Monday, April 18, 2011

The Grand Perhaps

Most of us are probably familiar with the so-called "New Athiests," the club of popular writers and thinkers that function as anti-religion attack dogs, intent on giving atheism a backbone, using aggressive language whenever possible. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher Daniel Dennett, writer Christopher Hitchens, and neuroscientist Sam Harris are typically described as core members of the club.

Each member inevitably has had to carve out their own unique niche in order to sell books and gain popularity. Most focus on demolishing religion and explaining why God probably doesn't exist, in addition to being as cantankerous as possible. Although Richard Dawkins is by far the most accomplished and brilliant, Sam Harris is the most creative and interesting.

With training in both moral philosophy and neuroscience, Harris strings together a complex argument over three books about the role of scientific rigor in moral and ethical reasoning. His recent TED Talk nicely summarizes his conclusion:

Harris focuses on the moral and ethical fitness of religion, science, and public reasoning, rather than simply rehashing old arguments for why God probably doesn't exist. Additionally, he attempts to construct something new by sketching out a possible basis for a secular morality. Employing neuroscience in philosophical discourse is refreshing and potent, and Harris' message that moral and ethical domains should not be off-limits to scientists is spot-on. The current intellectual holding pattern of avoiding moral questions and respecting diversity at all costs must end: next time you're at a fancy dinner, perhaps be a little rude and speak your mind.


  1. Morality and ethics without any divine justice is shaky. Shaky shaky. It's all relativo bro.

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  3. I've found that Christopher Hitchens is easily my favorite. Any half-educated person has heard a variety of scientific arguments invalidating certain aspects of religion. Of course, these arguments are still necessary for understanding the underlying problems with religion, but as an atheist they simply preach to my choir, rather than adding to my life.

    Hitchens, however, seems to do for me what Harris does for you. He takes empiricism and applies it to the human condition, rather than fossils or black holes. Hearing a solid atheistic argument from a moralist like Hitchens builds a foundation for living life and creating a moral hierarchy with which to understand new stimuli. To me, his arguments not only destroy; they create. This is something I've never gotten from the Dawkins-es of the world.