The Islam apologists, including Reza Aslan, smear Sam Harris by misrepresenting his words

All too often my brother Sam Harris gets the short end of the stick, especially when people determined to take him down misuse or misrepresent his words to smear him. The “ticking time bomb torture scenario”, for instance, which Sam floated as a hypothetical scenario to inspire thought, was distorted to make it seem that he was strongly in favor of torture. I could give other examples, but this latest, reported by both Hemant at The Friendly Atheist and Clarion, is a doozy. In this case, on Sam’s podcast with Maajid Nawaz, Sam played the devil’s advocate, making a case against Muslim immigration he doesn’t believe, just to get Maajid’s response. Here’s the beginning of that bit of the conversation. Click on this video; the bit that got distorted begins about 1:10:50 (if this doesn’t start there, go to 1:10:50):

As Clarion reports:

Harris and Nawaz, who wrote a book together called Islam and the Future of Tolerance, recorded a two-hour podcast (Waking Up, Episode 59) where they spoke about issues having to do with Islamic extremism and Muslim integration in the West.

Someone else took one minute of the show and broadcast it on social media. The one-minute segment is when Harris, to make a point, presents what he believes is the line of thinking of someone who is against Muslim immigration in the West. Harris presented this argument so he could ask Nawaz how he would respond to it.

Yet, the segment was presented on social media as proof of Harris’ “genocidal rhetoric on Muslims” while Nawaz “nods along.”

In the segment, Harris, assuming the voice of an anti-immigrant Western citizen, says how it’s rational to not want any more Muslims in one’s country, given the rampant Islamic terror taking place worldwide. Nawaz says “mmh, mmh” and, at the end, answers with a solitary “yes.”

In actuality, both men have spoken out against such rhetoric repeatedly in the past and, I imagine, will continue to do so in the future. As Harris said in response to this slander doing the rounds, “I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think we have a moral obligation to let in as many Syrian refugees as we can properly vet. I’ve also said that secular, liberal, tolerant Muslims are the most important people on earth — and that if I had control of our immigration policy, I’d move them to the front of the line for citizenship.”

. . . In other words, the one-minute segment presents Harris as believing almost the opposite of what he actually believes.

It takes a certain amount of mendacity to listen to Sam’s words, which are perfectly clear, and distort them to make it seem that Sam wants to stop all Muslim immigration to Europe and the U.S. But we see that mendacity in many apologists for Islam, and most notably in the odious Reza Aslan, whose reputation rests solely on whitewashing religion, especially Islam. Below is a tw**t from a person I don’t know, but is spreading lies on Twitter, and appears to have started the distortion. You can hear the out-of-context excerpt in the tw**t below. Do listen to it, but then listen to what Sam really said below:

Since the cowardly Aslan has blocked me from viewing his tweets (I’ve never engaged him on Twitter), I’ll give a screenshot of how he bought into this scam. Perhaps he was taken in and wasn’t deliberately distorting Harris, but remember that Aslan purports to be a “scholar”. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to do some checking before you start smearing? Here he links to Sacha Saeen’s tweet above.

And from Max Blumenthal, another creepy Islamist apologist

and from Dean Obeidallah:

Sam responded to this quote-mining with anger at The Friendly Atheist. Among other stuff, he says this (Hemant’s emphasis):

The most charitable interpretation of what followed is that the more prominent Muslims who circulated the clip were just intellectually lazy and guilty of confirmation bias. But there is far too much history here for that to have been the case. I’ve said on multiple occasions that I think we have a moral obligation to let in as many Syrian refugees as we can properly vet. I’ve also said that secular, liberal, tolerant Muslims are the most important people on earth — and that if I had control of our immigration policy, I’d move them to the front of the line for citizenship. As you probably know, I’ve also been very supportive of ex-Muslims and Muslim reformers and count several among my friends. And yet, Reza Aslan, Rula Jebreal, Dean Obeidallah, along with dozens of other “moderate” Muslims (and their Left-wing enablers) have spent years attacking me as a “racist” who favors a “genocide” against Muslims.

. . . I want to point out something that many of our readers will not have thought about, but which all these Muslim apologists well understand: Spreading lies about a person’s “racism” and support for “genocide” is dangerous. We are nowhere near the terrain of good faith debate here. These are utterly irresponsible, malicious people, doing conscious harm to our public conversation — and doing whatever they can to destroy the reputations (and more) of those of us who, at considerable personal risk, attempt to have rational conversations about some of the most important issues of our time. This is asymmetric warfare: One side has few security concerns and no scruples. (None of these Muslims is worried about being killed by an atheist or a Muslim reformer.) The other is frequently threatened and does its best to abide by the highest standards of intellectual honesty.

These apologists are like creationists: they take stuff out of context to distort a person’s views and smear him or her—and to defend creationism. At least some of the slanderers above must be lying for Mohammed, just as creationists lie for Jesus. And instead of doing this in the cause of promoting creationism, they’re doing it in the cause of defending Islam.

Now you can argue that Sam should have known that his statements would be taken out of context, as this has happened time after time with him. Why didn’t he speak more carefully? But that’s crazy: you can’t micro-filter everything you say lest it be distorted, for then you lose your spontaneity and become timorous.

You may disagree with Sam on some issues (for instance, I take issue with his claim that there are objective moral values), but you have to admit that in this case he was badly wronged. As he says in the second paragraph above, this is done simply to smear him, a Ctrl-Left tactic used to destroy someone’s credibility. It shows the mendacity of those like Aslan who will defend the tenets of Islam at all costs.

67 Comments

  1. Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Sacha Saeen, with whom I had a brief back-and-forth over his attempt to get Asra Nomani and Ayaan Hirsi Ali blocked from the Senate hearing, blocked me on Twitter for asking him this: “Hi, Sacha. Was it you who edited the SamHarrisOrg & MaajidNawaz podcast?”

    He also blocked others for similarly vanilla points. A footnote in this repetitive story, I know, but illustrative of the times.

    • Richard Sanderson
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Don’t know if you know this already…

      ..but Sacha Saeen is the malicious troll who described ** W****m**’s ‘The New Atheist Threat’ as a “seminal work”!

      This freak is retweeted by a lot of the regressive SJW crowd, including racist bigots like Dan Arel, and the above mentioned.

      • Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t know this about Saeen, although it doesn’t surprise me.

        I came across a Dan Arel defense of AHA from about 2 years ago which was sane. You could have knocked me over with an antifa punch.

        I’m not aware of any racism coming from Arel, although in the backwash of his tumultuous Trump-is-Hitler public meltdown, I might have forgotten some detail in the torrent of whirling-armed Popeye invective.

    • ALe
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      Blocking you for fair, legitimate and good faith points is pretty much standard operating procedure for these folks. Although sometimes they like to “get the last word” in before they block by calling you some names or accusing you of being a “Sam Harris fanboy.”

      • Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        I’m trying to imagine the circumstances under which I would block someone. I mean I’m Mr. Anonymous from Nameless Road, Unknownsville, Nowhereia so who would care if I blocked them?

        Similarly, how self-important does Mr. Saeen have to feel that he takes it upon himself to block someone? He must be playing a different online game. It certainly doesn’t involve the polite or reasoned exchange of ideas. Were I him, I don’t think I could live with myself, given his public shaming.

        I can imagine a famous person blocking someone who is a nuisance – and fair enough. In real life I actually was stalked when I was young and beautiful: it wasn’t pleasant.

  2. colnago80
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Sam Harris should be proud to be bad mouthed and to be the subject of smears by self hating Jew and two fisted Israel basher Max Blumenthal. Here’s an article on ole Max that appeared in The Nation magazine, hardly a right wing pro Zionist outlet.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/i-hate-israel-handbook/

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I always think it is weird that crazy Max Blumenthal is Sidney Blumenthal’s son. I can’t help but think that maybe Max was dropped on his head as a child.

  3. darrelle
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Regarding Sam’s response, especially the 2nd part that Jerry bolded, damn. On point, on target and well said.

    The mystery, as always, is how after an affair like this the liars’ reputations are usually not negatively affected to any significant degree while the reputation of their target suffers damage even when most people, when cornered at least, will admit that the target was misrepresented.

  4. Jonathan Dore
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Same with Richard Dawkins. I’ve seen many people who feel free to ascribe to them any opinion, without the need for evidence, as if they are cartoonish figures about whom any accusation, however outlandish, can be asserted.

    • Craw
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      This goes well beyond just atheists or critics of Islam. This kind of mendacious proof-texting is ubiquitous. It is Michael Moore’s stock in trade, it is Rush Limbaugh’s plat du jour. It is so widespread because most people really truly believe they do not have to discuss or debate ideas, they only need find a pretext to ignore their proponents. That attitude is also ubiquitous, and testimony to the widespread failure of education.

      • Travis
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Well said. It is far to easy and a habit for us (I mean everyone, in general) to listen not to what our opponents are saying, but anticipating trigger words or phrases to misconstrue or simply use to waive away our opposition as a joke/ignorant/stupid/immoral.

        • Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Yes well said and it is exhibit A in why we must not silence views we don’t like – if we don’t hear those views the way the speaker says them we can’t formulate coherent rebuttals.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Let the Aslans and the Blumenthals and the Obeidallahs take their best shots. Sam is atheism’s shark, stalking the dark waters, always moving forward, circling his prey, striking with furious intensity, growing back rows of fresh teeth as fast as he breaks off the old ones in the flesh of his opponents’ spurious arguments.

    • Colin McLachlan
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Lovely metaphor!

    • ToddP
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      They’re gonna need a bigger boat.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        +1

  6. Vaal
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Jerry I’ve followed that brouhaha and, while I absolutely agree people like Reza Aslan and the others mentioned are promoting a misleading picture of Sam’s views, I also find I can’t let Sam off the hook quite as easily as it seems other atheists do. (And I’m a HUGE fan of Sam’s).

    If one is familiar with much of what Sam has said about Islam, I think it’s clear he is not a bigot, not a racist, not anti-muslim (as people) not against accepting Muslims into the USA etc.

    However, as clear as Sam can be on many topics, he does have a tendency to produce some muddying declarations sometimes, which can be confusing to those attempting to understand his view, if only at the time he’s giving it.

    If you listen to the conversation section in question, or read the transcript provided by
    Hermant, I can see these problems.

    Yes at some point Sam indicates he is simply expressing the “gut reaction” many people have in seeing the terror acts in Europe.
    But it seems to be mixed in with some level of endorsement of that reaction. And it’s not just like he’s taking a completely foreign position, like Christianity, and saying IF you believe this silly thing, then the next silly thing follows…

    Rather, he’s mixing it in with views he himself has expressed before. So in presenting the case for the “gut reaction” he’s describing, he says things like: “And there’s just the brute fact that 100% of Jihadists are Muslim, right? These are not the Amish. They are not the Scientologists. They are not the Anglicans. If you take a community of Muslims from Syria or Iraq or any other country on Earth and place them in the heart of Europe, you are importing, by definition, some percentage, however small, of radicalized people. “

    Now…that is something Sam himself has argued many times before. It’s one of Sam’s own views.

    And when Sam says “whether we’re honest about this, or whether we do this covertly, clearly it’s rational to want to do this. ” That is very much “Sam Harris-speak.” Sam speaks like this so often – about how people are not talking openly and honestly about the problems with Islam and importing those problems – that one can be forgiven I think for inferring some level of expressing his own views here.

    Sam asks if Maajid can “speak to that despair” which indicates Sam referring to the concerns of others…but then reminds Maajid:
    “Again, this is not an expression of xenophobia. This is the implication of statistics, and the fact that it’s only rational not to want to live in a world that looks more and more like Jerusalem at the height of the Intifada, right?”

    Which sounds very much like what Sam himself tends to argue.

    Now, as I said, if you put together all Sam has argued regarding Islam and Muslim immigration etc, I think he comes off as sensitive, rational, not bigoted or racist, and simply trying to calmly think through a very hard problem.

    BUT…I also can’t go along with the idea that the way Sam made that case, it is simply obvious he was propounding a straw-man position he doesn’t endorse ready for it to be struck down. It’s too intermingled with the way Sam often speaks about the problem, AND with bits of argument Sam himself has made, so untangling the strawman part from what sam actually endorses as reasonable in there isn’t so obvious, especially if someone is trying to understand Sam’s views during that conversation.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      I can see your point about Harris’ themes in in his work – though I don’t agree with you (I see most of his previous words on this as being consistent).

      But I hope you see that the main problem with this episode is not what Harris said but what his critics said he said. Surely you see that the deliberate misrepresentation of what he was saying is “nowhere near the terrain of good faith debate” and those who use such tactics “are utterly irresponsible, malicious people, doing conscious harm to our public conversation”.

      • Posted June 28, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. This person took the dialog out of its all-important context (setting up someone else’s argument so Maajid could react to it) then cutting off Maajid’s reply as well.

        This is despicable and about as anti-thoughtful discussion as one can get.

        Aslan at the very least should be publicly fried for this (rhetorically).

    • darrelle
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      I think your observation here is valid, but the responsibility for accurate communication should shared by both speakers and the listeners. The exchange in question wasn’t especially hard to understand. At least not so hard to understand that one could plausibly get it as wrong as Sacha Saeen appears to have, unless there are other factors involved that I think it is unreasonable to hold any speaker accountable for (not saying you are).

      Also, the responses Sam’s proponents are criticizing mischaracterize (extremely so), what Sam said even if one assumes that the statements of unclear provenance you point out are assumed to be Sam’s actual position. They are out of all proportion compared to any reasonable misinterpretation of Sam’s and Maajid’s discussion.

      • ToddP
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        the responsibility for accurate communication should shared by both speakers and the listeners.

        This should always be the case, but it gets intentionally ignored by the anti-Harris brigade.

        The reasonable response is: “Sam, there are a few points of uncertainty in your statements, can you clear them up?”

        Instead, it’s: “SAM HARRIS ADVOCATES MUSLIM GENOCIDE!!!”

        These people are malicious liars.

        • Rita
          Posted June 28, 2017 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

          +1

    • Mike Hagan
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      This is an excellent summary of the issue, it articulates exactly my gut reaction to listening to the piece in context.

    • Zach
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I also can’t go along with the idea that the way Sam made that case, it is simply obvious he was propounding a straw-man position he doesn’t endorse ready for it to be struck down.

      I agree with your analysis, and I had a similar reaction. Here’s the thing though: Sam Harris wasn’t constructing a straw-man. He was, you might say, constructing a steel-man. In order to more effectively play devil’s advocate, he made his hypothetical anti-immigration position sound more reasonable than the average “ban-’em-all” partisan would have. This was an exercise in charitable, productive debate.

      That doesn’t change the fact that it was still hypothetical—and clearly so, within the context of the conversation. Sam’s opponents have a well-established history of deliberately taking things he says out of context in order to smear him. What’s more, their supporters have an equally well-established history of believing their claims, no matter how outlandish they sound. If he had straw-manned instead of steel-manned, he’d likely be in the exact same position.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

      Yes at some point Sam indicates he is simply expressing the “gut reaction” many people have in seeing the terror acts in Europe.
      But it seems to be mixed in with some level of endorsement of that reaction

      I hear it as him saying, yes, in fact, some of the reservations some people have concerning Muslim immigration are indeed rational based on the evidence and statistics they get from the newsmedia. An inconvenient truth, yes, but denying their observations (insisting there’s no rational basis to their reservations) is an exceptionally ineffective way to get them to change their minds. How are we to deal with that? (And without having listened to the whole conversation, I assume he and Maajid went on to do so.)

      I.e., I think he does endorse the reaction you mention, then goes on to explain why and in what ways it needs to be modified in order to best address the problem with Islamists.

    • Rasmo carenna
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      I hate to appear as a bigot but, even if Sam was speaking his mind I find that this:

      “If you take a community of Muslims from Syria or Iraq or any other country on Earth and place them in the heart of Europe, you are importing, by definition, some percentage, however small, of radicalized people.”

      And this:

      “…it’s only rational not to want to live in a world that looks more and more like Jerusalem at the height of the Intifada”.

      Are indeed rational statements of facts. Now, it doesn’t mean that any response to those facts is acceptable but sometimes it seems that simply stating propositions like this is haram (pun intended).

  7. Eric Grobler
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    For the live of me I cannot see what is wrong to argue that immigration should be controlled to enable integration and avoid a ghettoization of society.
    I had a quick listen to the podcast and while Sam somewhat played devils advocate, Nawaz seem to take the concern of rapid muslim immigration very seriously and explicity stated that such a position is a reasonable position.

    One strange argument many liberals made during the migrant crisis in Germany is that there would be many professionals like doctors and engineers among the immigrants that would enrich Germany. (similar to Britain where people would say where would the NHS get doctors and nurses without immigration)
    I find this a strange form of 21st century colonialism where Europe and the US pillage the third world of all their professionals.

    Anyway my point is that I find it highly offensive that many liberals regard anyone who argues that immigration from the third world or muslim countries should be controlled as neo nazis.

    Sure a “blanket Muslim” ban is offensive but to argue that countries like Belgium and France cannot integrate their current Muslim citizens and thus should effectively stop mass muslim immigration is not a bigoted position, it is to the advantage of all citizens in France including secular Muslims.

    • Tom
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      “A strange form of 21st century neo colonialism”.
      This can be shortened to “MONEY”
      The same reason professionals move between the nations of the West or Asia or Africa and has been going on since before Abram was a lad and became an immigrant.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I agree.
      What is the problem with teaching young Britons (natives and established immigrants) to become doctors and nurses?
      To me, no problem. Besides, not all countries’ medical schools and colleges deserve trust.

    • Rasmo carenna
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      My thoughts exactly.

  8. Tom
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I am concerned that Islam is being treated as a subject for subtle debate in the same way in a democracy we might debate the finer details of politics.
    It is not the same.
    It has at its core a docrine of violence sanctioned by the Suras and the Hadiths and seems incapable of reform.
    There has been an expensive propoganda campaign mainly by oil rich states attempting to depict the pan Islamic world view as sweetness and light, implying detractors are racist or in some way twisted.
    Since it is propoganda, a “debate” by reasonable people (no matter how well meaning) in the West is pointless as Islam like all religions cannot to be changed by reasonable argument.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      + 1

      To me, the old Western population is currently being shamed into destroying their own societies by large-scale Muslim immigration. The stratagem is largely successful.

      It should be remembered (and repeatedly said) that uncontrolled immigration has destroyed more societies than any other known factor.

      A way should be found to help Syrian and other Muslim refugees without letting them en masse into Western countries. Their vetting is a pathetic joke; a native German right-wing nutjob who spoke no Arabic managed to infiltrate and be accepted as a refugee. But even if all adults could be vetted, their children cannot.

      The claim that being against Muslim immigration is “genocidal” reminds me of the Nazi claim that other nations are evil for wanting to keep their territories for themselves while Germans need Lebensraum. There are also other similarities between Islamists and Nazis, such as the assault on free speech and the plans concerning the Jews. Given the problems with Islamists that are already citizens of Western countries, I think that it is high time to close the floodgate. (And please do not say that they are just “a few” – it is the terrorists who are few, while any opinion poll shows that Islamists are a very substantial proportion of any Third World Muslim nation and its Western descendants.)

      It is of course bad that opponents of Sam Harris dishonestly ascribe to him opinions that he does not share, but I’d prefer that he shared these opinions.

  9. nicky
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I think we should organise a prize: the Prize Of The Most Misrepresented. (the POTMoM-Prize).
    I think Sam Harris would earn the gold medal hands down (easily beating contenders such as Richard Dawkins or our host).
    Admittedly, he likes thought experiments, including playing the Devil’s Advocate, which makes him prone to -an easy target for- misrepresentation.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      He likes to engage in thought experiments on topics for which hard data already exist. For example, his lengthy and unwise thought experiment on torture was based on the false premise that torture is an effective means of deriving accurate information. Perhaps he could have redirected some of the energy that went into that speculation into figuring out there is a clear historical record on torture, and any serious critic of religion should be aware of the use of torture to derive false confession in inquisitions and witch hunts.

      • BJ
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        But we still know that people debate these issues regardless, so it’s important to pose questions to guests and get the answers out there.

        Just because you don’t like how he does it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Your answer of “but data says you’re wrong” will not convince most people of your positions.

        It’s important for people to learn and understand why something like torture is both wrong and a stupid method of extracting information. One way of helping them learn is by playing devil’s advocate to a guest who will properly respond to the arguments in favor of the untenable position. This is a tried and true method of doing these things. The entire point is that the argument is a false premise that people often use as the foundation of their opinion, to which the guest gets to respond

        There was nothing unwise about how Harris did that, and the fact that you don’t personally approve of his thought experiment doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable or that it was “unwise.”

        And you can’t honestly believe that he doesn’t know about the actual data regarding torture. You are purposefully being as uncharitable as possible when you make this argument, as if playing devil’s advocate somehow means he believes in the argument and isn’t aware of the studies.

      • Zach
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        Sam Harris’s stance on torture revolves in a pretty tight orbit around “The Beating” case. It certainly doesn’t encompass “inquisitions and witch hunts,” and not even interrogations in Guantanamo Bay.

        He has stated, clearly, that it should be illegal. But, being the “unwise” ethicist that he is, he just couldn’t leave alone that little niche where it might be morally justifiable.

        So I agree, he probably could have used his energy more productively, or at least in such a way as to not needlessly ruffle feathers. Then again, he has put off just about everyone at some point by saying one thing or another, whether about religion, torture, or the top tax bracket.

        So, what the heck? Why not?

        • BJ
          Posted June 28, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          I basically agree with this, except I would just add that I think it’s extremely important to a healthy society to have intelligent people who ruffle feathers. Ruffling feathers when it comes to significant issues is itself an important endeavor, if for no other reason than that it forces people to think. Where would we be without the likes of Jonathan Swift, Christopher Hitchens, Stanley Kubrick, and featherbeds?

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

        And this is deliberate use out of (critical) context – steel-manning someone else’s position on a topic.

        That is simply despicable. And anyone engaging in it deserves no respect.

        I was thinking about this this morning; and I think these people would happily quote Sam and he quoted another person and send that out to the internet as his words. Truly, I’m sure they would. Not the hallmark of intellectual honesty.

        • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          … as he quoted another person … obviously.

      • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        “Democracy is the worst form of government”

        — Winston Churchill

        See how that works?

  10. Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I have gotten into “discussions” with people who deliberately quote mine in just this way such that the meaning of the quote is the exact opposite of what the author intended. The defense I got was; “those were his exact words”.

    There is simply no gainsaying this kind of mendacity. One can only gape in wonder at the cognitive dissonance.

  11. Allen
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    This is totally tangential and so Jerry may choose to not even let it post, but here Jerry is on the record as yet another intelligent person who thinks Sam’s “objective morality” thesis is a load of nonsense. Is Sam ever going to disown the claims he made in that laughable bit of sophistry, The Moral Landscape? I find it very revealing that he’s never once tried to defend the book extemporaneously in a podcast with a critic.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I have to point out that there are people more intelligent than I who agree with Sam: two are Peter Singer and the late Derek Parfit. Singer wrote me in an email that he accepted that there were objective moral truths (I don’t think he’s published on this); Parfit wrote a big book in which that thesis was defended, but it’s so daunting (mathematical logic, etc.) that I didn’t read it.

      • Mike Hagan
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Hi Jerry, have you listened to the very bad wizards’ criticism of the conceptual penis hoax? Would be interested to read your take on it…

        Best

        Mike

        • Posted June 28, 2017 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          Which episode is that? Apologies if it is in the title and obvious; I haven’t looked for it yet.

          • Mike Hagan
            Posted June 29, 2017 at 12:17 am | Permalink

            It starts in episode 116 and they then interview James Lindsay (co author of said hoax) in 118.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I think that moral truths are best described as “intersubjective”, a term taken from some of the more saner denizens of Continental philosophy.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I found The Moral Landscape the antithesis of sophistry, but rather a cogent, robust argument, which lays out the only course toward a functional morality that steers clear of the Scylla of relativism and the Charybdis of universal law.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:57 am | Permalink

        S’right.

    • Vaal
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Allen,

      Sam has defended his thesis numerous times in conversation/debate with critics. (Which includes his debates, question-answer periods with audiences, etc).

      As to Sam’s thesis being a “load of nonsense,” please elaborate. I find it cogent, if not complete (I find moral realism more cogent than any other moral theses).

      The most common failing I see in those who criticize Sam’s case is not showing any grasp of it, or just starting with straw men. For instance, I’ve lost count of the number times critics have declared “Sam just ASSUMES his axiom about the well being of conscious creatures” which is ridiculous, given he spends most of his book giving the arguments for accepting that axiom. Like any good philosopher, he attempts to identify both what we tend to mean by “morality” and propose whether there is a basis for morality that conserves what we seem to care about when we think of what is moral.

      But, please…if you can give an accurate critique, I’m all ears!

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 1:59 am | Permalink

      Try the “Very Bad Wizards” podcast.
      He defends his basic position there against two worthy opponents.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      Many excellent comment s already entered here but I will just direct you to his exposure of the opposite hypothesis, here.

      It’s an excellent (and occasionally disturbing) read.

      ———–

      From that article:

      “At the conclusion of my talk, I fell into debate with another invited speaker, who seemed, at first glance, to be very well positioned to reason effectively about the implications of science for our understanding of morality. She holds a degree in genetics from Dartmouth, a masters in biology from Harvard, and a law degree, another masters, and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology from Duke. This scholar is now a recognized authority on the intersection between criminal law, genetics, neuroscience and philosophy. Here is a snippet of our conversation, more or less verbatim:

      She: What makes you think that science will ever be able to say that forcing women to wear burqas is wrong?

      Me: Because I think that right and wrong are a matter of increasing or decreasing well-being—and it is obvious that forcing half the population to live in cloth bags, and beating or killing them if they refuse, is not a good strategy for maximizing human well-being.

      She: But that’s only your opinion.

      Me: Okay… Let’s make it even simpler. What if we found a culture that ritually blinded every third child by literally plucking out his or her eyes at birth, would you then agree that we had found a culture that was needlessly diminishing human well-being?

      She: It would depend on why they were doing it.

      Me (slowly returning my eyebrows from the back of my head): Let’s say they were doing it on the basis of religious superstition. In their scripture, God says, “Every third must walk in darkness.”

      She: Then you could never say that they were wrong.

      Such opinions are not uncommon in the Ivory Tower. I was talking to a woman (it’s hard not to feel that her gender makes her views all the more disconcerting) who had just delivered an entirely lucid lecture on the moral implications of neuroscience for the law. She was concerned that our intelligence services might one day use neuroimaging technology for the purposes of lie detection, which she considered a likely violation of cognitive liberty. She was especially exercised over rumors that our government might have exposed captured terrorists to aerosols containing the hormone oxytocin in an effort to make them more cooperative. Though she did not say it, I suspect that she would even have opposed subjecting these prisoners to the smell of freshly baked bread, which has been shown to have a similar effect. While listening to her talk, as yet unaware of her liberal views on compulsory veiling and ritual enucleation, I thought her slightly over-cautious, but a basically sane and eloquent authority on the premature use of neuroscience in our courts. I confess that once we did speak, and I peered into the terrible gulf that separated us on these issues, I found that I could not utter another word to her. In fact, our conversation ended with my blindly enacting two, neurological clichés: my jaw quite literally dropped open, and I spun on my heels before walking away.”

  12. Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Sam Harris so often uses hypothetical and philosophical dilemmas which are used in almost every Philosophy class ever given. If he used the “Is it ethical to eat your pet cat when it dies?” (a popular one), he would be accused of eating cats, and probably prowling the neighbourhood at night in order to steal them.

    • Posted June 28, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Sam Harris promotes a nuclear first strike on kittens! (And he wants to torture any survivors!)

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:02 am | Permalink

      That hints at the trouble. Sam is a philosopher, often speaking a philosophers language, which can be hard for some people to grasp.
      Although it shouldn’t be that hard.

  13. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Max Blumenthal has been very bitter against New Atheists in general ever since Christopher Hitchens testified against his father, Sidney Blumenthal, in the Clinton impeachment hearings. This caused the Blumenthals far more damage the Hitchens anticipated. Previously, the Blumenthals had been personal friends with CH.

    I don’t wholly blame MB for this, but his bitterness has been carried too far.

    I kinda liked his book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party”, but I thought he criticized the film “American Sniper” for all the wrong reasons.

  14. Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Muslims… just intellectually lazy…

    OMG! Sam just said all Muslims are intellectually lazy! Retweet! Retweet!

  15. Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  16. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    If you disagree with one iota of the absurd dogma of the ctrl-left, you are obviously a Trumpist and need to be shunned, slandered, and hopefully killed by some deranged, expendable Jihadist for the greater good of the anti-fa struggle. How is that dogma, which demonizes people for supporting human rights for the victims of Islam not racist? How are these deceptive tactics not fascist?

  17. Kosmos
    Posted June 28, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Reza also posted this tweet which I think is even worse:

    The deleted tweet said: “Next time I see Sam Harris at my local Peet’s, I’ll have to ask him how he plans on kicking me out of the country.”

    • Vaal
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      Aslan’s tweets about Sam are, to put it mildly, unscrupulous.

      • Posted June 28, 2017 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes. They tell us much more about Reza than they do about Sam. Reza is despicable.

    • Posted June 29, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      This post by Sam also nicely exposes Aslan’s mendacity.

  18. Diane G.
    Posted June 29, 2017 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    sub

  19. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 30, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how Sam does it. He must sometimes be tempted to just stop doing what he does and let everyone else fight it out.

    I, for one, appreciate that he doesn’t.


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