Sam Harris, a well-known secularist, philosopher and neuroscientist, was recently interviewed on CNN:
For the world to tackle truly important problems, people have to stop looking to religion to guide their moral compasses. Religion causes people to fixate on issues of less moral importance. We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education. These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And it’s not at the center of our moral concern. We talk about morality in ways that are uncoupled from real questions of human and animal suffering, and this is the influence of religion. Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife. And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century.
Harris claims that we should all ditch religion, because it delves into issues that are irrelevent in light of the critical issues facing the world today. Does this mean that we should ditch some form of arts that are irrelevant? Does this mean that we should ditch some scientific fields as well? What does paleontology and cosmology have to contribute to some of the big issues of the world? Why not direct all the best scientific minds into solving such issues rather than ponder about our origins?
Harris on the other hand, believes that a person who pours battery acid on a girl for trying to learn to read, for instance, is objectively wrong. According to him, science can provide answers to moral questions. This forms the premise of his talk at the TED conference. You can listen to it in the youtube video below. Now which part of science tells us this is wrong? Where does the objectivity come from? What standards can science provide on issues of morality? And yet he is certain that some religions are wrong in claiming that homosexuality is immoral. Who determines this? Can science prove this through empirical data? I agree with him that we can know with a fair amount of certainty regarding questions of morality and value. But is this form of knowing really scientific? Or does it appeal to a higher form of reasoning that goes beyond science, with its own set of assumptions? For instance, can science show that the survival of the human species should be the reason detaire for morality, as assumed by Sam Harris?
On the other hand, Sam Harris does have a point – one which people of all faiths need to take note of.
Why are Christians (not just in America) obsessed about homosexuality, when there are larger issues facing the world e.g genocide, environmental crises, and poverty? Why are the concerns of the church tangential to the concerns of the world? Why are Christians so concerned about the afterlife… searching for a pie in the sky? Was Jesus ever concerned about the afterlife? Or was he more concerned about how we lived in this life? Was Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God about life after death, or about God’s love and justice in the world? Was Jesus’ concerns widely different from that of his contemporaries? Or did he confront those issues head-on, while offering an alternative way forward?
Why are Muslims in Malaysia focusing on alcohol, the use of God’s name, adultery, when there are wider issues of corruption, oppression and abuse of human rights? And what are the Christians in Malaysia concerned about?