Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris on ethics

While learning about Jordan Peterson, I’ve been fascinated with the discussions he’s had with Sam Harris, one of the so-called four horsemen of the New Atheists. There’s literally hours of those discussions on YouTube. In my estimation, these are, by far, the most refreshingly mature conversations between two people who have very different views about God and ethics.

This is an addendum to my last post about Peterson’s problem with the atheist’s appeal to secular moral values. In the short video clip below, which is part of a conference Peterson and Harris did together in Dublin in 2018 (you can watch the full discussion here), Peterson is addressing Harris’s fear that he might be trying to “Jesus smuggle” in his philosophical and psychological claims for morality and ethics. I’ve heard this “smuggling” accusation many times myself in conversations with anti-theists, which is rather ironic to me.

Peterson counters by showing that Harris’s secular argument for ethics and morality is actually subconsciously appealing to or assumes an internal transcendental universal ethic. Therefore, while not overtly metaphysical, the strength of Harris’s argument is identical to the Christian ideal.

One point where Peterson makes this comparison that particularly caught my attention is that it seems the best way to act ethically would to live in truth:

“Symbolically speaking, as far as I can understand, stripped of its metaphysical context, that the purpose of positing the vision of the ideal human being…certainly what the symbol of Christ’s life represents, is that the mode of being that moves us most effectively from something approximating ‘hell’ to something approximating ‘heaven,’ so to speak….and the best way to embody that is to actually live in truth….”

Please watch the whole clip for the context, but Peterson is spot-on here. This is absolutely central to classical Christian thought. We, of course, take this embodiment further. We believe that Truth is a Person. Jesus Christ Himself is the pathway and the truth that lays out the blueprint for the best possible trajectory for human life to flourish.

Jesus explained, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life…. (John 14:6a TPT).

31 Jesus said …“When you continue to embrace all that I teach, you prove that you are my true followers. 32 For if you embrace the truth, it will release more freedom into your lives.” (John 8:31-32 TPT)

Jesus is not only the truth, He’s the logos or “word(John 1:1, 14), which was a common Greek word in first-century Hellenistic thought that does not just mean speech or logic, but ultimately means the structuring reality of everything. I discussed the history of “logos” in ancient philosophy and religion, and how John used it in his gospel account to show that this Structuring Reality came to us in human form, in my post “Logos: the structuring Reality of everything.”

Here’s the clip. It’s well worth watching if this interests you.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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6 Responses to Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris on ethics

  1. “In my estimation, these are, by far, the most refreshingly mature conversations between two people who have very different views about God and ethics.”

    Right? Me too! What I found so interesting, many Christians were not happy about it, the goal of a debate is supposedly to just crush your opponent. Some people felt as if JP lost the debate because he didn’t “win” in the traditional way of dragon slaying apologetics. But we aren’t supposed to kill the patient! CS Lewis wrote about that in the Screwtape Letters, about how Christians tend eat to their own, so just sit back and let them kill the patient. And sadly that seems just as true today as it was back then.

    So, to talk to someone like Sam Harris, you really have to perceive him as made in the image of God, as worthy of some respect, and I think JP really showed us what that looks like.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly. Doesn’t make for good click-bait, does it. 🙂 The truth is, dragon-slaying doesn’t work on either side of the argument. I wish Christians would get this. There’s no real communication going on at all. To be clear, Sam Harris sounds like an angry ‘ex’ who doesn’t have a clue about the central tenets of Christianity, but he does make arguments that need to be addressed. While Jordan Peterson doesn’t have a profound understanding of Christianity either, at least he knows how to engage the conversation like an adult. And he’s also exposing the elephant in the room on where our morals come from. Harris and his ilk have no rational foundation to appeal to in this regard, which Peterson explains brilliantly.

  2. hawk2017 says:

    Ty. I like Peterson. But with the non-believer in Christ Jesus, they say truth is nil and each must decice what truth is and therefore Truth is still nill. Not logical. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Exactly. This sentimentality is actually totally incoherent. It comes from postmodern subjectivism. While it’s true that there are a myriad of ways to explain something, like people describing different parts of the same elephant from their perspective, the points is, there’s still an actual elephant! This is where these nihilists run off the rails with their dismissive subjectivism, concluding that since there’s so many interpretations, no one is right. Or worse, there’s no such thing as objective truth, which is just utter nonsense. It’s actually anti-science and delusional. Nothing would work in the universe if this were true.

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