Sam Harris has written a brief but fairly clear book which makes some telling indictments of traditional Christianity and Islam. He also questions certain elements of the Bible which any honest theist has to struggle with; nevertheless, there are aspects of this book that seem deficient and lacking in nuance. It is those aspects that I will concentrate on in this review.
Harris contends that the Bible counsels parents to beat their children with a rod whenever children misbehave (page 8). However, Harris fails to consider the fact that the "rod" spoken of in Proverbs 13:24 is probably metaphorical (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Isaiah 10:5). Even if ancient Jewish fathers were encouraged to strike their children literally, however, this counsel only poses a difficulty for the contemporary permissive mindset. While the view is not popular in our day, there are still some psychologists or officers of the court who advocate spanking children in the proper way. Similarly, the Bible's counsel does not advocate abusing children, but rather encourages parents to train their children out of love. Harris' thoughts regarding the Bible sanctioning the killing of one's children is also a misconstrual of the biblical text and shows ignorance of the ancient judicial process found in ancient Israel. It took more than mere "talking back" to one's parents to suffer execution. See the relevant accounts in Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 21:18-21.
Mr Harris claims that all of our "primate cousins" are "generally intolerant of murder and theft" (page 21). This statement seems difficult to square with reality in view of the fact that animals probably cannot "murder" anyone or anything since they lack the ability to engage in the premeditation that is involved with murdering someone or something. Primates cannot form criminal intent (mens rea), therefore, they cannot commit murder. Two things required in English law for the commission of a crime are a guilty act (actus reus) and a guilty mind (mens rea). Moreover, it appears that one would also have to use the word "theft" very loosely with respect to the actions of primates. It must be emphasized that they lack the ability to form criminal intent.
Finally, I must say that Harris' comments on blastocysts and stem cell research are chilling (pages 29-32). One does not need to believe in an immaterial soul or even be a Christian to oppose the destruction of blastocysts for the purpose of stem cell research. Immanuel Kant argues that human life has dignity in se. A blastocyst is a potential human person--that is, there is a sense in which the blastocyst has entered the human community even if one wants to fuss about human personhood. If this is the case, then the dignity of the blastocyst should be respected or treated with esteem and care. Harris' argument about any cell in our bodies being a potential human being is just less than intelligent. The potential of the blastocyst becoming a fully grown human person and the potential of cells from my nose becoming a human person are not analogous situations. We know that the blastocyst has the potential to become a fully formed human person; we cannot say the same about a cell from my nose.