Home > Politics, rationality > Comments on Sam Harris: ‘Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?’

Comments on Sam Harris: ‘Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?’

Sam Harris: ‘Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?’ – Tablet Magazine.

This is one of the best pieces of writing that I’ve seen in a long time on the subject of Israel vs Hamas / Palestine. The headline is misleading, though. Sam Harris does criticize Israel. But his criticism is specific, carefully weighed, and held up against the vastly more serious criticism that every rationally thinking person ought to level against the Hamas, ISIS, and the other Muslim militant fundamentalists.  Thanks to Kari Eugenie Damhaug for sharing this article on Facebook.

There’s a larger point here, though, which Sam Harris misses. It has to do with the way the human brain functions. He is best known for writing as an athesist, and he does a great job in illustrating how cool, rational, level-headed analytic thinking can be better than “faith” ….. as long as we are dealing with a brain capable of doing just that.

Rational thinking is great, but it can’t exist alone. It is always – and I repeat ALWAYS – superimposed on mountains and mountains of ideas and beliefs that become prejudice the moment they aren’t being actively investigated. Well-informed people can open up the “black boxes” of their prejdudices and make a good show of explaining how they can be defended rationally. Nobody can defend every prejudice they have, however, without falling back on positions where they haven’t personally examined the evidence, or where they think it’s sufficient explanation to refer to authority or other prejudice.

To me, that is where religion comes in. Religion is the stuff that fills in the gaps beyond which we know very little or nothing at all. It used to be practically everything beyond our daily survival skills, and that’s why all education used to start with religious education. The difference between well-informed people and less-informed people is mainly that the latter have a shorter way to go before they have to fall back on religion as I define it. A thinking that is totally devoid of any form of religion is an ideal, as unattainable in actual practice as the ideal of “God” in religious thinking.

Conflict between religion and science happens when the people that we inaccurately lump together as “science” find new answers to old questions, and when these answers seem to conflict with those given by religious authorities. If you give them a generation or two to adapt, religions have again and again shown themselves capable of adapting to such new discoveries. Here in the west, this has been going on for centuries, long enough to get a lot of religious people over to the positon that change can be good, and that it’s better for religion to adapt than go under.

In the Muslim countries, they haven’t had this kind of time to adjust their attitudes. For them, modernity arrived with a series of loud bangs, as their countries were attacked and subjected by our ancestors. In their minds, which can be every bit as prejudiced as ours, modernity does not only taste good. Their religious thinking has NOT had time to adapt to the idea of change. Faced with the threat that religion will need to adapt or go under, they only see the “go under” alternative. That’s why they fight. That’s why part of their fight is against education, and particularly against education for women. Women are the ones that will most quickly carry the “corruption” over to the next generation.

This is exactly what we must expect human beings to do when we place them in such circumstances. We are free to complain about it, but complaints are as unlikely to change the basic facts of human nature, as prayers are to make water flow uphill. If we want things to change, STOP PRETENDING that the (more or less uninformed) human brain is capable of more than it actually is. There are real reasons why these fights are going on, and unless our way of thinking adapts to them, it will also also be at risk of going under.

Categories: Politics, rationality
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