Sam Harris versus Reza Aslan

Here we have two clips demonstrating the increasing polarization between Sam Harris and Reza Aslan over a year—or rather, the increasing hostility of Aslan. The first clip is undated, though because Harris cites the Pew Poll on the attitudes of Muslims, which was published in 2013, it would seem to be around then, which means Aslan’s hair got a lot grayer in one year. (This is part of a much longer discussion between Harris and Aslan that you can see here.)

Harris seems fairly conciliatory, asserting that his (Harris’s) rhetorical style is not suited to convincing Muslims to temper their faith (“I’m not a diplomat”); rather, that tempering must come from people like Aslan.

In response, what does Aslan do? At 2:41, he simply asserts his “expertise,” saying that because he doesn’t write books on neuroscience, Harris should shut up about Islam, implying he knows nothing about it. That’s not an answer to what Harris says, but an assertion that Aslan alone should be heard. And Aslan’s Islam isn’t extremist. This is when Harris brings up the Pew results, which, as I’ve said many times before, are disturbing to those who see Islam as a “religon of peace and tolerance”.

As usual, Aslan answers arguments by pulling rank, not by citing figures.

These two clips, put together by HuffPo in 2014, show a brief scene of Aslan accusing Harris of being a Biblical fundamentalist, and then a longer response by Harris. I have to say that Harris shows no stridency here, but rather a calm rebuttal of Aslan’s arguments. I wish I were as eloquent as he!

I append my badge of honor: as far as I know, Aslan is one of only two people who have blocked me on Twitter, despite the fact that I’ve never tweeted at him:


  1. Filippo
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink


  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Eloquent indeed. And calm and never flustered. It’s impressive.

  3. Colin
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Eeeeeww, Reza.

    • BJ
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      I remember the first time I saw this video. Pakman (and, I assume, his researchers) did a fantastic job with this. I can’t imagine anyone seeing this video and continuing to think that Aslan is anything but a charlatan.

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      I think that obsessing over the real content of Aslan’s PhD thesis is a waste of time… the rest of it was good stuff though.

  4. Marc Aresteanu
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    the type of condescending self-aggrandizing attitude Reza displays instead of actual argumentation is unfortunately fostered in liberal academic circles where following the political narrative is all that matters

  5. Posted October 29, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  6. Seamus Sullivan
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    The first clip’s from 2007

    • Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Ah, thanks! I wonder what Pew study Sam’s referring to, then. I couldn’t find one. But it makes sense based on the difference in Aslan’s phenotype between the two clips.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Harris vs. Aslan — Christ, I haven’t seen a mismatch this bad since Ali toyed with a New Jersey club fighter named Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder.”

    Rezlan’s side of the exchange is nothing but a blatant argument from personal authority.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Resa Aslan suggests he is more qualified to make comments about the Muslim world so presumably, as a Muslim, he has no expertise on atheists and therefore is unqualified to comment on Atheists or atheism, yet he persists. I call hypocrite.

    • Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Near complete ignorance on a subject didn’t dissuade Aslan from writing Zealot.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    With apologies to S. D. Weitzenhoffe debating Reza Aslan is is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.

    • KD33
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Gold! I plan to use (plagiarize?) that, at some point.

      • Laurance
        Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Oooh, oooh, me, too! That’s just too good to not reuse!

        • Posted October 30, 2017 at 6:18 am | Permalink

          This is a well-worn analogy–though a good one.

  10. Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    FYI, you’re also blocked by Steve Shives.

    Everybody is. I am, and I’m not even on twitter.

    • XCellKen
      Posted October 30, 2017 at 1:42 am | Permalink

      I’m blocked by Steve Shives, and I don’t even own a computer

  11. BJ
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I find Aslan to be one of the slimiest purveyors of bullshit. He lies about his credentials (while constantly touting them), he lies about every subject on which he speaks, and he has the arrogance of someone far more intelligent and valuable than himself. The man isn’t just a worthless and purposeful liar, he’s a dangerous charlatan.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      The living, breathing embodiment of Dunning-Kruger.

  12. Mike Anderson
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Reza Aslan is pretty good at making his case (that Islam isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, etc.) until challenged, then he falls apart. I think he knows this now, so steers clear of any kind of reasonable debate with people like Sam Harris.

    • Colin
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      Yes, unfortunately the people who don’t really dwell on the topic of religion in general, and/or Islam in particular, swallow his pap hook, line & sinker in favor of actual research. After all, these are the days of political correctness, and somehow criticizing or speaking out about bad ideas or ideologies is taboo.

  13. Jake Sevins
    Posted October 29, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Aslan’s fans don’t find any fault with his touting of his credentials, his statements about women’s rights in Indonesia, his statements about FGM being unrelated to Islamic teachings, etc. They see him as an articulate and authoritative voice for Islam and a fighter of the good fight for dignity and respect.

    I, especially speaking as an academic, cannot stand anyone who spends time talking about how educated he is. That, to me, is a red flag often indicating that someone knows very little. Can you imagine someone like Dawkins listing off his education and papers to try and garner respect from his audience? It hasn’t happened… it won’t happen…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 29, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      I hate people going on asserting their knowledge as well. I don’t really find argument from authority persuasive. It’s funny though, I think many people do. My dad remarked on more than one occasion that he thought I was so nice to service industry people (the person taking my coffee order for example). He seemed to think that anyone with an education would be snooty. I explained that educated people don’t feel surperiour but charlatans usually did. Smart people don’t need to ram it down anyone’s throat. I wonder if this is a commonly held opinion by the greater population toward anyone with post secondary education.

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