Many of the "dangerous ideas" were anti-religion: there is no soul, there is no God, etc. But Harris came straight at it. I was intrigued enough to follow the links to his web site. He has written a book, "The End of Faith" (published in 2004), in which he elaborates.
I probably wouldn't like him politically. His web site includes reviews of the book. The NYTimes review includes the following.
The End of Faithis far from perfect. Harris seems to find "moral relativism" as great a sin as religious moderation, and in the end he singles out Islam as the reigning threat to humankind. He likens it to the gruesome, Inquisition-style Christianity of the 13th century, yet he never explains how Christianity became comparatively domesticated. And on reading his insistence that it is "time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development," I couldn’t help but think of Ann Coulter’s morally developed suggestion that we invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and convert their citizens to Christianity.Harris also seems to have no ear for religious symbolism, taking every religious statement as the literal belief of its utterer.
Harris also drifts into arenas of marginal relevance to his main thesis, attacking the war against drugs here, pacificism there, and offering a strained defense for the use of torture in wartime that seems all the less persuasive after Abu Ghraib.
But Harris is willing to speak out against religion when it strays into what he (and I) think are beyond its bounds, namely beliefs having to do with facts in the physical world. Here's how he put it in the Edge piece.
Most people believe that the Creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of their books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and each makes incompatible claims about how we all must live. Despite the ecumenical efforts of many well-intentioned people, these irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict.Although I agree that religion should not make claims to have knowledge about the physical world, I find him less than convincing that the right way to go about educating people is to "blast the hideous fantasies of a prior age."
In response to this situation, most sensible people advocate something called "religious tolerance." While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticizing ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves — repeatedly and at the highest levels — about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. …
Science, in the broadest sense, includes all reasonable claims to knowledge about ourselves and the world. If there were good reasons to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, these beliefs would necessarily form part of our rational description of the universe. Faith is nothing more than the license that religious people give one another to believe such propositions when reasons fail. The difference between science and religion is the difference between a willingness to dispassionately consider new evidence and new arguments, and a passionate unwillingness to do so. The distinction could not be more obvious, or more consequential, and yet it is everywhere elided, even in the ivory tower.
Religion is fast growing incompatible with the emergence of a global, civil society. Religious faith — faith that there is a God who cares what name he is called, that one of our books is infallible, that Jesus is coming back to earth to judge the living and the dead, that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise, etc. — is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas. The difference between science and religion is the difference between a genuine openness to fruits of human inquiry in the 21st century, and a premature closure to such inquiry as a matter of principle. I believe that the antagonism between reason and faith will only grow more pervasive and intractable in the coming years. Iron Age beliefs — about God, the soul, sin, free will, etc. — continue to impede medical research and distort public policy. The possibility that we could elect a U.S. President who takes biblical prophesy seriously is real and terrifying; the likelihood that we will one day confront Islamists armed with nuclear or biological weapons is also terrifying, and growing more probable by the day. We are doing very little, at the level of our intellectual discourse, to prevent such possibilities.
In the spirit of religious tolerance, most scientists are keeping silent when they should be blasting the hideous fantasies of a prior age with all the facts at their disposal.
To win this war of ideas, scientists and other rational people will need to find new ways of talking about ethics and spiritual experience. The distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and non-ordinary states of consciousness from our conversation about the world.Fine so far.
We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs that do not require the abject embrace of the preposterous. We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity — birth, marriage, death, etc. — without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.All true—actually I'm not much of a fan of ritual or tradition—but I'm afraid it doesn't help to tell people that they are embracing the preposterous.
Yet as Natalie Angier, the NYTimes reviewer put it,
It’s not often that I see my florid strain of atheism expressed in any document this side of the Seine, but The End of Faith articulates the dangers and absurdities of organized religion so fiercely and so fearlessly that I felt relieved as I read it, vindicated, almost personally understood.