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Q&A: Sam Harris - Comments

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 1 by LaurieB

The "read more" link isn't working

Wed, 30 May 2012 12:59:55 UTC | #944481

Metamag's Avatar Comment 3 by Metamag

radical Islamists

that's a bit redundant

Wed, 30 May 2012 13:19:18 UTC | #944489

Roedy's Avatar Comment 4 by Roedy

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

Wed, 30 May 2012 13:48:07 UTC | #944496

Jussie's Avatar Comment 5 by Jussie

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

These guys wont think twice about blowing up innocent citizens. I don't think they need your sympathy.

Wed, 30 May 2012 14:24:08 UTC | #944508

Metamag's Avatar Comment 6 by Metamag

Comment 5 by Jussie :

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

These guys wont think twice about blowing up innocent citizens. I don't think they need your sympathy.

Also, the reason why they are second class citizens in the first place is because they are homicidal zealots whose brains have been marinated in toxic stew of the islamic death cult and from very young age are institutionally instilled with the picture of reality in which all non-muslims are subhuman and Jews are dirty pigs and demons.

Not that Israel's ultra-jews are any better...

Wed, 30 May 2012 14:35:01 UTC | #944514

LaurieB's Avatar Comment 7 by LaurieB

Jussie

Granted, they don't need his sympathy. They're successful enough without it. I give Roedy credit for his blunt assessment of the root of the whole problem. Sympathy is one thing. Understanding is another. It's not necessary to be sympathetic but if we don't understand all aspects of the problem of Muslim fundamentalism then how the hell can we have any effect on the problem?

Metamag has the cart before the horse. Are there no books on history of the Middle East where you are? It's only necessary to read about the past 100 years or so if you can't deal with a really thick book, in order to undersand how the problem actually came about.

There is a festering political confrontation and then very conveniently the victims of that political reality utilized their old barbaric mythology to whip up a sense of unity and strength. It's a recruitment tool par excellence as many other societies know full well.

Wed, 30 May 2012 15:13:28 UTC | #944522

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 8 by Red Dog

Comment 5 by Jussie :

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

These guys wont think twice about blowing up innocent citizens. I don't think they need your sympathy.

Both sides have killed many innocent civilians. If you actually look at the numbers Israel has killed an order of magnitude more than their enemies. Its just when Israel or America kills civilians its reported as "collateral damage" when Hamas does it its terrorism.

Wed, 30 May 2012 15:14:12 UTC | #944523

/Mike's Avatar Comment 9 by /Mike

Read more link in main article above updated

Wed, 30 May 2012 15:51:22 UTC | #944533

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 10 by Jos Gibbons

In this article, David Samuels makes a number of comments with which I disagree for reasons I wish to explain, but he’s interviewing someone and could be playing Devil’s Advocate, so I don’t do this to critique Samuels but to respond to what are, ultimately, common comments with which I (indeed, many of us here) disagree. (On occasion the comment I’m quoting isn’t part of his question to SH, so in that case its being DS’s idea makes sense, but I don’t wish to unnecessarily press that issue.) I would welcome anyone making greater sense of the more baffling aspects of the “why we need religion to be populous” argument, as I would welcome anyone who knows what happened to religion under Fascism going into some details. I end by quoting choice SH comments I think are worth remembering.

The Christian right, radical Islamists, and secular leftists agree: this atheist is America’s most dangerous man

Do we know for a fact they agree on that? If so, the criteria by which they make that judgement would be hilarious. He doesn’t even commit or inspire violence.

Harris concluded nothing spooky or mystical happens after people die

Actually, Harris is noted for repeatedly refusing to explicitly claim he knows death is the end.

What has always bothered me about his work [is] my feeling his demand for the strict application of reason to the psycho-dynamics of collective human experience might be its own form of dogmatism, which is deaf to the lived experience of the vast majority of humankind

“Why should people use reason?”
“Before I answer, we’re agreed I’m only dogmatic if my answer isn’t grounded in reason, right?”
“Yep.”
“Well, the evidence says things work better if we’re reasonable, plus our beliefs are more accurate. It’s win-win!”
“OK, fair enough.”

[Communism, Nazism, and Fascism] were all explicitly anti-religious

The USSR preferred people to follow the Russian Orthodox Church. Communism’s preferred religious status varies considerably by location; the Mexican attempt at a Communist Revolution was explicitly Catholic. Nazism and Fascism were not so much explicitly anti-religious as anti some religions due to being pro one or more others; this is a ubiquitous religious characteristic, because religions contradict each other. Nazism and Fascism each had a comfortable relationship with the RCC. I don’t know much about what happened under Mussolini, but I know the Nazis broke up, and arrested the leaders of, atheist et al groups; had explicitly Christian ideas behind both their beliefs about Aryanism and their anti-Semitic designs; and had a pragmatic relationship with Islam, as Hitler admired the link (as he understood it) between their religion and warfare, and felt Christianity should borrow from it. His conception of “Positive Christianity” depended on this among other ideas.

Religious dogma, political dogma, all of these things provide us with necessary psychic armor

Wishful thinking isn’t necessary; it’s just tempting. If it were necessary, rationalists would be deeply unhappy. They’re not all like Greg House.

[Cultural but Secular Jews identifying as Orthodox] makes sense in the sense of supporting and maintaining a communal frame that contains the deep culture and history of a group

“Why won’t you eat pork?”
“My ancestors didn’t.”
“So? Anyway, why was that?”
“Because of beliefs which, if they were true, would rationalise such a policy. I don’t share them though.”
“Why are you so keen to copy your ancestors then?”
The most honest answer, which gives the lie to this quotation of mine of the OP, is “Habitual laziness”.

We have an interest in the diffusion and continuation of religious dogma because otherwise we will wind up with a society of elderly childless atheist overlords who are being kept alive by stem-cell implants and supported by masses of God-fearing brown people who work for pennies on their plantations.

Atheists still have a fair number of children; the average isn’t anywhere near 0. As far as I am aware, there is no country on Earth where the mean number of children an adult has in their lifetime is under about 0.85$, even though some countries have effective rates of irreligiosity in the 80s percentagewise. I don’t see why any elderly, childless or otherwise, extending their lives with stem cells is a bad thing; true, we could certainly have overpopulation if they live too long, and overpopulation is a serious problem for our world today, but it would be odd if combating overpopulation were the basis on which the dissemination of ideas which promote it was championed, especially given that their promotion of more offspring is why it’s being championed here. And as for theists becoming atheists’ slaves, where that artistic flourish draws plausibility I’ve no idea.
($ If anyone knows better, let me know. Another interesting question is why numbers <1 occur at all. Personally, I suspect humans may breed more readily when less populous, so that the current population decay in the West will no more exponentially continue until whole nationalities go extinct than previous population growths in the West continued until the present day.)

On with SH quotations:

But for me, being Jewish amounts to little more than just getting all the jokes in a Woody Allen movie.

That’s the kind of uniquely distorting lens of Judaism, because only a Jew could say I am an Orthodox Jew but I don’t believe in God… Judaism is, in every form, the least committed to a clear otherworldly vision of what happens after death…You like the ethical strictures and the weird rituals, and the limitations on your freedom that can only make sense based on some kind of theology that you now no longer endorse.

[There is] a pathology of liberalism in which people assume that everyone everywhere more or less wants the same thing and ignores the endless supply of people with no obvious political or economic grievance who are willing to devote their lives to jihad. What you don’t hear are jihadis saying, “I was just so desperate, I just saw no way out or me or my family, and it just seemed like the only thing I could do to express my rage at an unfair system.” No, you get the explicit expectation of arriving in paradise. Liberals imagine they’re taking religion seriously by being endlessly respectful and politically correct in the face of this insanity. Ironically, it’s the most condescending and disrespectful view of religious people—to refuse to accept their account of what they believe. Liberals don’t think anyone actually believes in Paradise.

There are people who will use human shields on one side, and there are people who will be deterred by other people’s use of human shields: They’re still worried about killing the children of their enemies. Those are two very different groups of people.

Wed, 30 May 2012 15:59:22 UTC | #944534

Jussie's Avatar Comment 11 by Jussie

Comment 7 by LaurieB :

Jussie

Now how could i be against understanding? :) Problem is, i know to little of the history. I do know that killing civilians doesn't deserve sympathy even when you are on the so-called good side.

Comment 8 by Red Dog :

Both sides have killed many innocent civilians. If you actually look at the numbers Israel has killed an order of magnitude more than their enemies. Its just when Israel or America kills civilians its reported as "collateral damage" when Hamas does it its terrorism.

I'll take your word for it. But i know to little of the conflict other then we have two peoples claiming a stake in the same land and don't mind killing (civilians) for it. I haven't got much sympathy both ways.

Wed, 30 May 2012 16:18:01 UTC | #944536

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 12 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 4 by Roedy

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

Canada isn't it? Are you native American by any chance?

Nasty stuff that displacement of the indigenous people ethos. Of course the world is more civilised today than it was 5 centuries ago so there is no excuse.

Wed, 30 May 2012 16:33:02 UTC | #944540

Centrofly's Avatar Comment 13 by Centrofly

So, if there is an argument for why the Quran is so good, please bring it forward. I’ve read the Quran several times and it’s not that good. In fact, it’s conspicuously bad as a moral map, and a spiritual map. You can wander blindfolded into a Barnes & Noble, and the first book you pick off the shelf will have more wisdom than the Quran. The Quran is uniquely barren of wisdom relevant to the 21st century. It’s got a few good lines about patience and generosity, and the rest is just vilification of the infidel.

What a wonderfully witty and trenchant comment. Mr. Harris, you just keep getting better and better!

Wed, 30 May 2012 17:31:56 UTC | #944556

fuzzylogic's Avatar Comment 14 by fuzzylogic

The caption on the picture intrigues me: is there video out there of a "discussion" with Rick Warren at Saddleback?

Wed, 30 May 2012 19:22:56 UTC | #944585

Sean_W's Avatar Comment 15 by Sean_W

Hi fuzzylogic,

The search at this site gives: The God Debate - Sam Harris, Rick Warren

Wed, 30 May 2012 19:57:41 UTC | #944594

wald0h's Avatar Comment 16 by wald0h

Comment 8 by Red Dog :

Comment 5 by Jussie :

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion. These guys wont think twice about blowing up innocent citizens. I don't think they need your sympathy.

Both sides have killed many innocent civilians. If you actually look at the numbers Israel has killed an order of magnitude more than their enemies. Its just when Israel or America kills civilians its reported as "collateral damage" when Hamas does it its terrorism.

Sam kind-of covers this in the article. Israel doesn't build rocket launchers and such outside of schools and areas populated with women and children. They don't stockpile weapons and dangerous things inside of hospitals. Hamas does... on purpose. I would be willing to bet that a large number of civilian deaths Israel caused is due to the purposeful placement of potential targets at or near large gatherings of innocent civilians.

They are using their brothers and sisters, mothers, daughters and sons as human shields. It's one thing to feel bad for the victims, the innocent civilians, but there is a clear moral divide between the two right now, and I don't understand how anyone can blur that line.

Wed, 30 May 2012 21:16:53 UTC | #944620

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 17 by Red Dog

Comment 16 by wald0h :

Comment 8 by Red Dog :

Comment 5 by Jussie :

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion. These guys wont think twice about blowing up innocent citizens. I don't think they need your sympathy.

Both sides have killed many innocent civilians. If you actually look at the numbers Israel has killed an order of magnitude more than their enemies. Its just when Israel or America kills civilians its reported as "collateral damage" when Hamas does it its terrorism.

Sam kind-of covers this in the article. Israel doesn't build rocket launchers and such outside of schools and areas populated with women and children. They don't stockpile weapons and dangerous things inside of hospitals. Hamas does... on purpose.

Since Hamas is fighting a war of liberation there are no traditional battlefields so its inevitable that everything they do will be in areas populated with women and children. I hadn't heard that they actually "build rocket launchers and such outside of schools". That sounds like propaganda to me. Not because I think Hamas wouldn't do it, I think they are insane fanatics and I don't support them. But it just doesn't make sense. They only continue to exist because of the support of their people. Also, Israel has demonstrated that they have minimal concern for civilian casualties so it wouldn't do them much good anyway.

I would be willing to bet that a large number of civilian deaths Israel caused is due to the purposeful placement of potential targets at or near large gatherings of innocent civilians.

That's an amazing rationalization. Its not the fault of the people dropping the bombs its the fault of the people that are being bombed for living near places the bombers needed to drop bombs.

They are using their brothers and sisters, mothers, daughters and sons as human shields. It's one thing to feel bad for the victims, the innocent civilians, but there is a clear moral divide between the two right now, and I don't understand how anyone can blur that line.

Hamas and Hezbollah still survive, despite the overwhelming power of the US and Israel because they have the support of the indigenous populations -- those brothers and sisters mothers and daughters. Now you can choose to believe that they have such support because there is something fundamentally wrong with Islam or Arabs or whatever. I'm reminded of a general in the US war on Vietnam who when asked why the relentless US bombing hadn't caused the North to surrender said "they don't have the respect for human life that we do" Or you can be rational and admit that these desperate people see Hamas and Hezbollah as the only meager hope they have in their pathetic lives.

Just to be clear I absolutely and unequivocally condemn both Hamas and Hezbollah. Violence is not the way to solve problems. What bothers me about Harris is that while he quite rightly condemns Hamas and Hezbollah he is often an apologist for US war crimes. As an American and an intellectual and especially as someone who talks about morality his responsibility is to be if anything more critical towards his own government. Instead he does the opposite.

Wed, 30 May 2012 21:52:44 UTC | #944634

wald0h's Avatar Comment 18 by wald0h

I admit I'm not as educated on the topic as I would like to be, but a quick google search of "Hamas' tactics" or "Hamas using schools as cover" brings up quite a few articles and examples of this despicable strategy. Booby-trapping entire civilian streets, hiding weapons in mosques etc.

This could all be propaganda of course, I have never been there. But all of the pictures and stories out of that area don't exactly paint the Hamas/Hezbollah military operations as a beacon of moral standards the area should look up to, you know? If I am wrong about this then I will humbly apologize.

I'm not saying Israel has no fault, and that they don't make bad decisions. Of course they do. The whole thing just seems like one giant modern holy war. All I am really trying to say is that one side purposely uses their civilian friends and families as human shields, and one doesn't. For me, an outsider looking in, I really don't care if their ancestors were kicked out of their land, poor education, politics, and their sad economic situation makes them desperate or willing to fight. There's no excuse for human shields. They may find solace or reasoning for this tactic in their twisted religion, but i'm not going to sympathize. To me there is a clear right and wrong answer on this particular strategy.

Again if what i'm saying is completely off or if I am missing something huge I would love to be corrected, I don't want to come off looking like a war crime supporter or an apologist for bad US/israeli decisions.

Wed, 30 May 2012 22:33:44 UTC | #944644

Jussie's Avatar Comment 19 by Jussie

Comment 18 by wald0h :

I'm not saying Israel has no fault, and that they don't make bad decisions. Of course they do. The whole thing just seems like one giant modern holy war. All I am really trying to say is that one side purposely uses their civilian friends and families as human shields, and one doesn't. For me, an outsider looking in, I really don't care if their ancestors were kicked out of their land, poor education, politics, and their sad economic situation makes them desperate or willing to fight. There's no excuse for human shields. They may find solace or reasoning for this tactic in their twisted religion, but i'm not going to sympathize. To me there is a clear right and wrong answer on this particular strategy.

Hey WaldOh, I would call myself an outsider on this issue too. So I don't feel the need to establish one side as the good guys and the other as the bad.

But the moral divide you see between the two doesn't seem so grand to me. The use of human shields is outright evil and cowardly. But that doesn't make the side that doesn't respect a human shield a lot better. Collateral damage isn't a moral highground. To me both sides come out pretty shady.

On another note: When two sides in a conflict are obviously in the wrong. An argument like 'yes, but they are even more wrong than we are' sounds futile to me.

Wed, 30 May 2012 22:57:03 UTC | #944652

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 20 by SomersetJohn

Comment 4 by Roedy :

The sympathy for Hamas is not because they are fundamentalists but because Jews invaded their land, occupied it for 64 years, and turned them into second class citizens. My sympathy is DESPITE their religion.

Well said.

I support Israeli peoples right to exist free and safe, while at the same time opposing the jewish Nazi parties.

Thu, 31 May 2012 00:53:52 UTC | #944674

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 21 by Red Dog

Comment 18 by wald0h :

I admit I'm not as educated on the topic as I would like to be, but a quick google search of "Hamas' tactics" or "Hamas using schools as cover" brings up quite a few articles and examples of this despicable strategy. Booby-trapping entire civilian streets, hiding weapons in mosques etc.

Of course it does. Just as you could have found all kinds of articles during the Vietnam war about the evils of the Vietcong but you would have to search very hard to find out that electrical torture was a standard practice of our South Vietnamese allies.

This could all be propaganda of course,

I'm sure there is a lot of truth to it. I'm not saying its all or even mostly propaganda. The propaganda is NOT showing all the insane use of force that Israel has used through the years. Their behavior during their invasions of Gaza and Lebanon for example. In the US media you had to really search to find discussions of the incredible suffering that Israel was causing to civilians. For example, shelling a hospital during the invasion of Gaza.

I have never been there. But all of the pictures and stories out of that area don't exactly paint the Hamas/Hezbollah military operations as a beacon of moral standards the area should look up to, you know? If I am wrong about this then I will humbly apologize.

I agree completely that Hamas/Hezbollah are not moral beacons. They ARE terrorists I agree and I think they should completely renounce violence. But to get back to Harris where he is wrong is that he doesn't see both sides of the violence. He goes with one side only and he picks the side that is going to make it more likely that the NY Times will favorably review his books, that he'll be asked on CNN, etc.

I'm not saying Israel has no fault, and that they don't make bad decisions. Of course they do. The whole thing just seems like one giant modern holy war.

I assume that like me you are an atheist. So if you really value critical thinking one thing you must be aware of are your built-in biases. We are predisposed to view conflicts as being caused by religion. When we find one that's the easy analysis, it reinforces what we already believe and doesn't require that we do further thinking.

In reality, few if any conflicts are only based on Religion (or about resources, or ethnic hatred, or any one thing).

In the case of Israel when it was formed the US and UK were afraid of the potential influence of the Soviet Union in the middle east. As a result they did two things: they pushed Israel to be hyper militaristic and aggressive and they also supported Islamic fundamentalism as a defense against Godless communism. Most of the terrorist groups that we fight now got their start with the help of the CIA and Mossad: The Muslim Brotherhood, Al Queda were founded with the help of the CIA. Even Hamas itself was originally helped by Israel who saw their violent extremism as a good alternative to Fatah. The Israelis were at one point afraid that Fatah was making inroads in the international community and they helped Hamas start to fracture the Palestinians and make a negotiated settlement impossible.

That was a long tangent but to get back to my point, religion is an issue, an important one, but its far from the only one.

All I am really trying to say is that one side purposely uses their civilian friends and families as human shields, and one doesn't. For me, an outsider looking in, I really don't care if their ancestors were kicked out of their land, poor education, politics, and their sad economic situation makes them desperate or willing to fight. There's no excuse for human shields. They may find solace or reasoning for this tactic in their twisted religion, but i'm not going to sympathize. To me there is a clear right and wrong answer on this particular strategy.

I agree. I just think you should condemn violence by Israel just as strongly as you condemn violence by Hamas. The excuse that "we didn't mean to kill civilians" is ridiculous. If you look at any objective analysis Israel kills at least 10 innocent civilians for every 1 that the terrorists kill.

Thu, 31 May 2012 01:04:43 UTC | #944676

Andres Heredia's Avatar Comment 22 by Andres Heredia

wow I've lost a bit of respect for Dr. Harris here. And also for those of you who didn't know, that magazine is an extremely right-wing Jewish magazine, just like the interviewer.

Thu, 31 May 2012 02:49:46 UTC | #944687

PERSON's Avatar Comment 23 by PERSON

If he annoys leftists, it's because of how he mischaracterises their views. Some people do feel Hamas should be supported, I'm sure. Others have sympathy for the situation of their members without thinking they're some kind of force for good (or an absolute force for evil: in the same category as fundies, say). Harris lumps this range of opinion together. For me, that, more than anything else he says, is objectionable.

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun, though. I'm going on impressions, memory and the introductory text, which is not by Harris himself.

Thu, 31 May 2012 07:42:27 UTC | #944716

kantastisk's Avatar Comment 24 by kantastisk

Comment 22 by Andres Heredia :

wow I've lost a bit of respect for Dr. Harris here. And also for those of you who didn't know, that magazine is an extremely right-wing Jewish magazine, just like the interviewer.

Well I thought of it as an excellent interview. The interviewer had obvious bias, but I think it brought out the best in Harris.

Comment 10 by Jos Gibbons :

Actually, Harris is noted for repeatedly refusing to explicitly claim he knows death is the end.

If only that - Harris openly flirts with the idea of reincarnation. I remember my jaw dropping when I read this passage in The End of Faith, p. 41:

There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science

accompanied by these references:

See, e.g., D. Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), R. Sheldrake, The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (New York: Crown, 2003), and R. S. Bobrow, "Paranormal Phenomena in the Medical Literature Sufficient Smoke to Warrant a Search for Fire," Medical Hypotheses 60 (2003): 864-68. There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation. See I. Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1974), Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1984), and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997).

Just unbelievable. There's another one of those jaw-droppers after his speech at Beyond Belief in 2006 (which is online at thesciencenetwork.com) where he is questioned about reincarnation specifically - I forget the exact moment, but anyone interested should look there.

For some time I suspected Harris of being a very clever Buddhist, hitching a ride on the atheist movement. It's just that he talks so much delicious sense 99,9 % of the time.

Thu, 31 May 2012 13:54:15 UTC | #944746

Jussie's Avatar Comment 25 by Jussie

Comment 24 by kantastisk :

If only that - Harris openly flirts with the idea of reincarnation. I remember my jaw dropping when I read this passage in The End of Faith, p. 41:

There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science

accompanied by these references:

See, e.g., D. Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), R. Sheldrake, The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (New York: Crown, 2003), and R. S. Bobrow, "Paranormal Phenomena in the Medical Literature Sufficient Smoke to Warrant a Search for Fire," Medical Hypotheses 60 (2003): 864-68. There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation. See I. Stevenson, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1974), Unlearned Language: New Studies in Xenoglossy (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1984), and Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997).

Just unbelievable. There's another one of those jaw-droppers after his speech at Beyond Belief in 2006 (which is online at thesciencenetwork.com) where he is questioned about reincarnation specifically - I forget the exact moment, but anyone interested should look there.

For some time I suspected Harris of being a very clever Buddhist, hitching a ride on the atheist movement. It's just that he talks so much delicious sense 99,9 % of the time.

Mindboggling

Thu, 31 May 2012 14:25:14 UTC | #944754

alonthemed's Avatar Comment 26 by alonthemed

It is interesting to note for once, that the level of debate in the comments section of the "linked to" article (tabletmag) is more relevant and imo superior to the tennis-like Israel-Palestine banter here at RD!!

Al

Thu, 31 May 2012 16:37:04 UTC | #944772

Fraud Debunker's Avatar Comment 27 by Fraud Debunker

I stopped taking Harris seriously on politics when I saw his intellectual humiliation at the hands of professor Robert Pape so it's no surprise to find him defending the crimes of Israel against the big bad Arabs. He endorses the work of rightwing Zionists like Bernard Lewis and Alan Dershowitz from whose apologetics for torture he got his own rationale for defending Bush's Gitmo program in The End of Faith where he explicitly mentions that it's good to torture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: "Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell use something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking." (Page 198)

To this hawkish foreign policy he adds his support for racial profiling and the bombing of Afghanistan at the height of the winter famine opposed even by Afghan feminist groups like RAWA on whose behalf we are supposedly fighting as well as American backed anti-Taliban commanders like Abdul Haq who knew the huge civilian toll that bombing will take would serve only to stir up nationalist sentiments among the Pashtun population from which the Taliban draw their support against invaders and they were right.

Sam's views on international politics like his views on reincarnation and the paranormal are kooky and risible. He would have been dismissed by all the leading atheist thinkers of the recent past from Bertrand Russell to Carl Sagan whose skepticism was founded on the twin pillars of anti-clericalism and anti-militarism. Beyond the easily debunked monotheisms, Harris is game for any cranky idea that is on offer.

Thu, 31 May 2012 17:52:08 UTC | #944789

Herbs's Avatar Comment 28 by Herbs

I think Sam Harris’ openness to the idea of reincarnation has been overstated a little in this thread. From his website:

I have not spent any time attempting to authenticate the data put forward in books like Dean Radin’s *The Conscious Universe* or Ian Stevenson’s *20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation*. The fact that I have not spent any time on this should suggest how worthy of my time I think such a project would be.

Thu, 31 May 2012 18:13:00 UTC | #944794

blitz442's Avatar Comment 29 by blitz442

Comment 28 by Herbs

And so has his support of torture:

While most of my work has been devoted to controversial topics, I have taken very few positions that I later regret. There is one, however, and I regret it more with each passing hour: it is my “collateral damage argument” for the use of torture in extreme circumstances. This argument first appeared in The End of Faith (pp. 192-199), in a section where I compare the ethics of “collateral damage” to the ethics of torture in times of war. I argued then, and I believe today, that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board.>

However, rather than appreciate just how bad I think collateral damage is in ethical terms, many readers mistakenly conclude that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, I believe that there are extreme situations in which practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary—especially where getting information from a known terrorist seems likely to save the lives of thousands (or even millions) of innocent people. To argue that torture may sometimes be ethically justified is not to argue that it should ever be legal (crimes like trespassing or theft may sometimes be ethical, while we all have interest in keeping them illegal).

Thu, 31 May 2012 18:19:13 UTC | #944796

Fraud Debunker's Avatar Comment 30 by Fraud Debunker

Harris says on his blog in response to the attacks on his kooky paranormal ideas by James Randi here and here that reincarnation and parapsychology is "unfairly stigmatized" by science. So Jesus is ridiculous, but Hindu beliefs about the afterlife is perfectly rational and cannot be "categorically dismissed" because he enjoys books like "20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation" by kooks such as Ian Stevenson.

Harris goes much further in The End of Faith and rejects scientific materialism all together by saying that life may go on after the death of the brain because it does not generate consciousness and that it's only a "faith" among scientists that it does:

Most scientists consider themselves physicalists; this means, among other things, that they believe that our mental and spiritual lives are wholly dependent upon the workings of our brains. On this account, when the brain dies, the stream of our being must come to an end. Once the lamps of neural activity have been extinguished, there will be nothing left to survive. Indeed, many scientists purvey this conviction as though it were itself a special sacrament, conferring intellectual integrity upon any man, woman, or child who is man enough to swallow it. But the truth is that we simply do not know what happens after death. While there is much to be said against a naive conception of a soul that is independent of the brain, the place of consciousness in the natural world is very much an open question. The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it. - (Sam Harris, The End of Faith p. 208)

He makes clear where he's going with this when he says "“There may even be some credible evidence for reincarnation.” (The End of Faith, Page 242)

Thu, 31 May 2012 19:00:18 UTC | #944808