belief

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 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 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 oil, future, belief, faith, and muslim

Perhaps the West will be able to facilitate a transformation of the Muslin worlds by applying outside pressure.  It will not be enough, however, for the United States and a few European countries to take a hard line while the rest of Europe and Asia sell advanced weaponry and “dual-use” nuclear reactors to all comers.  To achieve the necessary economic leverage, so that we stand a chance of waging this war of ideas by peaceful means, the development of alternative energy technologies should become the new Manhattan Project.  There are, needless to say, sufficient economic and environmental justifications for doing this, but there are political ones as well.  If oil were to become worthless, the dysfunction of the most prominent Muslim societies would suddenly grow as conspicuous as the sun.  Muslims might then come to see the wisdom of moderating their thinking on a wide variety of subjects.  Otherwise, we will be obliged to protect our interests in the world with force – continually.  In this case, it seems all but certain that our newspapers will begin to read more and like the book of Revelation.  

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 152

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on marijuana, faith, belief, inacarceration, prison, court, pot, and alcohol

            The fact that people are being prosecuted and imprisoned for using marijuana, while alcohol remains a staple commodity, is surely the reductio ad absurdum of any notion that our drug laws are designed to keep people from harming themselves or others. (24 footnote below)  Alcohol is by any measure the more dangerous substance, It has no approved medical use, and its lethal dose is rather easily achieved.  Its role in causing automobile accidents is beyond dispute.  The manner in which alcohol; relieved people of their inhibitions contributes to human violence, personal injury, unplanned pregnancy, and the spread of sexual disease.  Alcohol is also well known to be addictive.  When consumed in large quantities over many years, it can lead to devastating neurological impairments, to cirrhosis of the liver, and to death.  In the United States alone, more than 100,000 people annually die from its use.  It is also more toxic to developing fetus than any other drug of abuse.  (Indeed, “crack babies” appear to have been really suffering from fetal-alcohol syndrome.) (reference)  None of these charges can be leveled at marijuana.  As a drug, marijuana is nearly unique in having several medical applications and no known lethal dosage.  While adverse reactions to drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen account for an estimated 7,600 deaths (and 76,000 hospitalizations) each year in the United States alone, marijuana kills no one. (drug war facts)  Its role as a “gateway drug” now seems less plausible than ever (and it was never plausible).  In fact, nearly everything human beings do – driving cars, flying planes, hitting golf balls – is more dangerous than smoking marijuana in the privacy of one’s own home.  Anyone who would seriously attempt to argue that marijuana is worthy of prohibition because of the risk it poses to human beings will find that the powers of the human brain are simply insufficient for the job.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 161

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

A Quote by sam harris on nazi, catholicism, churh, belief, faith, jews, jew, wwii, ww2, pope, and holocaust

[REGARDING CATHOLIC CHURCH OFFICIALLY ASSISTING NAZIS IN TRACKING AND COLLECTING JEWS]
Daniel Goldhagen

... Goldhagen also reminds us that not a single German Catholic was excommunicated before, during, or after the war, “after committing crimes as great as any in human history.”  This is really an extraordinary fact.  Throughout this period, the church continued to excommunicate theologians and scholars in droves for holding unorthodox views and to proscribe books by the hundreds, and yet not a single perpetrator of genocide – of whom there were countless examples – succeeded in furrowing Pope Pius XII’s censorious brow.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 103

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on muslim, abdullah, saudi arabia, belief, and faith

[Gives a recent example of Saudi Prince Abdullah trying to allow woman to drive and being forced to back down.]

            There is no doubt that out collusion with Muslim tyrants – in Iraq, Syria, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere – has been despicable.  We have done nothing to discourage the mistreatment and outright slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims by their own regimes – regimes that, in many cases, we helped bring to power.  Our failure to support the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in 1991, which we encouraged, surely ranks among the most unethical and consequential foreign policy blunders of recent decades.  But our culpability on this front must be bracketed by the understanding that were democracy to suddenly come to these countries, it would be little more than a gangplank to theocracy.  There does not seem to anything within the principles of Islam by which to resist the slide into sharia (Islamic law), while there is everything to encourage it.  This is a terrible truth that we have to face: the only thing that currently stands between us and the roiling oceans of Muslim unreason is a wall of tyranny and human rights abuses that we have helped to erect.  This situation must be remedied, but we cannot merely force Muslim dictators from power and open the polls.  It would be like opening the polls to the Christians of the fourteenth century.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 132

Contributed by: HeyOK

A Quote by sam harris on terrorism, paul berman, belief, and faith

[Paul Berman from a book on totalitarianism...]

What have we needed for these terrorists to prosper?  We have needed immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world.  We have needed an almost willful lack of curiosity about those failures by people in other parts of the world – the lack of curiosity that allowed us to suppose that totalitarianism had been defeated, even as totalitarianism was reaching a new zenith.  We have needed handsome doses of wishful thinking – the kind of simpleminded faith in a rational world that, in its inability to comprehend reality, sparked the totalitarian movements in the first place.... We have needed a provincial ignorance about intellectual currents in other parts of the world.  We have needed foolish resentments in Europe, and a foolish arrogance in America.  We have needed so many things!  But there has been no lack – every needed thing has been here in abundance.

sam harris

Source: The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Pages: 135

Contributed by: HeyOK

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