Sam Harris on his new book, The Moral Landscape

Sam is continuing his book tour, and as is typical with this kind of affair, he’s drawn a of number criticisms for his strong stance against religious beliefs. While his critics lament the fact that he is so antithetical to religious beliefs, they never seem to be able to prove him wrong. Instead, he’s portrayed as just another kind of fundamentalist by the mainstream media. The latest “article written like they are trying to be objective” comes from the New Statesmen, and it’s as annoying to read as you might imagine:

Yet there are many eminent scientists who also happen to be religious believers – John Polkinghorne, for instance, the mathematical physicist and Anglican priest who won the Templeton Prize in 2002, or Francis Collins, formerly director of the National Centre for Human Genome Research in the United States, who was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health by President Obama in 2009. Why, if atheism is the world-view that best accords with the scientific evidence, do so many intelligent people persist in faith?

Are you getting a little tired of apologists and their constant use of Francis Collins as proof that religious people can also make contributions to science? The man is a fucking nut-job as far as I’m concerned. He really believes the dead will rise again and Jesus is coming back to kick butt any day now. That’s what I consider a pretty dumb belief, no matter how smart the person who believes it.

Sure, no one ever denied being a scientist and being religious was possible, but everyone is acutely aware none of Collin’s beliefs about the supernatural has any business in his professional life. Why does no one think this is unusual? Can you name me a commonly held belief that’s as incompatible with science as religion?

Anyone who claims religion and science are compatible is either 1)knowingly lying [possibly to win the lucrative Templeton Prize], 2) has a religion that makes absolutely no claim about the world, or 3) totally compartmentalizes their belief structure so science doesn’t erode their stupid beliefs. I feel, as Harris does, that any attempt to reconcile the two is a fundamental failure of intellectual honesty. Yet we keep having the same discussion over and over again, and when we do, we’re accused of being “intolerant”. Yeah, it’s true we aren’t tolerating ignorance, but it certainly doesn’t mean we’re as divisive, violent and abusive as religion. You don’t see a lot of people flipping out and having a crazy riot because someone burned The Origin of Species, do you?

Comments (1)

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    I just find it hard to see how anyone with a scientific frame of mind can believe in a second coming of jesus.

    I’m fine with people having some degree of spirituality. There are things that are (currently at any rate) beyond scientific explanation, and the belief that there is something more than what we currently understand in the universe is a way of dealing with that.

    But believing in one of the specific belief systems just goes against the frame of mind of a scientist. The default position of science is “we don’t know” until something can be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
    Surely that frame of mind is incompatible with a structured faith that just asks you to believe what you are told because it is what you are told.

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