Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sam Harris's TED Talk Still Making Waves

The thesis of Harris's TED talk essentially boils down to this: that moral questions do in fact have objectively true answers, and that science is the best way to find these answers. If you find yourself reacting negatively to that, you're not alone. (Original talk is here. Really worth watching.)

What's most interesting and refreshing is that the ensuing debates in the blogosphere have not at all followed the well-worn tracks that these things usually take. Post-modern theologians have come to his defense; atheist scientists have attacked his position; atheists have defended the defending theologians, etc. This is a sign that he's saying something new and worth listening to. Not surprisingly, the discussion has been a fruitful one.

What's best about all this is that the debate is about the origins of morality. It's very easy for atheists to get side-tracked into debates about creation vs. evolution, but that's a side show. To really sell reason and atheism to on-the-fence people, it is our charge not just to tell them it's true, but that it gives us a better way to live - and morality must provide the foundation of any such claim. Harris is making the strong argument that yes, there is a knowable, objective moral truth - and it doesn't come from ancient scriptures.

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