Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Sam Harris's Guide to Nearly Everything | The National Interest

Review: Sam Harris's Guide to Nearly Everything | The National Interest

FOR SAM Harris morality is “an un-developed branch of science” that is all about separating lies from truth. Evil stems from lies, willfully blind to facts and reason. Good comes from rational, evidence-based standards for debunking lies and evaluating truths about the human condition. In this worldview, “Only a rational understanding of human well-being will allow billions of us to coexist peacefully, converging on the same social, political, economic, and environmental goals.”

Over the last few centuries, many scientists and scientifically minded thinkers have expressed the hope that science might lead to a more peaceful, prosperous and happier world. In The Impact of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell wrote:

There are certain things that our age needs, and certain things that it should avoid. It needs compassion and a wish that mankind should be happy; it needs the desire for knowledge and the determination to eschew pleasant myths; it needs, above all, courageous hope and the impulse to creativeness.

Science, Russell argued, could help determine what is needed for happiness and what should be avoided. Religion, especially Christianity, should be shunned for the great harm it has done humankind and because it “encourages stupidity.”

Harris believes that recent advances in understanding the human brain now more reliably point the way to a “science of human flourishing,” that is, “a global civilization based on shared values” where religion and other forms of false and irrational beliefs that are responsible for cruelty and injustice in the world are banished forever.

For the method of good science is doubt; the religion of the sanctimonious is certainty. Yet for Harris, “the primacy of neuroscience and the other sciences of mind on questions of human experience cannot be denied.”

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