Questionable Motives

June 19, 2014

Why do I hold Sam Harris in such esteem?

Filed under: Harris,Humour — tildeb @ 10:05 am

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42 Comments »

  1. One of the best!

    Comment by R. L. Culpeper — June 20, 2014 @ 2:39 am | Reply

  2. Why? Because he’s freaking awesome that’s why! Lol
    I’ve listened to that debate he had with rabbi Wolpe several times and in particular listened to that clip about his Elvis analogy . It gets me every time.
    I still have an email reply from him that’s been sitting in my inbox for several moths now. I’d emailed him about discussions that I’ve had with my brother and his defence of religion. He only wrote “Many thanks. Needles to say, I feel your pain!” but at least he took the time to read my email and respond. Gotta give him respect for that.

    Comment by Ashley — June 20, 2014 @ 7:02 am | Reply

  3. Comment by Av8torbob — June 23, 2014 @ 3:47 am | Reply

    • Harris outlines this argument Craig uses here and explains that the utility of neuroscience is still the right tool for investigating it (no god is necessary) because the imaging of such psychopaths shows that human cooperation is still rewarding even if we speak of morality as human well being (in this particular case, self proclaimed ‘happiness’) or along a spectrum. Craig’s shooting blanks here and conflates the sound of the bang he makes to be indicative of the lethal power of the bullet he presumes has been discharged.

      Comment by tildeb — June 23, 2014 @ 7:50 am | Reply

      • So, you’re saying Harris “explains” away an outright logical contradiction by demanding that “neuroscience is still the best tool?” I don’t think shouting the same thing loudly and longly enough is sufficient for explaining away a logical contradiction.

        As Craig explains, it isn’t often a philosopher is given a “knock down” argument against his opponent. But it is rather stunning when the opponent gives it himself. 🙂

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 23, 2014 @ 10:38 am

  4. Because it’s not a knock down argument, Bob. Harris never claims that human well being and happiness are synonyms – he claims we can better measure human well being than religious ‘morality’. Remember, it is Craig who has no means to differentiate atrocity from goodness using his metric of divine command theory; Harris’ suggestion provides exactly what Craig lacks – a means. Happiness is but one consideration in human well being yet it is on this plank alone that Craig argues that psychopaths could be equivalently ‘happy’ and so therefore there is no means to differentiate any moral landscape. Harris shows that neuroscience even in these rare cases shows demonstrable preference for human cooperation and that this isn’t surprising considering our shared evolutionary background (shared by both psychopaths and ‘moral’ people). Also, the research so far indicates that ‘psychopaths’ are also on a spectrum inversely correlational to a decrease in mirror neurons – the fewer the mirror neurons, the more ‘psychopathic’ an individual. Religious belief doesn’t build mirror neurons: it builds tyrants.

    Comment by tildeb — June 23, 2014 @ 10:58 am | Reply

    • You mean tyrants like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot?

      Comment by Av8torbob — June 23, 2014 @ 1:09 pm | Reply

    • … because those three atheists murdered more human beings in the 20th century alone, than all the religious tyrants (of whom there have admittedly been plenty) combined.

      tildeb, you have repeatedly demonstrated your complete lack of comprehension of the difference between the ontology and epistemology of moral truth — most notably and laughably in your comparison of the latter to aviation altimetry (facepalm). So has Harris. Until you understand (admit?) that difference, both you and Harris will continue to make the same mistake. I sincerely hope you come to that realization soon.

      By the way, since I appreciate wit and sarcasm, I find Harris to be a pretty clever and entertaining myself … but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s wrong about this issue.

      Comment by Av8torbob — June 23, 2014 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

    • tildeb — Can you please offer me the objective standard by which we can “better measure human well being”?

      Who decides? Who gets to define “human well being”? How do you define “well being” without a previously accepted concept of wellness or goodness?

      Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 10:44 am | Reply

      • Av8torbob – Can you please offer me the objective standard by which we can “better measure elevation”?

        Who decides? Who gets to define “elevation”? How do you define “elevation” without a previously accepted concept of altitude or height?

        Comment by tildeb — June 24, 2014 @ 11:25 am

      • Ah, here we go again. tildeb … Elevation doesn’t just exist on its own. Altitude is a measure of the distance we are above an objective standard, a.k.a. THE GROUND.

        What is the GROUND by which you want to measure “well being?”

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 11:40 am

      • Bullshit, Bob: it’s above a RELATIVE standard. Yet it seems to work just fine. That’s my point: a relative standard does not mean it cannot work; all it means is that we AGREE to use a relative standard… and we use reasons to figure out which ones serve us better than others. The same is true for morality, but I know your head can’t possibly get around this idea.

        Comment by tildeb — June 24, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

      • Tildeb … Better? Better than what?

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 25, 2014 @ 12:10 am

      • “Better? Better than what?” Better THAN OTHERS. That’s what relative means Bob. For example. Standard A: Beat your kids to death if they are disobedient or disrespectful. (which coincidentally happens to be a divine command) Standard B: Teach your children to be respectful to you and others. If they disobey, perhaps mild punishment such as a “time out”, taking away a favorite toy, etc. The most important thing is that they need to be taught the value of being respectful. I think that relative to standard A or compared to standard A, B is the better standard. So I would say that B is better than A in this case.
        I hope it won’t be necessary for me to go into the details as to why I think B is a better standard than A.

        Comment by Ashley — June 25, 2014 @ 11:10 am

  5. Oh Goodie! Bob’s back – and he’s here to tell you once again, that you’re just flat out wrong tildeb! What a shocker! I must say I didn’t see that one coming. Uh oh! Looks like he’s got you over a barrel now tildeb – he brought up Mao and Pol Pot and Stalin!

    Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 8:32 am | Reply

  6. “He brought up Mao and Pol Pot and Stalin!”

    … Yes, yes, those pesky little facts from history. So annoying!

    Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  7. No. 144: ARGUMENT FROM MASS MURDER
    (1) Stalin was an atheist.
    (2) He murdered millions of people.
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — June 24, 2014 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  8. Oh no doubt! All 3 of those guys were atheists so that proves that if you reject unproven, illogical religious nonsense, you can’t know the “difference between the ontology and epistemology of moral truth” and it straight away turns you into a baby-eating, torturing, murdering, schizophrenic lunatic!
    Now if THAT doesn’t prove that Sam Harris is full of shit, I don’t know what does.

    Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 10:10 am | Reply

    • tildeb’s claim was that “religious belief doesn’t build mirror neurons: it builds tyrants.”

      When presented with the contrary EVIDENCE that the greatest tyrants in human history were not motivated by religious belief, I get the usual childish garbage from the usual childish garbage peddlers (but no YouTube video from Cedric this time — yet — only a cut-and-paste! Good boy! I’d give you half a cookie if I could).

      I said absolutely NOTHING about whether “God exists.” I said nothing about the moral character of tildeb, or Cedric, or Ashley. Why you purveyors of steely-eyed reason are such thin-skinned little emotional weasels is really beyond me.

      Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 10:40 am | Reply

      • Ah ha! So since Pol Pot, Stalin and Mao were all very evil and were all atheists, we know that tildeb’s statement that “religious beliefs builds tyrants” is by default, proven false.

        Claim: Religious belief builds tyrants
        Counterclaim: Non-religious people were also tyrants.
        Conclusion: Therefore religious belief cannot not build tyrants

        I see! Very similar to your global warming rebuttal

        Claim: Humans are contributing to rising global temperatures
        Counterclaim: The earth had many instances of rising global temperatures in the past
        Conclusion: Therefore Humans cannot be contributing to rising global temperatures

        I think that’s your best work yet Bob.

        Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 11:24 am

      • It’s not contrary evidence, Bob. Nowhere did I suggest that tyrants ONLY come from religious belief. Religious belief, I said, builds tyrants… as does accepting as virtuous any faith-based approach. Presuming that such teachings lead to ‘moral’ behaviour because it’s his version of religious perfection (which is Craig’s ‘knockdown’ argument) is factually wrong because subjugating anyone’s individual autonomy to any kind of sacred Dear Leader really does produce a tyranny.

        My point (and Harris’ counter-argument) is that better understanding the biological and chemical foundations for a psychopath’s happiness (from causing suffering) isn’t going to be furthered by any speculative religious explanation. But we can better investigate psychopathy through neuroscience (which was Harris’ point that Craig criticizes) than we can by the same kind of reliance Craig uses through metaphysical musings.

        Comment by tildeb — June 24, 2014 @ 11:39 am

      • Poor little Ashley. Basic logic is just too much for him …

        Bob: There have been plenty of religious tyrants
        Ashley: Bob’s Conclusion — religious belief cannot build tyrants

        Ashley’s Bonus comment: Let me start (yet another) rabbit trail about comments from a completely unrelated post from 4 months ago. SQUIRREL!!!!

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 11:45 am

      • Bob,

        So religious belief builds tyrants then? We’re agreed on that? Very good. So what THE FUCK do the non-religious tyrants Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot have to do with anything that tildeb claimed (and you have apparently accepted) about religious belief building tyrants? NOTHING. Since we all know you’re so good at logic, you’ll be able to instantly recognize that’s a red herring argument.

        Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 11:56 am

      • Ashley — You got an email from the “freaking awesome” Sam Harris?! THE Sam Harris?! That is so, like, totally freaking awesome, dude! Not pathetic at all. I mean, it’s an email! Maybe you could print it out and take it somewhere to get it, like, totally, like engraved or something. Light candles in front of it and stuff! Mind blowing, dude!

        If you mail it here they could probably, like totally do that for you:

        Vistaprint Engraving
        ATTN: Pathetic Request Dept.
        Pathetic, Canada 00000-0000

        SQUIRREL!!!

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 1:30 pm

      • Av8torbob is making a fool of himself yet again. He’s got nothing.

        Comment by Cedric Katesby — June 24, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

      • Bob,

        I just greatly admire Sam Harris and was flattered that he took the time to read my e-mail and respond. I thought I’d share that with tildeb. Is that pathetic? Perhaps. You seem to be the one blowing a gasket over it. However, it certainly can’t be as pathetic as someone who harbours a delusion that their imaginary friend is the origin and ultimate arbiter of “moral truth” and the “objective standard by which we can better measure human well being”. It doesn’t get any more pathetic than that.
        If I were you, I wouldn’t be talking to too many people about what’s pathetic when you spend your days having one way conversations with your imaginary sky daddy. I believe Cedric brought up something about the pot calling the kettle black in an earlier conversation?…..

        Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

      • Bob,

        P.S. Excellent job changing the topic from Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao to my e-mail from Sam Harris. Now were you saying about rabbit trails again?….
        Seriously though – do you have ADD? I notice you do a lot of ducking and avoiding and changing the subject on a lot of those blog posts. You seem to have a very hard time staying focused. Have you ever considered getting yourself tested to see if you might have ADD? Since you seem to have practically gone completely off the deep end over my (what I considered relatively benign) admission (my email from Sam Harris), maybe you have ADHD?

        Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 2:32 pm

      • “I just greatly admire Sam Harris and was flattered that he took the time to read my e-mail and respond. I thought I’d share that with tildeb.”

        Awww …. so cute! 🙂

        Comment by Av8torbob — June 25, 2014 @ 12:11 am

      • Well Bob,

        You sure have done a bang up job of convincing me that we shouldn’t take Sam Harris’ ideas seriously.
        And have we forgotten Matthew’s teaching (Matthew 7:1)? Judge not, lest ye be judged? Somebody’s not being very Christian are they?!?!?!! Tsk tsk. For someone who claims to have superior morals because of their belief in God, you sure don’t act like it. For shame Bob. For shame.

        Comment by Ashley — June 25, 2014 @ 8:17 am

  9. tildeb … You did suggest that religious belief can only lead to tyranny. That is why I objected. The suggestion is unfair and inflammatory. The bottom line is that both religious AND non-religious belief systems can lead to tyranny — which means that it is a HUMAN propensity, not a religious propensity.

    That being the case, how do we adjudicate the morality of behavior? The atheist project, on its own definition, relies on a “consensus” about “well being” (whatever that is — you haven’t told me yet) and is therefore relativistic and prone to an outcome where “might makes right.” THAT is a source of tyranny that is unimpeachable because it is not subject to any kind of independent standard — there isn’t one. Majority rules. The end. It has no basis for even claiming a truly independent standard. It can describe behavior and action but has no ability to give us “oughts.”

    The theistic view (even if it can also lead to abuse) at least DOES have a basis for explaining and understanding an independent standard. That standard has its source in the nature/character of God. Human beings share a common basic nature because they are made in the image of God — which is a transcendent form that implies a teleology.

    Even the Greek philosophers came to the same conclusion without any knowledge of Christ or the Bible. It is universal and not to be dismissed by a thoughtless hand-wave about “metaphysical musings.”

    Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 2:45 pm | Reply

    • The bottom line is that both religious AND non-religious belief systems can lead to tyranny….

      Atheism isn’t a belief system.
      Nor is a-Bigfootism.

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — June 24, 2014 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

    • By the way, tildeb, ethics IS metaphysics … it’s beyond the physical … that’s the whole point. No one can explain ethics by an appeal to the purely physical … yet that is exactly what Sam Harris is trying to do.

      Comment by Av8torbob — June 24, 2014 @ 3:08 pm | Reply

      • The metaphysical musing I mentioned were directed at Craig’s approach to understanding psychopathy. Harris – in the example Craig uses for his ‘knockdown’ criticism – presents what Craig thinks is a ‘knockdown’ argument and explains that neuroscience and not religious belief will still be the better way to understand it, staying true to the thesis that science can help us inform morality if we agree to use a standard that can be utilized to produce measurable results. And by ‘better’ I mean a way to produce knowledge about quantifiable effects (so that we may compare and contrast results independently of our moral beliefs about them) rather than religiously inspired metaphysical musings that remove any means to do so.

        Metaphysical musings regarding morality is a case in point. Craig lends his intellectual support and justification for such marvelous examples of immorality as Divine Command Theory where he tells us to feel sorry for the ‘Israeli’ soldiers who are ordered by their divine Dear Leader to commit genocide and slaughter women and children on the orders of this god, and so therefore the act of slaughtering real people in real life is moral if commanded by the Dear Leader. I’ve pointed out before that this kind of ‘theory’ is identical to the reasoning used by Himmler speaking to the SS troops in Poland and thanking them for their courage and moral certitude for committing genocide in the name of the Dear Leader, telling them that their ‘sacrifice’ will never be fully appreciated by the nation. No guff, eh? Craig justifies this approach justifying actions to be moral with his metaphysical musings… but insists that if the Dear Leader is his god, then it’s just peachy in moral terms. This reveals the paucity of his moral standard… a standard disconnected from granting us any means to compare and contrast real world effects to have any influence on determining the morality of the cause. The standard Craig tells us is ‘better’ is based solely on what the Dear Leader pronounces to be ‘moral’. And anything can – and does – fall into this convenient category that tyrants use to consolidate and exercise power in any way they want. This is not a moral standard worth defending but eliminating from contention. You are defending it… and this leads to justifying any and all actions in the name of god’s supposed objective moral standard. It’s a Trojan horse.

        Comment by tildeb — June 25, 2014 @ 10:36 am

  10. Hey Cedric, tildeb – you guys work on any good “atheist projects” lately? I’m working on an atheist pipe support project for a sandfill line at one of our mines, and I’ve got an atheist isolation spade project in a chute that transfers material from a rotary bin to a balling disk. Man, those atheist engineering principles are sure coming in handy!!!!!
    What the in the flying fuck is “the atheist project”? What is “it’s own definition”. Please enlighten us. Perhaps only me. Pretty please?

    Comment by Ashley — June 24, 2014 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  11. The atheist project, on its own definition,…

    Is this like the atheist worldview thing? You do know there’s no atheist worldview, right?

    Comment by Cedric Katesby — June 25, 2014 @ 9:28 am | Reply

  12. tildeb … Two things and then I’ll quit trying to reason with a stone wall …

    1) I completely agree with you about the issue of Old Testament “genocide.” As I’ve admitted before, there are many things that cause me to question/doubt my convictions and this is at the top of the list. That said, there is much evidence that the “genocide” language is simply hyperbole, if for no other reason than that these people groups, who were supposed to be completely “wiped out,” end up reappearing at later times … sometimes just a few chapters later in the same account. Paul Copan’s, “Is God A Moral Monster” addresses this issue in great detail — http://www.amazon.com/Is-God-Moral-Monster-Testament/dp/0801072751 — I don’t expect anyone on here would ever consider reading such a thing because their minds are closed, but I offer it nonetheless. The thing is, IF God exists, it would be completely within his prerogative to judge anyone who had committed the kinds of atrocities that these people groups committed for hundreds of years before He meted out the punishment. I know that sounds like excuse-making … and that is why I say this is a huge negative issue for me.

    2) We may be talking past each other on the “moral landscape” issue. No doubt there are relative levels of moral right/wrong as your example points out. I agree with you on that so perhaps I should have used the term “subjective” instead of relative. When we leave a subject (person, group, culture) to decide morality, there is no limit to what human being will accept or impose on others .. and no way to avoid might-makes-right. Subjective ethics don’t work. That’s my point. Altimeters give relative height but the standard they are calibrated to is not subjective. It is the objective reality of terra firma. My contention is that morality is a similarly objective feature of the universe — like gravity — that we observe and should conform to. We don’t create it. It is universal. It is grounded in the character of God and we (who are ALL made in the image of God) recognize it — which is why I have NEVER said atheists can’t be moral. Never once. They can be moral. They just can’t explain WHY they should be moral. They have no foundational basis to ground morality … and it certainly won’t work to pretend a subjective process will allow them to do so. Harris’s “moral landscape” is subjective at its core.

    I find it interesting that atheists like Harris instinctively know this and try to “create” a way to explain what they recognize to be the objective nature of ethical truth. They steal from the theistic worldview and pretend to find a subjective way to ground their ethics. They sit on God’s lap so they can slap him in the face.

    Comment by av8torbob — June 25, 2014 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

    • “My contention is that morality is a similarly objective feature of the universe — like gravity — that we observe and should conform to. We don’t create it. It is universal. It is grounded in the character of God and we (who are ALL made in the image of God) recognize it”
      Cool. So then you should be able to explain why God sanctions and/or orders slavery throughout the bible and we humans now consider that to be morally reprehensible.

      Comment by Ashley — June 25, 2014 @ 6:51 pm | Reply

    • Bob, don’t get diverted from taking issue with the specifics some Divine Command Theory example with the underlying reasoning. i am criticizing the underlying reason, that something is proclaimed to be moral because some Dear Leader determines it to be so. I don’t care if the Dear Leader is a Hitler or a Jesus; the justification fails because it it is uber subjective with no means to demonstrate how this moral pronouncement is independent of the uber leader. This line of reasoning is the ultimate subjective moral standard.

      I have used elevation and altitude to indicate a level of relativity between subjectively selected ‘bases’ and the objective stuff measured from it. I do this to counter the argument that we must first start with an objective base if we wish to achieve objective comparisons. This is simply not true. All we need to do is select a base. The most common counter argument against the moral landscape uses this assumption to insist that this lack of an objective base removes any possibility for an objective comparison, yet we successfully use such relative bases all the time to establish objective and measurable comparisons of exacting detail.

      There is no compelling reason why we can’t do this with morality, in that we can select various criteria to establish a standard – human well being, for example, just as nebulous a term as ‘morality’ itself – in order to successfully link effects with causes for our measurements of consequential results to be placed on this spectrum. This would allow us to compare religious circumcision, for example, with actual health results to see how ‘moral’ this practice is. This is a vast improvement over Divine Command Theory. The moral landscape is like terra firma in that there really is a base consideration available in reality that grants us the means to set measure for objective comparisons.

      Morality is not a thing like the ground but a word we use to establish the sense of where on some spectrum book-ended by ‘good’ and ‘evil’ an act can be placed. The religious currently co-opt these book-ends and define them according to meet their religious desires; evil, in Craig’s example, is purposefully acting contrary to his god’s supposed commands, so it becomes evil, for example, for soldiers to NOT carry out mass murder! You see the problem inherent in such a moral system? This supposedly ‘objective’ moral standard has already been subjectively established – subjectively meaning according to god’s subjective will… and those who supposedly can interpret it correctly. It’s a circular argument that justifies anything (and has a long and rich history of doing exactly this)… as long as any act can be attributed to god’s will. Arguing about the details doesn’t fix the circularity of the line of reasoning; changing the standard to one that allows us to compare and contrast results in human well being does.

      Comment by tildeb — June 25, 2014 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

      • What standard does the atheist use to determine right and wrong?
        Is it subjective moral code if a Christian says God set the standard , but objective if Sam Harris says it based on his biased interpretation of information?
        Okay then. In some cultures they love their neighbors. In others they eat them. Do you have a certain preference?

        Comment by Christ Centered Teaching — April 19, 2015 @ 10:38 pm

      • If I thought you cared to understand I would bother. But you don’t, so I won’t.

        Comment by tildeb — April 20, 2015 @ 10:58 am

    • “It is grounded in the character of Santa and we (who are ALL made in the image of Santa) recognize it — which is why I have NEVER said atheists can’t be moral. Never once. They can be moral. They just can’t explain WHY they should be moral. They have no foundational basis to ground morality … and it certainly won’t work to pretend a subjective process will allow them to do so. Harris’s “moral landscape” is subjective at its core.

      I find it interesting that atheists like Harris instinctively know this and try to “create” a way to explain what they recognize to be the objective nature of ethical truth. They steal from the theistic worldview and pretend to find a subjective way to ground their ethics. They sit on Santa’s lap so they can slap him in the face.”

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — June 26, 2014 @ 9:56 am | Reply


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