Is Sam Harris being Unfairly Attacked or is he a Dishonest Hypocrite?

I am very familiar with Sam Harris. Richard Dawkins is the only one of the Four Horsemen I have read more of. I have bashed Dawkins and Bill Maher for their views on religion but have only briefly mentioned Harris, so here is a blog for him. He came to my attention again when he was on Real Time with Bill Maher, where Ben Affleck gives the both of them a pretty good beating. Ben Affleck is spot on in his analysis. Here is a link to the video. I will address specific parts later in this bit…

Ben Affleck is not the first person to criticize Sam Harris, in fact, it happens quite frequently. Harris has actually responded to his critics on his website, and actually covers two of the points I wish to touch on. Here is a link to his responses to critics…

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2

If you read that, you will see one of his biggest grips is about people calling him a racist and a bigot. He states “Such defamation is made all the easier if one writes and speaks on extremely controversial topics…”

Sam Harris is either completely missing the point of the criticism (or intentionally avoiding it,) which is the same point Ben brought up in the video. He is not being criticized for talking about controversial issues. He is not being criticized for calling out the Jihadists and Islamists, he is being criticized because he LUMPS ALL MUSLIMS TOGETHER. He says he is not, and that there are decent Muslims, but this is completely dishonest. Both Sam and Bill proclaim they have numbers, and Sam Harris was nice enough to provide us with some. In the video, Harris says that Jihadists and Islamists make up roughly 20 percent of the Muslim world. So according to Sam Harris, 20 percent is “most?” He is defining and condemning an entire religion based on 20% of them? He also uses the term “conservative Muslim” but fails to give a number.

Let’s use Sam’s logic. According Gallop polls, over 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism. 40 percent is double the 20 percent Sam Harris uses to describe the “Muslim World,” so by his reasoning Sam Harris is just a stupid American that believes in creationism.

Honestly though, Ben and the others make the best argument for those types of numbers. They are the classical racist arguments. They are literally the same as saying “this percentage of black people commit crimes therefore…” They use minority numbers to condemn an entire group of people, to justify their prejudice. Harris backtracks on this claim and states this…

“Okay, I’ll give you what you want. There are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are nominal Muslims, who don’t take the faith seriously, who don’t want to kill apostates, who are horrified by ISIS, and we need to defend these people and prop them up and let them reform their faith.”

The fact that Harris says he is not talking about ALL Muslims (even though it is clearly obvious that he is,) is clearly false. He has never said anything positive about Muslims and now he is saying we need to defend them? He has done this type of thing before… in his book Letter to a Christian Nation, he puts a lumping disclaimer at the beginning of the book. It reads as follows…

“Consequently, the ‘Christian’ I address throughout is a Christian in a narrow sense of the term. Such a person believes, at minimum, that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that only those who accept the divinity of Jesus Christ will experience salvation after death.”

“In Letter to a Christian Nation, I have set out to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms. Consequently, liberal and moderate Christians will not always recognize themselves in the ‘Christians’ I address…”

“I engage Christianity at its most divisive injurious, and retrograde. In this, liberals, moderates and nonbelievers can recognize a common cause.”

To me, this seems fair enough. This book is about the more conservative Christians, the literalists, and not all Christians. It is similar to my lumping disclaimer about atheists. I read his entire book based on this statement and man did it piss me off when I got to the end.

There is a chapter at the end named The Problem with Moderate Religion. In this bit he craps on the very people he is claiming to not be talking about…Here are some selected quotes…
“Religious moderates also tend to imagine that there is some bright line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn’t. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism…”

“Another problem with religious moderation is that it represents precisely the sort of thinking that will prevent a rational and nondenominational spirituality from every emerging in our world.”

“By living as if some measure of sectarian superstition were essential for human happiness, religious moderates prevent such a conversation from ever taking shape.”

At the very least he is guilty of being a horrible writer, lacking the capability to use the correct language to present his views and opinions. However, I find it more plausible that he is dishonest and a hypocrite. How can one say they are only talking about extremists and then say that liberals, moderates, and nonbelievers can recognize a common cause, and then follow that up by saying there is not really a difference between extremists and moderates?
I will emphasize it again…the reason he is being criticized is because he is being dishonest and inconsistent. To Sam Harris, one is either religious or not, there is no middle ground. You are either an atheist or religious extremist. Sam Harris does not like or respect people of religion. That is the definition of bigotry and that is not an unfair attack, it is a conclusion based on his writing about people with religious beliefs.

I have not taken his writing out of context, merely point out contradictions, but one of his biggest complaints of critics is that people take what he says out of context. He points to a bit which Chris Hedges criticizes him about preemptive nuclear war. I have also pointed this out in other blogs because it is one of the most troubling things he has ever written. Here is the bit, copied from the link I posted at the beginning…

“It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence. There is little possibility of our having a cold war with an Islamist regime armed with long-range nuclear weapons. A cold war requires that the parties be mutually deterred by the threat of death. Notions of martyrdom and jihad run roughshod over the logic that allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to pass half a century perched, more or less stably, on the brink of Armageddon. What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day—but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nuclear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely. We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it. Given the steady proliferation of technology, it is safe to say that time is not on our side.”
This is the first bit of his response…

“Clearly, I was describing a case in which a hostile regime that is avowedly suicidal acquires long-range nuclear weaponry (i.e. they can hit distant targets like Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, etc.). Of course, not every Muslim regime would fit this description.”

Once again, he is trying to throw in the “not all Muslims” but once again he fails to use language that would support that statement. In addition to that, he makes it seem as if he is talking about ANY hostile regime, not just a Muslim one. This is Sam Harris taking Sam Harris out of context. If the book, chapter, or even section was about US foreign policy, he might have an argument, but this bit has nothing to do with that. If one looks at his book, they will see this is in the chapter titled “The Problem with Islam,” in a section titled “Jihad and the Power of the Atom.” In this section there are two paragraphs before the bit I quoted above. This is not being taken out of context, it is purely about the problem with Islam and he justifies preemptive nuclear strikes.

Harris attempts to disguise his beliefs by saying something like this would be “horrible” and “insane,” but he said it, and he makes an excuse for it…

“I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns. That it would be a horrible absurdity for so many of us to die for the sake of myth does not mean, however, that it could not happen. Indeed, given the immunity to all reasonable intrusions that faith enjoys in our discourse, a catastrophe of this sort seems increasingly likely.”

So basically he is saying “you made us do it because you believe in a myth and are unreasonable?” Harris is admitting it may be acceptable to kill tens of millions of innocent people! This is sick. Once again, I call this Hitler type stuff. This is not being taken out of context, it is not about US foreign policy, this is about the problems with Islam. There is absolutely no reason for this bit in his book unless he believes this is a legitimate option to dealing with Muslims.

Is Sam Harris being unfairly criticized? He is only being unfairly criticized if he admits he is a horrible writer that adds meaningless stuff to his books and that he is incapable of getting his real message across. I doubt this is the case though. I would not be allowed to speak in the same room with him because of his credentials compared to mine, ask him, he will tell you. The only logical conclusion is he is being fairly criticized, not for discussion the difficult topics, but by lumping all religious people together. He constantly, and clearly, says contradicting statements, whether that is in his speaking or writing. Maybe he is legitimately confused about how he feels about religious people, but then tell us that. Based on his words I think it is more apparent that he knows exactly what he believes and is upset when people call him out on it, as is any racist or bigot when you call them out on it. Anyone feel free to correct me if you think I AM wrong…

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Accepted Bigotry in Atheism

Before reading this blog I suggest you read my lumping disclaimer and my about this blog bit   I am going to start by posting this picture I see popping up on Twitter…

Image

Does anyone see a problem with this? If you do not, you should…

Atheists make many claims about religious people. They claim they are stupid, ignorant, illogical, faith based, intolerant, and bigots. Naturally, they reject the notion that they may also have some of these characteristics because they are superior. Because of this preconceived notion, they ignore the fact that they display some of these same traits, yet readily accept them.

Before we get into this, I wanted to start with some definitions…

athe•ist : a person who believes that God does not exist

Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is active opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity, while in a theistic context, it sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods.

in•tol•er•ant   Not tolerant of others’ views, beliefs, or behavior that differ from one’s own.

Tolerance or toleration a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

big•ot : a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group)-This is not my opinion, the dictionary put that.

bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats other people with hatred, contempt, and intolerance on the basis of a person’s ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.-Just another definition.

I do not see, in the definition of atheist, any type of statement about science, logic, reason, tolerance/intolerance, or religious beliefs of other people. Atheism is a lack of a belief in God, nothing more. Any other statement has nothing to do with atheism, and is simply the opinion of the person.

Anti-theism is a little different. It talks about direct opposition. Some anti-theists have stated that they use the term, but do not look down on religious people. This may certainly be the case, but why would one choose that word over the word “atheist?” putting “anti” in front of anything signifies that they are opposed to something. If I claimed I were anti-black people or anti-women, how do you think people would interpret that? At the very least, anti-theism is a poor choice of wording. However, this is less of a case of poor wording, and more of a case intolerance and bigotry.

This is not just found in people that call themselves anti-theists, but in atheists in general. First I will address the notion that religious people are illogical or stupid. To start, to say that someone else’s belief is wrong suggests that your belief is correct. Atheists will say they do not have a belief, or they see no evidence to believe in a god.

The lack of evidence for a god does not mean a god does not exist. The only conclusion we can come to based on no evidence is agnostic, but atheists make a fatal mistake in assuming absence of evidence is evidence of absence. They assume that there are only two possible outcomes, theirs, and yours. This is a logical fallacy, argumentum ad ignorantiam, or argument from ignorance. This logical fallacy is a type of false dichotomy in which they assume there is only two explanations when in fact, there could be as many as four. The answer could simply be unknown, or unknowable.

So when they claim that a lack of evidence for god supports their view, that point is plainly wrong according to basic logic. They have one of two choices: Agnostic (does not know) or Atheist (a truth claim, that there is no god.) If one does not know, who are they to judge another person’s beliefs and say they are wrong? If they do claim there is not god, they must support their truth claim. The fact of the matter is, that claim cannot be validated by science, and thus their claim is illogical. On the note of atheists not having a belief (if we assume this is the case,) how are they in the position to judge someone else’s belief, if they cannot formulate one for themselves?

To say religious people are stupid, is a stupid comment. Many of the smartest people in the world are religious. When one looks at scholars and scientists, it is painfully obvious that many smart people are religious and can separate their religious beliefs from their work. Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist, and champion of Darwin’s theory was a devout Christian.

We could also take a look at the Ashkenazi Jews…

From Wikipedia-

“One observational basis for inferring that Ashkenazi Jews have high intelligence is their prevalence in intellectually demanding fields. While only about 3% of the U.S. population is of full Ashkenazi Jewish descent, 27% of United StatesNobel prize winners in the 20th century, 25% of Fields Medal winners, 25% of ACM Turing Award winners, 6 out of the 19 world chess champions, and a quarter of Westinghouse Science Talent Search winners have either full or partial Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

However, such statistics do not rule out factors other than intelligence, such as institutional biases and social networks. Undue weight is also given to the Ashkenazi statistics because people of partial Ashkenazi ancestry (half or less) are included, but only compared to the portion of the US population of full Ashkenazi descent. A more direct approach is to measure intelligence with psychometric tests. Different studies have found different results, but most have found above-average verbal and mathematical intelligence in Ashkenazi Jews, along with below-average spatial intelligence.

Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein have been dubbed “America’s brainiest couple” and Grigori Perelman “the world’s smartest man.””

Some people will point out that being Jewish can be more of a cultural thing. I agree, and that only supports other statements I have made about the complexity of religion. BUT Grigori Perelman, who has been called the world’s smartest man, is highly religious…

http://english.pravda.ru/society/stories/07-05-2010/113310-perelman-1/

“We’ve been friends since childhood, he is a deeply spiritual ascetic and a virgin monk,” wrote the Komsomolskaya Pravda reader. “His apartment is heavily decorated with icons. He wears a beard and a large cross. He keeps rosary in his pocket. Even at night he prays. He is super religious, hence all his idiosyncrasies. More than that, he is convinced he has proved the existence of God.”

My final example are liberals in America. Most atheist associate themselves with liberals or the Democratic Party.

Atheists/agnostics make up between 10-14% of the US population according to different polls. In the US it is fair to say that the leanings of people are about 50-50. What this means is that the majority in the Democratic Party, or either party, is mostly made up of religious people. Atheists, on either side, feel their party is correct and not stupid. If this were not the case, the atheists would have formed their own party, the Smart Party.

I can already see the atheists eager to point out that “studies suggest” religious people have a lower IQ than non-religious people. Those studies are highly suspect AT BEST and I will address them in another blog.

In addition to those examples, there are ones that are just as troubling, if not more so. I constantly hear that religion is a mental illness/disorder, virus, or disease, but this statement is never simply stated. It is always laced with insults, intolerance, or hatred. Not that this statement has ever been scientifically supported, but let’s assume it has, just for argument sake. Now let’s assume I dislike and ridicule someone with depression, ADHD, the flu, or cancer. You would certainly call me a bigot for holding those types of beliefs.

Sam Harris actually admits that religion has an evolutionary (biological) role in our past. This means that religion is a naturally occurring human trait, that one does not have control over, such as hair or skin color.

Oddly enough, even though Sam Harris admits the biological nature of religion, he still has the audacity to say the following things…

“Some propositions are so dangerous, that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim but it is merely an enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extra ordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense…” (Harris, End of Faith p. 52-53)

“What will we do if an Islamist regime…ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime-as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day-but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.” (Harris, End of Faith)

Can someone explain to me how this is any different than what Hitler did? That is a perfect transition into another common practice of bigots…they attempt to support their views. Atheists use things such as “science” and “logic,” as if those somehow justify their beliefs. The fact of the matter is that bigots will always find a way to support their views. They will even use science. I know the atheists will claim that science could never support something such as racism…except that it has…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism

In the late 1800s, until the 1980s, no that is not a typo, the 1980s, science was used to justify and support racism and other things. The United States sterilized women up until the 1980s for displaying “bad genes.” An example of “bad genes” would be something such as having a child out of wedlock. There is another interesting term in scientific racism…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#Eugenics

It is called Eugenics. Eugenics was the science of the day. It was the future of humanity. In eugenics, we could perfect the human race by eliminating “negative traits,” or “bad genes.” Does this sound familiar? There is a slightly famous event based on this science. It is called the Holocaust. Atheists claim that Hitler was using religion. No, Hitler was using science. He was perfecting the human race by eliminating the bad genes…by killing anyone that had them. The Nazis also preformed scientific experiments on people to “advance science.”

Atheists will probably argue that we NOW know this is bad science and that science has come a long way. That is true, but there is still bad science and a way of presenting facts to make a specific argument. In addition to that, scientists say unscientific things, which are construed as science by people that are not smart enough to actually look it up.

Case and point is Richard Dawkins. Dawkins claims that religion is like a mental illness or virus. To make this claim, we can assume he has some type of scientific basis for it. What we would look for is an experiment using the scientific method…

Ask a question

Do background

research Construct a hypothesis

Test with an experiment

Analyze results/draw conclusion

If hypothesis is true, report results.

If results are false or partly true, reevaluate hypothesis Report results

But Dawkins, even though he is a scientist, never actually does this. Not only does he not perform an experiment he also fails to cite a legitimate scientific experiment. To date, there has been a grand total of ONE experiment ever done on this topic. This experiment is called the “God Helmet.” However, once we evaluate this experiment, we find out it is not only flawed, but has never been able to be reproduced.

Dawkins claims actually go against the science. Sam Harris was nice enough to point out that religion is biological in nature and served a positive purpose in the past.

What Dawkins is doing is psychoanalysis AT BEST, but is really just using abductive reasoning and making inaccurate comparisons. Abductive reasoning is what Intelligent Design proponents do. They say “this looks like it was designed, therefore it was designed.” That is the exact same argument and line of reasoning as “religion looks like a mental disorder, therefore it is a mental disorder.” I have never heard an atheist claim that ID proponents are using science, so I can only conclude that when Dawkins uses the same type of reasoning, he is not using science.

Based on this, we can conclude one of two things…

1. Dawkins is either stupid/ignorant, and not as smart as you think or

2. Lying to you to promote his propaganda and bigotry…or to make money selling books…

The atheist’s mistake is Argumentum ab auctoritate or appeal to authority. It is assumed that what Richard Dawkins is saying is true and/or is science because he is a scientist and an “intellectual.”

In addition to using science they also try to justify their views with examples, examples of the extreme cases, or the exception to the rule.

An example would be 9/11 and extremist Muslims. Granted, about 10% of Muslims are of this extreme persuasion, which is a large number but they are the minority of Muslims. Yet they justify their hate of Muslims because of the extremist ones. They look at Saudi Arabia and ignore liberal UAE.

Another example is the Westboro Baptist Church or fundamentalist Christians that oppose homosexuality. There is also the FLDS, in which their leader, Warren Jeffs, raped and abused underage girls. There is also the issue of Catholic priests molesting children. What they ignore are the liberal Christians that accept homosexuality and oppose Westboro. They ignore the fact that the Mormon Church, long ago, outlawed and spoke out against polygamy. They ignore the Catholic priests that never did anything wrong and they ignore all the good the Church has done. They ignore the fact that most Christians are not Young Earth Creationists and Biblical Literalists. Many Christians accept Darwin’s theory as fact and do not see a conflict between science and religion.

I could use the same type of arguments to validate bigotry towards any group, which is the normal practice of bigots. Here are a few stupid examples…

Blacks make up 13% of the US population and 50% of the prison population, therefore black people are violent criminals. Or I could simply “I got robbed by a black person,” which apparently validates my hate of them.

Mexicans are coming here and taking our jobs and leeching off of our welfare system.

Gays are wrecking marriage, and the family structure, and turning our kids gays.

All the horrible drivers on the road are women, therefore women should not be allowed to drive.

These mistakes are pointed out in an intro to the idea of Statistics class. I will quote and paraphrase my book Seeing Through Statistics by Jessica M. Utts to show this.

The first issue is the Availability Heuristic. “(Daniel) Kahneman defines a heuristic as ‘a simple procedure that helps find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions.’”

The Availability Heuristic can be demonstrated by this survey…

“Which do you think cause more deaths in the United States in 2010, homicide or septicemia?” This was a question asked to an intro to statistics class at UC Irvine. Only 39% of the students answer the question correctly.

The results:

Deaths from septicemia: 34,843

Deaths from homicide: 16,065

Why did the majority get this question wrong?

“The distorted view that homicide or accidents are more common than other causes of death results from the fact that those events receive more attention in the media. Psychologists attribute this incorrect perception to the availability heuristic.”

Basically, people make incorrect assessments of the actual numbers because of the media. The media tends to lead towards one view or another and focuses on the negative things. It gives us a skewed perception of reality.

There is also the issue of anchoring.

“Psychologists have shown that people’s perception can also be severely distorted when they are provided with a reference point, or an anchor, from which they then adjust up or down. Most people tend to stay relatively close to the anchor, or initial value provided.”

“Research has shown that anchoring influences real-world decisions.”

“Anchoring is most effective when the anchor is extreme in one direction or the other.”

Basically this means that people are more likely to be swayed one way or another by the information they are present with. This works with both a militant atheist and a fundamentalist Christian. Both have a biased opinion based on their extreme information they have received.

The final issue is optimism, reluctance to change and overconfidence.

“Psychologists have also found that some people tend to have personal probabilities that are unrealistically optimistic. Further, people are often overconfident about how likely they are to be right and are reluctant to change.”

In this bit they argue that most people are guilty of conservatism.

“Conservatism is the tendency to change pervious probability estimates more slowly that warranted by new data.” They also point out that this is a problem in the scientific community, not just “faith-based” assessments.

Overconfidence: “Consistent with the reluctance to change personal probability in the face of new data is the tendency for people to place too much confidence in their own assessments. In other words, when people venture a guess about something for which they are uncertain, they tend to overestimate the probability that they are correct.”

What all of this means is these atheists have a skewed perception of reality due to the availability heuristic and anchoring, which is combined with conservatism and over-confidence in their knowledge or view.

Their justifications for their bigotry are completely unfounded. They are either willingly ignoring reality, or they are not reasonable and logical enough to analyze the facts in front of them. I will end with again posting this picture… Image

What irony and hypocrisy… Not only are the atheist’s claims not science, they are not logical. It is all propaganda and catch phrases use to promote their bigotry or convince themselves they are not bigots.