I knew they’d get along great. Sam Harris, author of The Moral Landscape doesn’t believe in free will, and the billion-dollar Canadian Broadcasting Corporation doesn’t believe in trying to find out whether anyone would watch them if they weren’t a tax burden (by going private).
Neuroscientist Sam Harris, one of the members of the so-called New Atheist movement, says that science can not only define morality, it may do a better job than religion.
“It’s simply untrue that religion provides the only framework for a universal morality,” Harris told CBC’s Mary Hynes on a recent episode of Tapestry. “Not only is it untrue, it doesn’t provide a good [framework] because, of course, we have many different religions on offer — they don’t agree on their basic principles and they have shattered the human community into these separate moral communities and I perceive that to be a real problem at this point in human history.” (3/7/11)
Lest I be misunderstood, what’s wrong here isn’t the guy’s opinion but the unlikelihood that he’d encounter anyone at a government broadcaster like the CBC who would dispute it. Anyone who would say, for example: “It seems to me that the primary ‘separate moral communities’ are new (materialist) atheists vs. everyone else. And the level of utopian fascism among new atheists is alarming. What about, for example, neurolaw – a sustained assault on the idea of innocence of a crime? Can we talk about that, for a change?”
While we’re here, Paul Marshall, a British born political scientist who taught for many years in Toronto, visted many countries on behalf of human rights for minorities. He has written a number of books on world religion, and points out that, contra Harris (who probably did no useful research in this area), there are only a few scenarios of violent conflict between religious groups. Most religious groups do not typically engage in violent conflict – however they may differ about, God, karma, nirvana, etc. For that matter, most members of religious groups with a history of violent conflict do not individually engage in such conflict. Most human beings are AWOL from religious wars almost all the time, however much fanatics might prefer otherwise.
It gets better when Harris explains his own view:
For example, he notes how recent studies involving neuroimaging have revealed that cooperation has a reward effect on the brain — working together drives dopamine into the medial prefrontal cortex, leading to elevated feelings of pleasure. Harris says this is why we know subjectively that “it feels good to trust others, [and] it feels bad to have trust violated.” In other words, understanding that one should follow the Golden Rule is built into us chemically and doesn’t necessarily require dogmatic reinforcement.
Really? Harris thinks the average four-year-old doesn’t need constant reinforcement that this is Planet Take Your Turn? Many 40-year-olds do too. (Cf. Criminal justice system) But then this is his view on his kid and drugs, so ….
Of course, commenters are invited to write in their critiques, but I doubt there’s any serious in-house debate – nor could there be in the kind of world a government broadcaster morphs into.
A far smarter analysis than any we’ll usually find at the CBC was provided by Skatje Myers here (yes, that’s right, PZ’s daughter). World needs more atheists like her, and fewer like Harris.
Canada does not need a government broadcaster. That’s a leftover from the days when news was hard to come by, and it shows.