Sam Harris : The End of Faith

challenges conventional wisdom on issues like AIDS in Africa and global warming join book TV for a critical assessment of the human genome project and a discussion of evolution versus intelligent design tonight at 11:45 p.m. Eastern here on book TV only on c-span – Thomas Friedman Simon Winchester Robert Kaplan Davis Sobel they're part of book TV's three-day Christmas weekend starting Saturday morning December 24th at 8:00 a.m. Eastern and continuing through Monday the 26th it's a chance to see some of the best-selling authors who've appeared this fall on book TV for a complete schedule go online to book TV org a three day book TV weekend Christmas weekend on c-span – sam harris argues for the replacement of former religion based on ancient texts like the quran and the holy bible in his new book the end of faith this talk from the New York Society for ethical culture is about an hour 20 minutes I'm delighted to welcome you on this very rainy night to what is inexplicably sam Harris's very first lecture in New York City which of course is where we think he belongs I don't think that sam harris needs any introduction to most of this audience he's the author of the end of faith religion terror in the future of reason a surprise bestseller and his first book by the way that outspokenly challenges one of the most unchallengeable piety zuv american culture that religion is such a great force for good that it should be immune from the rational criticism that we apply to other major social institutions before I turn the podium over to Sam I want to tell you that our question and answer period after his talk is going to be conducted with written questions there are little white cards in front in the containers in front of your seats and if you'll be thinking about it and writing down your questions during his lecture volunteers will collect them and I'll read them out so we can all hear them and there won't be much of a delay I will be reading as many questions as possible after this period Sam will be signing the books which are on sale and paperback edition at the table over here to the right in closing I have one final thing to say to this audience as you know the weather outside is quite unpleasant so if a bolt of lightning strikes this building or hits you on your way out I suggest that you follow the advice of the one and only Pat Robertson and call on Charles Darwin for help and and now without any further ado well thank you Susan and thank you all for coming on this rainy night I also want to thank the Center for inquiry and the Society for ethical culture this really seems like the the perfect merging of two organizations to bring us this talk I'm going to talk to you tonight about belief specifically the problem of religious belief our world has been balkanized into into separate moral communities we have Christians against Muslims against Jews the majority of people in this planet at the moment organized their lives around a founding proposition that that God wrote one of their books we have many of these books on hand they they make genuinely incompatible claims about the nature of this universe about the disposition of certain real estate in the Middle East we have the marriage of quite literally first century or earlier beliefs literally Iron Age philosophy with 21st century destructive technology this this on its face should be should seem untenable to us so now I'm going to say some very unpleasant things about religious belief over the next hour and I just want to warn you upfront that that I know I'm going to offend some people in this room let me assure you that's not the point I'm not being deliberately provocative I am simply worried so I'm going to worry out loud for the next hour or so I'm mindful of the fact that that 90% of our neighbors 90 percent of Americans believe in a personal God 40 percent of scientists believe in a personal God literally a God who can hear our prayers so I'm guaranteed to offend someone here I know this as secular and audiences I'm going to find but I just want to say up front that I'm needless to say I'll take your questions as Susan said well what is it belief let's let's get into this for a minute beliefs are clearly representations of the world but they are more than that they are the representations of the world that we think actually represent the world this is the distinction between a belief and a hope say when you hope that something is true you are representing the world you are representing a possible state of the world when you believe that something is true you are actually making your best effort to map reality with your thoughts and this is why beliefs pull the reins of our emotions and our behavior so closely this is why Polly fizz really part of the the cognitive the higher cognitive machinery we have to generate expectations about the world expectations about how our behavior is going to change our moment-to-moment experience if this sounds abstract to you just just imagine the change that it would occur in you if the fire marshal came in at this moment and said this building is about to collapse and these are mere words this is a mere sentence and yet should you give it credence should you believe it to be true it would it would completely transform your physiology your neurology or your your behavior rather quickly and and so to with any other proposition that has significant representational content that believing a proposition to be true is what opens us to the representational content of any of any what otherwise would be a string of words so what do our neighbors believe well 22% of Americans claim to be certain literally certain that Jesus is going to come down out of the clouds sometime in the next 50 years another 22 percent think he probably will sometime in the next 50 years that's that's 44 percent of the electorate now of course this belief does not exist in isolation this it's not an accident that 44% of Americans also believe that the creator of the universe literally promised the land of Israel to the Jews this is in his capacity as an omniscient real estate broker these beliefs are knit together with with a myriad of other beliefs infatuations with with the end of history with apocalyptic prophecy and these beliefs have have geopolitical consequences this is not just what people believe on Sundays it is actually not an exaggeration to say that something like half of us something like 44 percent of the American population if they turned on their television sets and saw that a mushroom cloud had replaced New York City they would see a silver lining in this cloud because it would be a portent to them it would presage that the best thing that is ever going to happen is about to happen the return of Christ or take another belief that we've all been pummeled with this this debate about intelligent design the idea that the machinery of the living cell is so complicated that it could not possibly have been generated through naturalistic processes this this is should be genuinely troubling to us this really is eroding the prestige of science in our culture it is your children could well be taught this pseudoscience in school in biology class one of these days but it's also important to recognize that it's a bit of a red herring because 44% actually in the last Gallup poll it was up to 53 percent something like half of us are creationists the intelligent design is not what they're fancy and they believe that we were created from mud with divine breath sometime in the last six thousand years you know Adam and Eve and standing in a garden with a talking snake and a hankering for apples but this is literally the vision of the creation of our species or take another belief that really should be this should just be a curiosity to us until you see its consequences in the world that the catholic idea that condom use is somehow immoral missus this is a a genuinely ludicrous idea I can assure you that the the powers of the human brain are insufficient to provide a good argument for this but map this on to sub-saharan Africa where literally millions something like three and a half four million people die each year from the spread of AIDS and what you have there are Catholic ministers literally preaching the sinfulness of condom use in villages were the only information about condom use is the representation of the ministry it seems to me that the time for respecting beliefs of this sort is long past this this is genocide 'el stupidity it is really it is criminal negligence of a sort that we would not tolerate in any other institution yet the Vatican cannot be criticized to the degree that it should because it's the Vatican and there's there is a overarching taboo around criticizing religious faith we have this we've all assimilated this idea that we should respect other people's religious beliefs your neighbor has the right to believe whatever he wants to about God and the moral structure to this university has the right to believe whatever he wants to about what happens after death and you should respect these beliefs merely because he believes them where else in our discourse do we play by these rules what when was the last time anyone in this room was admonished to respect another person's beliefs about history or geography or engineering or medicine we we do not respect people's beliefs we evaluate their reasons if my reasons or good are good enough you will helplessly believe what I believe that is what it is to be a rational human being reasons are contagious if I came on this stage and said that the Holocaust never happened you would be under no burden whatsoever to respect my beliefs we don't respect the beliefs of people who think Elvis is still alive and the people who make all those crazy pilgrimages to Graceland these people do not get invited to sit on our boards of directors they don't become presidents of universities I mean that that is that that is all well and good except when you change the subject to God and then all bets are off then the sky's the limit you can be certain with zero evidence and and respected for it it is taboo to push that push the conversation into criticism of your beliefs so what I'm advocating really and what I advocate in my book is a kind of conversational intolerance this we don't need new laws we don't have laws against Holocaust denier you know that you all we need is a a standard of intellectual honesty where people who pretend to be certain about things they're clearly not certain about receive some conversational pressure I mean the this would all be accomplished if we if we treated everyone who spoke about God on the floor of the Senate as though they had just spoke about Poseidon let me just imagine imagine you know we have all these hurricanes in the Gulf and some senator gets it into his head that we should really be praying to Poseidon this after all is his jurisdiction this is the ocean is reclaiming our cities clearly that would be the end of that person's political career and yet it's not like someone discovered in the third century that the biblical God exists but Poseidon doesn't with these claims have exactly the same status so there is a conflict between religion and science so many of us many scientists have papered over this conflict and no less a body than the National Academy of Sciences really the our most elite scientists has announced that there is no conflict that that religion and science ask different questions and represent different ways of knowing well religion and science don't ask different questions and they don't represent different ways of knowing every religion is making claims about the way the world is if if Jesus does come down out of the clouds like a superhero Christianity will stand revealed as a science that will be the science of Christianity every Christian will be able to say told you so I mean here he is look at his magic powers and a sufficient display of magic powers it would just take us a few minutes would convince any scientist of the claims of Christianity take this this idea that that religion and science are mutually compatible and and ask different questions and broadcasted on to the current debate about stem-cell research missus it from a biological point of view stem cell research is one of the most promising areas of research in biology to generate medical therapies for scores of conditions there are literally tens of millions of people in our own country suffering from diabetes from spinal cord injury Parkinson's full-body burns and stem cell research is while who knows when and how it will pan out any biologist will tell you this is what we should be doing and yet we're not funding it at the federal level the concern from the religious point of view is that we have to destroy three-day-old human embryos to conduct this research and the converse the ethical debate stops there it is just merely asserted from the religious point of view that three-day-old human embryos have souls you have souls in the petri dish you have souls in the little girl with diabetes you can't you know the interest of who can weigh the interests of one soul against another we never have to get into the details because faith stops the conversation you just have to respect the faith proposition that life starts at the moment of conception whatever that means well let's talk about the details for a second perhaps it sounds scary to destroy human embryos a three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells they're arranged in a sphere there's no brain there's no nervous system maybe 150 cells sounds like a lot of cells there are a hundred thousand cells in the brain of a fly flies have brains they have neurons they have neurons very much like our own if we know anything at all about the relationship between physical complexity and the nd and the possibility of having experience at the possibility of having interests we know that more suffering is visited upon this earth every time we swat a fly than when we kill a three-day-old human embryo it's not enough to say they're potential human beings given given the advances in genetic engineering every cell in the human body with a nucleus is a potential human being given the right manipulation every time the president scratches his nose he's engaged in a holocaust of potential human beings you take the idea that there are souls in these embryos well embryos at this stage can split into twins so what happens we have one soul that becomes two souls embryos that even later stage can fuse into what's called a chimera becoming a single individual so we have we have two souls coming into one soul but the arithmetic of souls doesn't make sense no one is ever burdened with the with the responsibility of trying to make sense of it because faith stands in for ethical argument so my argument to you really and my argument in my book is that either you have good reasons for what you believe or you don't if you have good reasons your your beliefs are part of the the general purview of scientific rationality you know is that we don't need to distinguish between hard science and soft science this includes history this includes all into intellectual discourse where people honestly represent the state of the evidence and seek evidence and religion is the only area of our lives where having no reasons or having very tenuous reasons is considered a boon really it's considered it's often considered even more ennobling to take this on faith rather than this is the the parable of doubting Thomas so having noticed this confrontation between religion and science and faith and reason generally many of us have become what is now called religious moderates the religious moderation really is the flavor of religion that is that is acceptable to so many people who are otherwise rigorously honest in intellectual terms and my book I in my book I criticize religious moderation rather harshly and this has actually been some of the most controversial material in my book so I just want to run through my argument briefly about this because it has raised some hackles the first thing to say upfront is just that religious moderation is better than fundamentalism there's no doubt about that religious moderates don't fly planes into buildings religious moderates don't organize their lives around apocalyptic prophecy and that's a very good thing but religious moderation has some real problems the first is that it gives cover to fundamentalism because because religious moderates have made it taboo to criticize faith they want faith respected they want the whole project of being religious being identified as a Christian a Muslim a Jew to be respected that it is impossible to call into question that this basic project that the the ethical tenability of raising a child to believe he's a Christian as opposed to anything else and under the cover of this respect we are now powerless to say the very harsh and necessary things about religious extremism that that we need to say is because it is it is taboo you have to respect faith religious moderation prevents us from even noticing the differences among our religions it is to have who to notice that all our religions are not teaching the same thing they're not all equally wise and where they do teach the same thing they don't teach it equally well where are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers if you think for a moment that that the kind of violence we see in the Muslim world is born of the Israeli occupation and our misadventures in Iraq we should see Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers the Tibetans have suffered an occupation every bit as brutal and far more cynical than any that we or the British or the Israelis have imposed upon the Muslim world something like a million 1.2 million Tibetans have dives as the Chinese occupation where are the throngs of Tibetans in the streets calling for the deaths of Chinese non-combatants where the Tibetans blowing themselves up on Chinese buses at weddings in crowds of children in front of the offices of the Red Cross and the UN it's not happening it's not likely to happen it's not that you could not possibly form a death bolt out of the principles of Tibetan Buddhism in fact to some degree Zen Buddhism informed the the worldview of the kamikaze pilots during World War two but you would have to work very hard to bend the core principles of Buddhism into this kind of orgy of violence you don't have to work so hard as a Muslim and it would be impossible as a Jane I mean the Jane's that this religion of India that has some 10 million subscribers I think the core of their religion is non-violence you no matter how deranged you get by the your doctrine as a Jain you will get less and less violent the really religious Jane's cover their mouths with cheesecloth so they don't inhale a bug by no stretch of the imagination can you argue that the core principle of Islam is non-violence it is taboo to notice this and it is especially taboo among religious moderates are our own religious demagogues will notice this we can have you know Franklin Graham will stand up and say Islam is an evil religion they'll notice the differences between religions everyone else has the wrong religion but religious moderates have met have rendered this taboo I want to point out that I'm not talking about a race or ethnicity I'm talking about the consequences of ideas I'm talking about when I talk about Islam I'm talking about John Walker Lindh the white guy from Marin County who went off to fight with the Taliban we are at war to digress briefly into the our current situation we are at war with Islamic fundamentalism not merely al Qaeda not extremist Islam that the mainstream doctrine of Islam contains this notion of martyrdom and jihad it contains this imperative to convert subjugate or kill infidels anyone who says it doesn't has not read the Quran has not read the hadith or is lying about them it is taboo to notice this if you doubt this if you think I'm sure there are people in this room who are still thinking no no it youths can't be religion this is lack of economic opportunity it's lack of educational opportunity in the in the Muslim world just contemplate for a moment the biographies of the 19 men who woke up on September 11th 2001 and decided to slit the throats of stewardesses and fly planes into buildings these guys were college educated to a man many of them had PhDs many of them had been educated in the West they were middle class or better I don't know how many architects and engineers need to hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour for us to get it into our heads that this is not merely a problem of education or economics these were not guys who had spent a lot of time educating about regime change in the Middle East these were guys who spent an inordinate amount of time at their local mosque in Hamburg talking about the pleasures that await martyrs in paradise and and demonizing infidel culture to the circumstance we are in is much more sinister than many want to realize it is possible to be so well educated that you can build a nuclear bomb and to still think you're going to get the 72 virgins in paradise that is how partitioned the human mind is and that is how how balkanized our discourses that is how immune religious propositions are to to critical pressure conversational pressure in our discourse 40% of scientists believe in a biblical God that does not suggest that there are good scientific reasons to believe in a biblical God that suggests that 60% of scientists are not doing their jobs that there really is an argument to be won here so the problem with religious moderation another problem is that moderates are blinded by their own moderation a moderate doesn't know what it's like to be certain of paradise a moderate doesn't know what it's like to be certain of God to be certain that the book he keeps by his bedside is the perfect word of the creator of the universe and so when the moderate look sees the jihadis in the video camera saying things like we love death more than the infidel loves life and then he blows himself up it's the moderate who's left wondering well that couldn't be faith that is propaganda that's I don't know what that was but that's not religion so it is really that the discourse of religious moderation that keeps convincing us that religion is not the problem that there this violence would happen anyway these 19 guys would have would have killed a lot of people anyway there's no evidence for that another problem with religious moderation is that it is intellectually bankrupt it really represents a fundamentally unprincipled use of reason at least fundamentalists talk about evidence Hey fundamental you ask the fundamentalist why do you believe that Jesus was the son of God and the Bible is a perfect Word of God you'll get reasons that they're not good reasons but you will get you will immediately see that these people are engaged in an evidentiary pursuit they'll say things like the New Testament confirms all of Old Testament prophecy or every prophecy in the Bible has has come true you know these are specious claims but contrast that to what moderates say moderates don't talk about evidence monitors talk about meaning they talk about the good effects of believing as they do now just take that kind of talk into it into another area I just just changed on to some other consoling proposition and appreciate what a non sequitur that is as to the question why do you believe in God it's actually an example from my bookie imagine your neighbor believes that he's got a diamond buried in his backyard that's the size of a refrigerator can you ask him why and he says things like what you don't understand this diamond gives my life a lot of meaning for you my family loves the the gatherings we have on the lawn digging this pit every Sunday and you are we going to take that away from us for mentoring if he said I wouldn't want to live in a universe if where there wasn't a diamond buried in my backyard this is eisewhere refrigerator it it's pretty clear it's immediately clear that those responses would be inadequate deeply inadequate this really are the responses of a madman or an idiot and yet take the same kind of thinking into the religious domain and that these responses have immense prestige in fact unless you endorsed some thinking of that kind you could not possibly get elected to political office in this country another problem with religious moderation is that it is theologically bankrupt it it is not like if we just read the books more closely we would discover all these reasons to be moderates well I Got News for you I've read the books God is not a moderate tree what you find in these books you there's no place in the books where God says you know when you get to the new world and you develop your three branches of government and you have a civil society you can just jettison all the barbarism I recommended in the first books these books really are engines of fundamentalism they are engines of intolerance that there really is a wrathful Jesus in the New Testament waiting to be found in 2nd Thessalonians and in Revelation where exactly the Jesus who we have in the Left Behind series of novels that 60 million people have bought the Jesus of just fiery wrath who's going to throw people into the pit okay that is there to be discovered in nowhere in the book does does it say that's bogus history's really it's not an accident that people like st. Thomas Aquinas or st. Augustine really the people who are still taught as the great lights of the Western tradition in a coins this case he thought heretics should be killed outright in Augustine's case he thought they should be tortured Augustine's argument for the use of torture laid the foundations for the Inquisition this is this is not an accident and it's perfectly reasonable we have this idea that that the fact that we were burning heretics alive for five centuries in Europe this represented some kind of departure civilizational departure into psychopathology it didn't it is perfectly reasonable to do this if you believe the books that the heretic next door Givens certain beliefs it's far more dangerous than the child molester next door the the heretic can say something to your child that will damned his soul for all time religious moderates lose touch with the fact that it's possible to believe this and finally but the problem with religious moderation is that it because it is constitutive of merely our relaxing our hold upon these ancient superstitions in Entebbe because it it doesn't call the basic project of affiliating yourself with these traditions into question it doesn't doesn't call into question the project of venerating these books to the exclusion of any other books because it doesn't it prevents us from developing modern 21st century alternatives really bringing the full measure of our creativity to bear on questions of human happiness now this is this link between religion and morality that we really is everywhere in our culture and which which really under writes religious moderation and religious fundamentalism to a significant degree this idea that without religion something fundamental would be lost to us in moral terms this really is questionable when you look at the books the truth is that not even just it to speak specifically the Bible for a moment not even an Orthodox Jew or a fundamentalist Christian can take God at His Word given how sadistic God is in in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Exodus if you were going to draw your to-do list out of a book like Leviticus you would make mullah omar of the Taliban look like Franklin Delano Roosevelt it's just it is it created paints a vision of life so needlessly horrible so subversive of the basic project of creating a sustained a sustainable society where human happiness is even possible that we effectively have edited the Bible even fundamentalists have it but it's important to point out that nobody ever says these passages are immoral and the idea that you have to you find out that a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night and you stone her to death you stoned homosexuals to death if your kids talk back to you you stone them to death if you go into a town and you see someone praying to a foreign God you kill him you kill his family you kill everyone in the town ok these are not metaphors these are not analogies for some spiritual struggle within these are explicit directives to kill people for theological crimes no one ever says this is immoral the Christians just say we don't have to do this anymore because Jesus brought us the doctrine of grace well incidentally Jesus also said that every jot and every tittle of the law has to be fulfilled so the inquisitors of the middle Agis had a rationale for practicing this kind of law I can assure you that st. Augustine and st. Thomas Aquinas had had read the Sermon on the Mount they managed to square the ministry of Jesus with their impulses to kill people for thought crimes if this is the best book we have from the point of view of fundamentalism this is the Bible's the best book we have or the Quran is the best book we have because it's literally been dictated by the creator of the universe from the from the point of view of moderation these are the best books we have but who knows what their sources just that the smartest people who ever lived wrote these books say if these if the Bible is the best book we have in the West in ethical terms we should be practicing slavery the creator of the universe clearly expects us to keep slaves he seemed he simply tells us not to beat our slave so severely that we put out their eyes or their teeth Jesus clearly expected us to keep slaves he never criticizes the institution of slavery he uses analogies with slaves Paul in first Timothy admonished his slaves to serve their master as well and to serve their their Christian masters especially well so that they can partake in their holiness if this is the abolitionists were absolutely on the wrong side of the theological debate if this is the wisest book we have the slave holders of the South were right and on so many other questions this is true if this is the wisest book we have we should be beating our children with rods they say 'ya says in proverbs incidentally fundamentalist Christians in our country are beating their children with rods last year alone in Alabama forty thousand kids were paddled in their schools is legal to do this this is a faith-based initiative it's important for us to recognize that we decide what is good in the good book but we we cherry-pick these books based on our own ethical intuitions all we have to decide questions of ethics are our own ethical intuitions and the ethical intuitions of others who we are in conversation with you can put your faith in a 21st century conversation about ethics or you can put your faith in a first-century conversation as preserved in these books and the problem of faith really is that it is a conversation stopper as long as you don't have to give reasons for what you believe you have effectively in the immunized yourself against the power of human conversation you hear religious people say things like there's nothing you can say that will change my mind just imagine that said in medicine you know if there's nothing that can be said that will change your mind if there's no evidence or argument they can be adduced that proves that you are not taking any state of the world into account in your beliefs the problem with this is that when the stakes are high we have a choice between conversation and violence at the level of society we have a choice between conversation negotiation and war the only a willingness to take on and consider new evidence and new argument guarantees that we this human collaboration is open-ended only that willingness guarantees that religion is the one area of discourse where we have made a fetish of a very different frame of mind and this this leads to two kinds of violence two kinds of conflict first there's just first we can concede that there's there are other sources of human conflict there there would be wars without religion that there's tribalism there's nationalism there there's racism ethnic rivalry but there's no kind of us them thinking that really makes a transcendental object of the differences between in-group and out-group I mean that the difference between you and your neighbor is not merely skin color it's not merely language it's not merely politics it's not merely that you want his belongings it's that this difference in this means something for eternity and so what you have are populations of people who who organize their their moral identities around their religious affiliation whether or not they care so much about the theological details and and this leads to conflict when a society is stressed over and over again we see societies breaking down long along religious lines this happened in Ireland Bosnia you know it's not that the Irish were fighting over the the doctrine of the transubstantiation but their identities their core moral identities were built around religious affiliation then there's the other kind of religious violence which is explicitly theological where you literally have people killing other people because they think the creator of the universe wants them to do it and they think there will be a reward for doing it and the preeminent example of this is what we see every day on the front page of the paper that this jihadist violence so my argument to you really my argument in my book is that unless we call into question this the dogma of faith unless we call into question the idea that that beliefs can be sanctified by something other than evidence an argument we will never successfully undercut the basis for religious violence now I've said many nasty things about religious faith this this is not to say that religion is merely a shell game this is not to say that that all religion is just a tissue of lies and misconceptions and cognitive errors designed to anesthetize us against our fear of death it is that to some significant degree but it is more than that that there is no doubt that people have spiritual experiences I use this word spiritual and mystical in my book and and I use them in scare quotes because frankly there are some many there are many embarrassing associations with these terms but there is no doubt that people have extraordinary transformative experiences and can have them deliberately can hack it that every culture has produced people who have gone off into caves for 40 days or 40 years and discovered that a deliberate use of attention of introspection through meditation through prayer this can really transform the human mind but and the testimony we have on this subject comes to us through our religious traditions and unfortunately therefore it is mingled with all manner of superstition and dogma and is not it's not mingled to the same degree in every tradition and this is this is also taboo to notice that our contemplative traditions our spiritual traditions are not equally insightful east and west for instance it's a bit of a a cultural mystery as to why this is so but the eastern tradition has been the Indian tradition generally in Buddhism especially has been so much more sophisticated so much more empirical in their study of first-person experience or just in their study of what it is possible for a human being to realize if he or she just pays close attention to the flow of experience okay there are analogs in the Western tradition there are there have been great Christian and Jewish and Muslim contemplatives yes I mean that in the context of every ideology there are people making the best of it but the difference east and west in turn in contempo of terms really is like the difference between Western medicine and Eastern medicine if you have an appendicitis you better hope that you're near a Western hospital with a Western trained surgeon you don't want to see your acupuncturist maybe there are some things that are that Eastern medicine is better for but generally speaking Western medicine is is the only medicine we have in incidentally if you do get an appendicitis you might consider this idea that you've been intelligently designed if ever there were a reductio ad absurdum of idea of intelligent design it's the appendix so in the West we really have we've had an impoverished conception of sanity really we've had an impoverished conception of mental health what we think that you know if you're walking down the street talking to yourself too much we all do it a little but if you're doing it too much and not censoring yourself in front of other people you're crazy but if you talk to yourself all day long silently if you just know enough to shut up about it but you're talking to yourself thinking thinking thinking from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you fall asleep that's perfectly normal that's compatible with perfect sanity that is not the eastern and especially it is not the Buddhist view me in Eastern schools of meditation they have discovered that there is an alternative to being lost in thought moment by moment in the West the testimony on this subject is really thin I mean we in the West we have been standing on the shoulders of dwarves in contemplative terms so I just want to briefly sketch for you what I think are contemplative traditions attest to and this is something that is actually getting a lot of scientific interest at this point as you probably know there are meetings between the Dalai Lama and Western neuroscientists I just came from one in in DC and this was devoted specifically to the clinical applications of meditation but there's there's dialogue between Western scientists generally and and contemplatives about how first-person data first-person experience can be brought into the the Charmed Circle of third person experiment and how we can use this to to understand the possibilities of human well-being a little bit better so briefly that the the first fruit of this dialogue really is the insight that positive human emotions positive human traits are skills they are trainable but just as you can learn to play the piano you can learn to feel compassion for somebody when you otherwise wouldn't you can learn to feel joy at the success of another person rather than envy and you and you can learn this because our brains are really plastic our brains are our instruments that change based on how they are played it's really quite magical that this is so but it it it certainly seems to be so who knows to what degree our experience can change the brain and therefore change the possibilities of future experience but we know that it does and therefore what you think matters what you what you feel matters how you the kinds of intentions you form toward other people matters whether you act ethically matters and and what you pay attention to moment to moment what you notice mad and even just matters for health we know that stress is so corrosive of physical health now we know that even if meditation did nothing other than reduce stress it would be worth looking into we know that the brain is is intimately linked with it obviously the autonomic nervous system but the endocrine system the immune system these systems are affected by your conscious emotional life and in turn affect the brain its physical structure but there's a deeper message from our contemplative traditions beyond that we can change our minds the message is there's something beyond the the search for pleasure and pain there's something beyond joy and sorrow and just the vicissitudes of human experience and that in what is beyond is not some distant paradise it is simply consciousness itself there is this insight that consciousness that very thing that is aware of your experience in this moment the very the very thing that is hearing the sound of my voice that is feeling that you the sensation of your body sitting there that transcends its content in some basic sense that that which is aware of joy for instance and that which is aware of sorrow is not actually improved by joy or diminished by sorrow and what meditation is is a way of just turning consciousness upon itself to try to glimpse this fact and and to glimpse the way it feels because one of the it doesn't feel like a self it doesn't feel like I we all walk around feeling like we are the thinker of our thoughts and the experiencer of our experience we feel like we are having experience we're not merely identical to our experience and this this point of view is really vulnerable to inquiry if this seems just impossibly abstract that by analogy I just want to point out to you maybe I can tie it tie it down to something that that we all know is so we all know we have an optic blind spot we all know that in the optic nerve passes through the retina and so there's a point in our visual fields where we're not getting any information we've all probably had this demonstration done in class where you do a mark on a piece of paper and you play with it and you get the mark to disappear now so it is true of you now there you know as you look out across the room there's somebody very likely missing a head and you're not noticing it it's falling in your blind spot it is possible to be made to notice this most people don't notice that even those of us who know about it go for decades without noticing it and yet it is it is there available to be noticed there is an analogous insight into the nature of consciousness that is just as on the surface as that it tends to be harder to notice it requires most people some training and meditation to notice it but it is possible to notice that consciousness what that in you which is aware of your experience does not feel like I and this this there's a wealth of testimony on how this can change a person's experience of the world for the better there's a kind of mystical well-being that is compatible with going into a cave for a year we going into a cave for most of us going into a cave for a year is synonymous with everything we don't want to happen to us it separates us from everything we want out of life it's rather interesting to point out that solitary confinement is considered a punishment even in a prison and yet you have contemplatives who are willing and and made really quite happy by the by running this experiment on themselves going into a cave for vast amounts of time and practicing meditation my argument to you is we have to bring this end of the human extend of the spectrum of human experience into the data of our worldview we have to understand the possibilities of the plasticity of human experience and our conception of human well-being has to include this so in conclusion I want to say that we really need is a contemplative science we need a way of talking about human well-being and the possibilities of human happiness that is as totally unconstrained by dogma as Sciences we need we need to find a way of talking about the reality of death the fact that we are all going to die is an astonishing situation if you can just hold on long enough your that you are going to witness the death of everyone you love and and this is everyone's experience no one is going to escape this if if this if it is possible to be happy in this condition if it is possible to be deeply happy in this condition we need to understand this in terms that don't rely on divisive superstitions if there's if there's an important role for ritual in our lives if we need to mark those occasions in every human life birth and weddings and and deaths with profundity if this is actually doing some serious work for us we need to understand this in in rational terms we need to develop language that is not first century a superstition so my one way to summarize what I've said to you is that I'm really arguing that every one of us is a scientist in that every one of us is making a claim about the way the world is every one of us wants to understand reality none of us want to be confused none of us want to be mistaken about the situation we're in but there there are areas of intellectual honesty in our culture where where science is is good and there are areas where we have a fundamental double standard where certainty has been unlinked from evidence but it just as everyone as a scientist everyone is also a mystic in the sense that every one every one of us has been born into a circumstance where we are helplessly seeking happiness in a condition where experience is always changing what you get you lose and we are all interested whether we have time to think about it or not we are all interested in finding just how happy how much well-being can be enjoyed in this circumstance and in designing a civilization that can promote it so I'm just asking you to imagine what it would be like to have a society where our conversation about human well-being could proceed totally unconstrained by dogma where really we could bring the full measure of our creativity to bear on questions of human happiness and my argument is that to get there to get from here to there the endgame for civilization is not mere tolerance of other people's irrationality it is not political correctness it is reason thank you very much thank you right as your questions are being collected they're going to be brought to me and meanwhile while they're being brought I will start off Sam with a few questions one of the questions I'm asked most frequently in interviews is and I've been asked it many times what's to prevent you from going out and committing murder if you don't believe in God what do you say to people who insist that there can never be any morality without religion well yeah as you say this is an incredibly common question and we're all wise to prepare an answer for it I've happened to have one I mean what one counterpoint to this the suspicion is we just just look at at the societies where there's the least homicide the least violent crime these really are the most atheistic societies on the planet if you just look at the the UN Development Index that which ranks societies by violent crime by literacy by by educational attainment but per capita income without exception apart from the presence of the United States somewhere in the top 20 these are the most atheistic societies on the planet societies like the Netherlands and and Canada and Australia Sweden there is no evidence whatsoever that high levels of religious adherence leads to a moral society in fact if you look at our within our own culture if you look at you know the red state blue state divided we're where most of the murders occurring where most of the the teen pregnancies even and even the abortions these are happening you know in in those states that have the highest level of religious adherence okay here come your questions I'll ask you one more while I vet these uh I'd like to I'd like you to pick up on some of the things you said about Eastern religion because it seems to me that in a way you give Eastern religions kind of a pass on the whole issue of rationality for example a Dalai Lama just had a piece in The New York Times which I'm sure everyone here read and there didn't seem to me to be much difference between his views on the relationship between religion and science and that of the moderate Western religions you criticize would you comment on that yeah well one promise that we have this one word religion and as though this named a really homogeneous class of infatuations and and doctrines and it doesn't the religion is a word like drug I mean their drugs you have aspirin and you have heroin and that and they're not very similar in terms of their effects on a human life and while there are many wacky and unsupportable dogmas within every religion within Buddhism there they're different and there's a there's a spirit of empirical rigor that the Dalai Lama has for instance he's gone on record over and over again saying if science demonstrates something that some doctrine of Buddhism is false then science wins he has that to some degree that's a blank check because some of the some of the most some of the doctrines to which most Buddhists are attached are our doctrines and science is not likely to weigh in on anytime soon but there is a difference and I'm you know while I criticize Buddhism in a very long EndNote in my book it's it is distinct from from Islam and as Islam is distinct from from almost every other religion at this moment here is a great question from the audience while we as adults agree with you totally how do we begin to reach our young children or grandchildren how do we teach our young children our grandchildren about life in this respect when those under the age of seven the age of reason will not understand these ideas in the midst of this society but I think unless they're conditioned otherwise don't come into this world believing themselves to be Christians or Muslims or Jews but we give them these ideas they don't just pluck them out of the ether and so it seems to me that simply giving honest answers to their questions and certainly lifting this this this tableau of saying I don't know I mean we're so reluctant to say I don't know and it's dentally scientists are the people who are really good at saying I don't know they say I don't know all the time because they're terrified that some specialist is going to be in the room who knows so much more about what they've been asked that you know you can almost never get a scientist away in on anything but his most narrow area of specialization and this is slightly off topic but notice the fact that scientists that science is paying a price for this in that fundamentalists are really good at using the the candor of science against it I mean whenever scientists say I don't know on Larry King Live they're in Rush thousand fundamentalist Beetle giving us the God of the gaps there and it's really really what intelligent design is it is it is politics and religion masquerading as science do you think the right wing actually believes in religion or does it simply use religion to mobilize the masses to support the fight for finite natural resources like oil well that that is spoken like a true religious moderate yeah incidentally I needless to say I believe that people many people most people most of the time really believe what they say they believe and their allocations of time and energy attest to this certainly a willingness to blow yourself up attest to this but the people who are standing out on the sidewalks with the placards protesting homosexuality I believe they really think homosexuality has been prescribed by God and and incidentally that is why the First Amendment to the Constitution is is not good enough to keep religion out of politics it is only rational to be motivated by what you think is true if you really think there is a God who hates homosexuals it would be totally irrational to live in a society that just happily live in a society that just tolerates homosexuality so I actually do believe people believe these rather unbelievable things what percentage of your reader feedback has been hostile and how hostile but that's actually been a pleasant surprise I would say at this point something like 99% is is really quite positive and quite quite supportive and then there the the crazy emails but nothing nothing terribly scary either so that's been good one in your mind is the proper relationship between atheism and libertarianism actually it's an interesting question I've never thought about that but there's there is a there's a link in the sense that really that the core idea of libertarianism is that peaceful honest people have the right to be left alone and this is this is trespassed rather obviously by the religious right in their in their impulse to to legislate what goes on in the bedroom and in other aspects of our privacy so libertarians are very much while they are conservative in in ways that that don't satisfy many liberals they are they're fundamentally against this idea that that you can intrude upon your neighbors pursuit of happiness because you don't like his behavior his behavior doesn't affect you if it doesn't affect your property and then consenting adults should be able to do it with it whatever they want and it seems to be a seems to me a very sensible way of looking at it if neuroscience ultimately shows if it hasn't already the religious zealot rejas a chemical or genetic component then what solutions do you have to the whole question of world or religious peace asterisk note that half of all scientists are religious maybe the direct measure of this genetic component yeah wait it all has a genetic and chemical component may every aspect of our experience then the nature-nurture divide has been somewhat oversold again I would point to Western Europe there is a level of unbelief in Western Europe in a country country like Sweden for instance that is just the polar opposite of our situation here we have something like 3 or 5 percent of Americans who will call themselves atheists and maybe 10 percent who are who are just fundamentally unsure we have we have 90 percent basically 83 percent of Americans believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead something like 80 percent depending on how the question is asked aid 60 to 80 percent of Swedes are atheists so unless you're going to allege some real genetic difference between swedes and Americans it doesn't seem like a genetic problem it really to my mind is a conversational problem uh this is related why is the United States going backwards in terms of its attachment to religion while the rest of the educated world Western Europe and Asia is going forward in other words what accounts for the extraordinary persistence of fundamentalism in America compared to the rest of the developed world yeah well it's a it is a persistence I don't think it's I don't think it's that we're necessarily going backwards it's certainly become more visible and has become politically more empowered but the levels of fundamentalism if you look at just a Gallup polls over the last 70 some-odd years that that the numbers of people who believe that that Satan literally exists for instance have been really constant within a few percentage points may incidentally it's 68 percent of Americans believe the Satan literally exists and twenty-eight percent believe twenty-eight percent believe that evolution is a scientific theory backed up by evidence I mean the most tenuous possible accommodation to the last 50 years of molecular biology in the last hundred years 150 years of biology so many arguments against religion what specific practical practices can replace the portions of religious ritual that deal with human fears and anxiety about death for example okay it's a good question for which I I don't have a any kind of comprehensive answer I mean it's something that I'm thinking about it's something that we have to make up out of our own honest conversation it is it is it is it's really not the kind of thing that can be engineered in advance when people just have to start being honest with one another and see where that honesty takes them when you're not sure of something don't pretend to be sure oh and and and these nuances are are preserved even even fundamentalists are intellectually honest generally I mean that no one is no one is eager to go by the Brooklyn Bridge as a fundamental is I mean they they want evidence they want they want an honest representation of the state of the world it's just that we have dumbed down our conversation so much on on the the territory of religion that we are playing by a different standard and so I think it's it's for us to find out what would take the place of superstition and taboo what do you think of Anne Rice's new novel about Jesus I haven't read it I'm I think I'm unlikely to read it but she's going to sell a lot of books without me so I don't know some of you may have seen The Colbert Report about that I said Anne Rice has gone from writing about guys who want to drink your blood to writing about a guy who wants you to drink his blood nah not mine I wish I'd thought about that uh how do you restart a conversation with someone who says nothing you can say will change my mind oh it's hard you know I've been on AM radio enough to know that there are people who you can't talk to it's it's really there are people there are doctrines that are hermetically sealed where the the the person like me who's going to challenge the belief has been demonized in advance as a temptation I mean the moment you start to sound reasonable enough so as to shake someone's faith you are suspected of being the Antichrist me or you this is the day they are prepared for a sufficiently alluring counterpoint to their their dogma so it's and in the Muslim world this is also I think it's a deeper problem actually because the the the taboos around criticizing faith are literally enforced by capital punishment in so many Muslim countries I mean UK it is you take your life in your hands making the noise as I'm making in any Muslim community on this planet and it's not not just in the Middle East and we're talking you know we're talking in a suburb of New York it is not this kind of conversation is not being had in the Muslim world and it's we have to find some way to it to inspire it but it's how we how we do that is is a genuine problem science specifically quantum mechanics has shown mathematically that we live in one of an infinite number of possible universes why is this acceptable while a belief in God is described by you as superstition you know that's an interesting question I think it was Martin Rees the the Royal astronomer of Britain has said that inflationary physics idea that we could live in one of innumerable number universes all functioning by different laws suggests that there are probably infinite numbers functionally infinite numbers of technologically advanced civilizations existing right now and and and these technically advanced civilizations would have almost by definition invented computation and invented computers and they'd be able to simulate universes on their computers and it stands to reason there would be more of these simulated universes than actual universes and therefore on this reasoning we should suspect to be in a simulation rather than in a real universe now I guess the only thing I want to say about that not being a physicist is that physics appears to have achieved such a state of verification that it's it's almost impossible to know when a physicist is joking so I you know nobody that nobody's going to be burnt at the stake or stoned to death or imprisoned for a difference of opinion on cosmology and I think it's it it's for physicists to decide what is a rational claim to to knowledge in the discourse of physics if you ever believed in a god what happened to make you begin to question that belief I didn't I didn't believe in that kind of guy I believed okay we've all believed many things that now embarrass us in hindsight but no I never was quite that far afield do you see any downside to excessive meditation which could result in being disassociated or spaced out we are can exemplify that being disassociated spaced out right now yeah you know this is it's like anything else it's it we are imperfect people devoting ourselves to various pursuits and you know every every Buddhist community every meditative discipline has its casualties and has and can select for people who are not all that good at gratifying their desires in the world so you have a lot of you know the people who go into a cave for a year you know not all of them are the next Buddha some of them are very likely quite neurotic and not not happy in their lives so it's a you just have to be you have to separate the the the various variables but it's it's quite possible to I would imagine meditate in a way that isn't good for you good for you based on who you happen to be or good for you because you're either doing it wrong or it's the practice is not suited to you in the way that it's possible to exercise in a way that's not good for you you know there's nothing wrong with with jogging except if you have bad knees except if you have a bad back except except so they're there it's almost certainly an analogous issue with meditation do you think that fundamentalist Christians in the United States would really have any objection to fundamentalist Islamic theocracies if they didn't support terrorism oh yeah they would have an objection it's just it wouldn't be so troublesome it's the wrong religion you know from from the point of view of Christianity all those people are going to hell and the Muslims have returned the favor all the Christians are going to hell so this is pretty broad but I'll read it out do you think that modern secularism is an evolutionary transition to another state of consciousness or is it the end of evolution yeah I'm actually not a fan and I've received some heat for this I'm not a fan of words like secularism and atheism I don't think we have to name that the counterpoint to religious irrationality we don't have words to this to describe not being an astrologer or not being an alchemist I mean nobody wakes up in the morning says I'm not in astrology I'm not an astrologer and and just to some degree I think the same will work for not being duped by the false certainties of religion it's we simply need to apply reason we can talk about being rational I don't think we have ultimately I don't think we have to talk about being secular so Sam why do you uppercase G and God in your book I know the answer but well it's just it's the I guess I could play the the copy editor did it but it's just the it's the god most people believe in and most of most of the readers are not believing in one God amid many other gods they think exists there there's the one God the biblical God which is the Quranic God I think we'll close with this question seems to me very important what practical steps can we take as individuals in our individual lives to bring about the conversational intolerance you advocate well it's interesting so I'm not I'm not actually recommending that we just oppose every claim to religious conviction wherever we find it I'm not I'm not recommending that you know in a closed elevator you hear someone talk about Jesus and you you unleash on them it's really it's really just in situations like this as a start I think what you know when you're at the podium or when you're writing an editorial for an opinion piece for the newspaper or you're in you're in a situation where you are advancing the conversation about ideas it seems to me that we all have a moral responsibility to be deeply honest about these things and so I'm not advocating that we all rush back and destroy every Thanksgiving dinner over over these issues but and then who knows where it would go from there I mean there's there's a there is a there's room certainly for being civil and just turning the other cheek yeah thank you very much Sam Harris is currently completing a doctorate in neuroscience to research the neural foundation for belief the end of faith is his first book visit wwm or more information history biography and public affairs you're watching book TV on c-span 2 and coming up at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Marshall the courthouse mouse a children's book about the Supreme Court and then on afterwards Pulitzer prize-winning journalist

none of us know the complete truth…
Even Sam Harris believes that religion and creation are exclusive…
…he believes that science is the only alternative view.
It’s untrue, we are all being deceived. Even when you find the truth — it is deception.

The truth is in discovery of what earth truly is, where it is, and who you are.

Tibetan Buddhist monasteries had armouries and were involved in inter-sect warfare not so long ago . . .

Yes, Sam there really is a problem here (27:00). A problem when even scientists have not come to the realization that the supernatural does not exist. Since the dawn of human existence the supernatural realm has been imagined to exist. The supernatural and all the residents there, the fairies, gods, goblins, demons and devils are but figments of the human mind. Humans evidently are terrified that "we" are alone in the universe. GROG

Ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a pit.” Mathew 15:14

YOU my idol! You know how to make money$$$$… Religion is the same thing isn't it? Religion is a business without ression or depression…

40,000 kids were paddled in schools. kids need their asses whipped if they misbehave or they will continue to misbehave.

You can replace all instances of religious belief with political ideology and this talk is perfectly applicable to the 2019 ideological climate.

A natural tripper, haha

More people need to advocate and endorse reason. We all claim to be reasonable but are we? Very vaguely at best I'd say.

One would seriously hope that Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett to name the 'big 4' – there are several others, will be regarded in 50 years time to of been at the vanguard of the new & final age of reason.

Harris is a pseudo-scientific atheist and a hypocrite and refuses to talk about the creators of cultural Marxism that has destroyed utterly the Christian world. Why doesn't he talk about the sodomites and the Talmudic gang? See Talmud Exposed. Is that his motivating ideology? Will he lie more and censor this by deleting it? He doesn't connect secular-atheism with his community's ability to control the levers of power. Pathetic bald faced liar.

Y'know I lived through the 2000s as an adult and I don't recall the potato cameras? Why camera quality so bad?

17:55 – Oh Sam, you and your witty charm always makes me envy the way your brain functions.

He's the modern day Nostradamus like all genies his true brilliance wont be realized till hes dead or 100s years later.

This lecture from Sam Harris Is very insightful. Talking about being ill, people still think that demons cause us medical problems and not genetics or bacteria and viruses . The anti-science crowd.

Stem cell research and application can actually help people in need. Faith-minded folks seem to simply prefer to dream and wish for help rather than to demonstrate and give it.

Harris is aware of himself as simply a meat robot. That is his prerogative, but don't hassle when there are others who are aware of themselves as conscious beings garbed in a body, which they will one day shed and don on another.
He's got a problem with terrorists blowing themselves up in a bus killing maybe a hundred people let's say. But he says nothing about the so-called "leader of the free world" dropping the "mother of all bombs" on a city and obliterating 200,000. Heck no, why if its us that did it, they are then only cockroaches.

A truly inspiring lecture by one of the great thinkers of our times. He uses logic to put forth his views. We could and should learn those techniques for living everyday life. Take out our worshiping of; 1. religions, 2. money, and 3. power and what would you have? A much better world, we would be the care takers instead of the plunders we are now.

Why does he have to throw in meditation ? Just a “filler” to use up time in his talk.
He makes a very “ common sense “ argument and skims over the top of a REAL argument
to prove his point that religion is vacuous. Also what makes him think that his “ science” of
today answers the questions of tomorrow and how much can change over the next 100 years.
Also I don’t believe “ happiness “ is wheat religion is about.

Demagogy is so trendy this days. The religion of science is the next pair of expensive pair of shoes I'll offer to my wife (if you know what I mean).

Sam Harris, preceeded by people like Friedrich Nietzsche and Christopher Hitchins, calls for us to boldly question what faith really is. By concealing essential questions of faith under the banners of being taboos, we have avoided questioning our own blindness, and thus have become victims of our own self-imposed limitations. Yes, a throrough spring-cleaning would truly be an ordeal to undertake, and to go through. But it seems an unavoideable cure for our blindness, and thus bring about real freedom (and sanity).


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