Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape

Another vacation book review.

There has to be a reasonable middle ground between the cultural relativism that Harris dislikes and the “New Atheist” hostility to religion that he champions. I can understand the attacks on the NAs because the lot of them, especially Dawkins, are often crass. Then again they’re sort of the professional poker players of the intelligentsia – a certain degree of crassness kind of automatically comes with the position.

Now I think criticism of religion is more than fair game. As Harris says in the book, he comes off arrogant only because he takes the claims of religion, particularly Christianity, seriously, and he does have a point that the usual faith/reason attempts at synergy end up being pretty ridiculous, as his lengthy example of Francis Collins shows.

I can’t buy his total dismissal of relativism and religion, though. Relativism has its flaws, but it at least pushes us toward a default position of tolerance rather than an automatic imperialistic judgment of superiority. And religion certainly has its flaws, but good can come of it – I’m not yet prepared to throw it out with the bathwater. It may be a ‘flawed science’, but that can easily be flipped around – Harris’ science is at times an unpersuasive religion, largely powerless against the straightforward power of family upbringing. A lot of die have to fall the right way for someone to drop their upbringing, family, and core beliefs for the cold – if best currently around – embrace of scientific humanism.

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