Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Debating God

The MSNBC web site has a 10 page conversation/debate between Rick Warren and Sam Harris on various religious moderated by Jon Meacham.

At one point Harris condemns treating humans as farm equipment:
We got rid of slavery because we realized it was manifestly evil to treat human beings as farm equipment. As it is.
At another point, he claims that Christians not funding embryonic stem cell research for religious reasons is terrible.

Putting aside Harris' apparent ignorance about the millions of federal tax dollars which are provided to human embryonic stem cell research, isn't there a large disconnect here? Harris thinks it is wrong to treat human beings like farm equipment (presumably because human beings have some moral worth) yet he thinks it is terrible for Christians to oppose the intentional killing of human beings for the purpose of using their parts in research and he claims this is an explicitly religious reason.

On page 3, Meacham asks Harris a question which I don't think he answers.
Sam, what are the secular sources of an acceptable moral code?

HARRIS: Well, I don't think that the religious books are the source. We go to the Bible and we are the judge of what is good. We see the golden rule as the great distillation of ethical impulses, but the golden rule is not unique to the Bible or to Jesus; you see it in many, many cultures—and you see some form of it among nonhuman primates. I'm not at all a moral relativist. I think it's quite common among religious people to believe that atheism entails moral relativism. I think there is an absolute right and wrong. I think honor killing, for example, is unambiguously wrong—you can use the word evil. A society that kills women and girls for sexual indiscretion, even the indiscretion of being raped, is a society that has killed compassion, that has failed to teach men to value women and has eradicated empathy. Empathy and compassion are our most basic moral impulses, and we can even teach the golden rule without lying to ourselves or our children about the origin of certain books or the virgin birth of certain people.

I'm not seeing a source. He says religious books aren't his source, he's not a moral relativist, some things are bad and we can teach morals to children without relying on religious books.

So why are compassion and empathy are objectively moral? Why aren't enmity and hostility morally correct impulses? What is Harris' source for his view? Does he have a source or are these claims merely based on his feelings? And if so, then why are his feelings any better than the feelings of someone else who believes malice and hate are more moral than kindness and love?

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