Tom Caldwell

The End of Faith

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Go to the web site www.samharris.org and click on the "excerpts" anchor at the top and you can get the first 10 pages of his book, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason". His theme is that with modern technology and biological and chemical weapons now available, religion is too dangerous for man to continue holding as more than primitive irrationality. He advocates reason. I recommend reading the first 10 pages, which seem very good.

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Go to the web site www.samharris.org and click on the "excerpts" anchor at the top and you can get the first 10 pages of his book, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason".  His theme is that with modern technology and biological and chemical weapons now available, religion is too dangerous for man to continue holding as more than primitive irrationality.  He advocates reason.  I recommend reading the first 10 pages, which seem very good.

I have not read the book but I have read and commented on a transcript of his interview with Dennis Prager, the religious Conservative talk show host and columnist. Frankly, Harris's performance in that interview was mostly pathetic and weak.

See my comments beginning here.

See also blogger Gus Van Horn's comments on Sam Harris' book here, as well as his partial retraction here.

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I have not read the book but I have read and commented on a transcript of his interview with Dennis Prager, the religious Conservative talk show host and columnist. Frankly, Harris's performance in that interview was mostly pathetic and weak. 

See my comments beginning here

See also blogger Gus Van Horn's comments on Sam Harris' book here, as well as his partial retraction here.

Then stick with the first 10 pages and note that the book overall is a deceit, and the author apparently is just trying to switch forms of mysticism. Read the interviews to get a better view of what the whole book is about. I recommended only the first 10 pages, which the author apparently does not live up to. Tom

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Frankly, Harris's performance in that interview was mostly pathetic and weak.

Intellectual activism -- in good or bad people -- is a special interest for me. Do you mean his performance was weak in content (that is, dilute) or do you mean his speaking skills were poor?

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Go to the web site www.samharris.org [...]

The promotional introduction to the book, at the website, says, in part:

While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, Harris draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism in an attempt to provide a truly modern foundation for our ethics and our search for spiritual experience.

[bold added for emphasis.]

If Harris wrote this promotional paragraph about his own book, which is possible given that the website is his, then he is giving clues to philosophical detectives. First, note the assertion that he is building the foundation of ethics on "philosophy" (perhaps he means ontology and epistemology). That he separates ethics from philosophy raises a caution flag immediately. Why is ethics special here, and not part of philosophy? Is it because Harris believes that ethics needs a "special" source of insight that reason-based philosophy can't provide?

Second, another caution flag should go up when reading that he draws on a specialized science to provide a foundation for ethics, a reversal of the true roles of philosophy and science.

Third, a stop-the-race flag goes up when readers are told that Harris draws on "Eastern mysticism." As one form of intrinsicism, mysticism is a rejection of objectivity, which is the relationship between things in the world and ideas in the mind, ideas established through reason. Rejection of objectivity is rejection of reason.

The reference to "Eastern mysticism" also makes me wonder which brand he has in mind -- possibly Taoism, which has been pimped in some pseudo-Objectivist forums as being "compatible" with Objectivism?

In summary, I would say Mr. Sam Harris would be a delightful specimen for a determined philosophical-pathologist.

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The mission statement Gus Van Horn quoted seemed to indicate that it is a form of subjectivism; Burgess' quote indicates intrinsicism. Is this supposed to be a mixture of some kind?

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Intellectual activism -- in good or bad people -- is a special interest for me. Do you mean his performance was weak in content (that is, dilute) or do you mean his speaking skills were poor?

Weak in content. I thought he conceded too much to Mr. Prager. I didn't hear the original interview -- I only read the transcript, so I'm not sure how exactly he sounded. He did manage to make an occasional good statement but there seemed to be several times where he should have challenged Prager more and didn't and Harris's own inadequate views came out in a few places.

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Third, a stop-the-race flag goes up when readers are told that Harris draws on "Eastern mysticism." As one form of intrinsicism, mysticism is a rejection of objectivity, which is the relationship between things in the world and ideas in the mind, ideas established through reason. Rejection of objectivity is rejection of reason.

Definitely. That would be the point at which I'd stop reading. If he's trying to argue against one form of intrinsicism (presumably Western religion), he'd have no real basis for his argument if he turns around and accepts another form of intrinsicism.

The reference to "Eastern mysticism" also makes me wonder which brand he has in mind -- possibly Taoism, which has been pimped in some pseudo-Objectivist forums as being "compatible" with Objectivism?

Good grief! I thought I'd seen some strange misunderstandings of Objectivism, but trying to argue that Eastern mysticism is compatible with Objectivism has to take the prize for philosophical confusion.

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In the Q&A session after his talk on C-SPAN, several months ago, Harris mentioned his "spiritual odyssey": he said he had been a practicing Hindu (or Buddhist, I forget which) for 10 years (!)

He certainly has written some very eloquent pages attacking faith. But he's not a philosophical ally.

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Good grief!  I thought I'd seen some strange misunderstandings of Objectivism, but trying to argue that Eastern mysticism is compatible with Objectivism has to take the prize for philosophical confusion.

Perhaps 15 or so years ago, I attended two Objectivist conferences on the campus of the University of California, at La Jolla. At one of them, I met you, Jay. Also, at one of them was a man -- from England, I recall -- who argued that Ayn Rand was a prophet of God and that her philosophy was completely true. It is missing only the idea of God, he said.

My memory may be confused, I but I vaguely recall that this man -- who advocated a "Church of Ayn Rand" -- revealed himself by (rudely) speaking aloud during a lecture by John Ridpath, on religion.

I have a vivid memory of this man sitting alone in the courtyard outside the cafeteria during the following lunch break. He sat alone. No one would talk to him.

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Good grief!  I thought I'd seen some strange misunderstandings of Objectivism, but trying to argue that Eastern mysticism is compatible with Objectivism has to take the prize for philosophical confusion.

Perhaps 15 or so years ago, I attended two Objectivist conferences on the campus of the University of California, at La Jolla. At one of them, I met you, Jay. Also, at one of them was a man -- from England, I recall -- who argued that Ayn Rand was a prophet of God and that her philosophy was completely true. It is missing only the idea of God, he said.

Over the years I have seen many strange characters who have attempted to mold Objectivism to fit their own bizarre views. One of my favorites was a Wiccan who literally believed in magic, and somehow thought he had integrated this with Objectivism.

(Stephen at OCON, where I have yet to meet a Wiccan all week. :D )

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:D

Perhaps 15 or so years ago, I attended two Objectivist conferences on the campus of the University of California, at La Jolla. At one of them, I met you, Jay. Also, at one of them was a man -- from England, I recall -- who argued that Ayn Rand was a prophet of God and that her philosophy was completely true. It is missing only the idea of God, he said.

My memory may be confused, I but I vaguely recall that this man -- who advocated a "Church of Ayn Rand" -- revealed himself by (rudely) speaking aloud during a lecture by John Ridpath, on religion.

I have a vivid memory of this man sitting alone in the courtyard outside the cafeteria during the following lunch break. He sat alone. No one would talk to him.

I remember him - he stayed in the room adjacent to me :D It worried me a bit because the doors didn't have independent locks.

As somebody (you can identify yourself if you want :D ) noted privately to me some time ago, to paraphase: David Kelley actually did Objectivism a service, by providing a home for such nutz, so they can leave the rest of us alone.

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Perhaps 15 or so years ago, I attended two Objectivist conferences on the campus of the University of California, at La Jolla. At one of them, I met you, Jay. Also, at one of them was a man -- from England, I recall -- who argued that Ayn Rand was a prophet of God and that her philosophy was completely true. It is missing only the idea of God, he said.

My memory may be confused, I but I vaguely recall that this man -- who advocated a "Church of Ayn Rand" -- revealed himself by (rudely) speaking aloud during a lecture by John Ridpath, on religion.

Yes, you're right; I'd forgotten about him. But now I remember. That was Ridpath's lecture on religion at the 1989 TJS. (Interestingly, when the "Church" guy made his remark, I didn't realize it was a conference attendee speaking; I immediately thought that an outsider had somehow gotten in to the lecture. So I hadn't at first realized he was somebody trying to integrate Objectivism and religion.)

So, I'll have to take back my remark about the Eastern mysticism example being the strangest I've heard of. I'm not sure which is more ill-founded: attemping to combine Objectivism with Eastern religion, or with a Christian-like god.

....

That lecture of Ridpath's was quite a good one too. His general topic was religion, Eastern and Western, and he ended up addressing the question of which of them is more harmful. His answer was quite insightful. (All of which motivates me to go find my lecture notes and re-read them.)

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That lecture of Ridpath's was quite a good one too.  His general topic was religion, Eastern and Western, and he ended up addressing the question of which of them is more harmful.  His answer was quite insightful.  (All of which motivates me to go find my lecture notes and re-read them.)

The lecture is still available through The Ayn Rand Bookstore, I recall. I do recommend it as an overview. If you find your notes, perhaps you will find his definition of religion, if he gave a formal one.

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David Kelley actually did Objectivism a service, by providing a home for such nutz, so they can leave the rest of us alone.

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-objectivism, some neo-Objectivists

embrace Buddhism, Paganism and other forms of mysticism. Neo-Objectivists

replace rational self-interest with Buddhism's enlightened self-interest.

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The lecture is still available through The Ayn Rand Bookstore, I recall. I do recommend it as an overview. If you find your notes, perhaps you will find his definition of religion, if he gave a formal one.

I did find my notes, which contain the definition he gave of religion. I posted this in the thread that's about "defining religion", in the metaphysics/epistemology section - that seemed to be the best place for it.

[if I'm successful here, there should be a snapback over on the right that will take you to the aforementioned post. :D ]

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That lecture of Ridpath's was quite a good one too.  His general topic was religion, Eastern and Western, and he ended up addressing the question of which of them is more harmful. 

He said Eastern religion was more harmful and like an intellectual lobotomy because it was

not a focus onto a definite God but a lack of focus relative to a cosmic flux.

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Out of the blue, a colleague suggested this book to me positively. I asked about it and discovered that my colleague found the argument for rational mysticism incomprehensible. Then I found that Amazon had a small interview with Sam Harris that featured a really disgusting quote from him:

"Spirituality" or "mysticism" (both words are pretty terrible, but there are no good alternatives in English) refers to any process of introspection by which a person can come to realize that the feeling he calls "I" is a cognitive illusion. The core truth of mysticism is this: It is possible to experience the world without feeling like a separate "self" in the usual sense. "

Thus he argues that the self is an illusion. That's about as wicked a view as I can imagine.

If spirituality means introspecting until one discovers that there is no "I" to do introspection, then I wonder why he doesn't just get really spiritual and kill himself now and start fertilizing the oneness of the universe.

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Out of the blue, a colleague suggested this book to me positively. I asked about it and discovered that my colleague found the argument for rational mysticism incomprehensible. Then I found that Amazon had a small interview with Sam Harris that featured a really disgusting quote from him:

"Spirituality" or "mysticism" (both words are pretty terrible, but there are no good alternatives in English) refers to any process of introspection by which a person can come to realize that the feeling he calls "I" is a cognitive illusion. The core truth of mysticism is this: It is possible to experience the world without feeling like a separate "self" in the usual sense. "

Thus he argues that the self is an illusion. That's about as wicked a view as I can imagine.

If spirituality means introspecting until one discovers that there is no "I" to do introspection, then I wonder why he doesn't just get really spiritual and kill himself now and start fertilizing the oneness of the universe.

I read "end of faith" a few years ago, but remember liking it for the most part. The first 90% I found to be a well reasoned attack on religion. In the last chapter he brought up "eastern mysticism" as an antidote but I don't remember him advocating it as a form of mysticism, exactly. If I remember correctly, he was more interested in the psychological benefits of meditation and so forth.

I am not familiar with any of his more recent writings or speeches. It is possible that he held or now holds supernatural beliefs, but I don't remember getting that from that book.

So I recommend it.

Best Regards,

Gordon

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