2013-06-07

End of Faith and Other Pulp Fiction

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

harris-atranSam Harris in The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation has written a lot of uninformed nonsense about religion in general and Islam in particular. Don’t misunderstand. His logical arguments against religious belief systems are entirely valid. For a time when I was in the process of recovering from my own religious experiences I would have endorsed almost everything he wrote. Even mainstream Anglican pabulum was a threat to humanity because it lent social respectability to religious faith and the Bible, and that made it possible for extremist cults — who also claimed faith and the Bible as the foundations of their seriously harmful systems — to germinate. (I was focusing on the intellectual constructs as the easy and obvious target, failing to realize that there was something far more significant at the root of religion.)

At the same time I was going through that phase I could not help but notice a niggling doubt in the back of my mind. Yes, my argument was entirely rational, and borne of experience. But was it the whole story? If there had been no notion of faith or the Bible in any religion, would that really mean we would be living in a Utopia? Was it really only social respectability for faith and the Bible that cults fanned into something monstrous? Was there not also a shared dream of a better world? Should such idealism also be condemned? Was there not also a shared belief in the rightness of doing good? Even the dreams and the morality of the cult could be turned into destructive weapons. But they could also be used for much good, too.

Cults may sprout out from mainstream religions but it does not follow that they are the cause or to blame for them. A host to a parasite is hardly to be blamed for the parasite.

Religion is not going to disappear, or if we believe otherwise, it certainly won’t be demolished by rational answers to its teachings of faith and belief systems. I guess that thought was beginning to dawn on me when I started this blog and that’s why I’ve never been interested in any sort of “anti-Christian” or “anti-religion” crusade of any sort. People will respond to precision arguments and new questions when they are ready. Crusading against irrational beliefs — or against even rational ones based on false data — will rarely accomplish much more among the believers than to send them scrambling for better reasons for holding fast to those beliefs.

That is, polemics like those of Sam Harris are based on a misunderstanding of the very nature of religion and may in fact be backfiring and strengthening religion’s power in the world. It’s only in recent times that I’ve begun to truly grasp this.

So it was with some relief that I read a fact by fact rebuttal of Sam Harris’s diatribes against all religions and Islam in particular. The following (as well as the title of this blog post) is based on a section of Talking to the Enemy: Violent Extremism, Sacred Values, and What it Means to be Human by Scott Atran.

Fact One:

Suicide bombers are not only Islamic or religiously motivated. As I’ve posted here recently, by far the larger numbers of suicide terrorists before 2001 were secular, political, nationalist or nominally Hindu. Since 2001 most such attackers certainly have been Muslim, but at the same time there is not much precedent for suicide terrorism in Islamic tradition. The current suicide bombings are very similar to the comparable terrorist attacks of the late nineteenth century atheist anarchists.

Fact Two:

It is shameful that this even needs to be said: Muslim parents have the same human genes as non-Muslim parents. They mourn the loss of their children as profoundly as non-Muslim parents do. Sam Harris, however, laps up the superficial media portrait of the Muslim mother rejoicing in “tremendous pride” that her son made himself a martyr by blowing himself and others to bits.

As for the “tremendous pride” that invariably trumps parental love, I have yet to meet parents who would not have done anything in their power to stop their child from such an act, though none of the dozens I’ve talked to ever knew, and few ever imagined, that their child could do such a thing.

In history, psychology, and political-science classes, one regularly hears that Spartan and samurai mothers smiled when told their sons had dies in battle. As Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker once wryly noted, of course there’s no record of a Spartan or samurai mother ever writing such a thing; we just have to take the leaders’ words for it.

I’ve gone to homes where the press has reported that the parents were happy and proud of their son. I’ve heard the interviewing journalist ask, with the crowd and officials around, “Were you proud and happy?” Sometimes the parents say they are. What are they going to say when first informed of their child’s death? That it was senseless and stupid? That goes against people’s innate inclinations to give a sense to any heart-wrenching loss. Never have I heard a shaheed‘s parent say, in private, “I am happy” or even “I am proud.”

Fact Three:

Sam Harris “enlightens” his readers to the disproportionate numbers of Muslims in France’s jails — 70% of all inmates.

[I]mmigrant Muslims in America tend to be slightly more religious than non-Muslims, but are underrepresented in U.S. prisons relative to their numbers in the general population. The predictive factors for Muslims entering European prisons are pretty much the same as for African Americans (religious or atheist) entering U.S. prisons: underemployment, poor schooling, and political marginalization.

Controlling for population sizes, Muslims are about six times more likely to be arrested for jihadi activity in Europe than in America, although the political pressure on law enforcement to get more arrests is greater in America (given “zero tolerance” in U.S. law enforcement for anything related to jihadi activity). But even in Europe, the more someone is exposed to Muslim religious education, the less likely he or she is to enter prison.

Fact Four:

Harris implies Muslims are more evil than atheists because, according to his logic no atheist would condone the murder of “a single little girl”. In reply Scott Atran refers to the Encyclopedia of Wars: of a survey of 1763 violent conflicts throughout history only 123 (7%) were religious.

Nearly all major conflicts in recent times, which have been far more murderous than in the past, have been decidedly nonreligious (the two world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Cambodian and Rwanda genocides, among others.)

(Christopher Hitchens in God is Not Great attempted to argue that Nazism and Stalinism were quasi-religious ideologies and therefore did not count as evidence that religion has been the biggest culprit for warmongering. I’m not so sure.)

Fact Five:

Harris calls for science and scientists to rise up in battle against religion in order to reduce violence and increase happiness in the world. Atran sees

no evidence that with religion banished, science will reduce violence and increase happiness. Nor [does he] see evidence that religion necessarily contributes more to unhappiness than to happiness.

Religions throughout history have tended to lessen social distance within a group as they have increased distance and occasions for misunderstanding and conflict with other groups. But so do other determinants of cultural identity, such as language, ethnicity, and nationalism.

Another interesting study from the U.S. National Election Study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame points to Pentecostals, who despite being the most strongly engaged in religious activity, and the most strongly professing their faith, also demonstrate a greater trust of fellow citizens outside their group than do less committed Pentecostals, atheists, mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews. So we cannot simply assume that depth of religious conviction necessarily translates into intolerance or aggressive conflict.

Fact Six:

Harris sees a causal association between less educated and poorer societies and religious commitment, thus confirming, in his view, that religion “is an immature form of human understanding born of ignorance that will disappear with the elevation of human life by science.”

Of course, for theists this same data only confirms their view that materialism is a barrier to spirituality.

The actual causal relations between religion, war, poverty, and lack of knowledge about the outside world are not well studied or understood: Jamaica, for example, is a poor nation with one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, and also the highest per capita membership in religious institutions and cults. Yet religious groups there are much more involved in trying to reduce violence between rival street gangs and political factions than in inciting violence.

Fact Seven:

Religions are at various times in history

strongly associated with intellectual creativity and the expansion of human freedoms and opportunities. At other times the opposite is true.

One recalls the periods of great intellectual enlightenment under the Islamic rulers from Spain to Baghdad at a time when Western and Central Europe were drenched in barbarism and violence.

Islam also stops violence. The only organization [anthropologist Scott Atran has] found that have actually enticed significant numbers of voluntary defections from the ranks of would-be martyrs and jihadis — in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere — are Muslim religious organizations.

Recall, also, that during the massacres in Rwanda, many Muslims saw it as their religious duty to save, at their own peril, thousands of non-Muslims, both Tutsi and Hutu, when churches, governments (including the United States and France), and secular NGOs turned away.

Fact Eight:

Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.

Indeed, the majority of Al Qaeda members and associates studied science oriented courses at college. Educational backgrounds of Al Qaeda and Hamas members are predominantly in engineering and medicine. (This from independent studies by Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta, forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, and political scientist Peter Bergen.)

Nor were most terrorists exposed to religious schooling in their growing years as anthropologist Scott Atran documented repeatedly in his field studies on numerous terrorists.

Fact Nine:

Atheism doesn’t stop intolerance.

Atheists are just as likely as religious believers to be intolerant of other people’s beliefs and to scapegoat others for troubles in the world, according to atheist psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Ian Hansen (link is to pdf) who studied BBC commissioned interviews of 10,068 participants from the U.S., U.K., Israel, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, Lebanon, Russia and India, representing all the major world religions.

Amen to that! I’m sure many atheists have been disappointed to see the ignorant scapegoating of Islam and Palestinians today. And still many of us wonder at some of the most savage attacks against the Christ Myth theory coming from atheists.

Fact Ten:

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has famously said:

With or without [religion], you’d have good people doing good things and

evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.

Atran’s reply is worth noting:

This is a classic argument made in bad faith. For, as any social worker, judge or law-enforcement officer in a violent neighbourhood or prison also can tell you, “With or without religion, you’d have bad people doing bad things and good people doing good things. But for evil people to do good things, it takes religion.

Fact Eleven:

Sam Harris fails to grasp the key point about the nature of religious beliefs and reasoning — as encapsulated in my earlier post, Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference.

Scott Atran responds to Sam Harris’s charge that Atran’s claims about religious thinking are “unsupportable” and that science and atheism are the only cures for a religiously benighted world:

There is substantial evidence that people do not cognitively process religious beliefs as they do facts; indeed, the findings of a small industry of experiments on the issue have been published in some of the world’s most reputable scientific journals.

Well, damn the facts; world salvation is on the march here.

89 Comments

  • 2013-06-07 12:23:57 UTC - 12:23 | Permalink

    Theists believe in God and atheists don’t. The more I hang around atheists, the less evidence I see of any other difference between them.

    • Scot Griffin
      2013-06-07 15:29:20 UTC - 15:29 | Permalink

      Doug,

      I think you need to define your terms. If by “theists” you mean adherents to Abrahamic religions and by “atheists” you mean strict rationalists, I can probably agree with you.

      That being said, I have a hard time understanding how your comment actually comments on the post at hand, which I found quite thoughtful and the opposite of dogmatic atheism.

    • 2013-06-07 16:12:10 UTC - 16:12 | Permalink

      The post is not about theism versus atheism, as Scot says. It’s not “theism” that Sam Harris is railing against in “The End of Faith”.

  • 2013-06-07 15:51:32 UTC - 15:51 | Permalink

    Personally, I think Scott Atran is correct, There is not a single thing wrong with Islam and absolutely nothing need change about any aspect of the religion.

  • 2013-06-07 15:53:54 UTC - 15:53 | Permalink

    ‘One recalls the periods of great intellectual enlightenment under the Islamic rulers from Spain to Baghdad,,,,’

    How exactly did we get Islamic rulers from Spain to Baghdad? They must have written some really convincing leaflets to persuade so many people to convert to Islam.

  • 2013-06-07 16:20:36 UTC - 16:20 | Permalink

    Oh Steven, you really cannot handle this topic rationally at all, can you. Surely you shun the fallacy of the false dilemma in your other gotchas, don’t you? Why the sarcastic suggestion that Atran is suggesting there is “nothing wrong with Islam”? What has that got to do with the facts of his argument?

    (Atran addresses the many bad things in religion, as I have, too. But he also knows there is no such monolithic entity called “Islam” any more than there is a single entity called “Christianity”. You can’t hear or accept what contradicts your prejudice, can you.)

    I recall you saying to someone else once that they were holding their fingers in their ears and shouting: “Tra-la-la I can’t hear you!”.

    I am appalled at your inability to deal factually and rationally with this question. You are turning a blind eye to real research and specialist studies in preference for ignorance, unscientific polemics and bigotry.

    Why not open a couple of history books on the “golden age” of the caliphates and compare it with Europe at the time. I guess the fact that Christianity also spread by the sword proves that all Christian believers are for all time potentially more violent than any other people, too.

    Now why not count to ten, take a deep breath, and begin to actually deal with some of the substance, the actual research, the facts, being raised here?

    Why not try reading a book by a specialist researcher like Scott Atran or Riaz Hassan or Robert Pape or Talal Asad or Muhammad Hafeez or John Esposito or Zubaidah Rahim and inform yourself about this critically vital subject?

    Or do you also say “Damn the facts” if it means having to really learn something about how religion, even Islam, actually works?

    • 2013-06-07 21:11:02 UTC - 21:11 | Permalink

      Facts. Islam had an empire from Spain to Baghdad by using the same tactics that America and Britain did to get Empires.

      Fact. Anti-brown-people prejudice is part of Western culture. A sad part, but still a part. A part which needs to be changed.

      Fact. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. No murders have ever had anything to do with Islam.

      This is like me claiming that anti-brown-people prejudice has never been a part of Western culture.

      • 2013-06-08 04:20:26 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

        I get the impression that was supposed to be a clever rejoinder, but I’m not following your argument. Can you clarify?

      • 2013-06-08 09:26:10 UTC - 09:26 | Permalink

        You really have no idea, do you Steven. No, I do not think for a minute that the spread of Islam was comparable in methods to the growth of the American and British empires.

        (You are letting your other presumptions that I am some sort of anti-American show here, aren’t you — though you clearly have nothing but stereotypical ignorant perceptions of what I actually believe in that respect.)

        I know well the methods of various imperial expansions, and in fact the Islamic one was quite different in very significant ways. I covered some aspect of that in my earlier posts on Tom Holland’s history of the rise of Islam. If you want to know how Christianity spread through violence (if that is the point you think you are trying to respond to) then you need to look at the late antiquity and the early Middle Ages and the forced conversions of pagans under threat of being slaughtered or after having been subdued with barbaric violence.

        As Tim says, you will have to explain what you mean by “anti-brown-people prejudice” in your second “fact”. If this is a very witty way of addressing something I am supposed to be thinking then you will have to explain it for this dull-witted person in more direct terms. (But other times I have asked you to explain your point you seem to generally never respond — which is a pity, really, because I always hope that a response will offer a means to open up a rational and profitable dialogue.)

        Your third “fact” is simply being stupid. I have never said terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. In fact I said — repeating the scholarship I asked you to read for yourself — that most suicide bombings since 2001 have been by Muslims. So do you think you can try to actually engage with what I do say?

        Did you get that, Steven? Will you re-read my post where it is made clear that most suicide bombings since 2001 have been by Muslims.

        Will you read my earlier posts that point to the same sorts of data?

        Now, can you begin to see your problem?

        I am arguing from the facts. You are responding with complete denial that I have ever said the things I have said! You are arguing against my point as if my point is that “terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”.

        My point is the opposite of what you are saying it is. I am saying that terrorism and Islam are linked. You are saying I am denying that.

        If you want to have a discussion I ask you to read what I write and try to understand what I am saying that that Islam-terrorism link is — how it actually works.

        My views are informed by scholarly research by field anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists and political scientists who specialize in the conjunct between Islam and Terrorism. As I said, why not try reading some research by specialists and learn something that just may question popular ignorance?

        So, you really are struggling to maintain a rational line on this topic, aren’t you. If you really read my posts you seem incapable of registering what my arguments is. You even tell me I am writing the very opposite of what I am writing. How about trying to sum up my argument before you attempt what you seem to think is a demolition of it next time?

    • NateP
      2013-06-08 08:05:56 UTC - 08:05 | Permalink

      Speaking of false dilemmas, Neil, why don’t you notice the one that is central to your recent diatribe against Harris? Carr’s good (if exaggerated) points aside, do you really think it comes down to a choice between nitpicking Harris’ every word, otherwise Muslims will be targeted with the most heinous abuses and discriminations because of his words? If he (Harris) has overstated some things, does that nullify the overall legitimacy of his point? If so, why do you bother agreeing with a general critique of religion in the first place?

      It’s as if you think Harris is trying to be scholarly. He’s NOT. And he shouldn’t, because he’s not a scholar. The arguments in his books are not aimed at changing scholarly consensus…they’re aimed to changing the way that everyday people think about things like public discourse, freedom/rights, morality, etc. His first major insight is that, in the Western world, it’s tacitly taboo to challenge religious belief, be it dogmatic or otherwise. The general import of THE REST OF HIS ENTIRE WORK ON THE SUBJECT is to UPEND THAT TABOO and make sure that we hold religious claims to the same accountability as we do the claims of biology, psychology, physics or economics. Why? Because left unchecked and unchallenged, any of these claims have the potential to seriously damage the wellbeing of our neighbors, colleagues, family and friends.

      People like Atran and Pape take Harris to task because they’re SCHOLARS, and exactitude in research matters more to them than changing societal behaviors. So they can mount all the research they want, and they still won’t counter the fact that Harris’ original claim is correct, and their inability to deal with that claim’s ramifications shows that their work (even if extremely well designed and executed, which is debatable) is ultimately of little worth in the grand scheme of things.

      Polemics and bigotry? Are you out of your mind, or just being needlessly provocative? Harris is decrying the polemics and bigotry that currently enjoys the protective shield of political correctness. How can you, in good conscience, turn the terms around and accuse him of polemics and bigotry for that? If ONLY ONE child is harmed by their parents’ understanding of Allah’s will from their reading of the Qur’an, isn’t that enough to get irate about? Isn’t that enough to call the text into question?…Just the possibility that it might save the life of a single innocent person (and I’d argue there are more)….doesn’t that justify the challenge??? Now if Harris ever said something as ridiculous as “All Muslims should be suspected as terrorists” or “All children raised within a Muslim home are being abused” or “There is no non-violent way to read the Qur’an”, then you’d be right to criticize him. But as has been shown many times over, he does not say such things, and it is YOU Neil that are operating within a false dilemma here.

      Can’t we just agree that we should point out problems when we see them? And I don’t mean people’s liberal use of words to make a more important point. The exaggeration is not the problem. Breaches of human rights are the problems. If said breaches are EVER done on religious grounds, then it doesn’t matter what the exact numbers are, it needs to be condemned. I happen to think the numbers are fairly high, but I don’t mind Atran, Pape, or you Neil disagreeing on the final scholarly result. That’s fine, do all the research and number crunching you want. At the end of the day, what I care about much more is that you’re standing up and openly condemning whatever portion can be attributed to religious grounds. (of course, first order of importance is to condemn the act independent of the motive)…and realize, by going back to Harris original point, that the developed world has already improved a lot at curtailing racism, sexism, classism (i don’t mean to say that these are non-existent, just that there has been significant progress), BUT we need to start including religious bigotry as a potential culprit in the mix. However, we can never make the equivalent progress in that area, until we remove the cultural taboo of criticizing religious belief publicly.

      THAT is what Sam Harris puts his and his family’s safety at risk to say, and I will ever applaud him for saying it. Neil, whether or not you can go further in agreeing with the details of his analysis, do you or do you not agree with this initial, and most critical, point?

      • 2013-06-08 09:59:49 UTC - 09:59 | Permalink

        The question is not about taking apart religious claims. That’s the point. We can take apart religious claims till the cows come home and it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone. That’s the point of the earlier post on the difference between Fantasy and Religion.

        I happen to think that scholarly research should have a place on the table in public debates. How else are we to try to ensure public debates are grounded in reality and fact and not just popular prejudice?

        So Atran and Pape and a host of other scholarly research contradicts Harris’s claims but because they are scholarly research their findings don’t count and what Harris says is a fact is still a fact despite all the research to the contrary? Surely you don’t mean to be suggesting that!

        Sorry, but I don’t see the false dilemma you say I am operating with. Can you explain that bit again — with reference to my post?

        What if Sam Harris’s arguments are misdirected because they are misinformed and only potentially making the problem of terrorism worse? What if his assumptions can be disproved by serious research that is repeated many times over in the scholarly literature? Should it be rejected in favour of the “facts”?

        Maybe — just maybe — religious claims have been demonstrated repeatedly to be other than central as a predictor of persons who would commit terrorist attacks.

        • NateP
          2013-06-08 13:58:20 UTC - 13:58 | Permalink

          “We can take apart religious claims till the cows come home and it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone.”

          I cannot fathom what you could possibly mean here. I think it makes a WORLD OF A DIFFERENCE to citizens of Scandinavia and Northern Europe, that they have systematically taken religious claims apart over the last several decades (albeit culturally, not so much scholastically), to the point where over 80% of their population are non-religious naturalists. What world of difference do I speak of:

          I’ll even leave terrorism (or the lack of it) totally out of the equation for now, and this list is just off the top of my head: 1)Parents don’t have to worry about the biology curriculum for their children. 2) The funerals of homosexuals aren’t picketed. 3) Abortion clinics are not routinely assaulted. 4) Politicians don’t need to fake having a faith (if they don’t truly have one) just to have a chance to win an election. I could go on and on…

          The amelioration of these maladies can ONLY come by taking apart religious claims (that, and replacing them with quality education for all ages….and it’s not a coincidence that the most atheistic nations also have the highest education rates, and the highest health rates to boot.) These realities go hand in hand.

          Correlation coincides with correlation…how’s that for a new mnemonic?

          “I don’t see the false dilemma you say I am operating with. Can you explain that bit again?”

          At the risk of oversimplifying, I think the false dilemma is: Either Harris must be able to demonstrate the accuracy of all his claims, or he is, in principle, off-base. It’s as if you care more about the sophistication of the research in question than you do about the usability of its results. For all the sophistication of Atran’s research, name one implemented practice that stems from his results. Harris’ claims, on the other hand, if they are on-target at root level, have immediate results that can be put to good effect. The fact that some claims (those about terrorism especially) can be somewhat overstated does not detract from the productivity of the conversation he’s started. If he were corralling all Muslims and harming them until they either justified or recanted their Islamic beliefs, that would be too far. But he’s waging a war against specific ideas, and ideas don’t have the rights and liberties that humans do, and thus they are fair game. Exaggerated language can even be beneficial in such contexts. This is why the rules of scholarship must be subject to the more important considerations of societal effects. Lies are not the same as exaggerations. I don’t think you’d argue that Harris is flatly lying in his books. That being the case, we just need to decide if his overall/central point is correct, then we can let the social scientists come in with their impressive degrees of exactitude.

          “Maybe — just maybe — religious claims have been demonstrated repeatedly to be other than central as a predictor of persons who would commit terrorist attacks.”

          It is statements like these that keep showing me that you STILL don’t get the overall/central point that I spoke of. Let me try another angle….. take that sentence of yours above, and substitute any of the 4 maladies of culturally religious nations that I listed above, in place of the words “terrorist attacks”. Rephrased as questions then:

          –Are religious claims central as predictors of persons who demand we “teach the controversy” in biology?

          –Are religious claims central as predictors of persons who would hold up “God hates fags” signs at someone’s funeral?

          –Are religious claims central as predictors of persons who would attack an abortion clinic?

          –Are religious claims central as predictors of whether a freethinker could be elected as leader of that nation?

          Let me remind you that a list like that could have gone on and on, and with Islam as the target just as easily as Christianity was. But let me PROPOSE A TRADE:

          If the likes of Harris stop harping on the causes of terrorist attacks, will you concede that the answer to all 4 rephrased questions is “Yes”? If you’ll agree to this trade, then you’ve found your way out of the false dilemma. But in so doing, you’re acknowledging that Harris’ overall point is both sound and important, and you have a disagreement over whether terrorism is a good piece of evidence for his case. That’s fine, I myself don’t think it’s the best piece of evidence (I don’t think he’s overstated the case as much as you and Atran do, but I’m happy to concede that it’s at least somewhat overstated). Ultimately, I think Harris himself would happily make this trade…after all, he’s not employed by Homeland Security or the United Nations, or anyone’s Defense League….he just wants people to acknowledge where religious claims ARE predictors of undesirable realities. If terrorism is not an example we can agree on, fine. Too many other unquestionable examples are ignored, by cultural mandate, if you will. Making headway on that front would be a victory for us all, don’t you think?

          • 2013-06-08 16:58:41 UTC - 16:58 | Permalink

            NP:

            “We can take apart religious claims till the cows come home and it won’t make a bit of difference to anyone.”

            I cannot fathom what you could possibly mean here.

            NG: I explained it in my post Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail).

            NP:

            Either Harris must be able to demonstrate the accuracy of all his claims, or he is, in principle, off-base. It’s as if you care more about the sophistication of the research in question than you do about the usability of its results. For all the sophistication of Atran’s research, name one implemented practice that stems from his results.

            NG: I do not argue that Harris is in principle off base if he cannot demonstrate the accuracy of all his claims. No, not at all have I suggested that. What I have argued is that the research data that is published in reputable journals contradicts Harris’s claims and Harris has nothing but inference from media reports to support his assertions.

            To be clear: the research data contradicts the claims Harris makes. I prefer to go with the solid research data. I don’t understand why anyone would think this is the wrong thing to do.

            Atran’s book “Talking to the Enemy” is chock full of implemented practices whose results verify — in fact are the basis of — his arguments. I have been thinking of posting some of these in the future. Maybe you should avoid this blog on those days. It is not just Atran’s view. He cites studies and research by a host of researchers. He discusses the responses he gets from U.S. government bodies and personnel to his arguments and the research. The same sorts of data is found in some of the other scholarly works I have mentioned here and that I am still reading or about to read in full.

            NP:

            “Maybe — just maybe — religious claims have been demonstrated repeatedly to be other than central as a predictor of persons who would commit terrorist attacks.”

            It is statements like these that keep showing me that you STILL don’t get the overall/central point that I spoke of. Let me try another angle….. take that sentence of yours above, and substitute any of the 4 maladies of culturally religious nations that I listed above, in place of the words “terrorist attacks”. . . .

            NG: No, your analogy of word substitutions is not valid. Here’s why. There are many studies pointing to what the various predictors are. That’s why I can cite Atran when he says that Islam is not a central factor. I am referring to the studies that have been done and that point to the primary factors that are predictors. A small portion of the evidence I have posted previously but you or others simply dismiss it. Damn the facts, Damn the scholarly research, seem to be the rules.

            But let’s look at your substitute questions anyway. Do you really believe that someone saying “I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and I should obey it in every way” is a predictor of whether someone would bomb an abortion clinic? Of course religious claims are not a predictor of anything like that — unless the religious claim is “I believe the Bible tells me I should try to kill an abortion doctor”. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not believe they are commanded or required by the Koran to kill anyone. The mere fact that someone believes in the Bible or is a Christian does not predict who is likely to attack an abortion clinic.

            You and Harris and others may well say that you have read the Koran and you believe it does tell believers to kill nonbelievers. In which case, I return you to the nature of religious claims as discussed in Fantasy and Religion: One Fundamental Difference (Or, Why God’s Word Will Never Fail).

            • NateP
              2013-06-09 16:59:28 UTC - 16:59 | Permalink

              Please don’t lecture a former minister and theology grad student about the “nature of religious claims” and tell him to go do more reading. I don’t have time for more elaborations…either deal with condensed ideas or move on…it’s just not possible to parse out all the potential nuances. If I misunderstood your meaning re: “taking apart religious claims”, fine, I won’t hold you to what I assumed you meant. However, my point about Scandinavia and all they’ve gained by “taking apart religious claims” for decades (albeit in a different sense than you meant it, perhaps)…that point stands on its own merits, and I don’t understand why you said nothing in response to it.

              So these research results that contradict Harris claims?….are they exclusively on terrorism? Are we still only allowed to talk about the one area where we’ve already established that Harris overstated the case? Or do you also have research that flatly contradicts Harris on ANY of the other BAZILLION things that he’s trying to raise awareness about? You’ve recently posted that there is much that Harris says that you agree with. Great! I, for one, would love to read a blog entry or two about those agreements! A blogger demonstrates his/her priorities, willingly or unwillingly, by the emphases of their entries. And I’d venture to say that those “many things” you agree on amount to a much more important cluster of ideas, then all the nitpicking about terrorism stats could ever amount to (even if you were right on all counts there). And by “more important”, I don’t mean more interesting, or more worthy of debate….I mean it contains more potential benefit to the world. As you no doubt know, I’m very passionate about all this Neil. All my heart is in this. I’d like to know where your heart is in all of this.

              ***I’d really like to just have you respond to the paragraph directly above. Please do me that favor…either show me how I’ve mistakenly connected the dots, or why you disagree about priorities, or do us all a favor and put some overall balance in this blog. I genuinely want to just hear your thoughts in reaction to that line of reasoning.***

              p.s. just to clarify your misunderstanding (if not misuse) of another term….”Do you really believe that someone saying “I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and I should obey it in every way” is a predictor of whether someone would bomb an abortion clinic? Of course religious claims are not a predictor of anything like that.”"

              …this is not what is meant by the term “predictor”. it’s actually a misnomer, when you actually think about the verb to predict. it’s applied after the fact. you don’t do an experiment where you ask 5000 people whether they’re religious or not, and then predict that more of the religious ones will bomb abortion clinics. it’s exactly the other way around. you instead make the observation that basically the only people that have ever bombed abortion clinics are religious people. “predictor” is really a indication of correlation, and again, correlation matters. in this case, i’d never say that the religious belief (that abortion is murder, and God wants his people to defend the innocents, e.g.) was the cause of the bombing. in this instance, you’d be right to say that correlation does not equal cause. BUT, the correlation is such a strong one, that religious belief is “predictably” a necessary condition for the bombing. in other words, if there were no one alive that held the example belief above, there would be almost zero abortion clinic bombings throughout all history. surely you won’t debate this. even if you would take issue, can we PLEASE table this quibble temporarily, so to focus on the meatier matter above it? thanks, and again, you can always email me if you’d like to talk some other way, so these misinterpretations of each others’ words are cut to a minimum.

      • 2013-06-09 02:42:59 UTC - 02:42 | Permalink

        Sam Harris has a PhD in neurology. He’s as much a scholar as Atran.

        • Al
          2013-06-09 03:30:31 UTC - 03:30 | Permalink

          How many peer-reviewed pieces has Harris actually had published?

          • 2013-06-09 14:02:34 UTC - 14:02 | Permalink

            The Scopus Citation index lists 19 documents (1999 to 2013) for Sam Harris on neuroscience. One of these directly links him to “our” Sam Harris but he is also associated in that list with the University of Sheffield. But I don’t know of any other link between “our” Sam Harris and the Uni of Sheffield.

            The same index assigns this Sam Harris an h-index of 5. The same Scopus index gives Scott Atran an h-index of 23.

            • Al
              2013-06-10 19:53:37 UTC - 19:53 | Permalink

              So not much in general, then. And of course nothing peer-reviewed on terrorism.

              • 2013-06-11 06:48:46 UTC - 06:48 | Permalink

                Exactly. I am trying to find a range of literature on terrorism by scholars whose academic training is in the relevant area and who have published work that has been respected by their peers on the topic. Atran is only one of these. I really am still stunned, still shaking my head, that some readers appear to be quite brazen in their declaration that they have no interest in even knowing the arguments or research of this literature — it is bunk before they even read it! — and would lap up the public diatribes by people who are in no way qualified, not even informally, in the topic.

                There can be no more blatant example of people being whipped up by fear and hate mongering on the basis of pop personalities who use the mass media sensationalist headlines as their rallying cry.

  • 2013-06-07 16:47:02 UTC - 16:47 | Permalink

    “(Christopher Hitchens in God is Great…)”

    You seem to be missing a “Not”. Freudian omission?

    • 2013-06-07 17:12:47 UTC - 17:12 | Permalink

      Gee, thanks. Maybe that was a sign that Hitchens finally discovered Allah in the aferlife?

  • 2013-06-07 17:37:19 UTC - 17:37 | Permalink

    Well. I wrote a large point by point reply, but it was lost to my own error submitting it. Oh well, maybe it’s for the best.

    Suffice to say that your presentation of Harris makes his views unrecognisable. I mean, do you *really* think he believes that ridding the world of religion will be a panacea that will cure the world of what ails it? He’s explicitly said otherwise, repeatedly. Do you really think he believes “Muslims are evil”? Come on, Neil. Your treatment of Harris is inaccurate to the point of being unethical. It’s worse than many of the anti-Mythicst diatribes you’ve mocked and insulted. If you’re not interested in what the man *actually* believes, why do you spend so much time writing about him? Move on.

    As for your “facts,” they are a remarkable collection of fallacies. I can’t believe you find some of them convincing. At best, they’re appeals to authority “Such and so person says X, *therefore Harris is wrong!*” with single studies to prove the point, often against the wider pattern of research in the area. (One study that finds that a certain religious group isn’t hostile to outsiders isn’t sufficient to overturn the consensus that religious belief correlates with out-group hostility, for instance). But some of your arguments are worse than this, to the point of being utterly incomprehensible.

    For instance:

    “Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

    But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.”

    So Science only acts as an antidote to irrationality if it’s 100% effective? By what standard does that make any sense? Vaccines aren’t 100% effective at preventing the Flu–but it would be absurd not to call them medicine. Science is just the rigorous application of valid logic to scrupulously gathered facts. If teaching this weren’t an antidote to irrationality, then there’d be no such thing. Happily, it is. Go ahead and look up the statistics for belief in homoeopathy, or, hell, religion, among Nobel laureates and compare it against the population as a whole. Do you really think you’d find no difference? Ridiculous. Of course science education reduces belief in the irrational. Not with 100% effectiveness, but nobody claimed that. Once again, you’ve taken his claim, and twisted it into something absurd, so as to make refuting it possible.

    “Harris sees a causal association between less educated and poorer societies and religious commitment, thus confirming, in his view, that religion “is an immature form of human understanding born of ignorance that will disappear with the elevation of human life by science.”

    Of course, for theists this same data only confirms their view that materialism is a barrier to spirituality.”

    Here’s one where your bias against Harris hits a new stride. SO WHAT if theists would say that? Are they right? If not, how is it relevant? You’re an atheist for crying out loud. Why would you cite something you don’t believe is true as a “fact” to refute Harris? You’re just showing that “anything goes” is your criterion for arguments against Harris. False? Doesn’t matter, as long as it contradicts Harris.

    Anyway. I’m not going to write out a point-by-point. The main thrust of it is that Harris does NOT claim Muslims are evil, or that all terrorism is religiously motivated (he EXPLICITLY denies so, here: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/), or that religion is the only cause of harm, or that Islam is the worst religion, even. So you’re refuting a strawman–and doing a poor job of it, given some of the arguments you’re willing to use. If you’re going to keep writing against Harris, do everyone a favour and actually read his books with the intention of understanding them, instead of vilifying them.

    • NateP
      2013-06-08 08:34:40 UTC - 08:34 | Permalink

      Fantastic points Jason! I too am beside myself, wondering how this blog, which is the blog I’ve most recommended to people who want an insightful read, has lately become a tunnel-visoned attack on one man and his view on one issue. I’m baffled.

      Neil, just read your last post on Oral Tradition. It was fabulous. Not to be rude, but will you just trust me that the strength of this blog is in meticulous reviews of scholarly works, mostly the ones on historiography? Your forte is not politics or ethics, and I personally think that’s because you try to borrow the rules of engagement from scholastics, and bring them into the world of current events. I’m not the first to tell you…the method doesn’t transfer! It would be wonderful if it did, but it doesn’t. Interacting with Harris will never be like interacting with a McGrath, or Goodacre, or Lemke, or Ehrman. Different game, different things at stake, different method of analysis needed.

      One principle that does carry over, however, is avoiding the shifting of categories. Let me explain. When you say: “Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions….But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.”, you surely must see how flagrantly you’ve changed the categories, right? This is not like you, Neil. You’re normally a keen observer for such mistakes in others’ work. I’ll spell it out for those playing at home…

      Harris’ claim about science education is NOT speaking about terrorism! There are countless other “irrational beliefs and actions” that aren’t categorized as terrorism. You’re clearly trying to make Harris’ claim sound more radical than it is. As a matter of fact, Harris was the first person that I saw publicly talking about all the science degrees that the 9/11 hijackers had obtained, to explicitly make the point that science education does not deter terrorism, at least not as much as jihad doctrines are capable of promoting it. So your retort would not be news to Harris, having made the point well before you anyway. His point about secular science education is one about the general direction given to younger generations. If religion is the dominant voice of authority in a child’s life, they will grow up with a much different trajectory in life than if science is the dominant voice. That doesn’t mean the former are headed for terrorism necessarily. But there are many more undesirable states than the one called “destined-to-be-a-terrorist”. Harris is saying that we are orchestrating our own undoing if we ignore ANY of these undesirable states, brought on (in part) by religious education given equal or higher priority to science education.

      • 2013-06-08 11:22:12 UTC - 11:22 | Permalink

        The strength of my posts on the Bible and religion is apparently in the scholarship I address. Yet when I seek out the same depth of scholarship — the scholarly research — on how the world works then my blog posts are worthless? I would hope some readers would notice that what I am doing in posts like this is the very same thing I so often do with biblical studies. I am merely summarizing or sharing what the scholars themselves say from their own and others’ research. The same. The difference, it seems to me, is that some people who respect scholarship critical of the biblical studies etc are offended by scholarship that contradicts their views of the world — views that are clearly not grounded in scholarly research.

        As for your criticism of my supposedly “changing categories” — I am aware of Harris’s context. But are you suggesting Harris’s point does not apply to his argument about terrorism? It is the irrational views of the Islamic religion that he blames for “Islamic terrorism” today. Would Harris really disagree with that, or that science education would go a long way to countering those beliefs that he is arguing produce such deadly behaviours? I do believe that Atran’s point is worth making, don’t you? There is no evidence that science education reduces terrorism. Harris believes terrorism is caused by Islamic beliefs. So surely there is SOME connection, yes?

        If religion is the dominant voice of authority in a child’s life, they will grow up with a much different trajectory in life than if science is the dominant voice.

        This is not my (or Atran’s) point. The point is that religious beliefs are immune to rational and scientific argument. We know that. Of course we can expect a greater number of non-religious people or religious doubters where science is taught, but at the same time, where people are brought up with religious beliefs, we do know that science is not the natural antidote — it does not simply blow away irrational beliefs. I am sure you agree. I don’t understand your contortions of what you seem to be trying to impute into my own words.

        • NateP
          2013-06-08 12:48:56 UTC - 12:48 | Permalink

          “I would hope some readers would notice that what I am doing in posts like this is the very same thing I so often do with biblical studies. I am merely summarizing or sharing what the scholars themselves say from their own and others’ research. The same…”

          No, they’re not the same at all. These two forms of discourse are nothing alike, despite what you might wish to be the case. And the fact that you can’t see the distance between them is becoming really irritating.

          “But are you suggesting Harris’s point does not apply to his argument about terrorism?”

          That is EXACTLY what I’m suggesting. It’s about the scaling thing again Neil. Don’t conflate every claim about the negative consequences of religion with claims about religious sources of terrorist motives. The claim about science is exclusively in the first category, and it’s import is as clear as day…

          “science is not the natural antidote — it does not simply blow away irrational beliefs”

          It doesn’t do so SIMPLY, no. But it’s almost the ONLY thing that removes ignorance in this world. Pandering to everyone’s personal religious convictions certainly doesn’t. This point starts out with no real connection to terrorism, but if you can also agree that less terrorism would be a result of combating ignorance, then a second order result of promoting science would be that of reducing terrorism. Harris has actually devoted much more time, ink, and energy to the first order goal of challenging unverifiable claims wherever one encounters them, because (just as your appreciation of scholarship shows) the truth is always a good thing to fight for. Even if his assessment of terrorism is a little overstated, the general point is still sound, and should have been acknowledged by Atran (not with lip service, but with actual support and action) before he launched into an effort to nitpick the details.

          “This is not my (or Atran’s) point. The point is that religious beliefs are immune to rational and scientific argument. We know that.”

          Not sure if you realize how ambiguous this statement is. You could be saying 1) We know that this immunity is a reality, and it always will be, so we better figure out how to work around it, or 2) I concede that Harris is right that this is the current state of affairs, but we could challenge that present reality in many ways.

          -I consider #1 the position of an idiot, or a coward, or both. I still hold out hope that Atran and other social scientists like him aren’t actually capitulating to this position.

          -I consider #2 to be an admission that Harris’ general point is right, and all the bloggers in the world can have a blast arguing over the details that ensue.

          -Beyond this, it is uninteresting & unimportant to sift through all the other points that Atran is trying to make, at least until we know we’re on the same page regarding the more important point. It might great research, but if it’s off-base to begin with (i.e. majoring in minors, quibbling over semantics rather than endorsing within Harris’ case what can be endorsed), then it’s problematic. Atran might just be mad that he’s not the center of attention here. I dunno for sure. But he and his followers look silly telling Harris “you’re missing our point” when Harris is the one whose initial point has got the discourse off the ground! Until they’ve shown (again, by more then mere lip service) that they have addressed well THE main point (Harris’ initial point), and not a moment sooner, can they say they have a point that deserves anyone’s attention.

    • 2013-06-08 10:49:15 UTC - 10:49 | Permalink

      JG:

      Suffice to say that your presentation of Harris makes his views unrecognisable. I mean, do you *really* think he believes that ridding the world of religion will be a panacea that will cure the world of what ails it?

      NG: No, and I did not say that. Please re-read Fact Five.

      JG:

      He’s explicitly said otherwise, repeatedly. Do you really think he believes “Muslims are evil”? Come on, Neil.

      NG: No, and I did not say that. Please re-read Fact Four.

      JG:

      If you’re not interested in what the man *actually* believes, why do you spend so much time writing about him? Move on.

      NG: My post is primarily about what Scott Atran has written because his views are grounded in scholarly research.

      JG:

      As for your “facts,” they are a remarkable collection of fallacies. I can’t believe you find some of them convincing. At best, they’re appeals to authority “Such and so person says X, *therefore Harris is wrong!*” with single studies to prove the point, often against the wider pattern of research in the area.

      NG: I do not present a complete list of citations in every post. Perhaps I should re-write it with Atran’s complete citations. I am certainly prepared to add them here in a comment. Would that change your views?

      If I refer to a study that refutes Harris, and at the same time Harris has no comparable scholarly research to verify his point, is that to be discounted? It surely opens up Harris’s assertions to question, yes?

      What is the “wider pattern of research in the area” to which you refer? It seems odd that someone who is criticising me for not producing citations should make statements void of citations.

      But even so, I did in fact refer to the research of five different scientists (the research, not the scientists themselves) in this field. So I don’t think it’s fair to say I was appealing to authority, least of all of one person.

      JG:

      (One study that finds that a certain religious group isn’t hostile to outsiders isn’t sufficient to overturn the consensus that religious belief correlates with out-group hostility, for instance).

      NG: No, I did not say that. Please re-read what I said that study does lead to — Fact Five.

      JG:

      But some of your arguments are worse than this, to the point of being utterly incomprehensible.

      For instance:

      “Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

      But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.”

      So Science only acts as an antidote to irrationality if it’s 100% effective? By what standard does that make any sense? Vaccines aren’t 100% effective at preventing the Flu–but it would be absurd not to call them medicine. Science is just the rigorous application of valid logic to scrupulously gathered facts. If teaching this weren’t an antidote to irrationality, then there’d be no such thing. Happily, it is. Go ahead and look up the statistics for belief in homoeopathy, or, hell, religion, among Nobel laureates and compare it against the population as a whole. Do you really think you’d find no difference? Ridiculous. Of course science education reduces belief in the irrational. Not with 100% effectiveness, but nobody claimed that. Once again, you’ve taken his claim, and twisted it into something absurd, so as to make refuting it possible.

      NG: If you wish to argue against my point then you need not only to state your contrary view but to also address my own argument. (People were able to distinguish between rational and irrational beliefs before modern science appeared on the scene, by the way, so that alone should tell us something important.)

      I presented evidence that science education does not stop terrorism — if one wanted to be a sophist one could even make the silly argument that the evidence shows science encourages terrorism. Most al-Qaeda terrorists, certainly the 9/11 ones, had a strong science education. (Here Atran lists a host of studies, — if I cite them will you be convinced?)

      But again, I did not say science is not an antidote to irrational beliefs per se — as you seem to be implying. I said it is not “the natural” antidote — that is, it is not a guarantee that it will overthrow irrational beliefs.

      I am surprised you find this offensive or controversial in the least. I have been posting here without provoking any disagreement on the way science and religion co-exist. We know people who are well-educated in science who continue to hold fast to contrary religious beliefs.

      You seem to be objecting to my point as if I am arguing against the value of science education itself! Who is the one being dishonest with presentations of others’ arguments?

      JG (beginning with a quote from NG):

      “Harris sees a causal association between less educated and poorer societies and religious commitment, thus confirming, in his view, that religion “is an immature form of human understanding born of ignorance that will disappear with the elevation of human life by science.”

      Of course, for theists this same data only confirms their view that materialism is a barrier to spirituality.”

      Here’s one where your bias against Harris hits a new stride. SO WHAT if theists would say that? Are they right? If not, how is it relevant? You’re an atheist for crying out loud. Why would you cite something you don’t believe is true as a “fact” to refute Harris?

      NG: Please do re-read what I said. I did not say what theists claim is true. I simply said what theists believe. That they say this is a fact. That is, there are two sides to the argument in popular parlance. Again I am dismayed that anyone should find this controversial. I assumed it to be a simple truism.

      How can you twist my (and Atran’s) words into thinking I am saying something I don’t believe is a fact? (Atran is also an atheist, by the way, and has no time personally for destructive or irrational beliefs. But he does believe it is important to understand how they work.)

      JG:

      You’re just showing that “anything goes” is your criterion for arguments against Harris. False? Doesn’t matter, as long as it contradicts Harris.

      NG: Nonsense. I have posted on Harris’s book before and if you re-read the first paragraph even in this post you will remind yourself that I completely agree with Harris’s rational arguments against religious belief systems.

      JG:

      Anyway. I’m not going to write out a point-by-point. The main thrust of it is that Harris does NOT claim Muslims are evil, or that all terrorism is religiously motivated (he EXPLICITLY denies so, here: http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/), or that religion is the only cause of harm, or that Islam is the worst religion, even. So you’re refuting a strawman–and doing a poor job of it, given some of the arguments you’re willing to use. If you’re going to keep writing against Harris, do everyone a favour and actually read his books with the intention of understanding them, instead of vilifying them.

      NG: I was highlighting Scott Atran’s responses to claims made by Sam Harris in two of his books. As above, I did not accuse Harris of the things you are reading into my words. I don’t believe you are being dishonest, though. I think you are so outraged and offended by the views expressed that you have emotively misread them.

      • NateP
        2013-06-08 12:18:00 UTC - 12:18 | Permalink

        Can’t speak for Jason, but I don’t think he misread your writings whatsoever. In fact, your defenses to his points are hard to understand, even if one tries to play devil’s advocate. You’re playing fast and loose with so many terms, using them in one sense where it suits you, and in another where you no longer can defend that front. It’s becoming impossible to keep pace with all the different ways you wish to contort the relevant semantics. Again, this is normally something you’re exemplary at noticing and avoiding, but evidently not here.

        • 2013-06-08 12:38:41 UTC - 12:38 | Permalink

          Those are serious accusations, NateP. Maybe it would be advisable for you to take a little time to try to understand what I might be meaning before assuming that I am playing word-games. I simply did NOT say several of the things Jason said I did. What I said is there for all to read. Maybe if you think I am somehow being tricky with words then you should ask if you are completely misconstruing my own meaning and message and motives entirely. What if I am sincere and am truly shocked that Jason would think I said that I know I never said and never would have said? Maybe you are finding another point of view incomprehensible? That’s not a good sign.

          If I have contorted anything then tell me where I have. But first, why not try to understand my words as if they are not contortions — and as if the contortions are perceived by a mind who cannot accept another’s assumptions or conclusions. Maybe you need to try just a little more to understand what I am writing — or more generally quoting.

          Before insinuating my dishonesty I ask you to try a little harder to understand my — and Atran’s — point of view.

          I really did not expect these reactions to this post. I really did not think there was terribly much to argue with at all in any of the “Facts” I teased out from Atran’s discussion. I truly am dismayed at these reactions. I thought that by referencing scientific research there would be little to argue with. Conclusions might be debated, but not the facts themselves. But I find it’s worse than that, even, and that my own words are distorted into meanings I never expressed, or even when I expressed the very opposite of what I am accused. This is bizarre.

          • NateP
            2013-06-08 13:05:27 UTC - 13:05 | Permalink

            I assure you Neil that I did read what you wrote, carefully, and multiple times over. I wouldn’t classify these as indictments of your honesty, because you have (in my book) an otherwise excellent reputation for honesty. Instead, I’d say these are careless lapses, still out of character for who I know you to normally be. I sincerely believe that Jason and I have shown you clear evidence of you equivocating on certain operative terms, and I’m still trying to figure out WHY you’re doing it.

            I’ll reiterate my earlier example since you asked for evidence of contortion.

            1. Harris claimed that absence of good science education leads to irrational religious beliefs in its place, and this fosters irrational actions.

            –nothing wrong with you pointing this out–

            2. Harris elsewhere connects terrorism to religious beliefs.

            –again nothing wrong here, apart from you blogging way too much about this one topic–

            3. You respond to the claim of #1 with the fact that “there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism”.

            –this is sleight-of-hand in purest form. not dishonesty, but cunning. perhaps you’re hoping that people won’t notice the cavernous distance between “irrational actions” and “terrorism”. you surely must no that Sam has never equated those two categories, especially since he’s brought up the science education of the 9/11 hijackers multiple times. it’s a sorry defense to say “doesn’t one naturally imply the other?” or “wouldn’t someone like Harris see the one as inevitably leading to the other?” You certainly must see how this is tantamount to putting words in Harris’ mouth. Not the initial statements, mind you, but where YOU think these words must go in their implications. It’s a subtle error, I grant you, but in order to not misrepresent the person whose ideas you’re debating, you must be extremely meticulous to avoid even the smallest contortions like these.

            • 2013-06-08 13:23:34 UTC - 13:23 | Permalink

              So how would you sum up my own argument, then? How would you explain to a third party what my argument is?

              (I really don’t understand how you see me “contorting” anything Harris said. It seems your attempt to argue that’s what I have done is the contortion. If there is a disconnect between my own words and Atran’s quotation then can you conceive that it might be put down to clumsiness? But you characterize it as “cunning”. Now that tells me something about your own approach to how you are reading my words — that you are reading with a hostile intent. I have made my explanation. You ignore that, and hark back to your own interpretation of my “cunning”. My own explanation does not count since you have already found me guilty of “cunning”. Why are you arguing like this?)

              Besides, if you have read my own words multiple times over then you know that Jason — whose post you said consisted of “fantastic points” — got my words and meanings flat wrong.

              • NateP
                2013-06-08 14:09:14 UTC - 14:09 | Permalink

                No he got your words exactly right, because he quoted them….If he got your meanings wrong, then you’re evidently not using the operative terms in the same way Jason is. I’m just weighing in and saying that I think Jason’s ways of using those words (and Harris’ way ultimately), are the more sensible ways to use those words. I can’t sum up your argument because it’s an argument that I have been baffled by for weeks.

                It’s really as if you just think you’re point is more important than mine. As you might expect, I disagree. I think you’re making mountains out of molehills and ignoring the obvious things that we can and should be agreeing on.

                My newest post above (timestamped at 1:58) is my most sincere attempt to get us beyond this apparent impasse. I’ll try to check back periodically to see if you’ve responded to it and want to probe this issue further, but I really would rather we get in touch and have a live discussion about this, as I’ve mentioned a few times before. But that’s up to you, of course.

              • 2013-06-08 16:27:44 UTC - 16:27 | Permalink

                Jason made claims that I said things I did not say and would never have said. I directed him and anyone else reading his claims to re-read the relevant sections of my post to see that I did not at all say what he claimed.

                * I did not say Harris says Muslims are evil;

                * I did not say Harris believes ridding the world of religion will cure all the world’s ills;

                * I did not say any one study overturns the consensus that religious belief correlates with hostility to out-groups (I didn’t even deny religion and out-group prejudice are related);

                * I did not say science education is has no function or relevance or effect in diminishing irrational beliefs;

                * I did not say that I think theistic claims are true;

                * I did not make a free-for-all against Harris just to find ways to contradict him — in fact I said I agree with a lot of what he says.

                And I quoted the words of Jason that were flat wrong about what I said.

                You deny all of this? You still insist that everything Jason said about my post was “exactly right”?

                If you cannot sum up my argument then I ask you to stop trying to respond to it until you can. How can you respond intelligently to something you don’t understand — except by way of asking for clarification and explanation?

                If you have been baffled by my argument then why have you reacted so strongly against it as if it is something that is very clear to you? If you can respond so strongly against it then I assume you can tell someone what it is I am arguing. If you are baffled then why not ask for clarification rather than try to fight it?

              • 2013-06-09 03:53:33 UTC - 03:53 | Permalink

                >>> “I did not say Harris says Muslims are evil”

                No? What did you mean by “”Harris implies Muslims are more evil than atheists because…”? Sounds an awful lot like it to me.

                >>> “* I did not say that I think theistic claims are true;”

                Nor did I say you did. My *point* was that you disagreed with the theists claims, yet nonetheless felt free to raise the (false!) claim as an objection to Harris. Why raise a premise you believe to be false? You even raised it, with no further explanation, as if it, by itself, was a knock-down argument.

                After I criticized you for it, you objected that you only “said what theists believe. That they say this is a fact. That is, there are two sides to the argument in popular parlance.”

                Yes, there are two sides to an argument. In this case you believe they are wrong–that their ‘side of the argument’ is the losing one. So what relevance is there to the fact theists would disagree with Harris? How is this “Fact” a “Rebuttal” of Harris?

                >>> “* I did not say science education is has no function or relevance or effect in diminishing irrational beliefs;”

                “Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

                But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.”

                Here you contradict the idea that science education is a natural antidote to irrational religious belief by appealing to the fact that science education doesn’t stop terrorism.

                “I used to think X, but then I learned Y,” implies that you think X is false, and Y is what suggests that X is false. In this case, your argument strongly implies that you no longer believe “that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.” In fact, it so strongly implies it that it’s impossible to tell what else you might have meant.

                So it is with the rest of your dismantling of what I said. You retreat from sweeping, false claims by obfuscating and equivocating. You hide behind the fact you didn’t outright *say* Harris believes X, despite having written points contradicting X *in a list of “fact by fact rebuttals” of Harris!* What else is the implication, other than that Harris believes the things you are arguing against? No, you didn’t outright say that Harris believes ridding the world of religion will bring about Utopia, for instance, but you asked, rhetorically, “If there had been no notion of faith or the Bible in any religion, would that really mean we would be living in a Utopia?” in the context of describing how you grew wiser, and ceased to “endors(e) almost everything he wrote.” Again, what’s the implication?

                Finally:

                JG:”If you’re not interested in what the man *actually* believes, why do you spend so much time writing about him? Move on.

                NG: My post is primarily about what Scott Atran has written because his views are grounded in scholarly research.

                What an utterly dishonest thing to say. You wrote a post detailing how Scott Atran’s work provides a fact-by-fact rebuttal of Harris. You gave the post a title that references Harris’ work disparagingly, and you put a picture of Harris up there with Atran. My mistake. This post clearly had nothing to do with Sam Harris, neither have your many other posts about his work recently. My mistake.

                I’m afraid your treatment of this subject, and especially your slippery (not to say dishonest) replies have caused me to lose the respect you’d earned. I doubt that matters much to you, but in any case, I think it’s best if I just stop reading your blog. Good bye, Neil.

              • 2013-06-09 12:39:05 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

                >>> “I did not say Harris says Muslims are evil”

                No? What did you mean by “”Harris implies Muslims are more evil than atheists because…”? Sounds an awful lot like it to me.

                Nice, slipping a phrase out of context is not the sign of an honest argument. As I said in my initial response to your accusation, read what I DID say in Fact Four. If I am saying that Harris thinks all Muslims are evil then it follows I am also of the view that he believes all atheists are likewise evil, only in a lesser degree. Basic reading comprehension should inform anyone that I at no time said Harris believes all Muslims are evil. That’s nonsense.

                >>> “* I did not say that I think theistic claims are true;”

                Nor did I say you did. My *point* was that you disagreed with the theists claims, yet nonetheless felt free to raise the (false!) claim as an objection to Harris. Why raise a premise you believe to be false? You even raised it, with no further explanation, as if it, by itself, was a knock-down argument.

                After I criticized you for it, you objected that you only “said what theists believe. That they say this is a fact. That is, there are two sides to the argument in popular parlance.”

                Yes, there are two sides to an argument. In this case you believe they are wrong–that their ‘side of the argument’ is the losing one. So what relevance is there to the fact theists would disagree with Harris? How is this “Fact” a “Rebuttal” of Harris?

                You seem to have a problem with reading comprehension.

                >>> “* I did not say science education is has no function or relevance or effect in diminishing irrational beliefs;”

                “Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

                But there’s no evidence that science education stops terrorism.”

                Here you contradict the idea that science education is a natural antidote to irrational religious belief by appealing to the fact that science education doesn’t stop terrorism.

                “I used to think X, but then I learned Y,” implies that you think X is false, and Y is what suggests that X is false. In this case, your argument strongly implies that you no longer believe “that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.” In fact, it so strongly implies it that it’s impossible to tell what else you might have meant.

                I resile from nothing I have said. I have explained very clearly what I mean in my post on Fantasy and Religion, and the context of the passage in my post here is also clear enough. Again, I suggest you are reading with hostile intent.

                So it is with the rest of your dismantling of what I said. You retreat from sweeping, false claims by obfuscating and equivocating. You hide behind the fact you didn’t outright *say* Harris believes X, despite having written points contradicting X *in a list of “fact by fact rebuttals” of Harris!* What else is the implication, other than that Harris believes the things you are arguing against? No, you didn’t outright say that Harris believes ridding the world of religion will bring about Utopia, for instance, but you asked, rhetorically, “If there had been no notion of faith or the Bible in any religion, would that really mean we would be living in a Utopia?” in the context of describing how you grew wiser, and ceased to “endors(e) almost everything he wrote.” Again, what’s the implication?

                I didn’t “outright say X” because I don’t believe X. But you are reading with hostile intent and are convinced I did mean X, therefore the fact that I did not say it only shows up my dishonesty according to you. The world is not full of ideas that are either black or white. But if one has a black or white view of an issue than anything that does not fit with their preconceptions will be seen to be dishonest or a lie.

                Finally:

                JG:”If you’re not interested in what the man *actually* believes, why do you spend so much time writing about him? Move on.

                NG: My post is primarily about what Scott Atran has written because his views are grounded in scholarly research.

                What an utterly dishonest thing to say. You wrote a post detailing how Scott Atran’s work provides a fact-by-fact rebuttal of Harris. You gave the post a title that references Harris’ work disparagingly, and you put a picture of Harris up there with Atran. My mistake. This post clearly had nothing to do with Sam Harris, neither have your many other posts about his work recently. My mistake.

                I am astonished that your whole focus is on defending Harris and sidestepping the points Atran makes in rebuttal. I am primarily interested in raising certain facts to counter the ignorance that is out there and propounded by the likes of Harris. The point is what Harris says that is contradicted by the verifiable facts. The point is to get the facts out to dispel myths. If you think that because I say I am primarily interested in getting Atran’s message out to counter the false messages that are out there — and being expounded by Harris (and others) — that I am being dishonest, then I am sorry to say I see no possibility of a rational exchange with you.

                I’m afraid your treatment of this subject, and especially your slippery (not to say dishonest) replies have caused me to lose the respect you’d earned. I doubt that matters much to you, but in any case, I think it’s best if I just stop reading your blog. Good bye, Neil.

                Good bye. I really had thought Vridar readers were interested in genuine scholarship. Clearly some are interested only when it confirms their biases.

              • NateP
                2013-06-09 16:13:35 UTC - 16:13 | Permalink

                “If you have been baffled by my argument then why have you reacted so strongly against it as if it is something that is very clear to you?”

                Because while you obfuscate the matter further and further with endless posts/comments/replies-to-comments, the very important work of combating terrorism and combating religion (not the same endeavor, but sometimes related) is being hindered. This is NOT academic for me, Neil. People’s lives are ruined by religious teachings every day, many of them children…and it needs to be combated. Discussing the Historical Jesus takes a very different format than this for me, Neil. I found your blog because the HJ was a very interesting topic to me. But it could only be called important in the academic sense. The results of Islamic teaching are another matter altogether. It can often be a often be a matter of life or death (recall the recent deconverted Muslim I mentioned a while ago, the one who has been running from the death penalty for apostasy for 12 years now, and has lost virtually all his family and friends….because of the Islamic teaching).

                So pardon me if I don’t think I can wait to properly understand your argument (which means reading HOW MANY posts now?) before I challenge it head on for it’s implications. Would it be fair for to say that sentencing apostates to death is an example of terrorism? It’s not a bombing, no, but it’s threatening the lives of people for doing nothing other than changing their minds. That said, would it be fair to say that this is a teaching of Islam, granted that more than half of the Muslims worldwide think this is the will of Allah? Would you feel the need to bring Atran in to excuse this inexcusable practice, and tell us it’s really not coming from Islam per se? If you don’t trust my reading of the Qur’an and Hadith, I can bring in my new apostate friend, and he can show precisely where this is derived from the Islamic textual tradition?

                This is intolerance, and I’ve yet to see you condemn it outright, you seem to want to qualify it first, as if we need thorough research to establish the “real” sources of this problem, before we condemn it. Meanwhile, PEOPLE DIE. So stop accusing me of intolerance, and start posting more about real intolerance rather than picking apart the semantics of someone who’s bold enough to make a difference. He’s imperfect, of course. But as I alluded to earlier, for all Atran’s rigorous research, he will ultimately effect no positive change in the world. He will scarcely be remembered in a few years, even within his own bloated field. Harris, on the other hand, will leave a heroic legacy for justice and human rights.

              • 2013-06-09 19:00:39 UTC - 19:00 | Permalink

                To you I obfuscate. I believe I am trying to challenge preconceptions. That you see a challenge to your views as obfuscation does not make any sort of dialogue possible. I also spent many years in religion and knew the Bible better than many of my peers but I am still open to learning what it was all about. Are you responding now by telling me not to suggest that there is research out there that teaches us something new about our own religious experiences and that also gives us a deeper understanding of what is happening in the world around us today?

                There is nothing “academic” in the sense of irrelevance to the real world about research on terrorism. There is a lot of research in the real world that is absolutely critical for human survival and social well-being and personal health. Why are you continually saying it is irrelevant for now if it tells us something I think is very important about terrorism?

                We cannot help but be angry and outraged over senseless murders. But if research is warning us that our reactions to it are only making the problem worse, especially in the long run, then I think we need to listen. The most outraged responses to my posts have expressed, regrettably, a refusal even to consider that there are proven studies and practices that hold out real promise — and a warning that our current views and policies are making the problem worse.

                Do you have a problem with Atran’s words here:

                Islam also stops violence. The only organizations I have found that have actually enticed significant numbers of voluntary defections from the ranks of would-be martyrs and jihadis — in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere — are Muslim religious organizations.

                Recall, also, that during the massacres in Rwanda, many Muslims saw it as their religious duty to save, at their own peril, thousands of non-Muslims, both Tutsi and Hutu, when churches, governments (including the United States and France), and secular NGOs turned away.

                Do you think it might be worthwhile to listen to how Muslims themselves have succeeded in enticing away people who had determined to become suicide bombers?

                It seems that whatever we have been doing in the world since 2001 has only been generating more terrorist attacks in response. We keep acting as if we know the root causes of it but the end result is that the problem is not going away. All that seems to be changing is the declining sophistication of the attacks as governments try harder and harder to stamp it out. Maybe we don’t understand the causes of it so well after all.

                But there are places where would-be terrorists are being turned away from their course. Why not listen to how it’s done? Or do we just continue to bomb and kill and maim and destroy in response and then blame an entire religious belief system when we keep finding more box-cutter throat slitters in our streets?

  • Mark Erickson
    2013-06-08 12:24:58 UTC - 12:24 | Permalink

    I agree that New Atheist material probably produces a backlash in religious and religiously leaning people who are processing the info emotionally. But NA’s must have something to do with the increasing numbers of closeted atheists coming out and the general improvement of atheism’s profile in main stream media and culture. Science and rationality can eventually wear down religion in the US as it has in Europe, but long before that the majority’s perception of atheists needs to change from repugnant to whatever. New Atheism has very likely helped that. (In almost all things, the model and evidence can come from gay rights. Outspoken and in your face (flaming for gays, militant for atheists) advocates have certainly sped up US society’s acceptance of gays.)

    • 2013-06-08 13:03:02 UTC - 13:03 | Permalink

      Yeh, the religious histories of Europe and America are so distinct. It is a fascinating question. Atran comments (referring back to Alexis de Tocqueville) that “the fundamental social constituent of economic and political culture in the United States was neither the individual nor the state, but the sectarian community. The religious community in the United States was a civic as well as moral community, a combination that infused American economic and political culture with particular dynamism.” (p. 466 of Talking to the Enemy) Then again, “When Sarah Palin invoked God to help Alaska get a natural-gas pipeline, she was doing exactly what de Tocqueville described: rallying people to come together to promote a project. . . ”

      “De Tocqueville surmised, correctly it seems, that religion in America would give its democracy greater vigor, endurance, cooperative power, and competitive force than any strictly authoritarian regime or unbridled democracy.” (p. 468)

      I have been so mindful of American “individualism” that I wonder if I have overlooked this force for rallying communities into action as a fundamental constituent of American political life. In Europe, I think there have been other institutions that have won out against religious ones — in particular worker’s movements and unions? (By contrast Big Business violently won the “class war” in America in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.) Religious institutions in Europe have not, speaking generally, been built upon the same local communal identities. Indeed, it was such communal groups who largely fled persecution or restrictions by European State establishments to America so they could thrive.

      Anatol Lieven in America Right or Wrong argues (from memory here) that the religious communities in America, in particular in the Bible Belt, are direct descendants of the sectarian seventeenth century movements of Europe — the very ones at the heart of Europe’s religious wars.

      One problem with attacking religious beliefs is that such attacks generally play into the hands of the religious believers. It reconfirms their persecution status and there need to dig in against the Satanic world around them. Not to say we shouldn’t criticize them. But we should be smart about how we go about it.

      • Mark Erickson
        2013-06-08 13:31:46 UTC - 13:31 | Permalink

        Of course you can respond as you see fit, but the comparison to Europe was really a throwaway on my part. Most explanations I’ve seen say that freedom of religion, through allowing competition, kept the constantly evolving religious landscape relevant to many more than in Europe.

        I’m more interested if you think the NA’s on balance have been good for atheism and atheists or not.

  • Mark Erickson
    2013-06-08 13:27:25 UTC - 13:27 | Permalink

    Just came across this article, very relevant to my point. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/ It actually goes against my point, but I don’t take it as good evidence or that it can be generalized, mainly as it was an extremely non-representative sample, student leaders of college secular organizations, and done by an evangelical organization. Good read though.

  • hithere
    2013-06-08 14:17:20 UTC - 14:17 | Permalink

    “No, I do not think for a minute that the spread of Islam was comparable in methods to the growth of the American and British empires. ”

    Please, elaborate. What important differences do you find? These are complex historical phenomena, obviously, but what *ultimately* helped Islam gain a foothold where it did, other than political dominance (not unlike Christianity, say)?

    • 2013-06-08 16:18:01 UTC - 16:18 | Permalink

      Why do you hide your identity?

      Why do you suggest I deny that Islam did not have political dominance? Where did I suggest that?

      How can one acquire “a foothold” over large areas by means of “political dominance”? Political dominance is the end result, not the means. Your question makes no sense.

      Christianity expanded across much of Europe by force of arms as anyone who knows a little history of late antiquity and early middle ages knows. Surely that claim does not need justification, especially to someone who seems to be aware of “complex historical phenomena”.

      As for the “complex historical phenomena” of the Arab conquests I raised some interesting questions in my earlier post on Tom Holland’s thesis: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/islam-the-untold-story/

      Curiously the subject peoples of these conquests did not — unlike other subject peoples have done in the event of being conquered by people of alien religions — leave records of the event. That raises interesting questions, don’t you think? And unlike peoples conquered by West European Christians in this period, those subject to the Arab conquests were very often not compelled to be converted to Islam. Very much the opposite, in fact. That’s not to say that the Arabs did not often discourage conversions of their subjects to Islam for reasons of humanitarianism. Of course not. There was a self-interested motive. They needed large numbers of non-Muslims to secure their tax base. As you know, these are “complex historical phenomena”.

  • anon
    2013-06-09 01:16:03 UTC - 01:16 | Permalink

    “Not to say we shouldn’t criticize them. But we should be smart about how we go about it.” —I agree.

    For some western societies religion may have created harm and secularism/science/atheism may have provided benefit. But we do not need to see the world only in black and white terms—while a better idea should supplant one that is not relevant, or one that has become harmful,—that “better idea” need not necessarily be secularism/science/atheism.

    For many Muslims both men and women, the “better idea” is to go back to what they understand as egalitarian, tolerant and just ideas of the Quran. This may also hold true for Buddhism, Hinduism or other faiths who see injustice and division and look to their texts and their beliefs to find unity and justice……..In one of his addresses to a large audience of students, the Dalai Lama said “You have the responsibility to create a new world based on the concept of one humanity.”

    If we are speaking of ideas that benefit the human race—does it really matter how they are packaged?–as religious or atheistic—it is the substance of the idea that matters……and Unity of Humanity, Brotherhood of mankind, children of Adam….however we phrase it, the end result is the same—a recognition that all of us are human beings.

    When we discard the black and white view of the world—then we can see that some bad people can also do good things and some good people can also do bad things. That religion(spirituality) and science do not need to clash and that human beings can balance both. That the intellect and the heart can have harmony……

  • 2013-06-09 13:50:20 UTC - 13:50 | Permalink

    Thinking about Jason’s accusations of “dishonesty” and NateP’s similar accusations of “cunning” and wondering how it comes about.

    I am reminded of the way people tend to see their favoured political candidates speaking honestly while attributing dishonesty to their opposing candidates. Both sides make this attribution of the other.

    I said I do not consider Jason (nor NateP) to be dishonest — they are reading emotively and their black and white views lead them to “know” what I am really meaning — and the fact that they can only point to what they see as approximations of what they believe I mean, they naturally attribute sly, cunning, dishonesty to me. I am being sly with words, is their conclusion. They cannot conceive that I am saying something quite different from what they believe I am saying — they can only see two positions: a white one and a black one. If my words don’t clearly fit either of those categories then they can only accuse me of lying or being sly or dishonest.

    It is this sort of reaction that drives home just how important this topic is. It is marked by intolerance and an inability to comprehend alternative viewpoints or to even imagine that one could possibly be wrong, and that anyone who disagrees must be either ignorant or dishonest.

    This is the mindset of conflict. Of intolerance.

    Not good. Not healthy at all.

    • NateP
      2013-06-09 15:45:54 UTC - 15:45 | Permalink

      Just callin’ ‘em like I see ‘em, Neil, sorry.

      • 2013-06-09 20:07:39 UTC - 20:07 | Permalink

        I’d rather you tried to understand another point of view before you reject it as baffling obfuscation or accuse me of “cunning”.

        • NateP
          2013-06-10 08:18:30 UTC - 08:18 | Permalink

          That’s not an unfair request overall…but what I’m trying to do is cut to the heart of the matter, and avoid getting swallowed up in academic games and jargon. That’s why I sincerely hope you’ll give a gut-checked response to my latest post above, the one with the actual proposal for a way forward. Why you have time, of course.

          • 2013-06-10 11:59:04 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

            I have asked you before: I would like to see you try to outline my argument in your own words. Until you can do that then I can only presume you do not understand my argument. When I am satisfied you understand my argument then we might be able to discuss it and any other related questions. Till then I fear we will only exchange comments in an ever heated spiral going nowhere.

            (I replied to your post above. But if you don’t — as you seem to concede — even understand my argument then my reply would only be frustrating and outrageous in your opinion, I guess.)

            • NateP
              2013-06-10 15:44:16 UTC - 15:44 | Permalink

              Sorry but that seems very uncharitable to me….I’ve reiterated at least 6 times now that can email me to converse in a more direct manner. Maybe if we spoke, you could explain the baffling parts of your argument to me. But if you don’t want to go that route, then the least you could do is try out the discussion from one of the alternative angles I proposed. I’m getting a “my way or the high way” vibe from you, and I just don’t think it’s worth my while to engage further on those terms. Hope you’ll get in touch. But otherwise, cheers, and all the best to you, sir.

              • 2013-06-10 18:17:26 UTC - 18:17 | Permalink

                Uncharitable to you? Nate, you said you found my argument baffling. Yet you are quick to argue against it. I am asking you to try to understand it before discussing it any further.

                No, I’m not interested in one-on-one conversations to argue my point of view or yours. I’m happy to share a public discussion for a wider benefit, however.

              • NateP
                2013-06-11 10:26:44 UTC - 10:26 | Permalink

                Ok, then you’ve more than confirmed the complete futility of this discussion. I’ve watched live 1-on-1 discussions between Harris and Atran, and Atran consistently operates with an attitude of “either we discuss from within my conceptual framework (i.e. I’ll only address questions of yours where I like the way they’re framed…the rest, I’ll either ignore or condescend toward with irrelevant stats) or we don’t discuss at all”. It made for many awkward video moments. Our present discussion seems to be following the exact same pattern, with you representing Atran, and myself Harris. I say I’m baffled with your argument, or how it relates to anything we agree matters. And your response it: try harder to understand, because I won’t let the conversation take a different approach. I respond with: But I have tried, and I still don’t see how you can connect the dots this way. And then you respond: Try harder then. I don’t see how discussion, on THESE terms, can possibly go anywhere…and I don’t know why I expected it to, given how all the exchanges between Harris and Atran themselves have gone.

                So if you change your mind, get in touch. Otherwise, best wishes for the future of your blog. I’m going to spend my time with activities and discussions that actually go somewhere. Cheers, mate.

              • 2013-06-11 13:16:22 UTC - 13:16 | Permalink

                That’s not quite the whole story, NateP. You omitted the part where you accuse me of cunning and really meaning what you said I meant and not what I try to explain I meant. Your complaints that I am the one giving you the hard time all the way through fell over right at the beginning from my perspective, and you never once shifted your view that I am being deceitful in my explanations. The reason I am so little inclined to jump in with direct answers to the questions you and Jason have thrust at me is because your questions are generally based on a twisted interpretation of my original words — and my only thanks for trying to clarify that is to be accused of dishonesty.

                From my perspective I am being told, essentially, that unless I see things your and Jason’s way I am being stubborn or dishonest.

                I suggest what Atran is trying to do is the same as what has concerned me, that criticisms of my words be squarely directed at my words and not what distortions and misrepresentations of them. And if I point out that my words have been so distorted I would expect enough good will to try to accept that I have not been dishonestly using sleight of hand or avoiding saying explicitly what you believe I mean because I am being deceitful. If I don’t explicitly say what you and Jason say I mean it is because I don’t mean anything like what you accuse me of — not because I am being cunning as you like to put it.

                I can only attribute such outrageous readings and twistings of my words to the suggestion that they are being read with hostile intent.

                Neither you nor Jason is prepared to even sum up what I mean and what it is about my views that so disgusts you. You take a sentence, twist it, and accuse me of dishonesty. And then tell me how condescending or disdainful or stubborn or evasive I am for not playing your game.

    • 2013-06-10 07:47:43 UTC - 07:47 | Permalink

      I wasn’t planning to reply, even after your atrocious rebuttal, but when you started to armchair psychoanalyse my reasons for disagreeing with you, that demands a reply because it’s a discourteous and inappropriate thing to do. So let me make this as clear.

      You seem to have a hard time imagining the possibility of someone simultaneously understanding you and disagreeing with you, which, frankly, makes you seem arrogant and condescending. Even when someone takes the time to carefully detail what you said, and what it necessarily entails, you ignore all of the arguments and insist the person just isn’t understanding you. Then you go on to try to discern what character flaw might be responsible for their not finding your arguments convincing.

      You seem to confuse incoherence with nuance. You consider it a weakness to insist on coherent, logical, and falsifiable positions–calling it a sign of intolerant, “black and white thinking”. Well, Neil, sadly logic is binary like that. Failing to adhere to the rules of logic isn’t a sign of nuance. It’s good and well to insist that you have a more nuanced position that we’re just failing to understand–but you’ve made no effort to clarify that position–and as a professor of mine once said, until you’re able to articulate your position, you don’t know what you’re talking about. That seems to be the case here. You seem to know what positions on this subject you don’t agree with, but seem unwilling or unable to articulate clearly what you DO believe. Then you blame us for failing to understand you. Well Neil, I can only go on what you actually say, using the rules of logic and English grammar. When I detail how these rules forefully imply X, it’s not sufficient to say “nope that’s not it! Try again!”

      You care too much about how your beliefs make you look and not enough about whether they are true, making blatant Arguments from Final Consequences (a fallacy, I should point out…). You think it a sufficient criticism of a belief to call it “intolerant,” as though this would matter more than whether it is true. Tolerance is for people, Neil, not for beliefs. A true belief is true, regardless of what damage it might do. So too is a false belief false, and deserving of no special protection. There’s nothing inherently intolerant or hostile about criticizing someone else’s beliefs, or in thinking that someone else is wrong.

      You often hide behind others–endorsing their beliefs, but refusing to take personal responsibility for the endorsement. You hide behind phrases like “I’m only presenting what so-and-so says,” despite including language that necessary implies that you agree. In an article listing facts *that you describe as rebutting Sam Harris*, you refuse to even admit that the article is about Sam Harris–merely because the list comes from Scott Atran. This is incredibly slippery rhetoric. If someone wrote a blog post quoting Ehrman’s recent work approvingly, describing it as a “fact by fact rebuttal of Earl Doherty.” Would you accept their later claim that the post wasn’t about Doherty because, technically, it was about Ehrman? I don’t think you would.

      What’s more, when you describe a fact as a “rebuttal of Sam Harris,” the NECESSARY implication is that Harris has some belief that is contradicted by the listed fact. You can’t retreat from that when someone comes along and says “But Harris doesn’t believe that…” with an “I never said he did!” That’s slippery, not “nuanced thinking.”

      So no, I don’t think you’re ‘ignorant or dishonest’ because you disagree with me. I think you’re dishonest because of the way in which you retreat from careful, point-by-point critical analysis of what you’ve written, and reply with hand-waving, obfuscating nonsense when you don’t have anything valid to say. I think you’re dishonest because you don’t own up to the necessary implications of the things that you say–even when you say the things *explicitly*.

      One of the clearest examples is when you insisted that you’d never said Sam Harris believes Muslims are evil. I replied by quoting the exact part of your post where you do, in fact, say it. Did you admit that you’d said it? Nope. You accused ME of dishonestly for only quoting the relevant bit rather than ALL of Fact Four, accusing me of “quoting out of context.” Of course, quoting out of context is only a problem if the context changes the meaning; and in this case, it plainly does not. Nothing else in Fact Four changes the meaning of the part that I quoted, to make it no longer suggest that Sam Harris thinks Muslims are evil. Since nothing in the context changes the meaning, and you must know this, the charge of “quoting out of context,” is slippery and dishonest.

      Finally, regarding the ‘parting shot’ of your reply: “I really had thought Vridar readers were interested in genuine scholarship. Clearly some are interested only when it confirms their biases.”

      I am interested in genuine scholarship. Interested enough, in fact, to critically evaluating that scholarship when it’s based on false premises or invalid logic. It is you who seem uninterested in critically evaluating scholarship when it confirms your biases–because some of Atran’s arguments are so blatantly fallacious that it takes a strong bias not to see it.

      • 2013-06-10 11:32:18 UTC - 11:32 | Permalink

        Jason, would you like to demonstrate that you do understand my argument by outlining it in your own words? (I trust if I offer any corrections to such an effort you will not tell me I am lying about what I believe my own argument to be.)

        Would you like to explain one of Atran’s arguments and why it is fallacious? I trust you will refer to an actual scholarly publication where he sets out for peer-review one of his arguments.

        You say I “refuse to even admit that the article is about Sam Harris–merely because the list comes from Scott Atran”. Jason, please, please re-read what I said. I have said several times in the various comments here that I am addressing Sam Harris’s arguments. And in the sentence to which you are referring I said I am “primarily interested in Scott Atran’s arguments.” There is no contradiction there, least of all a “refual to admit” I am addressing Sam Harris’s arguments. Criticism like this are simply way off the deep end. You have made your mind up that I am dishonest and it is clear to me that nothing I can say or write will convince you otherwise.

        (By the way, you missed my observation that if my words were meant to suggest that Harris thinks Muslims are evil then it must also follow that I accused him of saying atheists are evil. Surely you must begin to see your failure to comprehend my words. Again, I believe this is because you are reading them emotively.)

        • 2013-06-10 13:07:26 UTC - 13:07 | Permalink

          I have several times pointed out the logical failings of his arguments in this exchange. You just keep skipping over it when I do. And honestly, since when do you have as a standard to *only* consider arguments that are made by citing peer-reviewed scholarship? How many times, on this blog, have you railed against people who insist on this standard? It’s fair to request a citation or proof when someone is making an empirical claim–but when they are pointing out the ways in which someone’s logic is faulty? That doesn’t require a citation!

          A fallacious argument is a fallacious argument. I don’t need a peer-reviewed paper that shows it’s a non-sequitur to compare the death tolls of religiously motivated wars to those that are not religiously motivated as a rebuttal of the idea that religion uniquely provides motivation certain kinds of terrible acts (that are not wars). It’s like pointing out that vaccinated people aren’t less likely to die of a heart attack, therefore vaccines don’t work. It’s a non-sequitur. Period. It doesn’t matter that the great Scott Atran makes the argument, it’s still fallacious. Incidentally, this is one of the bad arguments that I’ve *already* shown to be fallacious in this exchange.

          So rather than going through them all (and what, honestly, could motivate me to do so when you’ve ignored the ten or so times I have already taken the time to detail, point-by-point, why his arguments are fallacious?) I’ll leave you with this one. Prove to me you’re interested in actually engaging with the logic of the arguments–that I wouldn’t be wasting my time by dealing with the others–and show me why this blatant fallacy is a “rebuttal” of Harris’ argument, when Scott Atran makes it. That, or admit that it’s a bad argument. Either way.

          >>”By the way, you missed my observation that if my words were meant to suggest that Harris thinks Muslims are evil then it must also follow that I accused him of saying atheists are evil.”

          No, I didn’t. Excuse me if I didn’t detail every single bad argument you made. You could say I had my plate full. If I say “John spends more money than Mary,” it doesn’t imply that Mary spends any money at all. I spend more money than my parrot. But yes: given the reasonably assumed premise that Sam Harris does not believe atheists are evil, the sentence “Sam Harris believes Muslims are more evil than atheists” still necessarily entails that he believes Muslims are at least a little evil, otherwise he wouldn’t think they were “more evil” than atheists. This is basic logic, Neil.

          And no, I’m not going to go back through your post and restate your arguments *again*. I’ve noticed you’ve been using this condescending strategy a lot lately, when you think people have misunderstood you. You ask them to do a lot of work going back and restating all of your arguments in their own words. But it’s an unreasonable request. I could just as easily say “you say I have misunderstood you. Please put in your own words what you think I’ve understood you to mean.” See what a condescending rhetorical device that is? If you have reason to believe I’ve misunderstood you, it’s because I’ve already, repeatedly, laid out which of your arguments I think are bad–and in so doing, I’ve described what I perceive your arguments to be. In other words I’ve *already* done what you’ve asked, and the ball is in your court. It’s your job to say “you seem to think I believe X; I don’t, I believe Y.”

          Your continue to insist that it’s my hostility toward you that is making me disagree with you; but repetition doesn’t make it so. Yes, I’m frustrated and annoyed by your arrogance and condescension, but that has come *after* the fact, and so it cannot have been a cause of my original rejection of your arguments, or your first replies. You also seem to forget that I’ve been a loyal reader of yours for a while now–two or three years, maybe. The reason I started exchanging with you on this subject in the first place was because it seemed so out of character or you to be making such terrible, and sometimes disingenuous arguments. I expected you to respond better to criticism. If I have decided that you’re being dishonest, it’s been your behaviour in your replies in this exchange; it wasn’t a bias going in.

          I have disagreed with Richard Carrier (who you seem to think is some kind of intellectual bully) on his blog. Sometimes I was wrong, and he corrected me. He did this by detailing the logic of his argument more clearly, and showing how my objection was unfounded. Other times, he’s acknowledged that I was correct, and publicly said so, even updating his posts to draw attention to the correction. That’s how a reasonable person responds to criticism. You, on the other hand, see persecution and hostility, and can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with you without also misunderstanding you–yet you don’t take the initiative and explain yourself better, because you think the fault is always in the person who ‘doesn’t understand.’

          • 2013-06-10 13:49:33 UTC - 13:49 | Permalink

            I was asking you, as I was asking Nate, as a way forward, to assure me that you do understand what I am arguing by outlining what you would tell a third party I am saying. I was picking up on Tim’s suggestion earlier here as the way through when there seems to be a discussion going nowhere. Accusing me of saying things I did not say and accusing me of being a liar when I point that out that you have misinterpreted my words is not the best way forward. I am not asking you to go back through all my posts and do a lot of work. I want you to say what you believe I am arguing about Islam and terrorism.

            If you really believe you have understood my argument perfectly and that I am a liar for disagreeing with you then I can think of other things I’d rather do than spend time in conversation with you.

            Just a few sentences will do. You must know without having to re-read everything, surely.

            The reason I asked you to respond to Atran’s argument as he has published it formally is because I want to know you have actually dealt with his argument and not just some aspect related to it — it can be from one of his books if not from a journal article. You are rejecting Atran’s argument without even having examined it, as far as I can see.

            I have attempted in post after post to cite hard evidence, not opinion, on this topic. Or judgements that are based on abundant research findings. You seem not to have read them.

            You say I see “persecution and hostility” instead of responding the way Carrier responds to you. Actually I don’t see any persecution at all. You would have to do a lot more than write a few angry comments before anything registers as “persecution”. :-)

            What I am looking for is for engagement with my words (not with all the stuff you are reading into them and that I never meant and accusations that I am being dishonest if I say that you are misreading my words) and to deal with hard evidence.

            We haven’t got any basis for a discussion or rational disagreement and exchange yet.

            Peace.

            • Jason Goertzen
              2013-06-11 04:41:09 UTC - 04:41 | Permalink

              “I want you to say what you believe I am arguing about Islam and terrorism.

              If you really believe you have understood my argument perfectly and that I am a liar for disagreeing with you then I can think of other things I’d rather do than spend time in conversation with you.

              Just a few sentences will do. You must know without having to re-read everything, surely.”

              I was objecting to specific claims you made in this post, about specific “rebuttals” to Sam Harris. Since it was specific claims that you say I’ve “misunderstood,” I assumed the invitation was to restate these claims–the ones we’re actually talking about–in my own words. I’m not sure why you’d want me to instead state my understanding of your overall thesis about Islam and terrorism, since that wasn’t at issue, but here it is, as I understand it:

              You believe that it is an historical accident that the terrorism in the world right now happens to be a radicalized form of Islam, and that nothing about Islam or the Koran contributes to this. You believe that criticizing Islam for the terrorism, and for the heinous treatment of women, is “Islamophobia.”

          • 2013-06-10 14:17:32 UTC - 14:17 | Permalink

            And honestly, since when do you have as a standard to *only* consider arguments that are made by citing peer-reviewed scholarship? How many times, on this blog, have you railed against people who insist on this standard? It’s fair to request a citation or proof when someone is making an empirical claim–but when they are pointing out the ways in which someone’s logic is faulty? That doesn’t require a citation!

            A fallacious argument is a fallacious argument. I don’t need a peer-reviewed paper that shows it’s a non-sequitur to compare the death tolls of religiously motivated wars to those that are not religiously motivated as a rebuttal of the idea that religion uniquely provides motivation certain kinds of terrible acts (that are not wars).

            Jason, you have misunderstood me yet again. I was not asking you to prepare an argument and submit it to peer-review. That’s the sort of thing I have challenged in the past on this blog. What I was asking you was something quite different. I was asking you to deal with a formal presentation of Atran’s argument. That’s all. I don’t mean an argument he makes within a larger conversational context. I mean his argument as set out from start to finish, complete in itself. All I am asking is that you read an argument before you shoot at it.

            Again you have misunderstood my request for a citation. I was not asking you to give a citation to support the logic of an argument. I was asking for some indication, and I mentioned a citation explicitly, to support your claim that there was some sort of scholarly consensus about terrorism’s link with Islam that is contrary to Atran’s views. It was actually a mainstream scholar who mentioned Atran’s name to me along with a list of others for me to study to understand what scholarly research has to say about the causes of terrorism.

            You say you don’t need a peer-review paper to show that a fallacious argument is a fallacious argument. Again, you have misread me.

            (Sorry, but you seem to misread every other sentence I write! You really do!!!)

            What I said was that I want to know that you have engaged with the scholarly argument — as I explained above — one that we can find in, say, a peer-reviewed paper. I am happy to send you one if you don’t have access to any.

            I am quite taken aback that you and others seem to argue reasons why you have no need to examine arguments because you don’t agree with what you think are their conclusions. If the arguments are fallacious then you will be able to demonstrate that by engaging with them — not by saying you don’t have to engage with them because you think they are stupid — even if they are found by many reputable scholars in peer-review journals.

            Peace. And understanding.

            • Jason Goertzen
              2013-06-11 04:18:28 UTC - 04:18 | Permalink

              Unless you don’t stand by your presentation of his arguments, then none of that makes any sense. I was engaging with the arguments *as you presented them.* That’s why I don’t need original citations. I’m not concerned with what Atran thinks. I’m concerned with what you think, and why. Along the way, that involves engaging with Atran’s arguments *as you understand them.* And, based on your presentation of them, the arguments are blatantly fallacious, and it’s remarkable you find them convincing.

              Once again:

              “Harris implies Muslims are more evil than atheists because, according to his logic no atheist would condone the murder of “a single little girl”. In reply Scott Atran refers to the Encyclopedia of Wars: of a survey of 1763 violent conflicts throughout history only 123 (7%) were religious.

              Nearly all major conflicts in recent times, which have been far more murderous than in the past, have been decidedly nonreligious (the two world wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Cambodian and Rwanda genocides, among others.)”

              This (setting aside the false premise that Harris believes Mulsims are “more evil than Atheists”–his argument is that Islam motivates non-evil people to endorse evil things), is a blatant non-sequitur. Even if it doesn’t adequately represent Atran’s argument, it’s Atran’s argument *as you understood it at the time of the post.*

              You asked me to point out the fallacy. I’ve pointed it out. Engage with it. Tell me in what universe this is not a non-sequitur.

              • 2013-06-11 06:53:53 UTC - 06:53 | Permalink

                I stand by my arguments exactly has I have presented them. Jason, you have twisted almost every other sentence I have written into my saying something malicious or false. You even got my sentences about “peer-review” and “citation references” wrong. That is, your misreading of my words extends beyond the specific statements on Islam or Harris. It includes basics such as what I am asking for in the discussion.

                I suggest you completely avoid reading my posts for at least 6 months and returning when you no longer feel so heated over them and see how they read to you then. Hopefully then you will be able to recognize what I am trying to say.

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-06-11 08:04:14 UTC - 08:04 | Permalink

                You stand by your presentation of his arguments. Great. But the point (which you skipped over–the exact behaviour I’ve been criticizing you for) is that IF you stand by your presentation of the arguments, then it’s evasive to insist I go engage with the primary sources. You’ve *already* cited his arguments; now you confirm that you stand by your presentation of them. So tell me then: why did you insist on my engaging with the primary sources when I criticized Atran’s argument by citing your presentation of it?

          • Al
            2013-06-11 00:57:39 UTC - 00:57 | Permalink

            ‘I don’t need a peer-reviewed paper that shows it’s a non-sequitur to compare the death tolls of religiously motivated wars to those that are not religiously motivated as a rebuttal of the idea that religion uniquely provides motivation certain kinds of terrible acts (that are not wars).’

            Well, interestingly, in their Encyclopedia of Wars, authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod attempt a comprehensive listing of wars in history. They document 1763 wars overall, of which 123 (7%) have been classified to involve a religious conflict.

            • Jason Goertzen
              2013-06-11 04:20:29 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

              I am not challenging the data–the fact. I am challenging the logic by which that fact is brought to bear as a refutation of Harris argument. By no sound use of logic can an argument be made that the fact in question challenges Harris’ thesis. That’s what a non-sequitur means: not that the other person’s premise is false, but that the premise doesn’t provide evidence for the conclusion.

              Harris’ argument wasn’t that religion uniquely motivates people to war. So pointing out that most wars aren’t religious has no bearing on his argument.

              • 2013-06-11 06:41:15 UTC - 06:41 | Permalink

                Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation: “An atheist is a person who believes that the murder of a single little girl — even once in a million years — casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.” Atran comments: “The implied logic — that religious people in general, and Muslims in particular, tend to do more terrible things than do atheists — is hollow. . . . Atheists, to be sure, may well believe that the killing of a little girl is evidence against the existence of God. The proposition is true but trivial. Atheists, who have also killed tens of millions of people, among them millions of little girls, can equally take the murders they themselves have committed as evidence against God’s power to intervene. In the Encyclopedia or Wars, . . . . ” and that’s where the quote about 1763 violent conflicts comes in.

                Harris certainly does imply that religion is primarily responsible for wars: He even puts down the Kashmir conflict to being the responsibility of religion simply because the two sides have different faith majorities among their citizens. No other factor is considered! Harris sees India as being “Hindu” and Pakistan as “Muslim” so that’s it. The book is shut. Religion is responsible for that conflict, too! No study, no investigation, no interest to look at the actual history of the conflict and the factors influencing the key players. Nationalism is not even an issue as far as Harris is concerned. And this gentleman is using his popular status to peddle this ignorance to all his readers — to whip up more ignorance and intolerance that will ultimately lead to bad and destructive policies.

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-06-11 07:00:02 UTC - 07:00 | Permalink

                “Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation: “An atheist is a person who believes that the murder of a single little girl — even once in a million years — casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.” Atran comments: “The implied logic — that religious people in general, and Muslims in particular, tend to do more terrible things than do atheists — is hollow. . . . ”

                So it’s worse, even, than I thought.

                Harris: Atheists are people who believe that the murder of innocent children suggests God does not exist.

                Atran: Atheists kill children too!

                Neil, do you believe Atran’s argument makes sense? If so, explain how?

              • 2013-06-11 07:54:08 UTC - 07:54 | Permalink

                Your two-liner paraphrase is NOT Atran’s argument. When you can represent Atran’s argument accurately then you will understand why it makes sense. But you are hell bent on twisting any words and arguments that challenge your view of things. Take a break. Stop reading this stuff. It is only upsetting you.

                Give peas a chance!

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-06-11 08:13:30 UTC - 08:13 | Permalink

                Oh for the love of… Really Neil, you think that was supposed to be a genuine summary of his view?

                Fine. Let’s do it, since you’re so stubborn.

                “Sam Harris wrote in Letter to a Christian Nation: “An atheist is a person who believes that the murder of a single little girl — even once in a million years — casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.” Atran comments: “The implied logic — that religious people in general, and Muslims in particular, tend to do more terrible things than do atheists…”

                Let’s start there. Harris says nothing, literally NOTHING here to suggest religious people do more terrible things. I don’t know where Atran gets that from this argument. Harris argues that the terrible things are inconsistent with God existing. It’s the Problem of Evil. THAT’S IT. Yet Atran reads in bigotry that isn’t there.

                “Atheists, to be sure, may well believe that the killing of a little girl is evidence against the existence of God. The proposition is true but trivial. ”

                He goes on to recognize it was the problem of Evil, which makes his twisting of it appear dishonest, since he shows that he actually knows what Harris really meant.

                “Atheists, who have also killed tens of millions of people, among them millions of little girls, can equally take the murders they themselves have committed as evidence against God’s power to intervene.”

                It’s here that he vaguely suggests that atheist evil bears on the validity of Harris’ argument, which it cannot.

                Then he brings up the wars, which, again, have no bearing on the Problem of Evil, which is Harris’ ONLY point here.

                So please Neil, stop replying with “you don’t get it,” and tell me what argument he could possibly be making here that is valid. Once again, your only reply was “Nope, that’s not it!” with no attempt to say what it is. You’re being evasive.

              • Jason Goertzen
                2013-06-11 08:38:58 UTC - 08:38 | Permalink

                Incidentally, if you’re interested in my not being upset, try explaining what you think something DOES mean, rather than continuing to tell me how I’m too upset to understand. That would go a long way

              • Al
                2013-06-11 08:54:59 UTC - 08:54 | Permalink

                Yup he says in The End of Faith:

                “Indeed, religion is as much a living spring of violence today as it was at any time in the past. The recent conflicts in Palestine (Jews v. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians v. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians v. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants v. Catholics), Kashmir

                (Muslims v. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims v. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims v. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea (Muslims v.Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists v. Tamil Hindus), Indonesia (Muslims v. Timorese Christians), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians v. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis v. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few cases in point.In these places religion has been the explicit cause of literally millions of deaths in the last ten years. These events should strike us like psychological experiments run amok, for that is what they are.Give people divergent, irreconcilable, and untestable notions about what happens after death, and then oblige them to live together with limited resources. The result is just what we see: an unending cycleof murder and cease-fire. If history reveals any categorical truth, it is that an insufficient taste for evidence regularly brings out the

                worst in us”.

  • 2013-06-11 08:38:37 UTC - 08:38 | Permalink

    I follow Harris on twitter so you don’t have to: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/islam-and-the-misuses-of-ecstasy. Starts with a rip on Atran and includes a couple of howlers. Shorter: I can’t be racist, I have a black friend!

    • Al
      2013-06-11 09:02:56 UTC - 09:02 | Permalink

      Harris is actually being very dishonest about Atran’s views. Atran’s reply

      https://www.facebook.com/scott.atran

      • 2013-06-11 12:39:16 UTC - 12:39 | Permalink

        Ha! If that’s the way Harris twists Atran’s argument should I be surprised that those who laud Harris’s words should do the same with my own little references to them! Harris is no more iistening to or reading Atran’s argument than McGrath has listened to or read a mythicist argument. Such people reads with hostile intent only to distort and misrepresent. — No wonder they cannot sum up the arguments they oppose. To do so would mean they’d have to admit they are not being intellectually honest with them.

        • Al
          2013-06-11 19:07:54 UTC - 19:07 | Permalink

          Indeed.

          Harris is going crazy on on Twitter today

          https://twitter.com/SamHarrisOrg/with_replies

          I like this tweet the most:

          “I’ve never said that all wars/genocides have been religious. But faith did play a role in Rwanda. The Virgin Mary kicked it off.”

  • Al
    2013-06-11 08:44:53 UTC - 08:44 | Permalink

    “Let’s start there. Harris says nothing, literally NOTHING here to suggest religious people do more terrible things.”

    Err well, Harris actually devokes much of Letter to a Christian Nation to discussing the moral superiority of atheists in comparison to the religious.

    In fact, in that very book Harris implies that Islam leads to criminal behaviour and that atheism doesn’t:

    “Insofar as there is a crime problem in Western Europe, it is largely the product of immigration. Seventy percent of the inmates of France’s jails, for instance, are Muslim. The Muslims of Western Europe are generally not atheists. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations’ human development index are unwaveringly religious”.

    .

    • NateP
      2013-06-11 10:16:10 UTC - 10:16 | Permalink

      I think we can safely say that because someone makes a specific argument at ANY juncture of their work does NOT entail that they’re making that argument at EVERY juncture. So at one point, the point Jason was quoting, the focus is the problem of evil, which is unrelated to the relative moralities of atheists and religious folk. Then Harris may also happen to argue, ELSEWHERE, that the less religious a nation is, the less crime you’re likely to find there. That is a different argument (though it’s another good one from Harris, and I spelled it out a little further in an examination of Northern Europe with Neil, though he declined to address it), and you’re failing to stay on topic, AI, if you’re gonna make Jason explain the implications of that quote, just because it’s in the same book. Different section; different argument.

      • 2013-06-11 12:31:02 UTC - 12:31 | Permalink

        I’ve been through this before with another commenter who liked to base an argument about Coyne’s message based on the wording of a sentence without reference to its larger context. I consider this to be pointless sophistry, nothing but a word-game to score points. I am more interested in calm, reasoned discussion where neither side is accusing the other of stubbornness, deceit, dishonesty, cunning, etc.

        What I am still unable to understand is why supporters of Harris’s views are not interested in following up any independent research on the topic. It is pointless debating with people who are clearly hostile towards me personally — I know nothing I can say will be acceptable to such people. That’s one reason I’ve tried to encourage others to read the arguments for themselves, to learn independently on the basis of what qualified researchers say about all this. I’ve mentioned names like Riaz Hassan or Robert Pape or Talal Asad or Muhammad Hafeez or John Esposito or Zubaidah Rahim — oh, and also Scott Atran. Why the work of specialists in the area is ignored while the pop views of someone who has no qualifications in the area but whose many statements drip with errors should be defended — I’m at a loss to understand this.

      • 2013-06-11 12:31:27 UTC - 12:31 | Permalink

        Honestly Nate, I’m glad someone here can read. Despite the condescending tone in which it’s suggested, Neil is right. I need to stop reading this thread. I shouldn’t have returned to it.

      • Al
        2013-06-11 20:43:04 UTC - 20:43 | Permalink

  • NateP
    2013-06-14 05:18:51 UTC - 05:18 | Permalink

    Couldn’t resist….just read this:

    http://m.samharris.org/blog/item/islam-and-the-misuses-of-ecstasy

    The whole of the article is insightful, but obviously the beginning chunk is specifically about an exchange between Attan and Harris. After reading the account (re: Paradise), it struck me that there’s only two ways to respond. Either you can claim that Harris is a liar, and that he fabricated the entire exchange about Paradise with Atran, or Atran is a complete IDIOT, claiming somethin in this instance that should disqualify him from all work as a social scientist. What else could be the explanation of such an account? And if its the case that we either have a liar or an idiot on our hands, which do you think is more likely? The fact that Atran hasn’t done much (i anything) to challenge the veracity of the account…I know what I myself am forced to conclude. That is all.

    • 2013-06-14 06:49:43 UTC - 06:49 | Permalink

      So presumably by the same reasoning Jesus himself is either Lord, Liar or Lunatic. No alternative possible.

      Labeling people who hold ideas you admit you do not understand as “cunning” or “liars” or “complete idiots” is not the sign of someone who has the slightest interest in understanding and learning what others believe. I have read two of Atran’s books now, one of them specifically about this topic.

      NateP — you would rather read a two-line exchange presented by a staunch opponent of Atran to inform your view of Atran’s argument rather than read Atran’s own argument for yourself.

      No, it is not true that Atran argues that suicide bombers do what they do because of male bonding in soccer clubs — that is complete baloney. I invite you to consider what a range of researchers on this matter have learned about the reasons for jihadi behaviour. (See my Dawkins Delusion — the Slavish Mind post.) One thing is clear — people do not commit jihadi because they are wanting to go to paradise. That is as well an established fact as any.

      Does Harris have any evidence that a single jihadist has murdered and died to defend the legitimacy of an ecstatic religious experience? (He writes: “Indeed, if you don’t understand how someone could be willing to die to defend the legitimacy of such an experience, you are very poorly placed to understand the problem of Islam.”) I suggest Harris’s post is complete fiction. He produces no evidence whatsoever.

      I would rather believe the research that informs us why young men to become jihadists than follow the groundless claims of Harris that are in fact contradicted by the hard evidence.

      • Al
        2013-06-14 17:40:02 UTC - 17:40 | Permalink
      • NateP
        2013-06-23 17:51:15 UTC - 17:51 | Permalink

        Ok, Neil…if you want to characterize things in such a way that you can never distill a huge conversation down to a rubber-meets-the-road situation, and/or hold someone accountable to one of the very few unambiguous things they ever say, fine. I’m at a loss with you. I just think it will be sad when you realize down the road how much time and effort you’ve wasted with this topic, and in defending the indefensible. But I can’t stop you, so knock yourself out.

        • 2013-06-23 18:24:37 UTC - 18:24 | Permalink

          ?? You’ve lost me, NatP.

          I read and share the scholarly research and data. I know a fair amount of the published research. I don’t call you or others who disagree with me “liars” or “cunning” — or “idiots”.

          I have now read two of Scott Atran’s books and at least half a dozen, and a few more, of his peer-reviewed and other articles. I know what Scott Atran’s argument is.

          What do you read? Fox News and a Sam Harris blog-post? You said you were quite content to rely upon Sam Harris’s presentation of Scott Atran’s argument yet you have given us no indication that you have read anything by Scott Atran yourself. Should I accept Sam Harris’s and your presentation of Atran’s arguments against my own readings of it?

          I don’t know what your problem is. What scholarly research into the causes of terrorism since the 1980s have you read? Tell me and let’s discuss it.

          Did you even bother to read Scott Atran’s response to Harris’s presentation of his argument or do you consider too sides of any question on which your mind is made up two much bother?

    • 2013-06-14 08:49:45 UTC - 08:49 | Permalink

      NateP, Harris is a scientist. So is Dawkins. Yet they reject the methods and findings of science when they talk about this question on which they know nothing more than the average person in the street. Scientists who have studied terrrorism and Islam produce research data and publications that are mocked or ignored by scientists who ought to know better.

    • Al
      2013-06-14 17:48:35 UTC - 17:48 | Permalink
      • 2013-06-14 18:41:53 UTC - 18:41 | Permalink

        You posted it twice but it’s worth repeating. So also is this remark by Atran in that post:

        As a final note, I should also mention that I am a lead investigator on several multiyear, multidisciplinary field-based science projects sponsored by the Department of Defense, including “Motivation, Ideology, and the Social Process in Radicalization,” aspects of which are taught to military personnel from general officers down. And I am recurrently asked to give briefings on these subjects to the White House, Congress and allied governments. I know of no comparable demands or operational interest among the political, defense or intelligence agencies of the U.S. and its allies for Harris’s musings on religious ecstasy. In Harris’s strange worldview, which is admittedly popular among many who believe that reason’s mission is to end religion to save the species, failure to apply those musings to stop religiously-directed violence across the globe may well be a another sign of the “crazy” ideas that he regularly ascribes to those who refuse his truth.

        Atran has brought to the attention of these audiences the successful methods of the Indonesians and others in tracking down terrorists before they act — hopefully the same methods will soon be embraced by powers that have historically preferred to use bombs to “solve” problems.

        • Al
          2013-06-14 19:34:07 UTC - 19:34 | Permalink

          Sorry, that was an accident, but it still highlights the problem with Harris.

  • 2013-11-26 03:25:31 UTC - 03:25 | Permalink

    Harris and others have insisted (as I used to do, too) that secular and science education are the natural antidotes to irrational religious beliefs and actions.

    -This is because this is the case.
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/guest-post-are-scientists-nonbelievers-because-of-self-selection-or-because-science-erodes-belief/
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/atheism-among-anglophone-scientists-i-the-u-s/

    Indeed, the majority of Al Qaeda members and associates studied science oriented courses at college. Educational backgrounds of Al Qaeda and Hamas members are predominantly in engineering and medicine.

    -Conflation of engineering, medicine, and science in this case is not advisable.
    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2007/11/11/the-salem-hypothesis-explained/
    As an example: George Grena. Electrical engineer. Excellent researcher at times. Author of the worst and most error-laden book I have ever read. Having an engineering degree does not guarantee being able to think like a scientist is supposed to.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2013-11-26 11:04:57 UTC - 11:04 | Permalink

      Engineering, medicine, and such — these are the practical courses meeting the main skills-needs of developing countries. They are not the more “theoretical” types of sciences that are framed by the models of evolution, etc. But then again, Intelligent Design advocates always love to be able to point to a biologist or paleontologist who is also a believer in God and the literal interpretation of Genesis.

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