Welcome to the fold all of you that are morally abject and positively dreadful individuals who even dared to question their beliefs! I, like many Americans, was raised in a Christian fundamentalist environment and truly was a sincere and genuine proselytizing believer for no less than 20 years. Yep, I believed in Adam & Eve, Noah's Ark—the whole shebang—a true to life literalist spirit. I will not spend much time forwarding a personal testimony of brain recovery at present, as I intend to do so at a later time. I will only say that based on the 6 hour and 42 minute phone convo with my sister (thats gotta be a record) and the 2 hour phone rant with my dad in the last few months, I have incurred a penchant to share with some people that may be feeling the way I do about their recent introduction to reality.
Enter Sam Harris. He has, along with the other three horsemen (Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett) et al., changed my view of the universe in a way, to put it mildly, that was exceedingly necessary and profoundly enriching. I have pored over all five of his books and will proceed to give a short summary of each; some personal comments and a few links to the enthralling dialectics, discourses and debates from the most wonderful gift to the thinking man—YouTube.
THE END OF FAITH - 2004
He says he started writing it on September 12, 2001. It's easy to see why. Sam Harris was born in 1967 and raised in LA to a Jewish mother and Quaker father. It's unclear wether or not this had much impact on his upbringing—I mean to say—I don't think he was raised all that religious. Nevertheless, he was very interested in religion, experimented with psychotropic drugs and spent two years on meditation retreats while traveling to Nepal and the surrounding area. He received a B.A. at Stanford University for Philosophy and a Ph.D in Neuroscience at the University of California.
The End of Faith is a polemic of sorts intended to raise significant doubts about the value of faith in general across the three great monotheisms and in fact all dogmatic ideologies which contain any element of supernatural belief, which, is by definition nearly all world religions. The fight is against dogma or rather incontrovertibly true beliefs systems that leave no room for criticism. Harris makes a great case as does Hitchens and Dawkins that faith is in no way a virtue, which again, is by definition something that is to be believed without evidence. So essentially you have billions of people around the world that take the word of those in power like bishops, reverends, swamis and imams and do little to challenge their own thoughts on what they intrinsically believe because they trust, on faith, the information passed down from on high with convincing deceptive appeal. And, maybe most importantly, because of childhood parental inculcation and the inescapable surrounding neighborhood holy bubbles. Certainly, one of the most convincing evidences for me when I believed in this nonsensical religion business, was that so many people around the world believed the same thing as I did or close to it—so how could it be wrong?
A few last thoughts—his chapter on belief is mind-blowing and well thought out. Sam has caught some slack for his last chapter which conveys an open mind toward some Buddhist practices but if you read his blog post on this issue and watch him speak on the subject, it's clearly (by far his favorite word) evident that he is genuinely open minded and yearns for scientific discourse on a interesting topic that has data yet to be studied.
Please read! The difficulty level is medium but well worth the time.
The Buddha Article
A fantastic video describing his thoughts on the word atheism and why he wrote the last chapter. Be sure and watch the Q&A.
A talk he gave in a Jewish synagogue after writing
Sam's exciting and often tendentious blog
LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN NATION - 2008
A followup to The End of Faith and truly a masterwork. You can read this in 2 - 3 hours and will come out a different person. Anyone, especially a Christain, Protestant or Catholic alike, will find his concise and strident arguments hard to reconcile on even their best days. He will alter your mind with plain ole reason and logic. This is the book I would recommend to anyone doubting their faith because it's quick and easy to read as well as being so flippin sensible and intelligent. Honestly, there is not much more I can say on this one. Just read it.
Sam's great Notre Dame debate with hyper-irritaing, but one of the best they got, Christian apologists, William Lane Craig
A brilliant discussion on the great question—Is there an afterlife?
THE MORAL LANDSCAPE - 2010
There is no stopping this man. With The Moral Landscape, he breaches the next ultra sensitive topic, that of morality, with intellectual liberals and religious faiths. Harris postulates that objective ethical values can be derived through conscientious efforts via secular and scientific society to clarify our already innate morality. He calls this ideal, the moral landscape, which contain peaks and valleys and multiple ways of achieving the good life. He graphs this continuum with two points, well-being or the best possible state for everyone and at the other end being the worst possible misery for everyone. I don't think it gets much simpler. We all may subjectively disagree on aspects of what is good for everyone but most people can agree that something like the intent to kill is bad and therefore objectively wrong. He analogizes well-being with words like health. It's actually pretty hard to define this word. We know it better by what is not . If you are not sick, not dying and not writhing in pain all day, this is one step closer to understanding objective health. Same be true for well-being—If you feel love and happiness and are not hungry and not constantly raped every day, there is a pretty good chance you may be closer to an ideal form of well-being than others. I think on this we can all most objectively agree; that is his main point and furthermore he thinks we can use data to determine values using the greatest system of checks and balances known to man—SCIENCE.
There can be obvious real world problems like invading North Korea, (which may be a good thing) with extreme collateral damage, (a bad thing) and so we may have to sometimes go down a valley before a peak becomes a possibility. But no argument I have yet seen raised in opposition seems to renege this wonderful secular dynamic of candidly humane people getting together to solve morality issues without the time wasting, cloying retardations of ancient religious value preachments. Whats more is that nearly 90 years ago now, Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician and philosopher, was writing and promulgating the same concepts in Why I Am Not A Christian. He called well-being the good life and that we can and should be able to determine values through science. Many still want to keep morality out of the purview of science because it's seems to imply materialism and that we are just reductionistic, deterministic automata. I think, like Sam, it's time to stop over philosophizing and get down to brass tax. Let's not pretend it's going to be easy but lets stop pretending that we can receive any assistance from a celestial dictator.
A phenomenal articulation of morality given at Oxford University about morality
Possibly an even better oration in New York after writting
An in depth view of morality
Supreme intellect—a wonderful debate
LYING - 2011
In 2011 Sam wrote an essay/short treatise on lying. You can only get this on Amazon but even though it's only about 30 pages it's well worth the two dollars. It's because of reading books like this that I am so enthused about being apart of this new movement of reason. Sam gives a terse and clear account of his thoughts about lying. Don't do it! He gives many reasons and clarifications for why he believes this way and how even simple scenarios, like when your girlfriend or wife asks you, "do I look fat in this dress" are more complicated than they may seem and when lying almost always make things worse. This may be very obvious to you but why not take an hour to learn a little more about what you think is so apparent and be rewarded further for expansion of your grey matter.
Sam is rather brilliant and these two links will show you why
FREEWILL - 2012
We are now up to date with his latest controversy, Freewill. You can read this short book in an hour or two or thereabouts. Sam is a neuroscientist and a philosopher—he thinks alot. These thoughts, he claims, come not from the I inside our heads but arise naturally due to the processes and functions of our enlarged organ—the brain. He gives, once again, clear thoughts as to why he believes, due to the latest findings in neuroimaging, that freewill is an illusion and that in fact the illusion of free will is an illusion. He provides a few simple thought experiments to show why this is so and provides facts from research that clearly indicate this. What does it mean to have no free will? He says compassion and empathy will be more universal and understandable if one comes to terms with this truth. You did not make yourself. You don't control your heartbeat anymore than you control the thoughts that pop into your head from second to second. Anyone who meditates can appreciate this fact. He also talks about Dan Dennett's philosophy of consciousness and how it differs slightly from his own view. It's a non intuitive prospect to accept that you do not control your own mind and raises some really profound questions about what that can mean. I'm happy to say that this is not a problem for me because, honestly, you just have to distinguish understanding how the body functions, and works as best as possible and how you still are going to act and react in the everyday world. This again does not reduce us to mere robots. I am now just able to use this information weighted against other evidence to lead a more profound and well informed life to better help those around me.
His discourse on freewill
Dan Dennett's talk on freewill
In conclusion, I can say that Sam Harris has changed my life for the better. He also has introduced me to numerous other great thinkers. I've only felt comfortable calling myself an atheist or antitheist for about six months now and am finally ready to start sharing my thoughts, primarily, in the advocation of science, logic and reason as arbiters of truth and the firm basis of living a good, worthy life full of purpose and fascination. I have a long way to go to recover from my childhood indoctrination but I feel so much happier that the ironic burden of Jesus Christ has been lifted—I can finally see clearly for the first time. I honestly feel like a new human being soaking up all the great wonders of the world. Sam Harris has helped to facilitate this. I am now a humanist who despises dogma, hates faith, embraces intrinsic morality, detests lying and concedes that I have no free will. Goddamn. I owe alot to this guy.
I also wish to thank Andrew Steadman for being the first apostate to stand up and challenge why I believe what I believe. I am forever in your debt.
I am currently going through all of Richard Dawkins and will produce a similar article, only this time it will mainly focus on how my life has been supremely enriched by his view of life and his strive for clarity of thought.
My Youtube Channel with over 130 videos of great debates and conversations
Books I have completed in the last six months: whew
The Selfish Gene - Dawkins
The Extended Phenotype - Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker - Dawkins
Unweaving The Rainbow - Dawkins
The God Delusion - Dawkins
The Greatest Show On Earth - Dawkins
The Magic Of Reality - Dawkins
Why Evolution Is True - Coyne
On The Origin Of Species - Darwin
Transcend - Kurzweil
The Singularity Is Near - Kurzweil
Freewill - Harris
Lying - Harris
The End Of Faith - Harris
Letter To A Christain Nation - Harris
The Moral Landscape - Harris
Tractatus Logico Philosophicus - Wittgenstein
Breaking The Spell - Dennett
The Portable Atheist - various
God Is Not Great - Hitchens
Why I Am Not A Christian - Russell
God: The Failed Hypothesis- Stenger
Varieties Of Religious Experience - James
The Philosophers Handbook - various
General and Special Relativity - Einstein
The Elegant Universe - Greene
Six Easy Pieces - Fenyman
A Universe From Nothing - Krauss
A Brief History of Time - Hawking
A Briefer History Of Time - Hawking
Cosmos - Sagan
The Demon Haunted World - Sagan
Candide - Voltaire
What Im currently reading: just the tip of the iceberg...
The Fabric Of Reality - Greene
The Prince - Machiavelli
The Myth Of Sisyphus - Camus
A Clockwork Orange - Burgess
Postman - Bukowski
A Brave New World - Huxley
Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Nietzsche
The Ancestor's Tale - Dawkins
The Best Of Science Writing - Dawkins
A Short History Of Nearly Everything - Bryson
How The Mind Works - Pinker
etc etc etc