Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, among others, has issued a challenge regarding his book The Moral Landscape. He wants us to come up with a refutation to the central thesis of his book. The best entry will be posted on his website and the entrant will win $2000. If an entry succeeds in changing Dr. Harris’s mind, the entrant will receive $20,000. So, what are the criteria?
2. Can you give some guidance as to what you would consider a proper demolition of your thesis?
If you show that my “worst possible misery for everyone” argument fails, or that other branches of science are self-justifying in a way that a science of morality could never be, or that my analogy to a landscape of multiple peaks and valleys is fundamentally flawed, or that the fact/value distinction holds in a way that I haven’t yet understood—you stand a very good chance of torpedoing my argument and changing my mind.
3. What sort of criticism is likely to be ineffective?
You will definitely not win this prize if argue against views I don’t actually hold—which you might well do if you fail to notice the distinction I make between finding answers in practice and there being answers in principle, if you narrowly define science to mean doing the former while wearing a white lab coat, if you imagine that my thesis entails that scientists are more moral than farmers and bricklayers, or if, like the philosopher Patricia Churchland, you do all of those things with an air of scornful pomposity appropriate to a Monty Python routine.
Entries must be no longer than 1000 words. Submissions open on Feb. 9th, 2014. Here are the official rules of the contest.
You know this is like waving a giant crimson flag at a herd of angry bulls, right? I read The Moral Landscape when it was brand new, and I actually liked it then, but now I’m reading it again just because I love to argue. I suspect that the real fun of the challenge will take place well outside of the judging panel’s remarks. You can’t take apart the master’s house with the master’s tools, but we can totally throw eggs at the house from outside, and if we throw those eggs hard enough, some of them will smash the windows.