Sam Harris’ new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, is out today. I’m anxious to read it, but Harris’ tendency to squeeze the complexity out of life may render his musings unpalatable.
Witness these thoughts from a recent Huffington Post commentary:
This rupture in our thinking has different consequences at each end of the political spectrum: Religious conservatives tend to believe that there are right answers to questions of meaning and morality, but only because the God of Abraham deems it so. They concede that ordinary facts can be discovered through rational inquiry, but they think that values must come from a voice in a whirlwind. Scriptural literalism, intolerance of diversity, mistrust of science, disregard for the real causes of human and animal suffering — too often, this is how the division between facts and values expresses itself on the religious right.
Secular liberals, on the other hand, tend to imagine that no objective answers to moral questions exist. While John Stuart Mill might conform to our cultural ideal of goodness better than Osama bin Laden does, most secularists suspect that Mill’s ideas about right and wrong reach no closer to the Truth. Multiculturalism, moral relativism, political correctness, tolerance even of intolerance — these are the familiar consequences of separating facts and values on the left….
Knowing what the Creator of the Universe believes about right and wrong inspires religious conservatives to enforce this vision in the public sphere at almost any cost; not knowing what is right — or that anything can ever be truly right — often leads secular liberals to surrender their intellectual standards and political freedoms with both hands.
Harris is spot on that each end of the political spectrum is wrong, but he ignores religious and secular moderates, or at least renders them invisible in his online discussions. From his postings, Harris seems to be examining a landscape of nothing but swamps, while declaring that these quagmires are the whole world. His description of damp decay is accurate and the place sure stinks like he says, but two bits don’t make a whole.
What I want to see in his book is how secular and religious folks who don’t live on the soggy fringe make morality. If Harris can show that these moderate, practical answers fall short and that science is the only solution, then maybe I’ll buy his theory.