Not that it discredits his work...
By James Randi
SAM HARRIS ALERT
Dr. Michael Eslea, Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, alerts me to a startling – and disturbing – fact that I only became aware of when I finally had a chance to curl up with the Sam Harris book during the recent Amaz!ng Cruise. Eslea could have waited until I independently came out with this, but he decided to beat me to it…!
I am writing to endorse your enthusiastic recommendation (in last week's Swift) of Sam Harris's "End of Faith," but also to sound a note of caution. When Harris rails against theistic religions, End of Faith is a terrific read and a powerful argument, but when in the final chapter he turns approvingly towards Eastern mysticism and spirituality, he veers into woo-woo territory.
A warning sign appears very early in the book: in his introductory chapter (page 41) he states that
There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.
Turn to note 18 on page 232 to see his justification for this statement, and you will find an astonishing paragraph citing books by Dean Radin and Rupert Sheldrake as evidence. Harris also notes that Ian Stevenson's work (on children supposedly born with memories of past lives) "may be credible evidence for reincarnation."
Dr. Eslea, I ask that you bear in mind this fact: if the Radin and Sheldrake declarations were really true and properly derived, then they would stand as good evidence for the reality of parapsychology, and would incidentally make the writers eligible for the JREF million-dollar prize. As we know, Sheldrake has directly refused to apply for that prize, and Radin has made the same decision by choosing to ignore it. The problem here as I see it, is that Sam Harris needs to be better informed on this subject; if he’d had the same experience of parapsychology that he has of religion, he would not – I’m sure – have cited this work as conclusive. Dr. Eslea continues:
It seems to me that Harris's own experiences of meditation, which he describes in the book, have convinced him that consciousness extends outside the body. He believes in the "interconnectedness of the universe," and so accepts, largely uncritically, any apparently scientific evidence that supports his view. Needless to say, this rather undermines his academic credibility. So by all means enjoy End of Faith as an anti-theism diatribe, but if you ever meet Sam Harris, have a word with him about parapsychology!
Oh, I will, Mike, I will! Only now do I understand a certain coolness I’ve experienced in Sam’s attitude toward me, and I now think that it can be entirely explained by his romance with woo-woo that you have pointed out. I’ll add that only recently he has expressed his rejection of the cattle mutilation stories and of astrology, so he’s reachable. But then, I don’t think that either Radin or Sheldrake ever endorsed these notions… Or did they…?