Mixing Memory

Sam Harris Is Everywhere

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. I’ve got some half-written posts that should be interesting, but between baseball 4 day a week, and an unhealthily large number of current research projects, I’m completely exhausted. So instead of finishing one of those half-written posts tonight, I’m just going to be lazy and link you to two recent discussions between Sam Harris and religious folk.

Sam Harris v. Andrew Sullivan

Sam Harris v. Rick Warren

I don’t think Harris, Sullivan, or Warren really come out of these discussions looking that great, but that could just be because I disagree with all of them.


  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 4, 2007

    Rick Warren continues to impress with his consistent message:

    RICK WARREN: I talk to God every day. He talks to me.

    SAM HARRIS: It is quite possible for most people to be wrong – as are most Americans who think that evolution didn’t occur.
    WARREN: That’s an arrogant statement.

  2. #2 Rob
    April 4, 2007

    I’d say Harris comes out on top in these, especially in the Sullivan debate where he has essentially dismantled Sullivan’s arguments. I’ve been following that one since its beginning, and Sullivan just has nothing for him.

    In what ways do you disagree with Harris?

  3. #3 Chris
    April 4, 2007

    In lots of ways. I don’t think moderate religious folk are somehow less sincere than fundamentalists; I don’t think religious beliefs are necessarily irrational; I definitely don’t think moderates or religious people are “lying” (I think Sullivan got it right when he said that assumes knowledge of mental states that Harris just doesn’t have).

    I also think Harris tends to play fast and loose with facts in a way that seems oddly reminiscent of exactly the same sorts of things he accuses moderates of doing. Take, for example, the discussion between Harris and Atran on the causes of suicide bombing. Atran presents Harris with actual data that contradicts Harris’ assumptions, and Harris replies with what amounts to, “So what?”

    Anyway, I’ve talked about all of this here on the blog before.

  4. #4 Jason
    April 4, 2007

    I don’t think religious beliefs are necessarily irrational

    If by “religious beliefs” you mean beliefs held through faith, how is that not irrational?

  5. #5 Chris
    April 4, 2007

    Most people don’t use faith to mean “a belief held without reason or evidence.”

  6. #6 J Daley
    April 5, 2007

    I tend to think that Harris generally comes off as a bit of a jackass whenever the subject of suicide bombing comes up. He seems to want to attribute it only to a misguided belief in the martyrs’ paradise; the motivations for suicide bombing are clearly more complex than that (despair, desperation, honor bestowed on the bomber’s family, etc).

    In addition (and perhaps this is an attribute and I just don’t see it as such), he often talks in somewhat vague terms about the necessity for “spirituality” and meditative connection to the “oneness of the Universe” [see The End of Faith or the recent Newsweek article]. I find this annoying and counterproductive to his task – namely, pointing out the irrationality of religious faith.

    I was thinking about these things this morning on my way to school, and I was annoyed by the fact that he’s well paid to be a “spokesperson” for atheism when there are many who would probably be much better at it (PZ, Robert Sapolsky and my Ecology professor come to mind).

  7. #7 Jason
    April 5, 2007

    Most people don’t use faith to mean “a belief held without reason or evidence.”

    What do you think most people mean by “faith,” then? And what do you mean by it? Again, I’m trying to understand the basis for your claim that religious beliefs aren’t necessarily irrational. I think you also need to describe what you mean by “religious beliefs” if you’re referring to something other than beliefs held through religious faith or revelation.

  8. #8 Clark Goble
    April 6, 2007

    I just couldn’t get over that Andrew Sullivan was picked as the defender or religion. Surely there were better folks to enter that debate.

  9. #9 Chris
    April 6, 2007

    Well, if you pick a neuroscientist in training to be the philosophical, political, and psychological critic of religion, I suppose picking a political scientist and columnist to defend it makes just as much (or as little) sense. The next thing you know, they’ll have a biologist telling us how stupid religion is. Oh, wait…

  10. #10 Clark Goble
    April 8, 2007

    Well Harris though is at least doing the interview circuit for his rather controversial book. Further he is an adequate debater on the issue even if he makes some outrageous comments. (Like getting rid of free speech protections on religion) So I don’t see him as particular bad.

    Andrew Sullivan though just makes no sense and further has been fairly antagonistic to a lot of the folks he purportedly is defending.

  11. #11 J. J. Ramsey
    April 9, 2007

    Jason: “What do you think most people mean by ‘faith,’ then?”

    Depends. But let me ask you this. If Christians are so comfortable with believing without evidence, then why do so many go through the trouble of convincing themselves that scientific evidence supports the first few chapters of Genesis?

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