Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sam Harris and Morality

Sam Harris was on 89.3 KPCC today promoting his new book, The Moral Landscape. He tries to argue that science can define morality based on assessing the effect of an action on the well-being and ability to flourish of humans and animals. He argues that we don't need God to tell right from wrong. He's been pushing the book like crazy. Sam Harris hasn't posted on his web page for ages and all of a sudden, BAM! Four posts in one day!

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Of course, I agree that we don't need a god or religion to tell right from wrong. Some would argue that I have a moral compass because my mother is religious and I was raised in a religious household. However, I do not believe in God now and follow no religion. The Bible is DEFINITELY not the basis of my morality. I definitely don't believe in slavery or the subjugation of women or, you know, I DON'T believe the Bible or any other Holy Book is a good basis of morality. Certainly, there are people who do great harm and incredibly immoral things in the name of religion. So where's their moral compass? Clearly, the God Compass isn't working right in them!!

I follow a philosophy of "Do Least Harm." I try not to bring hurt or pain to others, and try to limit the hurt and pain I place upon our environment. I don't eat animals, I recycle... this is a part of my morality. I don't think that using fear of god or the threat of hell or the reward of heaven is a good basis of morality. This promotes IMMORAL behavior, I think... If you think you can be an asshole all of the time, but at the last minute go to confession or "find" Jesus, that's not very moral. So, you kill a person? No big deal! Repent, and all is forgiven! BULLSHIT. The victim's family will not forget and there will be plenty of people who won't forgive.

Occasionally, I'll consider doing something "immoral"... like, taking the $10 left in the self check-out machine. But, *sigh* I would want someone to turn it in if I forgot it, so I hand it over to the supervising cashier. Maybe he pocketed it, but that's on him. I'm an extremely honest person because I am extremely empathetic. How would I feel if I were in their place? I found another server's book, forgotten, left lying around and filled with money. Guess what? I returned it. Even though I didn't care for that person. I would hate it if that happened to me. Sometimes my morality is based on guilt, but not on God's... it's based on my mother. Sometimes her voice just pops up in my head.

The Sam Harris interview was interesting, but I don't know (based on this interview) that he made a strong argument for science as a basis for morality. I doubt that religious people who listened to it were particularly convinced. When the subject of promiscuity was brought up, I thought that I could have added more to the conversation.

Sam Harris argued that pair bonding and stable relationships are most fulfilling and conducive to well-being for most people, therefore there is an argument in its favor based on scientific studies. I would also argue that promiscuity puts one at a higher risk for STDs and emotional stress, therefore it isn't the best choice to make. I know that I would use these facts when discussing sexuality with my own children. But I also don't think that remaining a virgin until your wedding day is a moral/immoral choice. I think it's an unwise choice. Relationships last longer and are more successful if the partners involved are well matched sexually, so it makes sense to "test drive" (so to speak) before making long term commitments. And hey, six years of monogamy has worked for us and *GASP* we're atheists!

1 comment:

  1. There is actually a scientific argument to be made for our belief in God. Its inn a book I just heard about and frankly forgot thwe title of but it posits that religion or at least a belief in the supernatural helped us bond as a species and. Yes impose moral law on those without. But like all things we need to drop the religion now that we have a better answer.

    I think morality is biological because those who have that impulse live longer and therefore pass it on.

    As far a religious texts are concerned, it behooves us not to throw the baby out with the bath water, I agree stonig dispbedient children is uncooth tpo say the least but the moral/political lessons of Jesus (and other profits that weren't referenced directly) served as the basis for some of the great social reformers of our time or any other. Like any tool it's effectiveness and virtue are determinded by the user, not the tool.


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