To the many people who wrote so passionately, sincerely and intelligently in response to Parts 1 and 2, please forgive my metaphorically "leaving the room" in mid-conversation. I was delayed by a teaching trip to Guatemala and Mexico, and urgent work upon my arrival home. I also discovered, as I got into the guts of this blog series, that it's going deep, and will ultimately have at least 5 parts.
In Part I, The Marriage of Science & Spirit: Negotiating the Great Pre-Nup, I pointed out that the coming together of rationality with spirituality, the "marriage of science and spirit", is the most significant intellectual and cultural event of our time, something that will reshape the future of human affairs, whose terms we're now defining: the "Pre-Nup" of this marriage contract. I observed that there's a great debate unfolding between materialistic rationalists and trans-rationalists who point beyond reductive materialism to a conscious universal Reality.
In Part 2, Why Sam Harris's "Waking Up" Matters, I took the position that this book -- a well-written, persuasive, internally-coherent argument for a rational, even atheistic, "spirituality without religion" -- might turn out to be profoundly influential, potentially making history, and even changing it. I praised the ways in which Harris's manifesto could help mainstream cultural attitudes and assumptions evolve.
Now, in Part 3, I begin to articulate a critique of Harris and point to some differences in the very kind of thinking that different participants in this debate are engaging.
In the process, I'll zag where I previously zigged in Part 2. In this, and subsequent installments of this series, I'll point out some important shortcomings of Sam Harris's view and cultural project. Later, in subsequent posts, I'll zoom back to focus on the meta-conversation.
You see, this is not only, or even primarily, a debate over the truth, a discussion of the real nature of reality; it is a political process, a struggle over intellectual and cultural power, and not just in abstract terms. In subsequent installments, the plot will thicken further, as we explore the implications of the fact that a true synthesis is a process achieved only as both (or really all) "sides" of the debate genuinely evolve.
Zooming Out on Talking Back to Sam
The "atheistic" synthesis of science and religion proposed by Harris is materialistic in nature, taking observable measurable objective matter and energy as the bottom-line reality, and viewing consciousness as a secondary expression, an "epiphenomenon" of material processes (what Ken Wilber would call "frisky dirt"). His argument is clear, coherent, insightful, and persuasive. As I noted in Part 2 of this series, it may well prove to have tremendous cultural influence and thus historical significance.
Nonetheless, it's a partial truth; it doesn't acknowledge a whole series of important realities that severely diminish its status and undermine its authority. I've laid these out below:
--Science is a method, not a philosophy, whereas "scientific materialism" is a distinct philosophical position, a theory or paradigm -- and a popular belief. Such philosophies are extremely difficult to prove scientifically, and thus, quite naturally, materialism has never been proven (even though many "scientific materialists", including Sam Harris, speak and act as though it has).