I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I’ve been visiting this site for over a year and only now got around to reading “The End of Faith.” I assumed it was going to be a lot of preaching to the choir, and as such not worth my time. The first three chapters were pretty much what I expected. Had I not decided to read the whole book no matter what, I probably would have put it down.
Chapter four (on Islam) was better. I think Islam rightly deserves Harris’s sharpest criticism. I think he also makes some good points in chapter five, where he identifies some specific problems caused by Christian influence over public policy in the U.S..
But by far the best part of the book in my opinion, and worth the price of admission, was the last two chapters, on the “science” of good and evil, and experiments in consciousness. In a way, it’s a pity Harris didn’t put these last two chapters first, as I think I might have approached the rest of the book with a more open mind. (Now I’m thinking I need to re-read it from the beginning.)
Anyway, if you’ve been putting off reading “The End of Faith” because you’re expecting an atheist diatribe, I’d recommend giving it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised, as I was.
The section on consciousness didn’t hold my interest. I don’t blame Sam for that. Maybe it’s my personal prejudice, but whenever people talk about the nature of perception or consciousness, I picture stoners saying things like, “You ever really notice your hand before?”
My absolute favorite chapter in the End of Faith, the one that really made me start thinking was the chapter on the nature of belief. That chapter was very different from most of what I had previously read in other books on atheism. I think it is also the chapter that have had the most impact on my reasoning.
Maybe it’s my personal prejudice, but whenever people talk about the nature of perception or consciousness, I picture stoners saying things like, “You ever really notice your hand before?”
Hey, man, what’s wrong with that?
I more or less agreed with much of what Harris had to say before I eye scanned the text. Plus, I had heard his lecture for the Long Now Foundation (downloadable on their site) beforehand as well.
My biggest question about the book involves human nature: can we blame all of the ills Harris describes on religion? Would life be, or have been, any different without religion? People seem perfectly capable of nastiness without help, so should Harris argue about the “nasty” spots of human nature rather than pegging it on religious belief?
My guess is, were religious belief eradicated, that humans would find other rationalizations for strange beliefs not based on evidence. If Nietzsche is correct that falsity and error remain conditions for human life, perhaps we’re in this situation for the long haul.
Other than that nagging question, I really enjoyed the book.
Ewomack, “blaming all ills on religion” is really a straw man created by Sam’s critics. From my reading, Sam has said nothing of the kind.
Religion receives so much focus because it represents the overwhelming majority of “strange beliefs not based on evidence,” and therefore poses a greater harm to society. There are plenty of secular beliefs that fit that description, and they all rightly deserve criticism, but they don’t draw as much attention because the harm they pose is much less. Astrologers aren’t trying to legally require public schools to teach about star signs.
The cause of these strange beliefs is not necessarily falsity and error. That’s too general. The specific causes are the fears of death and of the unknown. Strip away everything else from any strange belief, and you have an attempt to deny that fear by either exerting control over the universe or postulating an entity or entities that have that control.