After writing about Sam Harris’s blog entry where he promotes himself and his new book, I decided to check out Amazon to see if it was selling. It turns out the book does not come out until September, but I did find the book description to be very interesting.
First, it looks like I was spot on when I noted, “Harris is trying to set himself as the First Man in History who can bridge the gap between science and woo. “ Here is how his book is described on Amazon:
Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous skeptic—could write it.
But then the really interesting part preceded this:
From multiple New York Times bestselling author, neuroscientist, and “new atheist” Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the 30 percent of Americans who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.
First, Harris admits that not all of the saints/sages from history were crazy or dishonest.
Second, Harris admits “there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.”
Third, “Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives.”
For a brief moment, I thought Harris, as an atheist, might simply try to argue that meditation was just another brain state, characterized by a certain distribution and concentration of certain neurotransmitters that resulted in something akin to a “natural high.” In other words, it was merely a pleasurable, peaceful state that gives the atheist something like a naturalistic spirituality. But Harris is selling far more than this. He’s all in. Meditative experiences deliver “important truths,” truths that are beyond the reach of science alone. This is a frontal attack on scientism itself (!) and an admission that spiritual experience can deliver truths unreachable by science. I’m not sure how the New Atheist community can embrace and tolerate a contradiction to their core social message.
Come September, make sure you have plenty of popcorn stocked up. For how will PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and Richard Dawkins respond to the notion that not all of the religious saints/sages from history were crazy or dishonest, that there are that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives, and that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow? If you know the New Atheist movement, these are not minor areas of disagreement. To embrace and tolerate what Harris is selling is to strip the New Atheist movement of its central talking points. Never underestimate the New Atheist leaders’ ability to engage in hypocrisy and intellectual inconsistency, but this might be too much for even them to handle.
Will Myers, Coyne, Boghossian, and Dawkins all begin to meditate? Will they quietly ignore most of Harris’s message and try to focus on something that supports The Cause? Or will they speak out against Harris’s attempt to morph the New Atheist movement into the New Age Atheist movement?