| Going One God Further|
|Articles to not believe in|
| Thinking hardly|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
“”The very ideal of religious tolerance—born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God—is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.
Samuel Benjamin "Sam" Harris (1967–) is a neuroscientist, author and philosopher.[note 1] He is the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit organization that promotes science and secularism, and host of the podcast Making Sense with Sam Harris (formerly titled Waking Up with Sam Harris).
Harris is a vocal critic of religion, a proponent of scientific skepticism and one of the "four horsemen" of the New Atheist movement (alongside Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens). He is also an advocate for the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and the liberty to criticize religion. Some critics argue Harris' writings are profoundly bigoted against Muslims and extremist vis-a-vis torture and civil liberties. Harris and his supporters, however, reject that he is an "Islamophobe", claiming that such labeling is an attempt to silence criticism. They also claim that he is often being taken out of context. Critics compare Harris to Donald Trump, arguing that despite their political differences, they have similar manners of conduct, usage of fallacious reasoning, and platforming of alt-right talking points.
- 1 Anti-Islam or Islamophobe?
- 2 Criticism
- 3 Racist science
- 4 Western Feminists are slackers
- 5 The "same things both sides" defense of the right wing
- 6 Defender of a more Militarized Police State
- 7 Paranormal
- 8 Project Reason
- 9 Books and professional writing
- 10 External links
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
Anti-Islam or Islamophobe?
Some of Harris' fans feel his focus on Islam has taken him to some pretty bad places; others argue that modern Islam is so horrible that essentially all anti-Islam arguments are valid. The problem being "modern Islam" is not sufficiently modern. It is certain that Harris distrusts Islam by his own admission. Islamophobia, by definition, requires actual hatred, fear, or prejudice.
Debates about Islamic terrorism
Advocating that adherence to religious belief is a powerful indicator of the propensity to commit terrorism, Harris got into a public debate with Scott Atran, a French-American researcher who has done fieldwork with terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists. Harris warned of religious dogma that called for its followers to practice suicide bombing as martyrdom. Atran countered with data and statistics that show religious belief is not in itself a predictor of radicalization and terrorism, but that empirical data show that belonging to social networks such as neighbourhood assistance groups or sports teams are more reliable predictors of whether individuals engage in violent terrorist activity. Harris missed this point, insisting that Atran's argument was that jihadists have no ideology and are radicalised by playing soccer with each other, which is an uncharitable misreading, to say the least. Further, Harris has rhetorically asked: "Where are the Christian or Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers?" apparently not understanding that the secular Tamil Tigers have undertaken some 400 suicide bombings, or that Christian Lebanese Phalangist terrorists mass murdered Muslim civilians during the Lebanese Civil War in incidents such as the Sabra & Shatila massacre, or that the Japanese Kamikaze were Shinto/Buddhists or that Christians have carried out suicide attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (or that Robert F. Kennedy was murdered by a Christian Palestinian). Moreover, Harris "never quite stoops to articulate why suicide bombing is objectively worse than more common variants of homicide like the monopoly enjoyed by Christians and Jews on aerial bombing which rubbles entire nations with far more loss of life than a semtex in a rucksack." In ironic fashion, Harris endorses drone strikes, declaring that both drones or units of Navy Seals mean: "you’re going to kill some number of innocent people and that’s terrible; and the terrible truth is there is no alternative to that."
Israel and the Palestinians
While Harris has said that Zionist settlers should be "dragged by their beards" from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, he spends more time criticizing the radicalization of the Palestinian population. Harris either doesn't recognize or downplays the impact on the Palestinians of the myriad appalling aspects of Israel's history and occupation. Instead, he focuses almost solely on what's wrong with Hamas rather than what's also wrong with Israel.[note 2] This behavior is no doubt why Harris' book, The End of Faith, was blurbed by the rabidly anti-Palestinian, pro-Israel Alan Dershowitz. In that work Harris heavily draws on Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel.[note 3]
To a great extent, Harris affirms what the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims. For example, Harris repeats Israel's claim that Palestinians use human shields. Even though some human rights groups have found no evidence of this, there are contrary reports. On the other hand, evidence -- from Israel's highest court -- shows that Israel has used Palestinian civilians as human shields at least 1200 times; the Israeli military almost certainly continue to do this. Harris also claims the IDF acts with great restraint and does not target civilians, notwithstanding many reports from human rights organizations and dissident IDF soldiers debunking that illusion.
Debating the Importance of Intent
In mid 2015, Harris and radical linguist Noam Chomsky held a public conversation “about the ethics of war, terrorism, state surveillance, and related topics.” Harris posted the email exchange, characterizing it as an “unpleasant and fruitless encounter.” The core disagreement was about the role of intent when cataloging the crimes committed by the West. For example, Chomsky argues that "the U.S. government has conferred upon itself the right and freedom to murder and exterminate people for their own good" and that therefore the intent of the West is just as bad as, if not sometimes worse than, the intent of its enemies. Harris maintains otherwise, insisting that "we are, in many respects, just such a 'well-intentioned giant,'" and that "what distinguishes us from many of our enemies is that this indiscriminate violence appalls us." It certainly doesn't seem to especially appall him, since Harris often dismisses or excuses Western crimes against humanity, as shown above when he repeatedly claims the IDF does not use human shields or does not kill civilians, even though that is not the opinion of the Israeli Supreme Court who has ruled IDF soldiers have and do commit war crimes (including human shields).
On Ted Cruz and Ben Carson
In a podcast with noted neocon Douglas Murray on the topic of Syrian refugees, Sam Harris actually considered an idea put forth by one of the
clerical fascists GOP's religious loons. On Ted Cruz, Harris debated Cruz's "accept only Christians" line and argued that it was not xenophobic:
Take the personalities of the people on the right out of the equation. Is it crazy to express, as Ted Cruz did, a preference for Christians over Muslims in this process? Of course not. What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero. And this is a massive, in fact the only, concern when talking about security. We know that some percentage of Muslims will be jihadists inevitably. [....] So it is not mere bigotry or mere xenophobia to express that preference. I hope you understand that I am expressing no sympathy at all with Ted Cruz’s politics or with Ted Cruz. But it is totally unhelpful to treat him — though he actually is a religious maniac — like a bigot on this point. This is a quite reasonable concern to voice.
In an inverse stopped clock moment for Harris, he actually stated that he would support Ben Carson over Noam Chomsky: Harris evidently avoided directly calling Chomsky an ideological imbecile by choosing this transitive comparison with Carson:
Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time. Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile[.] [...] [T]he fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal[,] [...] but at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy.
Despite Harris' fundamental alignment with liberals against the GOP, irresponsible adventures like these lend false credence to the right wing, reactionaries, and true regressives. Naturally, this is not because Harris criticizes Islam (which tends to be politically conservative), but rather because Cruz' confused motion that "Muslims need not apply" amounts to nothing but an intellectualized version, not just of anti-immigrant xenophobia, but of overt bigotry on the basis of faith. Harris, like Cruz, also seems to have overlooked the fact that a jihadist seeking to enter the United States under the guise of a refugee could simply lie about his faith and claim to be Christian.
Criticism of Islam — or any religion — is always warranted.[note 4] Plain wrong, however, is Harris' tentative support of conservative hysteria about any worthwhile percentage of refugees posing an immediate danger to your community (either as a top secret fifth column of radicalized ISIS sleeper agents, or as an ominously ticking demographic time bomb).Everyone knows that jihadist terrorists are both real and scary — especially the civilians who haven't just seen the devastation on TV, but have personally dodged shrapnel from ISIS. It may be easy to sometimes forget that these refugees, driven from their homes by war, exist for the simple reason that the vast majority of functioning adults — be they Arab or not and Muslim or not — would want to get themselves and their children as far away from ISIS as humanly possible.[note 5] To Harris' credit, he has gone on the record to say
I think the apostates, the intellectuals, the women, the gays of the Muslim world are the most important people in the world right now. If we could give greencards to every real secularist in the Muslim world, I think they should just get to the front of the line. These are the people who need to be empowered.
Given his pro-immigration stance towards Muslims of the non-theocratic variety, Harris would presumably agree that trumped-up notions of most native-born Muslims being 'spies' and every individual Muslim a 'potential jihadi' who needs to be locked away (a la the disgraceful treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII) are both ridiculous and reprehensible. What more could you expect from the addled mind of Ted Cruz?
Now, while Harris was just trying to make a point by entertaining ideas not originally his own, having done so in this context — even for the sake of argument — has been criticized as mistakenly feeding into the wordviews of (the already completely unreasonable) religious fundamentalists of both Islamic and Christian varieties, by giving Islamic extremists more fodder[note 6] and Christian whackjobs a supposed 'atheist ally' in their primitive scapegoating of the other.
In a post titled The saga of Slippery Sam, PZ Myers derides Harris and his acolytes, writing: "Sam Harris has an amazing talent: he can say the most awful things, and a horde of helpful apologists will rise up in righteous fury and simultaneously insist that he didn’t really say that, and yeah, he said that, but it only makes sense." Myers also observes about the constant demand for a Talmudic approach to Harris, "you must parse his words very carefully, one by one, and yet also his words must be understood in their greater context." On the other hand Myers himself is not well regarded by some as a temperate critic.
Glenn Greenwald, in a livestream with Kyle Kulinski, claimed that Harris is one of the only public intellectuals who does not own what he says. Rather, according to Greenwald, Harris publishes provocatively titled articles littered with equally provocative assertions and when people criticize him for it, he then insists not only that you didn't understand what he said, you're lying about it. Harris follows that up with "clarifications" that, according to Greenwald, are comparatively banal. Given that Harris is quite intelligent and must know what he's doing, it's reasonable to consider that he may be intentionally controversial for the publicity.
Cenk Uygur criticized Harris. However, some Harris disciples accuse Uygur of not understanding Harris or, as some sort of personal vendetta, of intentionally misrepresenting him. When Uygur received word that Harris would honestly vote for "an imbecile" like Ben Carson rather than Noam Chomsky, and that he defended Ted Cruz's preferring Christian refugees over Muslim ones from Syria, Uygur stopped pulling punches.
He denounced Harris for packaging what he considers to be heinous arguments as "thought experiments," focusing specifically on Harris' suggestion that the West's only option against certain Islamists "may be" a nuclear first strike that would entail killing "millions of innocent civilians in a single day." Uygur rhetorically inquired how this thought experiment would sound if those civilians were in the State of Florida or the city of Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, in Harris' original writing in which the nuclear strike was mentioned, he qualified it as "an unthinkable crime—as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day" and summarized: "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.)." on his website. But Harris said he is willing to use nuclear weapons as he believes "it may be the only course of action" and sacrifice the tens of millions.
Harris described the idea of nuking predominantly-Muslim parts of the world as "an unthinkable crime" and "perfectly insane". More specifically, Harris said that a preemptive nuclear strike would likely be one of the only reasonable courses of action, given what might happen if extremists who believe in "religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns" obtain deadly nuclear weapons, to use against people who believe in different fairy tales (or don't believe in fairy tales at all). Simply put, Sam Harris' argument vis-a-vis preemptive nuclear strikes is that if a group like ISIS, which explicitly hopes for Judgement Day and Martyrdom, ever managed to acquire both nuclear weapons and the ICBMs needed to deliver them to global targets, then Mutually Assured Destruction likely won't work as an effective Deterrent, so pretty much the only way to stop such a jihadist group from nuking the world is to nuke them first. It is likely that theoretical discussion of nuclear first strikes is a common strategic exercise in military think-tanks and the Pentagon, where every possible nuclear scenario has been analyzed. Naturally, a far better option for everyone involved is to just keep apocalyptic weaponry and delivery systems out of the hands of religious maniacs in the first place.
Uygur rejected this line of thought, because a preemptive nuclear strike would still kill untold numbers of civilians, who would all die for the actions of the very few in charge of their governments. According to Uygur, this line of thought gives Harris an out to both say he supports it in some scenarios and say he's against it except in the scenarios he outlined. After showing what he thought of as the moral depravity of Harris' "non-endorsement" of such a position, Uygur addressed some of the Harris fans who contact him every time he covers Harris and his views. Uygur, who works as an internet talker, and is not generally regarded as an intellectual, tends to defer to the judgment of more recognized opinion-makers:
“Even though I’ve given you full context, tell me how the beloved Dr. Harris is once again misrepresented by his own words, and misunderstood by feeble minds like Noam Chomsky.”
Jonathon Rash criticized Harris's critique of liberal intolerance for being "intellectually shallow," and said that Harris sustains a measure of anger that outpaces his understanding of the topics he’s angry about. He said Harris let his political views be shaped by well-worn personal grievances against "The Left" that are held together by the following unifying idea:
"Progressive opinion-makers are dishonest hacks willing to destroy the livelihoods and reputations of those who deign to question the elite liberal consensus on hot-button issues concerning race, gender, culture, and politics, and their political correctness is destroying the country and rendering reasoned debate impossible."
Harris has also increasingly been criticized for associating almost exclusively with a circle-jerk of conservative pundits who brand themselves as "The Intellectual Dark Web." He has been criticized for leading young people to far-right radicalization and racist views while avoiding peer review and editorial oversight processes that would stop him from sharing misinformation.
Sam Harris has seriously considered racial science and the concept of race determining intelligence. Harris invited Charles Murray onto his podcast in 2017 to discuss his widely criticized book The Bell Curve. Critics have claimed Harris simply failed to ask any challenging or skeptical question of Murray and presented him as the 'victim of a politically-correct moral panic'. Harris said that Murray was "the intellectual who was treated most unfairly in my lifetime."
Western Feminists are slackers
Sweeping one's own side of the street doesn't appeal to Harris and he has been known to adopt the not as bad as argument, saying that feminists must "agitate" and fight against Muslim oppression of women rather than focus so much on abortion rights at home. Harris admonishes Western feminists to instead join him against his primary obsession: the sexually repressive artifacts of Islamic culture. Harris claimed in a podcast with Kyle Kulinski that Western feminists "spend more time complaining about Gamergate" than actually pushing for women's rights.
Defense of Lawrence Krauss
Lawrence Krauss is a professor facing allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Krauss was supposed to join Harris and other prominent atheists and scientists for a discussion forum. Harris came to Krauss' defense and argued "a friend" with a "much-cherished scientific reputation [is] under assault." While Harris said his "default is to believe women," he claimed "the #MeToo movement is showing itself liable to wrap up people like Harvey Weinstein and Aziz Ansari in the same sentence," arguing that "a bad and awkward date" is "being lumped in the same sense that is clearly rape."
The "same things both sides" defense of the right wing
In a podcast with Douglas Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos came up for discussion. Harris said "the Milo I've seen is very far from being a Neo-Nazi or someone whose attitudes are truly of the right. That's probably not an accident, he's flamboyantly gay and half Jewish, so I don't know how right wing he could be in the end." While pedantically true that someone who is gay, Jewish, and understands the first thing about Nazi ideology likely wouldn't support it, you can still be a Right Wing Nut Job without being a Nazi per se, so either Harris is remarkably unaware of Milo's history as an alt-right Breitbart editor, or he's got a very limited idea of what counts as "far-right wing".
He also defended Donald Trump's Neo-Nazi apologetic bothsiderism on Charlottesville. He chose to give Trump "the benefit of the doubt," and agreed with Trump that "both sides" were at fault for the violence in Charlottesville, though one side, the alt-right, is demonstrably more violent (by killing someone with a car) and hateful (being racist and literal Neo-Nazis and all) than the other. He also wrote a tweet previously saying that while "all identity politics" is detestable, "white identity politics is the most detestable of all."
Though identity politics can have problems (if defined as the rallying of people behind a common trait such as race), Harris went over-the-top on Black Lives Matter and has described Black Lives Matter as "dangerous", "retrograde", and "dishonest", going far to call it "obviously destructive to civil society", emphasizing the "obvious" part.
My tweet was actually fairly carefully written. I mean, it starts with 'In 2017 all identity politics is detestable.' And of course I'm thinking about the West, and I'm thinking primarily about America, I was commenting on Charlottesville. And I believe this, you know, I think Black Lives Matter is a dangerous and divisive and retrograde movement, and it is a dishonest movement. I mean, that's not to say that everyone associated with it is dishonest, but I find very little to recommend in what I've seen from Black Lives Matter. I think it is the wrong move for African Americans to be organizing around the variable of race now. It's *obviously* the wrong move, it's *obviously* destructive to civil society.
Harris had another podcast with Gavin de Becker, and the topic switched to Antifa and the chaos in Charlottesville. Again, he chose to condemn Antifa as "also violent," ripping the same page straight out of Donald Trump's playbook, and portrayed the Neo-Nazis as victims of violence by "Antifa goons." He unironically called the pro-Confederate Neo-Nazis "peaceful marchers who just happened to be Nazis". He called Antifa "a dangerous organization" and condemned them for committing acts of violence against, again, "peaceful marchers who just happened to be Nazis." This leaves out how, if there were any violence done by "Antifa goons," Richard Spencer notwithstanding, it was generally done in self defense after the Neo-Nazis themselves ended their "peaceful" marching by actively killing people or attempting to kill people on the streets. Still on the topic of the right wing's rise, Harris said that his major concern was that the left was abdicating its responsibility to criticize "creeping theocracy under the guise of civil rights for Muslims" to the far right, saying the latter is the increasingly becoming the only one "calling a spade a spade and addressing" this great danger of a Muslim theocracy occurring in Christian American.
Somewhat worryingly, Harris has also flirted with more racist-baiting subjects, such as having an entirely fawning podcast with Charles Murray where he offered no actual rebuttal or challenges to Murray's research and instead held him as an academic martyr unfairly silenced.
Ezra Klein dispute
In 2018, Vox wrote an OP-ED criticizing Harris for presenting Murray as another victim of the "intolerant left" rather than accurately presenting the scientific and liberal criticism Murray has received. Harris reacted by calling out Ezra Klein, Vox's editor over twitter, who reached out by email to ask Sam to just consider platforming another scientist from the field like Richard E. Nisbett who could scrutinize Murray's conclusions and share a more widely held perspective that isn't racist. Harris refused, claiming Nisbett was intellectually dishonest (but not Charles Murray), and instead published their private emails as justification for why he wouldn't talk to Ezra Klein anymore. To his surprise, many of his fans didn't take his side and called him thin-skinned to criticism, and demanded Sam just talk to Ezra Klein. He relented, and spent the podcast painting the left as politically incorrect and intellectually dishonest, and overly sensitive about racism. Ezra Klein focused on criticizing the validity of Murray's data, and informing Harris about the history of confirmation bias and racism in scientific research.
Harris went to a live event with Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi who had renounced racism and started a program to deprogram other white supremacists. During the event Picciolini criticized Stefan Molyneux:
Stefan Molyneux is a name I know pretty well, because a significant number of parents have reached out to me because they have reached their children to his ideology, and he's now a pretty rabid white nationalist...he's a Holocaust denier, or he's very close to it in how he is toeing the line to it because he knows how not to step over it.
After video to the event had been uploaded to Youtube, Stefan Molyneux sent an e-mail asking Sam Harris to censor this and the rest of Christian Picciolini's criticism of him for being slander. Sam Harris obliged and deleted 6 minutes from the audio clip, resulting in Picciolini calling Harris out as an enabler of white supremacy. As of this writing, Sam Harris still denies knowing whether Stefan Molyneux is a racist.
Views on Donald Trump
Harris was one of Donald Trump's most vocal critics during the 2016 election, describing him variously as "A distillation of everything that's wrong with the American character", a "crazed man-child", "A man who can't even pretend to be a good person for five minutes at a stretch" and "So unfit for the presidency that he has done great harm to our society by merely campaigning for it". He also devoted several episodes of his popular podcast exclusively to making the case for why Hillary Clinton should be President.
When Donald Trump told Ilhan Omar and 3 other congresswomen of color to 'Go Back’ to the countries they came from, Sam Harris made a 45 minute podcast to argue that it wasn't an inherently racist thing to say.
Had these women come from Ireland at the height of the potato famine, Trump could easily have said, 'Go back to your own starving country, and fix that before telling us how to run the greatest nation on Earth,' and there would have been no implication of racism.
Harris was promptly criticized for not even knowing that in the 19th century Americans were extremely racist against Irish immigrants. There were "Irish and negroes need not apply" signs on storefronts, as white Americans considered Irish to be a sub-human species just like blacks. Revealing again that studying history is not one of Sam Harris's interests.
His solidarity with Sargon of Akkad
Days after Sargon was deplatformed from Patreon for saying the "n-word" in a podcast, Harris announced he would delete his own Patreon to show solidarity with
alt-right provocateurs free speech absolutists. Harris justified it by repeating the cliche that when Sargon told his fans to stop acting like nig***s he was only being taken out of context.
When Sargon tried to run as a politician for the UKIP and was repeatedly milkshaked, Sam Harris chimed in with the right-wing outrage machine and tweeted about how it's a slippery slope from throwing milkshakes in protest to assassinating targets.
All these assaults are mock assassinations (whether the perpetrators know it or not). Pies, milkshakes, glitter, etc. reveal unavoidable weaknesses in the security of their targets and advertise their vulnerability to the whole world. The result is worse than it appears.
Defender of a more Militarized Police State
Harris's hot take on the killing of George Floyd revealed an underlying love of a more powerful and muscular law enforcement that hadn't tarnished in the wake of cops rioting across America. He began episode 207 of Waking Up by criticizing Black Lives Matter protestors for being too violent, and warned that black violence would be responsible for re-electing Donald Trump and that leftists should settle down. In typical "both-sides" fashion he was careful to disclaim that police brutality is bad so that he could later defend himself like a lawyer, but then proceeded to spend most of a two hour podcast on criticizing black and liberal activists instead of the cops that were beating up peaceful protestors in viral videos across the country. People who are sincere about ending police brutality prioritize talking about that instead of both-siding and devoting most of the speech to defending cops for having a tough and dangerous job as though the cops are a bigger victim than George Floyd or the many other activists cops subsequently killed.
Though Sam calls himself a moderate liberal, the actual left cares much more about stopping state violence when cops are permanently breaking facial bones or extra judicially murdering protestors, rather than at curtailing angry protestors from breaking a few store windows that can be replaced or looting personal property. They don't bend over backward to give cops the benefit of the doubt.
When you don't want to be misunderstood and want reform you make your message obvious. Instead, Harris thrives on ambiguity and presents it as nuance. He cited easily refuted data about how blacks are arrested no more than whites, and how systemic racism isn't real. Then he tried to pivot to the distraction of "cancel culture," and our harmful obsession with social media. He criticized any calls to defund the police, because he is paranoid about "security" and has always defended the state and has always defended the militarization of the police that escalated after 9/11 in the name of defending against the terrorists that Harris thinks are hiding under his bed.
He wasn't dissuaded by the videos of cops deploying APCs, drones, and firing tear gas, flashbangs and rubber bullets on peaceful civilians that were exercising their constitutional first amendment right to petition their government and engage in civil disobedience. When combined with his defense of torture, racial profiling, defense of wiretapping under the Patriot Act, and hysterical fear that "Sharia" law is encroaching on America, a picture emerges of an insecure man who craves a powerful police state that could defend him from Muslim immigrants and anarchy. He is a master of dog-whistling and passing off his love of authoritarianism as just an impartial exploration of the ideas as long as he speaks in a calm voice and uses the right SAT words. Many liberals have been persuaded by his soft-spoken voice that resembles a Buddhist monk into thinking he is more enlightened than most, and that perhaps he might have a point when he offers to present forbidden knowledge (by only platforming reactionaries that he can carefully make sound more reasonable and thoughtful than they actually are).
While I remain open to evidence of psi phenomena—clairvoyance, telepathy, and so forth—the fact that they haven’t been conclusively demonstrated in the lab is a very strong indication that they do not exist. Researchers who study these things allege that the data are there and that proof of psi can be seen in departures from randomness that occur over thousands of experimental trials. But people who believe in psi aren’t thinking in terms of weak, statistical effects. They believe that a specific person can reliably read minds, heal the sick, and work other miracles. I have yet to see a case in which evidence for such abilities was presented in a credible way. If one person on earth possessed psychic powers to any significant degree, this would be among the easiest facts to authenticate in a lab. Many people have been duped by traditional evasions on this point; it is often said, for instance, that demonstrating such powers on demand would be spiritually uncouth and that even to want such empirical evidence is an unflattering sign of doubt on the part of a student. Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe (John 4:48). A lifetime of foolishness and self-deception awaits anyone who won’t call this bluff.
Project Reason is described on its website as "..a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world." One of its earliest and most notable contributions was funding Sam Harris' own PhD. Its advisory board is a mixed bag of various scientists, skeptics and atheists, including;
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali Recipient of the Lantos Human Rights Prize (known for some slight miscommunication in the Netherlands, holder of some wingnut beliefs and often guilty of accommodationism of Christians, including a desire to see Christians proselytize and convert Muslims). On the other hand, proselytizing is consistent with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
- Richard Dawkins (unfortunately becoming increasingly well known for his... distrust... of Muslims rather than anything else). Literate people know him through an extensive bibliography.
- Christopher Hitchens (until he popped his clogs). Unfortunately, he is still dead.
- Bill Maher (quite a rational man, if one overlooks Muslim bashing and uncritical support for Israeli policies toward Palestinians, his denial of germ theory and his notion that Louis Pasteur recanted it on his death bed, his anti-vaccination stance, and his anti-GMO stance). On the other hand, he is an avowed comedian, so one should be at least somewhat skeptical of his factual pronouncements.
Books and professional writing
Harris is the author of the 2004 book The End of Faith.[note 7] In 2006, Harris published Letter to a Christian Nation as a response to criticism of The End of Faith. This was followed by The Moral Landscape, published in 2010, in which Harris argues that science can help answer moral problems and can aid the facilitation of human well-being. He subsequently published a long-form essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014 and Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue in 2015.
Harris has written articles for The Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, and the scientific journal Nature, covering a diversity of topics including religion, morality, neuroscience, free will, terrorism, and self-defense. He regularly gives talks around the United States and Great Britain, including a speech at TED. Harris has also made numerous television appearances and appeared in the documentary films The God Who Wasn't There (2005) and The Unbelievers (2013).
In his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason Harris argues that unjustified beliefs, specifically religious beliefs, need to be challenged. He describes a belief as a "lever that, once pulled, moves almost everything else in a person's life."p. 12
He dedicates a section of the book to what he sees as the problem with Islam.p. 109 He considers Islam to be a special case, due to the amount of text in the Qur'an that would need to be ignored for it to be a truly peaceful religion, of course whether he's giving a pass to the Bible or just doesn't want to tread a well worn path is up for debate. He uses the results of a 2002 survey by the Pew Research Center which posed a question to Muslims of whether they felt suicide bombing or other violence against civilian targets could be justified in the defense of Islam, which revealed shockingly high support in many countries.p. 125 Though the context of this support for suicide bombings was under occupation according to polls.
Elsewhere he sees Islam as violent, anachronistic and opposed to important Western values, notably free speech. Harris accuses Western liberals of being more concerned with political correctness and with avoiding accusations of racism than with defending Western freedom. Given some statements Harris has made, even within the book, it's possible he may actually have some sort of bias:
We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.
We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril. Given the proliferation of weaponry in our world, we no longer have the option of waging this war with swords. It seems certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be a part of our future for many years to come.
At the end of the book Harris seems to show a greater respect for Eastern religions than for Western religions. He admits that Asia has had a fair share of "false prophets and charlatan saints," but that Asian cultures have also developed some wondrous insights into consciousness by direct experimentation with meditation.p. 215-217 He also argues that this spirituality or mysticism does not need to be attached to a single dogma and can be experienced and experimented with in a scientific manner.p. 217 This is part of a larger argument which he makes in the book: it needs to be acknowledged that spiritual experiences can be experienced regardless of religious belief, and they are not evidence of any claims other than the experiences themselves. This makes mysticism a rational enterprise that can make claims about subjective experiences and consciousness without attempting to attach them to claims about the universe as a whole.p. 221 YMMV on if it goes too far into woo territory.
Another Harris book, The Moral Landscape, argues that all moral claims are in principle scientific claims, Harris' contention being that all moral claims are claims about the well-being or suffering of conscious creatures and so there must be facts about the experiences of these creatures whether we know these facts or not. He was notably savaged for this, within both the philosophical and the atheist communities. Many criticisms focused on the perceived totalitarianism inherent in science telling people how to achieve wellbeing as articulated in the novel 'Brave New World'. Other criticisms claimed that defining wellbeing in scientific terms to be an impossible task in principle because wellbeing is subjective and different for all. In philosophical circles, he was criticized for breaking Hume's law and straw manning ethical and moral philosophies, or rather for denigrating the debates that occur in within moral philosophy as "boring". Harris has responded to these criticisms by stating that Hume's law is not an actual law of the universe and that it does not stand up to his idea of deeper scrutiny (you could argue that Harris' own arguments fall apart with scrutiny, but don't tell him that), and by comparing the abstract definition of 'wellbeing' to that of 'health' such that the words do not need rigorous definition to be practical. His full response to many different critics has been posted to his website.
has conducted scientific research wrote a research paper, and by research we mean three papers that used fMRI scans and was based on the experiments done by people who weren't Sam Harris and interpreted by people who were Sam Harris, on the neuroscience of religious belief. Statistician William Briggs has pointed out the flaws of the study, concluding with:
“During the course of my investigation of scientism and bad science, I have read a great many bad, poorly reasoned papers. This one might not be the worst, but it deserves a prize for mangling the largest number of things simultaneously.”
On the other hand Briggs has been accused of both incompetence and dishonesty by the American biological anthropologist Greg Laden. Mr. Briggs refers to himself as "Statistician to the Stars," on his website.
As science has advanced, more doubt has been cast on the papers Harris wrote due to the high false-positive readings of fMRI. Harris has ceased to do major work in neuroscience to focus on his career in philosophy and on the New Atheism circuit. Harris has since published very little on the subject of neuroscience.
A brief bibliography:
- The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004). ISBN 0-393-03515-8
- Letter to a Christian Nation (2006). ISBN 0-307-26577-3
- The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010). ISBN 978-1-4391-7121-9
- Lying (2011) ISBN 978-1940051000
- Free Will (2012). ISBN 978-1451683400
- Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014) ISBN 978-1451636017
- Islam and the Future of Tolerance (2015) ISBN 978-0674088702
- But as Andrew Brown writes in The Guardian, Harris is among the vast majority of New Atheists who do not "study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration." http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2008/dec/29/religion-new-atheism-defined
- This fixation on the role of Hamas and Islam in Israel/Palestine is particularly misguided when one realizes that Hamas has only been a factor since the early 90's, and prior to their rise, Islamist organizations were a non-factor in the Israel/Palestine conflict; the major Palestinian organizations, and Arab nations opposing Israel, were nominally secular Arab nationalists.
- Dershowitz's book plagiarized large swaths of text from a pseudohistorical book written by Joan Peters called From Time Immemorial, whose claims had been long debunked.
- Not to be confused with Islamophobia.
- This being a perfectly reasonable thing to desire, especially with the utmost desperation.
- I.e., ISIS recruiters going "See? Not even those of you who would rather die than join us, and risk your lives fleeing the Caliphate (against our orders), are trusted by the West. They still believe you to be us. All Muslims are considered the enemy in America! Don't you see?"
- The book appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks and won the PEN Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction.
- The End of Faith (2004), page 15
- "About Sam Harris". July 5, 2010. Retrieved July 5, 2010.
- Don, Katherine (October 17, 2010). "'The Moral Landscape': Why science should shape morality." Salon.
- Taylor, Jerome (April 12, 2013). "Atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris face Islamophobia backlash". The Independent.
- Sam Harris and Donald Trump: They're completely different ... yet very much alike" - Salon
- Response to Controversy Sam Harris
- video clip of segment included: http://www.rawstory.com/2015/11/cenk-uygur-sam-harris-anti-muslim-thought-experiments-are-like-repubs-actual-policy-ideas/
- The far-right contempt of Ben Shapiro and his ‘Intellectual Dark Web, Ruairi Wood
- Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ
- A Twitter podcast listener compiled all of the relevant excerpts from the podcast.
- In 2017, all identity politics is detestable. But surely white identity politics is the most detestable of all. #Charlottesville Sam Harris on Twitter. August 13, 2017.
- Kaszeta, Dan (May 27, 2019). "Sometimes a Milkshake Is Just a Milkshake". The Atlantic. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
- Bill Maher's Un-Cool Muslim Bashing - His loose accusations undermine America's progress in protecting minorities - reason.com
- A history of the Bill Maher's 'not bigoted' remarks on Islam - The Guardian.com
- 6 obscene celebrity rants in support of Israel’s assault on Gaza - Salon.com
- Fact-checking Bill Maher: Are Europeans 'Assholes to Israel?' - Haaretz.com
- Segal, David (October 26, 2006). "Atheist Evangelist". The Washington Post.
- Harris, Sam (November 5, 2011 ). "The Truth about Violence: 3 Principles of Self-Defense". Sam Harris.
- Harris, Sam (2010). "Science can answer moral questions." TED. February 2010.
- Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. W.W. Norton & Company.
- The Reality of Islam
- The End of Faith, p. 109
- The End of Faith, p. 203
- The TED talk based on the book
- See the reviews by Kwame Anthony Appiah; Scott Atran; Ophelia Benson; Russell Blackford; Robert Todd Carroll; Troy Jollimore; Jackson Lears; Kenan Malik; Thomas Nagel; H. Allen Orr; Massimo Pigliucci; Josh Rosenau
- Harris' Response to Critics
- Harris et al. The Neural Correlates of Religious and Non-Religious Belief. PLoS ONE 4(10)