Shermer on Harris: The Moral Landscape

A few months ago I promised to review Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape for this blog.  I read the book, took copious notes, and started writing the review… and stopping.  And writing… and stopping.  And writing… and… well you get the idea.  It is hard to review such a very bad book, especially if you really would rather be nice.  And especially a book that so many others have praised.  But praise from others does not make the book any better.

(For the record, I actually agree with the primary thesis, that morality must take science into account at the deepest levels.  That’s my dissertation project.  And, by the way, it is not antithetical to religion.)

Anyway, when I saw that Michael Shermer, professional skeptic, was praising Harris in Scientific American, I had to say something.  I really try to like what Shermer says; I keep hearing he’s a nice guy.  And Shermer does bring up a great point about the weakness in Harris’s argument, that when it comes to politics things are going to get rough and basically not work.

But all I want to say on Harris for now is that his general thesis – the one I agree with – gets lost in his many wasted pages of ranting on religion, or at least what Harris thinks religion is.  And Shermer does a disservice to ignore how much of a distraction that is in Harris’s book.  Fourteen pages of revenge on Francis Collins?  Harris, grow up.  As a “skeptic,” Shermer shouldn’t let it slide (Massimo Pigliucci didn’t), because it calls into question the entire motivation of the book.  Maybe Shermer really hates the book, but can’t bring himself to dump on it, and did this bit as his perfunctory “I’m mentioning your book, now lay off.”  I hope so.

God willing I will some day complete my review on Harris and post it here on TMMF. I will somehow, charitably, explain in great detail how bad the book is.  Until then, stay tuned.


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