By Mac Deaver
In an effort to ground morality in science, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, wrote a book published in 2010 entitled The Moral Landscape with the accompanying cover description: “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” Also on the front cover, Sam Harris is touted as “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Sam Harris is not shy about either attacking religion or about extending the traditional role of science. Having plodded through the book, in keeping with the way that Sam explains his nature and condition as well as that of the rest of the human species, I can now say that Sam is a bold brain, but I can’t say anything else if I remain within the confines of Sam’s own description of himself and the rest of us. If you have read the book or if you follow along in this paper, you should soon see what I mean.
Sam Harris attempts to build a case for ethics based completely on the physical nature of man as an evolved species on this earth. Without evolution as theoretical background and the all encompassing presupposition as the explanation for the existence of mankind, Sam’s argumentation for scientific ethics has nothing to offer, but with it, he thinks that he can argue rationally for an ethical approach to life based simply on a greater understanding of the human brain and its relationship to events in the world. But can he?
Interestingly, a reader does not get far into the text before he realizes that Harris tries, in one sense, to “distance” himself from evolution. He writes, “As with mathematics, science, art, and almost everything else that interests us, our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution” (14). But just what in the world does that mean? How have we humans “flown the perch” that evolution built? Sam doesn’t tell us. But given the fact that he says such a thing impresses me that there is something incongruent about the concept of evolution and the concept of meaning and morality that Sam Harris recognizes. And it is a problem for him throughout his effort to base morality on physicality. Look at the situation like this. When Sam says that we humans have “flown the perch built by evolution” I submit to the reader that since he surely is trying to say something meaningful, that he is either saying:
- (1) Evolution is false, so we need to distance mankind from it in making the case for evolutionary ethics; or
- (2) Evolution is irrelevant to the discussion of evolutionary ethics; or
- (3) Evolution is inadequate as a justification of any evolutionary ethical theory.
I know he not claiming (1) evolution is false, because to the end of the book he stays attached to the claim of its scientific accuracy. I know he is not claiming (2) evolution is irrelevant because throughout the book he constantly employs the concept to bolster his thesis. I conclude that he is conceding, without intending to, that there is something awfully incoherent about conceptually connecting the concept of morality to mere apes. And if the reader thinks that I am being too hard on Sam for referring to people as “apes,” simply read the book and see how many times he uses the word or some synonym or similar expression to describe the human family. His is simply another sad effort at building a case with a missing link. Somehow and in some way (isn’t it strange), Sam thinks that human concern with meaning and morality go beyond the purview of evolution (the expression “flown the perch” has to have some application), and yet throughout the book he writes as though there is perfect harmony between the concept of organic evolution including the evolving of apes to men and the concept of human morality.
Harris chides fellow scientists for claiming that science has nothing to say about morality, and he claims that he has found the explanation as to why science can say something about it after all. It is his contention that facts cannot be separated from value. We all know that scientific work is in the field of empirical discovery. Science attempts to tell us about facts. But, Harris claims, that values are attached to facts, so that if science can tell us what the facts are, it can tell us something about what the values are. And if we know the correct values regarding facts, we can more adequately choose correctly in making our moral decisions.
Of course, Harris’ thesis is that since we cannot separate facts from value and since science is in the business of discovering and reporting the facts, that science then is equally in the business of being able to tell us what the value of the facts are. But, it must not go unsaid, that Harris’ whole case is based on his unproven and unprovable notion that all “facts” are physical ones. This is necessary to the proving of his thesis, but he never does, and he never can prove that only empirically derivable conclusions reached in a scientific laboratory qualify as “facts.” This is what he assumes but cannot prove, and in his book he never seriously tries to do so. He simply writes his book while granting that most Americans still do not believe the theory of evolution, as if they should. He never attempts to prove the theory at all, but takes it as a scientifically established fact. But, here Harris is very wrong. The fact is, that evolution as an explanation for the arrival of the human species has never been proven. Furthermore, given the nature of science and the nature of origins (including the origin of man), such a discussion of the origin of man and the morality of man is outside the scope of science anyway.
On the first night of the four night public debate in 1976 between Thomas B. Warren (theist) and Antony G. N. Flew (at the time a world renowned atheist, but who later disavowed atheism), Warren gave Flew the following True-False question:
- T/F Value did not exist before the first human being.
Flew answered the question “True” and wrote on the paper that value was a function of the human mind (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 15 and APPENDIX). In his first speech on Monday, Warren pointed out that Flew’s answer to the question meant that since Flew was claiming that value did not exist before the first human did, then value itself was simply a function of the human mind. And that meant that the concept of “value” then is reduced to the subjective likes and dislikes of a person. Warren likened it to “liking or not liking spinach” (Warren-Flew, p. 15). This means that according to Flew’s answer, he was unfortunately taking the position that when men approve of something or disapprove of something, that in saying it is “right” or “wrong” they are simply expressing their likes and dislikes. In Philosophy, that view is described as “the emotive theory” of ethics.
Of course, since Sam Harris is here either by creation or evolution, and since he asserts that he (as well as the rest of us) is here via evolution, he has no basis upon which to dignify the concept of “value” or “morality” that gives it the objective meaning or status that he wants it so desperately in his book to entail. He wants so badly to argue for some kind of “objective” ethics based on some things that humans have in common which tend toward general human well-being. But all of his argumentation amounts to nothing when one considers that “value” is simply an invention of the human mind per evolutionary theory. And that means that “morality” is a merely human invention, too. So regardless what Sam Harris’ thesis is as to how to go about establishing a good evolutionary ethic, it all amounts to the fact that Sam Harris is simply providing us via his book with his own personal wish for the world as he would like it to be. But that is as high a standing in “value” as his thesis can acquire. It represents Sam’s effort at getting his way because the world as he envisions it is the world he wants. It is made up of things he likes. And it is true that a lot of what he likes, others like, too. But that is no basis of morality. And Harris even admits that a view is not established as true by its numerical support. Hear him:
“Does a lone psychotic become sane merely by attracting a crowd of devotees? If we are measuring sanity in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, then atheists and agnostics in the United States must be delusional: a diagnosis which would impugn 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences” (Landscape, 157, 158).
So, while on the one hand Harris recognizes that any particular viewpoint is not established as actually true simply by counting the number of people who support it, yet on the other hand he does argue for a theory of ethics which is based on the overall well-being of or happiness of “the greatest number of people” (Landscape, 28 ). So, regarding ethical theory, numbers do count after all! This is just one of many incoherencies in the development of his thesis.
Thus, basing ethics on the well-being of the greatest number, Harris is ethically a “utilitarian.” Regarding the question of God’s existence, he is an atheist. In fact, he is an atheistic neuroscientist whose view is that science and religion are antagonistic (158-176). They cannot be reconciled. Regarding politics, he says he is a liberal (90), and concerning his origin and nature, he is a self proclaimed ape (2, 114). I am not making this up! He does have a doctoral degree, however, but how impressive should that be among apes? So, the book is the product of an atheistic ape who is attempting to tell the rest of us apes how science, a discipline invented by apes, can help apes live happier lives. Are you following this?
Now, let us get back to the massive wall over which Harris attempts to climb in his effort to establish a science of morality. He does not accept the conclusion of the famous Scottish skeptic, David Hume, who pointed out many years ago that no one can get “ought” from “is.” And to attempt to do so is to commit what has come to be called the “naturalistic fallacy.” Harris thinks that Hume was simply wrong (38). He contends that there is a way for science (which describes to us what our world is) to tell us something of how we ought to act in it. But, we respond, it is just not possible!
Several years before he met Warren in public debate, the then atheist Antony G. N. Flew wrote a little book entitled Evolutionary Ethics. It was published in 1967, and he debated Warren in 1976. In his book, Flew affirmed that one simply could not get from “is” to “ought” in an evolutionary world. He sided with Hume. Flew quoted from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature:
“In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with I have always remarked that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought or ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence….” (Evolutionary, 38).
According to Flew, Hume took the position that “value” was a projection of the human mind onto the things that are being valued. Rather than value existing in the thing itself, value was the position or status granted it by the mind. Mind gave value to the thing rather than the thing’s having a value that presented itself to the mind. This, of course, meant that “value” was not objective. Value was not a characteristic of the thing but rather a propulsion of the mind onto the thing. Mind created value. Flew described Hume’s view as being,
“that values are not any sort of property of things in themselves, but that they are in some way a projection out on to the things around us of human needs and human desires. (One resulting problem, more obvious perhaps to us than to Hume, is that of explaining how values can be in some such fundamental way dependent on, and some sort of function of, human needs and human desires, without its thereby becoming the case that some purely descriptive statements about what people do want or would want must entail consequences about what ought to be” (Evolutionary, 39).
And let it be noted that between 1967 and 1976, Flew had not found the answer to that problem! He recognized a great philosophical difficulty for evolutionary theory and ethics. And he never reconciled the two. He saw the problem; he had no answer.
In his third affirmative speech on Monday night of his debate with Warren, Flew said with regard to value: “I can not give a complete account of the nature of value and particularly of moral value, which I regard as even halfway satisfactory…The general line I want to take, as I think all humanists do, is that value is somehow—somehow—a function of human desires, human wishes, and so on…” (Warren-Flew, 43).
Flew went on to suggest that moral value was somewhat like the market value of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle, and he maintained the likeness throughout the discussion (43, 184, 201). Flew maintained this likeness because he thought it illustrated to him how that moral value (1) was on the one hand a product of human desire—someone’s interest in buying a Volkswagen, and yet (2) on the other hand, the price was not determined simply by any one person’s desire. A man couldn’t buy a 1974 Volkswagen for a price that his desire set or determined. The market price decided what the man must pay.
But in is fourth affirmative on Thursday night, Warren responded:
“But I have a question for Dr. Flew along that line: if the Volkswagen is worth $500.00 at one place and $1,000.00 at another place, how is the actual or real value of the car to be decided? Or, does it have any real value? Now, if your illustration is worth anything at all, it will have to have some real value, or else you will have to say that no human being has any real value, and you will have joined the Nazis in a thorough-going way to say that the Jewish people did not have any real value (only a market value that might fluctuate up and down and therefore would be worth nothing under the regime of the Nazis). Dr. Flew, you ought to think those illustrations through before you give them” (Warren-Flew, 186, 187).
Flew responded in his fourth negative that night, “I hope that I did not confuse people about this. Of course I do not think that moral value is in all respects like market value. One terribly important dissimilarity is precisely that market value does vary very freely with a place and time” (Warren-Flew, 201). Flew simply reiterated his point that at least the illustration presented a situation in which value was the product of human desire and yet one man’s desire did not determine what the value of the car would be. However, he was stuck with an illustration that, if like moral value, allowed for a relativistic view of ethics.
The sad thing is that Sam Harris concedes the whole point that, granted evolutionary theory as the accurate explanation for the arrival of the human species, we are stuck with evolutionary value. That is, we are in a situation such that moral values can change! So, on the one hand Harris says that “morality can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creations” (Landscape, 64); on the other hand he grants that what makes conscious creatures happy will not necessarily remain the same (84). And, of course, he has no way of countering Flew’s contention that science alone cannot tell us that what humans do, in fact, currently desire is what they ought to desire.
So, it is clear that, given evolution, there can be no such thing as “objective” ethics or, to put it another way, there can be no such thing as an act that is intrinsically good (that is, good in and of itself) or an act that is intrinsically evil. And yet Harris, while admitting this, continues to attempt to establish an evolutionary ethic. In fact, Harris concedes that, given evolutionary theory, it is possible that the science of morality may eventuate into perhaps a contradictory kind of morality so that what is now seen as good could be later viewed otherwise. Listen to Harris:
“But what if advances in neuroscience eventually allow us to change the way every brain responds to morally relevant experiences? What if we could program the entire species to hate fairness, to admire cheating, to love cruelty, to despise compassion, etc. Would this be morally good? Again, the devil is in the details. Is this really a world of equivalent and genuine well- being, where the concept of ‘well-being’ is susceptible to ongoing examination and refinements as it is in our world? If so, so be it. What could be more important than genuine well-being?” (Landscape, 84).
Wow! Per Harris, if it turns out that current good is eventual evil and that current evil is eventual good, so be it! Of course, whether current or eventual, his ethical utilitarian theory is that if most people gain happiness by an act, that act is “good.” So, even now (much less later), if a majority of people would gain overall well-being and happiness from an act that gets rid of the minority, such would be good! Flew had no way of overcoming this objection to his concept of ethics; Harris has no answer either. Harris says that if the brain can be changed to look at ethics differently, that is the way that it will be. “The devil is in the details,” he says. No, the devil is behind the very idea of trying to justify ethics without God!
Of course, Harris goes on to express the view that a radical change in the way that we currently look at ethics is not likely to happen, but the fact that he allows for this is a tremendous insight into his theory of ethics. He is advocating “relative” ethics rather than “absolute” ethics, and by his imagination, he has treated us to his view that that is the nature of ethics. And that means that there is no such thing as an absolutely good act or an absolutely bad act! Consider the following:
- T/F 1. An act is intrinsically good or evil in and of itself (Sam Harris says “False” because an act is only “good” if it contributes to the overall well-being of the majority of the people).
- T/F 2. The Nazi killing of the Jews in World War II was an intrinsically evil act. (Sam Harris would have to say “False” since no act to him is an intrinsically evil act. And there are conceivably circumstances in which the annihilation of the Jews would contribute to the happiness or over all well-being of a majority of people in a nation or in the world).
Consider that Harris in a footnote bemoans the current standing of atheists in American society. He claims that “atheists are the most stigmatized minority in the United States—beyond homosexuals, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Asians, or any other group” (Landscape, 234, 235). Then, I humbly ask, is it conceivable that we could reach a moment in our history in which the killing of atheists (on the grounds that they are atheists) would be acceptable ethical practice if the majority of Americans and/or the majority of all men deemed that the happiness of most men would be enhanced? According to the basis of Harris’ concept of ethics, neither he nor any other man would be able to pronounce such killing at such time as intrinsic evil! In fact, according to “utilitarian” ethics, such killing would be the right thing to do!
But now, consider the following statement from Harris: “I believe that we will increasingly understand good and evil, right and wrong, in scientific terms, because moral concerns translate into facts about how our thoughts and behaviors affect the well-being of conscious creatures like ourselves” (Landscape, 62). Now, regarding the quotation please notice the following:
- Sam expects more of us in the future to accept the concept of good and evil as a scientific matter.
- There are no moral concerns outside the realm of facts (which to Sam must be empirical).
- Our thoughts and behaviors are determined by empirical facts only.
- We are conscious creatures.
- Sam believes this.
Now, dear reader, what you need to see at this point is that the above affirmations are reducible to the last one: Sam said, “I believe that….” We could give attention to each part of the quotation, but such is not necessary because of the relationship that Sam Harris has to the claims. Who believes the assertions? Sam Harris says that he does. Well, who is Sam Harris? And amazingly throughout the book he writes (1) as though a real person named Sam Harris exists who is, in some way, ontologically distinguishable from mere matter while all the time (2) attempting to convince us that neither Sam Harris nor any of the readers actually exists! Do you think that I have simply misread Sam Harris? Follow closely.
To assert that men are simply instances of conscious matter is incredibly self-contradictory. “Consciousness” is not a material property! It is not simply an empirical characteristic of anything. And consciousness has never been found in science (or anywhere else) capable of expressing itself without rationality. Apes have feelings, but apes cannot articulate those feelings in language. And language requires thought. Consciousness cannot express itself without thought. Animal life can express itself by mere animation (movement). But consciousness to express itself beyond movement requires thinking.
But, Sam Harris claims that all thoughts are merely and exhaustively empirically driven or produced. In other words, Sam attributes human thought completely to the human brain! And the brain is simply conscious matter. There is no “real” person attending the brain. The brain, according to Sam Harris, is an unattended physical organ that produces the “mind” with its thoughts and intentions! Furthermore, he (Sam Harris) as a neuroscientist studies the brain, and having studied the brain a lot (to the reception of a doctoral degree), he is now in position to tell us that there is no real Sam Harris! Furthermore, anyone reading his book needs to read it while recognizing that not only is Sam Harris nonexistent, but that the reader is equally ontologically unavailable! And all the while this conceptual and linguistic joke is carried on as though it has real scientific merit. Listen to Sam:
“Your ‘self’ seems to stand at the intersection of these lines of input and output. From this point of view, you tend to feel that you are the source of your own thoughts and actions. You decide what to do and not to do. You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. As we will see, however, this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain” (Landscape, 102).
Again, “All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion” (Landscape, 103). Again, “From the perspective of your conscious mind, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world” (Landscape, 104). Sam claims that “thoughts arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions” (Landscape, 105).
Dear reader, can you (and I mean the real YOU) believe it? You may ask, “Well, if no one is responsible for his own thoughts, then who is doing the thinking? Sam would have “us” to believe that the brain is the thinker! Per Sam Harris, the brain produces what “we” think of as the mind and its thoughts. “Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc. are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world” (Landscape, 105).
So, there you have it. It is not simply true that the real, personal, spiritual, metaphysical, ontologically distinguishable, Sam Harris has disappeared, but that, according to Sam Harris (whoever that is), there has never been a Sam Harris. But still, “we” have to account for Sam’s thoughts. Well, that is attributed to “Sam’s” brain. Sam is claiming that he is brain. He is conscious matter. But the conscious matter is not personally attended. It is still matter only that somehow in evolution reached a level of consciousness. And now at that level of consciousness, the brain all alone and unattended produces thoughts which express themselves at times in actions.
Dear reader, can you believe such? Of course, it never dawned on Sam that as he was writing his book and trying to inform us all that “we” do not exist but rather that our “brains” are the existent empirical entities that alone are responsible for our thoughts, that he was at cross purposes with himself. First consider the following:
- T/F 1. I, Sam Harris, am a person ontologically (in the nature of being) distinguishable from my material body (Sam says “False). Per Harris, there is no immortal soul (Landscape, 110).
- T/F 2. I, Sam Harris, am my brain and body, and my brain is physically distinguishable from the rest of my body (Sam would say True).
- T/F 3. While I, Sam Harris, am composed of brain and body, it is “my” brain that is responsible for all my thoughts and intentions. (Sam says True).
Now, dear reader, please look at #3 again. The word “my” is placed in quotations because the sentence is written as though Sam somehow exists apart from body and brain, but according to Sam, he clearly does not. Furthermore, he writes this way throughout his book. He writes as though he has a real metaphysical status and that his readers have an actual metaphysical status while all the time attacking the very concept of anyone’s having real metaphysical status.
Please consider the difficulties that one faces when attempting to deny himself (that he actually has a metaphysical existence). Consider the following statement:
I, Sam Harris, deny myself.
The sentence makes sense in that it is pieced together with words each of which has meaning, and the whole of the arrangement seems to be stating a complete thought. However, the sentence does not make sense conceptually. For example, when we consider what is being affirmed and what is being denied, we must face the fact that either (1) the “I” (whoever it is) has to exist in order to make the denial of oneself, or (2) the “myself” has to exist in some sense in order to be denied. So the “I” must be here as denier or the “myself” must be here as the one to be denied. If one says, well, the answer is that the “myself” is not here for it is the very thing being denied, so far so good, it would seem. However, the denial itself must be attached to the “I” in order for the denial to be made. The brute fact is that there is no denial being made at all if someone is not making the denial and neither is someone being denied.
Furthermore, since Harris denies that he exists as an “immortal soul,” then let us consider a further difficulty. When he says that he does not exist, we then face the following possibilities. It is either the case that:
(1) a soul is denying itself; or
(2) a soul is denying its body (including brain); or
(3) a brain is denying its soul; or
(4) a brain is denying its body (including itself).
Since Harris denies having a soul, obviously then he cannot be meaning either (1) or (2). A soul cannot be doing anything since it simply is not there. So he cannot possibly be meaning that a soul is either the “one” (a metaphysical being) denying self or denying its body. So (1) and (2) are out of the issue. If it is then suggested that Sam means (3), that would mean then that a brain would be denying its soul. But since, per Harris, a brain has no soul, how could and why would a brain do that? How can a merely physical organ deny an ontological attachment to a metaphysical entity? A gall bladder can’t do that, nor a liver, nor a lung, nor a physical heart, etc. How is it possible for a merely physical organ, derived from an evolutionary background to go into the negative in describing its own nature? Can an empirical entity create the metaphysical category only to deny that it has any occupancy? And by the way, how would a mere brain know that anyone had ever accused it of having any attachment to a metaphysical entity in the first place? Such would be absolutely absurd!
Either a brain is not a purely physical organ (this, Sam as an evolutionist would deny), or it must be in some way connected to a metaphysical entity that is utilizing it in denying whatever it is that is being denied!
Harris has a personally unattended brain saying that it has no association with or connection to a soul. And, per Harris, the brain’s thoughts are not metaphysical constructs but rather are physiologically driven. Thoughts are the products of the mind which is the product of the brain. Thoughts, anyway, are simply like gas that has escaped the brain. We might say that his view more or less means that a brain merely “erupts” into thoughts. There is no purpose to them nor design for them. They are random secretions for which no person whatever is responsible!
Remember, he has told that “the conscious mind cannot be the source of its own thought and intentions” (Landscape, 216). And furthermore, he says, “Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me” (Landscape, 104).
And that leaves us with (4): a brain is denying its body (including itself). When Sam Harris claims that he does not exist, he must be telling us that he as a brain is denying that the brain is there (with its body or that the body is there with its brain). But we know that Sam can’t mean to be suggesting (4) because that would mean that the brain is denying itself. And Sam in the book is quite insistent to claim that it is only the brain (with accompanying physical body) that does exist, and that the brain alone is “responsible” for thinking! Each of the four theoretical possibilities is thus eliminated from what Sam could actually be meaningfully saying. Regardless what with his incongruent combination of language and concepts he is attempting to do, the elimination of each possibility shows us that no one can rationally deny himself! And yet the ethic proposal that Sam proposes in his book is grounded in this irrational attempt!
But all the way through his book, Sam is taking the brain as being there and the metaphysical soul as not. He writes, “It seems to be that few concepts have offered greater scope for human cruelty than the idea of an immortal soul that stands independent of all material influences, ranging from genes to economic systems” (Landscape, 110). First, let it be said that without that immortal soul Sam can’t be rationally calling in question the existence of anything, much less himself! Dirt can’t deny the existence of dirt! Apes can’t deny the existence of apes, and they can’t even try.
Only metaphysical entities attached to empirical substance or form or bodies can have the capacity on this earth to deny one or the other of their conceptually distinguishable natures (physical or metaphysical). A purely physical entity has no ontological capacity to deny anything. Only a metaphysical entity has capacity to affirm and deny. Second, Sam is critical of the existence of any independent immortal soul that is not under the influence of “material influences.” But let it be said just here that we theists recognize that the mind or soul currently utilizes the brain. And any damage to the brain certainly can have a significant effect on the mind and its capacity to think. If the brain is the organ that the mind uses (as opposed to the liver, gall bladder, etc.), then any damage to the brain can certainly affect what the mind can or cannot currently accomplish. No one denies this that I know. But that is certainly not the same thing as to claim that there is no metaphysical mind as is proven by the fact that brain study has determined that a damaged brain affects thinking.
Sam Harris has studied the human brain a lot. But Sam has drawn some conclusions regarding human nature, the nature of truth, and the nature of morality that simply cannot be rightly deduced from that study. His denial of himself cannot “square” with his empirical investigation of the human brain. Someone is doing that study. But according to Sam it is merely one brain looking at another brain, and when thoughts are produced, they are unauthored by a person and no person is responsible for them. Notice the following:
- T/F 1. Sam Harris as a metaphysical soul within a physical body is responsible for his book. (Sam says False).
- T/F 2. Each reader of Sam’s book is a metaphysical soul within a physical body who is responsible for what he does with Sam’s book (Sam says False).
- T/F 3. Sam Harris’ brain is alone responsible for Sam’s thoughts which in an “unauthored” way has provided us with Sam’s book (Sam tries to justify this as True though it is a self-contradictory affirmation).
- T/F 4. Some unidentified brain produced the mind which produced the thoughts which produced the book called The Moral Landscape, attributed to Sam Harris as author (According to Harris’ argumentation as to the nature of man [he is a completely physical entity], this would be True).
- T/F 5. The “people” who “read” Sam’s book are actually (according to Sam’s view of human nature) only other unidentified brains that produce minds which produce thoughts which produce action, so that only unidentified brains are “responsible” for minds allegedly produced by them (True, if Sam Harris’ view of human nature is correct).
A conscious mind cannot be held responsible, Sam tells us (Landscape, 216). Furthermore, he says that our thoughts are not even “authored.” Remember, he has told us that “…thoughts simply arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions (Landscape, 105). On the cover of The Moral Landscape we find these words describing Sam Harris: “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Therefore, even though Sam Harris is an “author” of books, he assures us that his thoughts have no author other than a personally unattended brain. Believe it who can! How can such drivel be allowed such publication and distribution for public consumption? It is as though Sam is telling us and trying to convince us that our situation is comparable to one computer communicating with other computers, telling them how they ought to act. And there is no “one” in the picture except computers. There is no “mind” behind the brain which uses the brain. There is no Maker of the mind but Sam knows that there can only be a computer and correspondence carried on between computers if someone made the computers and if someone uses the computers. But irrationally, Sam contends the situation is otherwise for the, according to him, evolutionarily developed human species!
Curiously, and without any evidence to support his theory, Harris attributes all thought to a physical organ that is metaphysically unattended, and Sam Harris intellectually attacks any concept of personal moral responsibility! Somehow our moral world is going to be improved when we all face up to what this neuroscientist is telling us: No real person is responsible for anything. Only a brain is! Remember, Harris contends that a “person” is no more responsible for his thoughts and actions than he is for being born into this world (Landscape, 104). As it turns out, given the explanation of the human situation according to Sam Harris, ethics has nothing whatever to do with personal responsibility! Now, there is your ape morality! And mixing such absolute fiction with some sort of “moral guidance” direction for the further development of the human species cannot save it from its on self-destruction.
There are many more very serious mistakes made in the book, The Moral Landscape. But we will not go into the exposure of every wrong turn that Sam took in arriving at his current confusion and explanation regarding morality. Once we see how the foundation for the theory (that science can determine human values) is based on such ontological self-contradiction, we see that everything else to be discussed is peripheral and secondary.
The very idea of a self-styled ape trying to convince other alleged apes how to live is laughable. And while I do sympathize with Sam in his horror over evil done in the name of religion, I cannot sympathize with him in a solution that embodies such incoherence and self-contradiction. And who among us can accurately apprise the misery caused in this nation already over the pseudo-scientific advocacy of organic evolution in its expression of current immorality? Sam incoherently warns us against self-deception (Landscape, 163, 176), all the while assuring us that there is no actual ontological “self” to be deceived! Such confusion is no help in trying to contribute to a better world.
It Is Only My Brain Talking
He said to me that he is not here.
“Who is not here?” I replied.
“Me,” he said as if unaware
That his denial had just been denied!
“If you are not here,” my inquiry began,
“To whom shall I make my reply?”
Someone responded (and I’m not really sure who),
“Me,” without blinking an eye.
“But how can I talk to you when you’re not here?”
“It is merely my brain,” he said with a smile.
“But how can that be?” I asked in response.
He said, “It’s been that way all the while.”
“Your brain? I asked with a skeptical look.
How can that possibly be?
The brain cannot be ‘your’ brain at all
For you just told me that the brain had no ‘me!’”
“There is no ‘my’ brain,” I tried to point out,
Not sure that he at all apprehended.
“If you are not here, the brain is not ‘yours.’
Indeed, the brain is completely unattended.”