Sam Harris: Believing in Almost Anything

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As one of the
Big Three, ready-for-prime-time, evangelical atheologians and best-selling
authors of anti-religious books this past Christmas season (the
others being Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett), Sam Harris (author
of the books, The
End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

and Letter
to a Christian Nation
) has received a mountain of favorable
media coverage and has been toasted by celebrity scientists, philosophers,
and media pundits for his "courage," "insight,"
and devotion to "scientific truth."

However, what
has somehow been overlooked
, until now, is that Harris not only
believes in reincarnation, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a wide assortment
of New Age mysticism, but in abandoning what he considers to be
the "immorality" of Christianity and its teachings of
natural moral law and the universal rights of mankind, he alternatively
supports water-boarding and other forms of torture so long as such
practices are used against Muslims and others he disapproves of.
Needless to say, he was also an early supporter of the war in Iraq,
including the bombing of civilians, et al. Clearly, regardless of
anyone’s personal belief system, such views regarding the treatment
of innocent people should be deeply disturbing.

Yet the presumption
of Harris's crusade against God, and the Zeitgeist's support
for him as a media darling, is based on a modernist myth. As Rodney
Stark shows in his recent book, The
Victory of Reason:
How
Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

(Random House, 2006), the Scientific Revolution was not, as is popularly
supposed, the result of an alleged Enlightenment battle of u201Csecular
forces of reasonu201D against the u201Cirrational religious dogmau201D of the
Middle Ages. u201CRather, these achievements were the culmination of
many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained
by that uniquely Christian twelfth-century invention, the university.
Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable
— the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian
scholars.u201D

[1]

Such insights
were rooted in a Christian theology that went back to the very origins
of the Christian Church and were developed in the work of many early
writers. Quintus Tertullian of the second century a.d., said, u201CReason
is a thing of God, inasmuch as there is nothing which God the Maker
of all has not provided, disposed, ordained by reason — nothing
which He has not willed should be handled and understood by reason.u201D

[2]

Clement of Alexandria in the third century noted, u201CDo not think
that we are to be asserted by reason. For indeed it is not safe
to commit these things to bare faith without reason, since assuredly
truth cannot be without reason.u201D

[3]

Hence, by the fifth century, Augustine expressed the conventional
view of the day: u201CHeaven forbid that God should hate in us that
by which he made us superior to the animals! Heaven forbid that
we should believe in such a way as not to accept or seek reasons,
since we could not even believe if we did not possess rational souls.
. . . [F]or faith to precede in certain matters of great moment
that cannot yet be grasped, surely the very small portion of reason
that persuades us of this must precede faith.u201D

[4]

This focus
produced a radical change in a world in which, despite notable but
limited exceptions of political decentralization

[5]

, slavery, human sacrifice and nearly universal and unyielding
despotism had ruled, where people were treated as mere members of
a group without rights. For example, Eastern religions exalted resignation,
accommodation or obedience to despotism and consequent human misery.
Based on his extensive studies of the history of Chinese technology,
Joseph Needham has shown that the Chinese failed to develop science
because their religious views prevented them from believing
in natural laws. They simply did not believe that science mattered
or was possible: u201CFor those holding these religious premises, the
path to Nature never developed. . . . It was not that there was
no order in Nature for the Chinese, but rather that it was not an
order ordained by a rational personal being, and hence there was
no conviction that rational personal beings would be able to spell
out in their lesser earthly languages the divine code of laws which
he had decreed aforetime.u201D

[6]

The ancient
Greeks and Romans' polytheistic system of gods did not include a
creator not subject to the same universe of continuous cycles of
progress and decline affecting mortals, and, according to this system,
inanimate objects were living beings with personal aims and foibles,
as opposed to being subject strictly to physical laws. Major Greek
thinkers, including Plato and Aristotle, also rejected the notion
of progress. Indeed, Aristotle believed that u201Cthe same ideas recur to men
not once or twice but over and over againu201D and that everything had
u201Cbeen invented several times over in the course of ages.u201D

[7]

Michael Rea notes that u201CParamenides threatened to bring natural
sciences to a standstill with his powerful arguments for the conclusion
that the world is unchanging, unmoving, ungenerated, and indestructible.
. . . [And Plato] did share the Parmenidean view that the most fundamentally
real things in the world are unchanging.u201D

[8]

Because of such views, science was unable to develop in the
Greek or Roman worlds.

With Christianity,
each and every person is u201Ca child of Godu201D or holy object (res
sacra homo) who has free will and is responsible for the choices
he or she makes. In this tradition, Thomas Aquinas stated, u201CA man
can direct and govern his own actions also. Therefore the rational
creature participates in the divine providence not only in being
governed but also in governing.u201D

[9]

Similarly, Augustine explained that, u201Cwithout any delusive
representation of images or phantasms, I am most certain that I
am, and that I know and delight in this. In respect to these truths,
I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who
say, What if you are deceived? For if I am deceived, I am. For he
who is not cannot be deceived; and if I am deceived, by this same
token I am. . . . And, consequently, neither am I deceived in knowing
that I know. For, as I know that I am, so I know this also, that
I know.u201D

[10]

The concept
of the self (individualism) and free will had been discussed by
Marcus Tullius Cicero and others before the Christian era, but it
was not until Jesus personally asserted in words and deeds the concept
of moral equality before and responsibility to God and not until
Christian theologians made it a central feature of their doctrine
that the rights of each and every individual were championed
and slavery was condemned. As explained by the third-century Christian
theologian L. Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, u201CThe second constituent
of Justice is equality. I mean this . . . in the sense of
treating others as equals. . . . For God who gives being and life
to men wished us all to be equal. . . . Since human worth is measured
in spiritual not in physical terms, we ignore our various physical
situations: slaves are not slaves to us, but we treat them and address
them as brothers in spirit.u201D

[11]

Subsequently,
with the end of the Roman Empire, opposition to slavery grew (starting
in a.d. 324 with the Christian Council of Granges), and by the seventh
century u201Cpriests began to urge owners to free their slaves as an
u2018infinitely commendable act' that helped ensure their own salvation.u201D

[12]

In the eighth century, Charlemagne, king of the Franks and
leader of the Holy Roman Empire, opposed slavery, and during the
eleventh century Wulfsen and Anselm successfully campaigned to eliminate
slavery throughout most of Europe. During the Middle Ages, despite
the opposition of numerous despots, the Vatican issued papal bulls
condemning slavery elsewhere in no uncertain terms in 1430, 1537,
and 1639.

[13]

Opposition
in the 16th century to the widespread abuses and enslavement
of Native Americans by the Castilian conquistadors after the Spanish
conquest was led by numerous Christian clerics including the Spanish Friar and Bishop, Bartolome de Las Casas, author
of In
Defense of the Indians

[14]

, who received his law degree at the School of Salamanca. The
discoveries in the New World had brought the issues of human rights
and international law to the forefront in the Iberian universities.
Las Casas in turn fought the conquistadors in Spain and the Americas,
showing that their violence, cruelty, and claims of the inferiority
of Amerindians were entirely at odds with the legacy of all Christian
writing and teaching: u201COur Christian religion is suitable for and
may be adapted to all the nations of the world, and all alike may
receive it; and no one may be deprived of his liberty, nor may he
be enslaved on the excuse that he is a natural slave.u201D

[15]

And Pope Paul III's 1537 bull, Sublimis Deus, stated
that: u201CThe said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered
by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or
the possession of their property, even though they may be outside
the faith of Jesus Christ … nor should they in any way be enslaved.u201D

[16]

This persistent Christian opposition to slavery spread, ultimately
resulting in the abolition of slavery throughout Latin America,
in the British Empire under the leadership of Christian pastor William
Wilberforce (the subject of the forthcoming major film Amazing
Grace
), and in the United States because of the Christian-inspired
persistence of William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolitionists.

So powerful
did the moral authority of Christianity become that, starting with
Constantine, despots and opportunists of all stripes sought to wrap
themselves in the Christian banner in order to hide their egregious
crimes, which were clearly evident in the Crusades and in other
wars and brutalities. Yet even when Christians and others have pursued
invasive wars and tyrannies u201Cin the name of God,u201D the condemnation
of such actions by others as wrong has stemmed directly from
the Christian teachings of individual sanctity and worth.
In areas of the world without the revolutionary insights from Christianity
of individual worth, free will, and reason, the crushing impact
of total despotism remained the standard, as was especially evident
in Asia where the idea of u201Cselfu201D was either entirely unknown
or stringently suppressed by the weight of imperial and bureaucratic
rule.

[17]

In contrast,
materialists such as Dawkins, Dennett and Harris deny the existence
of free will, without which however no scientific enterprise is
possible or has any meaning. Moreover, such materialists are utilitarians
and ethical relativists who reject objective moral ethics which
form the very basis for civilization itself, including the opposition
to tyranny, war, and all forms of human cruelty. Exactly opposite
to the claims of Harris, the core of his materialism is thus a modern
throwback to the fallacies that kept most of mankind in darkness,
misery, and chains before the Christian era began, an incoherent
denial of the objective truth of purposive, individual, human choice
as the basis for human action and morality.

As Stark shows,
real science arose only in Christian Europe. u201CThe earlier technical
innovations of Greco-Roman times, of Islam, of China, let alone
prehistoric times, do not constitute science and are better described
as lore, skills, wisdom, techniques, crafts, technologies, engineering,
learning, or simple knowledge.u201D In his book, he traces the u201Claunch
of Western scienceu201D to the Scholastics, u201Cfine scholars who founded
Europe’s great universities.u201D Not surprisingly, virtually all of
the founders of the various scientific fields were Christian theists,
including Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei,
Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Gregor Mendel, and so on.

Joseph Schumpeter,
Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, Raymond de Roover, and Emil Kauder have
further shown that it was the Italian and Spanish Scholastics, especially
those at the University of Salamanca, who applied rational theism
to uncover both moral ethics and the science of economics in the
theories of value/utility, prices, money, and competition. As this
influence spread to Italy, Portugal, and the low countries of Europe,
it formed the basis for the Austrian school of economics.

[18]

Both the literary
scholar and philosopher C. S. Lewis and the philosopher and mathematician
Alfred North Whitehead similarly showed
that science arose only because the dualism of Christian theistic
beliefs of medieval European scientists led them to consider the
universe to be a systematic realm of objective reality, and that
non-Christian beliefs hindered or prevented science. As Whitehead
notes, u201CThe greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation
of the scientific movement [was] the inexpugnable belief that .
. . there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled,u201D rooting
this conviction in u201Cthe medieval insistence on the rationality of
God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the
rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised
and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication
of the faith in rationality.u201D

[19]

Harris’s book,
The End of Faith, was published in 2004 and clearly laid
out his irrational faith in unscientific paranormal studies and
support for the torture of Muslims, and his support for the war
in Iraq has been no secret from the beginning. The obvious questions
to ask are, how could this highly relevant story of his blatant
hypocrisy have been overlooked for so long, and why has this not
appeared in the major media? And, will it now? (After all, it took
the antiwar news site AlterNet to finally break the story for the
media.)

Could the answer
be in some significant yet remarkable way that Harris is u201Cpolitically
correctu201D and u201Cready-for-prime-timeu201D simply because his "anti-religious"
(especially anti-Muslim) views sufficiently comport with those of
others supporting the "war on terror," including U.S.
interventionism in the Mideast? We already know that the war is
supported by an alliance of Wilsonian liberals, neoconservatives,
Christian Zionists, Randians, and other militarists of all stripes.
Why not someone who considers himself to be an atheist, Hindu, Buddhist,
New Age “scientist” of the paranormal?

Perhaps such
incoherent thinking explains how for Harris, while properly decrying
the torture of Jews for their beliefs during the Spanish Inquisition,
then targets belief in Islam itself as the enemy: "Some propositions
are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for
believing them." And, given his screed against both
the Old and New Testaments, it's an open question whether he would
stop with Muslims. Perhaps Nero will become a hero for him?

Disdainful
of “wasting time” on Jesus’s teachings of love, peace, tolerance,
and the Golden Rule, Harris is nevertheless now seeking an alliance
with right-wing American warriors against Muslim Arabs and “head-in-the-sand
liberals” he recently denounced in an article. And in Letter
to a Christian Nation, he notes, “Nonbelievers like myself stand
beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole
nations of the living.” Perhaps, he and Pat Robertson can now join
spiritual forces on how to kill the infidels.

Hence, as a
high-profile media Crusader against all Muslims (and others), Harris
is in good company with William Kristol, Alan Dershowitz, Hillary
Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, Victor Davis Hanson, Joe Lieberman, Ann
Coulter and Dick Cheney in championing the U.S. warfare state. Of
course, the political tide against the war in Iraq has dramatically
turned with the polls registering higher and higher percentages
against U.S. involvement, not to mention Bush’s desperate latest
plans for escalation. Yet, Harris remains unapologetic and committed
for battle. Perhaps, he is in communion with Shankara and other
u201Cscientificu201D oracles?

Having adopted
the “atheist,” “Buddhist,” Hindu,” “New Age” torture-mongerer Harris
as his trusty side-kick in their jihad against God (all in the name
of u201Cscientific truthu201D of course), Dawkins has stated that, "The
End of Faith should replace the Gideon Bible in every
hotel room in the land." However, the scientific evidence pertaining
to Sam Harris now points more toward supporting the claim by G.K.
Chesterton that: “The danger when men stop believing in God is not
that they’ll believe in nothing, but that they’ll believe in anything."

Notes

[1]

Rodney Stark, The
Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism,
and Western Success
(New York: Random House, 2005),
12. For an examination of the development of economics by the
Scholastic moralists and philosophers, see also Alejandro A.
Chafuen, Faith
and Liberty: The Economic Thought of the Late Scholastics

(Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003); Murray N. Rothbard, Economic
Thought before Adam Smith: An Austrian Perspective on the History
of Economic Thought
, vol. 1 (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward
Elgar, 1995), 51–64, 97–133; Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, The
School of Salamanca: Readings in Spanish Monetary Theory, 1544–1605
(Oxford University Press, 1952) and Early
Economic Thought in Spain
1177–1740 (London: Allen &
Unwin, 1978); Laurence S. Moss, ed., Economic
Thought in Spain
(Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar,
1993); and Raymond de Roover, Business,
Banking, and Economic Thought in Late Medieval and Early Modern
Europe
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).

[2]

Quintas Tertullian, On
Repentance
, chap. 1, quoted in Stark, The Victory
of Reason, 7.

[3]

Quoted in David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds.,
God
and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Religion
and Science
(Berkeley: University of California Press,
1986), 27–28.

[4]

Quoted in R. W. Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other
Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1970), 49.

[5]

See for example: Thomas J. Thompson, u201CAncient
Stateless Civilization: Bronze Age India and the State in History
,u201D
The Independent Review (Winter 2005), 365–384; Jesse
L. Byock, Medieval
Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power
(Berkeley, Calif.:
University of California Press, 1988); David Friedman, u201CPrivate
Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,u201D Journal
of Legal Studies 8, no. 2: 399–415; and Harold J. Berman,
Law
and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition

(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983).

[6]

Joseph Needham, Science
and Civilization in China
, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1954), 581.

[7]

Stark, The Victory of Reason, 18–20.

[8]

Michael Rea, World
Without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 23–24.

[9]

Quoted in ibid., 25.

[10]

Augustine, The
City of God
, book 11, chap. 26, quoted in Stark, ibid.,
25–26.

[11]

Quoted in Stark, The Victory of Reason, 71.

[12]

Ibid., 29.

[13]

Ibid., 200–201.

[14]

Bartolome de Las Casas, In
Defense of the Indians:
The
Defense of the Most Reverend Lord, Don Fray Bartolome de Las
Casas, of the Order of Preachers, Late Bishop of Chiapa

(DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1992).

[15]

Leonard P. Liggio, u201CThe
Heritage of the Spanish Scholastics
,u201D Religion &
Liberty (January–February 2000), 2.

[16]

Liggio, 3.

[17]

Karl Wittfogel, Oriental
Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power
(New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967).

[18]

Murray N. Rothbard, u201CNew Light on the Prehistory of the
Austrian School,u201D in The
Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics
, edited by
Edwin Dolan (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1976), 52–74.

[19]

Alfred North Whitehead, Science
and the Modern World
(New York: Free Press, 1967), 13.

January
18, 2007

David
J. Theroux [send him mail]
is the Founder and President of The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif., Publisher of The
Independent Review
, and Founder and President of the C.S.
Lewis Society of California
.

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