Sam Harris vs. Reza Aslan – 2007 Debate on Religion and Reason – Part-transcript

Here is a very interesting (to me) video of a 2007 debate on Religion and Reason between Sam Harris and Reza Aslan. From, “Samuel B. “Sam” Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, philosopher and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason.” and “Harris is a contemporary critic of religion and proponent of scientific skepticism and the “New Atheism”. He is also an advocate for the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and the liberty to criticize religion. Harris has written numerous articles for The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, and the journal Nature. His articles touch upon a diversity of topics, including religion, morality, neuroscience, free will, terrorism, and self-defense.”

I think Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are perhaps the most prominent anti-religion scientist-atheists in the world today.

However Harris does acknowledge the reality of spiritual experiences. An interesting extract of Harris from the part-transcript is given below:

“The reality is, it is possible for a person to close their eyes and use their attention in a certain way such that they no longer feel separate from the universe, say. You know, they felt it was just me a moment ago and then all of a sudden there’s just the world. Okay. That is an experience that is replicable, that we can all have, that many of us I’m sure have had. Most people, most of the time have had these experiences in the context of a religious tradition and they have interpreted them by the light of their religious tradition. The problem with this process is that it is not in the scientific spirit encouraging of rigorous honesty. It is encouraging of dogmatism and metaphysical speculation and … Yes, there are diamonds in the dunghill of religion. You know, Rumi and Meister Eckhart are attesting to a kind of experience that I think we should all be desperate to have. The problem is we need to talk about it honestly …”

So Sam Harris may well agree with the philosophy of Advaita. But he may not believe that intense prayer can result in miracles that break laws of material sciences like physics & chemistry (materialization miracles) or knowledge of medical science (healing miracles).

From, “Reza Aslan (… born May 3, 1972) is an Iranian-American writer and scholar of religions. He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, a Research Associate at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, and a contributing editor for The Daily Beast. His books include the international bestseller No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which has been translated into 13 languages, and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which offers an interpretation of the life and mission of the historical Jesus.” At the time of the debate his most famous book seems to be “No god but God …”.

While I do not agree with all that Reza Aslan said in the debate I thought he articulated the case for religion very, very well.

Interesting extracts from the part-transcript spoken by Reza Aslan: “I mean, the entirety of human history is inextricably bound to religion, cannot be divided … the conception of religion as a language – we are tossing this word religion around a lot. We should figure out what we mean when we say it. Religion is the language through which one describes the transcendence. And by transcendence I don’t mean anything more complicated than that which lies beyond our material realm, our experience of the material realm. We need a means through which we can describe this, through which we can express it to ourselves and more importantly to one another. And religion provides that language.” … “The comment you made about scriptures and how to understand (them) – very, very good question. The way that I think that, you know, scholars of religion, historians of religion like Jonathan and myself, the way we look at religions or scriptures is essentially as a documentation of this sort of experience, this historical experience of the transcendence and the human need to sort of express that through symbols and through metaphors, through stories, through sacred history.”

A Part-transcript of the debate is available as a comment on the youtube video page of the debate. You can access the comment and the video here. The comment has been made on 5th February 2014 and has the username as Ravi S. Iyer.


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