Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction.
Mr. Harris' writing has been published in over ten languages. He and his work have been discussed in Newsweek, TIME, The New York Times, Scientific American, Rolling Stone, and many other journals. His writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, Nature, The Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere.
Mr. Harris is a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and holds a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, where he studied the neural basis of belief with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). He is also a Co-Founder and CEO of Project Reason.
Question: How do you define faith?
Sam Harris: Well we use the word “faith” in a variety of ways. And there are certain senses of the term that I think are unobjectionable. I mean you tell someone to have faith in themselves, for instance. That is not to recommend a kind of delusional certainty. It is to recommend a kind of positive attitude in the face of uncertainty. I think that’s totally healthy and necessary, and we should have that kind of faith. We shouldn’t confuse that kind of faith with the faith that really is the permission that religious people give one another to believe things strongly on bad evidence. It’s very explicit things about the nature of the cosmos, what happens after death, the moral structure to this universe. So you have people believing that they’re gonna get 72 virgins in paradise if they die in the right circumstances – in defense of Islam, in this case. That is a proposition about metaphysics, about what happens after death, and about what this almighty sadist in the sky wants human beings to do while alive. And it’s a proposition for which there really is no good evidence. And so that kind of faith – the faith that says, “It’s okay to believe that,” despite the fact that there’s no good reason to believe it . . . that there’s no good justification to believe that . . . that’s the kind of faith I’m criticizing.
Recorded on: July 4 2007