11 3

Harris' ideas seem to be disliked by most of the IDW blogosphere

A few days ago, I posted a discussion about using science to better understand morality and eventually to advocate for a moral landscape that fosters human well-being. []

Most of the comments rejected Harris' proposition that science can inform morality and form an at least somewhat objective basis to identify and advocate (1) for behaviors, customs and policies that generally promote human well-being, and (2) against behaviors, customs and policies that generally decrease well-being. The comments tended to state or imply that Harris' ideas are wrong or otherwise unacceptable.

Just curious. Do members of this IDW group agree with the ideas that Harris advocates for morality and moral realism?

  • 36 votes
  • 7 votes
  • 11 votes
Germaine 6 Apr 3
You must be a member of this group before commenting. Join Group

Be part of the movement!

Welcome to the community for those who value free speech, evidence and civil discourse.

Create your free account


Feel free to reply to any comment by clicking the "Reply" button.


Discussions around secular morality and whether you can have objective morality without God have been around since before Sam Harris popped up on the radar.

Does Sam Harris bring anything new or unique to this? I know that Sam Harris is an extremely good communicator, he maps out ideas in ways that are relatively easy for his target audience to understand, without the deluge of big words and uncompleted sentences and obscure references that some self-indulgent public intellectuals like to engage in.

I am personally unconvinced that any morality, God based or science based or tradition based, can be said to be truly objective. Morality is either a human construct or it's a property of reality as designed by God. I fall strongly on the side of morality being a human construct. Sure, maybe we humans can construct a better version of morality, using science, than that provided by myth and superstition. But that doesn't mean it's objective.

Crikey Level 7 Apr 25, 2019


I assume you are, at least in large part, referencing this work (The Moral Landscape) by Harris.

I have not read the book but am familiar with a few of the concepts behind it.

The following is from the Wikipedia article I linked to above. I found these comments interesting:

Critiquing the book, Kenan Malik wrote:

Imagine a sociologist who wrote about evolutionary theory without discussing the work of Darwin, Fisher, Mayr, Hamilton, Trivers or Dawkins on the grounds that he did not come to his conclusions by reading about biology and because discussing concepts such as "adaptation", "speciation", "homology", "phylogenetics" or "kin selection" would "increase the amount of boredom in the universe". How seriously would we, and should we, take his argument?

American novelist Marilynne Robinson, writing in The Wall Street Journal, asserted that Harris fails to "articulate a positive morality of his own" but, had he done so, would have found himself in the company of the "Unitarians, busily cooperating on schemes to enhance the world's well being, as they have been doing for generations."

David Sexton of the London Evening Standard described Harris's claim to provide a science of morality as "the most extraordinarily overweening claim and evidently flawed. Science does not generate its own moral values; it can be used for good or ill and has been. Harris cannot stand outside culture, and the 'better future' he prophesies is itself a cultural projection. "

John Horgan, journalist for the Scientific American blog and author of The End of Science, wrote "Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. ... Neuroscience can't even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we're going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations' affairs?"


Harris is a polarising figure. Consider me well polarised at the "Harris is a ****" end of the spectrum.

Crikey Level 7 Apr 24, 2019

Harris is hypocrite and an Israel Firster. He cannot be trusted.

Siggy Level 4 Apr 5, 2019

I’m not so sure.



I truly believe by bringing back just the simple list of GOD'S 10 Commandment's to our children's learning society as a whole will grow toward better within 10 year's.


Human well being starts at a individual level and if we don't have the freedom of choice, for the basic thing's we prefer for self care as an individual. then the society will suffer as a whole. That is may be to some a small issue, but in numbers of people it's a big reason Democratic policies fail.

@Daryl is child abuse ilegal really?
Sex ed for 4 year olds
11 year old dance's as drag Queen in gay bar celibrated on Daily shows and investigated by CPS more then 6 time's and found to be not a cancern
Gender studies for children parent's can not op their children out
Drag Queen read's to children at library one is a child preditor
CIAis in the child trafficking buisness.
Need more?
It's ilegal when the pwerful say so.
Is child porn ilegal?
children as young as 6 on stage of both gender's with naked male model's
Photos of children tied up in drain swimming pool's some in nooses
Sketches of children between a grown man's legs give a you know
So please explain you reseach and how it's ilegal. And why it's ok for some or pushed in this why or otherwise?
Self responsibility and mantaining your ability to govern. Yourself is a must. Because this is what the power do to children our children.


This subject is too complex to have only those three options. Also, we need a definition for "moral realism" We also need to know what is "human well-being". Do we think collectively (what is best for the greatest number of people) or individually (what is good for the individual is good for society as a whole) on "human well-being"? Are we capable of relating consequences to causation, because some consequences take time to unfold? What if our scientific inquiry takes us back to God? Did we waste lives, time and eternity in the meantime?


I read your other post. You don't give any examples of how science can inform morality. Can you give an example?

I did not vote because I'm having a hard time understanding what the pole is even asking. Morality helps promote human well being. Not sure what moral realism is and how science is involved.


Morality pivots on the idea of human life having intrinsic value. Nothing in the material universe can make that claim or even measure it. Policies and science is ever changing and re-changing and the definition of good and evil or the “common good” is ultimately derived from a small number of individuals. This is why the founding fathers bring God into the equation, they believed the only way to insure intrinsic value is to base it higher than the individual...which is really the only logical way of doing it.

Can it not be possible try and create new tools beside god to steer mortality ?
God was used because it is popular, simple and stable compared to any other alternative for morality. what sam wants to bring to the table is incomplete and full of holes but it should be something worth working on.


I do think one can make legitimate claims about certain morals and observer the effects to draw conclusions, to an extent. That’s not the point I attempted to make. I don’t think one can truly assert an absolute truth that our lives have intrinsic value solely through the observation of the material world or human behavior. When I say life has intrinsic value, I don’t mean it to be “my truth”. I believe it’s the truth despite your potential objection or any majority consensus. For you to say you believe it to be true even if no one else does (including the scientists I’d presume) seems conflicting. This is where the problem lies, for if you place it in the hands of “science” it becomes subject to whatever/whoever makes up said science.

On a side note..i have issue with how science seems to be portrayed by many people I’ve heard here, not you necessarily. It’s talked about as if it’s some independent, unified institution, that is immune to human corruption due to all the facts and rational. I think this is far from the truth. Science and secular world views have really given religion a run for it’s money, in only a fraction of the time. I’m hardly trying to defend religion here but I believe both fall into the same traps. They both think they’ve got it figured out and become consumed with self interests and ideologies. This happens more with science as it moves further from it’s initial purpose, analyzing material make up.

Anywho, it pretty much comes down to one major issue with it all for me. I can’t see how you can escape relativism without setting up a standard that supersedes our experiences.

I’m surprised you pulled the “separation of church and state” card on me. Obviously there was no intention for a state religion (that was part of the tyrannical system they abandoned), but to say it’s explicitly secular is concerning. I’ll just ask if that were the case, how could they say we have inalienable rights bestowed by our creator? It wasn’t a religion they based it on, it was God. The difference is immense.

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”

-C.S. Lewis

I disagree with your premise that God was used because of simplicity or the lack of better options. We’ve been asking the same questions for a long time and science has hardly scratched the surface.

God isn’t the tool, he’s the purpose.

@JoeySparks You can disagree.
I'm just really puzzled. On one side you say morality pivots around the human intrinsic value, which you define as immeasurable, and on the other that the individual can make legitimate claims to a certain extent.

If the point of Harris was to push that extent, would you be more inclined to the idea?

And regarding your point about science I agree, but the push for new ideas can hardly be stopped, no matter the danger, but its why we should and have those discussions. I'm personally here to clash ideas and question to have a better picture of people who have visions different than mine.


Yes, I believe morality pivots on the idea of human life having intrinsic value, and I believe that idea can’t be proven by scientific method. But I don’t believe morality is unmeasurable, I didn’t mean to conflate the two. Morality plays out in the world, so it can be observed, but the idea of intrinsic value of one material thing over another is not observed, but rather a truth claim.

I don’t have a problem with analyzing human behavior and morality to better understand how it all plays out, I’m actually interested in such things. I’m all for Harris in that aspect, until he puts the authority of that idea (intrinsic value) to a thing that can neither prove it or justify it. Not only is science (in this realm) not a sound foundation but the idea becomes subject the authority giver. I’m not trying to bash science but it’s susceptible to human nature, like religion. An example of this for me would be the abortion situation.


I hope my previous response to Julian974 sheds enough light on my thoughts to your first two points. Can’t come up with a better way at the moment. But I want to clarify on the third.

When I said that the founding fathers brought God into the equation, you took that as if I claimed they attempted to bring religion into the constitution. I wasn’t talking about the concept of state and church separation because it’s irrelevant. My claim is that they put the authority of the constitution to God, not to a government or religion. This doesn’t mean the constitution is a holy text but that it’s a claim to absolute truth. That it’s an attempt to break the vicious cycle of tyrannical human entities that’s been plaguing earth throughout all history. I believe they did this for the same reasons I have issue with defining morality solely on science. That time and time again we humans fail to uphold the very morals we claim are evident because we’re playing God. It never goes well when we do that...

This is what Jefferson said when they declared our independence.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

@Daryl Indeed, inalienable tights and Creator are language of Jefferson and Franklin from the Declaration. They needed the Higher Authority card to play against the king’s secular authority. After the war made all that irrelevant, the constitution (which Jefferson didn’t like) dispenses with the un-needed baggage.


What Harris wants to do... Isn't it to build a new set of moral guidance that everyone can rely on without it being tied to religion ? It doesnt seem really wrong if he takes lesson from the religious stories ( which most people are familiar with) to build something new and possibly more reliable.

Trying to build something like that from scratch is not possible without influence and if he wants to build something new, he has to understand what worked in the past and find new ways to make it fit what he is aiming for.

Morality based on facts and empirical evidence (as opposed to some religious stories) wouldn't be so bad it would just be kind of dull in my opinion.

@Daryl I might have been too broad when I said "everyone" but that is actually a clear and articulate idea of what I had in mind. Also, It is not about putting religion aside but consolidating what "morality" is. Which might very well reinforce some religious beliefs (like you said) and that could very well be a good thing.

Except the fact that science has absolutely nothing to do with morals. That is a philosophical question, not scientific.
This has been the consensus accepted by both theists and atheists alike until the late 20th century. Militant atheists, instead of trying to find the truth, they have stuck to their position and their main objective is to disprove the existence of a creator. Bastardization of science to prove their point is idiotic. As soon as they realize that science has nothing to do with moral claims, the better for everyone.

*Except the fact that science has absolutely nothing to do with morals. That is a philosophical question, not scientific.

So is the issue the fact that it is called "Science"? I would also like Harris to try changing the terms to avoid creating confusions, maybe it can be considered a mistake on his part. He really plays in a middle ground between philosophy, science and religion though. If he had created a new word his idea would probably be dismissed more than it currently is.

*science has nothing to do with moral claims

You are probably right, but what really does have to do with moral claims?
Both religion and philosophy have done good to get close to it but if either of them had it nailed down we wouldn't have this discussion. What is wrong if a third party like science come up with a new aspect that was not touched before ?

I believe Sam Harris has a good idea but nothing is solid enough yet. There is a lot of research and study needed for Sam harris to have a solid ground.

@Scanderbeg Science as a social pursuit requires SOME morals. It doesn’t work if researchers lie, make up results, or are otherwise fraudulent. Also if they are not minimally collegial and fair with each other and each other’s work.


Science is not in the business of finding out morality. It just cant. You need a standard to which all actions are measured. You need a law giver which has both values such as good and evil and into which actions of individuals are measured, thus placing them in one side or the other. Since science does not have that function, it falls on its face. What you're looking is in the department of philosophy. Answers that you're seeking are not scientific but rather philosophical ones. This point has been made many times and we've been beating a dead horse in order to make science do something that it simply cannot do. You can't have objective morality if there is no central power (creator) that defines what is good and what is bad. If no creator = morality is relative = destroys Harris's claims since the two contradict. When Harris defines whats good and what is bad, he is "borrowing" those ideas from a creationist world view. He then strips the idea of a creator and is left with a set of values that become nothing but a personal opinion. He can't back up his claims without committing a fallacy.

Ecellent reply sir! Well done.

Science could create those functions, however. It is not that science cannot progress to the point of inventing moral grounds, it's that the current rules of science are often the antithesis of morality. For example, science cannot begin to determine the line between killing and murder—a definition that has even confounded many theologians in history. Another relatively simple exercise that science would currently fail: adultery. Is monogamy a benefit to society or not? Most humans would never want to be betrayed, yet from the current vantage of scientific thought, cheating on one's spouse may be considered natural and monogamy may be deemed unnatural. Although things like the "golden rule" may seem simple to us today, the beauty of it's ingenuity will not easily be replaced by a scientific standard. The social Darwinism experiment also posed many questions to society that weren't resolved, and it ultimately led to horrific deeds.

Im familiar with some of the authors you cited and I do not believe they support your position on this matter. Again,, you CANNOT have objective morality if there is no higher intelligent creator to have created them in the first place for us to identify them. The Personal, Socio-economic, socio-emotional behavior and judgment fall into relative morality spectrum not the Objective Morality. People ought to go back and study the definitions of these terms. Stretching science to encompass and advance a particular ideology is intellectually dishonest. Using science as a tool by militant atheists has led to these dilemmas. Forcing science to disprove the existence of creator while at the same time claiming that objective morality exists, is fallacious and falls on its face. Not to mention the damage that it does to the scientific method of knowledge.

Im sure we'll come across each others comments and responses in the future and i must thank you for the civility and respectful discussion. We seem to disagree on some core things but that is ok.


None of these options is something I can support. Obviously, morality does promote human well-being. What I find objectionable is Harris’ position on the ability of science to “somewhat” objectively define what is moral.

@Daryl I don’t argue that they cannot. Any degree of objectivity can apply to any question of morality. In fact, objectivity is required to judge any moral stance (unless you ascribe to moral relativism, which is utter nonsense). My disagreement with Harris is simple, it is not a “scientific” observation nor a function of science to define morals.

Write Comment

Recent Visitors 160


Posted by RitBorgShould any IDW types celebrate the removal of people from the public discourse? I think Sam has made an error with this one.

Posted by GodlessHarris is refreshingly upfront about his argument: the subtitle of his book is How Science Can Determine Human Values.

Posted by ThomasSheedySam Posted this on his Instagram recently. What are your thoughts?

Posted by GeeMacSam Harris has unlocked all content on his meditation app, “Waking Up” from today to the end of the year.

Posted by postmaster“It turns out the IDW is mostly a collection of disillusioned liberals looking for a place to have honest conversation.

Posted by SpikeTalonGood questions...

Posted by ChadwickShould Sam Harris have Stefan Molyneux or Jared Taylor on his Making Sense pod cast to talk about Race?

Posted by SpikeTalonOne of my favorite quotes from Harris.

  • Top tags#video #SamHarris #world #media #god #politics #Podcast #moral #book #government #reason #youtube #IDW #truth #culture #death #politicians #religious #hope #faith #rights #evolution #money #biden #insane #religion #college #racist #laws #morality #children #Socialmedia #humans #liberals #ideology #community #FreeSpeech #nation #JordanPeterson #BenShapiro #population #evil #society #censorship #Constitution #atheism #liberal #plays #fear #debunking ...

    Members 5,911Top