Sam Harris Responds to Critics

Sam Harris

Image credit: Wikipedia commons

Let me start by apologizing for my irregular posting as of late. This weekend I was at a conference in Albuquerque and had zero time for blogging; and as the semester (my final semester of college!) comes to a close, I’m finding myself with less and less time for blogging.

Be that as it may, I’m going to commit myself to making time to blog. I really love blogging (and communicating with you readers), so I can’t think of a worthy excuse for not engaging more consistently.

Today I mostly just want to direct you to read Sam Harris’ most recent blog post, which addresses the complaints of his critics. The post is outlandishly long, but necessarily so. Harris has been criticized for his views (or the views people attribute to him) on Islam, torture, war, airport profiling, and Buddhism – and he addresses each of these concerns comprehensively.

I have already formed my own opinion about his rebuttal, but I’m interested to hear how others have responded as well. Harris is undoubtedly an exceptional and entertaining writer, and I enjoy reading what he has to say whether or not I agree with it. He is a controversial figure in atheist discourse – this new post will do nothing to change that.

Please read what he has to say entirely, then leave your comments here if you so choose. I’m eager to hear the verdict.



Filed under Atheism/Religion

5 responses to “Sam Harris Responds to Critics

  1. Liz

    First of all, you weren’t kidding when you said that post was long. But I persevered and read to the very end so could come back here and discuss it with you. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to leave a comment there, but since Mr. Harris seems to be under attack, I can understand why he didn’t open it up for public discussion. I’ll go through each point individually, much in the same way he did:

    Islam: I agree wholeheartedly with virtually everything he says. While Christians have engaged in some frankly disgusting behavior (bombing suicide clinics, for example), they have not been nearly as prolific in their war against the changing tide of public opinion, in that they haven’t resorted to strapping bombs to 10 year olds and sending them to the mall.

    I haven’t had the chance to read the Qur’an (I plan on it sometime this year), so my knowledge of its teachings are painfully inadequate to be discussing it, but given the amount of suicide bombings and violence in general towards those of different faiths (or lack thereof), I would say he is right in stating Islam is one of the most destructive religions in the world.

    Torture: Do I think torture is wrong? My gut reaction is to say yes. Unfortunately, I have family members in the military that were first hand witnesses to the realities of torture, and the effect it had on the people subjected to it. To say it disturbed them greatly is the understatement of the century. The fact that a place like Abu Ghraib even exists is abhorrent to me.

    But I get where Mr. Harris is coming form. If we have a known enemy combatant in custody, we KNOW he has information about an imminent terrorist attack, AND he isn’t willingly giving up the information, I can understand the necessity of torturing him for that information. As much as I don’t like it, I can understand the necessity, and I wouldn’t hold anyone legally responsible for doing it, so long as they can prove that a. they knew he/she/it had the information, b. they weren’t parting with that information during the course of a normal interrogation, and c. that the information they gained was instrumental in stopping another terrorist attack.

    I don’t quite get the comparison between torture and bombing a building full of innocent civilians though. They are two different scenarios entirely. I think bombing a building to capture/kill known terrorists, even though we know there are innocent civilians inside that will more than likely be hurt/killed is just as disgusting as water boarding the third cousin of a suspected terrorist, but they are two different things entirely, and I think it detracted from his argument for using torture in certain circumstances.

    War: No one likes war. Iraq was a grievous mistake, and I don’t see that country ever completely recovering from our interference. I think we under estimated our opponent and their willingness to use whatever means necessary to halt our efforts in that country, and I think its going to take a very long time to repair the damage done to that country, if it can even be fixed. I will admit that when we first decided to go to war with Iraq, that I was in support of it, mostly because I was still seeing red over the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, and I didn’t stop to think, hey wait wait a minute, wasn’t it Al Queda that attacked us, not Iraq?

    That being said, the cat is pretty much out of the bag now, and we have an additional problem to deal with, that Mr. Harris pointed out. we have pissed off an entire religion that has no qualms about blowing up innocent civilians in the name of getting their point across, and the possibility exists that they could get their hands on weapons that could seriously pose a threat to our nation and our allies. How do we fix that? Do we deserve to be blown to smithereens because our leaders fucked up and insulted a group of people that historically are not the most rational human beings on the face of the planet?

    To be honest, I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to answer those questions. Personally, I don’t think i deserve to die because Bush Jr. made a colossal mistake, but they aren’t going to see it that way. They don’t see it that way. All they see is an infidel that caused them untold suffering, and I think that if they had the means to, we would all be in serious danger. How to fix that is for people that make much more money than I do though.

    Airport profiling: The likelihood of a 93 year old white woman being a terrorist is slim at best, and I think we’re wasting our resources “randomly” choosing people for additional screening. Does profiling suck? Sure. I would hate to be a Afghan male in my 30’s flying out of an American airport, but unfortunately, the reality is, someone of that age, gender, and skin color is more likely to be a terrorist than me (a white female in my late 20’s).

    Buddhism: I’m actually planning on reading a really fascinating book by Stephen Batchelor called Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, so I will have to come back to this point once I’ve read the book and can say for sure what I think of Buddhism for an (almost) atheist’s point of view.

    • NewDreamsOldEarth

      I think there are a few interesting things to note here:

      1. The point I believe he was trying to make in comparing/contrasting torture and bombing was that we have a reaction to torture that is – perhaps unwarrantedly – greater than the reaction we have to bombing our enemies and inflicting collateral damage. I agree mostly with his point that this reaction is inappropriately disproportional.

      2. I was glad that he addressed the confusion about his supposed advocacy for “pre-emptive nuclear attack.” I have not read “The End of Faith” (only “The Moral Landscape”), so I was not aware of the passage until this post. I thought he did a good job of explaining exactly what he meant and that he was only imagining a dire scenario in which case that might be a last resort.

      3. I still disagree with his position on profiling. I agree that a person of those characteristics is statistically more likely to be a suicide bomber, but I think that outright profiling is likely to lead terrorists to innovating ways to use/enlist people who do not fit the profile. If we understand that they don’t have any qualms about using children to carry out their deeds, I think focusing only on the “usual suspects” is dangerous. Furthermore, as Sam points out, “Muslim” is not synonymous with “Arab,” and the converts may be even more likely to adhere to an extremist position given their dedication to the doctrine.

      Thanks for commenting – it was great to get your thoughts!

      • Liz

        1. I get the point he was trying to make on this, but I think he did a sufficient job of getting his point across without the comparison. Given the length of the post, I think his argument would have been just as strong without it.

        2. I have to be honest, I’m scared of the damage we’ve done to that country. Yes, there is a new regime in place, but the continuing violence leads me to believe that it isn’t going to stop once we completely leave the area, and I don’t think the government that is in place is equipped to deal with that problem. I’m not sure what the answer should be, to be completely honest.

        3. I get where your coming from, I really do. I guess its just seeing google pages like this:…0.0…1c.1.8.psy-ab.jLuWFsujFd8&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45107431,d.cGE&fp=224b1cd839b2e194&biw=1676&bih=956

        has made me less than confident in their ability to protect us. If it were only one article at a single airport, I could forgive that. But the fact that 9 out of the 10 items on that first page alone are about the TSA consistently failing tests designed to monitor their ability to find contraband is disturbing.

        What that tells me is these people are not being trained correctly and/or they are casting too wide of a net and are missing threats because its not politically correct to screen the people that statistically pose the greatest threat, including white and African American males in their late 20’s to early 30’s. It doesn’t help that we are trusting our nation’s security to people that are making a few dollars/hour over the minimum wage.

      • NewDreamsOldEarth

        I understand. I think then the solution might be better funding for security.

      • Liz

        I think that would solve a lot of the problems with the TSA. If you train and pay people better, statistically they are better at their jobs.

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