Thursday, February 11, 2010

Notes From TED2010: Intellectual Honesty, Sam Harris, Peter Singer and Determinism

I wanted my first post from TED to cover my reflection from day one, but I have to rift on Sam Harris' talk this morning. It was unimpressive (again) and I question why some consider him such a strong intellectual.

I was amused by his jabs at "delusional religious" frameworks and thinking without referencing examples outside of religion. Harris correctly scorns religious and cultural thinking that leads a father to think about killing his daughter that was raped to escape his shame and dishonor.

What Harris and others don't do is take rational frameworks from the left and inject intellectual honesty into these discussions. Obviously, Harris is not a fan of Christianity and religion, but having tunnel vision is not a good thing.

Since Harris referenced chimps and degrees of consciousness between animals, a good starting point is the intellectual framework of Peter Singer, Princeton bioethicist and a founding father of the animal rights movement. What I respect about Singer is that he is logically sound. He takes his intellectual framework to the nth degree that is transparent and honest.

Singer doesn't make a distinction between humans and animals, and believes if you do than you are a speciest (animal racist). If there is minimal self-awareness and ability to feel pain, then an animal is on par with humans. I assume this sounds rational to many animal activists, but what does this really mean and where does lead you?

Singer leads you there. He is in favor of infanticide, especially if the child is disabled, and maintains that drug testing and clinical trials should be done on disabled people over healthy animals. I don't even want to discuss the issue of bestiality, but you can talk to him. The logic is sound within his framework but horrifying to me and I hope to most of you.

He has argued the more severely disabled a human is that they lose their personhood status.  So "higher" animals would have greater rights that disabled humans. Think about this. Think about how many talented people would not have been alive in Peter Singer's world...

Jim Abbott, professional baseball player
Christy Brown, author of My Left Foot
Itzhak Perlman, world class violinist
Judy Heumann, former Assistant Secretary of Education
Stephen Hawking, physicist

And so many others. If you take animal rights to an intellectual honest endpoint, do you still favor it above human exceptionalism?

Switching gears and examining the beliefs of the last person cited, Stephen Hawking, is another example of taking a framework to an intellectually honest degree. Hawking is one of our intellectual giants and a determinist. It's a world without God and where causality rules. What does this world look like?

Discussing his beliefs, he stated his fear for the long-term survival of our species, “My only fear is this. The terror that stalks my mind is that we have arrived on the scene because of evolution. Because of naturalistic selection, and natural selection assumes natural rejection, which means we have arrived here because of our aggression. And my hope is that somehow we can keep from eating each other up for another 100 years. At that point science would have devised a scheme to take all of us into different planets of the universe and no one atrocity would destroy all of us at the same time.”

Seriously? Our survival rests on the hope that we can progress enough to blast off into space and escape the earth? This is not the world of my beliefs.

1 comment:

Aaron Chioino said...

I believe you misrepresent Peter Singers views... Perhaps you need to read them again.

God Bless You,