2015-09-13

Where the New Atheists Have Let Us Down

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

by Neil Godfrey

EndofFaithPaper_thumbFreelance science writer Dan Jones recently responded to a supporter of Sam Harris outraged over Dan’s criticism of Harris’s popular writings on the role religion plays in terrorist violence. Dan Jones’ concluding remarks strike a chord with me:

(One final thing: I’ve been reading atheists like Dawkins, and older, more philosophical ones like Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer, since the early 1990s. I’ve also read a lot of Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, and welcomed the rise of the New Atheists in the mid-2000s. However, over time I had to come to accept that on some really important issues, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply had no real grasp of the relevant sciences of human behaviour to engage with them in any serious way. It’s been a major disappointment for me – I had hoped that these would be the voices of rational and empirical enquiry into things like religious extremism, but they’ve become like populist columnists, rather than scientifically informed intellectuals. It’s a painful truth to come to recognise that you’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy in their ideas – I used to be like a one-man PR firm for hard-core atheism until I realised that, when it came to explaining human behaviour (rather than just criticising the emptiness of theology), these guys had nothing to offer, and what they did say was just so wrong that I felt embarrassed to have thought so highly of them in the first place. It took me a good 5 years to shake off this feeling, so maybe you’ll have had a change of mind by 2020.)

I copy here the commentary that led to that conclusion. 

First, here is the opening salvo of “Hannu” taking exception to something Dan Jones had written:

Dan Jones: “Various polls, often cited by writers like Harris as well as radicalisation researchers, suggest that a minimum of 15–20% of Muslims globally accept an Islamist or Jihadi ideology — making for somewhere between 240 million and 320 million cognitive extremists. One obvious question is why just 15-20% accept this ideology, while the vast majority reject it. Saying ‘Jihad is the product of beliefs derived from Islam’ doesn’t even engage with the question, let alone provide an answer”

Hannu: Really, this is the level we’re on? You might as well be asking that if belief in forgiving one’s enemies has to do with core Christians ideology why do so few Christians forgive their enemies? We’ve now using your logic argued that Christians forgiving their enemies doesn’t come from Christian dogma. Except it’s a totally incorrect conclusion, there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this. Did this honestly need to be explained to you? Stupefying.

Dan Jones responded:

Before we get going on this, I want to address your complaint

“Really, this is the level we’re on?”.

First, it is Harris who has brought us to this level with his bold statements about belief and behaviour. He has said some very misguided and demonstrably false things, and then I set out to correct them – and in doing so I have to make some very obvious points. It’s very frustrating for me to have to make these points at all, but even more so when someone turns around and says that I’m the one operating a low level of discourse by doing so, when I’m trying to raise it! Of course, you’re going to maintain that Harris never brought the conversation so low, or invited the kinds of objections I raised. I think that’s impossible to maintain if you’ve got anything approaching a fair mind, or the capacity to read and think for yourself.

Hannu’s full comment can be read here. Following is the remainder of Dan Jones’ response:

So let’s review, once more, some of the things Harris says on the link between belief and behaviour, and pause to consider whether there’s anything amiss in his statements that is worth responding to:

“As a man believes, so he will act”

– not true, and in fact completely untrue, so blindly untrue it’s almost unbelievable. It’s outrageous to then complain, when I point out that in fact beliefs and behaviour are not in a one-to-one relationship, that others factors matter (and often much more so than beliefs), that I’m the one making pathetically obvious points. If that’s the case, surely Harris is guilty of uttering a pathetically simple falsehood. That, however, clearly doesn’t bother. My responding to him does. You’re saying nothing, but you’re telling me everything.

You say

“Harris has never said only beliefs matter. He’s saying they matter significantly.”

If you think the claim “As a man believes, so he will act” is merely the claim that beliefs matter significantly, then you have a severe problem comprehending simple words. If a man acts as he believes, then there’s no need to invoke anything else to explain his behaviour. The sentiment Harris is expressing is as clear as can be: beliefs determine behaviour (not influence, not matter significantly, but determine so that as a man believes, so he will act). That you cannot see this is just a sign of how blinkered you are in your evident infatuation with Harris.

But wait, you’ve got a get-out for this, haven’t you (apologists always do!):

“You’re [sic] taken one simplified sentence and reduced the man’s argument to that. I don’t know if you follow what Harris says, it doesn’t look like you do, but to think the man is saying only beliefs matter and nothing else about human psychology does is a total misconstrual of what you’re arguing against.”

What’s so funny about this is that it’s evident that you don’t read Harris very closely. In The End Of Faith the sentence about people acting as they believe sets up what’s supposed to be a discussion about the links between belief and behaviour, but which actually doesn’t review any evidence about this link, or consider it in much detail at all. Instead, Harris simply uses rhetorical tricks to bring people round to the view that beliefs are what matters in explaining behaviour (not that beliefs are among the many factors we might want to consider in explaining behaviour, but to make beliefs the sole focus). Again, that you can’t see this is evidence of your massively tendentious reading of Harris. (On this score, would you care to show me some excerpts where Harris takes a more nuanced and realistic approach to the links between belief and behaviour?)

You’ll surely say it’s me that’s being tendentious. But what makes me think that Harris thinks that beliefs determine, not just influence, behaviour? Because he says just that!:

“The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous”.

The only problem with this claim is that is simply untrue. Or do you now want to defend this claim too, or explain it away? (Presumably it’s my fault he wrote such a simple, bold and profoundly wrong claim – and if I reply to it, I’m unfairly reducing Harris’s arguments to his own words. Oh boy…).

Let’s keep going. At other times, Harris writes

“Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? …. In drawing a connection between the doctrine of Islam and jihadist violence, I am talking about ideas and their consequences … Now can we honestly talk about the link between belief and behavior?”

Reliably? Is that a scientific measure? Just how reliably? My car reliably starts when I turn the key in the ignition, in that it’s to date never failed to do so. If it only worked 1%, 5%, or even 30% of the time, I’d hardly characterise that as reliable. How often do the beliefs that Harris mentions lead to the behaviours he cites? Way less than 30% of the time, and in fact way less than 1% of the time. That’s the significance of the polls I cited, and the numbers of people who actually engage in violent extremism. Of course, your warped mindset just cannot see the relevance of my argument to refuting Harris’s daft claim about the reliable link between extreme beliefs and extreme behaviour. Again, I think you’re suffering from a profound comprehension problem.

I’m not done. Harris says, at the end of the paragraph just quoted, that he wants to have an honest discussion about the links between belief and behaviour. Yet his writes demonstrable falsehoods such as

“As a man believes, so he will act”,

“beliefs determine behaviour”,

and

“The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total”.

Either these are dishonest claims, or they’re absurd simplifications (I’d suggest the latter).

Again, Harris says

“Believe that you are the member of a chosen people, awash in the salacious exports of an evil culture that is turning your children away from God, believe that you will be rewarded with an eternity of unimaginable delights by dealing death to these infidels — and flying a plane into a building is scarcely more than a matter of being asked to do it.”

This is off-the-top-of-head nonsense, with zero empirical support. And again, this is why the polls showing how many people hold similar views, and the statistics on how few people act on them, are relevant. But you cannot accept this, can you?

If you actually read Harris’s entire output, it’s absolutely clear that he’s putting belief front and centre in thinking about behaviour, while relegating everything else to mere background noise. You’ll disagree. You’re tripping.

On the basis of simple assertions about the essentially iron-clad (or at least “reliable”, whatever that means) link between belief and behaviour – which is implied by everything quoted here – Harris then goes on to make some very strong and ethically dubious claims, most notoriously:

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

Note that he doesn’t say here that the link is somewhat tenuous (or, in many cases, very tenuous), and is mediated by lots of other factors, but builds on his earlier claim that as a man believes so he will act and everything else cited here. He doesn’t really argue for this link in any detail, and all we have to go on are the simple claims he does, in fact, make – the very ones that I’m criticised for criticising! (At this point I don’t know what plane of reality you’re operating on.)

And let’s consider the logic of this amazingly fatuous argument, which is actually presented in reverse order. If there’s someone or a group of people that wants to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others, and there’s no way to dissuade them, or capture them to prevent their violence, then there may be an ethical justification in killing them. I agree: on a more prosaic level, if someone comes at me on the street with their fists raised saying they’re going to beat my brains out, I feel justified in taking pre-emptive action and putting them down before they can harm me. (In fact, I train in a reality-based defense system that delves deeply into the psychological, ethical and legal aspects of the pre-emptive strike, and the use of reasonable force.)

On Harris’s logic, because beliefs determine behaviour, we don’t have to wait until the behavioural threat becomes manifest – it’s going to erupt at some point, because the beliefs are going to lead to the violence sooner or later. (Remember, beliefs determine behaviour, or reliably lead to behaviour, or whatever daft formulation of this mistaken claim you prefer, all of which are variations of “As a man believes, so he will act”.) So just as we can take pre-emptive action, which may involve killing, when we’re faced with an immediate threat, so too are we when we’re confronted with someone/people with beliefs that advocate violence, as we’re just making the justified pre-emptive strike a bit earlier.

Can you really not see that such an argument only makes any sense whatsoever if you believe that beliefs really do determine, not just influence, behaviour? If not, let me clarify for you. If, for the sake of argument, that holding a certain belief led to violent behaviour 100% of the time, then perhaps it would make sense to take action against that person solely on the basis of that belief, before they had actually done anything. If, on the other hand, a given belief only led to violent behaviour 30% of the time, then surely it would be unethical to kill someone for holding that belief?

So here’s a case where a close reading of Harris doesn’t refute my claims about his obsessive focus on beliefs and THE causal determinant of behaviour. No; it supports my reading, especially when taken alongside all of the other things I’ve quoted here. You’ve got a lot of work to do to show that I’ve got Harris wrong on this score.

And it’s worth noting that in defending this remarkable claim, Harris takes exactly the approach you do and cries “I’ve been misunderstood and misrepresented!”. It’s really lame. In fact, his defense, as published online after The End Of Faith came out, is so silly as to defy belief:

“To someone reading the passage in context, it should be clear that I am discussing the link between belief and behavior. The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous. When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al Qaeda, the answer cannot be, “Because he killed so many people in the past.” To my knowledge, the man hasn’t killed anyone personally. However, he is likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what he and his followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc. A willingness to take preventative action against a dangerous enemy is compatible with being against the death penalty (which I am). Whenever we can capture and imprison jihadists, we should. But in many cases this is either impossible or too risky. Would it have been better if we had captured Osama bin Laden? In my view, yes. Do I think the members of Seal Team Six should have assumed any added risk to bring him back alive? Absolutely not.”

The implication, as stupid as it is, is that if we dropped a bomb on Ayman al-Zawahiri, which many people would endorse on ethical grounds, it would be because of what he believes, not because of what he has done:

“To my knowledge, the man hasn’t killed anyone personally”.

I trust you can see that this is ridiculous. When someone hires a hitman to kill someone, and the hitman carries out the job, the person doing the hiring is not free from legal guilt and culpability merely because they did not personally kill someone. They’re guilty of conspiracy to murder. So the case of al-Zawahiri, who is the head of a loose organisation that plans, supports, and finances acts of terrorism (conspiracy to murder), in no way supports the idea that we’ve already accepted that it’s OK to kill people for what they believe. If al-Zawahiri had merely sat at home thinking about how great it would be to carry out acts of terrorism, and never actually got involved in plans to carry them out, then the ethics of killing him would be very different indeed.

As for you own arguments in your comment – well, I don’t know where to start as they’re either completely off target, or are grist for my mill. You write

“You might as well be asking that if belief in forgiving one’s enemies has to do with core Christians ideology why do so few Christians forgive their enemies? We’ve now using your logic argued that Christians forgiving their enemies doesn’t come from Christian dogma. Except it’s a totally incorrect conclusion, there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this. Did this honestly need to be explained to you? Stupefying.”

Let’s get clear on what’s going on here. Harris says that “As a man believes, so he will act”, and that “beliefs determine behaviour” and “reliably” lead to certain behaviours. I think these are stupid claims, and set out to show why – which involves me making some quite obvious points. That’s not a reason to scold me, however, but Harris! What you write is in complete agreement with me, and contrary to what Harris says. So of course this doesn’t need explaining to me – I’m the one explaining this stuff! But again, you switch things up, and say

“there’s clearly a connection between Christians forgiving their enemies and Christian holy text even if few Christians do this”

(yes, a very weak one as you’re implicitly acknowledging) – but I never said there wasn’t a connection between Islamist ideas and Islamist behaviour. I’m questioning the nature of that connection as proposed by Harris. Does this really need explaining to you? The stupefaction is all mine.

You also say,

“If a doctrine of jihad reliably leads to oppression and murder then why aren’t there more people who believe in jihad doing it? You offer this as some kind of refutation yet it’s like asking that if a secular humanism reliably leads to peaceful cooperation why aren’t there more people cooperating peacefully. Guess secular humanism now has nothing to do with enshrining attitudes that reliably lead to more peaceful cooperation.”

Good grief. This is historically ignorant rubbish. This paragraph suggests you don’t know the first thing about the historical and cultural processes that have led to the norms and institutions that underpin peaceful cooperation. I simply cannot write a book-length reply to correct the level of ignorance and confusion implied by your comment.

You also say,

“These criticisms of Harris make no sense whatsoever. That you thought this is some kind of serious rebuttal of Harris is just amazing. Harris attracts clueless rebuttals like a fire moths.”

That you think my rebuttals lack any force is utterly stunning, but given the very odd lens through with you clearly view all this it’s little surprise: Harris attracts mindless, uncritical and ignorant followers like shit does flies.

Your response to my/Neil’s post, far from showing that I’ve gone off on an irrelevant rant, shows just how deep the problem is. No matter how clearly Harris’s position is spelled out, and then shown to be mistaken, his fawning acolytes will jump up and say,

“No, he’s super smart and would never say anything wrong and simple-minded! He’s actually nuanced and, on every important point, correct!”.

The whole point is to try to show people that, in fact, Harris does make some very bald and bold claims that are easy to refute – and in doing so, you encounter some ideas that really do offer some insight into the nature of violent extremism, a topic that Harris is ostensibly interested in (though it’s clear that he’s only interested in extremism to the extent that it gives him a stick with which to beat religion, especially Islam – which, I should add, I have no love for).

I suspect that none of this is going to have any impact on your views whatsoever. You’re going to say that, despite his written words and repeated formulations of the same basic idea that when it comes to explaining extremist behaviour beliefs are where it’s at, I’m misrepresenting him, that he’s actually offered a much more sophisticated argument than I claim. Well, stick with that narrative if it makes you feel better about Harris’s intellectual and moral stature. Or pause to think whether maybe he’s got himself into a rut on this topic, one that he cannot get out of.

(One final thing: I’ve been reading atheists like Dawkins, and older, more philosophical ones like Bertrand Russell and AJ Ayer, since the early 1990s. I’ve also read a lot of Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, and welcomed the rise of the New Atheists in the mid-2000s. However, over time I had to come to accept that on some really important issues, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens simply had no real grasp of the relevant sciences of human behaviour to engage with them in any serious way. It’s been a major disappointment for me – I had hoped that these would be the voices of rational and empirical enquiry into things like religious extremism, but they’ve become like populist columnists, rather than scientifically informed intellectuals. It’s a painful truth to come to recognise that you’ve invested a lot of time and emotional energy in their ideas – I used to be like a one-man PR firm for hard-core atheism until I realised that, when it came to explaining human behaviour (rather than just criticising the emptiness of theology), these guys had nothing to offer, and what they did say was just so wrong that I felt embarrassed to have thought so highly of them in the first place. It took me a good 5 years to shake off this feeling, so maybe you’ll have had a change of mind by 2020.)

22 Comments

  • exrelayman
    2015-09-13 17:11:21 UTC - 17:11 | Permalink

    Perhaps there is nothing wrong with “As a man believes, so will he act.”, and the nuances that come into play in the interaction of numerous beliefs need to be more fully explored.

    For instance, I believe it would be good for my health to cut back on sugar and I believe it would be good for my pleasure to indulge. This is a very simple instance, of course, pitting long term and short term objectives.

    But perhaps immense complexity can be involved in the interplay of many beliefs determining action, so that one particular belief need not get all the blame for a reprehensible action, while yet the quote above remains true?

    Not claiming to know, just a lay person thinking out loud.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2015-09-13 19:40:05 UTC - 19:40 | Permalink

      I look forward to posting more on this topic in future. For now I will just note that the argument is based on research by anthropologists and others that demonstrates various factors that come into play — needs for belonging, esteem, revenge, group dynamics etc — that explain actions more than beliefs very often.

      • exrelayman
        2015-09-13 21:49:49 UTC - 21:49 | Permalink

        Thanks for responding to me.

        Yes, but you see, the agent or agents being studied believe it is good to belong, believe it is good to be esteemed, etc, nicht wahr?

        Language is invaluable, but sometime is also an obstacle. I think I am saying pretty much the same as you and Dan, just in a way that doesn’t dissociate needs from beliefs. Maybe I’m doing it poorly or maybe dissociating them is indeed more precise and I am on a wrong track. Wouldn’t be the first time! Anyhow, I release this idea, having brought it to your attention. I believe (get it?) that the need to be right can be an obstacle to clear thinking.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2015-09-13 22:06:26 UTC - 22:06 | Permalink

          Sure, agree with your point. There is another question that follow, though, and one that the research explores: can we determine if such beliefs that it is “good to belong” determine our belonging-seeking behaviour or are they a rationalization of it?

    • Greg Pandatshang
      2015-09-14 18:02:55 UTC - 18:02 | Permalink

      I realise that you’re aware this is a semantic problem. Allow me to comment on the semantics for a moment. “I believe sugar is good for my pleasure” is a very different type of thing than, for example, “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. I think it’s not incorrect to call the former a belief, but it might be confusing to call both of these things beliefs at the same time. If I place a sugar cube into my mouth and feel a momentary sense of pleasure, I’m acting on my understanding of how the world works, which is usually tacit (and entirely quotidian and unremarkable for most purposes). It seems like a truism that a person’s behaviour will reflect their understanding of how the world works. But it’s difficult to gauge how much their understanding of how the world works will match their stated beliefs, particularly when the beliefs in question are imbued with strong connotations of morality or group membership.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2015-09-13 19:19:16 UTC - 19:19 | Permalink

    As if right on cue Jerry Coyne (over whose views the series of posts and comments that led to Dan Jones’ response covered above) has posted: Why Do Many Atheists Hate the New Atheists? Jerry says he is genuinely perplexed and would like readers to write in with their views. He’s going to remain perplexed, however, because he has filtered my comments to go direct to spam, it appears, and refuses to publish any comments critical of his views on this topic.

    • AU
      2015-09-13 21:11:52 UTC - 21:11 | Permalink

      I just posted the below comment on his website, I won’t be holding my breath:

      “Readers are invited to share their opinions below”

      By “readers”, do you mean readers who just parrot the same opinion as you, or readers who are critical of many of the things you write? Before I proceed to write a comment in response to your invitation, can you at least please guarantee me that I will not be wasting my time, and that you will allow it through?

      Thanks.

    • AU
      2015-09-13 21:15:37 UTC - 21:15 | Permalink

      This is quite interesting:

      I can think of a couple of answers. The first is simple jealousy: some atheists haven’t achieved the fame or public profile of people like Hitchens, and so attack their character rather than their arguments. It’s also a way to get attention for yourself if you feel unappreciated.

      I have always felt that some of the leading New Atheists tend to be narcissist – they are driven in part by the fame and public profile they get, they like the fact others look up to them (much the way religious people look up to their clergy).

      I wonder if Coyne is projecting his own feelings here onto others when he talks about jealousy and fame and public profile i.e. because Coyne himself harbours such feelings, he assumes others also harbour such feelings.

      • 2015-09-13 21:30:20 UTC - 21:30 | Permalink

        Curiously, I remember reading a post on Coyne’s blogs many moons ago in which he talked about why he ended up writing on it so frequently, when originally the plan had been to do occasional pieces linked to the content of his book ‘Why Evolution Is True’. He cited narcissism as a reason. Of course, he was joking, but as we know there’s often a lot of truth buried in jests. And I agree that many of the other New Atheists – like a lot of public figures – bleed narcissism. In a number of cases, I think this is just one part of slightly off-kilter personality profile, but now I risk projecting! (Hey, none of us are perfect, right?!)

    • Al
      2015-09-13 22:02:26 UTC - 22:02 | Permalink

      Coyne’s right, though. ‘Quiet Atheists’ are just jealous of Hitchens. I mean I’d love to be in Hitchens’ position right now. Oh wait.

  • Neutry Denim
    2015-09-13 20:12:23 UTC - 20:12 | Permalink

    This proves what exactly? If I go to a website and get into an argument with someone in the comment section over what a celebrity said or thinks, does that make the celebrity wrong? Why is Mr. Dan Jones not debating Harris directly?

    • AU
      2015-09-13 21:03:33 UTC - 21:03 | Permalink

      I am not sure what you are on about. No one has said Sam Harris is wrong because Dan Jones had an argument with someone in the comments section. Sam Harris is wrong because Sam Harris is wrong, and Dan Jones just showed why he is wrong.

      If you feel Sam Harris is right, you are free to rebut Dan’s post.

      I don’t know why DJ isn’t debating SH, maybe they have debated before, maybe you could ask SH to come here and argue his case.

      • 2015-09-13 21:24:29 UTC - 21:24 | Permalink

        I couldn’t help but laugh at Neutry Denim’s bizarre comment; AU’s reply does the job for me. For the record, I have never debated Sam Harris, and I’d much rather have a *conversation* with him – a tough one, but one in which we could explore issues in length. Is there much chance of that happening? Not really. Sam Harris is a famous writer and speaker with a busy schedule. I’m much less well known (my work’s been published in many of the world’s leading science journals, but I have not worked hard to translate this into public visibility). Harris doesn’t know who I am, and as he gets a lot of criticism – much of it as daft as the support he gets – I can well understand that he just ignores people like me. To be fair, it would take a fair bit of time for him to dig around and find out that I’m not an ignorant wing-nut, but one of his more informed critics. What’s more, my critiques are hardly setting the internet on fire, so what reason has he got to engage with me (except, of course, countering what I consider to be some pretty devastating criticisms).

        But who knows, maybe the day will come when Sam and I lock horns. I’m ready to go at the drop of a hat.

        • AU
          2015-09-13 22:34:14 UTC - 22:34 | Permalink

          I find it really frustrating that the people in our society who tend to be able to look at things in a complex, nuanced way, like yourself, or Neil, or Lisa Stampnitzky when it comes to “terrorism”, are the ones who the general public have little exposure to, and they end up listening to people like Dawkins, Harris, “terrorism experts”, career politicians, all of who look at things in such a simple biased manner that just furthers their “cause”.

          Have you ever considered getting in touch with The Young Turks? Cenk Uygur has debated Sam Harris, maybe if you contact him, he could try and arrange a conversation with you and Harris.

  • AU
    2015-09-13 21:21:26 UTC - 21:21 | Permalink

    BTW, I do think that was a great post by Dan, and I am happy you dedicated an entry in your blog to that post.

    • 2015-09-13 21:32:38 UTC - 21:32 | Permalink

      Thanks, and to Neil for running a post on my insanely long comment! (This has been building up in my mind for a while, and when the chance came to get all this out, I couldn’t resist. I’m aware it may look slightly unhinged, writing so much in response to such little substantive criticism, but this was such a clear case of bad and motivated reasoning that I just HAD to say something!)

      • AU
        2015-09-13 22:40:47 UTC - 22:40 | Permalink

        Well I did chuckle to myself at first, because that post didn’t merit such a detailed response. However, I am now glad you went in such depth, because the next time I am on some blog and someone goes on about how Harris is “misinterpreted” and isn’t actually wrong, I can rebut them by pointing them to your post!

  • AU
    2015-09-14 16:14:30 UTC - 16:14 | Permalink

    I see Dawkins retweeted a tweet.

    The initial tweet stated:
    According to the Arab League Educational Organization, 1 in 3 people in the Arab world are illiterate, including almost 50% of all women.

    And then someone else tweeted:
    Is this down to poor education system or does Islam want to keep it thisway to discouraged thinking?
    https://twitter.com/William_Ness09/status/643095859253649408

    And then Dawkins rewteeted this.

    This is why I consider Dawkins a bigot, he isn’t interested in intelligent, thoughtful debate, all he wants to do is demonize religion, and so he will retweet anything without applying any sort of unbiased criteria to it.

    Whilst I am sure religion does play a part in some cases where women don’t get education, poverty, lack of institutions, poor governance, and culture seem to play a much greater part. If religion was the driving factor behind women not being educated, why are women in Saudi Arabia and Iran, both theocracies, more educated than women in Pakistan or Bangladesh where religion is influenced a lot more by pre-Islamic culture? Looking at the statistics, women in populous Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh have pretty low literacy rates – but religion doesn’t seem to be the driving factor here, because even the neighbouring countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan have pretty low literacy rates for women.

    Furthermore, looking at the literacy statistics:

    http://www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=14&programme=66
    The literacy rate of women in Pakistan is 42%, but the literacy rate of young women is 62%.

    http://www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=14&country=BD&programme=28
    The literacy rate of women in Bangladesh is 58%, but the literacy rate of young women is 86%.

    http://www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=12&country=EG&programme=208
    The literacy rate of women in Egypt is 65%, but the literacy rate of young women is 86%.

    So if anything, women are getting access to more education in Muslim countries, yet Dawkins just endorses a tweet that suggests Islam is somehow denying women the right to education!

    • Al
      2015-09-14 17:47:21 UTC - 17:47 | Permalink

      I’m not sure if it’s right to call Dawkins a bigot but there are some worrying signs. One of the problems with Dawkins is that he’s been willing to back anyone who is anti-Islam possibily because he is very bad at spotting honest from dishonest critics of Islam. And he’s endorsed some truly bigoted characters over the years. His twitter feed is awash with retweets from all kinds of anti-Muslim sites.

      • AU
        2015-09-14 18:38:44 UTC - 18:38 | Permalink

        Do you really believe he is very bad at spotting honest from dishonest critics of Islam? I don’t – I believe he knows very well what he is doing, but does it nontheless, and therefore, he is a bigot.

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