Resurrecting Morality

moral landscape

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

by Sam Harris (Bantam Press 2010)

Book Review

The historical record indicates religion has been pretty hopeless in guiding human beings in leading moral and ethical lives. The Moral Landscape outlines a proposed morality based on objective scientific principles.

Sam Harris, a PhD neurophysiologist, bases this proposed morality on the principle of maximizing human well being. Because human well being is a function of world events and states of the human brain, there must be some truths about morality that can be scientifically verified. Harris maintains that a more detailed understanding of these truths would greatly improve the quality of human life.

For example, he asks whether corporal punishment of children, female genital mutilation and honor killings* are beneficial to human well being. There must be an answer to these questions (which can be established by research), even if we don’t know, at present, what it is.

The book is highly critical of the “cultural relativism” advocated by secular liberals and many US scientists when they insist there are no objective answers to the moral questions Harris poses. He believes this attitude leaves secular societies at the mercy of fundamentalist religion. Harris (an avowed atheist) also argues that obedience to God creates a morality that is more concerned with a theoretical afterlife than human well being in this lifetime.

The development of a science-based morality would have to weigh the ultimate well being of the individual vs the general well being of the society. It would also be open to controversy and dissenting viewpoints, like all scientific disciplines.

Harris’s chapter on religion describes how Freud, Marx and other prominent nineteenth century intellectuals believed the world religions would disappear with the scientific advances that enabled the industrial revolution. With the exception of the US, their predictions proved correct: most developed societies are predominantly secular.

At present most societies become more secular as they become more prosperous stable and democratic (in New Zealand, only 10% of the population attends church). Moreover the least religious countries (Scandinavia and the Netherlands) have the best societal health. Research shows that loneliness, helplessness and poverty are poorly conducive to happiness and moral behavior.

At present fundamentalism is limited to the US and developing countries. Harris believes that high levels of inequality have caused America to take a different path than other developed countries. Extreme poverty in many areas of the US is linked to low levels of educational achievement, superstitiousness, excessive religiosity and racism.

* Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.

9 thoughts on “Resurrecting Morality

  1. “At present fundamentalism is limited to the US and developing countries. Harris believes that high levels of inequality have caused America to take a different path than other developed countries. Extreme poverty in many areas of the US is linked to low levels of educational achievement, superstitiousness, excessive religiosity and racism.”

    I think this says in a nutshell where the problem lies: High levels of inequality! Being poor, meaning to be at the bottom of society, is not a disaster, for some people are always going to be at the lower end. However extreme poverty of a vast number of people who are not able to lead a decent life, this is what leads to disaster!


    • Excellent point Aunty. I was also impressed about the link Harris makes between extreme poverty and racism. This could be part of the reason why Germany and Sweden (which have much less income inequality) are more open to migrants than the US is.


      • I understand, Stuart, that Sweden and Germany want to be a just society and be prepared to help desperate refugees. Alas, to achieve it, they would have to be very determined. They too have a few people in their country who work against all this.


  2. Hi Dr. Bramhall,

    I thought you might have some ideas about a recent murder case from Battle Ground, Washington in which the suspect identified as being a target of gang stalking for over 6 years in his police interview.

    Both the murder 1 suspect, in Battle Ground, Washington, Stephen M. Reichow, and his acquaintance, made statements to the police identifying themselves as “gang stalking” victims. Reichow reports being gang stalked for over 6 years. This is consistent with the data from the DOJ Stalking Report of 2006 showing multiple stalkers who target victims for years on end, driving them to violence and murder:

    “Reichow told police he had been hanging out with Maulding earlier in the day. They had been picked up by another friend, Anne Tanninen, from Maulding’s house and went to a storage unit that Tanninen rented. He said they were inside the storage space when Tanninen received a “strange” phone call from someone talking about a drug deal, court documents said. Reichow said Tanninen told them she was being “gang stalked,” the affidavit stated. Gang stalking can include being harassed by an organized group of people.”

    “Reichow, Maulding and Tanninen drove to a storage facility that Tanninen rented. According to documents, the three were hanging out inside the facility when Tanninen received a strange phone call from somebody talking about a drug deal. Tanninen then told Reichow and Maulding that she was being “gang stalked.” Reichow told police he then told Tanninen that he had been stalked and harassed for the last six years.”

    Here is a MHB article regarding the 2006 DOJ Stalking Report dealing with group stalking:

    The Stalking Report:

    Click to access bjs-stalking-rpt.pdf


    • Interesting case, PeaceFrog. I must admit it’s new to me. I have very few contacts in Clark County. I’m not surprised the DOJ would deny the existence of gangstalking since so much of it seems to be intelligence-related.


      • I totally agree Dr. Bramhall. Gang stalking, in my opinion, is a widespread intelligence program that uses a military “strategy of tension” techniques in a civilian theater. These tactics go back, at least, to the Phoenix Program in Vietnam. Even the academics who write about mobbing are mute on the issue of it being, in many instances, tied to intelligence activities.

        The Nation recently ran an article on the Urban Shield Expo, and the militarization and internationalization of police and emergency services:

         “This past weekend in Pleasanton, California, a suburb of San Francisco, elite police teams from as far away as South Korea, Uruguay, and Jordan converged for the ninth annual Urban Shield Expo and Conference, one of the largest tactical-police summits in the world. According to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which manages Urban Shield, almost 6,000 volunteers agreed to help SWAT teams coordinate with fire departments, healthcare providers, and other agencies to simulate responses to “mass casualty” events like attacks against law enforcement, mass shootings, and earthquakes. For 48 hours across five counties in Northern California, teams of police dressed like soldiers toted assault rifles down suburban streets and burst into buildings as part of a series of tactical exercises. By most accounts, Urban Shield is now one of the largest training events for militarized police in the world.”

        Urban Shield 9/11/15:


  3. I think the one scientific truth is as you age you become more moral in some ways but less moral in other as your inanition disappear but to old act on it


  4. Sorry I meant Inhibition not inanition ( it would be nice to know how to spell)
    Inhibitions – definition of inhibitions
    The act of inhibiting or the state of being inhibited. 2. Something that restrains, blocks, or suppresses. 3. Psychology Conscious or unconscious restraint of a behavioral process, desire, or impulse.


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