Sam Harris

American author, philosopher and neuroscientist (born 1967)

Samuel Benjamin Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, philosopher, public intellectual, and neuroscientist, as well as the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason. He is the author of The End of Faith (2004), which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction in 2005 and appeared on The New York Times best seller list for 33 weeks, Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), The Moral Landscape (2010), Lying (2011), Free Will (2012), and most recently Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014).

You don't get anything worth getting by pretending to know things you don't know.
See also:
The End of Faith (2004)




It is time we admitted that we are not at war with "terrorism". We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims...
  • It is time we admitted that we are not at war with "terrorism". We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us.
  • Unreason is now ascendant in the United States—in our schools, in our courts, and in each branch of the federal government. Only 28 percent of Americans believe in evolution; 68 percent believe in Satan. Ignorance in this degree, concentrated in both the head and belly of a lumbering superpower, is now a problem for the entire world.
  • It is time that scientists and other public intellectuals observed that the contest between faith and reason is zero-sum. There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.
  • We are now in the 21st century: all books, including the Koran, should be fair game for flushing down the toilet without fear of violent reprisal.
The treatment of women in Muslim communities throughout the world is unconscionable.
  • The principal tenet of Jainism is non-harming. Observant Jains will literally not harm a fly. Fundamentalist Jainism and fundamentalist Islam do not have the same consequences, neither logically nor behaviorally.
  • Our circumstance is abject, indefensible, and terrifying. It would be hilarious if the stakes were not so high.
  • I've read the books. God is not a moderate. There's no place in the books where God says, "You know, when you get to the New World and you develop your three branches of government and you have a civil society, you can just jettison all the barbarism I recommended in the first books."
    • Sam Harris, “Religion, Terror, and Self-Transcendence.” The Ethical Culture Society and the Center for Inquiry, New York, NY, November 16, 2005 (broadcast on CSPAN-2)
  • If Jesus does come down out of the clouds like a superhero, Christianity will stand revealed as a science. That will be the science of Christianity.
    • Sam Harris, “Religion, Terror, and Self-Transcendence.” The Ethical Culture Society and the Center for Inquiry, New York, NY, November 16, 2005 (broadcast on CSPAN-2)
  • The problem with faith, is that it really is a conversation stopper. Faith is a declaration of immunity to the powers of conversation. It is a reason, why you do not have to give reasons, for what you believe.
    • Sam Harris, "The View From The End Of The World" (9 December 2005)
  • Religious faith is the only area of discourse where immunity through conversation is considered noble. It's the only area of our lives where someone can win points for saying, "There's nothing that you can do to change my mind and I'm taking no state of the world ultimately into account in believing what I believe. There's nothing to change about the world that would cause me to revise my beliefs."
    • Sam Harris, "The View From The End Of The World" (9 December 2005)
  • Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow
The dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists. To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
  • The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific notions of martyrdom and jihad that fully explain the character of Muslim violence.
  • One could surely argue that the Buddhist tradition, taken as a whole, represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced. In a world that has long been terrorized by fratricidal Sky-God religions, the ascendance of Buddhism would surely be a welcome development.
  • There are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison.
  • As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn't also happen to have the Qur'an.
  • The dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists. To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion.
  • If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology. I would not say that all human conflict is born of religion or religious differences, but for the human community to be fractured on the basis of religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible, in an age when nuclear weapons are proliferating, is a terrifying scenario.
  • No culture in human history ever suffered because its people became too reasonable or too desirous of having evidence in defense of their core beliefs.
  • It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. The problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available.
  • If religion were the only durable foundation for morality you would suspect atheists to be really badly behaved. You would go to a group like the National Academy of Sciences. These are the most elite scientists, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God. You would expect these guys to be raping and killing and stealing with abandon.
  • We have Christians against Muslims against Jews. They're making incompatible claims on real estate in the Middle East as though God were some kind of omniscient real estate broker parsing out parcels of land to his chosen flock. People are literally dying over ancient literature.
Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas.
  • Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas.
  • Let’s just grant the possibility that there is a Creator God, who’s omniscient, who occasionally authors books. And he’s gonna give us a book – the most useful book. He’s a loving God, he’s a compassionate God, and he’s gonna give us a guide to life. He’s got a scribe, the scribe’s gonna write it down. What’s gonna be in that book? I mean just think of how good a book would be if it were authored by an omniscient deity. I mean, there is not a single line in the Bible or the Koran that could not have been authored by a first century person. There is not one reference to anything – there are pages and pages about how to sacrifice animals, and keep slaves, and who to kill and why. There’s nothing about electricity, there’s nothing about DNA, there’s nothing about infectious disease, the principles of infectious disease. There’s nothing particularly useful, and there’s a lot of iron age barbarism in there, and superstition. This is not a candidate book.
    • Sam Harris in interview by Big Think (04/07/2007) [1]
  • This is a common criticism: the idea that the atheist is guilty of a literalist reading of scripture, and that it’s a very naive way of approaching religion, and there’s a far more sophisticated and nuanced view of religion on offer and the atheist is disregarding that. A few problems with this: anyone making that argument is failing to acknowledge just how many people really do approach these texts literally or functionally - whether they’re selective literalists, or literal all the way down the line. There are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively. And people really do live by the lights of what is literally laid out in these books. So, the Koran says “hate the infidel” and Muslims hate the infidel because the Koran spells it out ad nauseam. Now, it’s true that you can cherry-pick scripture, and you can look for all the good parts. You can ignore where it says in Leviticus that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night you’re supposed to stone her to death on her father’s doorstep. Most religious people ignore those passages, which really can only be read literally, and say that “they were only appropriate for the time” and “they don’t apply now”. And likewise, Muslims try to have the same reading of passages that advocate holy war. They say “well, these were appropriate to those battles that Mohammed was fighting, but now we don’t have to fight those battles”. This is all a good thing, but we should recognize what’s happening here: people are feeling pressure from a host of all-too-human concerns that have nothing, in principle, to do with God: secularism, and human rights, and democracy, and scientific progress. These have made certain passages in scripture untenable. This is coming from outside religion, and religion is now making a great show of its sophistication in grappling with these pressures. This is an example of religion losing the argument with modernity.
    • Sam Harris in interview by Big Think (04/07/2007) [2]
  • Death is, in some ways, unacceptable. It’s just an astonishing fact of our being here that we die. But I think worse than that is if we live long enough, we lose everyone we love in this world. I mean people die and disappear, and we’re left with this stark mystery: just the sheer not knowing of what happened to them.
  • We just don’t teach people how to grieve. You know, religion is the epitome, the antithesis of teaching your children how to grieve. You tell your child that, “Grandma is in heaven”, and there’s nothing to be sad about. That’s religion. It would be better to equip your child for the reality of this life, which is, you know, we... death is a fact. And we don’t know what happens after death. And I’m not pretending to know that you get a dial tone after death. I don’t know what happens after the physical brain dies. I don’t know what the relationship between consciousness and the physical world is. I don’t think anyone does know. Now I think there are many reasons to be doubtful of naïve conceptions about the soul, and about this idea that you could just migrate to a better place after death. But I simply don’t know about what... I don’t know what I believe about death. And I don’t think it’s necessary to know in order to live as sanely and ethically and happily as possible. I don’t think you get... You don't get anything worth getting by pretending to know things you don't know.
  • The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we will kill you.
  • many Muslims ... We’re just going to keep having big families, and eventually it’s going to be Eurabia, and the war will be won. There are people who really think in those terms, and they’re not necessarily just the people in the center of the bull’s-eye of Islamic infatuation.
  • If premarital sex is a sin, who is the victim?
    • Attribution to Sam Harris in A. Alexander, Fly Fishing for Sharks (2008), p. 91.
If God loves us and wanted to guide us with a book of morality, it’s very strange to have given us a book that supports slavery, that demands that we murder people for imaginary crimes like witchcraft.
  • The truth is that religion, as we speak of it – Islam, Christianity, Judaism – is based on the claim that God dictates certain books. He doesn’t code software, he doesn’t produce films, he doesn’t score symphonies, he is an author. And this claim has achieved credibility because these books are deemed so profound they could not have possibly been written by human authors. Please consider for a moment how differently we treat scientific claims and texts and discoveries. Isaac Newton went into isolation for 18 months starting in the year 1665. When he came out of his solitude he had invented the calculus; he had discovered the laws of motion and universal gravitation; he had single-handedly created the field of optics. No one thinks this was anything but a man’s labor. And it took 200 hundred years of continuous ingenuity on the part of some of the smartest people who ever lived to substantially improve upon Newton’s work. How difficult would it be to improve the Bible? Anyone in this room could improve this supposedly inerrant text scientifically, historically, ethically, spiritually – in moments. If God loves us and wanted to guide us with a book of morality, it’s very strange to have given us a book that supports slavery, that demands that we murder people for imaginary crimes like witchcraft. The true basis for hope in our world is open-ended conversation, and religion has shattered our world into competing moral communities. What we have to convince ourselves of is – that love and curiosity is enough for us – and intellectual honesty is the guardian of that.
    • Sam Harris, “Re-Evolution” Debate, 18/11/2009 [4]

The End of Faith (2004)

Main article: The End of Faith
Jesus Christ—who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily into the heavens—can now be eaten in the form of a cracker.
  • Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance.
  • Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings.
  • We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who would have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible?
  • Muslim discourse is currently a tissue of myths, conspiracy theories, and exhortations to recapture the glories of the seventh century.
  • Jesus Christ—who, as it turns out, was born of a virgin, cheated death, and rose bodily into the heavens—can now be eaten in the form of a cracker.

Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)

Harris, Sam (2006). Letter to a Christian Nation (1st edition ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 96 pages. ISBN 0-307-26577-3. 
  • It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen: the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves- socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically.
    • p. xii
  • It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently—though isn't it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed?
    • p. 11-12
  • Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being." Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept.
    • p. 23
  • Perhaps you think that the crucial difference between a fly and a human blastocyst is to be found in the latter's potential to become a fully developed human being. But almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings. This is a fact. The argument from a cell's potential gets you absolutely nowhere.
    • p. 30
  • The moral truth here is obvious: anyone who feels that the interests of a blastocyst just might supersede the interests of a child with a spinal cord injury has had his moral sense blinded by religious metaphysics.
    • p. 32
  • 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.
    • p. 38
  • Atheism is not a philosophy - it is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
    • p. 51
  • If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.
    • p. 55
  • One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith.
    • p. 80
  • Some researchers have speculated that religion itself may have played an important role in getting large groups of prehistoric humans to socially cohere. If this is true, we can say that religion has served an important purpose. This does not suggest, however, that it serves an important purpose now. There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors. That religion may have served some necessary function for us in the past does not preclude the possibility that it is now the greatest impediment to our building a global civilization.
    • p. 90-91


  • You are happily being misunderstood in your use of the word "God".
    • Sam Harris in debate against Deepak Chopra on ABC Nightline (23 March 2010) "Does God Have a Future?"
  • The God that our neighbors believe in is essentially an invisible person. He’s a creator deity, who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates – lucky us. And he’s got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he’s especially concerned with what we do, and he’s especially concerned with what we do while naked. He almost certainly disapproves of homosexuality. And he’s created this cosmos as a vast laboratory in which to test our powers of credulity, and the test is this: can you believe in this God on bad evidence, which is to say, on faith? And if you can, you will win an eternity of happiness after you die. And it's precisely this sort of god and this sort of scheme that you must believe in if you're going to have any kind of future in politics in this country, no matter what your gifts. You could be an unprecedented genius, you could look like George Clooney, you could have a billion dollars and you could have the social skills of Oprah and you are going nowhere in politics in this country, unless you believe in that sort of god.
    • Sam Harris in debate on ABC Nightline (23 March 2010) "Does God Have a Future?" [5]
The only problem with Islamic fundamentalism are the fundamentals of Islam.
  • "Religion" is a nearly useless term. It's a term like "sports". Now there are sports like Badminton and sports like Thai Boxing, and they have almost nothing in common apart from breathing. There are sports that are just synonymous with the risk of physical injury or even death … There is, I'm happy to say, a religion of peace in this world, but it's not Islam. The claim that Islam is a religion of peace that we hear ceaselessly reiterated is completely delusional. Now Jainism actually is a religion of peace. The core principle of Jainism is non-violence. Gandhi got his non-violence from the Jains. The crazier you get as a Jain, the less we have to worry about you. Jain extremists are paralysed by their pacifism. Jain extremists can't take their eyes off the ground when they walk lest they step on an ant... Needless to say they are vegetarian. So the problem is not religious extremism, because extremism is not a problem if your core beliefs are truly non-violent. The problem isn't fundamentalism. We often hear this said: these are euphemisms... The only problem with Islamic fundamentalism are the fundamentals of Islam.
    • Sam Harris, Lecture at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley (November 10, 2010)
  • The connection between facts and values is straightforward and philosophically uninteresting... values reduce to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures; the well-being of conscious creatures is what can be valued in this universe... Now, here’s the one bit of philosophy I’m going to anchor this to: imagine a universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as it can for as long as it can – I call this the worst possible misery for everyone. The worst possible misery for everyone is bad. If the word bad is to mean anything, surely it applies to the worst possible misery for everyone... the moment you grant me that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad and therefore worth avoiding... well then you have every other possible constellation of conscious experience which, by definition, is better. So you have this continuum here of states of consciousness and given that consciousness is related to the way the universe is, it’s constrained by the laws of nature in some way, there are going to be right and wrong ways to move along this continuum... now this is, in philosophy, a somewhat controversial statement. I do not see how.
  • The “war on drugs” has been well lost, and should never have been waged. While it isn’t explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, I can think of no political right more fundamental than the right to peacefully steward the contents of one’s own consciousness. The fact that we pointlessly ruin the lives of nonviolent drug users by incarcerating them, at enormous expense, constitutes one of the great moral failures of our time.
If [my daughter] does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.
  • Needless to say, if I knew my daughter would eventually develop a fondness for methamphetamine or crack cocaine, I might never sleep again. But if she does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry that she may have missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.
  • As a general matter, I believe we should be very slow to make conclusions about the nature of the cosmos based upon inner experience – no matter how profound these experiences seem.
  • I have visited both extremes on the psychedelic continuum. The positive experiences were more sublime than I could have ever imagined or than I can now faithfully recall. These chemicals disclose layers of beauty that art is powerless to capture and for which the beauty of Nature herself is a mere simulacrum. It is one thing to be awestruck by the sight of a giant redwood and to be amazed at the details of its history and underlying biology. It is quite another to spend an apparent eternity in egoless communion with it. Positive psychedelic experiences often reveal how wondrously at ease in the universe a human being can be—and for most of us, normal waking consciousness does not offer so much as a glimmer of these deeper possibilities... But as the peaks are high, the valleys are deep. My “bad trips” were, without question, the most harrowing hours I have ever suffered—and they make the notion of hell, as a metaphor if not a destination, seem perfectly apt.
  • The power of psychedelics... is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.
  • Principle #1: Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places.
    Principle #2: Do not defend your property.
    Principle #3: Respond immediately and escape.
  • Atheism is just a way of clearing the space for better conversations.
    • Sam Harris, "Death and the Present Moment", speech at the Global Atheist Convention (April 2012) [6]
Most of us do our best not to think about death. But there’s always part of our minds that knows this can’t go on forever. Part of us always knows that we’re just a doctor’s visit away, or a phone call away, from being starkly reminded with the fact of our own mortality, or of those closest to us.
  • Most of us do our best not to think about death. But there’s always part of our minds that knows this can’t go on forever. Part of us always knows that we’re just a doctor’s visit away, or a phone call away, from being starkly reminded with the fact of our own mortality, or of those closest to us. Now, I’m sure many of you in this room have experienced this in some form; you must know how uncanny it is to suddenly be thrown out of the normal course of your life and just be given the full time job of not dying, or of caring for someone who is... But the one thing people tend to realize at moments like this is that they wasted a lot of time, when life was normal. And it’s not just what they did with their time – it’s not just that they spent too much time working or compulsively checking email. It’s that they cared about the wrong things. They regret what they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns, year after year, when life was normal. This is a paradox of course, because we all know this epiphany is coming. Don’t you know this is coming? Don’t you know that there’s going to come a day when you’ll be sick, or someone close to you will die, and you will look back on the kinds of things that captured your attention, and you’ll think ‘What was I doing?’. You know this, and yet if you’re like most people, you’ll spend most of your time in life tacitly presuming you’ll live forever. Like, watching a bad movie for the fourth time, or bickering with your spouse. These things only make sense in light of eternity. There better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time like this.
    • Sam Harris, "Death and the Present Moment", speech at the Global Atheist Convention (April 2012) [7]
If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?
  • There are ways to really live in the present moment. What's the alternative? It is always now. However much you feel you may need to plan for the future, to anticipate it, to mitigate risks, the reality of your life is now. This may sound trite... but it's the truth... As a matter of conscious experience, the reality of your life is always now. I think this is a liberating truth about the human mind. In fact, I think there is nothing more important to understand about your mind than that if you want to be happy in this world. The past is a memory. It's a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated, it is another thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment. And this. And we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth. Repudiating it. Fleeing it. Overlooking it. And the horror is that we succeed. We manage to never really connect with the present moment and find fulfillment there because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future, and the future never arrives.
    • Sam Harris, "Death and the Present Moment", speech at the Global Atheist Convention (April 2012) [8]
  • Even when we think we are in the present moment we are in very subtle ways looking over its shoulder anticipating what's coming next. We're always solving a problem. And it's possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment, and enjoy whatever is true of your life in the present... This is not a matter of new information or more information. It requires a change in attitude. It requires a change in the attentiveness you pay to your experience in the present moment.
    • Sam Harris, "Death and the Present Moment", speech at the Global Atheist Convention (April 2012) [9]
  • From my point of view, compatibilism is a little like saying: a puppet is free so long as it loves its strings.
  • We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it. And, again, I wouldn’t put someone who looks like me entirely outside the bull’s-eye (after all, what would Adam Gadahn look like if he cleaned himself up?) But there are people who do not stand a chance of being jihadists, and TSA screeners can know this at a glance.
  • I describe it as anti-profiling. It's not that I want certain people profiled – I just want us to admit that certain people require less scrutiny, and Jerry Seinfeld is one. When you see a famous celebrity go through security, treated as though he may just have become a jihadist when no one was watching… It's crazy. It is security theatre.
    • Sam Harris on the Rubin Report, "Sam Harris: For Racial Profiling of Muslims?" [11].
  • The illusion of free will... is itself an illusion. There is no illusion of free will. Thoughts and intentions simply arise. What else could they do? Now, some of you might think this sounds depressing, but it's actually incredibly freeing to see life this way. It does take something away from life: what it takes away from life is an egocentric view of life. We're not truly separate: we are linked to one another, we are linked to the world, we are linked to our past, and to history. And what we do actually matters because of that linkage, because of the permeability, because of the fact that we can't be the true locus of responsibility. That's what makes it all matter.
  • So you can't take credit for your talents, but it really matters if you use them. You can't really be blamed for your weaknesses and your failings, but it matters if you correct them. Pride and shame don't make a lot of sense in the final analyses. But they were no fun anyway. These are isolating emotions. What does make sense are things like compassion and love: caring about well-being makes sense; trying to maximize your well-being and the well-being of others makes sense. There is still a difference between suffering and happiness, and love consists in wanting those we love to be happy. All of that still makes sense without free will.
  • Nothing that I've said makes social and political freedom any less valuable: having a gun to your head is still a problem worth rectifying, wherever intentions come from. So the freedom to do what one wants is still precious. But the idea that we as conscious beings are deeply responsible for what we want I think needs to be revised: it just can't be mapped onto reality, neither objective nor subjective. And if we're going to be guided by reality, rather than by the fantasy lives of our antecessors, I think our view of ourselves needs to change.
  • I think it [getting a gun] should be like getting a pilot's license. I think you should require training to get a license to have a gun.
    • Sam Harris, Real Time with Bill Maher (February 1, 2013)
Your life doesn't get any better than your mind is.
  • Your life doesn't get any better than your mind is: You might have wonderful friends, perfect health, a great career, and everything else you want, and you can still be miserable. The converse is also true: There are people who basically have nothing—who live in circumstances that you and I would do more or less anything to avoid—who are happier than we tend to be because of the character of their minds. Unfortunately, one glimpse of this truth is never enough. We have to be continually reminded of it.
  • Meditation … puts into question more or less everything you tend to do in your search for happiness. But if you lose sight of this, it can become just another strategy for seeking happiness—a more refined version of the problem you already have.
  • Many people who experience illness imagine that everyone else is blissfully getting on with life in perfect health—and this illusion compounds their suffering.
  • [A]s I regularly emphasize when discussing Islam, no one is suffering under its doctrine more than Muslims themselves: Muslim jihadists primarily kill other Muslims. And the laws against apostasy, blasphemy, idolatry, and other forms of peaceful expression diminish the freedoms of Muslims far more than those of non-Muslims living in the West. Liberals like [Glenn] Greenwald, who are so eager to swing the flail of Islamophobia, display a sickening insensitivity to the plight of women, homosexuals, and freethinkers throughout the Muslim world. At this moment, millions of women and girls have been abandoned to illiteracy, compulsory marriage, and lives of slavery and abuse under the guise of “multiculturalism” and “religious sensitivity.” And the most liberal Muslim minds are forced into hiding. The best way to address this problem is by no means obvious. But lying about its cause, and defaming those who speak honestly in defense of a global civil society, seems a very unlikely path to a solution.
  • What would the Israelis do if they could do what they want? They would live in peace with their neighbors, if they had neighbors who would live in peace with them. They would simply continue to build out their high tech sector and thrive. What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want to stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way. This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don't want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It's just that some of us haven't realized it yet.
  • The self really is an illusion—and realizing this is the basis of spiritual life.
    • Sam Harris, Interview with The Minimalists (19 August 2014)
  • Your mind is all you truly have.
    • Sam Harris, Interview with The Minimalists (19 August 2014)
  • But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight's show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.
  • We hear everywhere about this false trade-off between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as though there were some kind of balance to be struck here. There is no balance to be struck. Freedom of speech never infringes on freedom of religion. There is nothing I can say in this podcast about religion in general, or about Islam in particular, that would infringe upon someone else's freedom to practice his or her religion. If your freedom of religion entails that you force those who do not share it to conform to it, well that's not freedom of religion. We have a word for that – that's theocracy. This respect that we are all urged to show for "religious sensitivity" is actually a demand that the blasphemy laws of Islam be followed by non-muslims.
  • I think the apostates, the intellectuals, the women, the gays of the Muslim world are the most important people in the world right now. If we could give greencards to every real secularist in the Muslim world, I think they should just get to the front of the line. These are the people who need to be empowered. The irony is that if they could leave the Muslim world… The Muslim world needs them, so the best thing would be to empower them in the Muslim world. […] Everything I say about Islam is a confession of solidarity with these people.
  • [On being "genial, soft-spoken and unflappable" despite having "hard arguments"]: As far as my being friendly to most of my opponents, it comes from the fact that none of this is personal. I don't take any of this personal. I don't take any criticism of my ideas personal, and as far as I'm concerned, everything I believe is on the table and fit to be challenged. There's nothing I'm holding back, there's nothing that I'm holding sacred, such that if you were to doubt it, I would take your doubt personal, or I would see it as something that would diminish me personally.
  • When I took to Twitter and I urged Hillary to speak clearly on this topic [Islamic terrorism, following the Orlando shootings in June 2016], I got attacked by even LGBT activists for my bigotry, for inspiring hate against Muslims. This is how confused the left is: just a few hours after this news broke, LGBT activists were so allergic to having someone name the belief system that had just produced a massacre in their community that they lashed out against me as a bigot rather than lash out against the people who won't name the belief system that at this moment is doing more than any other on earth to target gays and to force them into hiding.
  • I'll tell you what harms the vast majority of Muslims that love freedom and hate terror: Muslim theocracy does. Muslim intolerance does. Wahabism does. Salafism does. Islamism does. Jihadism does. Sharia law does. The mere conservatism of traditional Islam does. We're not talking about only jihadists hating homosexuals and thinking they should die, we're talking about conservative Muslims. The percentage of British Muslims polled who said that homosexuality was morally acceptable was zero. Do you realize what it takes to say something so controversial in a poll that not even 1% of those polled would agree with it? There's almost no question that extreme that you will ever see in a poll that gets a zero, but ask British Muslims whether homosexuality is morally acceptable, and that's what you get. And the result is more or less the same in dozens of other countries. It's zero in Cameroon, zero in Ethiopia. 1% in Nigeria, 1% in Tanzania, 1% in Mali, 2% in Kenya, 2% in Chad. 1% in Lebanon, 1% in Egypt, 1% in the Palestinian territories, 1% in Iraq, 2% in Jordan, 2% in Tunisia, 1% in Pakistan. But 10% in Bangladesh. Bangladesh: that bright spot in the Muslim world where they are regularly hunting down and butchering secular writers with machetes. The people who suffer under this belief system are Muslims themselves. The next generation of human beings born into a Muslim community who could otherwise have been liberal, tolerant, well-educated, cosmopolitan productive people are to one or another degree being taught to aspire to live in the Middle Ages, or to ruin this world on route to some fictional paradise after death. That's the thing we have to get our heads around. And yes, some of what I just said applies with varying modifications to other religions and other cults. But there is nothing like Islam at this moment for generating this kind of intolerance and chaos. And if only a right wing demagogue will speak honestly about it, then we will elect right wing demagogues in the West more and more in response to it. And that will be the price of political correctness: that's when this check will finally get cashed. That will be the consequence of this persistent failure we see among liberals to speak and think and act with real moral clarity and courage on this issue. The root of this problem is that liberals consistently fail to defend liberal values as universal human values. Their political correctness, their multiculturalism, their moral relativism has led them to rush to the defense of theocrats and to abandon the victims of theocracy and to vilify anyone who calls out this hypocrisy for what it is as a bigot. And to be clear, and this is what liberals can't seem to get, is that speaking honestly about the ideas that inspire Islamism and jihadism, beliefs about martyrdom, and apostasy and blasphemy and paradise and honour and women, is not an expression of hatred for Muslims. It is in fact the only way to support the embattled people in the Muslim community: The reformers and the liberals and the seculars and the free thinkers and the gays and the Shiia in Sunni-majority context and Sufis and Ahmadiyyas, and as Maajid Nawaz said, the minorities within the minority, who are living under the shadow, and sword rather often, under theocracy. [...] If you think that speaking honestly about the need for reform within Islam will alienate your allies in the Muslim community, then you don't know who your allies are.
  • On one level, wisdom is nothing more than the ability to take your own advice.
    • Quoted in Tim Ferris, "Tools of Titans" (2016), p. 454
  • Anyone familiar with my work knows that I am extremely critical of all religious faiths. I have argued elsewhere that the ascendancy of Christian conservatism in American politics should terrify and embarrass us. And yet, there are gradations to the evil that is done in name of God, and these gradations must be honestly observed. So let us now make sense of the impossible by acknowledging the obvious: there is a direct link between the doctrine of Islam and Muslim terrorism. Acknowledging this link remains especially taboo among political liberals.....While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.
    • Sam Harris - [12] 2011-03-08 Bombing Our Illusions - The Huffington Post, October 10, 2005
  • Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.....As a matter of doctrine, the Muslim conception of tolerance is one in which non-Muslims have been politically and economically subdued, converted, or put to sword.....Yes, the Bible contains its own sadistic lunacy—but the above [Qur'an] quotations [taken from The End of Faith, pp. 117-123] can be fairly said to convey the central message of the Qur’an—and of Islam at nearly every moment in its history. The Qur’an does not contain anything like a Sermon on the Mount. Nor is it a vast and self-contradictory book like the Old Testament, in which whole sections (like Leviticus and Deuteronomy) can be easily ignored and forgotten. The result is a unified message of triumphalism, otherworldliness, and religious hatred that has become a problem for the entire world. And the world still waits for moderate Muslims to speak honestly about it.
    • [13] 2012-03-01 Honesty: The Muslim World’s Scarcest Resource? -, accessed March 1, 2012
  • The penalty for apostasy is death. We would do well to linger over this fact for a moment, because it is the black pearl of intolerance that no liberal exegesis will ever fully digest.....As a source of objective morality, the Bible is one of the worst books we have. It might be the very worst, in fact—if we didn’t also happen to have the Qur’an.
    • Sam Harris - [14] The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos - The Council for Secular Humanism [15]
Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010)
  • Mistaking no answers in practice for no answers in principle is a great source of moral confusion.
    • p. 3
  • Faith, if it is ever right about anything, is right by accident.
    • p. 6
  • The fact that millions of people use the term "morality" as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of time.
    • p. 53
  • Science has long been in the value business. Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, scientific validity is not the result of scientists abstaining from making value judgments; rather, scientific validity is the result of scientists making their best efforts to value principles of reasoning that link their beliefs to reality, through reliable chains of evidence and argument. This is how norms of rational thought are made effective... The answer to the question "What should I believe, and why should I believe it?" is generally a scientific one.
    • p. 143–144
Sam Harris, Lying (2011)
  • Among the many paradoxes of human life, this is perhaps the most peculiar and consequential: We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret, guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. We can simply be ourselves.
    • Cf. Mark Twain: "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything."
  • Every lie haunts our future.
  • Whatever its imagined virtues, faith is the enemy of open and honest inquiry. Remaining open to the powers of conversation - to new evidence and better arguments - is not only essential for rationality. It is essential for love.
You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.
Sam Harris, Free Will (2012)
  • Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next - a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please - your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this "decision" and believe that you are in the process of making it.
    • p. 9
  • Our sense of free will results from a failure to appreciate this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose.
    • p. 13
  • You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.
    • p. 14
  • To say that I would have done otherwise had I wanted to is simply to say that I would have lived in a different universe had I been in a different universe.
    • p. 20
  • But from a deeper perspective (speaking both objectively and subjectively), thoughts simply arise unauthored and yet author our actions.
    • p. 32
  • You are not in control of your mind—because you, as a conscious agent, are only part of your mind, living at the mercy of other parts.
    • pp. 37-8
  • You are either lucky in this department or you aren't—and you cannot make your own luck.
    • p. 38
  • I do not choose to choose what I choose.
    • p. 39
  • Speaking from personal experience, I think that losing the sense of free will has only improved my ethics - by increasing my feelings of compassion and forgiveness, and diminishing my sense of entitlement to the fruits of my own good luck.
    • p. 45
  • The urge for retribution depends upon our not seeing the underlying causes of human behavior.
    • p. 55
  • There is not a person on earth who chose his genome, or the country of his birth, or the political and economic conditions that prevailed at moments crucial to his progress. And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they weren't born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.
    • p. 61-62
  • It is generally argued that our experience of free will presents a compelling mystery: On the one hand, we can't make sense of it in scientific terms; on the other, we feel that we are the authors of our own thoughts and actions.
    • p. 64
Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014)
  • Although the insights we can have in meditation tell us nothing about the origins of the universe, they do confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world.
    • p. 8
  • Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion.
    • p. 54
  • The conventional sense of self is an illusion—and [] spirituality largely consists in realizing this, moment to moment. There are logical and scientific reasons to accept this claim, but recognizing it to be true is not a matter of understanding these reasons. Like many illusions, the sense of self disappears when closely examined, and this is done through the practice of meditation.
    • p. 82
  • The feeling that we call "I" seems to define our point of view in every moment, and it also provides an anchor for popular beliefs about souls and freedom of will. And yet this feeling, however imperturbable it may appear at present, can be altered, interrupted, or entirely abolished.
    • p. 83
  • The self that does not survive scrutiny is the subject of experience in each present moment—the feeling of being a thinker of thoughts inside one's head, the sense of being an owner or inhabitant of a physical body, which this false self seems to appropriate as a kind of vehicle. Even if you don't believe such a homunculus exists—perhaps because you believe, on the basis of science, that you are identical to your body and brain rather than a ghostly resident therein—you almost certainly feel like an internal self in almost every waking moment. And yet, however one looks for it, this self is nowhere to be found. It cannot be seen amid the particulars of experience, and it cannot be seen when experience itself is viewed as a totality. However, its absence can be found—and when it is, the feeling of being a self disappears.
    • p. 92
  • We wouldn't attempt to meditate, or engage in any other contemplative practice, if we didn't feel that something about our experience needed to be improved. But here lies one of the central paradoxes of spiritual life, because this very feeling of dissatisfaction causes us to overlook the intrinsic freedom of consciousness in the present. As we have seen, there are good reasons to believe that adopting a practice like meditation can lead to positive changes in one's life. But the deepest goal of spirituality is freedom from the illusion of the self—and to seek such freedom, as though it were a future state to be attained through effort, is to reinforce the chains of one's apparent bondage in each moment.
    • Ch. 4
  • I never made more effort than I did when practicing under U Pandita. But most of this effort arose from the very illusion of bondage to the self that I was seeking to overcome. The model of this practice is that one must climb the mountain so that freedom can be found at the top. But the self is already an illusion, and that truth can be glimpsed directly, at the mountain's base or anywhere else along the path. One can then return to this insight, again and again, as one's sole method of meditation—thereby arriving at the goal in each moment of actual practice.
    • p. 126
  • Happiness and suffering, however extreme, are mental events. The mind depends upon the body, and the body upon the world, but everything good or bad that happens in your life must appear in consciousness to matter. This fact offers ample opportunity to make the best of bad situations—changing your perception of the world is often as good as changing the world—but it also allows a person to be miserable even when all the material and social conditions for happiness have been met. During the normal course of events, your mind will determine the quality of your life.
    • p. 204


  • [About the reactions to the attack on Israel in October 2023:] The moral, not just untenability, the abomination we're witnessing where you have the same people who are equally exercised over Halloween costumes that are cultural appropriation and their defending what happened in Israel last week. That dissonance, I think, is something we need to not lose sight of culture-wide.

Quotes about Sam Harris

  • His passion was for deep philosophical questions, and he could talk for hours and hours... Sometimes you'd want to say to him, 'What about the Yankees?' or 'Look at the leaves, they're changing color!'
  • He makes his inevitable pilgrimage to the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, though without pausing to acquaint himself with the Inquisition's actual history or any of the recent scholarship on it. He more or less explicitly states that every episode of violence in Christian history is a natural consequence of Christianity's basic tenets (which is obviously false), and that Christianity's twenty centuries of unprecedented and still unmatched moral triumphs – its care of widows and orphans, its alms-houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, and so on – are simply expressions of normal human kindness, with no necessary connection to Christian conviction (which is even more obviously false).
  • Reading Sam Harris is like drinking water from a cool stream on a hot day.
  • For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their 'reflexive solidarity' with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work.
  • Harris' self-loving mentality amounts to this: those primitive Muslims are so tribal for reflexively siding with their own kind, while I constantly tout the superiority of my own side and justify what We do against Them. How anyone can read any of these passages and object to claims that Harris' worldview is grounded in deep anti-Muslim animus is staggering. He is at least as tribal, jingoistic, and provincial as those he condemns for those human failings, as he constantly hails the nobility of his side while demeaning those Others.
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