Sam Harris, uncovered

Israel/Palestine
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Sam Harris
Sam Harris

The Devil sucks in the most devout. In theology fanatics make for easier marks for conversion than moderates because of the jitters and fright common to all such breeds who fear their minds will be colonised by the Satanic advance of the secular world. I’m a living testament to the perils of monkeying with fundamentalism. Years ago, long before God outgrew his diapers, I was a devout Muslim who took shelter in the sanctum of the mosque from the sweet offerings of the land because frequenting the bars and clubs of town threatened to rob my faith. The laidback Muslim, conversely, has no fear that downing a bottle of whiskey will corrupt his deathless soul provided he affirms the elemental doctrines of Islam; but it was my unhappy fate to be drawn into the clericalism of the Salafi crowd among whom I studied and got my Islamic training. 

I soon found that my literalism contained the seeds of its own euthanasia for if the Quran was the literal and immovable word of Allah, then I would be a good sight happier sweating in the warmer climes of hell. 

By the time I got round to reading Sam Harris then I was fairly acquainted with the atheist canon tenanted by thinkers like Russell, Mencken, Ingersoll and other torchbearers of reason who had reconfigured my synaptic wiring to banish any supernaturalism. And I was keen to add Harris to this proud tradition of God slayers. Happily, it was an easy task getting to like Sam: His prose style is readable with a gift for the bon mot, vital traits of the intellectual worthy.

Any review of Sam Harris and his work is a review essentially of politics. And from there I will begin my examination of his thought and work my way back to the question of religion for which he is better known. Harris gave a revealing interview recently to Tablet that best sums up the key themes of his political writing on the Middle East, Israel and the Western relation to Muslims :

“The Israelis are confronting people who will blow themselves up to kill the maximum number of noncombatants and will even use their own children as human shields. They’ll launch their missiles from the edge of a hospital or school so that any retaliation will produce the maximum number of innocent casualties. And they do all this secure in the knowledge that their opponents are genuinely worried about killing innocent people. It’s the most cynical thing imaginable. And yet within the moral discourse of the liberal West, the Israeli side looks like it’s the most egregiously insensitive to the cost of the conflict.”

It’s a claim recycled from his book The End of Faith (2005), in which he maintains that Israel upholds the human rights of Palestinians to a high standard. His source? Alan Dershowitz. The spirit of the Zionist law attorney infuses a book in which he is approvingly quoted and in which he provides the basis for Harris’s ticking time bomb defence of torture. It’s not for nothing Dershowitz blurbs the book. But is it true as Harris gushes that Israel’s moral capital lies in the fact “They’re still worried about killing the children of their enemies”?

Consider the findings of human rights groups like Amnesty International’s investigation into the Gaza war of 2008: 

“Amnesty International on Thursday accused Israeli forces of war crimes, saying they used children as human shields and conducted wanton attacks on civilians during their offensive in the Gaza Strip. “

What about the assertion that Arabs take cover behind their own children? Amnesty finds that although Hamas rocketed Israeli towns during the war, that:

“It could not support Israeli claims that Hamas used human shields. It said it found no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings”

The co-author of the influential Goldstone Report for the UN Human Rights Council, Desmond Travers, has said

“We found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages. I had expected to find such evidence but did not. We also found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions. ”

For a man who likes to badger Muslims about their “reflexive solidarity” with Arab suffering, Harris seems keen to display his own tribal affections for the Jewish state. The virtue of Israel and the wickedness of her enemies are recurring themes in his work. The End of Faith opens with the melodramatic scene of a young man of undetermined nationality boarding a bus with a suicide vest. The bus detonates, innocents die and Harris, with the relish of a schoolmarm passing on the facts of life to her brood, chalks in the question: “Why is it so easy, then, so trivially easy-you-could-almost-bet-your-life-on-it-easy to guess the young man’s religion?”

To which historians will answer: Because it is not.

Owing to the narrow focus of his book, written after the 9/11 attacks, Harris wishes the trauma of recent events to yield a Muslim answer. Had it been written on September 10, 2001, the answer would have been the nominally Hindu Tamil Tigers who have racked up almost four hundred suicide attacks; or, in 1945, a Buddhist Kamikaze; or, reflecting the Eastern Front of the same conflict, the German Luftwaffe’s suicide squadrons. What the religion of the bomber is depends on at which point of history you begin to start your timeline.

Harris knows this history only too well, for he secretes this admission in the footnotes away from the main body of the text. But that does not inhibit this bold oracle of reason from his anti-Muslim jihad. It’s a mode of reasoning that he’s perfected well because it crops up when he’s got to account for why, given that Islam forbids taking one’s own life in the roundest terms, some militant groups defy this. He concedes momentarily that the Quran does command “do not kill yourselves” (4:29), but gets around this prohibition by waving it away as having “loopholes”. Where these loopholes are he never says; it’s just asserted by fiat against the accumulated body of Islamic theology. He skips the numerous injunctions against it by Muhammad as a hellworthy offence:

“And if somebody commits suicide with anything in this world, he will be tortured with that very thing on the Day of Resurrection.”

(Sahih Bukhari)

And no exceptions are made for wartime:

“The Prophet said: A man was inflicted with wounds and he committed suicide, and so Allah said: My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid paradise for him.” (ibid)

Harris is keen to blur the sharp demarcation between the concepts of martyrdom and suicide in the hope of confusing the reader into conflating the plain meaning of distinct words. To be slain in battle is what makes one a martyr or a “shaheed” in Islam; not self-murder. This is why the grand imam of the leading Islamic centre of learning at the University of Al Azhar, Muhammad Syed Tantawi, published a fatwa before his recent death blasting the airborne hijackings of 9/11 as a crime and attacked Bin Laden as an “enemy of Islam”; and why Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei castigated the attacks; and why six thousand Muslim clerics denounced Al-Qaeda; and why polls show that Muslims are far less supportive of killing civilians than Americans generally.

None of these leaders of Islamic thought get any attention in the Harris formulation of “The Muslim World”; only cavemen in Tora Bora. In fact these leaders don’t even exist:

“In our dealings with the Muslim world, we must acknowledge that Muslims have not found anything of substance to say against the actions of the September 11 hijackers, apart from the ubiquitous canard that they were really Jews.” ( The End of Faith, p. 134)

It’s a well honed rhetorical ploy of Harris to demand why, if interventionism drives terrorism, there are no Tibetan suicide bombers. For are they not occupied as well? The alert reader will spot the shift of focus here from religion to nationality. As well ask why there are no instances of Indonesian suicide terrorists against Dutch colonialism, or Indian suicide bombers against the British Raj. The correct analogy is not between nationals from Tibet and Indonesia, but rather believers from Islam and Buddhism. When framed in term of religious affiliation, one observes why Buddhist suicide pilots loom very large indeed in recent military conflicts.

In the Harris depiction, Tibetans bear the jackboot of Chinese occupation meekly and in Christ-like surrender to violence in deep contrast to the mindless violence of Palestinians, proof yet again that Islam, and not the depredations of US foreign policy, is the progenitor of terror. From this narrative one would never guess that Tibet fought a bitter conventional war against China. The national liberation struggle of Tibetans doesn’t quite mesh with the dovish non-violence Harris conjures. And so out it goes from the record. 

Given that Harris rails against pacifism in later chapters as being, not a worthy but impossible ideal as so many cherish, but an “evil” precept that would let killers go unmolested, his sudden enthusiasm for turning the other cheek is a suspect one. And you will seek in vain for any reference to Arab civil disobedience against the occupation in his work from the peaceful protests of the first Intifada in which scores of unarmed demonstrators were gunned down by the IDF to the present wave of mass hunger strikes.

The Jains are yet another commonly-trotted-out source of comparison for Harris. He wants to know why there are no Jain suicide bombers, unlike those horrid Arab barbarians. It is painful to inform this Princeton graduate of philosophy who presumably took a first year course in the rudiments of logic that Jains, unlike Palestinians, are not occupied by hostile foreign powers, are not displaced from their homes, are not imprisoned en masse without trial and tortured.

Harris never quite stoops to articulate why suicide bombing is objectively worse than more common variants of homicide like the monopoly enjoyed by Christians and Jews on aerial bombing which rubbles entire nations with far more loss of life than a semtex in a rucksack. The mystery unravels when we learn that Harris backed the 2006 carpet bombing of Lebanon and Gaza by Israel on the dubious premise that “there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise”.

The rejoinder Harris offers to those wooly-minded liberal peaceniks who just don’t compute the bottomless evil of jihadism is that Arabs murder civilians intentionally whilst Israel, trained in the Holiness of Arms, kills women and children accidentally. Setting aside the unreality of this claim, which veils the indiscriminate shelling of Operation Cast Lead whose lethal casualty ratio was over 1,300 Palestinians to Israel’s 13, the logic of “collateral damage” is a proven con. As the late historian and WW2 air force pilot Howard Zinn noted:

“These words are misleading because they assume an action is either ‘deliberate’ or ‘unintentional.’ There is something in between, for which the word is ‘inevitable.’  If you engage in an action, like aerial bombing, in which you cannot possibly distinguish between combatants and civilians (as a former Air Force bombardier, I will attest to that), the deaths of civilians are inevitable, even if not ‘intentional.’  Does that difference exonerate you morally? The terrorism of the suicide bomber and the terrorism of aerial bombardment are indeed morally equivalent. To say otherwise (as either side might) is to give one moral superiority over the other, and thus serve to perpetuate the horrors of our time.”

At other times Harris acknowledges that what is termed collateral damage is not accidental but a predictable certainty of industrial war, conceding that “What we euphemistically describe as  ‘collateral damage’ in times of war is the direct result of limitations in the power and precision of our technology”. A concession he repeats in this interview with Joe Rogan:

“The reality is that whenever you put Navy SEALs on the ground and let them shoot or drop bombs from Predator drones you’re going to kill some number of innocent people and that’s terrible; and the terrible truth is there is no alternative to that. Unless you are going to be a pacifist, you are going to run the risk of killing innocent people when you have to fight certain conflicts.”

It’s revealing that after this frank admission of the fundamentally anti-civilian nature of modern warfare, he proceeds to defend the incineration of Afghanistan by NATO and vilifies Julian Assange (“creepy bastard”) and Wikileaks for exposing the atrocities of the US state.

In his stampede to show how morally-inferior Muslims are to other benighted Third Worlders, it appears not to have jolted his cerebrum that what the imperialism of the atheist Chinese in Tibet and Taiwan really proves is that the absence of the Quran does not palliate the human propensity for aggression and violence.

It is sometimes alleged of Harris that no amount of data and facts will budge his doggedly anti-Muslim atavism. I think this is unjust; Harris does evolve with the facts. But like the ever moving goal post, he does so with stealth so as to mask his contradictions. A case in point: For years he hotly denied the reality of Christian suicide bombers in the Middle East, defying critics to name “Where are the Christian suicide bombers?” until a public encounter with the distinguished anthropologist Scott Atran forced him into a collision with just such a lot of Christians, namely the PLFP. And since then he’s quietly dropped this denial and switched to carping at their small numbers: “Palestinian Christians suffer the same Israeli occupation. How many have blown themselves up on a bus in Tel Aviv? One? Two?”

Wrong. The PFLP has conducted ten suicide bombings. And that’s just Palestinian Christians, not counting Lebanese or German.

If Harris seems like a wanton denier of Israel’s crimes in the occupied territories, he is an even more talented fugleman for US militarism. But a snag. How does one defend the aggressive wars of the Pentagon without losing one’s moral pretensions? There are two tried and tested means without which no aspiring militarist should be. First, frame the war as a missionary effort to save the poor afflicted natives. And second, argue, though taking delicate care not to deny it, that as terrible as our international policies have been in the past, the present round of military adventures marks a new dawn of moral purity unsullied by the cold economic and geopolitical considerations that once obtained but are now, for reasons unaccounted, no longer operative. Harris deploys both to good effect. Yes, our leaders have fallen short of our animating principle of universal justice he allows, but the US, whatever “misdeeds” it has been guilty of, is at bottom a “well-intentioned giant”.

The villains of The End of Faith are the traditional icons of the dissident Left: Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Arundhati Roy. The heroes are Alan Dershowitz, Bernard Lewis and Paul Berman who, like Harris himself, are clear eyed about the pressing need to defend American exceptionalism and Zionism from the Muslim peril.

In a bid to show why Chomsky went astray for calling Bush’s invasion of Iraq a war crime, Harris proposes a novel thought experiment: It’s called “the perfect weapon” theory. Suppose there was a perfect weapon, he says, that could strike the enemy’s military defences without collateral damage.“How would George Bush have prosecuted the recent war in Iraq with perfect weapons? Would he have targeted the thousands of Iraqi civilians who were maimed or killed by our bombs ?” No, goes the argument, he would have used it only against Saddam in his tireless quest to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq.

And “If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Republican Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties?” Plainly then Bush was noble in intent and foiled in his mission only by the superhuman evil of Muslims to undermine his just cause. The distinction is between killing intentionally and unintentionally. “But for him (Chomsky), intentions do not seem to matter. Body count is all.”

As thought experiments go, this one drives revisionism to escape velocity. It’s needless to contrive fictive hypotheticals about ideal weapons. We already possess a rich mine of historical data in which to assess whether the United States sought to minimise human suffering: It imposed sanctions on Iraq which starved a million people to death, half children below the age of five, which was described as “genocide” by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator Denis Halliday who resigned in protest; sanctioned a policy of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and Bagram detention centres; massacred unarmed Iraqi protesters; denied passage out of the shelling of Fallujah to the adult male population fleeing the bombardment; gave orders to shoot unarmed residents in the city after dark; deployed napalm and banned incendiary agents like white phosphorous which have made birth defects and cancer rates among the population soar beyond Hiroshima levels; closed the only hospital in Fallujah treating the wounded against the Geneva Convention; fired on ambulances; justified the deliberate killing of civilians by Blackwater mercenaries; authorised the slaughter of Baghdad residents by Apache helicopters infamously captured on the leaked Collateral Murder tape released by Wikileaks; installed a policy of acquiescence in the widespread abuse of prisoners by allied Iraqi torture squads.

None of these officially-sanctioned atrocities, a list that omits the far more numerous freelance crimes of individual military units like the one behind the Haditha massacre, feature in his ode to the high nobility of the Oval Office. There is a fleeting reference to the sanctions regime, but it’s dismissed as “irrelevant” to Bush’s measureless altruism. The United States is noble because it says that it’s noble. The factual record is surplus to requirements.

But Harris is not content to defend merely the atrocities of Bush. Former presidents get his doting service too. Thus Bill Clinton we are told is not morally culpable for the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Sudan (Boston Globe) whose chief aspirin factory he bombed in 1998 in a desperate effort to shift the cable news cycle from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the ensuing impeachment proceedings. Although Washington enjoyed diplomatic relations with Khartoum and the factory was open to foreign tourists, including the German and Italian ambassadors to Sudan and  the British engineer who built the plant, Harris defends Clinton’s action as just: “What did the U.S. government think it was doing when it sent cruise missiles into Sudan? Destroying a chemical weapons site used by Al Qaeda.”

This propaganda was debunked a long time ago. The words of the former United States ambassador to Sudan, Donald Patterson: “The evidence was not conclusive and was not enough to justify an act of war”.

The New York Times:

“American officials have acknowledged over the years that the evidence that prompted President Clinton to order the missile strike on the Shifa plant was not as solid as first portrayed. Indeed, officials later said that there was no proof that the plant had been manufacturing or storing nerve gas, as initially suspected by the Americans, or had been linked to Osama bin Laden, who was a resident of Khartoum in the 1980’s.”

The Observer :

“President Bill Clinton knew he was bombing a civilian target when he ordered the United States attack on a Sudan chemical plant. Tests ordered by him showed that no nerve gas was on the site and two British professionals who recently worked at the factory said it clearly had no military purpose.”

That guillotines the Bin Laden canard. But Harris mounts another defence: “Did the Clinton administration intend to bring about the deaths of thousands of Sudanese children? No.” Here is a thought experiment: Do speeding motorists intend to kill pedestrians? No. Does that get them off the hook for the predictable outcome of their disregard for human life?

But even that analogy is flawed. The White House did not just vaporise the antibiotic stocks of a poor and needy country’s pharmacy which produced “90 percent” of its major products (Boston Globe) whose replenishment was made difficult at an affordable cost by the US-imposed trade embargo; it refused even to compensate for this unlawful aggression to the present. Clinton did not just run over a crowd of pedestrians accidentally, but he jumped out of the vehicle to survey the carnage, then climbed back into his SUV and, blaming his victims, sped off without so much as calling a paramedic. He did this on a macroscale without apology or reparations. And Harris, keen to deny the crimes of the past so he may justify the ones in the present, makes apologetics for this gangsterism. They’re savage Muslims, anyway.

Not quite done with salvaging the humanitarian case for the Iraq war, he offers this defence of collateral damage:

“Chomsky might object that to knowingly place the life of a child in jeopardy is unacceptable in any case, but clearly this is not a principle we can follow. The makers of roller coasters know, for instance, that despite rigorous safety precautions, sometime, somewhere, a child will be killed by one of their contraptions. ” (p. 147)

So there is no moral distinction between cluster bombs and Disneyland. Death is death, so what’s the problem? The claim amounts to holding that there is no difference between choking on a pretzel and sustaining a nuclear attack because, well, in both cases people die. The act of raining down “Shock & Awe” bears no likeness to the far less perilous and unlikely accidents of theme parks which, on the rare occasion they occur, do not make rubble of homes and infrastructure and uproot millions of refugees. And rollercoasters invite the willing patronage of thrill seekers, as opposed to Tomahawk missiles, whose victims do not volunteer for the risk of being shredded. The distinction is both in scale and human agency, between a minuscule risk undertaken freely in the knowledge that one is strapped in by “rigorous safety precautions”, and mass lethality thrust upon one by a hostile foreign power.

But what about “automobile” fatalities, cries Harris: If you oppose the Iraq war, don’t you have to oppose cars too for the sake of intellectual consistency?

No. The existence of mortality is not a reason for piling on the corpses needlessly or giving license to the grasping ambitions of war criminals out to make a buck for the petroleum industry. If Harris thinks so, then he will no doubt urge the prompt release of all convicted killers from the nearest jail to his home on the exotic premise that butchering a child is no different than dying from a peanut allergy.

Harris bemoans the cultural ascendancy of moral relativism as a malign force corrupting the values of the republic. By his reckoning intellectuals are wedded too fondly to ethical dithering and it’s high time the dysfunctional marriage was annulled for a universal morality to flourish. Leaving aside the reason that so many university departments have (unwisely) taken to postmodernism is because of the revulsion against just the flag-waving triumphalism and patriotism that he urges on us, we can affirm that the correct response to colonial domination is not a rejection of universal moral values.

But like America’s use of Shariah law to spring CIA agents held for murder out of Pakistani jails when Common Law would have seen them prosecuted for their crimes, Harris traffics in the worst relativism when it is advantageous. So when the White House brings the full might of its globe-spanning empire to bear on laying much of Asia and Africa and Latin America to waste in an imperial career stretching back to WW2, that does not reflect on its boundless goodness and charity. But when some ramshackle non-state Muslim actors do a fraction of the same against the howling objection of leading Muslim thinkers, this is an illustration of the arrested moral development of the “Muslim World”.

When not pressing young Americans to sacrifice their lives for the war on terror, Harris likes to round on young Muslims for sacrificing theirs by denigrating them as a “thoroughgoing death cult”. As with the American media’s hymn to the flag draped coffins of fallen US servicemen, Islam does honour those killed in the service of beleaguered Muslims, but the Quran forbids starting hostilities: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, but do not begin hostilities for Allah does not love aggressors” (2:190).

Harris admits that such is indeed the case. He allows, in a rare departure from his cudgel bearing nationalism, that “Those who wage jihad are enjoined not to attack first” and that “one who would fight for God is also enjoined not to kill women, children, or the aged, unless in self-defense.” Yet seeing the decapitation this inflicts on his anti-Muslim thesis, he caveats this admission: “But this injunction restrains no one.”

Got that? Islam may abhor terrorism, and it may lay down a strict code of ethics bearing on Just War theory, but we shall not let its precepts halt our vilification of what Muslims believe.

So it’s not that Harris ignores the codified rules of jihad, which urge restraint, like this one: “And if the enemy inclines to peace, then incline to it also and trust in Allah” (Quran, 8:61). It is that he scorns the very idea of judging Islam by its teachings, focusing instead on what a microscopically small cohort of terrorists out of a billion souls do against the directives of holy scripture.

No word is uttered with more frequency by Harris than “apostasy,” about whose legal penalty in Islam he is very, very exercised. A man who objects so much to shedding innocent blood is no doubt set against the drones that have incinerated masses of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, no? Don’t count on it:

“We cannot let our qualms over collateral damage paralyze us because our enemies know no such qualms. Theirs is a kill-the-children-first approach to war, and we ignore the fundamental difference between their violence and our own at our peril. Given the proliferation of weaponry in our world, we no longer have the option of waging this war with swords. It seems certain that collateral damage, of various sorts, will be a part of our future for many years to come.“ (The End of Faith, p. 203)

My hope in this review was not to get tangled in the finer points of Islamic theology, but if former Muslims like myself stand any chance of winning friends and family to the cause of the Enlightenment, we must begin to deconstruct the tabloid caricatures of Muslims by Harris and his fellow immigrant baiters. I use that phrase advisedly. Harris dabbles in the most extravagant conspiracy theories about the impending conquest of Europe by Muslims:

“Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe. The demographic trends are ominous: Given current birthrates, France could be a majority Muslim country in 25 years, and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow.”

To understand how nine-months-pregnant with delusion this claim truly is, one has to only reflect that the French Muslim population is forecasted by the Pew Research Centre to grow to 10% by 2030 from its present figure of 7.5%, and France will be the Western European state with the highest number of Muslims. The only country that surpasses it is Russia which, even as it borders autonomous Muslim states, is projected to see her share of Muslims rise to 14%.

This fetish for the breeding habits of immigrants is one that Harris cultivates with far-right nationalists like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes. He admits: “With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European societies seem to be fascist.” (Letter To A Christian Nation, P. 85)

As with all liberal interventionists who caught the messianic bug, Harris makes a good deal of his sorrow for the benighted women of Afghanistan who warrant more tears, for reasons not too clear, than Palestinian or Lebanese women by whose IDF-imposed misery only daft peaceniks are repulsed. And as with all jingos, he never cares to know what Afghan feminists like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, who toil for human rights, actually seek, namely an immediate halt to the US bombing of their country and its people, bombings that swell the ranks of the hated Taliban, who before the US cruise missiles landed faced an internal revolt drawn among a wide strata of ethnic and political elements.

It’s a forgivable indulgence to ascribe this military cowboyism of Harris to a misplaced idealism to bring democracy at the point of Hellfire missiles, but that would be to misread him. Gravely. The reason he presses for US interference in the region is that, like his deathly silence on the pro-democracy movements of the Arab Spring that have dynamited his notion that Muslims are hot for theocracy, he thinks only Western imposed dictators can lead Muslims to Enlightenment:

“It appears that one of the most urgent tasks we now face in the developed world is to find some way of facilitating the emergence of civil societies everywhere else. Whether such societies have to be democratic is not at all clear. Zakaria has persuasively argued that the transition from tyranny to liberalism is unlikely to be accomplished by plebiscite. It seems all but certain that some form of benign dictatorship will generally be necessary to bridge the gap. But benignity is the key and if it cannot emerge from within a state, it must be imposed from without. The means of such imposition are necessarily crude: they amount to economic isolation, military intervention (whether open or covert), or some combination of both.” (The End of Faith, p. 151)

He has his reasons for shrinking from writing about the most revolutionary and hopeful changes of the modern political era, namely the great Arab Awakening that is sweeping away the US-backed tyrants in North Africa and the Middle East. It began of course last year, and in the interval, Harris has found time to devote thousands of words to ethnically profiling Muslims at airports. His justification for ignoring the awakening is that he thinks “we cannot merely force Muslim dictators from power and open the polls. It would be like opening the polls to the Christians of the fourteenth century”. Although conceding that “our collusion with Muslim tyrants” has been despicable, “our culpability on this front must be bracketed by the understanding that were democracy to suddenly come to these countries, it would be little more than a gangplank to theocracy”. Those who delight in the flowering of Arab democracy must remember that “the only thing that currently stands between us and the roiling ocean of Muslim unreason is a wall of tyranny and human rights abuses that we have helped to erect”. (p. 132)

The region’s people are unfit to be trusted with self-determination because they are morally inferior: “It is time for us to admit that not all cultures are at the same stage of moral development.” Indeed, such is the moral depravity of these barbarians that “At this point in their history, give most Muslims the freedom to vote, and they will freely vote to tear out their political freedoms by the root”. The solution then is for the US to command stewardship of the area imposing “benign” dictators in the place of bad ones who may lead Muslims to reform.

Harris speaks much of the dream of a globally-integrated civilisation and the need to construct “a world government”. Presumably this means some respect for international law and the United Nations. So what does Harris think of the worst breach of these legal bodies in recent memory, the unlawful invasion of Iraq? He celebrates the killing of Saddam and his sons – “I think it’s a good thing that we killed him; unless you’re a total pacifist you have to admit that it’s what guns are for”, and defends the “humanitarian purpose” of the war, but he’s ultimately agnostic about the invasion itself, pleading that “I’ve never known what to think about the war”. His only gripe is that it was in hindsight a tactical “disaster”. He was enthusiastic for the bombing of Libya and Afghanistan, but Iraq was poorly executed because the torture revelations of Abu Ghraib alienated our friends:

“Indeed, the Abu Ghraib scandal may be one of the costliest foreign policy blunders to occur in the last century, given the degree to which it simultaneously inflamed the Muslim world and eroded the sympathies of our democratic allies. While we hold the moral high ground in our war on terror, we appear to hold it less and less.” (In Defence of Torture)

Not that he’s opposed to torture, mind. Just torturing the wrong people: “I am one of the few people I know of who has argued in print that torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror.”

The right people are Al-Qaeda suspects. He jeers at the Bush Admin’s lack of nerve to put the screws on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a task they finally got around to with gusto:

“Given the damage we were willing to cause to the bodies and minds of innocent children in Afghanistan and Iraq, our disavowal of torture in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed seems perverse. If there is even one chance in a million that he will tell us something under torture that will lead to the further dismantling of Al Qaeda, it seems that we should use every means at our disposal to get him talking. (The End of Faith, p. 198)

The defence on which he relies for torture is the fictional time bomb scenario that no doubt looks very compelling on the silver screen where a foot long bomb fuse sputters and gutters long enough for burly FBI agents to leisurely manhandle the villain who is caught just in time. The discerning reader might ponder whether, by the same logical footwork, Harris would support the kidnap and torture of US diplomats by Iranian secret service to determine which civil nuclear reactors they are planning to strike and thereby save untold lives.

Harris professes alarm at the prospect of nuclear proliferation, and his objections are couched in the language of a green anti-nuclear activist robbed of sleep by the concern that Mother Nature will be defiled by atomic weapons. But dig a little deeper and one finds that he’s got nothing to say about the vast stockpiles of the greatest violators of the NPT, namely his favourite imperial powers like Israel and America whose never-ending wars of aggression are the prime cause of proliferation on the part of jumpy little states.

Marching in lockstep with the AIPAC crowd, he focuses exclusively on Iran and other Muslim states against which he urges a pre-emptive nuclear strike if they should acquire the bomb. It will be an “unthinkable crime,” he reassures, but we must do it for the sake of Western Civ. So actually it is thinkable. And what must be done cannot logically be a crime for a crime would entail free choice to pursue a different course. Harris well knows how to package his counsel for genocide. We cannot of course entertain anything so foolish as to abide by the directives of the NPT and work to eliminate all nuclear stockpiles nor address the aggravating political factors which may drive states to seek a deterrence. Just nuke the evildoers.

At the core of his political thinking is a curious dualism that maintains on the one end that Islam is the darkest villainy to afflict the race, and on the other that he doesn’t really hate Muslims after all. It’s analogous to saying that fascism is evil, but that fascists are not a bad lot. How so? The bearers of tyranny are certainly the free born man’s enemy, so why does Harris pretend that he doesn’t abominate Muslims? It’s not just the beardos with the bombs that he wishes to kill recall, but all who live by the vision of the Quran:

“We are at war with Islam. It may not serve our immediate foreign policy objectives for our political leaders to openly acknowledge this fact, but it is unambiguously so. It is not merely that we are at war with an otherwise peaceful religion that has been ‘hijacked’ by extremists. We are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.” (The End of Faith, p. 109)

Much else remains to be said about Harris’s ideas of statecraft, but it’s what he believes about atheism that is even more diverting.

Had he confined himself to discharging artillery shells at the folly of religion, his writings would have been redeemable, but Harris, though withering of the Abrahamic creeds, rejects atheistic materialism as just another religious “faith” and “sacrament” held by arrogant scientists and says, in a lunge toward mysticism, that we can survive the death of the physical body because consciousness is not generated by the brain:

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

Survive death? A possibility? Out goes scientific materialism and in comes supernaturalism. If the afterlife strikes the ear as a creepy throwback to the neolithic fables of Christians, Harris assures us that it’s not the gospel’s vision of heaven that he has in mind. His brand of post-mortem rebirth bears a closer kinship to something a tad more Hindu:

“There may even be credible evidence for reincarnation”. ( P. 242)

The footnote for this religious assertion takes one to books that Harris finds compelling such as “20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” which includes colourful tales of past-life regressions and children who speak dead languages. And, even more good news in store for mind readers and psychics: “There also seems to be a body of data attesting to the reality of psychic phenomena, much of which has been ignored by mainstream science.” (p. 41)

Practitioners of ESP are in luck too because Harris knows just what it means to enjoy mental powers of telepathy as he states in this interview with Salon:

Salon: It sounds like you’re open-minded to the possibility of telepathy — things that we might classify as psychic. You’re saying it’s entirely possible that they might be true and science at some point will be able to prove them.

“Yeah, and there’s a lot of data out there that’s treated in most circles like intellectual pornography that attests to there being a real phenomenon. I just don’t know. But I’ve had the kinds of experiences that everyone has had that seem to confirm telepathy that minds can influence other minds.”

Tell me about one of those experiences.

“Oh, just knowing who’s calling when that person hasn’t called you in years. The phone rings and you know who it is and it’s not your mother or your wife or someone who calls you every day. I’ve had many experiences like that. I know many people who’ve had even more bizarre experiences. But that does not rise to the level of scientific evidence. The only way to determine if it really exists is to look in a disinterested and sustained way at all of the evidence.”

I like that caveat: Linger over exotic superstitions in anecdote upon anecdote and then dart off some afterthoughts about the need for more enquiry to give the whole fantastic proceeding a touch of the labman’s objectivity. Harris ruminates in a long footnote appended to a celebration of psychedelic drugs that he is taken with hallucinogenic reports of alien beings:

“Many users of DMT report being thrust under its influence into an adjacent reality where they are met by alien beings who appear intent upon sharing information and demonstrating the use of inscrutable technologies. The convergence of hundreds of such reports, many from first-time users of the drug who have not been told what to expect, is certainly interesting. It is also worth noting these accounts are almost entirely free of religious imagery.

“One appears far more likely to meet extraterrestrials or elves on DMT than traditional saints or angels. As I have not tried DMT, and have not had an experience of the sort that its users describe, I don’t know what to make of any of this.”

Is this the product of a mind scattered by intoxicants? Apparently not. Harris repeated the same flight to occultic planes at the Melbourne atheist convention where, after enthusing about the curative powers of spiritual meditation, he was desperate to reassure the assembled gathering of skeptics that his fascination with “aliens and insectile like creatures” is not “insanity”. Observe that he says these are not vacant hallucinations by high school stoners on a par with UFO sightings and crop circles, but that corroboration comes from “smart and serious people” of an extra-dimensional universe occupied by elves, reptilians and extra-terrestrials keen to impart scientific knowledge to lowly mortals about whose veracity “I don’t know what to make”. Welcome to David Icke territory.

The paranormal debunker James Randi chastised him for this quackery, twice, saying there were no choices to be made between virgin births, reincarnation, alien reptiles and telepathy– that bunk was bunk, and that science had once and for all spoken.

And finally Harris appeared to step back from the crankdom: “My position on the paranormal is this: While there have been many frauds in the history of parapsychology, I believe that this field of study has been unfairly stigmatized.”

Or maybe not. It’s a custom of his when interrogated by experts to berate scientists for being mean to New Age bosh-mongers. He alone is the true empiricist who, though having just recently acquired his doctorate at the late age of 40, knows more about the scientific enterprise than all those intolerant and smug lab rats who graduated decades ago. So when the pressure mounted on him, his last ditch effort was to backtrack somewhat: “I have not spent any time attempting to authenticate the data” because it is not worth his time. Which begs the question of why he trumpets their mumbo jumbo as “credible evidence” that is “ignored by mainstream science”. Plainly what is not worth one’s time is not “unfairly stigmatised”.

And just when it appears that Harris wants to extricate himself from the unwisdom of wading into mystical humbug and pseudoscience, he slides right back into sham insisting that he “cannot categorically dismiss their contents.” For science will deliver metaphysical and otherworldly truths to those hungry of spirit:

“We may live to see the technological perfection of all the visionary strands of traditional mysticism: shamanism (Siberian or South American), Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Hermetism and its magical Renaissance spawn (Hermeticism), and all the other byzantine paths whereby man has sought the Other in every guise of its conception.” (The End of Faith, p. 221)

It occurs to me that as much of a renegade as I am from Islam, I’m not alone in my betrayal. Sam Harris too is an apostate from the intellectual atheist tradition of Russell and Mencken that was built on the twin pillars of anti-mysticism and anti-militarism.

About Theodore Sayeed

Theodore Sayeed is a contributor to Mondoweiss. He may be reached at: [email protected]

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268 Responses

  1. radii
    June 25, 2012, 2:03 pm

    it is good the world is finally seeing the ugly hatred, racism, supremacism and vicious thuggery at the root of zionist leadership and ideology – most of the world (and particularly Americans) never got to see it before because of zionist domination of media companies – but the jig is up and the pretense of civility and being for civil rights and so on is exposed as merely expedient tools for a time in a given society (many good individual jews fought for civil rights in the US in the 50s and 60s because they believed in their hearts it was right, but many others and most of the leadership fought for it because it protected jews by proxy) … hopefully more of these horrible people who espouse zionism will step forward and spew their bile because with each instance the push zionism a little closer to the ash-can of history … Harris is a buffoon, ultimately, and in it for the notoriety and money

  2. Les
    June 25, 2012, 2:37 pm

    While so many Jews await the Messiah, Harris has a messianic drive to educate white racists on how to be more effective.

  3. jimbowski
    June 25, 2012, 3:11 pm

    As an atheist, I’m a bit embarrassed that Harris is an atheist (along with that other pro-war neoCon, the late Christopher Hitchens). Atheists are some of the most bigoted people when it comes to Islam and support for Israel. Just look at Bill Maher who never misses an opportunity to declare he’s an Israel Firster. It’s incredibly dangerous and helps fuel the flames of perpetual war. I never thought any fellow atheist would jump in bed with Christian evangelicals and right-wing religious Israelis. What a world.

    • Dexter
      June 25, 2012, 3:51 pm

      You hit the nail on the head with Bill Maher. This guy is so unabashedly racist towards Arabs and Muslim, I am amazed he still has a platform on HBO.

      His pro-Israel rants are embarrassing to watch (so I stopped watching). He is no doubt a Jew in Atheist-clothing.

      • Daniel Rich
        June 26, 2012, 4:22 am

        ` Dexter,

        Q: I am amazed he still has a platform on HBO.

        R: Check out HBO’s parent companies and you’ll be a lot less surprised. There’s always a reason, no matter how odd it is.

      • Citizen
        June 30, 2012, 11:35 am

        You can always rely on Bill Maher to ridicule the Roman Catholics too. OTOH, last night, when his guest (the former notorious lobbyist, Abramhoff [sic?], now an anti-lobby crusader) said he did not know what Sheldon Adelson’s agenda was, that is, what did he want for the $100 million he recently promised he’d give Mitt in his campaign against Obama, Bill said, ” I know–he wants us to attack Iran.” I wished he had added: for Israel’s benefit; I mean Adelson has been explicit about his Israel First sole agenda, so much so that even Newt mentioned it…

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 25, 2012, 4:11 pm

      As an atheist myself, I’ve come to just conclude that you can’t expect anything from a fellow atheist but a disbelief in god(s). Takes all kinds, I guess.

      • eljay
        June 25, 2012, 5:41 pm

        >> As an atheist myself, I’ve come to just conclude that you can’t expect anything from a fellow atheist but a disbelief in god(s).

        +1. After all, we’re just ordinary human beings who happen not to believe in gods and their associated trappings.

      • Citizen
        June 30, 2012, 11:41 am

        I don’t see how anyone can be an atheist anymore than they can believe in God. As soon as one asks what God’s attributes are, or are not–divorced from all anthropomorphic qualities (human projections)–what is either talking about?

      • aiman
        June 30, 2012, 12:38 pm

        “As soon as one asks what God’s attributes are, or are not–divorced from all anthropomorphic qualities (human projections)–what is either talking about?”

        Or as William Cowper wrote in the 18th century: “God is is His own interpreter.”

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:21 am

        “I don’t see how anyone can be an atheist anymore than they can believe in God”

        I don’t see how any thinking person can posit this comparison. Luckily most every person who does can hardly be described as “thinking.”

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 11:23 am

        “you can’t expect anything from a fellow atheist but a disbelief in god(s). “

        If, if they are telling the truth about, and if they are even aware of whether they do or not.
        Just as many people say they believe in God and don’t as say they don’t believe in God and do, I’m convinced.

      • W.Jones
        June 28, 2012, 2:11 am

        Tell me more about how you know the second category.

    • piotr
      June 25, 2012, 4:16 pm

      There should be some atheist clergy who could exclude worthless likes of Sam Harris from out community. In my book, he is a superstitious fidel (I guess we should use fidel as an invective), it is just that he believes in superstitions that are not justified by any set of holy books. Can we feel better now?

      The opposition is not Faith and No-faith but Reason and Superstition. I write it only partially in jest, because indeed, it is harmful superstitions we should worry about, and those have only a tangential relationship to theism/atheism.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 25, 2012, 5:20 pm

        “There should be some atheist clergy who could exclude worthless likes of Sam Harris from out community. ”

        No thanks. No priests, no rabbis, no imams; no dogma, no excommunication.

      • eljay
        June 25, 2012, 5:45 pm

        >> There should be some atheist clergy who could exclude worthless likes of Sam Harris from out community.

        IMO, atheism isn’t a community, so there’s nothing to be kicked out of. If Harris is an asshole, he’s an asshole, and his atheism has nothing to do with it.

      • Abu Malia
        June 26, 2012, 12:15 pm

        “No thanks. No priests, no rabbis, no imams; no dogma, no excommunication.”
        Exactly Woody! It defeats the purpose. Although I am with you wrt to the existence of deity in the sky, I’m just uncomfortable with the “certainty” of claiming there is no god – which is what atheists do.

        Personally, I pray to George Carlin!

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 12:27 pm

        Abu Malia,

        “I’m just uncomfortable with the “certainty” of claiming there is no god – which is what atheists do.”

        This is pretty much a falsehood as far as most atheists go. Most (including Richard Dawkins, for example) would not say that there position is “there is no god” but, rather, “there is insufficient reason to believe that there is a god.”

      • Dexter
        June 26, 2012, 3:01 pm

        Who prays to the sun (George Carlin, that is) : )

      • Frankie P
        June 26, 2012, 6:21 pm

        @Woody,

        It’s an alarming trend, the way so-called “atheists” are trying to change the definition of the word!!! Atheism is a belief that there is no God. The position you describe, “there is insufficient reason to believe that there is a god”, is defined as agnosticism. I have seen militant atheists on the web also claiming that deists are actually atheists too. Can anyone explain why atheists need to try to blur the lines?

        FPM

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:38 pm

        “Who prays to the sun (George Carlin, that is) : )”

        And if, for some reason, you have to pray to something, the sun — the ultimate source and provider of our existence — is probably the only good choice.

      • NickJOCW
        June 27, 2012, 4:01 am

        there is insufficient reason to believe that there is a god.

        Reason is not required for belief, only for knowledge.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:19 am

        Frankie P,

        You are wrong. The word “atheism” entails both 1) a belief that there is no god (i.e., “I believe god doesn’t exist”) and 2) a disbelief in the claim that such a god exists, (i.e., “I have no reason to believe that god exists.”) See, e.g., Websters, OED, etc. These are often termed “strong” and “weak” atheism, respectfully. There is some overlap between agnosticism and weak atheism, because agnositicism and atheism are not wholly separate concepts. (They are not coterminous, either. An agnostic might deny philosophically the possibility of ever knowing the answer to that question, whereas the “weak” atheist might readily admit that we could have information sufficient to answer the question, but that we simply don’t.)

        The notion that they are wholly separate is a trope advanced by theists, whether knowingly or not (I suspect knowingly in many cases), in order to make a weak rhetorical point by attempting to paint all atheists — most of whom are, in fact, “weak” atheists — as “strong” atheists, so that they can then make a lame “they rely on faith, too” argument.

        The theists’ argument is quite silly; if you would like to know how atheists define these words and what they mean, you can just ask us. Relying on a silly false distinction which has been advanced by thesists in bad faith, is a weak alternative.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:20 am

        “Reason is not required for belief, only for knowledge.”

        And belief without knowledge is idiocy.

      • NickJOCW
        June 27, 2012, 10:25 am

        With respect, you are conflating belief with knowledge. The former is not rational since it is not arrived at by the application of reason though it is none the worse for that, the later requires irrefutable evidence. They are not mutually exclusive; one is weather and the other rain. They can overlap, like an eclipse, but only when viewzd from a particular angle. ‘Idiocy’ is, of course, your personal value judgement. If you know something you must surely believe it, but you can believe a thing without knowing it.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 11:20 am

        “With respect, you are conflating belief with knowledge.”

        No, I’m not. I understand the difference. In fact, I conceded, albeit unstated, that they were different in my “value judgment.”

        “The former is not rational since it is not arrived at by the application of reason though it is none the worse for that,”

        Nonsense. While belief need not be rational, non-rational belief can be highly dangerous, as it can extremely harmful real world effects.

        “the later requires irrefutable evidence.”

        No it doesn’t. There is no such thing as irrefutable evidence in science, so your position would be that there is no such thing as scientific knowledge. That is simply not true.

        “‘Idiocy’ is, of course, your personal value judgement.”

        Yes, it is. Which is why I made the statement I did in response to yours, to the effect that believing in the existence of a god, without evidence to support that belief, is idiocy.

        “If you know something you must surely believe it, but you can believe a thing without knowing it.”

        I think you give people too much credit. There are many examples of people knowing things but not believing them, because they prefer beliefs they hold, but for which they have no rational basis. For example, a 40-something year old, reasonably intelligent and educated man must know that if he continues to handle poisonous snakes without proper protection, that he will eventually be bitten and there is a very good chance he will die. But Mark Wolford didn’t believe that. He believed that he could do it without harm — even after his own father died this way — because of his faith in god. Now his kid is orphaned and his wife is a widow. Like I said, idiocy.

      • NickJOCW
        June 27, 2012, 11:22 am

        Furthermore, since we are on this path, belief as a function, activity – call it what you like – is essential to us humans, if we did not believe myriad things we do not actually know we would not even get out of bed of a morning. As you might set out to work you need to believe your office building will be there when you arrive, but it might have burned down in the night so you cannot know it. On the other hand you may know that the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides, and you may know that either because you have worked in out from scratch, which unlikely, of because you have been introduced to Pythagoras’ theorem and you have thought about it deeply, following the path he likely took and understand exactly how and why it is so. If you have not undertaken the second stage, you can only believe it.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 1:15 pm

        “belief as a function, activity – call it what you like – is essential to us humans”

        Of course. In fact, I believe that one of the reasons that religion exist is that our brains have evolved to generate conclusions about the world automatically and to discern agency, even when none exists, because there is rarely any penalty for a false conclusion of agency, but a big one for a false negative.

        “If you have not undertaken the second stage, you can only believe it.”

        And in both of the examples you gave, the belief was reasonable, because it was formed on the basis of a degree of knowledge (which, contra to your previous assertion is not, indeed, cannot be, absolute): in the first, because experience has shown you that buidlings almost always survive from day to day; in the second, because experience has tought you (albeit with some built-in prejudice) that elders teaching you things are usually correct (which is one of the other interesting attributes of the human psyche that evolved for survival but has been co-opted by religion.)

        Religious faith is, essentially, believing that your office building will be there in the morning — but it will hover 2 feet off the ground, with no support, when you’ve never been to the supposed building and don’t, in fact, even have a job.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 1:38 pm

        “— but it will hover 2 feet off the ground, with no support, when you’ve never been to the supposed building and don’t, in fact, even have a job.”

        From this I could catch a bad case hubris! Turns out God is just like me- no visible means of support!

      • NickJOCW
        June 27, 2012, 2:17 pm

        Woody, I cannot keep up with the exuberance of your convictions. The statistical odds are in favour of belief in God. Let’s let Pascal have the last word.

        The calculation is simple. If you believe in God and live a God-Fearing life, and it turns out there is a God, then, when the time comes, you’ll be rewarded with a place in Paradise. If there isn’t one, and you’ve lived a God-Fearing life, then you will end up the same as everyone else.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 2:45 pm

        “Woody, I cannot keep up with the exuberance of your convictions. The statistical odds are in favour of belief in God.”

        Oh, I’d LOVE to see how you can even begin to calculate those odds.

        “Let’s let Pascal have the last word.”

        Oh, please no. Pascal’s wager is so bad. I mean really, unthinkingly awful. You don’t need me to list all of the logical errors in it, do you?

      • W.Jones
        June 28, 2012, 2:15 am

        Well, suns came from other suns, and people are made of stardust.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 5:41 am

        Yeah. Atheism is an absence of belief, a negative concept.

        You might as well form a community of people who don’t golf.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:23 am

        “You might as well form a community of people who don’t golf.”

        And if people who golfed abused government and twisted society on account of that golf, that might be necessary. They use religion, instead.

      • sardelapasti
        June 28, 2012, 12:31 pm

        You are blurring the lines or not understanding.
        “Insufficient reason” means the statistical probability that any entirely imagined/subjective elaborate story would correspond to reality, which is totally infinite odds. Infinite odds statistically means the same as impossible. So anyone making it “agnostic” because you cannot prove a negative is actually doing so either in order not to hurt feelings or because he doesn’t understand probability.

      • Dexter
        June 28, 2012, 6:50 pm

        Well, the sun and, of course, Joe Pesci.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:12 am

        Well, it’s almost invariably difficult to prove the absence of something. I remember realizing that when I was a history major and dreaming up theses. You’re headed for trouble if you want to prove something wasn’t there. Fairly easy to prove something was — but the converse can be literally impossible.

        There could be a tiger in my backyard right now. He could have escaped from the zoo and made his way here unnoticed. Even if I go out and look, he could theoretically elude me (there’s some pretty tall corn at the moment). At no point would I be able to state, as an absolute certainty, that there is no tiger in the yard.

        Similarly with God. It’s impossible to prove He isn’t there. It’s just that like my tiger (or Bertrand Russell’s teapot orbiting the sun) it seems extremely unlikely. At any rate, I simply can’t convince myself the notion is very plausible. Like my tiger, I simply see no reason to think God is there.

      • pjdude
        July 1, 2012, 8:05 am

        No he worships the sun. HE prays to Joe Pesci( not quite sure of the spelling)

      • Daniel Rich
        June 26, 2012, 4:25 am

        @ piotr,

        When a zen master was asked to explain zen, he said, “When I explain it, it isn’t zen anymore.” That’s how I see atheism and I don’t need anyone to explain it to or for me.

      • piotr
        June 26, 2012, 1:30 pm

        I was joking when I wrote that I would excommunicate Sam Harris from atheist community. Since atheism is a negative trait (meaning, defined by an absence), there is no such community.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 1:39 pm

        “Since atheism is a negative trait (meaning, defined by an absence), there is no such community.”

        Nonsense. First, atheism isn’t defined by an absence as much as it is the trait which is held in common is no belief in god(s). (A subtle distinction, but a real one.) Second, there most certainly is an atheist community. 20,000 gathered for the Reason Rally this spring in Washington, DC, and it is a very strong community on the internet.

      • piotr
        June 26, 2012, 5:09 pm

        I would be suspicious of any Reason Rally because it smells libertarian. There is no atheist umma.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:40 pm

        “I would be suspicious of any Reason Rally because it smells libertarian.”

        Why would you think that? It has nothing to do with libertarianism (although there are a fair number of libertarians who are atheists/non-theists/etc.).

        “There is no atheist umma.”

        Perhaps not, but there is an atheist community, especially now in the internet age.

      • piotr
        June 27, 2012, 6:10 pm

        “Reason is a libertarian monthly print magazine covering politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews”

        This is what would raise my suspicion. Perhaps unfounded, and many libertarians are fine, fine folks. But some of the libertarian planks are against social solidarity and I deeply disagree with them, and then you have gold bugs, and also GOP sellouts.

        I am more comfortable with progressives who are OFTEN atheists but this is not a litmus test. I prefer some positive distinguishing marks like a certain view on human rights, social solidarity, responsibility for the environment etc.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 6:37 pm

        Oh, gotcha. No, I don’t think that Reason magazine was involved in any way. Just a coincidence in name.

        It’s been my experience that atheists are often progressives of various degrees. Not all. There’s a lot of “economic conservatives”/ libertarian types (almost all white men, in my experience. Hmmm. I wonder why?)

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 5:59 am

        “20,000 gathered for the Reason Rally this spring in Washington, DC”

        Obviously these people believe in something.

        I just can’t see atheism in the sense some people do.

        I’d actually like to believe in one of the faiths that pays off generously and easily. I have no desire whatsover to disappear utterly. If I can’t stay right here (and about twenty years younger), I’d just as soon have an afterlife, and something that’s an improvement over this one.

        What’s not to like? I actually find some of the more traditional variations of Christianity interesting, theologically speaking. And, they have some nice buildings. And some of the saints are pretty cool, too.

        It’s just that it’s all such improbable nonsense. However, for me atheism is just an absence of belief. There’s nothing ‘there’ to be part of. I can’t see how — absent some feeling of hostility towards those who feel otherwise — there can be.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:27 am

        “Obviously these people believe in something.”

        Yes, the use of reason in place of superstition and faith, in the conduct of human affairs.

        “I’d actually like to believe in one of the faiths…”

        Yes, you’re a religion groupie. I get it.

        “There’s nothing ‘there’ to be part of. I can’t see how — absent some feeling of hostility towards those who feel otherwise — there can be.”

        Because to many atheists, atheism isn’t just reactive. You may disagree, as is your right. They see the absence of a belief in god(s) as the first step in developing a world view based on reason. That’s not atheism, per se, but atheism is clearly part of it.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:18 am

        “…Yes, you’re a religion groupie. I get it…”

        That seems intended to be offensive but it’s so hopelessly wide of the mark that while I can’t pretend your belligerence doesn’t raise my hackles, the remark is baffling otherwise.

        How do you figure I’m a ‘religion groupie’? What exactly does ‘a religion groupie’ do?

        It seems to be very, very important to you that not only that there not be a God, but that all accept His non-existence. Why? Is utter ideological conformity required in any other respect?

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:31 am

        A religion groupie is an atheist who doesn’t believe but really wants to. They tend to blind themselves to the idiocy that flows from faith. (They often do things like say that the New Atheists are “clergy” or trying to start a “religion” — thus apeing rather dopey arguments that the religious make about all atheists.)

        I frankly don’t care what anyone else thinks for themselves, but I find it very disgusting that they assume that I have to show “respect” for their delusions and are dismayed when atheists stand up for a secular society. Those type of people — who want to force their faith everywhere, especially where it does not belong — are often aided by religion groupies, fathiests, accomodationists and the like.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 28, 2012, 1:20 pm

        piotr: “There should be some atheist clergy who could exclude worthless likes of Sam Harris from out community.”

        Sam Harris IS the clergy. That’s the scary part.
        A fidel in rationalist-wool.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 1:34 pm

        “Sam Harris IS the clergy”

        Oh, baloney. Sam Harris has authority over no one but himself.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 28, 2012, 8:04 pm

        “Oh, baloney. Sam Harris has authority over no one but himself.”
        Neither does the Pope, really. Yet people in Africa don’t use condoms on his authority. That’s what clergy is.

        Sam Harris is a notable Atheist. And at least here in Israel, he is quite the hero for many Neo-Atheists.
        They love that moral shit he’s peddling – no free will, we’re all just machines, therefore we have no guilt nor responsibility.

        Harris has that interview with Rogan where he explains why the “Collateral Murder” pilot laughing and saying “he shouldn’t have brought his kids to a war zone” shouldn’t be blamed for his actions. That morality gets distorted when you’re so removed from those you kill.

        Harris, Bill Maher and Hitchens are really big here in Israel – what with their religion bashing, but more importantly the atavist Anti-Islamism.

        Really big amongst the Israeli secular right.
        The New Atheists are a de facto clergy.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 9:04 am

        “Neither does the Pope, really.”

        LMAO. I’m sure there’s a billion Catholics in the world (especially actual clergy) who would be suprised to hear that.

        “Yet people in Africa don’t use condoms on his authority. That’s what clergy is.”

        No, clergy are religious people who are ordained to perform religious acts or to spread religious teachings. There is no such thing among atheists. No atheist one considers Harris anything more than a person who is giving his opinion. And there has been a great deal of rejection of his ideas of late in the community, over his idea that morality can be scientifically or rationally determined and that the authorities should give special scrutiny at airports to everyone who might be Muslim.

        “They love that moral shit he’s peddling – no free will, we’re all just machines, therefore we have no guilt nor responsibility.”

        If you think that this is an accurate representation of his writings, it demonstrates that either 1) you’ve never actually read them, or 2) you failed to comprehend them.

        “Harris has that interview with Rogan”

        I did not see this interview, so I cannot comment on either the accuracy of your summation or on Harris’s position on this.

        “shouldn’t be blamed for his actions. That morality gets distorted when you’re so removed from those you kill.”

        These are two different concepts, and the second is not particularly novel. The fact that you present them together make me suspect that you did not understand what Harris is arguing. (Althought, of course, Harris could be making exactly this argument.) Without seeing the actual interview, I cannot comment.

        “Harris, Bill Maher and Hitchens are really big here in Israel – what with their religion bashing, but more importantly the atavist Anti-Islamism.”

        That wouldn’t surprise me, as there is a significan anti-Muslim tendency in their writings which is in keeping with the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry that is endemic among israaeli Jews.

        “The New Atheists are a de facto clergy.”

        That’s just stupid. I understand that you think you’re being edgy or insulting by comparing them to religious thinkers, but it’s not original at all and it’s simply false. It’s like saying that they’re “de facto Heads of Human Resource Departments.” Meaningless.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:19 am

        Sam Harris is a typical atheist and completely representative of the type!

        All atheists, to the extent that they are atheists, resemble Sam Harris.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:31 am

        “All atheists, to the extent that they are atheists, resemble Sam Harris.”

        Only to the extent they disbelieve in god(s). Beyond that single point, you are wrong.

    • Mooser
      June 25, 2012, 4:57 pm

      jimbowski, when a man tells me he is an atheist, I have as much insight into just how true that is as when he tells me he believes in God. If Harris is so untruthful about other things, if he crafts his statements for an expected results not to describe fact, why would he be truthful about that? If he even has the capacity to distinguish the difference.

    • ColinWright
      June 26, 2012, 3:28 pm

      ‘I never thought any fellow atheist would jump in bed with Christian evangelicals and right-wing religious Israelis. ‘

      It’s also worth pointing out that while Christian evangelicals and right-wing religious Israelis have an excuse, atheists don’t. The former groups at least have an outlook that justifies Israel. I think that outlook is grossly erroneous, but I will concede their sincerity.

      What’s an atheist’s excuse? He’s supporting something that from his point of view can only be an exercise in theft and brutal oppression.

      It is as if we have two people. One throws the writhing virgin into the volcano because he thinks it is essential to placate the god of the volcano. The other throws the writhing virgin into the volcano because it amuses him.

      Which is worse? While the practical outcome in both cases is the same, the one is merely sadly benighted. The other is pure evil.

  4. Woody Tanaka
    June 25, 2012, 3:14 pm

    “in 1945, a Buddhist Kamikaze”

    State Shinto, more likely. At least nominally.

    • piotr
      June 25, 2012, 4:03 pm

      WWI infantry attacks on the entrenched positions were basically suicide operations. Kamikaze were vile only because they were the enemy, and enemies are vile.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 25, 2012, 5:22 pm

        Exactly piotr.

        Kamikaze tactics were actually a fairly rational (if brutal) response to the situation, because the Japanese had neither the experienced pilots nor the fuel to properly train the new pilots in late ’44-’45 so anyone going up for Japan was most likely going to end up dead anyway. Might as well take a few Americans with them…

      • Daniel Rich
        June 26, 2012, 4:33 am

        @ Woody Tanaka,

        side note: One of the heroes of Pearl Harbor was one of the very few who was against the whole idea, because he trained his man to fight and come back, not to be turned into winged bombs.

        [kami = divinity/divine/hair/paper and kaze = wind. Kamikaze = divine wind named after the typhoon/hurriccan that destroyed the Mongolian fleet @ link to en.wikipedia.org

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:29 am

        Daniel Rich,

        Please discuss further. Who was this person you are talking about? The kamikaze tactic arose very late in the war, so I am not sure regarding your reference to Pearl.

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 11:28 am

        Oh please, the only difference between :kamikazis and American soldiers is that when the kamikazi goes out, he at least has the dignity of knowing he’s not coming back. In the American army, only the officers know who’s definitely not coming back.

      • ColinWright
        June 26, 2012, 3:34 pm

        Well, on the one hand, there is a moral difference.

        You might survive a World War One infantry attack. In fact, typically those things collapsed when total casualties reached 50% or so, and that implies about 10% fatalities, so you probably would survive.

        If you’re the kamikaze, you’re not going to survive the kamikaze attack. That’s a given. It’s the difference between driving through a railway tunnel and gambling no train is coming and driving through it when you can see a train is coming. Not very safe in either case, but…

        On the other hand, I will note that while I’ve read extensively on the era, I don’t recall any particularly vociferous denunciations of kamikaze tactics on moral grounds. We just objected to how effective the attacks were. This whole ‘immorality of suicide bombing’ shtick is a crock.

      • piotr
        June 26, 2012, 6:04 pm

        Clearly, the evil is total war that sends millions of indoctrinated people to their deaths. In the case of infantry, millions are immortalized in history books with phrases like “Division X lost 90% of its human assets.”

        The key point here is that while it is nice to have 10% or, even better, 50% chance of survival, and do not see any MORAL distinction between volunteering for a mission with 10%, 20%, …., 100% chance of death. All those people are brave. All those people show high morale. Morality? Usually, one side are the good guys, so it is not vile to make a Pascal bargain and believe that this is your side.

        Part of the issue of immorality of suicide bombing is that Zionist heroes from the era of struggle for the Jewish State did commit their share of bombing of innocent civilian targets like crowded market places. But they did not commit suicides! Point for our team! Culture of life!

        I noticed this phenomenon very clearly when I read a book on origins of various religious prohibitions. Some prohibitions are clearly representing an added value to the people who obey them, like no incest and no oath breaking. “No killing” of course has an asterix — “just kidding, read 10 more pages for an example”. But other prohibitions are much more puzzling: why the Almighty informed travelers crossing a desert that they and their descendants should refrain from eating shrimp and other shellfish? The proposed scheme is that a group ideology typically is that “we” are the pure and “they” are impure because we do not do X and they do. In Palestine/Kana’an the Jews lived inland in the hills and Philistines on the coast and lowland. So our team virtuously refrains from eating the shellfish. Prohibitions of pork, mixed threads etc. have a similar nature.

        In the realm of casuistic “ethics”, we are offered arguments of the kind that warriors mounted on horses are virtuous and those mounted on camels are scum. Until we organize some camel units too. Although in actuality, the arguments are even simpler. If there is one opponent on a camel and one of our guys on the horse, we will be dead set on horsemen superiority and simply ignore all cases where the rule would work against our side.

        In the less abstract realm of Palestinian – Israeli conflict, the vile distinctions include committing suicide, “indiscriminate attacks”, attacking civilians. So what are the most vicious examples, most cited, retaliated with most savagery? Capturing soldiers on active (and hostile) duty.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:43 pm

        “If you’re the kamikaze, you’re not going to survive the kamikaze attack. That’s a given. ”

        Well, they weren’t going to survive even if they didn’t suicide; they were so outmatched by the US fighters at that point in the war, they basically had 2 choices, crash into the sea or crash into a US ship and maybe help the war effort for your country. It’s not like the Japanese came up with this strategy because they hated their fliers or because they had some inscrutable Asian hatred of individualism and love of death (notwithstanding Western racist spin to that effect.)

      • yourstruly
        June 26, 2012, 11:32 pm

        recall wwii hollywood wartime flicks in which, while engaged in combat, the japanese zero pilot always had this scary fanatical look on his face. as opposed, that is, to his u.s. opponent, who, while looking grim & determined, appeared to be (at least to this american filmgoer) more likeable, under control, as if he’s just doing a job. then there was the difference in the sound of the engines, with the u.s. engine somehow making a smooth melodic noise, the japanese engine a rougher menacing sound. also can’t forget the much repeated one, back then, that there was no word for love in the japanese language, and that the japanese people were glad to die for their emperor. how surprising it may have been for some americans, post-wwii, to see the relatives of japanese soldiers killed in that war shedding tears over the graves of their lost loved ones.

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 12:19 am

        “Part of the issue of immorality of suicide bombing is that Zionist heroes from the era of struggle for the Jewish State did commit their share of bombing of innocent civilian targets like crowded market places. But they did not commit suicides! Point for our team! Culture of life!”

        In this connection, it’s worth pointing out Israel used to make a real fetish out of Masada — which I believe involved a mass suicide.

        They seem to have suddenly started downplaying it after the onset of Palestinian suicide bombers.

      • RoHa
        June 27, 2012, 12:31 am

        “Well, they weren’t going to survive even if they didn’t suicide; they were so outmatched by the US fighters at that point in the war, they basically had 2 choices, crash into the sea or crash into a US ship and maybe help the war effort for your country.”

        The full-blown kamikaze operations used planes specially adapted as flying bombs. The pilots were sent out to dive into a ship and destroy it. It wasn’t just a last minute decision. (Though I have no doubt that pilots of ordinary fighters sometimes did the same thing.)

        The US carriers were particularly vulnerable because the flight decks were not armoured. They were protected by the very large number of fighters they had to intercept the kamikaze before it arrived. When the Royal Navy could stop concentrating on Germany, they moved some ships to the Pacific. They proved surprisingly inept at keeping up with the US Navy, but since the RN carriers had armoured flight decks, a full-on kamikaze hit did little damage to the deck.

        (There is a full, detailed analysis of this on Wikipedia. link to en.wikipedia.org)

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:23 am

        That’s exactly right, yourstruly. The American war effort had a large degree of active racism inherent in it. (As, of course, did the Japanese effort.) It is a real tragedy that one of the main victims of that effort were Americans of Japanese descent.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:26 am

        @RoHa,
        “The full-blown kamikaze operations used planes specially adapted as flying bombs. The pilots were sent out to dive into a ship and destroy it. It wasn’t just a last minute decision.”

        Yes, that is exactly right. It was a conscious decision to adopt this strategy because it was the most effective use of the available resources (which amounted to poorly- to non-trained pilots whose life expectancy in attacking American fighters was, essentially, zero coupled with an availability of HE and planes) and complied with the Japanese strategy of forcing the US to sue for a favorable (to the Japanese) peace after inflicting on the US a huge, costly battle.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:12 am

        On the one hand, the Japanese are prone to suicide. The Germans and Russians were in similarly desperate straits, but they never resorted to explicitly suicidal tactics on a large scale. This aside from the 47 ronin, the wave of suicides that greet the announcements of who got into which college, etc. The Japanese do see suicide as a possible response to a situation more than other cultures do. That’s just the way it is: not all human cultures are completely identical.

        On the other hand, you are right about the casualty rate influencing the adoption of the tactic. I recall reading that the originator of the kamikazes pointed out that 90% of the aircraft sent out on attacks weren’t coming back anyway, so why not adopt tactics that would increase the odds of them doing some damage?

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:29 am

        @Colin,

        For sure, the cultural conditions of the various soldiers was a key reason why the strategy could be adopted by one force and not another. Absolutely.

  5. Dan Crowther
    June 25, 2012, 3:46 pm

    Harris and Hitchens are both incredibly religious, they pray at the altar of western state power.

    Great post.

    • lareineblanche
      June 25, 2012, 6:04 pm

      Agreed. To call them atheist is, in the end, somewhat misleading. There is the belief in the traditional God, and there is, in a more general sense, an irrational belief system to which they both adhere – they’re just unaware of it. This applies to a lot of ideologies, though.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 25, 2012, 6:26 pm

        lareineblanche,

        I think that that type of thinking is misguided. The word “atheist” has a fairly limited set of meanings and none of them precludes people from having passionate, irrational or other ideas, so long as they are not theists. That’s all it means. There are people who are as passionate about science and rational thinking as the most religious person is passionate about his religion. That doesn’t make the beliefs the same.

      • Keith
        June 25, 2012, 8:32 pm

        WOODY- I agree that we should not muddy-up the definition of atheism which refers specifically to the disbelief in the existence of a god or gods. As for other irrational beliefs, all ideologies are to a degree irrational. They have to be in order to provide organizational identity and unity. Religion differs from other ideologies in that religion postulates a god head and deals with metaphysical phenomenon. Unlike other ideologies, the metaphysical dimension of religion has the attribute of being non-falsifiable even if manifestly ludicrous. The non-falsifiability is one reason that religion has endured as long as it has. This relative longevity has contributed to its usefulness as an instrument of group cohesiveness, that is, of being the basis for differentiating us from them. A fascinating topic which is difficult to comment on briefly.

      • libra
        June 25, 2012, 9:11 pm

        WT: There are people who are as passionate about science and rational thinking as the most religious person is passionate about his religion. That doesn’t make the beliefs the same.

        Indeed, the beliefs will be entirely different. But the mindsets may be very similar. Power coupled to self-righteous certainty, whether based on religious or non-religious ideology can be very dangerous.

        And what better basis for certainty than rational thinking? After all, I’m sure centrally-planned collective agriculture was seen as entirely rational but millions died in its pursuit.

        The core neocon mindset is interesting as it combines a highly utilitarian approach to the use of US power – the very essence of detached, ruthless, rational thinking – coupled with a highly emotional attachment to Israel. A very toxic combination. No wonder the results have been disastrous.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:42 am

        libra:
        “But the mindsets may be very similar.”
        But my point is that the mindsets will be different because the bases of them will be different (one is based on the manifestly ludicrous notion of faith and the other on rationality.)

        “And what better basis for certainty than rational thinking? After all, I’m sure centrally-planned collective agriculture was seen as entirely rational but millions died in its pursuit.”
        What you are demonstrating here is merely the difference between believing that you are rational and actually being rational, because there is nothing rational in centrally-planned collective agriculture, or, put it this way: no belief in centrally-planned collective agriculture can be considered rational after the initial failure exposed its problems. The faith in secular ideologies like communism certainly can be irrational.

      • aiman
        June 26, 2012, 7:22 am

        “But my point is that the mindsets will be different because the bases of them will be different (one is based on the manifestly ludicrous notion of faith and the other on rationality.)”

        But isn’t such a notion of “rationality” provincial? Human beings are a jumble of things. Only in post-Enlightenment modes of Anglo-German thought is “rationality” considered something separate from what else there is. Consequently women were said to be “emotional” and men “rational”.

        Guessing you mean “intellectual honesty” and that, too, is not so simple. Many if not all beliefs we hold are products of experience and acculturation from a social constructionist position. It is a case of contesting narratives, not rationality. Only those with faith get to add “destiny” ;). And even within faith there is no homogeneity. You will find people of different professions having different understandings. Doing accounting will probably make you more literal-minded unless you did that because you like to think about profound truths just as well. Artists will delve upon beauty and mystery of faith. If there is a natural thing as rationality, I think all human beings are so. I also think the concept of “mythology” can be misunderstood. “Mythology” gives us an insight into how people made sense of their locality and surroundings. It does not fetch scientific explanations but offers narratives and meanings of the world. The only reason people did that in the first place was because they wanted to know, to make sense, because they were rational. The current notion of “rationality” is a leftover of particular encounters between some Enlightenment thinkers and the theological structures talking about “measuring” the world. Even Darwin’s best polemics against belief (e.g. “Nature red in tooth and claw”) are philosophical, not rational (rational only in opposition to the prevalent Christian idea that all things are “bright and beautiful”, some sophisticated Christian thinkers have responded to those challenges with some remarkable answers).

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 10:18 am

        “But isn’t such a notion of “rationality” provincial?”

        No. Rational thought is not equally accepted among cultures, but it is not provincial.

        “Guessing you mean ‘intellectual honesty’”

        That’s certainly part of it, but not all.

        “Many if not all beliefs we hold are products of experience and acculturation from a social constructionist position.”

        Only to the extent that human knowledge is a social artifact. The underlying basis of that knowledge, however, is not.

        “It is a case of contesting narratives, not rationality.”

        Nonsense. There are some propositions that comport with reality better than others do. That neither might be “correct” in some absolutist sense does not mean that one is not a better choice than the other.

        “And even within faith there is no homogeneity.”

        As one would expect. Since there is no objective basis for faith – indeed, that is its very definition – it would be more interesting if there was homogeneity.

        “You will find people of different professions having different understandings.”

        Yes, but that does not mean that they are both equally right.

        “If there is a natural thing as rationality, I think all human beings are so.”

        Nonsense. Someone who believes that the Genesis myth is literal history is not acting rationally in that belief. I think most people have some capability to think rationally (not all, unfortunately), but many choose fantasy and non-rationalism over rationalism.

        “I also think the concept of ‘mythology’ can be misunderstood. ‘Mythology’ gives us an insight into how people made sense of their locality and surroundings. It does not fetch scientific explanations but offers narratives and meanings of the world.”

        Yes, and if it is understood in that context, there is nothing irrational about it, as it is a demonstrable fact that humans are able to infuse rational meaning in fictional narrative. The problem begins, however, when one looses sight of the purposeful untruths and considers them truths.

        “The only reason people did that in the first place was because they wanted to know, to make sense, because they were rational.”

        Yes, because there is an objective reality whether it conforms to our wishes or not, and those of our predecessors with the mental tools to discern what that objective reality was survived to bear and sire offspring to a greater rate than those who thought otherwise. A mythical belief in divine providence is no shield against a hungry predator.

        “The current notion of ‘rationality’ is a leftover of particular encounters between some Enlightenment thinkers and the theological structures talking about ‘measuring’ the world.”

        No, it replaced previous theological systems about measuring the world because they are absolutely superior to those theological systems, on the whole.
        “Even Darwin’s best polemics against belief (e.g. ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’) are philosophical, not rational (rational only in opposition to the prevalent Christian idea that all things are ‘bright and beautiful’, some sophisticated Christian thinkers have responded to those challenges with some remarkable answers).”

        “Nature red in tooth and claw” was Tennyson, not Darwin. And nothing in Darwin’s work was a polemic against belief, but, rather, observations about what existed, and ideas about how those thing arose. To the extent that such work had any theological content at all, it was an unspoken assertion, similar to Laplace’s supposed retort to Napoleon, that Laplace had no need of the God hypothesis in his theories.

      • Polly
        June 26, 2012, 11:20 am

        @Woody Tanaka – “I think most people have some capability to think rationally (not all, unfortunately), but many choose fantasy and non-rationalism over rationalism.”

        I think the idea of rationality is overrated. The conventional wisdom of any group can be “irrational” and go unquestioned by those it affects. People once lived with the conventional wisdom that the earth was flat – but could still operate rationally under that umbrella. People in 2012 who believe they will die and float up to heaven still know that one plus one does not equal three.

      • Keith
        June 26, 2012, 11:32 am

        WOODY TANAKA- “The faith in secular ideologies like communism certainly can be irrational.”

        Not only can be, but must be. To have any value as an organizational force which binds a group together and differentiates it from other groups, group ideology/mythology must deviate from reality to a certain extent. No groups are united by a belief in gravity or magnetism, for example. Marxism, however, is a true ideology somewhat akin to a secular religion. Historical determinism being somewhat equivalent to god. History viewed through the prism of economic determinism and class warfare. Being secular, it is falsifiable which is one reason Marxism crumbled under the weight of observable reality.

        By way of explanation, I am arbitrarily referring to something as being “rational” if it is consistent with empirical reality. Something is “logical” if it is consistent with relevant assumptions. If the assumptions are irrational, say religious belief for example, then the logical conclusions will nonetheless be irrational. The implications of all of this are significant. All societies are united by ideology/mythologies/beliefs which are inherently somewhat irrational. All societies, therefore, evaluate history and current events based more upon mythological influence than upon rational evaluation. Most “debates” are a clash of ideologies, the logical defense of group think. Most folks reject any argument which threatens their group solidarity, and are highly resistant to change. Fascinating topic.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 12:38 pm

        “I think the idea of rationality is overrated.”

        Well, the next time you are suffering from a bacterial infection be sure to choose the irrational cure of shaking a stick at the sky over the rational cure of antibiotics.

        “The conventional wisdom of any group can be ‘irrational’ and go unquestioned by those it affects.”

        But the rational mind, I believe, does question conventional wisdom.

        “People in 2012 who believe they will die and float up to heaven still know that one plus one does not equal three.”

        No, irrational people are not irrational about everything, all the time. But they sometimes do highly irrational things, like Mark Wolford, who died after playing with a poisonous snakes without protection because he believed a bronze-age book of near-eastern myths told him it was safe to do it. Sure, he knows (well, knew) that 1 + 1 = 2, but he still made a widow of his wife and an orphan of his daughter.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 12:47 pm

        Keith, I believe that framed in the manner you have, your points are very defensible. I’m not positive I would have framed them in this manner, but I think you make some very good points. I’ve often thought of the founding myths of the USA in similar terms.

        I think my point was slightly different and phrased that way because I had in mind the idea that communism could be a rational choice, given the knowledge of the person and the alternative choices. In 1917 in Russia, communism may have seemed to be the more rational choice than Czarist autocracy. In 1991, communism was not so rational a choice.

      • kapok
        June 26, 2012, 1:19 pm

        “Marxism crumbled under the weight of observable reality.”

        yeah, and the trillions of dollars and tons of ordinance expended by the “Free World” had nothing to do with it.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 1:36 pm

        “yeah, and the trillions of dollars and tons of ordinance expended by the ‘Free World’ had nothing to do with it.”

        No, it really didn’t. In fact, two of the places where significant portions of that ordnance was expended — Southeast Asia and the Korean peninsula — are still communist.

      • kapok
        June 26, 2012, 1:44 pm

        So, they’re just waiting around for the “observable-reality express” to crush them? Got it.

        Oh, and for future reference: just because a man is playing a guitar, doesn’t mean he’s making music.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 2:21 pm

        Did you actually study the process by which the soviet empire fell? It had nothing to do with the nonsense about the West spending them into oblivion that is pushed by jingos trying to portray Reagan as anything but a dangerous nut and had everything to do with leaders reaching the conclusion that their system did not work and could not be fixed to work.

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 2:33 pm

        “Oh, and for future reference: just because a man is playing a guitar, doesn’t mean he’s making music.”

        Just shot yourself in the foot there, pal. With regard to the failure of Communism anyway. Just because a guy is playing the guitar and tells us he’s Jimmy Clapton doesn’t mean we can’t hear how badly he’s playing.

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 2:36 pm

        “leaders reaching the conclusion that their system did not work and could not be fixed to work.”

        The leaders reaching that conclusion? Oh yeah, it’s always the leaders who take a long, hard look at their situation and say: “Guess we failed, huh? Well, how fast can we give up power?” Yeah, you can count on leaders for that. That’s why revolution is the ultimate sin, it’s completely unecessary.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 2:43 pm

        “The leaders reaching that conclusion?”

        Yes. The leadership which was born under communism and came of age after the war understood that their system did not work. Some, like Gorbachev, wanted to reform it without using force to secure the party’s power (and if he had chosen otherwise, the USSR would likely still exist today), others wanted to exercise force and secure power such as the members of the abortive coup against Gorbachev, and others, like Yeltsen and Putin, accepted the verdict of history that communism was a failed system, and worked to move Russia away from that system.

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 12:23 am

        Marxism has pretty consistently not worked. In fact, it’s produced several of the most horrific slaughters in the history of man and several of the most repressive states ever devised.

        Empirically, it’s obviously an extremely bad idea.

      • aiman
        June 27, 2012, 6:11 am

        “Nature red in tooth and claw” is actually a line of philosophical argument made by Darwin et al. Yes Tennyson did coin that expression, he was trying to capture the debate at the time.

        Also I am very much convinced that the “rationality” evinced by the New Atheists is provincial. It is a cheap, lazy deconstruction of theology. You would know that it was not irrational for early Christians to believe in the Genesis. Such accounts of the creation of the world can actually be found in various world narratives. It is very rational. People spoke of and understood the world in allegorical, narrative ways. What is irrational is to believe in narratives literally that science has rejected by people who have access to science. Some religious thinkers, in line with scientific discovery, believe Adam to be an allegory for mankind when man began to be rationally conscious. This rational consciousness endowed man with a need “to know”, to not just live and die. Some religious narratives, including in so-called primitive mythology, hint at evolutionary ideas long before Darwin came along.

        Also you forget that atheism itself can be totally irrational. For example, a number of Jews turned to atheism after the Holocaust. There is also a visible angst in writers like Bashevis Singer who continued to believe. They couldn’t believe that God could allow such suffering, such oppression and injustice. That argument for atheism is fundamentally irrational since we know that suffering begins right from the birth of the world, the birth of a child, even of the child in a womb.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:29 am

        @ColinWright,

        “Marxism has pretty consistently not worked.”

        Yes, but one could not have had that knowledge in 1917.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:46 am

        ““Nature red in tooth and claw” is actually a line of philosophical argument made by Darwin et al.”

        Then, please, cite to where Darwin used that phrase. I would be interested in reading the context in which he stated what you believe hie did.

        “Also I am very much convinced that the “rationality” evinced by the New Atheists is provincial. ”

        And that is your opinion and you are welcome to it. That is a common refrain from theists attempting to retain some semblance of rational cohereance to their inherently irrational enterprise.

        “You would know that it was not irrational for early Christians to believe in the Genesis.”

        Of course not. They were a society that, by current standards, were ignorant of nearly everything. One would not expect that they could produce much that we would find to be useful today, given that gross ignorance. As humans, they had a drive to understand, and a felicity to generate a story to answer questions which they had no way of answering. It was no fault of theirs that their myths were false. It is only the fault of those who came later, who should have known better, to credit this story as having any meaning to anyone other then those ancients.

        “Some religious narratives, including in so-called primitive mythology, hint at evolutionary ideas long before Darwin came along.”

        LOL. Yes, theological-minded people are well known to, after the fact, adopt fanciful interpretations of their texts to link them to actual knowledge which arose later. All nonsense, of course, because it is simply a very clear exercise of selection bias and fanciful reading. Amusing, but also kind of pathetic.

        “Also you forget that atheism itself can be totally irrational.” It can be. I am of the opinion that “strong” atheism is irrational. But the run-of-the-mill, “weak” atheism, the one that says there is no reasonable basis to believe that any god or gods or “supernatural” (whatever that is supposed to mean) realm exists, is the only rational statement that can be made in this whole area.

        “For example, a number of Jews turned to atheism after the Holocaust. ”

        There is nothing irrational in that. In fact, the only thing that is irrational was the fact that they didn’t do so before.

        “They couldn’t believe that God could allow such suffering, such oppression and injustice. That argument for atheism is fundamentally irrational since we know that suffering begins right from the birth of the world, the birth of a child, even of the child in a womb.”

        That counter argument makes no sense. Just because “suffering begins from the birth of the world, the birth of a child, even of the child in a womb” that such suffering is of the magnitude that is evidenced by the Holocaust. It is like saying that a parent whose child is murdered should not is irrational for feeling an especial pang of suffering because that parent has experienced suffering before, as when she stubbed her toe. It is the magnitude of the suffering in the Holocaust that was never theretofore experienced that is the key element in that argument, not the mere presence of suffering. (That being said, while I am okay if someone reaches atheism through this argument, and while I recognize the value of similar arguments about “the problem of evil,” I think there are many other, better arguments for atheism.)

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 1:35 pm

        “Marxism has pretty consistently not worked.”

        Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t Karl Marx write a radical analysis of the capitalist system? And didn’t he speculate on the possible end or collapse of capitalism and what might replace it?
        As far as I know Karl Marx never oversaw or fomented a revolution, nor did he re-organise a post-capitalist society into a socialist one, either a paradise or a hell.
        So I wonder if “Marxism” isn’t sort of an oxymoron, sort of?

      • cynicles
        June 27, 2012, 3:03 pm

        Where did Marx lay down what would replace capitalism beyond some vague statements that were interpreted differently by everyone. Last time I checked marxism was an analysis of Capitalism not a prescription for what would replace it. People need to actually read what he wrote instead of putting words in his mouth an ascribing things to him that he never did, like how people assume he invented socialism and communism.

      • aiman
        June 27, 2012, 10:36 pm

        A reading of the background of Tennyson’s poem will tell you that Tennyson was responding to and reflecting on the challenges made by people like Darwin to theological discourses. Tennyson didn’t invent the philosophical argument of “Nature red in tooth and claw”, he coined the expression. Which I also stated in my previous response. As for Darwin’s statements on the matter, there are several. Just google the phrase “devil’s chaplain”.

        There are also a number of thinkers like Newton who believed in God. The hijacking of the term “reason” and “rationality” by the New Atheists does not make sense. As Piotr said in this thread: “The opposition is not Faith and No-faith but Reason and Superstition.” For as early as the 8th century you have rationalist discourses in religion, and by “rationalist” I do not mean “atheist” as the New Atheists present it — building but also distorting the Eurocentric notion of “rationality” conceived earlier: link to en.wikipedia.org

        As for the Holocaust, it was undoubtedly the first exercise in killing human beings on an industrial scale, of base and wanton cruelty. It was also the work of human evil. But there were genocides that preceded the Holocaust, the massacres in the Americas, and enslavement and persecution of many human beings. I don’t think that from an objective point it is rational to disbelieve in God because of the Holocaust, as surely those who turned to atheism because of it were aware that suffering has long existed. The question really is, “Why us of all people?” Suffering and personal losses, not rationality, play a huge role in the atheist canon just as they do in religious conversion. These are largely the residue of unresolved philosophical arguments. The hand-wringing over the cruelty in the Bible, which is never the original rationale but one that follows in the mind that already believes that there is no God, is selective protest since the Bible also says “Thou shalt not kill”. The Bible then is said to be nothing more than an amalgam of “animal sacrifices” as if that’s all. Surely you would expect someone to make more reasoned, balanced arguments.

        If God exists, it is clear that He does not interfere directly in human affairs. The proof rests in the great world narratives of the story of man and the creatures that God is in fact good and has been very patient and merciful with human beings. It is human beings who distract themselves by blaming God while committing most evil acts such as terrorism, animal testing, profiteering from war, and subjugating women and vulnerable populations. They talk about “Nature red in tooth and claw” even though there is no evidence of gratuitous evil in nature, but there is gratuitous evil in us locking up helpless animals that cannot express themselves in the media. Regardless of whether you believe, perhaps we can agree that it is “us”, not God who bear the responsibility for evil.

        The earliest Christians were not uninformed by today’s standards. They used the resources and thought on what they knew just as we do. They knew as much as they could. I don’t think it’s helpful to compare human societies on a timeline. It is a Whiggish view of history. This is the argument that was used in the defence of colonising Indigenous lands. There is more than one way of thinking about the world, that has been my argument all along.

      • RoHa
        June 28, 2012, 1:58 am

        “even though there is no evidence of gratuitous evil in nature,”

        If God exists, and he created the world, then he is responsible for all the natural evil in the world. This includes all the natural disasters that lead to suffering, and all the various forms of predation. The prey suffers from predation. If it does not, the predator suffers from starvation. Either way there is suffering. God is responsible for this. He is supposed to be omnipotent and omniscient, and yet he did not find a better way of arranging the world. This is gratuitous evil.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:15 am

        “The word “atheist” has a fairly limited set of meanings and none of them precludes people from having passionate, irrational or other ideas, so long as they are not theists.”

        That’s for sure. I’m chock-full of passionate, irrational, and other ideas. I fail to see how that implies I believe in God.

        Something like Catholic theology is as intricately worked-out and rational as the IRS code. You just have to buy into the initial premise, and they’ll even do their best to help you with that.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:33 am

        “…as intricately worked-out and rational as the IRS code. You just have to buy into the initial premise…”

        Here’s where I would object. If the initial premise, itself, is not rational, then anything that grows from it might have internal consistency, but it can hardly be called rational. People have spend countless hours perfecting arguments about all manner of crackpot theories — you name it, UFOs, conspiracies by various groups, ESP, the existence of Bigfoot, whatever — which display all the hallmarks of intricacy and rationality as Catholic dogma. No one in his or her right mind would say that these arguments are rational, precisely because the initial premises are decidedly irrational.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 10:54 am

        “A reading of the background of Tennyson’s poem will tell you that Tennyson was responding to and reflecting on the challenges made by people like Darwin to theological discourses.”

        Yes, yes. I understand all that. My question was this: You twice stated or implied that “red in tooth and claw” was Darwin’s – you used it as an example of “Darwin’s best polemics against belief” and that it “is actually a line of philosophical argument made by Darwin et al.” You now seem to be backtracking on that and are saying that this is Tennyson’s take on the impact of Darwin’s work. Am I correct?

        “As for Darwin’s statements on the matter, there are several. Just google the phrase ‘devil’s chaplain’”

        Yes, he wrote that in a private letter to Joseph Hooker and was well aware of the philosophical ramifications which his discoveries about the nature of the world would have on those who still clung to outdated religious notions about nature.

        “There are also a number of thinkers like Newton who believed in God.”

        Yes, he also lived at a time of relative ignorance during which time the god hypothesis was the only way to answer questions which are now properly answered without resort to such theological nonsense.

        “The hijacking of the term “reason” and “rationality” by the New Atheists does not make sense.”

        There is no hijacking, and its application makes perfect sense. “Reason” and “rationality” are not merely verbs. They have substantive content to them. One can apply logical maxims and strict forms of argumentation and require the highest levels of expression, but if the subject you are discussing is how many fairies live in the garden, or how many virgins you have to toss into the volcano to make it rain, or the nature of the personality of the troll under the bridge, or the morality of a Jedi Knight’s use of the Force in certain situations, or the effect of Adam’s sin on the nature of nature, then you aren’t employing reason and rationality. You have, at most, a cargo-cult rationality. It looks like a fully functional WWII era jungle airstrip, but it’s really just coconut shells and twisted vines.

        “As Piotr said in this thread: ‘The opposition is not Faith and No-faith but Reason and Superstition.’”

        And if one of your premises is “god exists” then you are demonstrating superstition.

        “For as early as the 8th century you have rationalist discourses in religion”

        And the last 1200-1300 years have added sufficient knowledge about the world and reality that what may have been rational in 712 is not in 2012. For example, one can not longer rationally consider the cosmological argument on its own terms, because the initial premise – that everything which begins to exist has a cause or every finite being has a cause – has been shown false by quantum physics. So absent further knowledge which demonstrates quantum physics wrong, the First Cause argument is as dead as Paley’s watchmaker.

        “I don’t think that from an objective point it is rational to disbelieve in God because of the Holocaust,”

        Why not? If one’s view of God included a provision that “he would never permit the Holocaust to occur” (and there is no reason why that provision is any more or less irrational than the premise: “god exists,” given the total absence of any evidence on these questions) then the fact that it occur would be a fairly good basis to conclude his non-existence.

        “…as surely those who turned to atheism because of it were aware that suffering has long existed.”

        But, again, the question isn’t of “suffering existing” it is of that specific suffering.

        “The question really is, ‘Why us of all people?’”

        That could be it too, sure. And, again, if you are going to indulge in the fantasy that “god exists” is a rational statement, then there is no reason to state that “the god that exists will never permit a Holocaust on us, of all people” is any less rational.

        “Suffering and personal losses, not rationality, play a huge role in the atheist canon just as they do in religious conversion.”

        LOL. You’ve proven that atheists are human beings. Congratulations.

        “These are largely the residue of unresolved philosophical arguments.”

        No, it’s simply one of the many expected outcomes of accepting as true things for which there is no reason to believe. Since there is simply no basis to make any conclusions as to the nature of the god which you simply assume exists, you cannot build any rational argument on that foundation, because there is, by definition, no basis to discern a truthful (or even logically consistent) statement about this presumed god from an untruthful one.

        “The hand-wringing over the cruelty in the Bible, which is never the original rationale but one that follows in the mind that already believes that there is no God, is selective protest since the Bible also says ‘Thou shalt not kill’.”

        No, that simply demonstrates that the Bible is a highly flawed and internally inconsistent book.

        “The Bible then is said to be nothing more than an amalgam of ‘animal sacrifices’ as if that’s all. Surely you would expect someone to make more reasoned, balanced arguments.”

        When one side of the argument has, as an assumption, something as big as the existence of a god, there is a limit to the reason that the other side can be expected to maintain. After a while, assumptions atop assumptions make the theists’ arguments completely devoid of any meaningful content.

        “If God exists, it is clear that He does not interfere directly in human affairs.”

        LOL. Then it would be interesting to see how the vast majority of the world’s theists, who don’t seem to believe this to be the case, but believe that this god has affected them directly, would respond.

        “The proof rests in the great world narratives of the story of man and the creatures that God is in fact good and has been very patient and merciful with human beings.”

        This is nothing but you dressing up the ideas of what you want to believe in clothing and playing with them like dolls. The story of man and nature could equally (and probably more in keeping with reality) is a history of unremitting bloodshed, needless death, pain, suffering, strife and a cold, pitiless universe. If one is foolish enough to attempt to derive a moral lesson about the nature of god from that, one can only conclude that he is a psychopath.

        “ It is human beings who distract themselves by blaming God while committing most evil acts such as terrorism, animal testing, profiteering from war, and subjugating women and vulnerable populations.”

        Yes, and in many, if not most, cases the human beings who commit these acts do them on the argument that they are sanctioned by this god, and they are often highly supported by theological arguments.

        “They talk about “Nature red in tooth and claw” even though there is no evidence of gratuitous evil in nature,”

        If there is no evil in nature, it is only because evil is a social construct that only exists in the confines of human society. Certainly nature abounds with things that, if committed by humans, would be unquestionably be labeled cruel. (See, e.g., cat playing with mouse.)

        “Regardless of whether you believe, perhaps we can agree that it is “us”, not God who bear the responsibility for evil.”

        Only because there is no reason to believe that there is a such thing as a god. If one did exists as the Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions say, then he is absolutely responsible. The buck stops there.

        “The earliest Christians were not uninformed by today’s standards.”

        Yes, they were. Most elementary school children today know more true facts about the world than the wisest of the early Christians knew.

        “They used the resources and thought on what they knew just as we do.”

        Yes, but the problem is that there was so much that they did not know that they filled it up with fictions about god and devil and original sin and other assorted nonsense.

        “I don’t think it’s helpful to compare human societies on a timeline.”

        But it’s less helpful to pretend that statements on these subject, throughout the ages are all equally valid, notwithstanding the increase in knowledge as time passed.

        “It is a Whiggish view of history.”

        No, it’s not. The steady accumulation of knowledge through time is a simple fact. There is no value judgment in that, per se. Whether that accumulation translates in things getting better through time, as the Whiggish view suggests, is another matter. The accumulation of knowledge can make life better, but it is not always the case. (Certainly the lives of the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not made better by the accumulation of knowledge about the fission of heavy atoms.)

        “This is the argument that was used in the defence of colonising Indigenous lands.”

        Then it’s a good thing that it’s nothing more than your strawman.

        “There is more than one way of thinking about the world, that has been my argument all along.”

        Yes, but that does not mean that they are all equal or even that they are all useful.

      • aiman
        June 28, 2012, 9:23 pm

        Our arguments cannot be resolved on this site, so let me make this brief and final, contextual to the Israel-Palestinian debate. First to respond to the confusion about me “backtracking” on the Tennyson quote. Yes it is in fact “a line of philosophical argument made by Darwin et al.” ‘A line of philosophical of argument’ does not mean a direct line, it is more a path of argument. Here’s more information: link to forum.wordreference.com. Tennyson coined the phrase to highlight theological anxiety in the face of Darwin et al.’s criticisms.

        Moving on to New Atheists, particularly Dawkins and Harris. Dawkins has not been commented upon in this article even though Dawkins misrepresents Palestinians in his documentary. While atheists have long existed, yes even before the Renaissance, New Atheism feeds off the post-9/11 paranoia. It often exploits post-9/11 paranoia to further its own agenda. Dawkins can be quite the opportunist, just as he said of the planes that flew into the tower: ‘It came from religion’. Thus my opposition to New Atheism just as I oppose religious fundamentalism.

        About God interfering directly in human affairs, I doubt anyone who understands belief believes that. It is widely accepted that God “moves in a mysterious way”, working through what is on earth, that can even mean working through people open to kindness to benefit others. We don’t know who or what God is. If God exists and He was unjust or a “psychopath” as you described, this world would not exist. This error was made by the guy who asked God to strike him down with a lightning bolt. He thought God thought just like him, just like the comical quotes by George Carlin who portrayed God as some sort of a superman in the sky. While there has been bloodshed and cruelty, committed by humans of course, this world also has great beauty and calm. There is predation but animals don’t think that they are going to be eaten all the time. There is a joy in life just as much there is pain. Following the period of English Romanticism, of poets like Wordsworth, I learnt how they described Nature more coherently.

        Also your view can be described as Whiggish. It employs a faith in “rationality”, impugning human beings who have gone before, reducing them to “ignorance”. This is Hitchens talking. In fact a similar view by a left-wing pro-Palestinian advocate has been critiqued by another left-wing, pro-Palestinian atheist for the fallacy. Your arguments only differ from that of Hitchens’s and Harris’s on the element of political strategy: link to overland.org.au

        The responses by Jeff Sparrow are spot on.

        Enlightenment-thumping is just as disagreeable as Bible-thumping and Obama-thumping.

        Having said all that I admit that not all my responses are adequate. There is a certain disadvantage with exchanging responses online where one can give off an air of self-righteousness. We are all on a journey to better understand the world and that means learning new things. Like I agree with some of your concerns about evil, and can confess to ignorance of many such matters. Cheers.

      • demize
        June 28, 2012, 9:44 pm

        well said. Now let us reflect by smashing clams on our bellies. Hail science , Praise reason..

      • RoHa
        June 28, 2012, 10:15 pm

        “There is predation but animals don’t think that they are going to be eaten all the time.”

        They still suffer when they are eaten. God is responsible for that suffering.

        ” There is a joy in life just as much there is pain.”

        If God were truly benevolent, there would be no pain.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 9:41 am

        “First to respond to the confusion about me ‘backtracking’ on the Tennyson quote. Yes it is in fact ‘a line of philosophical argument made by Darwin et al.'”

        But that does not explain your statement that it was “an example of ‘Darwin’s best polemics against belief’.” How does that fit into this. Because Darwin’s position on this was nto make polemics against belief, but to merely say what was. He understood that there were theological ramifications, but it’s not like he was making theological arguments. He was making scientific, biological arguments, and noting that the theologists would have a problem because their philosophies were built on ideas about the natural world that were false.

        “Dawkins has not been commented upon in this article even though Dawkins misrepresents Palestinians in his documentary.”

        Which documentary? What did he say?

        “New Atheism feeds off the post-9/11 paranoia”

        Nonsense. 9/11 was a wake up call in America and the West generally as to what danger religious thinking could pose. It was nothing more than non-theist-types concluding that the theretofore politeness they displayed — keeping their ideas about the danger and idiocy of faithful thinking and religious belief for fear of offending people with moderate religious beliefs — was wrongheaded, as it created an environment where extremist religious belief could flourish.

        ” just as he said of the planes that flew into the tower: ‘It came from religion’.”

        They did. Those men died with religious expressions on their lips. There were political components to it, too, no doubt, but there can be no denial that the religious imperative dominated.

        “We don’t know who or what God is.”

        The to hold any opinion on the subject is idiocy.

        “If God exists and He was unjust or a ‘psychopath’ as you described, this world would not exist.”

        You have no way of knowing that. There is nothing logically inconsistent with a god who was unjust or a muderous psychopath — as the god of Abraham appears to be — and this world existing.

        “There is predation but animals don’t think that they are going to be eaten all the time.”

        LMAO. Wow, you have no experience with animals, do you. Put a prey animal in a vulnerable position and that is all they appear to think about. Granted, it’s not 100%, but they spend an overwhelming percentage of their lives thinking about predation, to judge by their actions.

        “Following the period of English Romanticism, of poets like Wordsworth, I learnt how they described Nature more coherently.”

        Oh, baloney. The Romanticists portrayed a fantasy of what they thought should be, not what was.

        “Also your view can be described as Whiggish.”

        Nonsense. As I said before, I don’t believe in the concept of progress through time, which is an elemental part of Whiggishness, in my understanding of it.

        “It employs a faith in ‘rationality’, impugning human beings who have gone before, reducing them to ‘ignorance’.”

        That’s not Whiggish thinking, that’s unrebuttable fact. We know — as an absolute fact — more about the world and existence than people who came before us because we built on their knowledge and discarded their false ideas. To suggest that this obvious fact is ideological is to indulge in fantasy and gibberish.

        “The responses by Jeff Sparrow are spot on.”

        I think that Sparrow’s points are misguided and, in many cases, false. He suffers from the mirror of the affliction that he accuses Harris and Hitchens of employing.

        “Enlightenment-thumping is just as disagreeable as Bible-thumping and Obama-thumping.”

        Exactly what do you propose as an alternative to the lessons of the Enlightenment? Casting runes? Basing modern policy on Bronze-age myths? Prophesy? Considering the opinions of people who reach them based on wish fulfillment and fantasy?

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:33 am

        You’re basically right — but I’m pretty sure Marx thought 1848 was just great and did all he could to encourage the various revolutions.

        Maybe not. Anyway, Marx and Marxism is a fine analysis of the conditions obtaining in the early industrial revolution. As the model is extended back into the past or forward into the future, it becomes increasingly inaccurate.

        History (and the related social sciences) are not physics. There are no absolute laws or universal principles that I can think of. There are models that can be more or less useful in understanding the usual chaos of human behavior — but none of them have unqualified validity. Attempts to act as if it were otherwise tend to lead to useless murk if applied to the past and unpleasant consequences if applied to the future.

        I have no beef with Marx himself. Fine guy, with some interesting perceptions. I think Marxism — and the pig-headed attempts to keep applying it — is one of the more unfortunate chapters in human history.

    • ritzl
      June 26, 2012, 12:20 am

      Agreed. Brilliant post. And comments. Bookmarked.

      There’s so much practical insight to contemplate, learn from, and internalize here about, well, everything. Broadly applicable.

      I’m only about halfway through the article, but this stood out:

      “What the religion of the bomber is depends on at which point of history you begin to start your timeline.”

      Skip religion, all historical “justification” arguments “depend on which point…” as everyone here knows so well. Words to live (discriminate, intellectually speaking) by.

      On to the rest…

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:29 am

        “…Skip religion, all historical “justification” arguments “depend on which point…” as everyone here knows so well. Words to live (discriminate, intellectually speaking) by…”

        All? The generalization sounds good, but I don’t think it holds water. For example, at exactly which would be the point one could pick that would make the Mongol sack and virtually total extermination of the population of Kiev justified?

        You have a point with back and forths like France’s series of wars with Germany and her predecessor states (go to Louis XIV and Napoleon if you want the Germans to be right), and you have in mind, of course, the examples of Israel vigorously claiming ‘Hamas started it’ in mind, but I don’t think the generalization has any larger validity.

        Take something like the Spanish conquest of the New World. One can adopt the Catholic justification that they were saving the souls of all those Indians, or one can take the more usual position that it was a horrific and unjustified act of aggression. Either way, though, there’s no back and forth. Either it was right and it always was right, or it was wrong and it was always wrong. One can talk about values changing, but that’s a different matter. It’s still not a case of attack, retaliation for the attack, retaliation for the retaliation… That situation is not a universal historical principle.

    • Daniel Rich
      June 26, 2012, 4:34 am

      @ Dan Crowther,

      Q: Harris and Hitchens…

      R: … are now unfortunately in heaven and denoted to M&M’s

      • Dan Crowther
        June 26, 2012, 9:28 am

        Bashing religion for “intellectuals” is like being a “pro-gay” politician – on the surface they seem radical, but on further inspection, you realize what safe choices they are making.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 6:45 pm

        In America, bashing religion for anybody is a brave act. Hell, in large parts of the USA, being an atheist is a brave act.

      • libra
        June 26, 2012, 8:41 pm

        WT: In America, bashing religion for anybody is a brave act. Hell, in large parts of the USA, being an atheist is a brave act.

        And now martyrdom beckons! Really Woody, you’re not doing a good job of convincing me that this New Atheism isn’t turning into a religion.

        But seriously, it’s not worth risking your life for a non-belief. That just wouldn’t be rational.

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 12:27 am

        “…In America, bashing religion for anybody is a brave act. Hell, in large parts of the USA, being an atheist is a brave act…”

        I don’t think so. Naturally, if it makes you insecure if people obstinately fail to agree with you, yeah — you’ll have a hard row to hoe.

        However, I know a guy who lives in Greeneville, North Carolina who is quite openly contemptuous of organized religion. He’s even got some good jokes.

        Q: Why do you always take two Baptists fishing?

        A: So they won’t drink your beer.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:52 am

        “And now martyrdom beckons!”

        Not martyrdom. A simple fact. In a country which is as religion-addled as the USA, atheists court social, economic and political loss when they assert their atheism.

        “Really Woody, you’re not doing a good job of convincing me that this New Atheism isn’t turning into a religion.”

        Well, since I really don’t care much if you choose to believe nonsense, I can’t say I drum up much concern.

        “But seriously, it’s not worth risking your life for a non-belief. That just wouldn’t be rational.”

        Who said anything about “risking your life”? (Although it is a fact that many atheists who take public stands defending themselves have been subject to death threats from religious people.) If a religious person threatens your life unless you adopt a particular religion, only a fool would persist in publicly retaining their current religious affiliation. The one who dies rather than deny his religion is an idiot. Rather, you say whatever you need to, say whatever meaningless incantations you must, act out whatever foolish ceremony you have to, and then escape at your first opportunity.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 8:00 am

        “I don’t think so. Naturally, if it makes you insecure if people obstinately fail to agree with you, yeah — you’ll have a hard row to hoe.”

        It is a brave act. It is simply a fact that atheists regularly suffer death threats for doing nothing more than standing up for themselves and their rights.

      • Dan Crowther
        June 27, 2012, 12:27 pm

        “In a country which is as religion-addled as the USA, atheists court social, economic and political loss when they assert their atheism. ”
        -WT

        But in the Northeast and on the West Coast, you can definitely be an atheist and not face any social or economic sanction. And if you are in the most “religion addled” parts of the country, you’re already operating at a social, economic and political loss. :)

        ** New England Elitist Warning** Crowther is just not a fan of the south and what he refers to as flyover country**

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 1:02 pm

        “But in the Northeast and on the West Coast, you can definitely be an atheist and not face any social or economic sanction.”

        In 2010 an atheist student, a 16 year old girl, objected to a christian prayer displayed in her school. It eventually led to a lawsuit, which the student won. Afterwards, students and others made numerous death threats against her (which continue to this day) and a state Representative called the student — who was doing nothing but standing up for her rights under the US Constitution — an “evil little thing.”

        This didn’t happen in Dixie or in flyover country, Dan. It happened in Cranston, Rhode Island; 5 miles from the State Capitol.

      • Dan Crowther
        June 27, 2012, 2:40 pm

        A little Dateline NBCesque no? A couple of years ago a HS girl in RI? So?
        We can be anecdotal all day, I suppose – but its just not a society that’s intolerant to non-belief; this is an abstract issue, like sexual preference where the only “pro” side of the argument should be: mind your own fckin business. .
        Americans treat each other poorly and are unafraid to tell people where to stick on a host of issues – if they dont feel the same as it regards religious beliefs, thats on them. It aint societies fault.

        you indirectly make a good point about a lot of atheists – why would she make a big deal about a displayed prayer? how can a non existent god offend someone? The idea of an atheist having views or beliefs on religion that could be offended by a sign is laughable. That kid sounds like an asshole, and if “atheist identity” is going to be used as a way to stifle the speech of others, or lead to more arbitrary PC nonsense, like “holiday tree” campaigns, yeah count me out. that shit is stupid. almost as stupid as a belief in the man in the sky.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 3:01 pm

        “A couple of years ago a HS girl in RI? So?”

        So? The point is that is completely disproves your remark that if one is an atheist in the Northeast or the West Coast that you won’t face social sanction. I think that death threats and having a state Representative call you “evil” for sticking up for your constitutional rights — happening deep in the heart of New England — pretty much puts a fork on your notion that the problems is only a regional one.

        “why would she make a big deal about a displayed prayer?”

        Because it’s a violation of the constitution. Many of us take that seriously.

        “how can a non existent god offend someone?”

        The offense is the government violating the constitution.

        “The idea of an atheist having views or beliefs on religion that could be offended by a sign is laughable.”

        The offense isn’t the view or belief on religion. It’s the fact that it’s the government taking the action.

        “That kid sounds like an asshole”

        I’m sure many people think the same of you.

        “and if ‘atheist identity’ is going to be used as a way to stifle the speech of others,”

        It’s not. The government has no speech rights at issue.

        “or lead to more arbitrary PC nonsense, like ‘holiday tree’ campaigns, yeah count me out”

        I wouldn’t count on you for anything. And if the government doesn’t want “holiday trees” they are free to have no commemoration at all. If they don’t like it, tough.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 3:03 pm

        “openly contemptuous of organized religion.”

        Just because one is an atheist, doesn’t mean one must be a loud-mouthed boor, does it? Why couldn’t an atheist see religion as something which may have enjoyable aspects (smells, bells, Gospel music, historic structures and art)?
        But it’s bad and false? So are a lot of things.
        Seems like an atheist would be mostly concerned with not being hurt, or letting religion hurt the ones he loves (if we can assume for the sake of arguments that atheists can love), and realising that religion’s self-deception can lead people to do harm (you know, the old believe-absurdities-do-atrocities wheeze) he would conclude that deceiving believers with regard to his own belief is a necessary act.
        If, of course, one was an atheist, of course.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 3:58 pm

        “how can a non existent god offend someone?”

        Oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe by demanding human sacrifice, or genital mutilation (which we know is the most important, most basic and essential part of Judaism. Why, go look at the thread on it!) Or imprisoning you or burning you for heresy.
        Just little non-existent things like that.

      • Dan Crowther
        June 27, 2012, 9:27 pm

        Why so serious Woody? – I was half takin a piss as the expression goes. sorry if i offended.
        ————————————-
        ““A couple of years ago a HS girl in RI? So?”

        So? The point is that is completely disproves your remark that if one is an atheist in the Northeast or the West Coast that you won’t face social sanction. I think that death threats and having a state Representative call you “evil” for sticking up for your constitutional rights — happening deep in the heart of New England — pretty much puts a fork on your notion that the problems is only a regional one.
        —————
        Like I said, one example. And I am sure there are others – but overall, generally speaking, I’m sorry, I dont think most people think its a big deal in the parts of the country I jokingly referenced. Churches are closing like a Mofo up here.

        Mooser (with a small edit from me) pretty much sums up my views here:
        Just because one is an atheist, doesn’t mean one must be a loud-mouthed boor (about it), does it?
        ——————-
        The public atheists are a-holes. I dont mean it as an insult, just an observation, I like a-holes. And I think if a dislike of atheists exists, its because atheism is associated with this public know-it-all-ness, this extreme condescension from cats like Harris or Hitchens. And maybe this association is why I bristle at the idea of (not saying this is what you specifically are proposing) atheists being in need of protected identity status. I feel most can take care of themselves and are in positions to do so.
        ————————-

        Mooser says:
        June 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm

        “how can a non existent god offend someone?”

        Oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe by demanding human sacrifice………….
        ———————–
        We’re talking about the example of the kid in the school hallway. Woody is absolutely correct about all the rights issues at play in the example, no question. I was hoping to use it as a backdrop for a more general point about the irony of an atheist using the ol’ “as a (blank), I…”
        identity trap used by the religious to justify their nonsense. But sure, the Moose Man’s points are well taken – and Woody, you know love lives here my brother!

        I’m a Bokononist.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:32 am

        “It is a brave act. It is simply a fact that atheists regularly suffer death threats for doing nothing more than standing up for themselves and their rights.”

        Ah. A brave act where? Not where I live. Is it a brave act where you live?

        It’d be a brave act to walk upright across the street if there was a firefight going on. If there’s not a firefight going on, walking across the street is not a brave act. Neither is it a brave act to be an atheist most of the places most of us live.

        I can think of quite a few acts I commit that I approach with some trepidation. However, declaring that I am an atheist is not one of them.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:39 am

        ” “how can a non existent god offend someone?”

        Oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe by demanding human sacrifice, or genital mutilation (which we know is the most important, most basic and essential part of Judaism. Why, go look at the thread on it!) Or imprisoning you or burning you for heresy…”

        Even if something doesn’t exist, it is, for many intents and purposes, there. If we all think that a vicious wolf lives in the wood, we will only go through the wood in daylight, travel only in groups, take care to arm ourselves with at least a stout stick, look about constantly, etc.

        The wolf isn’t there, but he’s dictating our behavior all the same. Belief is real.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:54 am

        “Why so serious Woody? – I was half takin a piss as the expression goes. sorry if i offended.”

        Dan, I will admit that I expected better from you. To say that this girl, who did nothing more than stand up for herself and her rights, is an asshole, is the same calling African Americans standing up for their rights not to be discriminated against or working people standing up for their right to be unionized or for a decent wage or poor people seeking to have the public safety net protected, as “assholes.”

        And, yes, while things are better in the Northeast and West coast than in other places, even in those places, atheists face death threats for nothing other than standing up for the constitution. That is a problem, even if one doesn’t want to say that most people who are atheists can handle it. Is it okay for Muslims, who seek nothing more than to build a mosque on their own private land, to get death threats for wanting to exercise their rights? I doubt if you would say it was. So why the change when it comes to atheists?

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:55 am

        “A brave act where?”

        A brave act anywhere where it can be greeted with death threats, discrimination or other reactions, for doing nothing more than demanding one’s rights.

      • Dan Crowther
        June 28, 2012, 3:52 pm

        Like I said, Woody – you are 100% correct across the board. I have no counter argument for your hypotheticals, nor do I want to make a half assed attempt, because I do agree with your sentiments.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 9:41 am

        Thanks, Dan. I appreciate that.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:42 am

        ‘ …“A couple of years ago a HS girl in RI? So?”

        So? The point is that is completely disproves your remark that if one is an atheist in the Northeast or the West Coast that you won’t face social sanction…’

        Oh really. All kinds of bizarre one offs have happened to me in my life. They prove nothing.

        People have probably been killed by golf balls. That doesn’t prove golf is a dangerous sport.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 2:48 am

        ‘ “A brave act where?”

        A brave act anywhere where it can be greeted with death threats, discrimination or other reactions, for doing nothing more than demanding one’s rights…”

        Your logic here appears to be that because one girl once received death threats as a consequence of behavior that involved but was hardly confined to asserting her atheism, asserting one’s atheism is necessarily a ‘brave act.’

        When I went to Hawaii, I went swimming. Shark attacks happen occasionally in Hawaii. Remarkably few, considering that about 20% of the human population is in the water at any given time, but they do happen.

        Was it a ‘brave act’ for me to go swimming? Would you say that I am a hero?

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:33 am

        “Oh really. All kinds of bizarre one offs have happened to me in my life. They prove nothing.”

        Fine. Believe whatever the hell you want.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:34 am

        “Your logic here appears to be that because one girl once received death threats as a consequence of behavior that involved but was hardly confined to asserting her atheism, asserting one’s atheism is necessarily a ‘brave act.’”

        Yes. And she did nothing more than assert her atheism and defend her rights. If you don’t think she’s a hero for defending her rights, then it is you that has the problem.

  6. piotr
    June 25, 2012, 3:56 pm

    I remember a letter to editor of some on-line Indian newspaper citing this gem “not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is Muslim”. I also know Indians from states were the terrorist Naxalite movement is endemic. Naxalites are perhaps moderate as terrorists go, but they sabotage and kill. They operate mostly in remote rural areas with “tribal” population, so urban Indians may ignore their existence.

    One should be a bit more pro-active in debunking bull manure, namely, challenge idiotic (although plausibly sounding) premises. For example, among a variety of terrorist acts and other atrocities, are suicide attacks more vile than other? Is placing a bomb in a milk container and the container in a crowded market place less vile than blowing ourselves up to inflict the same damage to others?

    The mighty and the weak commit crimes in different ways using different tools. Pseudo-ethicists like Harris will quickly classify the methods of the mighty as morally superior. Except when we do not like the mighty ones, as in Syria were we support “terrorists” against “law and order”, and some of these terrorists we branded by ourself as such when they did the same stuff in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, Derschowitz and other pseudo-ethicists had a field day mocking the idea of “proportionality”, a pea-brained concept invented to disarm strong and just when they fight weak and vile. Destroying the airport, power station, oil tanks, meat processing plants — a war is a war, little children, when you chop wood some spliters will fly. Two years later there is a conflict of Georgia and Russia and guess what? Proportionality is back! For a few weeks at least. And nobody asks how is it that Russians can fight without destroying the airport in the capital, power stations, oil tanks and meat processing plants. They are heretics and vile. Except when we need a favor. Or vile. Or except. With Russia we consistently alternate our positions.

    The most hilarious argument raised during that war was that we should support Georgia as “the second oldest Christian state”. Why the second one is so special? Because the oldest Christian state, Armenia, survives only because of the support from Russia and Iran. Anyway, we are morally superior to Iran because we support the second one, and they support the first [this is my own pseudo-ethical proposal, trying to add some logic to that bussiness].

    The second most hilarious argument (and thus deserving most support, as we have just discussed) is that we have to fight against Sharia laws while recognizing that Halacha is much, much better, and worthy of support. When the Chief Rabbi to IDF sends a letter to the troops exhorting them to show no mercy on the enemy — aren’t those Rabbis adorable with their quaint beards and head gear? And aren’t “the mullahs” or “moooolah” awful with their quaint beards and head gear. Backward mullahs say that a women should not go out without a male relative and covering their bodies. Adorable rabbis say that a married women should not go out, “perhaps once a month”. And of course she should stay out of sight when she goes out, and please, do not bother male relatives who have important stuff to do (so no, no company of male relatives, that makes it easier to sit them at the end of the bus).

    Of course, the Wahhabi fanatics are much worse than the Halachic fanatics because they totally wrongly permit consumption of shrimp (the draw a line at frogs) and the milk of camels and horse mares.

    .

    • Shingo
      June 26, 2012, 9:45 am

      Superb comment piotr

    • kapok
      June 26, 2012, 1:10 pm

      Whom do the Naxalites kill? The cruel landlords and the police who do their bidding? They require killing.

      • kapok
        June 26, 2012, 1:32 pm

        This is what the Indian people are up against. Only the Naxalites and a few others are actually doing anything about it.

        link to profit.ndtv.com

      • piotr
        June 26, 2012, 1:48 pm

        Naxalites are moderate as terrorists go, but they are still terrorists, and effectiveness of their revolutionary strategy can be questioned — I am not aware if they achieved much. I have only a vague idea about their program, so I will not comment too much on that.

        Terror as a tactic is wrong for similar reasons as torture. The obvious demerit is that you should not do it to people. The second is limited effectiveness for a non-obvious reason — violence is addictive and affects the rationality of the perpetrators, even those (or especially those) who are not engaged personally, but are decision makers.

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 2:38 pm

        “The second is limited effectiveness for a non-obvious reason — violence is addictive and affects the rationality of the perpetrators, even those (or especially those) who are not engaged personally, but are decision makers.”

        That’s Catch 23

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 1:53 pm

        “The cruel landlords and the police who do their bidding? They require killing.”

        Of course, having redefined the landlords as ‘cruel landlords’ and reduced the role of the police to those ‘who do their bidding’ it’s pretty much a gimme that it’s okay to kill them.

        I am reminded of Zionist rhetoric, of all things. One redefines any Palestinian who resists as a ‘terrorist’ and starts yelling about ‘Islamofascism.’ Then it’s okay to kill.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 3:16 pm

        Fer God’s godforsaken sake, Colin! What kind of world would this be if it wasn’t alright to kill somebody? You expect man to give up the only real power, the only real solution, he has? What is a guy supposed to do, wait around for the bad people to just die on their own? They can be an “unconscionable time” about it, as somebody once said about some other guy who I don’t remember who it was.
        If it wasn’t allright to kill somebody, would life be worth living?

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:43 am

        A man who has not killed is like virgin.

    • ColinWright
      July 1, 2012, 2:53 am

      “…I remember a letter to editor of some on-line Indian newspaper citing this gem “not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is Muslim”. ..”

      My favorite was ‘they hate us for our freedom.’ I can recall people actually defending that proposition. Indeed, it was all the rage for a while.

      It seems to have gone out of fashion. Whether because it was so obviously idiotic or because we’ve done so much to assuage any hostility anyone might feel on that score, I’m not sure.

  7. American
    June 25, 2012, 4:00 pm

    All religious fundamentalist are alike…iow, crazy.

  8. MHughes976
    June 25, 2012, 4:07 pm

    There is a great deal to think about here. My first reaction is that there is no special difficulty in an atheist’s having theological opinions. There may in truth be no ideal being, but that doesn’t prevent us from having any idea of what an ideal being, if there were one, would be like: that Being might command and prohibit certain things. Maybe the morality of Judaism or Islam or Mormonism or something else we dream up. So there isn’t much logical problem in being an atheist who strongly favours Islam or Anglicanism or the Religion of Me, though we seem much more familiar and comfortable with the idea of being an atheist who strongly favours Judaism.

  9. Ranjit Suresh
    June 25, 2012, 4:11 pm

    Woody – In Japan there is no mandate to be an exclusive adherent of Shinto or Buddhism, right? The kamikaze pilots could be following State Shinto, and yet upon their death they received Buddhist funeral rites.

    At any rate, it seems that unlike in the monotheistic religions, Japanese religion offers little in the way of protective injunctions against suicide.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 25, 2012, 5:28 pm

      That is true, Ranjit. But I think that, in the context of the war, the religious imperative (to the extent it was religious and not nationalist masquerading as religion) was State Shinto, with its emperor worship. But I don’t believe there is any exclusivity that prevents one from being an adherent of both. I know that there was some syncretism between the two in Japan through the centuries.

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 1:48 pm

        Japanese Buddhists weren’t all sweetness and light.

        For example, Japanese Buddhist priests were key players in staging the provocations that led to fighting breaking out in Shanghai in 1937 between Chinese and Japanese forces.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 2:00 pm

        “Japanese Buddhists weren’t all sweetness and light.”

        No, that wasn’t my point. My point was merely that the nationalist and militaristic elements of Japanese culture in the first third of the Shōwa era were connected to State Shinto.

  10. gracie fr
    June 25, 2012, 4:51 pm

    Sam Harris got a lot of media attention as an advocate of “rational thought” during the last year of Christopher Hitchens’s battle with cancer. Both were purveyors of the idea that science and scientific minds were an anecdote to the emotionalism of the Teabaggers and Religious Right’s mindless acceptance of Creationism. An atheist friend of mind thought Harris the next best thing to buttered bread and sent one of his hour long screeds for me to watch, one of the ones filled with slides of lots of angry Muslims without any contextual information and for all I know, maybe they had a right to be angry. Nonetheless, it is shocking that Harris has such a wide following mainly due to debates with credible intellectuals and religious leaders, many of whom he makes look ridiculous and thereby discredits them in a show of arrogant browbeating and disparagement….

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 25, 2012, 5:31 pm

      There is, sadly, a degree of hatred of Islam among the New Atheists that goes beyond the mere distain for religion and religious thought, practices and faith. But even in that community, Harris has burned quite a few bridges, especially of late with his calls for discrimination in air travel for people who “look Muslim.” (He did an email debate with a security expert who really took him apart on that.)

  11. traintosiberia
    June 25, 2012, 8:46 pm

    Sam Harris is routing the earleir false assertion of Friedman that there was no muslim voices against 911 attack immidiately after the event. There were from Pakistan to Mali.Some of those you have referred to are from the prominent people. There was candle light vigil in Iran. But unfortunately this intellectual dwarf by name Harris ends his falsehood as expected by blmaing any 911 connection to Israel as antisemitic islamic canard.He again wants to remian silent despite being in the know that there were connections which got exposed immmidialey but were ignored by Israeli controlled media and Congress. In addition to these expose’, figures like ex -President of Italy, Alan Sabrosky :Director of Studies at the US Army War College (former),Steve Pieczenik, MD, PhD, and a few other have questioned the official silence on Israeli connection to 911. There are “too many coincidences” like Odigo e mail, and Urban Movers escape from USA and the confession of some militray-intelligence professioanls from Israel on Israeli TV to be ignored. There are not muslim-generated canard .It is Harris and his ilk generated silence forced on the rest.

    • ColinWright
      June 27, 2012, 1:45 pm

      “…There are “too many coincidences” like Odigo e mail, and Urban Movers escape from USA and the confession of some militray-intelligence professioanls from Israel on Israeli TV to be ignored. There are not muslim-generated canard .It is Harris and his ilk generated silence forced on the rest.”

      …and as so often, that silence generates the wildest suspicions. My own guess is that quite a few people were playing footsie with Islamic fundamentalist groups in the run-up to 9/11 — and had to hastily change their shirt and insist they’d never been anywhere near that party when it got so serious so suddenly — but I don’t think there was any overarching conspiracy.

      That’s just my guess, though. Where I’d put my money if I had to bet. I’d like to know the exact details. Else there is this lingering suspicion. Was this another Liberty?

    • ColinWright
      July 1, 2012, 3:01 am

      “…Sam Harris is routing the earleir false assertion of Friedman that there was no muslim voices against 911 attack immidiately after the event…

      It’s difficult to believe people are not consciously lying when they make such an assertion.

      I remember the aftermath of 9/11 — every state on the planet made sure to immediately disassociate themselves from the attack and to condemn it. In fact, the two exceptions were Afghanistan and Iraq — which is actually how Saddam Hussein managed to move so quickly to the official top of our hit list. He stuck up his hand and volunteered. Not that I am implying this was our only motive — but it certainly made things easier.

  12. traintosiberia
    June 25, 2012, 8:50 pm

    What is interesting that Harris is hiding behind the atheism to support.nurture,and hide atrocious Zionisitc behaviors starting from its conception in Basel continuing till date .The behavior gets its sustenance from only one source ‘God gave the land to us”.

    • piotr
      June 26, 2012, 7:35 pm

      Dear train,

      it seems that a very large percentage of Zionist is still not religious. There are many secular myths concerning immaculate conception of the State of Israel, e.g. “people without land to the land without people”. The latter is simultaneously a myth and a rational statement. To see why, recall the society column of Vogue in September 1936 (I am paraphrasing from memory): “In August, there was nobody in New York City”. While there were several millions of individuals in the city, everybody who was SOMEBODY was in a place more appropriate for hot weather before the age of air conditioning.

      This particular myth is richly embroidered and has a good circulation from what I know. And there is a number of others, like “Palestinians are Nazis”.

  13. traintosiberia
    June 25, 2012, 9:05 pm

    ” he urges a pre-emptive nuclear strike if they should acquire the bomb. It will be an “unthinkable crime,” he reassures, but we must do it for the sake of Western Civ. ”

    Only a race and religion -based fanatic can come up with this rationale. A similar argumnets were offered by atheist Pol Pot in killing fields of Cambodia who finished off large chink of muslim population while hiding behind the veneer of atheism. Harris is simply uisng atheism to adavnce the causes of zionism so that athiest get the balme and not his fellow co religionist

    • ColinWright
      June 27, 2012, 1:36 pm

      ‘…It will be an “unthinkable crime,” he reassures, but we must do it for the sake of Western Civ. ”…”

      Lol. Hopefully, you’re paraphrasing. When people start saying things like this, we’re really in trouble. Again, this happens to inadvertently paraphrase a speech Himmler made in 1943. ‘We had to do this awful thing, and no one will ever thank us, and we can’t even admit we did it, but it was the ultimate sacrifice. We had to do it to save Germany.’

  14. Bravo
    June 25, 2012, 11:49 pm

    this is one of the best pieces i’ve read on here in a long time.

    the reality is that reactionary bigots like harris really limit the debate among the muslim community. harris’ outlandish statements force everyone, including secular muslims like myself, to be defensive and protective about their culture. t

    it’s great seeing a takedown of his philosophy here.

  15. stevelaudig
    June 26, 2012, 1:48 am

    There is no correlation between one who lacks belief/s in god/s and one who lacks either ethics and/or morals. Occasionally there is an individual who lacks both. It seems we’re presented with such an exceptional creature in this Harris person who does possess irrational beliefs in something intangible such as U.S. and Zionist exceptionalism. It is a worship of sorts-secular, ethnic. Worship of a group because of its supposed traits was popular elsewhere in the 20th century without happy results either.

    • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
      June 26, 2012, 6:42 pm

      I think the title of one of Sam Harris’s books is Moral Landscaping.
      Apt.

    • ColinWright
      June 27, 2012, 1:31 pm

      “There is no correlation between one who lacks belief/s in god/s and one who lacks either ethics and/or morals. Occasionally there is an individual who lacks both. “

      I noticed this one. Actually, for all the shouting about crusades and such, religion provides more of a brake on the more flamboyant excesses of immorality than a spur.

      The Church kept insisting Indians were people — and it had a noticeable if inadequate effect on the depredations of the Spaniards in the New World. When Mexico became independent and the Church lost much of its power, the Indian population of California was promptly halved as rancheros cheerfully ran all the Indians off the missions and worked ‘em to death.

      Wilhelmine Germany could never have committed anything resembling the crimes of the Nazis. The Communists completely eclipsed the Tsars. Ibn Saud compares rather favorably to Saddam Hussein. Etc, no doubt. On the whole, religion makes things better rather than worse.

      That it’s a pack of nonsense is neither here nor there. There is indeed a ‘correlation between one who lacks belief/s in god/s and one who lacks either ethics and/or morals.’ Strip out religion, and the party can get really wild. Indeed, I would guess that many who continue to profess a religion do so not so much out of fervent conviction as simply to give themselves a fixed moral reference point.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 1:55 pm

        “Actually, for all the shouting about crusades and such, religion provides more of a brake on the more flamboyant excesses of immorality than a spur.”

        I disagree. I think that for every person for whom religion is a brake on immorality, there’s (+/-) two for whom religion is a license to act immorally.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 6:58 am

        Well, the historical record is against you. The only two avowedly atheist systems that have come into being have been Naziism and Communism — and in both cases, they carried out slaughters on scale that were previously unimaginable. I’ll also note that a good many of their predecessors were conspicuously non-religious. Genghis Khan was famously tolerant of all faiths. He also murdered about twenty million people and converted Central Asia into a desert. Timurlane professed Islam, but doesn’t seem to have been very sincere about it. Napoleon used to like to flaunt his enlightenment and tolerance. Visit the mosque…slaughter the Mameluke prisoners.

        The thing is, organized religion imposes these rules that however often they may be flouted, are still there. You’re not supposed to wantonly murder, you’re not supposed to steal, etc. It’s like having a car with sticking brakes. Take your foot off the gas, and it’ll come to a halt pretty quickly. The Victorian British are plenty pissed by the Sepoy Mutiny. They run wild for a while, but calm down in about six months. They’re not supposed to be slaughtering Indians wholesale. Compare and constrast to Hitler and Stalin’s approach to groups that they found objectionable.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 28, 2012, 9:42 am

        “The only two avowedly atheist systems that have come into being have been Naziism and Communism ”

        Look, right there you demonstrate that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Nazism was not an atheistic system. The record is absolutely clear on this point. Hitler was a firm believer in God and was an avowed believer that Providence sent him to do its will. Indeed, the SS — which supposedly the highest ideal of National Socialist thought — did not permit atheists. If you did not at least believe in some god, you literally could not be an SS man.

        So, why don’t you actually learn a little about history and come back in six months or a year and then we can discuss the matter.

        And further, organized religions impose rules, yes. But all humans, save sociopaths, by our very natures, impose rules on ourselves. And for every religious rule that says “do not murder” there is a string of that says “unless the person is a disobedient child, a homosexual, an infidel, an Amalekite, a non-virgin on her wedding night,” etc., etc., etc.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 3:15 am

        “…Look, right there you demonstrate that you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Nazism was not an atheistic system. The record is absolutely clear on this point. Hitler was a firm believer in God…”

        Sorry. It’s the other way around. You have no idea what you are talking about.

        Hitler certainly saw no point in avowing atheism. The Germans were a religious people, and it would have been sheer suicide to do so. However, he did state ‘We do not want any other god than Germany itself.’ He seems to have seen religion entirely as a potentially a useful tool of propaganda, and to have had absolutely no interest in its truth or falsity. Once again I quote:

        ‘”You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”‘

        Equally to the point, he relentlessly attacked all churches and clergy that attempted to maintain any independence and sought to subvert their teachings to his own ends.

        He may not have announced he didn’t believe in God, but he treated religion with at least as much contempt as you do. He’d have made a fine atheist — and indeed, I imagine that in principle at least, he’d have hit it off great with Sam Harris. I am not aware of any instance in which he observed any religious scruple, displayed the least respect for any religious teaching, or in any way evinced a genuine religious faith.

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 3:26 am

        “…so Indeed, the SS — which supposedly the highest ideal of National Socialist thought — did not permit atheists. If you did not at least believe in some god, you literally could not be an SS man.

        So, why don’t you actually learn a little about history and come back in six months or a year and then we can discuss the matter…”

        So why don’t you? The SS may well have seen open declarations of atheism as suggestive of Communism. However, they certainly didn’t encourage religious feeling: while the Wehrmacht had chaplains, the German SS formations did not, and Himmler once openly commented that for a soldier, Islam would be a superior faith to Christianity.

        While I will grant that Naziism saw little point in alienating people with open avowals of atheism, it was a decidedly anti-religious movement, and indeed, many of its excesses can be seen to stem directly from having rejected all the moral scruples organized religion imposes.

        I also — parenthetically — object to openly insulting remarks. I particularly object to them when they are coupled with evidence of a complete misunderstanding of the matter at hand on the part of my interlocutor.

        It is absurd to regard the Nazis as religious. They weren’t. Not only did they reject everything religion stood for, they rejected religion itself as far as they dared. To them, it was simply a superstition to be bent to their own ends, and they said as much.

      • Citizen
        July 1, 2012, 8:01 am

        Adolph Hitler on the subject of God: link to atheism.about.com

      • aiman
        July 1, 2012, 8:38 pm

        From the very first quote on Austin Cline’s site: “…criminal lunacy to keep on drilling a born half-ape until people think they have made a lawyer out of him, while millions of members of the highest culture-race must remain in entirely unworthy positions….” This is not a religious or moral message, but we all know where it’s from. A number of Jewish thinkers at the time of the Holocaust have made this connection. Here’s a scholar on ‘Hitler, Genocide and Evolution’.

        Hitler’s ideas were not unique to himself, though he certainly took ideas farther than anyone before him.

        link to latrobe.edu.au

        Quote on Darwin:

        “But on the whole, he believed that the more primitive peoples would have no chance against the most civilized and that was borne out again. When he came to Australia, he saw what was happening around in Sydney. But when he came to Tasmania, he could see that all the aborigines have in fact been hoarded into one corner and he said, “It’s very sad the necessity of this.” So he didn’t say this is terrible and we can’t let it happen. He saw it as a kind of necessity.

        “And Darwin was very pleased with what he saw. He says, “It’s great civilization rising in Australia.” But it was then open to turn us all into a kind of natural process, so too bad for aborigines. I mean, what could anyone expect?”

      • aiman
        July 1, 2012, 10:38 pm

        “…and Himmler once openly commented that for a soldier, Islam would be a superior faith to Christianity.”

        This reveals the general consensus on Islam at the time; Islam, owing to the conversion to Islam of the later Mongols was the religion of medieval empire. The Mongol Ottoman incursions into Europe were treated as Islamic aggression.

        Yet people forget that the destruction of Baghdad in the 13th century was committed by Mongols who were Buddhist. But Buddhism is not associated with violence. But this is what the Buddhist Mongols wrought. According to Steven Dutch: “Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by a canal network thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them.”

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:39 am

        “Himmler once openly commented that for a soldier, Islam would be a superior faith to Christianity.

        Yes, because Himmler hated Christianity. He was a non-Christian theist.. That doesn’t mean he was an athiest, which is the dopey Idea that you are pushing. No, they weren’t “hidden” or “crypto-” atheists, they were fully religious people.

  16. clubroma
    June 26, 2012, 2:00 am

    The incredible thing about Sam Harris is that he has become such a ‘prominent’ figure. Surely he must have been assisted by Jews in the publishing/media industry to get where he is.

    • ColinWright
      June 26, 2012, 3:25 am

      Probably. The thing is, it’s not a level playing field.

      If you’re pro-Israel, you’ll get lots of support, lots of funding, and lots of praise. They’ll be few tiny squeaks from the back of the auditorium, but just enough to reassure you you’re fighting the good fight.

      Now try being anti-Israel. You’ll lose your academic position, lose your apartment, lose major media attention. Only fringe publishers will publish you, and you’re talking some radio station twelve people are listening to instead of big media. One side is big venues, seas of clapping attendees, and fat fees. The other is dusty halls, half the audience is there to be hostile, and no one said anything about money. Criminal charges were filed against those who disrupted Michael Oren’s speech. Can you imagine the same thing happening to anyone who broke in on Finkelstein?

      So…just leave out what the external situation. Which side would you pick?

      …and people are complex critters, with multiple motives. No one has to be consciously hypocritical. It’s just that some thoughts come with all kinds of promises attached, and others are rife with warning labels.

      Ask Harris. Take up tennis, or take up smoking? Of course praising Israel is a win-win. Just don’t have any strong feelings about it. You don’t even have to look very closely (it’s actually better if you don’t). Just love her, and defend her.

      You’ll be glad you did.

  17. ColinWright
    June 26, 2012, 3:10 am

    The funny thing about committing suicide to strike at the enemy is that it used to be quite all right if we did it and in fact still is.

    If you care to, look up Colin Kelley. The story was exaggerated, but in the early (and disastrous) days of our somewhat abrupt and involuntary entry into World War Two, he supposedly dove his crippled B-17 into the battleshipHaruna. Actually, the
    Haruna was hundreds of miles away at the time, and what Kelley actually did was stay at the controls of his rapidly disintegrating aircraft so the rest of his crew should bail out. Highly commendable, but not the stuff nations recover their morale on. Better the suicide dive. We needed a heroic act of retaliation, and we convinced ourselves this is how he’d spent his last moment.

    And that’s the point. We praised him because he made a suicide attack, not in spite of it. We actually made up the suicide attack. Obviously, suicide attacks were virtuous then.

    The next one is far more recent — if even more fictional. Ever watch the film Independence Day? Unless you like well-produced shlock, don’t.

    However, should you find yourself watching it, pay attention at the climax. The heroic cropduster pilot (I did warn you) deliberately flies his plane into some conveniently vulnerable part of the the giant alien spacecraft, blowing it (and himself) to smithereens.

    Suicide bomber. Definitely a jihadi.

    So I suspect this professed revulsion for suicide bombers that happen to be on the other side is entirely a pretense. We object to their being on the other side, not to their mode of attack. That last doesn’t actually bother us in the least.

    • MHughes976
      June 26, 2012, 12:42 pm

      The Romans held Decius Mus, consul in 340 BCE, in high regard for having ‘devoted’ himself to death, with appropriate ritual, in order to ensure the victory of his army. He didn’t have a bomb, of course, but he charged the enemy alone with such extraordinary force that his death was inevitable for natural reasons and their defeat inevitable for supernatural ones, because the gods accepted Decius’ sacrifice of himself. Rubens commemorated this event in a painting which seemed not to shock seventeenth century Christians. And there’s Samson.
      I was introduced to the idea of suicide bombing by ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, a novel written in the 1950s by the sci-fi author John Wyndham. The Cuckoos are hostile alien children, with supernatural powers and a rather Nazi manner as well as I recall, and a scientist gains their confidence in order to destroy them and himself with a bomb. Lots of political allegory. No one screamed blue murder about the book or its television adaptations at that time.

  18. Avi_G.
    June 26, 2012, 3:15 am

    Theodore Sayeed wrote an incredible piece here. It should be a must-read for everyone who frequents Mondoweiss.

    • ColinWright
      June 26, 2012, 3:29 am

      Well, I don’t know. It’s less than earth-shattering to discover someone defending Israel has to spout crap. Mind, nothing wrong with the piece, but it’s not a challenge to take apart statements in support of Israel.

      Actually, I have a challenge I periodically like to issue. Write one hundred consecutive words in support of Israel without lying. No one’s ever taken me up on it.

      It must be possible. I mean, I could write one hundred consecutive words in defense of female infanticide without lying. Maybe someone around here wants to take up the gauntlet. Let’s hear ‘em: one hundred consecutive words in defense of Israel without lying.

      • Avi_G.
        June 26, 2012, 6:06 am

        It’s not earth-shattering, but Mr. Sayeed has consolidated all the Hasbara and the spin into one well-written article that refutes all the Israeli nonsense.

        And that is why it is a must-read in my view. You must admit, it’s quite comprehensive.

        By the way, concerning your challenge, Israel has some of the best spring water I have tasted.

        In fact, one Israeli company that bottles water has a nice catchy slogan that translates to something like:

        Water of Eden, the champagne of nature. Water of Eden, the secret of the spring in the Go…. Oh crap. It looks like this isn’t going to work. The Golan is occupied.

      • ColinWright
        June 26, 2012, 3:37 pm

        Lol. I was about to start counting the words, too.

      • FreddyV
        June 26, 2012, 8:34 am

        ‘Actually, I have a challenge I periodically like to issue. Write one hundred consecutive words in support of Israel without lying. No one’s ever taken me up on it.

        It must be possible. I mean, I could write one hundred consecutive words in defense of female infanticide without lying. Maybe someone around here wants to take up the gauntlet. Let’s hear ‘em: one hundred consecutive words in defense of Israel without lying.’

        To be fair, I think it may be possible, but if you don’t mind, could I use that? I’ll give full credit.

      • ColinWright
        June 26, 2012, 3:39 pm

        Please do. In fact, scribble my name on random walls.

        However spurious and trivial, fame is gratifying. This beats going on Jerry Springer.

      • CloakAndDagger
        June 26, 2012, 11:48 am

        I could write one hundred consecutive words in defense of female infanticide without lying

        This I have to see.

      • ColinWright
        June 26, 2012, 3:38 pm

        I’m afraid I won’t indulge you. I could do it — but I’ve really better things to do than compose one-hundred word passages that are guaranteed to be disgusting.

  19. aiman
    June 26, 2012, 6:37 am

    Quite informative. A large chunk of Harris’s reception owes to Richard Dawkins, the archpriest of New Atheism, who failed to excommunicate Harris, as much to the media overlords. Dawkins cuddled with him, lauded him, shared a table with him. As long it was benefiting Dawkins’s cause and congregation it was all good. More disturbingly, Dawkins appears to have absorbed some of Harris’s fundamentalism. Just as those who fawned most adoringly at Christopher Hitchens belonged to the liberal-left – overcome by his patrician English accent and arrogant witticisms – it is clear that many atheists like their religious counterparts think in terms of class and education and “tribalism” rather than morality. Seems, for all their well-bred sophistication and in major part due to their Eurocentric knowledge of the world, they failed to note that even fascism is served in dainty tea-cups with little soothing colours.

    Jeff Sparrow has a point-blank piece: link to counterpunch.org

    My favourite contemporary commentator Chris Hedges who is known for thinking morally rather than politically: link to youtube.com

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 26, 2012, 9:41 am

      Oh, please. When someone starts talking about “archpriests” and “congregations” regarding atheists, it’s a sure sign they don’t know what they’re talking about.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 26, 2012, 7:12 pm

        I’m an atheist. And I think Harris-Dawkin-Hitchens et al. are – de facto – creating a neo-Atheist orthodoxy.

        Though I am an atheist – ie. I don’t personally believe there exists a god – I’m actually an agnostic. I don’t know things I can’t know. And I admit it. God is one such unprovable/irrefutable formulations. Unknowable.

        Unlike my agnostic atheism, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al. are true believer atheists. They are religiously atheistic.

        They philosophy they put forth is religious in nature. Not rational nor scientific – despite loud proclamations to the contrary.

        One really needs to listen to their theories or try to read their books to understand how insidious their belief is. They ARE fundamentalists. With everything that entails.

        They are truly infidels and heretics to the cause of rational thinking. Philosophical nihilists. Theologians in scientists’ clothes.

        I once recommended to a girlfriend of mine to read Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, after some discussions we had about the subject. She bought the book and quit after a few chapters. So I picked it up and started looking through. I was appalled. It was the most spiritually-bankrupt pedantic sermon I had ever read. Ever. And I agreed with Dawkins on his ideas.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 7:59 am

        “Unlike my agnostic atheism, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al. are true believer atheists. They are religiously atheistic.”

        Then I guess you simply don’t know what you’re talking about because all of them have addressed this point. You are wrong.

        “They philosophy they put forth is religious in nature. Not rational nor scientific ”

        Nonsense. Really. Please cite to where Dawkins demonstrates a “religious philosophy” in support of atheism. Cite chapter and verse.

      • libra
        June 27, 2012, 11:41 am

        Oh dear, now we have an outbreak of heresy within the atheistic ranks.

        “Cite chapter and verse.”

        Woody, this is almost getting beyond a parody. I have to say the “null God” seems to have a wicked sense of fun. You’ll make a believer of me yet.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 1:05 pm

        “Oh dear, now we have an outbreak of heresy within the atheistic ranks. ”

        Nope. No need for such nonsense. Arnon made a nonsensical claim and I challenged him to support his claim. Nothing more.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 28, 2012, 8:25 pm

        Actually libra has it pretty much right:
        “Oh dear, now we have an outbreak of heresy within the atheistic ranks. ”

        Though not so much in the atheistic ranks, as in the rational thinking philosophical ranks. Harris is a fidel-in-rationalist-wool. So in a metaphoric sense I do view Harris, Dawkins, Maher, Hitchens to be heretics to the idea of reason and enlightenment.

        The all propagate a false dichotomy between religion and science that is simply false. Many scientists were religious. Much of religious thinking is completely compatible with reason and rational thinking (especially some of the moral thinking expressed in religious writings here and there. Some might have aged worse than others, but still)

        Harris at all deny this. And claim they are pure rationalists. That’s bulshytt.
        Harris is especially culpable with his Moral Landscaping – the attempt to erase all moral teachings of our past and start anew.
        There’s a talk he gave at TED where he claims values are facts. That’s religious theological thinking at its worse: values = facts (ie. My values = facts).
        It’s a rationally unsustainable claim. Values are not, in fact, facts. They cannot be proven or disproven “scientifically” as Harris claims. Values are effectively axioms. Unprovable by definition. They’re Common Sense. Common Sense is what we use when we can’t prove something. When we can’t know something for a fact.
        Values are NOT facts. By definition.
        Yet Harris claims they are. Not only are his values facts – he can prove them scientifically. HA!

        Harris then goes on to base on this shoddy piece of theological reasoning an entire secular “scientific” method of proving which values are better than others. Harris’ method is only lenient towards Buddhism, it appears.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 9:54 am

        “Though not so much in the atheistic ranks, as in the rational thinking philosophical ranks.”

        You still have the issue of using the word “heresy”. If you are talking about Harris’s view about values, you will have many atheists who would agree with you that his arguments and views are misguided. He’s been pummelled by the atheist community over that book and those arguments. (Personally, I think he makes some very interesting points, but I don’t think ge can substantiate all he sets out to do. Nor do I think that it is unreasonable to suggest that some values are objectively better [depending on how you define that] then others. But I think he does not do what he intended.)

        “Values are not, in fact, facts. They cannot be proven or disproven ‘scientifically’ as Harris claims. Values are effectively axioms.”

        I don’t believe that is the case, necessarily. I think that much of what we call “values” are, in fact, innate preferences which have developed in the course of our evolution as an intelligent, social species.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 29, 2012, 3:19 pm

        “I think that much of what we call “values” are, in fact, innate preferences which have developed in the course of our evolution as an intelligent, social species.”
        It’s not the values themselves that have developed evolutionarily.
        It’s the process by which we hold values. This process is heuristic at its core. It is in a very literal sense, made up of unprovables/unknowables.
        Regardless of what unprovables/unknowables one bases one’s values on.

        The factual-truthness of those unprovables is very much irrelevant to the formulation of values. And to people holding those values. And basing their actions/culture on those values, and writing dogma that reference those values.

        Values, to a very significant extent, are made of non-facts.
        For example, it cannot be proven in a rational manner that killing is bad. Even if it is bad, most people will hold that in some cases killing is justified. Some might actually value killing under certain value-formulations (ie. self-defense, justified war etc.) while still holding to the basic value that killing is bad. Inherently paradoxical.
        Humans will hold on to that value despite being shown “scientifically” that this paradox. A paradox that proves their value is not a fact.
        Values are non-rational assertions by definition. (not irrational, mind you)

        Harris is advancing a system that could (according to him) prove scientifically that some values are objectively better.
        Sam Harris’s entire project is based on this misguided irrational idea that values=facts. Therefore if those values are “scientifically proved” to be wrong, the people holding them will cease to do so. (and of course, if they don’t agree with your “scientifically proven” values – it is morally just to put them to the sword).

        This is basically what theology attempts to do – to lend objectivity to one’s own values and definitions. Sam Harris is having a theological debate that he’s masquerading as a scientific, materialistic, atheist one.

        You wrote somewhere else:
        “No, clergy are religious people who are ordained to perform religious acts or to spread religious teachings. There is no such thing among atheists.”
        My contention is that there IS such a thing among atheists.
        Harris et al. are participating in exactly such a thing – forming a clergy – amongst atheists.
        One need only look historically at how Organized Religion formed amongst existing religious teachings. What were the political motivations to organize religion and how it was subverted.
        Atheist claim that Organized Religion is responsible for the most atrocious wars. Well, one may say similar things of the New Atheists.

        “No atheist one considers Harris anything more than a person who is giving his opinion.”
        Not true. He is considered a scholar and authority by many. It is not just an opinion. It’s an authoritative opinion.

        So if we go back to the Pope having/not having real authority:
        The Pope didn’t always exist. It was a long historical process with roots in the inundation of Europe with Christianity – an anarchist off-shoot of Judaism. The Pope is a counter-measure to the anti-authoritarian messages of Christianity. But he wasn’t always there. He didn’t always have authority. Only people imagining that he does.

        His imagined authority is quite real for those who imagine his authority is quite real. Therefore his authority is quite real for everyone else in that sense.

        “That wouldn’t surprise me, as there is a significan anti-Muslim tendency in their writings which is in keeping with the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry that is endemic among israaeli Jews.”
        I concur.
        Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins are these people’s clergy. There is a large strata of intellectual, centrist, academic atheists of Jewish descent that these people appeal to.
        They tell them what to think and what to say in order to keep their Anti-Muslim rhetoric AND still be considered reasonable thinking non-religious people.

        “And there has been a great deal of rejection of his ideas of late in the community, over his idea that morality can be scientifically or rationally determined and that the authorities should give special scrutiny at airports to everyone who might be Muslim.”

        I’m glad to hear that. My point is that it’s not separate instances of misreadings/misunderstanding of his work on my part. Rather it is endemic to his writing. And many people are encountering this and commenting on it. Converging on a single point of ideology.

        These New Atheists are, in a sense, a heretical movement within atheism.
        If you’d rather think of my use of the word “heresy” as a metaphor – then by all means do.
        I believe it’s an apt metaphor.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 4:45 pm

        “It’s not the values themselves that have developed evolutionarily.”

        I think that some very broad values were. Not very specific things, but general things about human nature.

        “Values, to a very significant extent, are made of non-facts. For example, it cannot be proven in a rational manner that killing is bad.”

        As a general proposition, I believe such a value can be proved in a rational manner. What can’t be done is to prove it as an absolute. It’s not a paradox, you’re simply not defining the value properly, probably because we’ve been conditioned to think of values (and morals and ethics) as “rules” or “laws” or “principles” and, as such, as absolutes. But the reality is that for most every one of them, what we hold are general principles, but that mindset – general preferences that admit to specific exceptions – is beneficial for survival.

        “Harris is advancing a system that could (according to him) prove scientifically that some values are objectively better.”

        Yes, and in some sense, he is correct. If one observes human nature, some things are a given: humans prefer pleasure to pain, being a simple one. It is not out of the realm of reasonable to assert that a system which maximizes general human pleasure is, in some objective-ish sense, a scientifically better one than one which minimizes human pleasure. (I’m not sold on the idea for a number of reasons, as I’m sure my wording demonstrates, but there is certainly some interesting ideas there.)

        “Therefore if those values are ‘scientifically proved’ to be wrong, the people holding them will cease to do so. (and of course, if they don’t agree with your ‘scientifically proven’ values – it is morally just to put them to the sword).”

        I don’t believe that this is what he is arguing. Indeed, I would ask that you provide a quote whereby he states that it is okay by him to murder someone who disagrees with scientifically proven values.

        “Sam Harris is having a theological debate that he’s masquerading as a scientific, materialistic, atheist one.”

        Except that theologians rely (ultimately) on irrational things like faith, revelation, scripture, etc., as the bedrock upon which their arguments lie. Harris (for all the faults he has) isn’t doing that.

        “My contention is that there IS such a thing among atheists.”

        Than that is a stupid contention. None of the New Atheists have any personal authority; their ideas have (or don’t have, as the case may be) persuasiveness, nothing more.

        “Harris et al. are participating in exactly such a thing – forming a clergy – amongst atheists.”

        Nonsense. Each one has no more pull than the merits of his arguments.

        “What were the political motivations to organize religion and how it was subverted.”

        That’s an entirely different question. There is no question that the New Atheists generally favor the atheist community acting to exercise more political persuasion, in order to promote secularism and to protect atheists from discrimination. That doesn’t make them clerics and more than a labor leader who organizes politically is a cleric.

        “Atheist claim that Organized Religion is responsible for the most atrocious wars. Well, one may say similar things of the New Atheists.”

        LMAO. Name one war which Dan Dennett was responsible for.

        “Not true. He is considered a scholar and authority by many. It is not just an opinion. It’s an authoritative opinion.”

        Nonsense. He is a scholar by profession, but anyone who considers his opinion as an authoritative opinion by virtue of his person and not on the strength of the opinion, itself, is a moron. (Now, by virtue of his training in neurobiology, he might have some authority on that subject, but no more.) But the reality is that within the atheist community (again, the very people who you are claiming he is seeking to be a clergy of) few to none consider his opinion as anything more than an opinion, and a great many people find much of his recent work (indeed, some would say everything after the first 3/4 of End of Faith) to be very misguided.

        “His imagined authority is quite real for those who imagine his authority is quite real. Therefore his authority is quite real for everyone else in that sense.”

        You could say this about any authority, that it only exists if you accept in your mind that it exists. (Indeed, Orwell’s Ninety Eighty-four was, thematically, on this very subject.)

        “Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins are these people’s clergy.”

        No, they’re not clergy, because they’re not religious. They’re commentators, public intellectuals and entertainers. That’s it. They don’t have authority; they have celebrity.

        “There is a large strata of intellectual, centrist, academic atheists of Jewish descent that these people appeal to.”

        So? That doesn’t make them anything but famous.

        “My point is that it’s not separate instances of misreadings/misunderstanding of his work on my part. Rather it is endemic to his writing. And many people are encountering this and commenting on it. Converging on a single point of ideology.”

        Well, I would say that you, and everyone else is free to disagree with his work, and should do so if you disagree with it. What is wrongheaded is to pretend that this is some type of religious movement, because it’s not.

        “These New Atheists are, in a sense, a heretical movement within atheism.”

        No, in no sense. Because the one and only which is contained in “atheism” is a disbelief in the existence of god(s). This they have. All they are are atheists who you disagree with. The only way they would be heretics to atheism is if they went against the disbelief in the existence of god(s).

        “If you’d rather think of my use of the word “heresy” as a metaphor – then by all means do.
        I believe it’s an apt metaphor.”

        No, it isn’t because it falsely presumes that there is a set of core beliefs, values, dogma and ideas to “atheism” that these people go against. There simply isn’t.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 29, 2012, 7:45 pm

        “I don’t believe that this is what he is arguing. Indeed, I would ask that you provide a quote whereby he states that it is okay by him to murder someone who disagrees with scientifically proven values.”

        Here’s a part of Rogan/Harris interview:
        link to youtube.com

        He is asked specifically for his opinion on the wikileaks video Collateral Murder and the pilot laughing how “he shouldn’t have brought his kids to a war zone” – kids who were shot and whose father was killed.

        Harris is careful not to condemn the murder.
        He then goes on to his ethically and morally bankrupt tirade about how “the thing that’s horrible about this” video is that we (ie. the chopper pilot AND Harris, but also all of us) are just not wired to understand the consequences of our actions.

        conclusion:
        Sam Harris IS ok with murdering Muslims who disagree with his values. And provides the moral cover for such murder on youtube and the airwaves.

        QED

        —————
        Full Harris/Rogan interview here:
        link to youtube.com
        (minutes 8 to 10 are a morsel. Just apply Harris’s own rhetoric to himself – and you can see how the New Atheist are basically religious. And why that’s a bad thing)

        —————

        “No, it isn’t [an apt metaphor] because it falsely presumes that there is a set of core beliefs, values, dogma and ideas to “atheism” that these people go against. There simply isn’t.”

        But that’s my point also. Of course there is no set of core beliefs, values, dogma (well, Harris is seeing to that…) and ideas to “atheism” that these people go against.

        My point is that there is also no such set of core beliefs, values, dogma and ideas to “Islam” or to Muslims as a group. Or any other group of people who claim to believe in the same religion. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, whatever. It’s not there. Definitely not in the dogma. Dogma is nothing. It’s historical record.

        But that’s exactly the point that Harris(!) is trying to make.
        That’s what he is preaching: That there IS such a set of core beliefs, values, dogma and ideas that define a group of people. That this set of values can be found and proven or disproven somehow in others’ belief-systems. In religious people’s belief-systems. In religion.

        Of course Harris’s sermons are phrased in such a way that lets atheists see themselves as exempt from this maxim.

        Or put in other words:
        “You guys (religious people, but Muslims mostly, Buddhists sorta ok) simply have bad beliefs and values – as a group. Our group doesn’t. And we have Almighty Science and Holy Determinism to prove our moral superiority.”

      • aiman
        June 30, 2012, 4:35 am

        Great link to the Harris/Rogan interview. Even deducing from Harris’s body language shows what a charlatan this guy is. His lips begin to move long before he can give an answer. It’s like he is thinking with his lips. No inkling of morality. He basically “rationalises” slaughter of innocents.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        June 30, 2012, 8:55 pm

        Thank you, aiman.
        That’s exactly what he does.

        He puts out a book titled “Lying” and “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.”

        And he’s basically an immoral person who rationalizes torture telling people they’re not responsible for their immorality and a lovely book talking about the “illusion” of free will.

        Couple that with an essentially faith-based, unsubstantiated, irrational claim that Science Can Determine Human Values – and what are you left with?

        Moral Landscaping.

      • aiman
        July 1, 2012, 9:08 pm

        “Moral Landscaping.”

        The best sum up of Sam Harris.

      • aiman
        July 1, 2012, 9:34 pm

        P.S. Imagine if he had a beard and spoke in a foreign tongue, used “religion” for “rationality” with the same immoral cadence. He would not be tolerated by the liberal press. Even a critique of his ideas would be beneath the sayers. He would just be too incoherent and wild, wide off the mark, inscrutably cruel. Unlearned in the ways of “civilised discourse” or “civilised life”. To oblige him would be “dangerous”. But here he is, a smirk for a beard, invited to speak to “enlightened” crowds, applauded, and paid an exorbitant fee for every word he speaks. Harris is a case book example of the link between “civilisation” and “creative destruction”. Atheist liberals and conservatives who support him are not enlightened, they are a product of their class, smarting under the same old tribal feelings that ail the rest of the people. As someone who has studied religious fundamentalism in the Middle East and farther East, I can tell you that they follow the same pattern. The leaders of these movements are usually people who think they are responsible for articulating some sort of ethical vision, but that always excludes women, the poor, and those different from them. In those places, including with Zionism, historical tragedies were seized upon by these thinkers. Similarly New Atheists preachers seized 9/11. We are only seeing the beginning of the first post-World War fundamentalist movement that speaks in the name of New Atheism and will only grow.

      • aiman
        July 1, 2012, 9:52 pm

        Correction: I meant just another post-World War fundamentalist movement. What we call Islamism and Zionism both got first bloody runs in the 20th century. Similarly there is Hindu fundamentalism, very similar to both Zionism and Islamism, all that about historical hurt and now we need to hurt others and we are the chosen ones. I don’t understand the criticism of Zionism on the chosen principle since all fundamentalists believe that they are chosen. Anyway it seems now New Atheists, with more meagre beginnings than the rest and no connection to physical territory per se, are doing their own march. So don’t be surprised if one day New Atheism has the same negative connotation as Zionism and Islamism even if it doesn’t get that big.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 2, 2012, 9:41 am

        “Here’s a part of Rogan/Harris interview:”

        And none of that demonstrates the point you made.

        But that’s my point also. Of course there is no set of core beliefs, values, dogma (well, Harris is seeing to that…) and ideas to “atheism” that these people go against.

        My point is that there is also no such set of core beliefs, values, dogma and ideas to “Islam” or to Muslims as a group.

        So atheists have clergy and religions don’t have dogma. Right. Whatever you say.

      • Arnon Shwantzinger Too
        July 2, 2012, 6:25 pm

        Well, at least we’re past the intelligent debating.
        Now it’s just reading comprehension and nit-picking.
        Which would lead me to guess we’re almost at the end of our discourse.

        So I’ll make myself clear, as to avoid mis-comprehension.
        Yes, religion has dogma. However this dogma tells us nothing about people’s actual beliefs. As is said over and over, people pick and choose. And different people pick and choose different things even if they claim to follow the same religion.

        Sam Harris is making the case that they don’t. That they monolithically embrace all religious writings and moral guidelines – dogma. This is demonstrably false.

        Sam Harris is has written some of the most morally repugnant texts in modern times. Well, in history, really. You may pick and choose which parts of his dogma you agree with and which parts you don’t – but then you can’t rationally claim that you can somehow know what religious people believe just by looking at the many, varied, often contradictory texts. This is simply unsustainable. Irrational.

        One must also look at the clergy – at the people citing that dogma – and at the audience of that clergy.

        I apply the above maxim to Sam Harris and his congregation as well. And on that front we agree – his appeal is exactly in the virulent Anti-Islamism Anti-Arab dogma that he is supporting. As well as his attempt at voiding morality of its meaning.

        ps. Watch the entire video (I linked it too) – it’s a doozy.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 3, 2012, 10:02 am

        “Well, at least we’re past the intelligent debating.”

        You participated in any intelligent debating???

        “So I’ll make myself clear, as to avoid mis-comprehension.”

        And even in doing that, you continue the “Sam Harris and his congregation” nonsense.

        “Sam Harris is making the case that they don’t. That they monolithically embrace all religious writings and moral guidelines – dogma. This is demonstrably false.”

        Then you will be able to quote from his books where he says that every Muslim believes exactly the same things.

        “Sam Harris is has written some of the most morally repugnant texts in modern times. Well, in history, really.”

        LOL. Well, he’d be behind quite a few religious “holy books” that’s for sure.

        “You may pick and choose which parts of his dogma you agree with and which parts you don’t – but then you can’t rationally claim that you can somehow know what religious people believe just by looking at the many, varied, often contradictory texts. This is simply unsustainable. Irrational.”

        And Harris is talking about the beliefs of religious people in the aggregate. You appear to be arguing against a strawman version of Harris; you’re fighting what you believe he is saying and not what he is actually saying. (Which is not to say that what he is saying should be free from criticism.)

        “I apply the above maxim to Sam Harris and his congregation as well.”

        And here you fall back on the stupid religion comparisons again. Sam Harris has no congregation, he’s not a cleric.

        And your comparison between atheists and religious is also wrong because atheism has one, single piece of content: a disbelief in god(s). That’s it. As soon as you go further than that, you’re not doing atheism anymore. Religions, by and large, have multiple, sometimes dozens, if not hundreds of points which all the religion’s adherents have in common. Moreover, there are some subsets of each religion which have subsets of all possible beliefs in common. None of that exists in atheism.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 3, 2012, 10:23 am

        “ps. Watch the entire video (I linked it too) – it’s a doozy.”

        The whole video is three hours long. Please cite to the specific point at which you think that he “states that it is okay by him to murder someone who disagrees with scientifically proven values.”

    • Donald
      June 26, 2012, 12:15 pm

      ” it is clear that many atheists like their religious counterparts think in terms of class and education and “tribalism” rather than morality. Seems, for all their well-bred sophistication and in major part due to their Eurocentric knowledge of the world, they failed to note that even fascism is served in dainty tea-cups with little soothing colours.”

      Bingo. Somewhat related, there are people who loathed Bush’s civil and human rights violations who overlook or even defend similar crimes when Obama is responsible. Bush was uncouth; Obama is a liberal sophisticate’s notion of what a President should be, stylistically speaking, and that’s all that counts for some people.

      Way too many people judge moral issues in purely tribal way. Orwell wrote about this and it’s arguably the biggest problem we humans have.

  20. Mooser
    June 26, 2012, 11:35 am

    Well, I’m glad this question is settled for me. In a devine vision I had, God told me I should be an atheist. And when He (or She, it wasn’t clear behind the beard) talks, I listen, and obey!

    • piotr
      June 26, 2012, 8:39 pm

      Dear Mooser, you are a looser.

      God tells you not to obey him. Now you can choose your path to the Lake of Fire. You do not obey Him — gotcha. But if you obey Him, you flagrantly disregard the instruction not to, so — gotcha.

      My personal favorite version of divinity is this link to asymptotia.com

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 4:03 pm

        Has there been a change in spelling I’m not aware of? I thought what I was is a “loser” That’s L-O-S-E-R. Pants that are too big are “looser”.
        But I swear, everybody spells it “looser” now. What happened?

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 7:03 am

        Just tow the line.

      • eljay
        June 28, 2012, 7:52 am

        >> Just tow the line.

        “Toe” the line. :-)

        Normally, I wouldn’t be so bold as to correct you, but I just *know* that RoHa’s going to come along and do it so I thought I’d spare him the effort.

        ;-)

      • eljay
        June 28, 2012, 7:53 am

        >> Has there been a change in spelling I’m not aware of? I thought what I was is a “loser” …

        Are you sure you aren’t actually a looser, Mooser? ;-)

      • ColinWright
        July 1, 2012, 3:29 am

        I know it’s ‘toe the line.’ That was my point.

  21. HRK
    June 26, 2012, 11:59 am

    I prefer dealing with arguments which have a “specificity” to them, for lack of a better word. It seemed to me that Hitchens and Harris both tended toward woolly, all-over-the-place arguments which involved arguing against religion because it was bad or, in other areas of their work, arguing against religion because it was just “weird” or not empirically verifiable. (I don’t know what to make of the not-empirically-verifiable argument. It seems that we’re being asked to look at the argument pro/con God’s existence in an entirely abstract way instead of responding emotionally to our life situations–and the latter could have been what God intended–bypassing the entire “What should I believe?” state to the “Your innermost being is looking /wanting to believe–so just believe” state.)

    The existence of evil . . . now that’s an argument I can sink my teeth into.

    I actually thought Harris was better than Hitchens. (Didn’t read all of either one, though.)

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 26, 2012, 1:02 pm

      HRK,

      I think that the view you have of these books was because they were tackling very broad subjects. I liked them because they were refreshing and because they were so broad.

      I don’t know what to make of the not-empirically-verifiable argument. It seems that we’re being asked to look at the argument pro/con God’s existence in an entirely abstract way instead of responding emotionally to our life situations–and the latter could have been what God intended–bypassing the entire “What should I believe?” state to the “Your innermost being is looking /wanting to believe–so just believe” state.

      The problem with that line of thinking, in my mind, is that there is a near infinite number of “could have been”s or “could be”s which are all mutually exclusive and which have exactly the same lack of empirical evidence to recommend them.

      Sure, God might have intended that we react emotionally to our life situation. And there might be no god, but a “Force” as shown in Star Wars. Or there are spirits connected to all living things and inanimate objects that don’t care one whit about you. Or the afterlife consists of an exact duplicate of our universe, but made out of pork. Or fairies and astrology is actually true. Or Judaism is true. Or Christianity. Or Islam. Or the ancient Greek religion. Or the universe is governed by two beings throwing end endless series of dice. Or the John Frum cargo cult religion is actually true. Or the John Frum religion is true, except that god’s name is really “Mitch.” Etc., etc., etc…

      Since each one of these (and the near infinite number of others we could come up with) are all equally unsupported by any evidence, on what basis can we justify believing in one over any of the others? On what basis can we justify believing in any of them?

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 2:42 pm

        “Or the afterlife consists of an exact duplicate of our universe, but made out of pork.”

        It uses every part of the pig, even the squeal!

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 3:06 pm

        As an aside, the “universe of pork” is a private in-joke relating to a discussion long ago pointing out the logical fallacy in the ontological argument, as the conclusion, “god exists,” is subsumed in the premise, “god is perfect.” I noted that you could use the argument to reach any conclusion — including that god is made of pork — simply by defining “perfection” to include that property.

      • ColinWright
        June 27, 2012, 1:06 pm

        It seems reasonable to me. Bacon is pretty good. Logically, the afterlife would include it.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 2:59 pm

        “Bacon is pretty good.”

        I am, of course, a life-long fan of the streaky lean, but let’s not forget about pork roasts, chops, butt, and ribs. They, and many other cuts, all have my whole-hearted approval .

      • ColinWright
        June 26, 2012, 3:49 pm

        ‘…Or the afterlife consists of an exact duplicate of our universe, but made out of pork. Or fairies and astrology is actually true. Or Judaism is true. Or Christianity. Or Islam. Or the ancient Greek religion. Or the universe is governed by two beings throwing end endless series of dice. Or the John Frum cargo cult religion is actually true. Or the John Frum religion is true, except that god’s name is really “Mitch.” Etc., etc., etc… ‘

        I’ve several problems with the traditional vision of God.

        First, why should he want to hear our prayers? There are ants in my backyard, and I don’t feel especially hostile towards them — but I’d just as soon they didn’t start talking to me. ‘Oh please spill your coffee with all that lovely dissolved sugar in it again. Oh please…’ I don’t want to hear it.

        Second, why should he be ‘good’? I see myself as perfectly ‘good’ — and I just exterminated the rosy apple mites infecting one of my apple trees. Then I brought in a bunch of lady bugs to do away with any survivors by eating them alive. Why should this putative God wish us well? It’s perfectly possible He doesn’t.

        Finally, why should He be wise? As we’ve lately taken to demonstrating all too clearly, there’s no necessary correlation between power and wisdom. The Guy could be the moral equivalent of an unpleasant ten-year old — just with awesome powers.

  22. HRK
    June 26, 2012, 2:22 pm

    Go with the best one you can imagine. God would be the best.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 26, 2012, 2:31 pm

      “Go with the best one you can imagine. God would be the best.”

      Why? On what basis would I have any assurance that I’m not just wasting my time, some of the limited time I have in my life, my most precious irreplaceable thing, chasing a falsehood? Why should I choose any?

      And if “god”, which one and why? There’ve been thousand proposed and all suffer from the same lack of evidence to support their existence.

      • Mooser
        June 26, 2012, 2:51 pm

        “There’ve been thousand proposed and all suffer from the same lack of evidence to support their existence.”

        Oy, and the same lack of evidence to support their non-existence!

        I’m glad I don’t need evidence to support my existence. Coarse food to eat, cold water to drink, a bended arm to sleep on, and a show with music once in a while, and I’m satisfied. Can’t say I mind a burnt-offering once in a while…
        But, for God’s sake, please don’t offer me any foreskins! Leave ‘em where they belong.

        May we all meet again in the alternate universe of pork!

      • HRK
        June 26, 2012, 4:35 pm

        Let me preface this by saying that I don’t have many answers, and I don’t want to come across as if I do. I’ll try my best on this one, though.

        Doubt is integral to faith, paradoxically enough, so there won’t ever be the type of empirically-based assurance of God’s existence.

        Instead of thinking about things from a human-centered perspective (I’m perched on a fence looking at disbelief and then belief and asking for evidence for God’s existence before I move) try thinking about things from a God-centered perspective. Why would God be obligated to show proof of God’s existence to us? And what would we humans do with such proof? Probably take it and then do our own thing after that–ignoring God. God becomes just a thing that we know exists. Is there a watch on your arm? Yes, there is. Is there a gray table in your house. No, there’s not. It would make no difference if this didn’t involve our emotions.

        (I’ll try to continue this later. I don’t mean to be glib but I’m at work and I need to go right NOW!!)

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 26, 2012, 7:02 pm

        “Instead of thinking about things from a human-centered perspective… try thinking about things from a God-centered perspective.”

        Okay, but you still have the same problem. In order to think from a God-centered perspective, I need to know a thing or three about this god.

        I assume that by “God” you mean some version of the Abrahamic God, but there is no reason to favor that one over the Greek pantheon or Amon Ra or Baal or the Native American Great Spirit or the Force from Star Wars, or any other “god” concepts which have been invented or could be invented.

        There is simply no basis for me to know anything about this god. Indeed, not only do I not know if this god exists, I don’t even know enough to chose a pronoun for him/her/them/it. Beyond that point, I would need to know this god’s personality in order to discern, if it exists, why it would want to not provide any evidence of its existence:
        Is it a trickster god?
        Are they just shy?
        Does she not care about us?
        Is he just evil?

        Humanity has created thousands of gods, so there are thousands of possible answers to the preliminary questions I would need to know to do what you suggest, and we could no doubt come up with a near-infinite number of other answers. There is simply no evidence from which to judge whether any of them are even close to correct, or whether they are all wrong. Absent that evidence, it is irrational to choose any of them, because none is more likely to be true than any other, so they are equally likely to be false. (As a consequence, no matter what you choose, you are almost certainly wrong.)

      • eljay
        June 26, 2012, 7:47 pm

        >> … try thinking about things from a God-centered perspective.

        Assuming that “god” even exists, no human being could possibly have even the most remote conception of what its omnisicent, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal perspective might be.

        Unless, y’know, we make that sh*t up as we go along…like we do with “gods”.

        ;-)

      • demize
        June 26, 2012, 9:17 pm

        +4

      • HRK
        June 26, 2012, 11:07 pm

        Woody: What God would I pick: Tell me what God you feel would be best. What do you feel?

        eljay: Well, we do know that God would be all-loving–or else why would we consider some powerful being God? And we do know that God would create a perfect creation–if it were imperfect how would God be God? So we can know some things about God and attempt to figure out what God might do.

        God’s creation would be expansive. An example: Bach: We resurrect him and ask him to create one more piece of music. He comes up with a telephone jingle. We push him back into the grave. Sorry–must not have been Bach. Bach wouldn’t do telephone jingles if he had one shot at coming up with another piece of music (even if it were the best jingle ever). So God’s creation would be expansive. It would have to be maximally all-inclusive. And this is why God’s creation has to include (on a “trees level”–as opposed to a forest level) imperfections in it. No imperfections on a tree level = a creation that isn’t expansive. A creation that isn’t optimally expansive = an incomplete creation = an imperfect creation, counter-intuitively enough.

        Climbing into God’s perspective is difficult because our perspective is so much smaller. Create a universe? Stop! That’s enough! That’s way more than I can imagine. (I can’t even create a decent pop song!) So I might not take the next step: Is universe X expansive enough? I don’t ask about “expansivity” because we’re already talking creation of universes and so I don’t even think to do it. But I need to.

        So we can know some things about God. Certainly not everything. Perhaps not even very much. But we can surmise some things.

      • HRK
        June 27, 2012, 12:52 am

        When I was writing about God not having an obligation to provide proof of God’s own existence to us, I had some idea on the tip of my tongue–I started to explain–it had to do with turning God into simply a fact which would then be of little importance to us. But I admit I didn’t expand on this idea very well, and so I’ll definitely admit that I was unsuccessful at answering the question about why God doesn’t show himself to us in a way which puts questions of his existence to rest. (And now, it seems, what I was thinking about completely slipped from my grasp.)

        There is another explanation I’ve thought about, but it’s more complicated than the one I had in mind above (which, as I indicated, fell out of my mind). And it involves the problem of evil–which doesn’t seem as if it would be related to the not-empirically-verifiable issue. (You can tell I was thinking about the problem-of-evil in my post above when–seemingly for no reason and out of the blue–I brought it up.)

        Start with the problem of evil. How to reconcile the existence of evil and imperfection in the world to a three-omni God.

        Answer the problem of evil in this way: A perfect God would create an expansive creation with many different types of creation within it. Not creating beings who suffer pain or are imperfect means leaving on the table an entire class of creation. In this case, creation would not be as expansive as it otherwise could be. (By the way, this argument was put forth by Leibniz, from what I understand.)

        So a perfect creation has to have evil in it for the sake of the beings who would not otherwise be brought into existence. (You and I, for example, would not be here were it not for this world with imperfections in it. “Not true! If I didn’t have zits as a teenager and had a slightly higher paying job I’d still be me, wouldn’t I?” Your perfect double would not still be you. In the same way that a clone of you–cleaned up of genetic problems and inhabiting an ideal environment at every step of the way–would not be you.)

        If belief in God in this pain-filled world didn’t require us to push and hope and want God and God’s love (if belief in God were empirically verifiable) then we would quickly move to the next natural step: demanding that God in the here and now end our pain and suffering. We would expect God to do this. And we would be appalled if he didn’t. But because God couldn’t do this (without negating the very classes of creation he had sought to create), God would have to refuse to grant us our requests.

        There would be no “distance” between God and the pain and suffering he was allowing in the world for the sake of our creation. And given the psychology we possess (and also given how we develop from infancy onward), we humans could never bring ourselves to love God if this were the case. In fact, we’d more likely hate God and consider God the source of evil–to conclude that God was evil. Also, what would be the point of living in this world? What would we be doing with our time?

        The push for God, the desperation for God, helps create the love for God, the need for God. Hence God must remain not empirically verifiable in this world.

        I suppose God could create beings with an entirely different psychology than ours. But those beings’ psychology might be lacking in vibrancy or have some other problem. Perhaps God just finds our psychology more interesting than the psychology of other beings he could have created.

      • eljay
        June 27, 2012, 7:39 am

        >> eljay: Well, we do know that God would be all-loving … [a]nd we do know that God would create a perfect creation …

        We don’t know either of those things, and we don’t know whether gods even exist. What we do is create gods in our image and endow them with attributes we believe they should possess. Pretty simple, really.

      • eljay
        June 27, 2012, 7:54 am

        >> The push for God, the desperation for God, helps create the love for God, the need for God. … I suppose God could create beings with an entirely different psychology than ours. But those beings’ psychology might be lacking in vibrancy or have some other problem.

        “God” – being all powerful and perfect – could simply create beings who would love and need him, and who would innately be able to appreciate fully “God’s” perfection and goodness. These beings would be perfect – after all, “God” created them and “his” creation is perfect. These beings would lack no vibrancy and would have no other problems. There would be no need for evil, desperation or suffering of any kind.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 8:10 am

        “Woody: What God would I pick: Tell me what God you feel would be best. What do you feel?”

        Who cares what I feel? Reason has demonstrated without question that adherence to “feelings” is an incredibly bad way of arriving at truth. I can honestly say that I don’t believe that any god concept would be “best” because what I am seeking to do is to uncover something about “what is”, external to me, and guaging by my feelings can do nothing more than say something about what is internal to me. It is a classic error and is inherently irrational.

        “So we can know some things about God. Certainly not everything. Perhaps not even very much. But we can surmise some things.”

        LMAO. No, everything you did there was nothing more than say, “I think such and such about God, therefore that what’s God would be” and conclude that you know somethign about “God.” No. It demonstrates nothing more than what you went into the exercise with: your own preconceived notions about what “God” is, which have no connection whatsoever with anything external to you. You posit: “God’s creation would be expansive.” Why? What if God is lazy, or stupid, or a trickster? (What if Bach simply liked telephone jingles?) YOU think God’s creation would be expansive, because that is your opinion of what your God would be.

        You look into the mirror of Ego and call what you see “God” and say that he is very handsome. (Some surprise.)

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 8:18 am

        “Start with the problem of evil. How to reconcile the existence of evil and imperfection in the world to a three-omni God.”

        Stop there. Even if we posit the existince of a god (which is a big example of putting the rabbit in the hat) on what basis do you conclude that this god his omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent? (Why could he not be limited, weak and dumb?)

        Because unless you can first establish that these attributes actually exist, then the “problem” of evil is nothing but a boring, and easily resolved quasi-logical problem (because “God has his reasons” is a boring but perfectly acceptable and unrebuttable answer given the inital parameters of the exercise.)

      • HRK
        June 27, 2012, 12:38 pm

        Let me just end my part by saying that I enjoyed having this conversation. Maybe this subject (or one related to it) will come up again in another article and we can extend our ideas and thoughts on this matter further!

      • eljay
        June 27, 2012, 12:57 pm

        >> Let me just end my part by saying that I enjoyed having this conversation.

        Ditto. :-)

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 27, 2012, 1:20 pm

        @HRK I would prefer that you continue now and give me some reaction to the arguments I’ve put forth.

      • Mooser
        June 27, 2012, 4:14 pm

        “The push for God, the desperation for God, helps create the love for God, the need for God. Hence God must remain not empirically verifiable in this world.”

        Ah yes His very insistence on non-appearance proves His existence. It’s this way, see; if God didn’t exist, He wouldn’t be smart enough to hide from us. So thanks for the explanation of human religious psychology, but we were looking for evidence for the existence of God, sans the (cough, cough) Jesuitry.
        But if you sort of sneak in the very assumption this discussion cannot start with, (or there is no debate) at about the half-way point, maybe you can sneak it past some people?
        That God may have reasons for hiding Himself doesn’t mean He’s there. Sometimes a thing isn’t hiding, it’s just not there.

        As I’ve said and will go on saying: The only thing to be gained from a discussion of God is, perhaps, some enlightenment on why somebody wants to discuss it with you. And more often than not, the answers are not positive.
        And most of all, what people care about is whether you believe in them (that is, how far they can dominate you intellectually).

        Of course, none of this disproves the existence of God.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 7:20 am

        ““God” – being all powerful and perfect – could simply create beings who would love and need him”

        If he was all powerful and perfect, why would he be that insecure?

        More seriously, this does raise an inconsistency. If God is perfect, surely he is complete, and if he is complete, what would he need a universe at all for?

        Consider the almost universe ascetic ideal. Holy men are holy because they live with almost nothing. They have no possessions, no desires (or at least no carnal ones), don’t eat much, etc.

        The idea seems to be at least partly that thus they are coming closer to God. So why would this God who is epitomized by an absence of desire want so much? I mean, really, if he’s there, he must be like my wife. He keeps everything.

        Wouldn’t the theologically ideal God simply float in nothingness, needing nothing? There wouldn’t be a universe. Why should there be?

      • libra
        June 29, 2012, 1:11 pm

        CW: If God is perfect, surely he is complete, and if he is complete, what would he need a universe at all for?

        Colin,

        Perhaps I can belatedly join you and Woody in this theological debate. In this I think it helps to have a very literal mind – which indeed some people do have – rather than one comfortable with metaphor.

        Thus let’s immediately dismiss polytheism as totally irrational; though in doing so we must discount, for example, the richly metaphorical theology of the Ancient Egyptians and the civilisation that it was at the heart of.

        However, the notion of a creative event was even present with polytheistic religions to explain where everything first came from. And once – as you intuit – this creative event is assigned to a creator God, then this God must be superior to all other Gods and logically one is on the road to monotheism.

        But with this notion of a creator God, I think you are completely back to front. A creator of everything – through the very act of creation – has everything and hence has no needs. Thus an ascetic by seeking to want nothing – reduce his needs to a minimum – is attempting to get closer to God in this sense. I don’t know whether your wife’s opposite strategy has a religious motivation but perhaps, like the Ancient Egyptians, she’s prudently equipping herself for a comfortable afterlife and intends to take the lot with her.

        But surely you have a much stronger point that “nothing”, an utter nullity – no space or time, no energy, no matter, no information – would be the simplest state and, by Occam’s razor, thus be the one to exist (or, perhaps hinting at a fundamental paradox, should that be not exist?). Yet the fact that we are here on MW discussing the issue is at least an indication that this is not the case. Indeed, isn’t this question as to why we have “something” rather than “nothing” the same question that our ancestors wrestled with and even today the point where science, philosophy, and theology still intersect?

        And now perhaps this is the point where a literal mindset is not such a great help. The human mind seems to struggle with the implications of quantum mechanics, especially when applied to the macroscopic scale. Indeed, aren’t all the various interpretations such as the many-worlds interpretation just stories or metaphors for the underlying reality (or perhaps lack of reality?) – putting us exactly in the same shoes as the Ancient Egyptians struggling to make sense of what they could observe at their time.

        I must say that personally have some difficulty with the many-worlds interpretation. Though my arm could be twisted into believing that there could well be another universe where everything is identical to this one except that Woody is a fervent Christian, and perhaps even another where your wife does indeed enjoy her well-earned (if only by you) afterlife, it would truly take the Spanish Inquisition to get me to accept a porcine parallel universe.

      • Woody Tanaka
        June 29, 2012, 2:47 pm

        “Thus let’s immediately dismiss polytheism as totally irrational.”

        Wait, so you propose that one god is rational, but more than one is irrational? And how, exactly, does that work??

        A: “Imagine there is a god.”
        B: “Okay. Fair enough. We have nothing to base the conclusion that any such thing is real, but, okay. We’ll assume there is a god.”
        A: “Okay. Imagine one more.”
        B: “WHAT??!?!? Are you out of your mind? Two gods? Lunacy, I tell you, lunacy!!”

        “But surely you have a much stronger point that ‘nothing’, an utter nullity – no space or time, no energy, no matter, no information – would be the simplest state and, by Occam’s razor, thus be the one to exist (or, perhaps hinting at a fundamental paradox, should that be not exist?). Yet the fact that we are here on MW discussing the issue is at least an indication that this is not the case. Indeed, isn’t this question as to why we have “something” rather than “nothing” the same question that our ancestors wrestled with and even today the point where science, philosophy, and theology still intersect?”

        I don’t know how that would work if you assume the “god” hypothosis, but given the lack of information on such a thing, I think that either “God should create everything” or “God would be happy with nothing” are both defensible positions. (Which should give you a clue that the underlying assumption — believing in a thing for which there is no adequate basis — might be a problem.)

        But on this issue, Victor Stenger makes the point (if I remember it [and understood it] correctly) that the nothingness you describe is the simplest, but also the most ordered (infinately ordered) and that, per thermodynamics, we should expect that entropy to break down and, thus, we can’t expect “nothing” to be the default state, over something. “Nothing” is inherently unstable.

        “And now perhaps this is the point where a literal mindset is not such a great help. The human mind seems to struggle with the implications of quantum mechanics, especially when applied to the macroscopic scale. Indeed, aren’t all the various interpretations such as the many-worlds interpretation just stories or metaphors for the underlying reality (or perhaps lack of reality?) – putting us exactly in the same shoes as the Ancient Egyptians struggling to make sense of what they could observe at their time.”

        No, not at all. The human mind has difficulty dealing with things in an intuitive sense that exist outside a certain scale (which should be no surprise, as it evolved to do nothing but survive in an environment dominated by that scale.) But we have advanced math and a whole lot of knowledge that the ancients did not. So, no, we aren’t in the same position as the ancients.

        “Though my arm could be twisted into believing that there could well be another universe where everything is identical to this one except that Woody is a fervent Christian”

        Oh, now that’s just mean…

      • libra
        June 29, 2012, 5:34 pm

        WT: But on this issue, Victor Stenger makes the point (if I remember it [and understood it] correctly) that the nothingness you describe is the simplest, but also the most ordered (infinately ordered) and that, per thermodynamics, we should expect that entropy to break down and, thus, we can’t expect “nothing” to be the default state, over something. “Nothing” is inherently unstable.

        Woody, this would seem to posit that thermodynamics and entropy have some intrinsic existence outside of and beyond an absolute “nullity”.

        Having opened that door then what else could lie beyond? Perhaps mathematics? A Platonic universe? A creative “something” – a set of compelling rules perhaps – that can bring at least one universe into existence and for which a creator “God” might be a useful human metaphor?

        Can we certain – one way of the other – about any such ideas? And are any of them any weirder than the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics? Because in that interpretation your Christian counterpart most certainly does exist – but thank goodness he’s unaware of his atheist alter-ego.

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 2:18 pm

        Just to take this seriously…

        “…But surely you have a much stronger point that “nothing”, an utter nullity – no space or time, no energy, no matter, no information – would be the simplest state and, by Occam’s razor, thus be the one to exist (or, perhaps hinting at a fundamental paradox, should that be not exist?). Yet the fact that we are here on MW discussing the issue is at least an indication that this is not the case. Indeed, isn’t this question as to why we have “something” rather than “nothing” the same question that our ancestors wrestled with and even today the point where science, philosophy, and theology still intersect? “

        But then isn’t the very existence of our universe evidence that God doesn’t exist?

        It’s not conclusive evidence — but if there was a conscious, omnipotent, self-sufficient entity, then it’s hard to see what need he would have for a variegated, complex universe. After all, being self-sufficient, surely he doesn’t need entertainment. So the very fact that we are here suggests not that there is a God, but that there isn’t. After all, I don’t have a ritual slaughterhouse in my backyard for the excellent reason that I don’t need one. If one nevertheless appears, the inference is that actually, I’m not in charge.

        I think what I’m doing here is reversing the ontological argument in some sense. The ontological argument imposes God on the universe by reasoning that the very concept of God implies that he exists. I am taking the position that the very existence of the universe implies that God as we understand him couldn’t be there, since he could have had no reason to create such an artifice.

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 2:29 pm

        “…That God may have reasons for hiding Himself doesn’t mean He’s there. Sometimes a thing isn’t hiding, it’s just not there…”

        Are you suggesting there’s not a monster under my bed?

        It’s actually curious how universal that fear seems to be among small children. I wonder if some elaboration of it is why the belief in ‘God’ is so pervasive?

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 2:55 pm

        Continuing to think along these lines…

        I wonder if the nature of the ‘God’ societies posit can tell us much about changes in those societies?

        If one thinks about the ‘God’ Christian societies have posited, if one goes back to the Middle Ages, He is above all an authoritarian figure. He upholds and anoints kings, He presides over a hierarchy, He is the jealous guardian of a right and unchanging order. ‘God’ certainly doesn’t want change — except in the sense that everyone should behave more correctly.

        Move to the last couple of centuries, and ‘God’ starts demanding we love and accept everybody. There are occasional exceptions for Germans and such, but generally, he runs around hugging all and sundry, whether they want it or not. He has become a ‘God’ for an exuberantly expansionist civilization. Where the ‘God’ of the Spanish conquistadors demanded that the Indians be fitted into the one right order regardless of the cost, God 2.0 wanted us to hug the little brown people.

        If this view is valid, it would follow that if we look at ‘God’ as he appears now in Evangelical sermons and such, he’ll probably be starting to become a spiteful, vicious God, determined above all to strike out at, smite, and inflict suffering on an ever-widening circle of enemies and threats.

      • Woody Tanaka
        July 3, 2012, 9:51 am

        “Woody, this would seem to posit that thermodynamics and entropy have some intrinsic existence outside of and beyond an absolute ‘nullity’.”

        No, from what I understand they arise spontaneously as a result of the inherent symmetries of the void.

        “Having opened that door then what else could lie beyond? Perhaps mathematics? A Platonic universe? A creative ‘something’ – a set of compelling rules perhaps – that can bring at least one universe into existence and for which a creator “God” might be a useful human metaphor?”

        No, because in all those cases, you have something, rather than a void.

        “Can we certain – one way of the other – about any such ideas?”

        We can know some things, but not everything.

        “Because in that interpretation your Christian counterpart most certainly does exist – but thank goodness he’s unaware of his atheist alter-ego.”

        Well, that’s okay, because there are an infinite number of us.

      • ColinWright
        June 28, 2012, 7:06 am

        I’d be happy to chase any of them — if I found any of them even remotely plausible.

        I certainly have no need to be an atheist. I’d probably be somewhat happier if I wasn’t. I just am.

  23. ColinWright
    June 26, 2012, 4:01 pm

    ‘May we all meet again in the alternate universe of pork!’

    This sounds suspiciously like Iowa. Iowa’s actually okay, but I don’t want to spend eternity there.

    • Mooser
      June 27, 2012, 3:28 pm

      “Iowa’s actually okay, but I don’t want to spend eternity there.”

      I’ve been to Iowa. Every day is an eternity.
      Oh, there’s nothing halfway
      About the Iowa way to treat you,
      When they treat you
      Which they may not do at all.

  24. The Hasbara Buster
    June 26, 2012, 5:56 pm

    A neat exposé of this charlatan. I’ll just add that, concerning Tibet, Harris gets everything wrong. China does not occupy Tibet; it has annexed the region — which is a quite different thing. Tibetans are Chinese citizens and enjoy exactly the same rights as the majority Han population. In a dictatorship like China these may not seem to amount to much, but they include the right to use the same roads as the Han, as well as the highest railroad in the world that was built by China for the region. By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank not only can’t choose the authorities that will build roads on their expropriated lands; they also can’t drive on those roads.

    On another note, during the 2008 riots the Tibetans burnt alive at least 10 people, including five girls in a store. This shatters the image of a peace-loving people that contrasts with irrationally violent Palestinians.

    Not to mention, of course, that the Jewish terrorist David Raziel, who killed hundreds of Arab civilians, including 39 at a Haifa market on 25 July 1938, is revered by the state of Israel, to the point that the town of Ramat Raziel has been named after him.

  25. The Hasbara Buster
    June 26, 2012, 6:11 pm

    Regarding the glorifying of terrorists, I’ve found interesting stuff on what appears to be the Irgun’s official page:

    YAAKOV RAZ
    On July 26, 1938, Yaakov Raz was sent to the Old City of Jerusalem disguised as an Arab and carrying a basket of vegetables in which a mine was concealed. His commanding officers, who had planned the operation far in advance, did not heed the fact that the Arabs had proclaimed a general strike that day in protest against the Irgun’s incessant attacks. When Raz placed the basket beside one of the stores whose doors were barred, he aroused the suspicion of the Arab bystanders. His basket was overturned and when the mine was found, Raz was repeatedly stabbed. The Arabs then fled, leaving him for dead. Yaakov Raz was severely injured, and was taken by the police to the government hospital. Despite his serious condition, he was interrogated by the British Intelligence, the CID (Criminal Investigation Department), throughout his hospital stay. For two weeks he fought for his life. When he felt his strength waning, and feared he would not be able to withstand further interrogation and was liable to betray secret information, he tore off his bandages and died of blood loss.

    Yaakov Raz was the first member of the Irgun to die as a result of an operation. The heroism he displayed, and particularly the manner of his death, made him a symbol and inspiration for generations of young Irgun members.

    In summary, a Jew who planned to blow up an Arab store was hailed as a hero by the group that later became what is currently Israel’s ruling party. Can Harris offer any thoughts on that? Something along the lines of “it was our barbarianism, and since it was ours, it must have been necessary”, perhaps?

  26. piotr
    June 26, 2012, 8:59 pm

    THB: it is really unfair to pick on Tibetans. Someone can slip from the path of non-violence now and then, especially if you have several millions of people. Like ANY ideology, Buddhism may be violent. You can check Wiki “Maitreya”, events in North Wei state, 515 AD:
    Using drugs to send its members into a killing frenzy, and promoting them to Tenth-Stage Bodhisattva as soon as they killed ten enemies, the Mahayana sect seized a prefecture and murdered all the government officials in it. Their slogan was “A new Buddha has entered the world; eradicate the demons of the former age”, and they would kill all monks and nuns in the monasteries that they captured, also burning all the sutras and icons. After defeating a government army and growing to a size of over 50,000, the rebel army was finally crushed by another government army of 100,000.

    Nowadays, Buddhists, anarchists and anabaptists are pacifist, but there were big exceptions in the past.

    Also, to have a full appreciation of David Raziel, he and his sidekick, later MK Meridor, attempted to collaborated with Nazis, but Nazis did not want to bother with them, but even so, in 1942 they went to Mesopotamia and tried to blow up some oil wells to hinder British war effort. But while expert with placing explosives at Arab market places, oil fields were too hard a target for two young terrorists.

    • W.Jones
      June 28, 2012, 2:20 am

      “Nowadays, Buddhists, anarchists and anabaptists are pacifist, but there were big exceptions in the past.”

      Yeah, weren’t the Mongols and medieval Chinese empires Buddhist and militaristic at some point, fighting with eachother?

  27. ColinWright
    June 27, 2012, 12:42 am

    “…Also, to have a full appreciation of David Raziel, he and his sidekick, later MK Meridor, attempted to collaborated with Nazis, but Nazis did not want to bother with them, but even so, in 1942 they went to Mesopotamia and tried to blow up some oil wells to hinder British war effort…

    This seems off. The usual sources soft-pedal or ignore what I am perfectly willing to believe was a career of horrific terrorism, but they all agree that Raziel died in May 1941, as a result of a German air attack, while trying to carry out a mission for the British, who at that time were in the process of suppressing the rebellion in Iraq.

    However, the Wikipedia page, at least, doesn’t seem excessively well researched. “On May 20, a bomb from a German aircraft killed him and the British officer with him near an oil deposit in Habbaniyah.”

    Habbaniyah was one of two British airbases in Iraq, and it was bombed by German aircraft, so it would be perfectly reasonable for Raziel to be there, and to be killed. However, at least at the time, there were no oil deposits anywhere in the vicinity.

    • piotr
      June 28, 2012, 12:04 pm

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      Wiki entry on Raziel makes no sense while describing his death, but the entry on Ya’akov Meridor is quite clear. Raziel entry is falsified in my opinion. Meridor had a long, if not necessarily illustrious political carrier in Israel so his entry attracted more attention, not all of it friendly (hence the link to “Bulb to light all Ramat Gan”).

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 2:58 pm

        This could be definitively resolved if anyone cared enough. If Raziel was killed in the company of a British officer in 1941, there would be British records that said he was. The British would have had no reason to erase the records.

  28. NickJOCW
    June 27, 2012, 4:10 am

    I haven’t read this book and won’t be doing so, but ten out of ten for a highly entertaining review. Harris appears somewhat like Sarah Palin with knobs; mad as a Hatter. Is he a Tea Party person?

  29. Marion Delgado
    June 27, 2012, 11:28 am

    In Sam Harris’ cosmology, God existed just long enough to get a license as a realtor, and pick the “right people” to move into Palestine. He realized that Canaanites were lowering the property value, so He put covenants in to keep them, Phoenicians, Arabs, etc. from moving in next door. And Sam points out, helpfully, that if you disagree with him, you’re a meathead. All Reason so far!

  30. JohnDurandal
    June 27, 2012, 4:04 pm

    I’m not sure how the Arab Spring is changing this perception of theocracy, since most of the Arab countries affected by it are electing theocrats in mass.

    • Annie Robbins
      June 27, 2012, 4:10 pm

      did you follow what just happened in egypt? how can you get democracy when the primaries are fixed and the military rule shuts down the parliament?

      • piotr
        June 28, 2012, 7:35 pm

        There are two different issues. One is the propensity to elect theocrats. Somewhere I read an article by an Egyptian female activist about the femist record of MB. Which is perhaps enlightened by 18 century standards: wife beating is frowned upon, that is the sum total of good news. And she described a poll made be her and friend with people on the street: how many would be open to the idea of a woman president? For more than 1000 people, including a good share of women, the number of positive answers was zero. Zero. Societies evolve as they evolve, and at a certain stage the choice is between religious schovinist pigs and secular ones.

        The second issue, military calling the shots, is a problem. There are some good signs, namely that the anti-military forces will reach some consensus and will manage to press for the real end of military rule.

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 3:14 pm

        “…Societies evolve as they evolve, and at a certain stage the choice is between religious schovinist pigs and secular ones…”

        I’d make several points about this.

        First, societies don’t necessarily evolve. They certainly change — but it’s another matter entirely as to whether the change is toward a desired goal or even a fixed one. We’re changing all right — but that doesn’t imply that we’re going anywhere good.

        Second, I hate to be all multi-cultural and such — but it’s not a tunnel. The Egyptians aren’t necessarily behind us in exactly the same tunnel. They may have their own tunnel entirely — and barring extreme outrages, I’m disinclined to assume they should be somehow teleported through solid rock into our tunnel. Such an attempt (vide Iraq and Afghanistan) is likely to prove misconceived anyway.

        Third, naturally we are better at being who we think we should be than anyone else ever has been before us — they all had different aspirations. It’s sheer silliness to think our values du jour comprise some kind of fixed lodestar for all humanity for all eternity. In this connection, I’d point out that the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideas about women are perfectly congruent with those of the West — as of about 1825. That we’ve since moved away from that point imposes no imperative that they should follow us.

        We are all creatures of our own time and culture, and can’t help seeing the values of our time and culture as ‘good’ and deviations from it as ‘bad.’ I’ll even grant that we might as well strive to stamp out gross deviations from that norm — we won’t be able to keep from wanting to do that anyway. However, it is essentially an error to exalt all these standards into some kind of unchanging physical reality. They aren’t, and a hundred years from now, we’ll be advocating something quite different — and with just as much sincerity as we advocate what we advocate now.

        So I have my doubts about the wisdom of unreflectively demanding that Egypt become a pleasing replica of 2012 Vermont. That’ll be out of fashion long before they get there anyway. Let them do what they collectively want to do. If it appears that we’re somehow getting in the way, or if there’s something we can do that will obviously help, we should address that if feasible. But otherwise…

      • JohnDurandal
        June 29, 2012, 5:34 am

        I think there’s a misunderstanding regarding theocracy. Democracy isn’t antithetical to theocracy, or any other oppressive system. If the majority of people want a mobbish theocracy, which unfortunately some of these Arab countries have shown, that’s not anti-democratic.

        Anyway, these women disagree that women have been getting a better shake after the Arab Revolutions:

        link to therealnews.com

        I’m not saying I don’t support the Arab Revolutions, I’m just saying they’re not ushering in progressive, democratic societies.

      • ColinWright
        June 30, 2012, 3:20 pm

        “…I’m not saying I don’t support the Arab Revolutions, I’m just saying they’re not ushering in progressive, democratic societies.”

        They could usher in ‘progressive, democratic societies’ — or at any rate, something that represents a net improvement over the rather dreary secular authoritarian regimes of the immediate past.

        One thing’s for sure — they offer more hope than what they’re replacing did. As with the Bolshevik revolution, it may all go horribly wrong — but if we reasoned on that basis, we’d still all be sitting around in the Roman Empire and most of us would be slaves.

      • Mooser
        July 2, 2012, 3:07 pm

        “As with the Bolshevik revolution, it may all go horribly wrong “

        Gosh, hate to mention it, but I don’t think it was a “Bolshevik” revolutions. Wasn’t there a many-faceted upheaval in Russia, led mostly by socialists of many stripes, and a civil war, and the Bolsheviks ended up with the reins of power, due to (who’d have ever guessed) their superior organization and willingness to use brutality and terror.

        I wonder which will go on longer, man’s wish to find definite indication’s of God’s existence or non-existence, or his wish to believe that government is something besides a monopoly on violence and organised theft.

      • ColinWright
        July 2, 2012, 11:27 pm

        “…or his wish to believe that government is something besides a monopoly on violence and organised theft.”

        One view is that government is a necessary evil, not so much because it’s necessary to deliver various services, but simply because someone is going to establish a ‘monopoly on violence and organized theft.’

        In other words, there’s going to be a ‘government’ whether you like it or not. The only question is will it consist of the local biker gang or something more innocuous.

        To tell the truth, I have a deep attachment to anarchism, although I can’t avoid seeing various insuperable problems. I suppose the gist of my views is that I should be able to do exactly as I please, but everyone else should be kept on a pretty short leash.

  31. Mooser
    June 27, 2012, 4:18 pm

    Of one thing I am sure: If God exists, his antlers are palmate, and support the earth between them, like a divine Thidwick. And His dewlap surpasseth all understanding!

  32. ColinWright
    July 1, 2012, 3:56 am

    “The only two avowedly atheist systems that have come into being have been Naziism and Communism ”

    Yes I was wrong when I said Naziism was ‘avowedly atheist.’ It was, however, extremely hostile to religion, both in principle and in practice. It would have been more accurate to refer to Naziism and Communism as ‘the only two anti-religious systems that have come into being.’

    Well, the post-revolutionary Mexican state was pretty hostile at times. Would that count as a ‘system?’

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 2, 2012, 9:50 am

      “Yes I was wrong when I said Naziism was ‘avowedly atheist.’ It was, however, extremely hostile to religion, both in principle and in practice. It would have been more accurate to refer to Naziism and Communism as ‘the only two anti-religious systems that have come into being.’”

      No, it’s no less stupid. Because you’re a religion groupie, you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They were hostile to any potential center of power, be it religion or otherwise, not because they were atheists — because they weren’t — but because they were totalitarians.

  33. ColinWright
    July 2, 2012, 11:22 pm

    “No, it’s no less stupid. Because you’re a religion groupie, you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They were hostile to any potential center of power, be it religion or otherwise, not because they were atheists — because they weren’t — but because they were totalitarians.”

    Well, you’re being gratuitously rude, incomprehensible (what’s a ‘religion groupie’ and how am I one?), and you have a weird attachment to what is, after all, only a negation.

    I suggest you get a girlfriend. You’ll be happier, and more pleasant to be around.

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