At about the 40th minute in Waking Up with Sam Harris:#43 — What Do Jihadists Really Want? Sam Harris explains his understanding of the nature and origin of religion. The same fundamental error is made by New Atheists more generally according to my understanding of the writings of the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Harris explains what lies at the root of the evil of Islam and terrorism and any other religion that has wreaked terror and stupidity on the world:
Whenever human obsession gets channelled in these ways we see the same ancient framework upon which many religions were built. In our ignorance and fear and craving for order we created the gods and ignorance and fear and craving keep them with us.
I am surprised that one with strong interests in religion and neurology should fail to indicate awareness of serious research into the nature and origins of religious thought and instead continue to recycle the old myth that belief in gods came about because of fear and a desire to explain the world in an age without the scientific method.
Ignorance: did a desire for explanations to replace ignorance lead us to create gods? Is it ignorant explanations that keep gods with us?
Anthropological studies have demonstrated that this notion is false. Only certain types of explanations for certain types of questions are sought, and the explanations that are derived this way are on the one hand increasingly baroque (many myths on top of one another to explain related points) and on the other hand they inspire no desire for an explanation at all. To believe, for example, that thunder is explained as the voices of ancestors requires a host of many other beliefs to make sense (e.g. how do their voices sound so loud if they are so far away, etc) but there is no desire to explain these “problems”.
A classic illustration was provided by E. E. Evans-Pritchard with the Zande people of the Sudan. They knew very well that white-ants caused the collapse of a hut but that did not answer the question as to why the hut fell at the particular time it did with a certain person inside. Only witchcraft could explain that. And how to explain witchcraft? No curiosity arises there. That question never arises. So it’s certain types of concepts that we are talking about, and scientific explanations are not so much rejected as they are irrelevant.
There is much, much more to this topic that needs several posts of its own. I would expect a scientist interested in religious belief to be devouring all he can by his peers researching this very question.
Fear: did a desire for dispelling fear through comfort and reassurance lead us to create gods? Is it the same need for comfort and reassurance that keeps them with us?
This is another myth. Many religions certainly do not dispel fear of death or other misfortunes. Anthropologists even raise the possibility that it is religious rituals that create the fears they are meant to allay. So in a society that performs many, many rituals to guard against witchcraft, the fear of witchcraft is strong, while in other societies there is no such fear — and no rituals either. This brings us to questions of psychology to explain ritualistic behaviour.
Again, to simply say that religion gives us fantasies to take away our fears is in reality extremely problematic. If that were really true then it is hard to imagine the human species surviving long enough at all to evolve towards our current state of progress.
Again, I am not pretending to answer this myth fully at all. Several posts would be required.
Craving for order: did a desire for social order lead us to create gods? Is it the same craving for order that keep gods with us?
Here we enter the realm of what is best described as a series of ad hoc rationalizations rather than real cause and effect. It can be shown that morality is not per se a product of religion, and that there are many moral values attributed to religion that people in fact hold regardless of religion.
And so forth. I’ve mentioned the books before and they are certainly not the last word but they are great introductions:
- Barrett, Justin L. 2004. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Altamira Press.
- Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Basic Books.
If you know of others just as good or better as introductions do leave a comment
I take that remark by Sam Harris at around the 40th minute of his talk as the premise from which he builds the rest of his case. It is a false premise and his edifice cannot stand.
Several times Sam Harris comes so, so very close to an explanation that really is entirely consistent with the research of anthropologists and psychologists and others who study the factors involved in extremist radicalization, and sometimes he even spells out the very explanations that those researchers themselves have identified. Yet at the same time Harris appears to continue to mock and disparage those same researchers as “apologists” for the Muslim religion. It is as if he has never actually read attentively any of their research yet he is quick to denounce their conclusions as without any merit. Here is where his logic fails him. After pinpointing unique or very specific conditions that are related to attraction to ISIS propaganda, in the same breath he blames their entire Muslim religion for what he just identified as quite specific social and group dynamics and personal issues.
I will elaborate in a future post.
Another facet of his argument that I want to address in depth is his failure to grasp the difference between extremist religious beliefs and factors that make certain persons susceptible to extremism. His description of what ISIS and ex-ISIS members wrote about their beliefs were even partly distorted to the point of intellectual dishonesty, but let’s for a moment stick with what he accurately portrayed. Researchers have demonstrated that the same types of factors underlying a susceptibility to join extreme political groups, terrorist groups even, are the same as those that open persons up to other types of religious extremism or anti-social radicalization. As an ex cult member I can easily identify with the explanations that lead some people to join ISIS. Once a member, of course one believes wholeheartedly the religious doctrines being taught. I was declared that I belonged to the only true Church of God — true Christianity. All other Christians were lukewarm or false. Only we represented the Truth. But our doctrines did not explain how it was that any one of us came to become members of such a cult and come to believe such fantasy tales. It would be ludicrous for our enemies to blame Christianity for our extremism. Yet if they followed the same logic as Harris does with respect to terrorism and Islam that’s exactly what they would do. We, too, pointed to the Bible to show that the Bible sanctioned every extremist teaching we believed: leave parents and family, even hate family etc, count it all joy when in extreme suffering and loss, even prefer to die than to be healed by man, etc etc.
Of course we know very well that Christianity per se can hardly be held responsible for a relative few people deciding to embrace such extreme interpretations and submission. And we can identify the sorts of people who are potentially susceptible to such extremism.
I mentioned the intellectual dishonesty borderline case of Harris. Harris read the account of an ISIS mother who lost her child and dwelt upon her assertion that she could count such a loss a joy. A joy — because knowing her child was in paradise. Harris returned to this passage and even claimed that the mother was saying that this loss was the least of her troubles. He read out but appeared to then forget that she also said how hard it was, or that such a “joy” was not easy! Sam, you were twisting and distorting what she wrote even according to your own reading. You spoke of empathy, but if you had empathy you would understand why she could say it was both hard and a joy. Of course she must count the loss of a child a joy because she needs to give such an unimaginable (and truly meaningless) loss some real meaning! She needs to find meaning in her child’s death. The empathy you spoke about, and the honesty you spoke about at the end of your talk, should have told you that.
I need to return to posts that try to share some of the research that throws light on where religious beliefs — as well as propensities of certain people to radicalise — come from. I would have expected Dawkins, Coyne, Harris and co to have let their interest in religion and the causes of Islamic terrorism to lead them to what their scholarly peers have learned about these things instead of just ignorantly repeating myths that themselves can be traced back to medieval and earlier times.
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64 thoughts on “Sam Harris: Wrong (again) about Religion and Radicalization”
I recognised the elements of his list, and if I’m right, Harris seems to have repurposed a traditional buddhist teaching for this list, see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_poisons
Ignorance is moha
Craving is raga / tanha
Fear is dvesha
This probably doesn’t make him any more correct!
Interesting. Thanks for that. Harris’s entire spiel begins to sound trance-inducing after a few minutes: the cadence of his voice, the smooth constant flow of speech which is actually quite unlike a normal delivery one would expect from another type of teacher or lecturer or speaker. Is he using some yoga-trance-like techniques for his delivery?
Is Harris using Islam etc to preach or sell his brand of Buddhism?
What if Harris is an automaton? Like Siri powered by the latest AI. Not a theory, just a conjecture.
I guess it boils down to if you believe the Wahabis or Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are the best Muslims or the worst. If you believe they are the best, then the practice of Islam leads to psychosis, terrorism and mass murder. If you believe they are the worst, then they are simply an aberration caused by other factors bedeviling Islam.
So, we might ask why Harris and other New Atheists are so insistent on blaming terrorism on Islam, and vilifying Islam in general, in the face of so much contrary evidence. The “New” in New Atheism, is seemingly meant to imply not just a denial of gods and supernatural powers, but active opposition to religion on the basis that all religions have a detrimental influence on society. Yet they ignore the role of Christianity in western imperialism (WBush and Blair who led the Iraq invasion are both ardent Christians) and the role of Judaism in the captivity and abuse of Palestinians.
It may be said that New Atheism, in particular Harris’ “End of Faith” grew directly out of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, and that event and other attacks directed their religious animus towards Islam. But they seem unable to see that western attacks on Muslims have far exceeded anything Muslims have done to westerners, or to refer to those western attacks as “terrorism”. They do criticize other religions, but in a half-hearted sort of way, and never, to my knowledge, have they examined the atrocities committed by the atheist regime in China, or whether that atheism constitutes a religion.
And the New Atheists, particularly Jerry Coyne, are actively hostile to anyone who dares to oppose critics of Islam. College students who disinvite or disrupt anti-Islamic speakers are refereed to as snowflakes and said to be censoring them and opposing freedom of speech. Although the New Atheists describe themselves as liberals, liberals who defend Islam are disdainfully referred to as “regressive” or “authoritarian” laftists. The intensity of the response seems out of line with the significance of the incident.
Do Harris et al really think that Islam is an apocalyptic threat to western countries and values, as is implied by the title of his essay, “Sleepwalking towards Armageddon”? In terms of either military or economic strength that is laughable. Muslim countries have good reason to be afraid of the west, which in the last century has overthrown governments, installed and propped up vicious dictators, appropriated their oil on our terms, and launched military attacks that have killed hundred of thousands. Beside this record, Muslim attacks and realistic threats to the west look paltry. The militaries of all Muslim countries combined, and the likelihood of such a combination is remote given the ongoing Sunni-Shia civil war that the west provoked, couldn’t come close to challenging western military hegemony. In terms of Muslim numbers, and economic or political influence within western countries, the fear is almost equally absurd. No western country is more than 10% Muslim and Muslim representation in western governments is even less.
So why the obsession with and animus toward Islam? There is one country more than any other that is the focus of Muslim opposition. Is it not consistent with the evidence that Harris and Coyne’s main concern is with protection of the state of Israel, and their vilification of Islam is intended primarily to divert attention from the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its holding several million Palestinians as virtual political prisoners for 50 years? They seem to avoid any reference to Israel whenever possible, and never present themselves as Zionists. Is that exculpating or suspicious? Might they consider that the best defense of Israel is not to appear as a partisan of Israel, but to continuously attack and diminish the enemies of Israel?
What a clever stratagem it would be if the actual purpose of New Atheism is to defend the followers of one religion against its critics? Is it possible that the deception is intentional or is it just bias in favor of their own kind, that distorts their ability to consider the western conflict with Islam rationally?
Islamophobia (I think the term is really quite pertinent) does seem to be tightly knit to ignorance of history and the role Western nations have played out in the wider world. There does seem to be a real sense of entitlement. Too much contempt of religion does seem to have spilled over into contempt for the religious. And this is part of a larger racist or Spencerian evolutionary idea of progress. I don’t like to investigate it all too deeply.
Harris gives away his political bias with a couple of slips. One time is after opining that the best solution to ISIS would be for Muslim armies to fight them but then sighs that that is not likely to happen so it “will be up to us” to take them on. How long has he been on planet Earth?
I would like to hear Harris’s explanation for why he relies exclusively on Dabiq. Surely he knows of the wider corpus of terrorist literature and of authors who have been most influential, especially on Western extremists, and that Dabiq is only one channel.
Because, being a good scientist, he looks for things to support his preordained conclusions, rather than wasting time looking at evidence and counter evidence.
His recent discussion on racism in America can be seen as yet more evidence of his unyielding commitment to conducting rigorous research on an issue.
“What a clever stratagem it would be if the actual purpose of New Atheism is to defend the followers of one religion against its critics?”
That’s what we just need, more conspiracy theories involving Jews controlling the world.
All major religions have equal destructive potential, judaism didn’t cause much worldwide havoc just because it didn’t get a chance.
Islam is being criticized the most, because it deserves it the most at the time – simple as that.
I’m not aware of any of the so called new atheists expressing sympathy towards any religion, including judaism.
If you know of any such case just show me, I’ll be the first to cast the stone.
Paxton….students should not disinvite anti islam speakers……..the question of free speech on campuses is getting more attention now.
Thanks Neil …… your reservations ring true- but until I am convinced the many valid explanations for attraction to religious extremism and other types, for religion, group activity etc etc etc are more important than the strong streak of invocatory violence in the Quran
when violent behaviour is the point
then, I feel S Davis is right about Quran being a cause of violent behaviour.
j f … Should students disinvited pro-Islamic speakers? How about defenders of the Taliban or ISIS? Is there no situation where speakers should be disinvited? What if the President of a club invited someone, and the membership decided they don’t want that person speaking. I agree in general that it is rude to invite someone and then disinvited them, but Coyne only seems to take notice when the disinvited speaker is anti-Islam
Paxton did you listen to Harris’s podcast? He was quoting directly from ‘Dabiq’ where the leaders of DAESH were saying why they were practicing military jihad. The number one reason was their interpretation of Islam and not the imperialist tendencies of many Western governments. I suggest you read the latest issue of ‘Dabiq’: http://jihadology.net/category/dabiq-magazine/
I feel like Harris’s point has been misrepresented. At times it was difficult to tell when he was quoting from ‘Dabiq’ and when he was stating his own thoughts and that made it difficult, but if you know the material he was quoting from it takes that issue away.
The problem with dis-invitations is caving to pressure groups that threaten violence if a speaker isn’t dis-invited. This seems to arise more often with speakers that are perceived to be anti-Islam. I also have a problem with speakers being shut down and prevented from speaking once they arrive on campus, such as the (admittedly obnoxious) Milo Yiannopoulos and the even more ghastly Trump.
If you don’t like a speaker don’t attend. Feel free to protest too, of course, but not in such a way as to prevent others from listening who do want to hear the speaker. I sometimes attend speakers I know I won’t agree with just to be educated about their views, and I wouldn’t like to be stopped by some holier than thou crowd, or to have them make assumptions about me just because I was attending. The best way to counter bad ideas is with better ones and you can’t do that well if you don’t understand them. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of anti-protestors actually couldn’t present a single coherent argument against whom they’re protesting against no matter how good their instincts are in opposing that person.
Threatening violence to stop a speaker is never acceptable imo.
There are some people that I don’t think anyone should give a platform to in the first place, such as those who advocate violence. I think the solution there is to not invite them in the first place, not to dis-invite them after they’ve been invited. Due-diligence should be done before someone is invited.
Heather, Harris’s subtext is that researchers like Atran say Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. If Harris actually read their works he would know that is not true, that they say no such thing. He is also intelligent enough to know that nonspecialists who say Islam has nothing to do with terrorism are also correct insofar as the context of their point is that most Muslims condemn terrorism. Harris gives us no indication that he has ever read any serious research into the causes or terrorism or the relationship between Islamist ideas and the mainstream branches of Islam.
The question he avoids is what research has found about what attracts certain people to radicalisation and extremist violent ideas in the first place. He ignorantly asserts that mere belief in the Koran is enough to radicalize a person which goes against everything researchers have learned about terrorism, radicalization and even how religious belief itself works in relation to religious practices. He is an educated man and ought to know better than to spout his ideas without informing himself of the work specialist peers have undertaken in this area.
Harris resorts to some puerile and obnoxious ad hominem when referencing these researchers; I chose to ignore those details in my post but anyone who takes him seriously needs to be aware of them and think seriously about whether he is being intellectually honest in his Islamophobic attacks. Yes, “Islamophobic” in that he argues that the Islamic religion itself has the power to possess minds and make people commit violence and therefore should be feared — a suggestion that is grounded in failure of logic and ignorance of how humans, societies and history work.
Hi Heather, did you and Harris miss the following from the Dabiq article?
“We hate you for your crimes against the Mus
lims; your drones and fighter jets bomb, kill, and
maim our people around the world, and your puppets
in the usurped lands of the Muslims oppress, torture,
and wage war against anyone who calls to the truth.”
“We hate you for invading our lands and fight
you to repel you and drive you out. As long as there
is an inch of territory left for us to reclaim, jihad will
continue to be a personal obligation on every single
I answered Zbykow about why one might not want to take ISIS (DAESH) propaganda at face value, but the foregoing is pretty clear and convincing. It also confirms what Osama bin Laden wrote about the reasons for the 9/11 attacks. Why do you, Coyne, and Harris deny the role of western aggression in inciting Islamic aggression? We are at war with ISIS. Why would we not expect them to strike back in any way they can. But Harris and Coyne are so fixated on blaming their attacks on the doctrines of Islam that they are blinded to the obvious reasons. We invaded Iraq based on lies and misinformation, killing 150,000 or so people. We disenfranchised the Sunnis resulting in the rise of ISIS. What more explanation do you need?
It is an interesting question, worthy of research, as to what leads individuals to commit terrorist attacks, especially suicide attacks. But Harris and Coyne do no research of their own and as Neil points out, they ignore the research that has been done. Coyne has claimed not to have ever known a Muslim. How can he have any insight into what Muslims think? This isn’t science, it’s armchair hatemongering.
I will respond to the disinvitation issue in another comment.
Heather, having been a college professor for 36 years and having worked with many student groups during that time, I think this whole disinvitation issue is overblown. If you just said it is rude to extend an invitation and then rescind it, I would agree. But to raise it into an issue of censorship, free speech, and threatening violence is absurd. Any individual or organization that has a right to invite someone to speak, also has a right to disinvite them. It may be rude, and we are free to criticize their decision, but they are not censoring anyone or violating their free speech rights.
Students are a diverse lot and sometimes aren’t paying attention to what’s going on until it is on top of them. It is certainly their right, when they feel someone should not have been invited, to protest and press for a withdrawal of the invitation. Whether the inviting group or institution should accede to their wishes is another question. But having seen student political activism wax and wane over the years, I think it is encouraging that many students today are keen to speak out on social justice issues. To call them snowflakes or regressive or authoritarian is counterproductive.
I was an early participant in the “safe space” movement. As Associate Dean of our engineering school I was approached by LGBT students to post a safe space sticker on our door. I happily did so, on both the outer office door and my personal office door. It’s not that the students were looking for a safe space in a physical sense. I never had anyone barricade him or herself in my office against marauding bigots. What they wanted, and I gladly agreed to, was for me to make a statement that homophobic expressions of any kind were not acceptable in our school. Having dealt with a number of students in the process of “coming out”, or resisting acceptance of their inclinations, I am aware of the anguish that is often involved in that struggle. And homophobia is still widespread, even among college students. Our school song from the 19th century contains the lines “where all is bright and gay”. For many years some students would express their homophobia by shouting out “not gay” at this part of the song. It has taken a major effort by the administration to stop this, and it is still not completely successful.
I have also dealt with occasions of homophobia, racism, misogyny, and sexual harassment of students among the faculty. I don’t know the whole story behind some of the student-faculty conflicts at places like Harvard, and clearly Coyne doesn’t either. But there is usually more to the story than makes the newspapers. Faculty harassment of students can be subtle and unremitting. We had one professor who often told female students they didn’t have the aptitude for engineering. Another called an African-American female student, who had taken a job with a defence contractor, a killer. It is not uncommon for professors to make lewd and suggestive sexual comments to women students. Students are usually powerless to fend off such faculty harassment without creating an incident, whereupon the faculty often act like the aggrieved party.
But such awareness of the power relationships between students and professors seems to have eluded Jerry Coyne, notwithstanding his many years as a faculty member. Has he ever advised a student group? Leaving home for college can be a stressful time for students, especially minorities or international students attending a white majority institution. For a long-time professor to dismiss them as snowflakes suggests a severe lack of empathy on his part.
It is telling that Harris and Coyne are primarily concerned about disinvitations when it is an Islamophobe that is disinvited. Their whole agenda seems to be to look for incidents that cast Muslims and Islam in a bad light, and assume, without much investigation, that it is all due to the teachings of the Quran and hadiths. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Their Islamophobic rantings and scare tactics display the opposite of the reliance on evidence and reason one would expect of scientists.
The following sentences jumped out at me. “Only witchcraft could explain that. And how to explain witchcraft? No curiosity arises there. That question never arises. So it’s certain types of concepts that we are talking about, and scientific explanations are not so much rejected as they are irrelevant.”
“There is much, much more to this topic that needs several posts of its own. I would expect a scientist interested in religious belief to be devouring all he can by his peers researching this very question.”
Here is my minority opinion. While science rules the day among Western so-called civilized thinkers, in other parts of this great world witch doctors, voodoo doctors, sorcerers or shamans have their communication with the dead. Their concept of sickness is called possession. Witch doctors have been explained to us by 19th and 20th century anthropologists in really incorrect ways. Students sitting in anthropology classes have learned that witch doctors are believed in because their patients think they heal, think the spirits are afraid of them, and this is why the witch doctor’s placebos and induced trances heal them. There is nothing real about what they do, it’s all placebos. I’ve sat in those classes in my youth, heard a teacher say that witch doctors are so feared that if a person thinks a witch doctor is doing a death spell on him, he will die of sheer fright alone and that’s how it works. There is no place for the understanding of ancient healing practices and understanding in modern science and modern medicine. Even modern religions close out ancient understanding and healing methods.
Having studied ancient healing methods, I’ve said to other atheists and scientific types on occasion of their contrariness and insults, “I thought you being an atheist and scientifically-minded would want to know how healing and dispossession work. I am talking about ancient healing methods which do not involve gods, God(s) being the sore point, but involve the laws of nature.” They rarely want to talk about it, and when they do it is only to continue their argument, not learn anything new (or old).
Though we get reports to the contrary, a witch doctor in the jungle knows more about what he/she is curing than modern scientists and doctors who try various drugs to cure mental illnesses and incurable diseases. The witch doctor is working on a spiritual level to cure possession by a disincarnate person that invades the soul of a living person. On the event of a death, our modern religions bring information from ancient religions so we still use rituals, but they are extremely watered down without much understanding. There are requests and prayers to our heavenly father to accept this soul…etc. The ritual lasts for a few minutes in church, and later a few minutes at the burial site if the person is put into the ground. Otherwise, we are taught not to think about the dead, only in a detached way. But why? In other cultures that still believe in possession, rituals last for days to assist the dead to the proper heavenly realm. The family attends and takes part in the days-long ritual. They are assisting the soul, not longing for the soul. They believe that in longing for the deceased relative or friend, he or she who is disincarnate might attach from the spirit side and drain the energy of the living person causing depression, disability and even death.
Witch doctors, shamans, sorcerers and healers are titles for people who all have the same job description. They divine information and use it to heal. There is nothing in modern science that even comes close to the work of a diviner, which is all of the above combined. In the past when a person died, a diviner would have a way to know just where that soul was in its transition through the spirit world. This information could be gotten by reading responses to questions in his own body (muscle jerks). The answers bypass the brain but register in the body as twitches, then are interpreted by the diviner. The diviner could communicate safely with the dead from years of practice, the lay person couldn’t. Not everybody had the teacher or the patience or desire to learn this skill. There were always few among a population. Once the skill was lost to the western world, religions grew for protection against the unseen world, rituals to attract good and to ward off evil.
Prior to today’s religions which teach polytheism or monotheism, which is to pray for healing and to be rewarded by one’s god if worthy, whose mysterious ways are not understood, ancient diviners knew to coordinate their body position with the correct cardinal point to bring about healing with their minds to a distant or close person. A cardinal point was considered an energy door. They placed themselves within the flow of the planet’s electromagnetic energy. They were able to get information about sicknesses by facing the right direction to ask questions, and also used body mudras (positions) to direct energy to one side or the other side of the body, opening and closing circuits or conduits of energy and information flow. They then could get the right information to heal their patient. Without accessing this knowledge no healing could be done. Healers knew the correct hour and minute to do healing so that it would be successful.
Recall Jesus’ statement: “Nobody knows the hour or minute,” which is misinterpreted or even tampered with divination knowledge by early church writers, in my opinion. Today, the religious think he was talking about God’s knowledge of when the end of the world will come. Yet a real diviner in the first century would have been talking about the hour and minute to heal. To a diviner everything living, animal or plant or mineral (minerals are living things to diviners) has its root at an hour and minute within that hour. That is when to heal. That is the first type of healing. The second or alternative type: The diviner becomes conscious of how the illness began in another time and place. He or she does this by asking divinatory questions. The answers are sufficient for healing to occur without verbal communication of that information to the patient. The patient will still get well because the patient is connected to the diviner who became conscious of the cause of the illness. Sound crazy? This begs the question, are we many or one? If Jesus said “The father and I are one,” why are we all not one? There is a lot about energy we don’t understand. Now we are getting into Einstein’s theory of spooky action at a distance. The diviner doesn’t have to be with the patient for that communication to be transferred, and healing will still result. True to modern-day theory of communication between atoms at a distance, Jesus heals at a distance.
Having studied the methods of diviners while growing up in the scientific world, I have enough knowledge to see how these two bodies of knowledge connect. It is only a challenge to explain the connections to others with closed minds in both religion and science. Modern scientists and physicians are learning how to work with energy fields which resolve themselves into the living earth and all its inhabitants. Physics has reached a point of understanding that we can now translate ancient concepts into modern language. We live in an energy universe and all things are connected. But the two bodies of knowledge are not sufficiently bridged yet. If a witch doctor, a shaman, diviner or healer were to explain to Sam Harris how and why things happen in the surface world, their explanations would sound too foreign. They’d explain with understanding gotten by divination answers, why the ant hill collapsed the hut when a certain person was inside. The cause would have happened in another time and place, perhaps generations before there was an ant hill, a hut and a person inside, which would be the foundation of what is happening in our present time.
An example of that would be the story of the blind man in the New Testament, which is a story contaminated by early church writers, in my opinion. People in the first century believed in reincarnation. They were told that if they had eyes to see they would recognize John the Baptist as the returned prophet Elijah. Jesus was asked why a man was born blind. Was it because of his sin or his parents’ sin? A diviner and healer would have explained that the man’s blindness could not be caused by either the man or his parents if he was born blind. The earliest cause would have been one of the grandparents having a severe accident to his or her eyes, and the blind man was the reincarnation of one of those grandparents. The story we got was of an unhygienic Jesus smearing his spittle and mud into the blind man’s eyes to heal him. Either the early church writers were deliberately covering up divination information or they just didn’t know how Jesus healed the blind man and they made up the mud-spit story.
Can we begin to cross the time barriers of understanding? Ancient energy symbols can be understood as indicators of a lost science, if you will — art on cave walls, layout and architecture of lost civilizations, right and left rotating swastikas of India showing vortex energy used in finger divination, song lines of the Australian aborigines, Christian cross and native American medicine wheel, finger positions of the Buddha, body positions of yogis. I think that when this seemingly unrelated information is understood it will create a bridge from past to present that will be of service to us in our scientific future.
I just looked up the Bible teaching of the man born blind. I found it in the Book of John, chapter 9:2, which I’ve heard but not read. It tells me that John the Baptist’s teachings on divination and healing were partially kept…the parts that didn’t reveal divination. In my opinion, religion is based on prior divination methods that have been lost or deliberately removed from the historical record. Instead fear of God and punishing religions with threats of going to hell, or reward in heaven for being good, were substituted and became a lucrative business.
Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind
1As Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.…
Berean Study Bible · Download
“It can be shown that morality is not per se a product of religion, and that there are many moral values attributed to religion that people in fact hold regardless of religion.”
How is this relevant? Do you really think Harris credits religion for creating morality?
There are more ways one can try to enforce order, religions try this by means of inventing artificial sticks and carrots.
Sure it doesn’t work, but tell it to a believer.
“Only certain types of explanations for certain types of questions are sought”
Yet they are being sought, and they are explanations nonetheless, regardless of how ridiculous they seem to us.
Maybe it’s bit too much to ask of the ancients to adhere to the rigors of modern scientific method? I know for a fact it’s too much to ask of most people today.
“Many religions certainly do not dispel fear of death or other misfortunes. Anthropologists even raise the possibility that it is religious rituals that create the fears they are meant to allay.”
Certainly, often they even bring horror and torment themselves, but tell it to a believer.
Yet again, that doesn’t tell us anything about cravings of those who created them, and expectations of those who embrace them.
You wrote: “fears they are meant to allay”, you accidentally agreed with Harris there.
That someone is craving for something, doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll achieve. Classic expectations vs reality scenario.
Does Harris’ opinion really contradict research, or maybe it only contradicts your interpretations?
I am quite sure Harris does not credit religion for creating our moral sense. It is a common view, however, that religions have been created to keep people well behaved, to control their passions and be submissive to authorities. It is often pointed out that Plato did not believe the myths he expected “the masses” to be taught so that they learn to live according to the rules of the aristocratic-led society.
I hope to address your other points in future posts. Harris seems to me to be quite unaware of the research of anthropologists and psychologists on the nature and origins of religious thought.
I don’t know about Harris’ knowledge of anthropology, but I just listened to the whole thing, and I must say he makes sense – unlike your article above.
Note that I don’t disagree with the research you cite, you just failed to provide anything contrary to Harris’ statement.
Maybe he doesn’t turn to the research on every occasion, because he doesn’t feel emotional need to show religion in a better light and isn’t looking for excuses?
What compels one to take the time to criticize, even though he lacks good arguments?
It would be helpful if you could explain where/at what point my article fails to make sense. Perhaps then we could engage in a conversation.
I explained in the initial reply. The three points you made – your conclusions don’t follow from the premises.
From “morality is not a product of religion” doesn’t follow that desire for social order wasn’t what lead us to create gods, and so on.
Then you seem to have misread my own post. I have not set out the argument you seem to think I have but have pointed to what research by anthropologists and others has concluded about the nature and origins of religion. You seem to disagree with these conclusions before you have made yourself aware of the evidence or research in question.
My complaint is that Harris appears to have ignored all of this research, too. He does his readers no favours when he speaks from ignorance.
Then why support your assessment with irrelevant claims?
How did “ignorance” become “a desire for explanations to replace ignorance”?
Why follow it with two irrelevant articles about religious explanations? (not that they aren’t alright on their own, but as a polemic with Harris’ statement they make no sense).
That looked exactly like an argument to me, but if one can argue that bad explanation is not really an explanation, then bad argument is not really an argument I guess.
How is my post a polemic? It is surely not. I take it you understand the difference between polemic and disagreement or criticism.
You are misreading my post in other ways, too. My headings are not arguments. They are headings. What follows is a summary of what I explain I will try to show in future posts is what anthropologists and others today relate to the origins and nature of religion.
Harris’s statements, I try to point out, indicate he is ignorant of what the scholarship has come to learn about religion. Harris is still talking like the “village atheist” who only knows one thing: religion is crazy and bad. He is not speaking at all like a scientist. He is merely appealing to public ignorance by sharing his own.
Ah yes, sorry, not arguments, those are headings that make no sense.
Do you actually expect anyone to fall for it? Of course they’re arguments, there are premises, and there are conclusions, they may be headings as well, but they are arguments nonetheless.
In fact, arguments so ridiculous even their author is trying to disown them.
Forgive me being frank, but that’s just blatant.
You appear not to understand the difference between an assertion (including rhetorical questions) and an argument. That does explain why you accept the assertions and logical flaws of Sam Harris as arguments and logical consistency, and also why you yourself offer nothing but (hostile) assertions in place of arguments. It also explains why you fail to understand — as per another comment — the place of hearsay claims.
A Web Readability Test Tool says of my post: “Your page (http://vridar.org/2016/08/22/sam-harris-wrong-again-about-religion-and-radicalization/) has an average grade level of about 10. It should be easily understood by 15 to 16 year olds.”
So I would expect most readers to tell the difference between the assertion of a heading and an actual argument.
One of us certainly doesn’t seem to understand the difference between an argument and an assertion.
An assertion coupled with a premise makes an argument, and you provided some premises this time. Yes, I was surprised too.
The post is indeed readable enough. Why do you pretend you don’t understand your own text?
Why don’t you take responsibility for your own (fallacious) arguments?
I don’t expect you to accept what I’m about to say but …. Yes I make assertions, plenty of them. I have made arguments in earlier posts that you say you have read and in this post I said I would present arguments in future posts.
You do not like my point of view, that is clear. And that is what prompts you to write hostile attacks, not arguments, in response. I am not interested in discussing the points with you because you are not interested in discussion, only attack.
I’m not hostile, I’m just being straightforward.
I appreciate your work on mythicism for the most part, but the question of terrorism seems beyond your capabilities, your arguments are emotional or illogical, like in the above post, and your semantic dispute in the last couple of replies was just ridiculous.
By the way, aren’t you attacking people? Not that i have anything against it, you just need better arguments.
NAs show No sympathy for any religion, but more hostility to Islam than all others combined. You say Islam deserves the most criticism based on what? What Islamic country has held millions of conquered people in captivity for 50 years? Westerners (many of them Christians) have killed far more Muslims than they’ve killed of us. I went over much of this in my comment. I’d be happy to consider contrary evidence. I should have confined my “conspiracy theory” to Harris and Coyne, as I don’t know enough about other NAs.
There’s no contrary evidence, I agree with you as to the facts. I’m not going to argue christianity is any better than islam, because I don’t believe this is the case.
Arguably, of all religions christianity generated the most atrocities in its time, but then it lost much influence, became tamed and is vanishing in many places, hopefully this process continues.
Thing is, islam generates the most atrocities now, that’s why it’s the most criticized religion at this particular time – no mystery.
There’s no need to invent witches to blame for hut’s collapse.
“Thing is, islam generates the most atrocities now, that’s why it’s the most criticized religion at this particular time – no mystery.”
This absolutely depends on whose atrocities you decide to count. I’m quite sure that the real current atrocity winner is the USA and hence “Christianity”. I’m talking about state violence e.g. US army actions in Iraq war, drone wars, Libya etc etc. Compare body counts. Not even in the same ballpark.
I’m not particularly fond of christianity, and I would gladly blame US violence on it, but I’m afraid there were more mundane reasons at work, like cold war power struggle and crude oil.
But I’m open to being convinced about that.
Zbykow, I agree that there are multiple reasons for western interventions in Islamic lands. I think the desire for revenge for 9/11 was strong in the US. The war industries usually welcome any conflict. The neocons essentially think we should rule the world. And of course the oil.
But the reasons for Muslim attacks on the west are also diverse, including power, wealth, prestige, and revenge for western attacks on Iraq and Gaza. But Harris et al are fixated on Islam as the reason and refuse to acknowledge the western provocations.
I agree reasons for Muslim attacks are diverse, but islamists couldn’t be more clear about their religious motives.
On the other hand, if there are any religious motives on the US side, they’re obscure – that perfectly explains why islam is the most criticized region these days.
Things are not always as they seem, Zbykow. Maybe there is a reason why ISIS wants to advertise its religion, and the US military wants to minimize its religion. When a used car salesman says he really loves this car and thinks it’s just right for you, do you believe him. If the ISIS leadership is as evil as we think it is, why would we believe they are telling the truth about anything? In the US, the military academies, and military are infused with Christian enthusiasm. Bush and Blair will probably never reveal what role their Christianity and end times beliefs contributed to their eagerness to invade Iraq.
“Maybe there is a reason why ISIS wants to advertise its religion”
You mean other than the most obvious? That’s a possibility, but it’s yet to be shown.
But even if it only seems their motives are religious, it still explains well why islam is the most criticized religion, no need for conspiracy theories.
The many works they read as their ideological tracts (e.g. The Management of Savagery), the teachings of their ideological imams, their own statements in the videos they leave to be played after their missions, the declarations their leaders make in the wake of attacks, the websites they have set up, the court documents, all tell us their motives.
Just listening to selective quotations by Sam Harris with his own personal spin on his selections and ignoring all of the above does not give you the complete picture, or even an accurate idea of ISIS itself.
I have attempted to understand and learn about terrorism by reading their own literature and studying the research. I find Sam Harris ignores the research and most of their own literature and actually mocks the researchers and flatly contradicts their writings.
Bin Laden, for example, made Al Qaeda’s reasons for 9/11 very clear. The Management of Savagery that is the guidebook for ISIS attacks is also very clear. Sam Harris ignores all of this.
What exactly are their motives and reasons in your opinion?
What exactly lead you to your conclusions?
What do you make of statements like the following:
“the most abominable of the levels of savagery is still better than stability under the order of unbelief”
My opinion is irrelevant. I have posted often on what the terrorists themselves say and what the research says.
I have told you what leads to my conclusions: my reading of the terrorist literature and research publications. My posts have attempted to point to what these say.
When I see people like Coyne and Harris ignoring the evidence and then pretending to rely on evidence by distorting just one fraction of it, making blatantly false claims about it, demonstrating that they have not even read much of it themselves but only a few lines that titillate their biases, and spreading their ignorance to the public …. it concerns me.
When I see Harris in cahoots with ex-extremists or ex-Muslims who have been proved to be self-serving liars and frauds it also disturbs me.
You only have to read my posts to know what my views are, and that my interest is to share the information I have read and learned from the readings of the specialist researchers and the writings of the Islamists. Simply go to the “Categories” button on the right margin and scroll down to the word “terrorism” to find those posts.
My primary interest is in understanding what attracts people to extremist movements and terrorist acts. I even explained that primary interest and question here in the post beneath which we are commenting. I encourage you to re-read that.
Comment has been made that Christians have killed far more than Muslims. Then there are Jews who have not been mentioned. Of the three branches of the Abrahamic root– Christian, Islam and Judaism– I don’t know if you can make a very good argument and say that Christians have killed more. In the recent past Christianity moved out from Europe, gone to all continents, killed indigenous by hundreds of millions. However, spanning the centuries and even thousands of years…all three religions have individually at different periods of history demonstrated their obvious plans to take over the world. All kill their own people as well as those of other lands and religions who do not conform or are threatening their outward expansion to keep their religions thriving and growing. At the top of the hierarchy of each, they are rogue and are not the examples of love that they profess outwardly. They are all the same. Not one of the three is any different than the other in this regard. No one’s actions can be defended over the other. Of course I understand western provocations, but this still is not the real problem. The real problem is insanity. It cloaks itself in love, uses universal appeals (God sanctions). For love and for God they. One of these has to go, the one that is not love.
Yes, everything you say here makes sense, and I agree, But the divination thing seems highly speculative.
Yes, Christine, love is our best hope to learn to live together and avoid extinction. But it has to be universal love for all humanity. Love focused on an in-group can lead to hatred of those outside the group. In Greek terms, agape, rather than eros or filia. Or in modern terms, empathy, the ability to enter into the feelings of others. We have the capability for empathy because of kin-selection (and maybe group-selection), but the challenge now is to generalize it to all humans without distinction. But parochial love, for country, for religion, even for family, can lead us to minimize our own wrong-doing while exaggerating that of the “other”. This is what we are seeing from Islamophobes who can’t see western aggression in the same light as Islamic “terrorism”.
I’m interested in the history of this concept of love: agape or empathy. Plato and Aristotle had much to say about it, but are there earlier sources? I’m thinking the Jesus movement combined the Greek concept of agape with the Hebrew emphasis on Justice and mercy, and universalized them to embrace all of humanity. But maybe they weren’t the first?
“I’m interested in the history of this concept of love: agape or empathy. Plato and Aristotle had much to say about it, but are there earlier sources? I’m thinking the Jesus movement combined the Greek concept of agape with the Hebrew emphasis on Justice and mercy, and universalized them to embrace all of humanity. But maybe they weren’t the first?”
I don’t think they were the first. We have Plato, Aristotle and Christian writings but there were other people, for instance the native Americans who had large cities that matched European cities in population and democratic government but we don’t hear about those. In our six thousand years to 40 thousand years or more, I think we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg and civilized humanity goes back millions of years. Either manmade or natural catastrophes have interrupted highly developed civilizations imo.
Or perhaps evolution does not tend to favour highly intelligent species. Their smarts tend to be more destructive than constructive in their net consequences on balance.
I don’t recognize smarts that are more destructive to be highly intelligent. But when evolution pops out humans perhaps 100,000 years in advance of the lowest intelligence of the species (considering how slow evolution is) there is a problem on this earth that they attract enemies very fast. It wouldn’t matter if they were a leader or the street person sleeping under cardboard, dying a ripe old age is the exception to the rule. I do not understand why that is, other than people for the past thousands of years that I can see are trapped in a pattern of stealing what others have rather than stabilizing the whole species with infrastructures that promote intra-group harmony. The hero stories are like this: We are trapped in the abyss, a savior comes, he gets killed, he is martyred, others kill in his name, they are martyred. That is always the story. It is a defeatist story and a stupid repeating story imo.
I wish there was an edit, sometimes I miss-spell even after I have checked through. I meant to say For love and for God they say.
Hello Paxton Marshall. Forgive me for not being able to find the button that causes your name to be printed in Bold. Thank you for responding. Though you say the “divination thing is speculative”, there is a misunderstanding of what divination was used by the Old Testament prophets. Therefore, I must give some explanation. The Jewish claim that it was lost during that time of the Israelites. It was called Urim and Thummim which means yes and no. While yes and no was used by the temple priests, this was only the most basic form. The entire system was complicated and even used to spell out words on the fingers. Much Christian (Catholic) lore came from this finger divination, such as being called messages from God, angels, messengers, perhaps even the word of God.
You know, most people think of entrail reading, witchcraft, necromancy or sorcery spoken about in the Old Testament when divination is mentioned. It is right up there with a long list of things not to do (condemned by the LORD). Included in that same list is beastiality. People don’t know what the divination actually was, they just think it was evil. There is so much confusion in the Bible about divination. In the KJV, John the Baptist was called John the Divine and John the Revelator. He was a diviner. I must refer you to Elizabeth Drower’s books on the Mandaeans who are John the Baptist’s descendants.
They inherited his divination method and they also call it magic. But they have a different meaning for the word magic, i.e., from the wise men, Magi.
Yearly, there is more and more information on the internet about the Mandaeans and for that matter, other little known tribes concurrent with the first century. It is important to know are because it gives alternative information. We can’t just rely on the KJV for that information. The Mandaeans are the descendants of John the Baptist of the Nazarite tribe of 2,000 years ago. The Mandaeans have kept their customs and teachings from the first century. The divination the Mandaeans inherited from John the Baptist resembles nothing that we know of today. The word magic itself is misleading. Diviners of the first century and before never thought they were doing magic (tricks) or signs from God(s) or spirits. Instead, information was coming down from the heavens into their fingers. It was kind of a finger code, an electrical impulse in the muscles that had to be interpreted by the diviner. Bringing information down from the heavens simultaneously raised the earth up.
Oh my mistake, I see that it is the poster’s name in Bold, not the person written to.
To those who speak of “Islam committing atrocities, violence, etc” — I cannot see that. What I can see are people who identify as Muslims behaving with utter cruelty. But I also see lots of Muslims condemning these acts. So I don’t see the Muslim religion acting somehow independently or possessing people the way demons might and making them do terrifying things. I see some Muslims doing terrifying things and others condemning them.
Moreover, when I was much younger I often heard of people identifying as nationalist or ethnic members causing terror by horrific violence. It is only in more recent years that they seem to have been replaced by terrorists identifying as Muslims.
In other words, I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of “Islam” being responsible for terror; the questions to be asked are surely (1) what happened that suddenly brought terrorists identifying as Muslims into the news; (2) why do some people who identify as Muslims engage in terrorism while others who also identify as Muslims oppose them?
Would it take every single Muslim become a terrorist for you to notice islam is a harmful ideology?
By these standards we’d have to consider nazism benign.
That’s not valid defense. In general population support for terrorism is order of magnitude less than in muslim population.
There is evidence islam contributes to violent Muslims’ violence.
There’s no evidence islam is what makes civil Muslims civil.
Popular support for the Bush/Blair terroristic invasion of Iraq was very high in the US and even higher among Christians. Higher than popular support for Islamic terrorism among Muslims. Show us your evidence.
Paxton, I reside in a part of the world currently being devastated by christianity, and I criticize it where I think it matters.
I wholeheartedly support criticizing christianity and US policy, because I think they deserve it, so by all means, please, knock yourself out.
I only oppose against defending what I see as sick and harmful ideology.
Don’t get caught in false dichotomies, that the other ideologies suck, doesn’t make islam any better.
Zbykow, Islam has no more appeal for me than any other religion, which is none. I just don’t like the double standard the New Atheists apply, whitewashing or ignoring western atrocities committed on Muslims, while exaggerating the dangers of Islam to the west. We are far more of a threat to them than they are to us. And Islamophobia has consequences in aiding and abetting more western bombing, droning and killing Muslims.
I can understand you having thoughts like this but before repeating them don’t you ever feel a need to check them to see if they are true? There are indeed many personal stories of criminals, wayward souls of all sorts, converting to the Muslim faith and becoming as a result upstanding members of society. Stories of Muslim conversions of this sort are used as propaganda just like the parallel stories of Christian conversions are.
For a good person to turn bad, that takes religion; it is equally valid to say that for a bad person to become good, that takes religion.
I’m aware of these stories, they’re anecdotal evidence at best. How many were they, hundreds, thousands maybe?
We’re talking about a population of over a billion here. Almost all civil Muslims have been civil since they were born, same is true about civil atheists – there are whole countries full of them these days, there is no reason whatsoever to claim islam has anything to do with it.
On the other hand, about ten percent of all Muslims admit they support ISIS, about 20 support killing civilians on purpose to make a point, sharia law – over 80 in some countries, then stoning to death for stupid reasons, honour killings etc.
How do you judge stuff?
Usually it’s done by weighing pros and cons. Are you always ignoring cons looking for any little pros, or only when it’s about islam?
What do you mean they are “anecdotal at best”. They are as real and well publicized as the same stories by Christian converts. If you know of them you cannot help but know that.
Why do you keep asking the same questions each time I answer them. I told you how I judge stuff.
Have you actually read any of my posts on terrorism, terrorists and radicalization? Apparently not.
How do you judge stuff? It’s not about pros and cons. It’s about understanding what the hell is going on. Why do people join ISIS and other extremists in the first place?
But you prefer to jump on bandwagons of distorted and misinterpreted and falsified statistics and speak from the spleen about a question you are not interested in making an effort to understand.
I refer to the same sources the anti-terrorist agencies use. I wish Sam Harris would take a bit of notice of them, too.
You and Sam Harris are playing right into the Islamists hands with your hatred of Islam. You are reacting exactly as they said they want you to react in The Management of Savagery where they set out exactly why they commit terrorist atrocities. Stop and think for a minute about why most Muslims loathe them and why other Muslims are the primary targets of the Islamists.
Then find out for yourself what the Islamists say and don’t just cheer for Sam Harris who hasn’t a clue and who makes blatantly false claims.
Anecdotal evidence doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether it’s real or not.
You might want to look it up.
“you prefer to jump on bandwagons of distorted and misinterpreted and falsified statistics”
Ah yes, islam is so peaceful and helpful, the stats can’t possibly be true.
“You and Sam Harris are playing right into the Islamists hands with your hatred of Islam. You are reacting exactly as they said they want you to react in The Management of Savagery where they set out exactly why they commit terrorist atrocities.”
I was critical of islam before ISIS, before 9/11, and well back into the 20th century. Do you think I should change my mind now influenced by ISIS propaganda? I told you before, terrorism is not the most important factor to my judgement.
I don’t hate islam any more than christianity or any other form of organized stupidity. I don’t fear terrorism any more than driving, which is orders of magnitude more likely to kill me.
I just think defending a bad thing is a bad thing.
“Then find out for yourself what the Islamists say and don’t just cheer for Sam Harris who hasn’t a clue and who makes blatantly false claims. “
Maybe he does, why don’t you try to show it?
Do you expect readers to trust your judgement blindly?
Don’t you know Internet is full of people who ascribe ignorance to others, then vaguely point in general direction of some body of research?
It’s a good idea to substantiate your claims now and then.
I guess I have been wrong all these years thinking that the testimonials of people whose lives were changed by their devotion to Christianity are of the same order as those who claim to have been changed by Judaism and Islam and AA. I should have realized that the only liars among them all this time have been the Muslims.
Lies, damned lies and statistics. That’s why I have posted on some of the ways statistics have been used by showing exactly what the statistics do measure and how they were collated. I also try to learn a little history, too.
Ah, so we are in perfect agreement then. What’s your problem with anything I have said here? I also don’t like Islam, even less than Christianity. But I sure do fear Islamism — but of course that fear has arisen only since Islamism has made its presence felt in the non-Islamic world. You seem to be conflating Islam and Islamism.
Do you have a reading difficulty? I have asked you repeatedly now to read what I have posted about Sam Harris where I have demonstrated what you are asking me once more to demonstrate. Just do a word search or go to the categories here and look up my posts. If you just want to keep trolling your ignorance instead then I will soon tire of you.
There’s no vague direction. Look up “Sam Harris” here. But I am not going to jump to your demands in a discussion about a post that is not about what you have claimed it is (i.e. a polemic against Sam Harris). I have demonstrated repeatedly Sam Harris’s ignorance in posts here. Sorry for not jumping to your demand that I must do so once more right here and now just for your convenience. If you want to argue with what I have written then I invite you, once more, to actually read what I have written and set up in an index and made accessible through a word-search right here.
I have already pointed out that I will in coming posts give the details of the arguments of which Sam Harris appears ignorant.
If you have specific criticisms that are relevant to posts then you remain welcome to make them at those posts. Sometimes I make an exception, but I don’t know you and so far you have only given me the impression that you are more interested in argument than discussion.
I’ve been following this blog for years, mostly for mythicism stuff, but I couldn’t help but notice the other topics. I was never much impressed with any article regarding Harris. Since we seem to agree the above article doesn’t shed any light on Harris’ said ignorance, can you point me to one you think is the most representative? I might drop a comment there.
“A slight amount of reflection and simple logic would inform him that if religious belief were the root enabler of suicide terrorism then we would surely have had suicide terrorism for as long as we have had such beliefs in any religion.”
Reflection and simple logic would inform him, that modern style suicide terrorism wasn’t really possible before development of modern explosives, rapid fire firearms and mass media.
But were there any primitive equivalents? How about assassins for example? Sure, they didn’t target civilians because who’d give a damn back then, and their weapons could only kill one at a time, so usually no point in committing suicide, but they did commit suicide occasionally, and life expectancy of those of them who operated in broad light couldn’t have been terribly great, and they would know it.
Weren’t they Muslim by any chance?
Did you look “anecdotal evidence” up? Your reply suggests you did not. Don’t be afraid, it’s a scientific term. It might provide you some insights on how to evaluate data.
Re “… did a desire for explanations to replace ignorance lead us to create gods?” I think on the other hand that it was the status incurred by people who offered explanations for inexplicable events. Imagine a proto-shaman, probably not a tribal leader or high status person, but who wished/yearned for more status and all that that brought. So, a flood or an eclipse happens and people cower in fear as they do not know what to do. But the proto-shaman stands up and says something along the lines of the Dark God is eating the moon or sending the flood. Then they invent some way to appease the angered deity and the the Dark God belches up the moon shortly later. If this tribe member gets status for protecting the tribe, he will shortly have competition from other proto-shamans with a gift of gab. Studies show there are cultures that shamans who do not deliver the goods can get run out of town or worse.
So, I do not think people by and large had a thirst for explanations but were reassured when someone did have an explanation, especially one that didn’t demand they understand or pay too much for. Religion today is still offering “Now, now … there, there’s” for fun and profit. Even nonsense like “Jesus is my vaccine” as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic has an audience.