Monday, November 13, 2006

Sam Harris words of wisdom

Sam Harris was on an internet discussion recently. I picked his lines out. There's some good statements in here. My favorite:

"..what is so frightening about religion--it allows normal people to believe by the millions what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own."

I am, of course, not optimistic about converting many fundamentalists. But the truth is that fundamentalists do, occassionally, change their minds. I have heard from many of them. They have had their religious certainties eroded by rational argument. It is possible. So I keep making noise...With any luck my next book will be about the brain.

Yes, they do change their minds-- but it is frankly amazing how many reasonable people are not aware of this. I left of a scientific meeting where it was an article of absolute certainty for many people that you can never crack a person's faith through rational argument, evidence, etc.

A person, for instance, can lose his feeling of separation from the universe (this is possible)-- but is says nothing (or not very much) about the universe. It doesn't entitle you to make metaphysical claims about there only being the "one mind", for instance.

But it suggests to me that if we make any significant progress, we won't be talking about "atheism" anymore. We'll just demand that people be reasonable. Now, we don't talk about "feminism" very much, we just demand that people examine their gender biases.

Another obvious analogy would be the civil rights movement: does it still exist? I'm not sure, but we condemn racism wherever we find it (more or less). I think the dissolution of identity or the marque (atheist, feminist, etc.) is a good sign.

General comment on arguing (with anyone about anything) -- you almost never get the pleasure of seeing that you won the argument in real time. People just don't like to publicly change their minds. They change their minds in private.

Fundamentalist atheist -- I think this is just a play on words: Like "science is a religion", "atheism is a faith", etc.The question to ask is, can we be too intellectually honest? Too undogmatic? Too open to evidence and argument?

I like the idea of requiring schools to teach more religion. The bewildering multiplicity of beliefs provides its own argument against the likelihood of any one being right.

but I also think that in science class, ID has to be exposed as closet creationism, and creationism has to be exposed as ludicrous.

I think the weirdest stuff is the people who agree with my criticism of religion, point for point, only to then put forward their own totally insane beliefs -- alien superintelligence-channelled-knowledge, etc.

I think that the scariest thing is that most of them are just like us -- that is, not mentally ill, not especially stupid, not sociopaths, etc. That is what is so frightening about religion--it allows normal people to believe by the millions what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.

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