Quotes by Sam Harris

108 quotes found  
Theology is ignorance with wings.
Islam, at the moment, is the motherlode of bad ideas.
The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments , and a passionate unwillingness to do so.
To treat others ethically is to act out of concern for their happiness and suffering.
One of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty-first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns-about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering-in ways that are not flagrantly irrational. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. Nothing stands in the way of this project more that the respect we accord religious faith.
Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being. Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept.
It is taboo in our society to criticize a persons religious faith... these taboos are offensive, deeply unreasonable, but worse than that, they are getting people killed. This is really my concern. My concern is that our religions, the diversity of our religious doctrines, is going to get us killed. I'm worried that our religious discourse- our religious beliefs are ultimately incompatible with civilization.
120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer.
Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them.
It is time we recognized that belief is not a private matter; it has never been merely private. In fact, beliefs are scarcely more private than actions are, for every belief is a fount of action in potential.
Of course, the liar often imagines that he does no harm as long as his lies go undetected.
Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance.
To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world - to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish - is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.
How can we encourage other human beings to extend their moral sympathies beyond a narrow locus? How can we learn to become mere human beings, shorn of any more compelling national, ethnic, or religious identity? We can be reasonable. It is in the very nature of reason to fuse cognitive and moral horizons. Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love.
It is utterly astonishing how ordinary a book can be and still be thought the product of omniscience.
It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion—to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions and religious diversions of scarce resources—is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.
While there is no guarantee that rational people will always agree, the irrational are certain to be divided by their dogmas.
It's simply untrue that religion provides the only framework for a universal morality.
If our well-being depends upon the interaction between events in our brains and events in the world, and there are better and worse ways to secure it, then some cultures will tend to produce lives that are more worth living than others; some political persuasions will be more enlightened than others; and some world views will be mistaken in ways that cause needless human misery.
The problem is that religion tends to give people bad reasons to be good.
A poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80 percent of Katrina's survivors claim that the event only strengthened their faith in God.
Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence what so ever.
The problem is not that religious people are stupid. It's not that religious fundamentalists are stupid. I happen to think that you can be so well educated that you can build a nuclear bomb, and still get--and still believe that you will get the 72 virgins in paradise--that is the problem. The problem is that--religion--because it has been sheltered from criticism as it has been--allows people--perfectly sane, perfectly intelligent people--to believe en masse, what only idiots or lunatics could believe in isolation.
Either God can do nothing to stop catastrophes like this, or he doesn't care to, or he doesn't exist. God is either impotent, evil, or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely.
People who harbor strong convictions without evidence belong at the margins of our societies, not in our halls of power.
If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence. If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?
All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.
The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics.
This is the true horror of religion. It allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions, what only lunatics could believe on their own.
The only thing that permits human beings to collaborate with one another in a truly open-ended way is their willingness to have their beliefs modified by new facts. Only openness to evidence and argument will secure a common world for us.
How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can’t.
Indeed, religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral - that is, when pressing these concerns inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend more "moral" energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the lifesaving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.
Mentre non c'è alcuna garanzia che le persone razionali siano sempre d'accordo, sicuramente le persone irrazionali sono divise dai loro dogmi.
You almost never get the pleasure of seeing that you won the argument in real time. People just don't like to publicly change their minds. They change their minds in private.
The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we will kill you.
Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim Algebra, we will see tht there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality.
Life is a continuous flux. Our nonhuman ancestors bred, generation after generation, and incrementally begat what we now deem to be the species homo sapiens - ourselves. There is nothing about our ancestral line or about our current biology that dictates how we will evolve in the future. Nothing in the natural order demands that our descendants resemble us in any particular way. Very likely, they will not resemble us. We will almost certainly transform ourselves, likely beyond recognition, in the generations to come.
The problem of human suffering is never too much rational thinking, or too high a demand for evidence. But the solutions are. ... Reason is nothing less than the guardian of love.
Where we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; where we have no reasons, we have lost both our connection to the world and to one another.
We have Christians against Muslims against Jews. They're making incompatible claims on real estate in the Middle East as though God were some kind of omniscient real estate broker parsing out parcels of land to his chosen flock. People are literally dying over ancient literature.
In the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy-two virgins in Paradise.
As an atheist, I am angry that we live in a society in which the plain truth cannot be spoken without offending 90% of the population.
We have Christians against Muslims against Jews, and no matter how liberal your theology, merely identifying yourself as a Christian or a Jew lends tacit validity to this status quo. People have morally identified with a subset of humanity rather than with humanity as a whole.
It is difficult to think of anything more important than providing the best education possible for our children. They will develop the next technologies, medical cures, and global industries, while mitigating their unintended effects, or they will fail to do these things and consign us all to oblivion.
It is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.
The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.
Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.
We must continually remind ourselves that there is a difference between what is natural and what is actually good for us.
You cannot take death for apostasy seriously and be working for peace.
Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality.
In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
Countries with high levels of atheism are . . . the most charitable both in terms of the percentage of their wealth they devote to social welfare programs and the percentage they give in aid to the developing world.
The habit of spending nearly every waking moment lost in thought leaves us at the mercy of whatever our thoughts happen to be. Meditation is a way of breaking this spell.
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
For nearly a century, the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion--that great engine of ignorance and bigotry--a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom. As a result, the most powerful societies on earth spend their time debating issues like gay marriage when they should be focused on problems like nuclear proliferation, genocide, energy security, climate change, poverty, and failing schools.
George Bush says he speaks to god every day, & Christians love him for it. If George Bush said he spoke to god through his hair dryer, they would think he was mad. I fail to see how the addition of a hair dryer makes it any more absurd.
A person who believes that Elvis is still alive is very unlikely to get promoted to a position of great power and responsibility in our society. Neither will a person who believes that the holocaust was a hoax. But people who believe equally irrational things about God and the bible are now running our country. This is genuinely terrifying.
The perpetrators of the Inquisition - the torturers, informers, and those who commanded their actions - were ecclesiastics of one rank or another. They were men of God - popes, bishops, friars, and priests.
There must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.
It is also true that the less competent a person is in a given domain, the more he will tend to overestimate his abilities. This often produces an ugly marriage of confidence and ignorance that is very difficult to correct for.
Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.
As a man believes, so he will act.
The problem with religion, because it's been sheltered from criticism, is that it allows people to believe en masse what only idiots or lunatics could believe in isolation.
Everyone who has eyes to see can see that if the God of Abraham exists, He is an utter psychopath--and the God of Nature too. If you can't see these things just by looking, you have simply closed your eyes to the realities of our world.
We have a choice. We have two options as human beings. We have a choice between conversation and war. That's it. Conversation and violence. And faith is a conversation stopper.
Almost all our suffering is the product of our thoughts. We spend nearly every moment of our lives lost in thought, and hostage to the character of those thoughts. You can break this spell, but it takes training just like it takes training to defend yourself against a physical assault.
What would our world be like if we ceased to worry about 'right' and 'wrong,' or 'good' and 'evil,' and simply acted so as to maximize well-being, our own and that of others? Would we lose anything important?
You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.
What we do in every other area of our lives (other than religion), is, rather than respect somebody's beliefs, we evaluate their reasons.
How we pay attention to the present moment...determines the character of our experience and...the quality of our lives.
It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. The problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available.
The truth is that we simply do not know what happens after death.
I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.
If faith is what you have to go on, if faith is the link between your beliefs and the world at large, your beliefs are very likely to be wrong. Beliefs can be right or wrong. If you believe you can fly, that belief is only true if indeed you can fly. Somebody who thinks he can fly, and is wrong about it, will eventually discover there's a problem with his view of the world.
Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors - ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.
Nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent deity.
Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a thelogically defensible reading of the Bible.
That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.
Nothing in Chomsky's account acknowledges the difference between intending to kill a child, because of the effect you hope to produce on its parents (we call this “terrorism”), and inadvertently killing a child in an attempt to capture or kill an avowed child murderer (we call this “collateral damage”). In both cases a child has died, and in both cases it is a tragedy. But the ethical status of the perpetrators, be they individuals or states, could not be more distinct For Chomsky, intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.
It is difficult to imagine a set of beliefs more suggestive of mental illness than those that lie at the heart of many of our religious traditions.
False encouragement is a kind of theft: it steals time, energy, and motivation a person could put toward some other purpose.
We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.
The power of psychedelics... is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.
The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific notions of martyrdom and jihad that fully explain the character of Muslim violence.
Science is the most durable and nondivisive way of thinking about the human circumstance. It transcends cultural, national, and political boundaries. You don't have American science versus Canadian science versus Japanese science.
The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost.
The faith of religion is belief on insufficient evidence.
Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.
Our world is fast succumbing to the activities of men and women who would stake the future of our species on beliefs that should not survive an elementary school education.
Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations' Human Development Report (2005), they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. . . . Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations' human development index are unwaveringly religious.
We are all prisoners of our thoughts.
While believing strongly, without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about. It is telling that this aura of nobility extends only to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Anyone caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane.
A true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self.
I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror.
Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person's thoughts.
Fundamentalism is only a problem if the fundamentals are a problem.
Imagine a world in which generations of human beings come to believe that certain films were made by God or that specific software was coded by him. Imagine a future in which millions of our descendants murder each other over rival interpretations of Star Wars or Windows 98. Could anything -- anything -- be more ridiculous? And yet, this would be no more ridiculous than the world we are living in.
We are faced with the task of convincing a myth infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient and you don't have to delude yourself and frighten yourself with Iron Age fairy tales. This is a monumental task. I don't think there is an intellectual struggle more worthy of our efforts.
It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas).
Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse.
108 quotes found