Sam Harris on The Bible

Sam Harris first rose to prominence for his breakout first book The End of Faith which, although was seen as an attack primarily on Islam, it pulled no punches when it came to the bible. It would seem dishonest to portray Sam’s views as mixed on the bible as he was distinctly and aggressively against the bible. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to go into everything he’s every said about the bible (as it’s been the majority of his intellectual career) but we will include some of his greatest hits. For those who have not seen him attacking the bible, particularly the Christian bible, we highly recommend The God Debate against William Lane Craig, his debate against Chris Hedges, or his debate against Dinesh D’Souza. Below we’ll lay out some of his most incisive attacks.

The bible is among the worst books we have as a voice on morality. It says if you go into a town and and see someone praying to a different God, you kill him, you kill his family, you kill everyone in the town.- Sam Harris paraphrasing Deuteronomy. 

Lest be accused of citing out of context, Here is the segment he is quoting fleshed out a little more. Readers will see his reading is very accurate per the origin of the source: 

If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands. – Deuteronomy 13

An all time classic, and personal favorite of ours, is his now famous “Witchcraft argument” which he pressed into service against Chris Hedges.

Let me give you a sense of what’s it like to be me having this conversation. It seems to me we could’ve been having this conversation 500 years ago. Life was difficult 500 years ago, there was a lot of despair. Crops failed and disease spread as people suffered catastrophic changes in fortune. The cause of all of this was well understood. It was witchcraft. Happily the church produced some very energetic men who had the gumption to deal with this problem. So every some hundreds, and sometimes thousands, were burned alive for casting spells on their neighbors. 

Now imagine what it would’ve been like to be among the 5, or 10 percent of people, at most, who recognized that the very belief in magic and witchcraft was a malignant fantasy. Whether it was the white witches who were helping women with medicinal herbs and midwifery, were on no firmer ground than it was the black witches casting the evil eye. 

Now imagine the criticism you’re going to get: “You’re problem is just with fundamentalist witchcraft, the reality is that witchcraft is far more nuanced than that.”

For the entire debate, which was held at a Truthdig event on May 22, 2007 at UCLA, see below. 

Should we become aware that Sam has changed his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 


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