The Atheist Foundation of Australia defines Atheism as:


"the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural"


Sam Harris is known to "experiment" with personal meditation experiences. Here is what wikipedia has to say about Sam Harris and "spirituality":


"Harris wishes to incorporate spirituality in the domain of human reason. He draws inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, in particular that of meditation, as described principally by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. By paying close attention to moment-to-moment conscious experience, Harris suggests, it is possible to make our sense of "self" vanish and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being."


He talks of mind states, of "not-self" and other terms which the AFA call on their forums "woo-woo".


The reason that the AFA would reject Sam Harris as an atheist is the last 3 words in their definition: "or the supernatural". They see atheism as rejecting not only god/gods (theo) but also the "supernatural", thereby turning atheism into atheiwoowoosm! They staunchly defend their definition beyond and rational logic. Only recently I have understood why that term is in there in the first place. The AFA are in fact, not an atheist organisation but a skeptics organisation. From their website:


" The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc began in South Australia in 1970 when the members of the Rationalist Association of SA decided that a name change would proclaim their basic philosophy"


So it appears that all they did was change their name but not their "clothes". This deceptive behaviour has caused some confusion on their forums but they still staunchly maintain their stance.


And the great irony in this whole issue? Sam Harris' books are on their recommended reading list!!!

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"I would stand shoulder to shoulder with you in a secular humanist critique of the Catholic Church, I would fight any law that attempted to prevent you from believing what you like, I would be grateful for your support if you turned up at the debate I am organising against a would-be theocrat , but I cannot call you an atheist because you believe in unsupported, unfalsifiable ideas."


Ironically, I probably have more in common with you than we both realise. But once again the only thing that we need to have in common is to deny the existence of a big white-bearded old man in the sky to be called atheists - whatever other ideas we might have.


"What will you tick in the coming census: Buddhist or No Religion?

Keep in mind that if you tick Buddhist, Cardinal Pell and his ilk will seize upon your headcount in the total religious percentage and attempt to represent you as being in opposition to secular agendas."


You know what I will tick and what I ticked in the last census. Cardinal Pell will do what Cardinal Pell does. I cannot control his actions - they are his and they reflect on him. Nor will I base my actions on how others are likely to respond - that would be philosophically abhorrent to me. I act as my conscience dictates and in the end, I too will be judged on those actions as they will reflect the sort of person I am. I don't compromise for Cardinal Pell, Matthew McArthur, David Nicholls or anyone else. I stand or fall on my own.


"I get enough exposure to your style of thinking on Christian forums and in the Fantasy Island area of the AFA forum."


Well, I don't think I've been on AFA for a very long time - I can't remember when was the last time I posted.


But you must tell me more about the xtian forums! You don't post on CARM do you? How very interesting. At least my name on carm is Vangelis. You have to tell me your name on CARM. PM me - I promise I won't tell!


Read the second and third sections in the article you linked to above and you will see how Sam Harris qualifies his Buddhist statement with sections on "The Problem with Religion," and "A Contemplative Science" and you will see that your argument about Sam Harris lacks merit.

Well hello David,


How have you been?


"It’s hardly worth explaining this as I have successfully done so on the AFA Forums."


No, you haven't successfully explained your position on the AFA forums. After all, it's hardly a level playing field when you can muzzle me so easily. It is a technique that so many radio shock jocks use when they speak with callers with whom they disagree.


"Let me make this very clear. If Sam Harris is postulating a ‘spook’ in the system from outside of nature, (Supernatural) then he does fall within the AFA definition of Atheism as not being an Atheist."


Sam Harris claims that through meditation the mind can experience the lack of a self. You would have to agree that this is a statement that cannot be independently verified by science - we simply don't have the instrumentation capable of measuring individual thoughts or consciousness. After all, science's current attempts to define consciousness are at an infant stage at the moment. So this is Sam Harris' " ‘spook’ in the system". Are you going to remove his books from your recommended reading based on this statement? I would wager not, however, you treat your forum members with more contempt, banishing them for less.


"As the latter is probably true, and I hope you are not intentionally misrepresenting Sam Harris by suggesting otherwise"


David, I have been as open and honest as I can be and have posted a link from his own website regarding his experiences with Buddhist meditation for all to read. Please feel free to do so. If I have misrepresented him or misunderstood him in any way, I would welcome being corrected and will modify my understanding appropriately.


"If you consider that humanity should make decisions how to run the planet without the backing of empirical evidence, then fine,"


How could I advocate that when as an engineer, I use science on a daily basis. How can I do that when I have experienced the immense beauty of the hard sciences, first at school when my favourite subject was calculus then at university when I absolutely fell in love with physics - specifically quantum physics and solid state physics - my love for which greatly surpassed that of calculus. How could I when, even though I had no formal instruction in the biological sciences, I absolutely fell in love with the mechanism driving evolution as described by Richard Dawkins in "The Greatest Show on Earth". It was an amazing piece of work that made me appreciate the biological sciences. No, I am an engineer, I understand and respect science, I understand how important empirical evidence is in a modern society. But I can also step back and put science and its current position in history into perspective. That was the purpose of my hypothetical to Matthew McArthur - to show how science fits in with our human endeavour from a historical point of view. We think we know almost all there is to know when it comes to science but the amount we don't know is greater than what we do know. There have been many instances throughout science's history when comments like that are made and looking back we can see how much more we have learned since then. Science is not constant and every once in a while a paradigm-shifting theory comes along that makes us rethink our entire scientific endeavour. That is the context in which we must function. Yes, I am in awe of our scientific endearvour and have a great love for many of the sciences that I have had the good fortune to come across, however, I temper my awe of science with the historical perspective in which it sits. Since I was born, I have seen great advances in science. Today millions of people walk around with mobile phones with a computing power far surpassing that of ENIAC. If, as an atheist, I had suggested back then that this would be possible, I would have been burned at the stake of "no credible scientific evidence" as at that time it would have been inconceivable.


"Why are you attempting to complicate this?"


I am attempting to simplify this. Atheism should be inclusive, it should allow variation, it is a simple statement that denies the existence of god. Why complicate that?


"Don’t answer as your efforts do nothing to enhance Atheism as was clearly demonstrated on the AFA Forums."


No, the AFA forums clearly demonstrated that voices of difference can be muzzled. This is not a victory for atheism, it is a great loss and disservice. How do I know this? On your forums there were those that carefully posted their support, there were those who PM'd me with their cautious support and I'm betting that there were many more that were too afraid to voice their support in any way lest they also suffer any heavy-handed consequences. There was no clear demonstration on the AFA forums as there was no open discussion allowed. There was only "toe the line or cease". That is not debate - that is dictatorship. I like meeting atheists of differing ideas and backgrounds, I will agree with some of them and not with others, but there is one thing that we will have in common - we will ALL deny the existence of god(s). And that's all that's necessary. As to the rest, vive la difference!


"pointless pedantic protestations"


As I have pointed out to Matthew, ad-hominem attacks do not advance your cause or that of atheism. Please refrain from using them.


Kind Regards,





I am in no way suggesting that the AFA should be inclusive of 'supernatural' ideas. The AFA should recognise, however, that scientific empiricism is not complete at any moment in time - it is being added to at an ever increasing rate. As such, to speculate on the mechanisms of the mind whilst not being part of the current scientific body of knowledge, is not outside of the realm of possibility and may in fact be proven to be so empirically at some future point in time. Thus to reject someone like Sam Harris because he says the mind is capable of attaining a certain state of wisdom/knowledge because it cannot be scientifically proven, is going too far as there could be scientific evidence for his statement some time in the future when science has developed more sophisticated instrumentation capable of monitoring the mind more affectively.


To state that atheism is the denial of god(s) is enough. To go further is to deny atheists that make statements that science is not currently capable of proving.


Hopefully, that's not too many words. And I won't add the words "for you to read" at the end of that sentence because as hominem is never necessary when discussing a point of view, it's only necessary in attacking a person.


Kind Regards,





I have agreed in my previous reply to you that the supernatural should not be accepted. The supernatural is not probable. However, this is irrelevant to atheists. It is whether god is probable that is relevant to atheists.


Just to clarify again, the AFA statement of atheism would exclude Sam Harris being called an atheist as he talks of mind states in which there is no self. There is no "scientifically credible evidence" for this statement therefore it falls under woowoo and by the AFA's definition he is therefore not an atheist.


I think it is quite a bizarre scenario where one can categorically deny the existence of god(s) (ie be a non-theist) but not fall under the definition of atheist by the AFA.


Kind Regards,




If I made this statement to you - "when thoughts are seen to be mere phenomena arising and passing away in consciousness (along with sights, sounds, sensations, etc.), the feeling that there is a "self" who is the thinker of these thoughts can disappear" - would you agree that there is no credible scientific evidence for such a claim?


So David, you refuse to give me a simple yes/no answer to that question because you know that the answer is a big "Yes". You would have to agree that there is no "credible scientific evidence" for that statement.

Given that there is "no credible scientific evidence" for this statement, you would have to also agree that it falls outside of the AFA's definition of atheist and therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn is that it has been made by a non-atheist.

This statement has been made by Sam Harris in his 2006 Huffington Post article:

Therefore, by the AFA's definition of atheism, Sam Harris is not an atheist.



This is a problem with language. 

Sam Harris was using metaphors

and I see your point

Buddism is still religion.

" Buddism is still religion."


I don't dispute that - that is completely the case. There are some that say it's a philosophy. There are some that say it's a way of life, a practice. I think it's all those things and even though many deny that it's a religion this has only come about because traditionally in the west a religion requires the worship of a deity and Buddhism doesn't do that. There are, however, many that do pray in Buddhism and as far as I'm concerned, those that do have turned it into a religion.


And I don't think that Sam Harris was using metaphors when he describes the mind states that can occur in meditation. When you lose a sense of self, the mental construct of a self is completely gone, you actually mentally comprehend that - something that cannot be scientifically proven as yet as our instrumentation is not capable of monitoring the mind to the level of individual thought processes.

That's a good point.



But it doesn't make it religious.
"The acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural"

That is the worst definition of atheism I have ever heard. Ever.
First of all, atheism is simply set up as the dichotomy of theism with regards to a God; it is not inherently tied to the supernatural at all, and any attempt to do so is just muddling things up beyond their philosophical usefulness.
Second of all, the definition does not say anything about belief. For instance, I know plenty of religious believers who will grant that there is no credible scientific evidence for a God, but they still believe it nonetheless. By the stupid definition above, these people are therefore atheists.
Thirdly, this "acceptance" has nothing to do with atheism. One need not to be educated in science or even rationality to be an atheist; all it signifies is the group of people who do not believe in a God, for whatever reason.
Once they get their definitions straight, maybe I'll bother with their points.

Nevertheless, even by this definition Sam Harris is quite clearly an atheist, since he has never invoked either a God or supernatural intervention when he talks about the brain.




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