Sam Harris on the Language of God

(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

I was wondering if anyone knew of any responses to Sam Harris’ review of the Language of God, especially concerning the Moral Argument and Collins’ theodicy?

One wonders if the author has ever read a newspaper. The behavior of humans offers no such ?dramatic contrast.? How badly must human beings behave to put this ?sense of universal rightness? in doubt? And just how widespread must ?glimmerings? of morality be among other animals before Collins — who, after all, knows a thing or two about genes — begins to wonder whether our moral sense has evolutionary precursors in the natural world? What if mice showed greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones? (They do.) What if monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage-mates from receiving painful shocks? (They will.) What if chimps have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards? (They have.) Wouldn?t these be precisely the sorts of findings one would expect if our morality were the product of evolution?

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #2

Very interesting points.

There are, of course, those who believe that with at least certain aspects of morality, God could just as easily have used evolution to foster them in the creatures He was creating. In other words, at least some parts of morality might not constitute an exception to the way that God has created through evolution. Collins’ view is certainly widespread, but it’s not the only view. It’s not as if the only choices are Collins’s view or atheism.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #3

I agree, I was just wondering if anyone could respond, since Collins is linked to BioLogos

(RiderOnTheClouds) #4

Whose to say that some animals may not have the same objective values which we have? I think that Sam Harris’ view that objective morality is the result of human evolution is problematic because it is possible to imagine a world where evolution took a different path, and our morals are different, meaning that some Harris’ objective morality is not ‘objective’ at all.


Harris is very biased against Collins or anyone who doesn’t dismiss religion, like when he claimed that Collins defended his beliefs in the resurrection by refering to the writings of N.T. Wright and John Polkinghorn “but when you go and read them, its complete nonsense/crazyness”, without ever trying to clarify what exactly he found crazy or nonsensical in their writings (I strongly suspect is probably circular reasoning: Religions are silly fairy tales and people who defend a silly fairy tales shouldn’t be taking seriously, therefore, all arguments in favor of the veracity of any religion are crazy and nonsensical, therefore, religions are silly fairy tales). He even criticized his appointment to the NIH for the mere fact of Collins being openly christian and defending the compatibility of science and religion:

On Harris arguments themselves about morality in nature, I highly recommend this talk by Jeff Schloss:

The main point on human altruism is that: Yes, animals are perfectly capable of seemingly “altruistic” acts, as long as it increases the survival fitness of their genes (I.E. the individual doesn’t produce descent, but individuals which are genetically close to him are benefited by his “altruistic” behavior in a manner that ultimately makes his genes pass on to the next generation). But humans on the other hand are capable of acts which do not produce any of these benefits. Schloss gives several examples both in humans and animals in the talk.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #6

Sam Harris is really just motivated by New Atheist political correctness here. If you step back and think about it, there really is nothing wrong with appointing a Christian who accepts science to this position, I sense some hint of bigotry against believers here.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

Link wouldn’t work, can you paraphrase Schloss’ arguments (if you haven’t done so already)?


The talk is a little bit long: does this link work?

If it does, just search “Schloss, Jeff: The “End” of Love: Evolutionary Psychology, Altruism, and Human Flourishing” in the list, it is in alphabetical order.

(Randy) #9

Atheist counterpoint strengthens Christian thought by questioning mistakes. Hopefully, we can do the same to them. Sometimes, I think that we are a bit like the poem about the blind men and the elephant–we see part of the problem, and feel so certain about our points of view that we try argue the other’s out.
I agree with Harris that moral law can arise from evolution; and that there are problems with Collins’ (which was C S Lewis’ primary argument in Mere Christianity) argument from moral law.
However, the possibility that evolution created this adaptive advantage doesn’t mean that we don’t have a duty to God to seek out the best type of law. This is similar to the fact that, while the family unit evolved to protect human children while their superior brain developed over time, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a moral obligation to fulfill our commitments to support children and our spouses (love them).
I’m concerned that the moral law argument for God can be “God of the gaps,” similar to EC’s critique of ID. I don’t have any formal background in philosophy, so I may have huge holes rent in this note. However, while Collins’ book was very encouraging, there was more than the moral law argument that I benefited from.

(George T Rahn) #10

Distress is relative… Who says that it isn’t one mouse’s self-centered fear that it will be the next one to suffer? Who says that a mouse is less concerned or more concerned about its immediate mate? A starving monkey does this not to “help” its mate but to quickly end its own life because he/she may be the next one to receive the shock. No morality there but only self-centeredness and self-concern. Is it fairness in connection to others or self-centered concern and conceit? How does an observing scientist know, for real? Morality is a construct of group-think.

(Luca) #11

People who behave as harris does lose all credebility IMHO. Its easy to see where some atheists get their attitude from.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #12

I disagree with Collins that objective morality proves God, thoughI do think that God offers the best foundation for morality. If morality is just human flourishing, what happens when evil people flourish?

(Randy) #13

I wish Plantinga or Kreeft could get on here. I have a feeling they could teach me a lot.

What is evil? Antisocial behavior? Social behavior is adaptive, for certain. However, there are some who do better with being somewhat antisocial. As a species, though, antisocial behavior winds up in destruction. Morality is very adaptive, I imagine.

One of the benefits of evolutionary apprehension of morality is that we are always learning what is best. Irenaeus seemed to accept that. (Lamoureux talks about that at the end of his MOOC).

One of the particularly attractive things about Christianity to me is not just the 1) establishment of a fatherlike God who directs us to his concept of morality, far better than what we know or 2) his patience with us as children in learning that, but 3) the much greater than evolutionary idea of self sacrifice of this God toward us. Evolutionarily, we’d expect that survival is the best good. However, God turns that on its head and sacrifices Himself for our good. Morality and sociality, the value of the individual, triumph over survival and selfishness. The first is last, and the last, first. I have a lot to learn in this respect. I would appreciate your thoughts.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #14

Irenaeus probably has my favourite explanation for why there is evil


I don’t know about them, but Schloss is actually part of the biologos staff, maybe I can tag him here. @JeffSchloss

(Randy) #16

that would be great! Thanks.

(RiderOnTheClouds) #17

Whilst I agree that evolutionary altruism cannot explain everything, I do think that the Moral Argument is a ‘God-of-the-gaps’ argument. We don’t know where morality came from, therefore God.