In his just published book, "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason," Sam Harris, who received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and is now completing his doctorate in neuroscience, argues that religion is the cause of the world's evils, while reason is the solution.
I conducted a dialogue/debate with him on my radio show. What follows is one part of that dialogue. The audio of the entire dialogue is available at my Web site www.dennisprager.com, and the entire transcript can also be read there.
Dennis Prager: You believe that in secularism and in reason lie the answers to the moral problems of humanity. Is that a fair summary of your views?
Sam Harris: Yes, up to a point. I'm actually not discounting the range of human experience we might want to call "spiritual" or "mystical."
DP: I believe that if I took a thousand evangelical ministers -- the folks that you have a certain fear of, and I took a thousand professors in the liberal arts, I would bet every penny I have that the moral acuity of the thousand evangelical ministers would dwarf the moral acuity of a thousand liberal arts professors. For which reason Lawrence Summers, for example, the president of Harvard, announced two years ago that the seat -- the seat -- of anti-Semitism in America had shifted to the university. The university had also been the seat of support for Stalin. The university in Germany was the seat of the place to get Nazi philosophers. That you have such faith in secular reason is to me unbelievable, given the record of the secular rationalists.
SH: Well, first, let me agree with you that liberal, ivory-tower discourse right now is certainly in many sectors bereft of real moral acuity, and the kind of discourse you have about Israel in particular vis a vis the conflict with the Palestinians -- all of that is deplorable. But your first question, really, it all turns on what you mean by morality.
DP: Good and evil.
SH: Take something even more precise than that. Our aversion to human cruelty. All of us who are well wired neurologically and do not come into this world with whatever causes sociopathy have a predisposition to recoil at cruelty such as torturing other people certainly, and animals. I would argue that we don't get that out of our religious books. In fact, our religious books offer rather equivocal testimony on the moral status of cruelty. There's a lot of cruelty in them.
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