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October 25th, 2009


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fivebells
04:35 pm - Sam Harris on meditation and the dangers of Dawkins-style atheism
I just came across this awesome talk by Sam Harris:

Transcript of the final ten minutes or so:
...from the point of view of our contemplative traditions... and this is to reduce them all down to a cartoon version that ignores the rather esoteric disputes between them... our habitual failure to recognize thought as thought, our habitual identification with discursive thought, is a primary source of human suffering, and when a person breaks this spell, an extraordinary kind of relief is available. Now the problem with a contemplative claim of this sort is that you can't borrow someone else's contemplative tools to test it. You have to develop your own tools.

Imagine in the science of astronomy, if you couldn't even observe whether there was a phenomenon worth looking at unless you built your own telescope: This would be an immense barrier to establishing astronomy as a science. It wouldn't make the sky any less worthy of our investigation, but it would be an immense impediment. To judge the claims of contemplatives, we have to build our own telescope. In judging their metaphysical claims and their philosophical claims we can use thought itself: many of these can be dismissed as bad science or bad philosophy on their merits. But to judge whether certain experiences are possible, and if possible, desirable, we have to able to use our own attention in the requisite ways, if only for a few moments.

Now one problem with atheism, it seems to me, as a category of thought, is that it's almost synonymous with not being interested in such phenomena, almost synonymous with not being interested in what the Buddha (or Jesus) may have experienced in his life. It seems to me that many atheists, though perhaps not all, reject such experiences out of hand as being undesirable or impossible. Another common mistake is to imagine that whatever experience these contemplatives have had, they're identical to experiences we're all familiar with -- they're identical to scientific awe or aesthetic appreciation or artistic inspiration. Let me just say as someone who has made his own modest efforts in this area, when someone goes into solitude for months or years at a time, and trains himself in meditation for fifteen to eighteen hours a day, doing nothing but observe the contents of his own consciousness and try not to be lost in thought: not reading, not writing, not talking, just making an effort moment to moment to pay undivided attention to the arising of thought and the arising of sensory experience, he experiences things that most scientists and artists are not familiar with, unless they've made the identical introspective efforts. And these experiences have something to say about the plasticity of human experience itself and the possibilities of human happiness. So apart from just commending these phenomena to your attention, I want to say that our neglect of these phenomena as atheists puts us at a rhetorical disadvantage. Because millions of people have had these experiences, and many millions more have had glimmers of them. And these experiences are often the most important and transformative in their lives. And if we by definition ignore them because of their entanglement with religion, we appear less wise than even our crazy religious opponents.

Now, I don't know if, as J. B. S. Haldane said, the universe is not only stranger than we suppose but stranger than we can suppose, but I'm pretty sure that it is stranger than we as atheists, tend to represent while advocating atheism. I mean, as atheists we tend to give people the sense, and even give ourselves the sense, that we are well on the way to purging the universe of mystery. As advocates of reason, we know mystery is going to be with us for quite some time. In fact there are good reasons to believe that mystery may be inerradicable from our circumstance. Because however much we understand the universe, it seems there might well always be brute facts which we can't explain, but which we must use to explain everything else. Now, this is not a problem for human life. It is not a barrier to human happiness. But we are faced with the task of convincing a myth-infatuated world that love and curiosity are sufficient, and that 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's any intellectual struggle more worthy of our efforts. But it seems to me that we should not, in this effort, fight in well-ordered ranks like the red coats of atheism.

It's worth thinking about what victory will look like. Again, the example of racism seems instructive to me. What will it look like when we finally conquer the evil of racism, should that happy day ever dawn? It's certainly not going to be a world in which a majority of people profess themselves to be nonracist. It will very likely be a world in which the very concept of separate races has lost its meaning. I think if we win this war of ideas with religion, we will find ourselves in world in which the concept of atheism is nonintelligible. It'll be a concept like non-astrology. Now I think this is absolutely worth fighting for. I think in fact this may be the only future compatible with our survival as a species, and this'll be a world where people simply cease to praise one another for believing things, or pretending to believe things, for which they have no evidence. But the only path between now and then, that I can see, is for us to be unremittingly honest, and to advocate intellectual honesty. It seems to me that intellectual honesty will always be more durable and deeper and more easily spread, than atheism. Thank you very much.

(24 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:wojtesticles
Date:October 25th, 2009 09:35 pm (UTC)

Religion is not the thought of fsuper powers, it's the organization of society

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Atheism is impossible. God means Father. Goddess means Mother. -The God of Abraham- The Father of Abraham. Terach. He existed. Now, for Terach to be the father of Jesus, his body must have gotten preserved enough for some seed to remain vital. A graverobbing Roman soldier perhaps took the preserved seed and while ravishing Mary in a Satanic ritual at a Roman orgy, impregnated her with Terach's preserved seed.

With the understanding of modern technology, and the cyclical nature of civilization's rise and fall, Atlantis, you can imagine how simple this really is.

Terach, and the Order of Society rules the planet not by super powers though with a combination of intellect and fear/reinforcement.

Any so called Atheist who does not notice that every business has Monday through Friday, Saturday, Sunday -7 day- cycles written on them, is extremely extremely deluded.


God, The God of Abraham, The Father of Abraham, Terach, certainly Existed.

It is only with the lack of logical discussion about how a God and Goddess create life, therefore create the entire universe for their offspring...


can the truth and reality be realized.

Atheism is the Denial that business runs on God's 7-day Command.


Atheists are Idiots, they don't know when the bank is open, they are sick people. And they need help for their ignorantitis

or ignorantisis.

thank you for your awesome participation.
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From:enisy
Date:October 25th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for posting this. That's exactly my problem with aggressive Dawkins-style atheism (although I can see why he takes those approaches, too).
From:dharuma
Date:October 25th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for posting this.

As someone who was born in USSR before the fall of the communist ideology I can assure every one that the extremes of atheism are in no manner better than the religious extremes.

In my opinion, atheism as practiced by some zealots becomes itself a kind of (anti)religion.

Sam Harris is right when he says that intellectual honesty is of highest importance.

If we want to understand how the Universe works and how our mind functions we have to open our eyes and look at the things as honestly as we can.

The existence or the non-existence of God are impossible to demonstrate.

Anything else is a matter of personal spiritual experience which is very diverse among different people.

We might ultimately have to confess our ignorance, but it's better than believing or non-believing on the basis of some dogmas and/or ideologies...
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From:mamculuna
Date:October 25th, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)
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Very true. I don't feel comfortable with True Believers or True Non-Believers. And Buddhism to me is non-theistic, not atheistic. A big difference.
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From:fivebells
Date:October 25th, 2009 11:47 pm (UTC)
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True non-believers are OK. But many atheists are believers — in atheism. It's kind of funny: like flying a banner for emptiness.
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From:mamculuna
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)
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Yeah, True Believers in non-existence. I'm not sure the Fundamentalist Atheist quite have a vision of emptiness, at least not as many Buddhist see it...
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From:owl_clan
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
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Skeptics are never skeptical of skepticism.
From:roogy
Date:October 26th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
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How can an atheist be a believer in atheism? What are they believing other than what they would already be believing as atheists (which is the lack of belief in a deity, nothing more and nothing less)?
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From:hummuscyde
Date:October 26th, 2009 11:50 am (UTC)
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Atheism is not merely a lack of belief in a deity. It takes the position unequivocally that there is no such thing as a deity or divinity. It's a theological position that can't be backed up with empirical evidence, unfortunately. And when people get aggressive about it (which as a repentant atheist, I have been guilty of), that's religious extremism. There are a lot of atheists out there that are *really* into not believing in God and are exactly as hard headed and obtuse as their evangelical counterparts.
From:dharuma
Date:October 26th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)
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It's a theological position that can't be backed up with empirical evidence, unfortunately.

Correct.
From:roogy
Date:October 26th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
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I agree, and I know some people do become rather aggressive in regard to atheism (as with many other views people hold), but I wonder if aggressiveness can be equivocated with extremism (which probably depends on what one means by "aggressive" and "extreme"). I would also wonder if those who are aggressive in regard to religious issues can be referred to as anti-theists, too, which is not that same as atheism.

But I do view atheism as the lack of belief in a deity (or the divine), which can also be expressed as believing that a deity doesn't exist. People may add onto their atheism, or in some cases make atheism the basis for a belief system they form, but I do believe that would be going into specific examples and instances of atheism.
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From:strang_er
Date:November 3rd, 2009 07:30 am (UTC)
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"But I do view atheism as the lack of belief in a deity (or the divine), which can also be expressed as believing that a deity doesn't exist."

Are those two things the same, though? I don't have any particular belief that Jehovah, Amida or Shiva exist, but i don't have any particular belief that they don't exist, either. That seems to be one problem with the term 'atheist', in that it's not clear whether it means not having a belief either way, or having a belief that something doesn't exist. That's why i prefer 'agnosticism' for the former.
From:roogy
Date:November 6th, 2009 04:01 am (UTC)
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I've seen arguments stating that believing something doesn't exist and lacking belief are basically the same statements, and other arguments that believing something doesn't exist is not the same idea as lacking a belief in something. I am still undecided on which view is more accurate in regard to atheism. Or if it is better handled using the terms "weak" and "strong" atheist. Then there are also the terms "gnostic atheist" and "agnostic atheist" that I've seen used.

I, personally, am agnostic towards the idea of a deity, but atheistic in regard to deities that are defined as to their characteristics by a person or a group of some sort.
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From:strang_er
Date:November 6th, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
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I've seen it argued that an atheistic viewpoint is essentially agnostic, as it can allow for the possibility of god(s) existing but so far finds no reason to believe it. One example used is the idea of a small teapot orbiting Venus - ie, i can't say for sure that there *isn't* a small teapot orbiting Venus, but i have no reason to believe there is and am not inclined to believe it unless given some reason. Is still think that's a bit different, as it has an element of "..but i find it very unlikely" and hence having an opinion, as opposed to more neutral fence-sitting.
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From:owl_clan
Date:October 26th, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
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While this particular atheist seems nicer and even wiser than others, his neat "nice guy" outline for their pogrom still bears all the marks of evil inherent to their crusade: to eradicate religion. There is a place for religion in human life, and no crowd of intellectuals touting "intellectual honesty" is ever going to change that, for simple and finite reasons.

There are religions that I wish didn't exist, but they do. And they aren't going to go anywhere. They will change, of course; all institutions and philosophies change over time, but they won't vanish. We've seen, in our long history, how impossible it is to stomp out a religion of any kind. They persist, in a countless number of ways. There are deep pylons of experience that can receive no better expression than a religious expression. "Religion" will always be a name given to life's mysteries by many people.

If anything, this doctrinal outline of conquest that he gave here only reinforces how insidious his movement really is.
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From:fivebells
Date:October 26th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
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Depends what you mean by religion. Sounds like he wants to keep the parts of religion I like (contemplative practice and consequent ethical development) and throw out the parts I don't (fundamentalist dogma which can't be verified by direct experience, and using said dogma to bully people with boogeymen like predictions of hellfire.) That seems to work very well in my own life, and I don't see why it couldn't work for the whole world.
From:dharuma
Date:October 26th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
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That seems to work very well in my own life, and I don't see why it couldn't work for the whole world.

People are different.

From:dharuma
Date:October 26th, 2009 02:46 am (UTC)
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There are deep pylons of experience that can receive no better expression than a religious expression.

Correct.

From:roogy
Date:October 26th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
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I would be careful not to confuse atheism with anti-theism. They are not the same thing; though most anti-theists tend to be atheists, too.

I think an interesting lecture on the part religion has played in various cultures throughout history was given by Jared Diamond.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWXr7pXoCTs
From:dharuma
Date:October 26th, 2009 03:00 am (UTC)
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There is a book that is relevant to the topic of this discussion.
It is one of my favorite books and I read it several times when I was a teen.
It is Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Master_and_Margarita

The story of the creation of this book is itself amazing.
And the author was a man who lived and survived many hardships without losing his faith.
The story unfolds around the visit by Satan to 1930-ies atheist Moscow.
So its' also a good reading for Halloween...

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From:makingthematrix
Date:October 26th, 2009 09:10 am (UTC)
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Uhm... My atheism came from intellectual honesty. I understand that what he wants to say is that certain people treat atheism as an ideology which gives them some sort of moral superiority over other people, and then atheism is harmful. But I don't know even one atheist in my real life who does that. They all became atheists because, just as I did, they found answers for their questions in science or secular philosophy or non-theistic systems like Buddhism or Daoism. We don't want to eradicate religion, we just want to be treated like equals in a country which is only a few steps from theocracy.

And I like Dawkins' works :P
From:dharuma
Date:October 26th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
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What I want to say is that it is impossible to give a definitive proof that God exists and in exactly the same manner it is impossible to prove unequivocaly that God doesn't exist.
Many people tried doing either and none succeeded. My position is that the intelectual honesty is to say that there's no definite proof for Theism or Atheism. Both are in fact beliefs rooted in religious or scientific traditions respectively and trying to explain the reality we are living in. Both are unable to give a perfect and complete explanation because the reality is simply too complex. Personaly I am agnostic: I don't know. But if one day I have a personal experience that demonstrates to me without any doubt remaining that there's a God I will simply accept it.
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From:makingthematrix
Date:October 26th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
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Lack of faith is not the same as faith in the opposite. I call myself an atheist simply because when someone asks me do I believe in God, I answer "No". "I don't know" is not an answer to this question because the question is "Do I believe", not "Do I know". I don't believe in God because the idea of the world without God fits better to the other elements of my worldview. But if I was presented with sufficient evidence I would change my view, of course, so I could call myself an agnostic. An agnostic atheist, to be specific, because the two don't contradict each other. "Atheist" answers the question "Do I believe" and "Agnostic" answers the question "Do I know". This is parallel to how science approach all theories: We stick to the ones which explains the most of evidence and discard others, but we are open to changing our decisions if the new data makes another theory more reliable.

Personally though I prefer to avoid the "agnostic" part, because of non-scientific reasons: I'm a Buddhist, I can't even imagine how could there exist a living being who is not a subject to karma.
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From:makingthematrix
Date:October 26th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
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* please do the mental editing with all -s and lack of -s at the end of some of the words.

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