sam harris

A Quote by sam harris on nature and mother nature

Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.

sam harris

Source: Edge: The World Question Center 2008 -- Mother Nature is Not Our Friend: http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_12.html#harriss

Contributed by: ~C4Chaos

A Quote by sam harris on humanity, evolution, nature, and life

Life is a continuous flux. Our nonhuman ancestors bred, generation after generation, and incrementally begat what we now deem to be the species homo sapiens — ourselves.  There is nothing about our ancestral line or about our current biology that dictates how we will evolve in the future. Nothing in the natural order demands that our descendants resemble us in any particular way. Very likely, they will not resemble us. We will almost certainly transform ourselves, likely beyond recognition, in the generations to come.

sam harris

Source: Edge: The World Question Center 2008 -- Mother Nature is Not Our Friend: http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_12.html#harriss

Contributed by: ~C4Chaos

A Quote by sam harris on faith, belief, and conviction

If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised too, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.  If our tribalism is ever to give way to an extended moral identity, our religious beliefs can no longer be sheltered from the tides of genuine inquiry and genuine criticism.  It is time we realized that to presume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil.  Wherever conviction grows in inverse proportion to its justification, we have lost the very basis for human cooperation.  Where we have reason for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another.  People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies, not in our halls of power.  The only thing we should respect in a person’s faith is his desire for a better life in this world;  we need never have respected his certainty that one awaits him in the next.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 225

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on belief, faith, and mystery

Man is manifestly not the measure of all things.  This universe is shot through with mystery.  The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name.  The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and ground for any experience we may wish to call “spiritual.”  No myth needs to be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance.  No personal God need be worshipped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation.  No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realize, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish.  The days of our religious identities are clearly numbered.  Whether the days of civilization itself are numbered would seem to depend, rather to much, on how soon we realize this.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 227

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on war, scruples, faith, and belief

Here we come upon a terrible facet of ethically asymmetric warfare:  when your enemy has no scruples, your own scruples become another weapon in his hand.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 202

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on drug use, prohibition, needles, clean needles, aids, and disease

Viewing the drug problem from the perspective of health care is instructive: our laws against providing addicts with clean needles have increased the spread of AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases.  Since the purity and dosage of illegal drugs remains a matter of guesswork for the user, the rates of poisoning and overdose from drug use are unnecessarily high (as they were for alcohol use during Prohibition).  Perversely, the criminal prohibition of drugs has actually made it easier for minors to get them, because the market for them has been driven underground.  The laws limiting the medical use of opiate painkillers do little more than keep the terminally ill suffering unnecessarily during the last months of life.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 257

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on drug war, war on drugs, prohibition, marijuana, and drugs

[many references from drug war facts ]

            The consequences of our irrationality on this front are so egregious that they bear closer examination.  Each year, over 1.5 million men and women are arrested in the United States because of our drug laws.  At this moment, somewhere on the order of 400,000 men and women languish in U.S. prisons for nonviolent drug offenses.  One million others are currently on probation.  More people are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses in the United States than are incarcerated, for any reason, in all of Western Europe (which has a larger population).  The cost of these efforts, at the federal level alone, is nearly $20 billion dollars annually.  The total cost of our drug laws – when one factors in the expense to state and local governments and the tax revenue lost by our failure to regulate the sale of drugs – could easily be in excess of $100 billion dollars each year.  Our war on drugs consumes an estimated 50 percent of the trial time of our courts and the full-time energies of over 400,000 police officers. These are resources that might otherwise be used to fight violent crimes and terrorism.

            In historical terms, there was every reason to expect that such a policy of prohibition would fail.  It is well known, for instance, that the experiment with prohibition of alcohol in the United States did little more than precipitate a terrible comedy of increased drinking, organized crime, and police corruption.  What is not generally remembered is that Prohibition was an explicitly religious exercise, being the joint product of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the pious lobbying of certain Protestant missionary societies.

            The problem with prohibition of any desirable commodity is money.  The United Nations values the drug trade at $400 billion a year.  This exceeds the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Defense.  If this figure is correct, the trade in illegal drugs constitutes 8 percent of all international commerce (while the sale of textiles makes up 7.5 percent and motor vehicles just 5.3 percent). (35 – www.lindesmith.org)  And yet, prohibition itself is what makes the manufacture and sale of drugs so extraordinarily profitable.  Those who earn there living in this way enjoy a 5,000 to 20,000 percent return on their investment, tax-free.  Every relevant indicator of the drug trades – rates of drug use and interdiction, estimates of production, the purity of drugs on the street, etc. – shows that the government can do nothing to stop it as long as such profit exists (indeed, these profits are highly corrupting of law enforcement in any case).  The crimes of the addict, to finance the stratospheric cost of his lifestyle, and the crimes of the dealer, to protect both his territory and his goods, are likewise the result of prohibition. (36 footnote below)  A final irony, which seems good enough to be the work of Satan himself, is that the market we have created by our drug laws has become a steady source of revenue for terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Shining Path, and others.  [supporting link – not from Sam Harris: drug policy and terrorism]

            Even if we acknowledge that stopping drug use is a justifiable social goal, how does the financial cost of our war on drugs appear in light of the other challenges we face?  Consider that it would require only a onetime expenditure of $2 billion to secure our commercial seaports against smuggled nuclear weapons.  At present we have allocated a mere $93 million for this purpose. (footnote link)   How will our prohibition of marijuana use look (this comes at the cost of $4 billion annually) if a new sun ever dawns over the port of Los Angeles?  Or consider that the U.S. government can afford to spend only $2.3 billion each year on reconstruction of Afghanistan.  The Taliban and Al Qaeda are now regrouping.  Warlords rule the countryside beyond the city limits of Kabul.  Which is more important to us, reclaiming this part of the world for the forces of civilization or keeping cancer patients in Berkeley from relieving their nausea with marijuana?  Our present use of government funds suggests an uncanny skewing – we might even say derangement – of our national priorities.  Such a bizarre allocation of resources is sure to keep Afghanistan in ruins for years to come.  It will also leave Afghan farmers with no alternative but to grow opium.  Happily for them, our drug laws still render this a highly profitable enterprise.

            Anyone who believes that God is watching us from beyond the stars will feel that punishing peaceful men and women for their private pleasure is perfectly reasonable.  We are now in the twenty-first century.  Perhaps we should have better reasons for depriving our neighbors of their liberty at gunpoint.  Given the magnitude of the real problems that confront us – terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the spread of infectious disease, failing infrastructure, lack of adequate funds for education and health care, etc. – our war on sin is so outrageously unwise as to almost defy rational comment.  How have we grown so blind to our deeper interests?  And how have we manages to enact such policies with so little substantive debate?

36 footnote pg 259 of book

When was the last time someone was killed over a tobacco or alcohol deal gone awry?  We can be confident that the same normalcy would be achieved if drugs were regulated by the government.  At the inception of the modern “war on drugs,” the economist Milton Friedman observed that “legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement.”  He then invited the reader to “conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order” (Friedman, “Prohibition and Drugs,” Newsweek May 1, 1972).  What was true then remains true after three decades of pious misrule; the criminality associated with the drug trade is the inescapable consequence of our drug laws themselves.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 162

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on belief, religion, stem cell, and stem cell research

There are sources of irrationality other than religious faith, of course, but none of them are celebrated for their role in shaping public policy.  Supreme Court justices are not in the habit of praising our nation or its reliance upon astrology, or for its  wealth of UFO sightings, or for exemplifying the various reasoning biases that psychologists have found to be more or less endemic to our species.  Only mainstream religious dogmatism receives the unqualified support of government.  And yet, religious faith obscures uncertainty where uncertainty manifestly exists, allowing the unknown, the implausible, and the patently false to achieve primacy over facts.

            Consider the present debate over research on human embryonic stem cells.  The problem with this research, from the religious point of view is simple:  it entails the destruction of human embryos.  The embryos in question will have been cultures in vitro (not removed from a woman’s body) and permitted to grow for three to five days.  AT this stage of development, an embryo is called a blastocyst and consists of about 150 cells arranged in a microscopic sphere.  Interior to the blastocyst is a small group of about 30 embryonic stem cells.  These cells have two properties that make them of such abiding interest to scientists:  as stem cells, they can remain in an unspecialized state, reproducing themselves through cell division for long periods of time (a population of such cells living in culture is known as a cell line); stem cells are also pluripotent, which means they have the potential to become any specialized cell in the human body – neurons of the brain and spinal chord, insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, muscle cells of the heart, and so forth.

            Here is what we know.  We know that much can be learned from research on embryonic stem cells.  In particular, such research nay give us further insight into the processes of cell division and cell differentiation.  This would almost certainly shed new light on those medical conditions, like cancer and birth defects, that seem to be merely a matter of processes gone awry.  We also know that research on embryonic cells requires the destruction of human embryos at the 150-cell stage.  There is not the slightest reason to believe, however, that such embryos have the capacity to sense pain, to suffer, or to experience the loss of life in any way at all.  What is indisputable is that there are millions of human beings who do have these capacities, and who currently suffer from traumatic injuries to the brain and spinal chord.  Millions more suffer from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.  Millions more suffer from stroke and heart disease, from burns, from diabetes, from rheumatoid arthritis, from Purkinje cell degeneration, from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and from vision and hearing loss.  We know that embryonic stem cells promise to be a renewable source of tissues and organs that might alleviate such suffering in the not to distant future.

            Enter faith:  we now find ourselves living in a world in which college-educated politicians hurl impediments in the way of such research because they are concerned about the fate of  single cells.  Their concern is not merely that a collection of 150 cells may suffer its destruction.  Rather, they believe that even a human zygote (a fertilized egg) should be accorded all the protections of a fully developed human being.  Such a cell, after al, has the potential to become a full developed human being..  But given our recent advances in the biology of cloning, as much can be said of almost every cell in the human body.  By the measure of a cell’s potential whenever the president scratches his nose he is now engaged in a diabolical culling of souls.

            Out of deference to some rather poorly specified tenets of Christine doctrine (after all, nothing in the Bible suggests that killing human embryos, or even human fetuses, is the equivalent of killing a human being), the U.S. House of Representatives voted effectively to ban embryonic stem-cell research on February 27, 2003.

            No rational approach to ethics would have led us to such an impasse.  Our present policy on human stem cells has been shaped by beliefs that are divorced from every reasonable intuition we might form about the possible experience of living systems.  In neurological terms, we surely visit more suffering upon this earth by killing a fly than by killing a human blastocyst, to say nothing of a human zygote (flies, after all, have 100,000 cells in their brains alone).  Of course, the point at which we fully acquire our humanity, and or capacity to suffer, remains an open question.  But anyone who would dogmatically insist that these traits must arise coincident with the moment of conception has nothing to contribute, apart from his ignorance, to this debate.  Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical

Equivalent of a flat-earth society.  Our discourse on the subject should reflect this.  In this area of public policy alone, the accommodations that we have made to faith will do nothing but enshrine a perfect immensity of human suffering for decades to come.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 165..6

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on moral community, faith, and belief

The notion of a moral community resolves many paradoxes of human behavior.  How is it, after all, that a Nazi guard could return each day from his labors at the crematoria and then be a loving father to his children?  The answer is surprisingly straightforward:  The Jews he spent the day torturing and killing were not objects of his moral concern.   Not only were they outside his moral community; they were antithetical to it.  His belief about Jews inured him to the natural human sympathies that might otherwise prevented such behavior.

            Unfortunately, religion casts more shadows than light on this territory.  Rather than find real reasons for human solidarity, faith offers us a solidarity born of tribal and tribalizing fictions.  As we have see, religion is one of the greatest limiters of moral identity, since most believers differentiate themselves, in moral terms, from those who do not share their faith.  No other ideology is so eloquent on the subject of what divided one moral community from another.  Once a person accepts the premises upon which most religious identities are built, the withdrawal of his moral concern from those who do not share these premises follows quite naturally.  Needless to say, the suffering of those destined for hell can never be as problematic as the suffering of the righteous.  If certain people can’t see the unique wisdom and sanctity of my religion, if their hearts are so beclouded by sin, what concern is it of mine if others mistreat them?  They have been cursed by the very God who made the world and all things in it.  Their search for happiness was simply doomed from the start.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 176

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on world government, integration, religion, belief, and faith

We should, I think, look upon modern despotisms as hostage crises.  Kim Jong Il has 30 million hostages.  Saddam Hussein has twenty-five million.  The clerics in Iran have seventy million or more.  It does not matter that many hostages have been so brainwashed that they will fight their would-be liberators to the death.  They are held prisoner twice over – by tyranny and by their own ignorance.  The developed world must, somehow, come to their rescue.  Jonathon Glover seems right to suggest that we need “something along the lines of a strong and properly funded permanent UN force, together with clear criteria for intervention and an international court to authorize it.”  We can say it even more simply:  we need a world government.  How else will a war between the United States and China ever become as unlikely as a war between Texas and Vermont?  We are a very long way from even thinking about the possibility of a world government, to say nothing of creating one.  It would require a degree of economic, cultural, and moral integration that we may never achieve.  The diversity of our religious beliefs constitutes a primary obstacle here.  Given what most of us believe about God, it is at present unthinkable that human beings will ever identify themselves merely as human beings, disavowing all lesser affiliations,  World government does seem a long way off – so long that we may not survive the trip.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 151

Contributed by: HeyOK

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