and every which way all at once there's not a physicist on earth who would have to take you seriously why is it that we have to take the use of the term morality and value and right and wrong and good and evil that occurs in this context seriously so I want to I just want to remind you why we there are a few other reasons why we clearly don't get our morality from religion and one is it clearly we even the even fundamentalists have to edit the books I mean they've come to the Golden Rule and you say well this is this is truly wise that's why I'm reading the Bible but then you come to something in Deuteronomy like if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night she must be stoned to death on her father's doorstep there's not it every fundamentalist Christian and Orthodox Jew and they're probably a few exceptions but basically every sane one has figured out some way to ignore that [Applause] so so what does that mean that proves that proves that the guarantor of the wisdom found in Scripture is not in Scripture may it's in us it's in a larger conversation about what it constitutes to live a good life this is a map of world religion as it's distributed across the globe and you can see that this is it's partitioned at the boundaries of nations now I think my colleague and friend Richard Dawkins Dawkins was the first to point this out at least I'm sure I got this from him that this is not the way truth spreads itself over the globe I mean this is the this is not this this should look suspicious if it religion is not in the truth business if this is how its partitioned and so we can think especially in this case of India and what what are the chances that India to the exclusion of every other society has discovered that the elephant-headed God Ganesh actually exists and should be propitiated okay this is does anyone believe this so that I've just mentioned the contradictions between faiths I mean they're mutually contradictory and self nullifying but within each faith there are impressive patterns of contradiction this is just a map of self contradiction within the Bible so every arc is connecting a verse in one book or another which is perfectly refuted by another verse and then the and the Graybar is that you can almost see here are the numbers of verses in each each one of those books and so these are hundreds of contradictions which are just absolute deal-breakers and there's no way this book is presenting a coherent message John the Baptist was in jail when Jesus was crucified John the Baptist was not in jail when Jesus was crucified then there's the inconvenient fact that our religions allow for and support some of the most barbaric practices we have ever perpetrated on one another and and have therefore the creator of the universe has failed to answer the easiest moral questions in this case slavery with slavery Jefferson Davis the the president the Confederacy was right to say that slavery is supported in the Bible there's no question it is there's no honest reading of the Bible that can say this is the most articulate condemnation of slavery ever written it would take a paragraph to perfectly express what is wrong with slavery and it's not in the Bible it God clearly clearly expects us to keep slaves so that that – my mantra just end the argument about whether we get our our should be getting our morality out of religion now I want to move on to some other ways in which people begin to doubt that there could be moral truth on the side of science and one is is in violations of moral intuition so many of you are probably familiar with this scenario this is a trolley problem which is which is now ubiquitous in the scientific and philosophical discussion of morality and so you have a trolley coming down the tracks if you do nothing it will hit five workmen and kill them but you stand at a switch and you can throw the switch diverting the trolley where it will only kill one workman okay so you will save the net for lives now when you pose this and this has been posed now I think to thousands of people something like ninety five percent of people have a very strong moral intuition that absolutely the right thing to do is to throw that switch you just you would be culpable not to have saved those our lives okay but if you describe the same scenario or what is purports to be the same scenario in a different guise the response completely flips and now you stand on a footbridge and a trolleys coming down the track is going to kill five workmen but there's a suitably large person next to you and you can just push him into the path of the oncoming trolley thereby stopping the trolley and saving a net for lives now something like 95 percent of people think this would be an important act you would be a monster to do this and people look at this and I say okay but clearly the result in either scenario is the same clearly our intuitions about right and wrong just can't mean how do you square them here there's just no there's no there there you describe it one way people are for it you describe it another way people are against it how could there be any such thing as moral truth well there are many problems with this I think there I think we have all have an intuitive physics and a bunch of us spent a lot of time worrying about whether he's really going to stop the trolley but it's also just not the same situation if it is clearly different it's a different experience to pull a switch than to push a person and if in fact it is it is a different experience it affects people's minds differently it's it's something that has to be accounted for in any real description of the consequences of these actions but even if we can't resolve this even if we can never get our intuitions to to track what even if these situations are actually the same and we and we just you describe it one way and it just never seems right that doesn't undercut the notion of moral truth and then you by analogy look at what happens to our logical intuitions how many of you are familiar with the Monty Hall problem see so many how many are you're just sure you know the right answer to the Montello problem okay so not this is a famous problem in probability theory which has confounded many smart people when this first became really public it was in Parade magazine where Marilyn Vos savant who's who's got the highest IQ apparently of anyone ever tested discussed this problem and gave the right answer she was just pilloried by mathematicians who said listen you may be smart but you're not a mathematician and you've just destroyed your career well so it's possible for to get this wrong even if you spend a lot of time thinking about mathematics you're on a game show and you're asked to pick you're confronted with three doors and behind one door is a car but behind the other two are goats if you pick right you get the new car so you pick door number one and then monty hall after whom the after whom this problem is named opens another door revealing a goat and the question is should you switch he gives you an opportunity to switch do you want to now pick door number three how many of you think you should pick door number three how many of you think it just doesn't matter you switch okay and well there's a very strong intuition that I think we all share that okay you're in a situation here is just there's two doors you know that's there's a car behind one there's a goat behind another why would you switch and you could switch but what would actually change if you switched now the truth is there's a clear right answer here you should switch you picked under a condition of real uncertainty you've been given information with this door opening and you pick your chances or two thirds if you switch okay and one-third if you stay with your initial guess now people when you explain this to people some of them just don't get it I mean I was I in my dissertation defense I use this slide and one of the neuroscientists in my view that I had four people to convince and one of them said I don't believe that answer to the Monty Hall problem it's it's this is difficult for people it's easier to see when you imagine a thousand doors okay your initial you initially you pick door number one and there were 999 doors closed and now Monty Hall has just nullified 998 of them leaving door 576 and he said would you like to switch there it's there it starts to become clear to people I mean you all the probability has collapsed over here you've been given a lot of information the fact that people find this difficult doesn't for a moment make us wonder that maybe there's no logical truth here maybe there's no right answer to the Monty Hall problem so so so stymied intuition is just just not we have a double standard in how we how we value it in in the moral domain and we know we have perceptual intuitions that are just faulty I'm reasonably sure that everyone in this room sees this tower as leaning further to the right for this one it isn't these are the same photograph and yet we can get behind these these failures of intuition when it matters and we and these and the and failures of intuition like this actually tell us something about in this case the visual system so we have we clearly have failed failures of moral intuition which is to say we can fail to track we can fill fell fail to be motivated by those facts that would spell the the greatest difference in well-being so this is a Fame and now increasingly famous experiment by the psychologist Paul slovic you asked people how much would you give to help this little girl Rokia who needs your help people when confronted with this give the maximum amount they're going to give to anything and they confess the the highest level of empathy you ask another group of people how much would you give to help this little boy Musa I think the name and it was an experiment you get the same result maximum empathy mat maximum tangible altruistic donation but you ask them yes in another group how much would you give to help Rokia and Musa a little boy and little girl and then both empathy and altruism are cut by 25% okay this is this is clearly a bug not a feature and this is this is this is we if you care about a little girl and you care about a little boy you should care at least as much about their combined fate and if you add more kids that altruism and compassion just falls off and a almost linear way just falls to the floor now there are ways in which we could understand this we could say well if you add too many kids it's just we're just we just feel powerless so we just can't even process it okay we that failure to marshal our attentional and emotional resources and material resources is a problem it this is this is it actually slovak connects this to something he calls genocide neglect but just the fact that we have endless attention to spend on one personal story of personal suffering in this case he uses the example of baby Jessica who fell down a well and it was 1989 and this was when CNN was at its heyday and the news cycle for 72 hours was just it was all it was wall-to-wall baby Jessica and people really had the free attention to worry about her but you hear that 800,000 people were hacked to death in Rwanda in a few months and it doesn't make the news for the most part and if it does it's just you can't focus on it now it seems to me that this is not good for us this is a this is a kind of moral illusion and we have to find some way of building in our better judgment into our laws and our social institutions and our tax codes to protect us from our moment-to-moment failures of moral intuition and so what to conclude what I'm asking you to acknowledge is that given what we can value is a matter of human and animal well-being given that that must be constrained by the laws of nature then we're talking about a domain of facts and given that it's possible for people into both individuals and even whole cultures to value the wrong things which is to say it's possible for people to have priorities which cause needless human misery and to fail to have priorities that would open doors to human flourishing and I and I think this is the greatest challenge we face as a civilization we have to find some way of building a global society based on shared values we have to converge on the same economic and environmental and political goals and it seems to me patently obvious that we don't have a thousand years to do that then the necessary piece and the purpose of my writing my current book is we it before any scientific details are sought at the very least we have to acknowledge that there's our context in which to talk about right and wrong answers thank you for listening [Applause] you if for instance there was some sort of study that showed that corporal punishment actually benefited emotional well-being in the long run for children that we would have to admit that it's moral now a lot of people objected to that in the sense that which it would never be right right that work or punishment yeah children that so it's a tough situation I'm wondering kind of what you've thought about the response to that good not I'm actually don't I think it's an incredibly easy question to answer because just ask an analogous question is worse than corporal punishment is it good to slice open the belly of a child well if you're performing an emergency appendectomy yes okay so the moment you connect it to an actual result that is clearly conducive to the well-being of the child and isn't it and you're seeking it is therefore an expression of your love for the child and you're connected to this child thriving well then yes you take out the knife and you provide and you know what the hell you're doing you perform an appendectomy now that is worse than being beaten with it you in emergency appendectomy it's you know before a without access to anesthesia you still have to do it okay it's torture so yes if corporal punishment actually were just the best way to produce loving confident capable people who look back on their own corporal punishment say yeah I'm just thriving today that was I had great parents that's what the situation would be and now we're actually not in that situation we actually know a lot about corporal punishment a lot is of course relative but I but there is research on this and it does it just doesn't look good on any level so I completely agree with all of the all of the extrapolations that you can get from the assumption that morality should primarily be concerned with the the well-being of sentient creatures but the assumption that the well-being of sentient creatures is what morality is is still an assumption okay Ben and why so in saying that you have failed to find any of the analogies I've drawn compelling like the analogy to human health well why wouldn't you say associating health assuming that health has something to do with living free of debilitating pain and disease and early death that's just that's none warranted of something why why doesn't that run through well I think a human would probably say that it is an assumption that the health that you know the Hippocratic oath is the health care exists within a context of a common agreement about the yardsticks of what health is and I would fully concede that but no son chemistry can't physics can't in physics is our best effort to understand the behavior of matter and energy in the universe what do you say to someone who says that's just an assumption my physics is biblical physics that just confirms the book of Genesis how are those how are those honor how are those not on a par given your your framing of the question because physics physics is about physical reality but that's the mainly not you you can you can come to physical two conclusions about physical reality that touch on the question of whether or not a particular activity is good or bad for for the well-being of sentient creatures but whether or not the well-being of sentient creatures should be the only domain of morality is still just something that we make up now and I mean I actually agree with you on everything so my only concern is that if you were to debate a religious person and and cede the ground that the only faith that you need to agree with everything that you're arguing is the faith that morality is about sentient creatures and their well-being then it would actually be a stronger case I mean my concern is that okay I don't even want to concede that much because I see these scientific values are the truth is I think the value of the well-being of conscious creatures is actually strong than any of the scientific values it's more firmly grounded than any of the scientific values I listed so when you ask well why on why should we assume that understanding the universe is good why should we value that why should we assume that we should value evidence I think all of that when we get into the details is actually subservient to a more basic concern for well being and and the one way to see that is just imagine when they rent imagine disjunctions between the imagine when they break apart when too much knowledge is really a bad thing and we're being slightly wrong about reality actually pays huge dividends you know too much knowledge was going to kill all of us and the rest of humanity those were those would be facts we wouldn't want to know and and you mean we don't publish the the recipe for synthesizing smallpox on the side of buses and force everyone to understand it completely but we don't we're not drumming this knowledge into people's heads so we don't we don't have this completely unconstrained value on the truth there's a right way to understand implead understanding of smallpox there's a right way to synthesize it we could just get make sure everyone knows that before they get do anything else there's no there's a very obvious reasons not to do that and what I'm saying is that the the the concept of health is just as loose as the concept of well-being the act of defining my terms defining a science of morality in terms of the well-being of conscious creatures is no more attendant tendentious or merely preferential than defining physics in terms of an attempt to understand the behavior of matter and energy or I mean it's just it is it is we we look at biology we still do not have a good definition of life and yet biology thrives maybe and and and these are you know my father is dead what do I mean by you know is he really dead well yeah he's he's dead he doesn't answer the telephone it's it's you know dead in terms of no energy metabolism no respiration and we have this this constellation of variables that go into this very kind of suitcase notion of life and death and yet it doesn't prevent a very clear science of biology from making progress and so the moment you admit that that there's a difference between the worst possible misery for everyone and everything else and that conscious states are somehow dependent upon the laws of nature then you've got the spectrum of changes now I'm telling you that that when a person comes in and says there's actually something much more important than avoiding the worst possible misery from it for everyone I don't think that person's making sense it's not it's not an alternate view that that is intelligible and I don't think he's making sense to himself I don't think he knows what he's talking about and that's and so I don't and there's just no reason to burn any fuel worrying about that philosophical doubt and again I think it's actually it's it's less of a concern philosophically then skepticism with regard to physics and and everything else that we consider hard science sorry I was very light but I'll try to be shorter than that and more coherent fun Thanks dr. Harris I just want to thank you first for your invaluable assistance in aiding my lifelong effort to recover from my Catholic upbringing Oh two hours due west of here where I've driven from the Cu is Pennsylvania it's a lovely place to discover nature it's not the buckle of the Bible Belt but it's the bow tie and I'm here to tell you I'm having a hard time getting along I live in the matrix you know and so I would love it if you could share some thoughts on how you I'm somewhat of a leader in my community I have a hard time communicating with people I'm talking to people who believe in magic all the time and I can't there's almost no common ground in which we can communicate and I don't want to just spend my life offending people right I'm stuck in this world of I can't talk about politics and I can't talk about religion and you know I hope my question is clear is I'd only be yeah right yeah I'm a it's a it's the predicament certainly most of us are in I think it's I mean I don't have a clear formula for to differentiate those occasions where you should just change the subject or be civil in some other way in those occasions where you really should there's a reason to take it to the mat except one clear bright line for me is the difference between all of our socializing and all of our living with people and those in those moments where someone standing in a lectern or running for political office and holy and press conference or publishing an editorial those moments where ideas are being publicly expressed as ideas and really have to live or die on their own merits then I think we all have a duty to boot to be honest and when we have we have a duty to criticize those who are patently dishonest where I think I mean I think that the conscious the psychological and social change we have to find a way to engineer is to make it just too embarrassing to pretend to know things you don't know at the public level it just at some point that the the people have to become aware of just what words mean and when a president says you know God is behind the American people or I consult the higher father I mean that just has to go over like a lead balloon with the White House press corps and it just has to dit there all the hands have to go up and we have seated what did you actually mean by that that and and and yet it's received as by people who believe it as just a statement of truth and it's received by the rest of us as well maybe he doesn't believe it it's just kind of vacuous you know our current president says you know I my faith tells me that gay marriage is wrong I mean it's a scandal that he's against gay marriage and he should be forced to unpack that sentence you know what your faith has how does your faith tell you that gay marriage is wrong waitlet I've got to follow up question this is there has to be an argument that if gay marriage is wrong gay marriage is wrong in terms of all of the suffering it would create it's wrong in terms of all of the possible happiness it would foreclose that's the only way to talk about what I'm hoping to I'm hoping to steal the ground under the people who can who can rely on everyone to just be polite at those moments when someone says listen my faith tells me it's wrong okay but whether you have to do that in an elevator or Thanksgiving dinner that's a very that's a different moment and yeah I don't think I don't think we win by just being churlish and and and boorish so I think that's the best I got on that I'll echo sure everyone else again same thing but as a pleasure to finally meet you and talk to you it is somewhat similar to less questioners question point which is when you were talking about the the more allusions in fact actually I've experienced it now at least a couple times personally like seeing that happen predominantly through Facebook there's a thing that's going on right now it's actually involves a student that committed suicide in our town Tyler Clemente you've heard about along the news and stuff like that he actually came from our high school and the outpouring and coverage of that is amazing but nevertheless I'm you know on a daily basis I post a Facebook or Twitter or whatever it is things along the lines of like the genocide issues that you talked about are the larger issues that involve many thousands of people suffering and it gets no traction and it goes even further than that which and this is where I guess my question starts to finally emerge which is the they're they're the bug that you speak of I think is nuanced on many levels in terms of human consciousness on our ability to expand our empathy because there seems to be an active negative feedback it's like when people are caught not by surprise but when you confront them with their the fact that they have not consciously considered the suffering of some group X um they there's an active negative feedback I when I debate with other people the the things that I get hammered on the most are always those things involving groups of other individuals suffering from which I actively try to bring what you know bring their attention so the the question is this this bug that I agree with you is there it's more than just individuals being tested it's more it's there's there's a societal active negative feedback yeah yeah um what thoughts on what to do I mean I don't know exactly how to go about addressing that personally well I I think the interesting thing to notice is that we our minds are not entirely our own I mean they're not even in some ways they're not even mostly our own and basically everything we think about and all the kinds of distinctions we make and the things we feel are are entangled with this sort of inter subjective space and we've got culture we've got social norms we've got all these things influencing us and we have to insofar as we are individuals thinking our own thoughts we have to influence it back I mean we can we we say things we publish things we do things which then change the context in which we exist and I mean but the my basis for hope is that the context can change pretty radically and and pretty quickly and the best analogy I know for that is is with regard to racism racism we racism in this country has changed now it's not that racism is completely gone away there's still racists and racism is a problem and people are discriminated against but I mean there is I have this example of this somewhere in my book me a hundred years ago there were editorials published in all the major newspapers regularly that now read like they could only have come in a Ku Klux Klan pamphlet I mean just naked Lee racist screeds and obviously people were lynched by the thousands and many of you have seen those photos of lynchings I mean these were just every upstanding citizen in the town is a raid you know in their Sunday best we're talking newspaper editors and Senators and schoolteachers and with kids all to take for the purpose of taking a postcard shot under a dangling and lacerated and often partially burned corpse of a black man who's been hung from a tree or a lamppost okay and this happened by the thousands and happened for decades and people literally took body parts home as souvenirs and then put them in their places of business and it's just it it's doesn't compute right now and that's a measure of how much our society has changed and our expectations of it have changed and I think we have to end it end it in historical time it had all happened very very quickly and I think the hope is something like that can happen around this variable of false certainty and religious demagoguery and and dogmatism and it can happen here it can happen in the Muslim world and we have to find some way of engineering it and I just don't know beyond trying to talk sense on all these points to do that but I think it I mean in principle it can happen very quickly and it could all happen in a single generation I mean if we just had an educational system that reliably challenged religious from the moment the kids can't went through the door because it would very likely not survive the the collision and that and that's well you see the educational system or the the one of them would would yield I think you said that you continually encounter very educated people most of whom are many at least are liberals who refuse to admit to what you and I most of us would agree to is an objective morality or a clear right and wrong answer to certain questions right why do you think that this position of these liberals were talking about why does it take in such a foothold a strong foothold in our society in our culture in the modern era and where does it come from like is there someone who's like a postmodern relativist yeah yeah no no but it's a very good question I think they're they're too obvious and actually somewhat defensible reasons for it one is our understandable guilt over all of the missteps of the north and the west over the rest of the was now called the developing world a colonialism and racism and xenophobia and all of that that we have a lot to atone for as a civilization and we're aware of it and this is a kind of intellectual overcorrection that has occurred in the social sciences and occurred in in liberal discourse so it's just it's any time you see it it's especially in talking about Islam now and where any criticism of Islam is viewed as somehow synonymous with bigotry and we I just think we have to get very clear about the sort of category error that's happening there because it's it's not and we're criticizing ideas and their behavioral consequences we're not talking about people or the color of their skin we're talking about you know when I when I criticize Islam I am talking every I'm not at all talking about Arabs or any ethnicity and I'm talking about you know white kids in Marin County like John Walker Lindh who decide that the Quran is a perfect were the creative universe so if there's a lot of white guilt and to put it sort of crassly and then there's just an appreciation that it's our very heart and in the human mind is a very hard problem so understanding morale it's the details are very complex and while neuroscience is 150 years old it's a very young science and sciences of mind are very young so we're just not in terms of just delivering the details we are very long way away from from doing that in an experimental set thank you hi so um I was thinking about all this in terms of just the movement in general and the work that the Center for inquiry does and oh I'm sorry I'm asking this question about sort of the movement in general in the context of the work that the Center for inquiry does and my question is would it be possible to make room in this movement for people who are very compassionate very empathetic golden rule religious people who just happen to feel in their bones that every time they do something nice an angel gets its wings like is there a way to to bring those people into this movement and if not why not and if so what would that look like right right well I think I might have to recuse myself from this question because so anyone who was at the that aai conference in was a 2007 and DC I am the guy who questions whether we need a movement I mean I think it's I don't think we have to call ourselves atheists you know I started a nonprofit that's a secular nonprofit as well but I don't think we need a we don't need to be a victim group I don't think we need to be a political group I'm still not convinced that the way forward is for us to say there's a lot of non-believers here and use time you took us seriously I think we just have to criticize bad ideas and we have to laugh at that ideas and we have to get other people who like you say have some bad ideas they're not quite as bad as the ones we're laughing at to laugh with us at the really bad ideas and to have it all sort of just ricochet around so that you know there's a sort of no one with bad ideas left standing at the end of all that and we need you know we need you know comment stand-up comics I mean one of the so on one level the racism again is the analogy I used at that conference I mean the clearly the civil rights movement was important and paid some dividends and writing new laws is important but you know Chris Rock is important I mean having a black guy stand up on stage and be the funniest guy any of these white rednecks have ever seen that is a huge change I mean that's sort of the kind of the bridge of empathy gets built it's like my way we and that's it that's a crucial piece that no law is going to or social movement is going to give us and so I think I think I'm much more focused on let's just keep using reason and evidence and common sense again to inoculate ourselves against specific bad ideas so I read the end of faith five or six years ago when I was 16 went on to found a secular group at my university posted well attended events mr. hitchens etc so it really I think the power that you wield in our discourse is really a testament to the power of clear analytical rigorous thinking and how people are genuinely persuaded by it so I think everyone that thank you so my question has to do with how your theory would translate into public policy or at least the domain of politics and governance so for example if a polity in the Middle East by democratic consensus wants to impose the cotton bag on its women and the only way the only way to supersede that influence would be imposition by some other state you know and necessarily the would infringe upon their autonomy so I think one reason liberals may be trouble is that it would it seems to require some kind of force right right would you know dismantle the autonomy of of a people yeah well I don't think it's so much autonomy but it's just you would create tremendous suffering in trying to rescue those people they so you have to kill the bad guys and you can't do that in a really targeted way so you there's collateral damage and and I think I get the shape of the question so yeah we can't so what we have in certain circumstances is when I talk about North Korea I don't get the same kind of pushback as when I talk about the burqa in Afghanistan and is that they're very few liberals will stand up and say no no North Korea is another just another style of human flourish and who are we to judge North Korea you don't you don't get that so that that alone just shows you that this variable of religion is is really the thing that is anchoring this I think moral delusion but North Korea is a hostage situation and there's apparently nothing we can do about it there's nothing we can do about it because too many people would get killed in trying to do something about now are we right to wish we could do something about it I think absolutely if we could wave a magic wand and liberate all the people of North Korea we would be we would be monsters not to do it but it's just it's it's it just so happens that it's there situations in which is too hard now I mean one and out this is actually but it sort of falls out of the model of the moral landscape when you think of what it means to be in a place on the landscape where in order to get to a peak you actually have to move downward before you can go up and we have to go through a saddle now provide it now so there's some construal under which okay well this doubt this suffering is somehow justified everything's getting worse for a lot of people right now but it's justified given where we can be where we were expecting to get to on the other side now we make that calculation all the time and we think it's the right thing to do and when you when you decide to repair a road in a street in Manhattan and create a traffic snarl you're doing that because it's going to be better for everybody in the long run but you're inconveniencing millions of people when you do that and you some people are trying to get to the hospital they're pregnant and they're being delayed and there are consequences and we sort of have to we can't be paralyzed by by all that given all the benefits down the line and we make we make this in a very loose way we make this kind of calculation all the time but yeah there are situations clearly which where we we can't do the right thing and it's given what it would cost at that moment for us is probably right that we don't do it so I mean it's it's very hard problems but I don't think it breaks the model hi so I'm very interested in public policy as well but I'm also interested in the other side of the question so since you just addressed that I'll ask the the idea of self formation the idea of bringing together those various different subjectivity x' personalities within yourself that you know you're a different person when you're at work than you are we're at home that sort of thing and being consciously aware of that and trying to bring your values together to be to balance as much as possible within those fields in what way do do you think the model of the moral landscape in general and neuroscience in particular can help us as individual human beings to form ourselves in a more functional and effective way to live together well again the crucial thing for me is just acknowledging a framework in which there must be right answers whether or not we can figure them out so yes there's I'm not envisioning a time when we're going to be able to plug in all the data into a supercomputer and find out whether we should bomb North Korea or go in with troops I mean that that's something that in print in you know given some insane future in principle may be possible but I that's my view of their being right and wrong answers is not-it's not anyway predicated on that actually being possible but clearly there are invading North Korea would have certain consequences and at whether we could ever assess them fully at the end of the day they would either be net worse or net better or it would be a wash you know I mean it's just those that maybe there'd be no really important difference in our state of the world a lot of people suffer people who suffer over here get better over here it's the balance would still would still so be some kind of parody clearly the thing I'm trying to to get us to acknowledge is that there there are answers whether we can get these answers or not and just having that much I think changes how we view all of these questions and so you know you're talking about just kind of self transformation so it would it'd be good for me to spend five minutes every morning before checking my email just thinking of all the things I'm grateful for in my life okay would that be would that be good for me to do well what what do I mean by good well would it be conducive to my well-being and the well-being of others and whether it would be some massive downside to it that I can't foresee or would it just basically be a win for everybody sounds good but whether or not I can figure it out clearly there's an answer there it's either going to have an effect on me or not and this is not again it's not the cash value of all of this is not it is deep its deep in terms of psychology and neuroscience and the consequences in in the lives of everyone it's not shallow in the sense that we just all make it up and teach his own and and and that's the sort of I think noticing that has consequences before we answer any other question so yeah good evening mr. Harris the real honor to appear before you I've seen many of your videos and debates enjoyed every single one of them especially enjoyed you seeing hand Deepak Chopra is a real friend to him on a silver there to really put him into place there anyway it's my understanding that Voltaire predicted that a hundred years after his death that people would no longer read the Bible but we see that his prediction did it come to fruition people still read the Bible they still believe in it and I get the impression that you have the same mission the same goal as Voltaire not and it seems like hopefully sam harris and the same heritage of the world will be able to make a dent and have more people think like us but the reality is we're not going to be able to get rid of we're not going to end faith these religions are here to stay and you have to deal with the reality of that so my question is how in spite of our differences how are we going to find a way to find a common ground common similarities and be able to make peace and have a mutual understanding and respect with those busts who have different beliefs than us right well I think I'm not so eager to sign off on that last statement that of course religion is here to stay and just we have to work with it because no one is saying that about witchcraft and witchcraft it thrives in Africa at this moment and it's it it was omnipresent in human societies before the advent of science and the West it would be people were burned as witches in Massachusetts and throughout Europe for hundreds of years and this belief is it's something that now is in such disrepute in the developed world that no one no one comes up with an argument how are you ever going to get rid of witchcraft is so meaningful you know there are midwives and they deliver babies and they're so helpful and they also believe this stuff but who can blame them I mean we just it's it's just the problem is solved and then when we look at what's going on in Africa at this moment we see that children are being killed as witches and that diabolically we have Christian dogma facilitating that you know and then you've got ministers performing exorcisms and actually I think Dan Harris who's here did some amazing reporting on that and then just kind of horrifying encounters with with exorcists who are you know abusing children for the benefit of everyone for and then being paid for it in any case we look at that and we say well this is just the only way this survives is people are ignorant of some very basic thing I mean there's not enough understanding of the germ theory of disease and there's not enough remedies and this is a problem that can be solved I mean when life gets better in Africa and states get more stable and hospitals work and we all expect witchcraft to go away now I think when we start understanding the positive end of human experience quote spiritual experience when we start understanding things like compassion and rapture and self transcendence and all of the juicy stuff that people have been reporting have been discussing in the context of religion although the baby in the bathwater that everyone's afraid to throw out okay then once we get we have a secular place for that and we're not lying to ourselves anymore and we can just you know if you want to talk about compassion here there's a whole all there's a vast amount we now know about it squarely and come the floodlit center of science then I think that there's going to be no basis for for religion in the same way that there was no basis for witchcraft when you know there's no basis to think your child is demonically possessed when there when he or she is having a seizure once you understand something about neurology and there's a hospital go to and etc so you think that all and we'll eventually diet I think I think we have to think that's possible otherwise there's just there's no game to play and they were just were there enough people thinking it's impossible I think it's like I'll acknowledge that there are different roles to play here they're not everyone should be doing what I'm doing but there are nuf people playing the other game of course it's not going away and we just have to get good people to behave well and then all right so unfortunately due to time this gentleman will have the last question of the evoker you gave very effective examples of what is not human well-being and what is not a guarantor of moral wisdom to advocate your thesis could you explain a little more deeply exactly what we mean by well-being and on what epistemological paradigm it's defined and there has to be some relativism which I think would be solved through the evolution of human behavior for example I don't plan to mate with a praying mantis but what she does with her mate is morally justified from her perspective right right well I actually don't think I think well-being is that there's a horizon past which certainly I can't see and the definition is open-ended in the same way that the definition of health is open-ended so I can't I can't define health I can probably I'm defining health in terms of what it's not as well you know it's being free of pain it's it's being free of infectious disease it's it's all it but the moment you get to the point of okay everything's good I'm healthy I'm not apparently dying in this moment how good could health get I have no idea now so – with well-being and I have a certain range of states that I'm familiar with and that I can recognize in other people just how good human life could get I think it's truly open-ended I think we don't we it's we know we have good reason to believe what it's not and it's very easy to see the negative stuff we want to avoid and that's why I emphasize it but you know trust and compassion and joy and humor and and these are all on the sort of good side of the spectrum you know freeze because if you want to talk about the kind of societal mechanisms that that facilitate it freedom of speech a respect for evidence but then again there are all kinds of tensions here that we have to acknowledge but at the societal level you know the right to privacy is one thing which we value and it seems we're right to value it but that has to be tuned against freedom of speech because in certain cases they are antithetical I mean is free speech my publishing your diary if I happen to find it or my filming you through that the window of your house no it's in your privacy might have to trump that and so we have to sort of balance these things all I'm suggesting is that even if we never figure out what the right recipe is all of these recipes exist within a continuum of possible states and some are some are clear clearly worse than others and some and and that's all we need to proceed as though we we're in a context of right and wrong answers and and again that the back knowing that there's a context of right and wrong answers changes the kinds of questions we ask whether or not we can ever get those answers I may just chant we have this background reality that we're exploring as opposed to something we're just making up whimsically or something that has been drummed into us by culture and it doesn't have any connection to reality really and that's that's that this thing I don't know if that really gets it your question but that's I think I don't think there's a problem having a notion of well being open-ended not conceptual or or intellectual they're not you

If the god of the bible had been portrayed as a king instead of a God , he would be remembered as the most evil, mass murdering, tyrannical dictator of all time! Christians give the bible god a free pass because, they say, he is god the creator. I don't see the difference whether man or god. If his actions were evil or immoral, as the bible states, then he'd be just as guilty of being evil as any human committing the same deeds.

Sam Harris. A deeply flawed, unprepared, pseudo intellectual. Only his deluded, idiotic, imbecile fans who are certainly uniformed and uneducated think he is good.

This guy is so flawed that it's not even funny. He just "talks" but he doesn't really know much about the topics, . I think we're going to "hell" because a lot of people seem not only to listen, but believe a lot of the garbage this guys says. Go and educate yourselves.

I wish he asked that women who was not judging the culture that is gouging eye balls of every third person this question – "what if you were this third person?". Most people are very "understanding" of something that does not affect them directly.

Harris nails exactly what good and evil is in a secular world. Using his logic, anyone could agree to those.

A modern day Socrates.

There is no such thing as morals according to the atheist religion.

Atheists believe that we are just a collection of complex chemical reactions that occurred by chance in a universe that was a mistake and which has no ultimate purpose.

Therefore morals are subjective, relative and arbitrary. There is no right or wrong, there is no good or evil, according to the secular worldview, because there is no supreme authority or ultimate standard from which such notions are based.

Each collection of complex chemicals determines their own truth.

We saw how great that worked out in the 20th century… More death caused by the secular worldview in a 100 year span than the previous 3,000 years combined!

Fortunately we know that objective morals do exist which refutes the entire atheist philosophy.

There's No Freewill, therefore there's no such thing as morality.
It is just something that happens.

Sam breaks down morality very well but his stances on spirituality is very arrogant and ignorant. This is not to say that he doesn’t make some valid points. He fails to recognize that there is immense value that is inherent in our spiritual doctrines that is proven in the fundamentals of western society and other societies throughout the world

My thoughts on this:

…And Sam Harris make it to articulate the way how science can be the basis for a sound morality for the modern human race, and got rid of those nonsense religion believes and create a scientific council called Group of Dudes (God) and established, after years of deep research using high advance technology, the valleys with the Worst Possible Misery (WPM) that a human being can experience and the peaks (P+) which represents the kind of living that contributes for a sociology, psychologically and economically better living for our species.

And they managed to make a document with a kind of scientific “algorithm” that could be used as the guaranteed basis for the definition of what’s good and evil in every culture, and they make most of the world to approve these principles of living and were taught and enforced through every possible method, looking for a flourished future for humanity.

But there were some people who didn’t know the “God” and didn’t know their motives. They asked, “Who is the “God” for us to submit ourselves to their way of thinking?” and reveal against the approved- guaranteed-working principles and continuously behave against them. That produced a deep pain in the “God” and they tried to convince those rebellious people of the necessity to understand that those principles were to avoid the WPM and will help them to make it to the P+, but every effort was with no vain, those people continuously were doing those things that produced the WPM on them and to the people around them.

One day after many, many, many efforts from the “God” to convince those rebellious people, they decided that what they needed to do was to send Sam Harris to those rebellious people to live before them the way of living that avoid the WPM, and Sam Harris make it to put those principles in the easiest way possible for those people to remember and live them in practical ways. He summarizes those principles this way: “You ought to value the “God” with all you are (because the “God” really wanted to avoid the WPM for them vs. the P+), and you must value your neighbor as yourselves”, but those rebellious people killed him. The “God” decided that those people needed to be eradicated from the face of the earth because they were a threat for the flourishing of our species.

Centuries had passed, and now there is a new movement with a new way of thinking. They are saying that the “God” never existed, and that if it existed was a malevolent, pretentious, horrendous “God” because people were killed by their advice. They are saying that Sam Harris didn’t know anything about the reality of the human life and now they are forming a new council…

“What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life.” Romans 1:21-22 (MSG)

Here are a few refutations of Harris's position:
1. Harris claims that science can establish moral values across the full spectrum of human behavior, yet the only value he can determine is that you shouldn't severely injure an innocent person. This is so low down on the moral scale that nothing is established with it at all. He stands on this point as if it proves science is proving anything here, when he's relying on a very simply philosophical argument against brutally harming the innocent. The actual science doesn't prove anything, and he doesn't even agree with it. Let me give two examples.
2. Right now the data shows that women are less happy than they've ever been before. If Harris believes in well-being, he would go with the data that we should go back to the times when women had fewer rights, in which women were actually happier. Harris would never stand on his own principles and accept this, and neither would society. So the argument for well-being falls flat with the very first example. There isn't even a decent counter-argument to this.
3. The data shows that the best predictor of lifetime success, longevity and life happiness by a very large margin is intelligence. Following the logic of Harris's well-being principle, if people actually applied it, people would seek out mates based on what scientifically lead to the best outcomes, which is something Harris would never support or agree with. Even when you give Harris the benefit of the doubt, he doesn't agree with its most obvious applications. The entire theory falls completely flat, and its basic starting position doesn't cover 99.999% of the actual landscape that morals need to cover. In short, his book and his theory have severe logical flaws that are insurmountable.

I wonder—if there is no evidence in the Bible that Christianity condemns slavery, than why was it only Christians who campaigned to end it despite the practice being carried out for the entire existence of human beings (since slavery has existed on every continent through all of human history) ?

Jacob Bronowski left the strict science of mathematics to enter the study of humanities. He delivered 3 lectures at MIT that were later turned into a book "Science and Human Values" The 3 lectures were 1. the creative mind 2. the habit of truth 3. the sense of human dignity. Once past the hunter gatherer stage and it's many gods, man had time to become what man is, a thinker. JB wrote that the development of poetry and art in a creative sense were just as important as the science that followed in finding a likeness in nature. His thesis was that the true nature of science comes about because of civilized educated thinking man's human values. This man understands the value of churches in community good and bonding, but remains perplexed at the juvenile mythology's that hold it together. Science could not exist without human values, human values will not remain without science that has given us everything good we have, fighting ignorance, superstition and religion every step of the way.

At the 8:27 mark, Mr. Haris bring up the Taliban as if american as the moral authority to say anything about anybody else. Here is where i see the dishonesty with white men

To think our human species in the limelight of academia would actually solicit unsubstantiated personal suppositions masquerading as truth or fact but ironically dismiss all other scientific / philosophical / Theological plausible variables (i.e. baby thrown out with the bath water) truly stifles the ability for future intellectual advancement. Not to mention, all this while emphasizing the bias of isolated negative connotations as valid opposition to support hypothetical false theories. e.g. There are many facets that make up the complexities of mathematics, yet do we only apply the most basic simple branches to find a solution? or use primitive formulations to build the advanced technological structure of our existence? (rhetorical of course).

As for the overwhelming positive audience response….dare I say, collegiate cloned / indoctrinated cookie cutter sheep for the slaughter. Think for yourselves people! You don't need to have your mind cluttered / manipulated with the pompous secular opinions of others. Look at ALL the variables before reaching any conclusion and know you have an entire lifetime do do so.

With AGE comes not only experience, but more importantly, the cognition of thought, truth and wisdom!

It would be senseless to write an entire review at length, when I believe others, including yourself, have the right to form your own opinions. I have submitted mine. If you're that curious as to why I feel this way, and without getting into specifics (I'd have to write a book), I found this video highly irritating in respect to opinionated generalizations being used as if born from consensus evaluation when they are not, minimizing topical values as if having little or no meaning, overly exaggerated emphasis in favor of secular world view i.e. "rule of law", compatibility/incompatibility, etc, etc, belittling/condescending /mocking personal observations of others, biased slants in the wrongful use of metaphors as if to force fit his narrative, littered with tangential off topic assertions, and certain worded disrespect when various topics of belief and religion are used.

Over all, I see this speaker as merely one who lectures partly from "inside the box" philosophical text book mentality and preferential choices as "He "CLEARLY sees them". As a human being and my own experiences in life, Sam Harris is full of himself and does not speak for me.

In short, I do not place my faith in man made psychology, metaphors, philosophy, hypothesis, opinions, collegiate degrees, biased consensus, monopolies, plaques on the wall or staged rehearsed propagandized theatrics, but rely heavily upon the wisdom of age old experience of soulful discernment of a mans true ulterior motives, whether it be based on true concern of others, honesty, integrity, egocentric pride, false modesty, illusory superiority, self gain, ulterior motive manipulation, and/or for self glorification.

As some are so easily led and manipulated by salesmen, con artists, charlatans, quacks, varied opinionated speakers (of which the world is full of), let's just say, and speaking from an open mind, I've been around long enough to see through all the smoke n' mirrors and know when I'm being bull shitted.

"Karma is not reciprocity"

Obviously, and more a expected traditional behavioral act than a metaphysical one, but still carries with it, the ramifications of cause and effect. On the other side of the coin, "True Unconditional Love" does not seek it's own! but not without it's unexpected rewards. We make our own luck!

As we both know, the world is full of users and takers. Those who expect something in return and those who expect something for nothing (entitlement) and then you have those who give from the heart without expectations, which in my moral view, is the true act of charity which needs no validation other than from within.

"What goes around, most certainly does not come around with anything like the consistency to build a philosophy from."

Sorry, but I have a very hard time believing that, as most people don't need a college degree or a religious upbringing to know, that karmic repercussions (good or bad) do in fact exist and never fails. There are many philosophies built upon karma, willful existentialism, cause and effect, including the physical scientific method as defined in Newton's 3rd Law.

The power of Positive Thinking.
Negative energy begets Negative results, where as Positive Energy begets positive results.

Long winded, poorly used metaphors and highly verbose!
What about moral compass in boring someone to death?

Let me summarize: good is what Sam says is good, clearly, obviously, and unquestionably. The same goes for evil. Now get a golf-counter and give it a click every time he says "clearly". It's clear, because he has nothing upon which to base it


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