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Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph.D. 
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Post Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph.D.
I could have sworn I posted this review a few weeks ago, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere in this forum. So here it is again.

Reason's Unreasonable Defender, Faith's Unlikely Friend:

A Discussion of Sam Harris' The End of Faith


David Eller


        There are certain book titles that should be permanently banned, including those that start with "the end of" (as well as any of its variations, such as "the twilight of," like the contrary and off-the-mark volume The Twilight of Atheism by Alister McGrath) and those that start with "the culture of." Both of these titles have been done to death, and frankly they show a lack of imagination that should alert the potential buyer and reader of such texts. Sam Harris breaks this rule with his new book; unfortunately, this is not the only manner in which he displays a lack of imagination and a dependence on exhausted and bankrupt themes.
        As a rationalist and a non-theist



Wed Jun 14, 2006 4:02 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
This is no doubt true, but it already presages problems with the direction he intends to pursue. First of all, the "cycle of murder" is only one



Wed Jun 14, 2006 4:04 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
Book 3: In Which Reason Leaves by the Back Door
        I was mildly bored and disappointed by the second mini-book in Harris' mini-trilogy, but I was only slightly prepared (although in retrospect I should have seen it coming) for the collapse of all reason in the third part. Here Harris, allegedly a major in philosophy, shows his most sophomoric side in his complete disregard for reason when it comes to his pet beliefs and theories, as well as his penchant to lecture on subjects that he has no expertise on and that do not advance his main cause in any way.
        The two major subjects in the two chapters that comprise this section (other than the short epilogue) are morality and spirituality. These are topics that rationalists should tread warily in. Morality is a tar pit that sucks in everything it touches, and spirituality, as I and others have argued in these very pages, is a matter that rationalists should eschew altogether. But Harris rushes in where rationalists fear to tread.
        Everything that he has to say about the two subjects is wrong. Starting with morality (in a chapter whose title is ironically shared with Michael Shermer's book The Science of Good and Evil



Wed Jun 14, 2006 4:05 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
The damage is done, so spirituality can be imported happily now. This key concept too is not defined, at least not consistently. At one point it is "cultivation of happiness directly" (192), at another point introspection and the study of consciousness (209). It is synonymous with mysticism, and as we were forewarned in part one, mysticism/spirituality is "significant" because it uncovers "genuine facts about the world." There are two problems with this. One is that a "science" of consciousness, let alone of happiness, does not inform about the world but at best about the self or the society; I cannot assume that my experience (especially my altered experience) of the world really says more about it than it does about me. That would be akin to saying that, if I take a psychoactive drug, I am seeing a different aspect of reality, when I am rather seeing the same reality in a different condition as a receiver or experiencer. This leads us to the second problem, which is well documented in John Horgan's Rational Mysticism, a book Harris would have been wise to read before he made his pronouncements. Horgan, a science writer, interviewed a wide variety of "spiritual seekers" from Huston Smith to Ken Wilber to Stanislov Grof to Michael Persinger. The one thing he comes away with is that mystical encounters are as different as the people who have them: some are ineffable while others are highly specific, some are positive while others are negative, some are profound while others are trivial. Contrary to what Harris asserted earlier, they are not even always "personally transformative."
There are a number of other gratuitous and probably false claims in this chapter, including a defense of dualism, an attack on pacifism, a denial that consciousness is a brain function, and a conclusion that mysticism is "rational." Not only that, but a few things he says now openly contradict things he has said previously, some of these contradicted things being the very heart of his book. The most astounding one, in his broadside against pacifism, is that "I believe we must accept the fact that violence (or its threat) is often an ethical necessity" (199). With that his entire house crumbles, for the first two-thirds of the book were dedicated to a condemnation of religion as a source of violence, and even most of the final third was a paean to love. But I'm sure many jihadists, crusaders, terrorists, inquisitors, and gay-bashers would wholly agree with his last statement and would offer it themselves as their motivation. By the time he concludes, on the penultimate page of the text, that "we are the final judges of what is logical" (226), my despair as a passionate rationalist was complete.

Conclusion: One Man's Reason is Another Man's Religion
        The End of Faith, despite its worn out title, has some things to say that are worth hearing; I heartily recommend that rationalists and Atheists read the first third or even half and then dispose of the rest. Harris' heart is in the right place, but hearts are not thinking organs. The end of faith is a good goal, but the retreat from reason that he takes to get there is wrong and dangerous



Wed Jun 14, 2006 4:07 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
Chris, I think you have posted this before, but something seems to have happened to the first post.

I only have one point to make, and it's a point that I've made a number of times before, so I won't labor it overmuch here. Eller says that the first third of the book, which argues for the danger faith poses to reason, is the soundest section, and that the last third in some degree betrays the probity of the first. In regards to that last part, he writes:

Contrary to what he seems to think, a fact is not an intuition, an axiom or principle is not an intuition, and reason is not an intuition. Incredibly, he even argues that the only objection to the intuition of magical thinking is "the intuitive content of rational thinking" (184). I cannot imagine a more muddled position



Thu Jun 15, 2006 12:31 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
I am currently reading David Eller's "Natural Atheism" (great book, check out the reviews on Amazon.com) and Eller really rails against the whole mysticism concept. A full review of Eller's work is forthcoming once I am done. Just wanted to chime in that I appreciate Eller's criticism. Many of the issues Eller touches upon were covered during our discussion of "End of Faith." Eller is a much better spokesperson for Atheism in print than Harris. Then again, I think most atheists would be better spokes persons than Harris.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 11:46 am
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
Chris, thanks for posting that review, which I hadn't seen before. Eller's views are rather similar to mine, though he's much better informed than I am, and his opinion of the first third of the book is more charitable than my impression.

Mad:
All rational discourse is founded on some premise that is taken as given, a premise which we do not derive by demonstration and which we can only substantiate by testing it in reference to some other a priori premise.

Actually, Eller seems to agree with that stance, as can be seen in his defense of relativism. Harris would disagree, which was of the reasons I was underwhelmed with his discourse.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 4:43 pm
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Post Re: Review of "The End of Faith" by David Eller Ph
I'll shoot Eller an email and see if he would like to interact in this thread/discussion.




Sat Jul 01, 2006 8:53 pm
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