Sam Harris Finally Makes Sense To Me

Sam Harris has always been something of a mystery to me. How so? Harris is one of the Four Horsemen, along with Dawkins, Hitchens, and Dennett. But something didn’t make sense. I knew who Dawkins was. I knew who Hitchens was. I knew who Dennett was. They all were successful in their respective fields before ever becoming a Horseman. But Harris? He was a guy with a BA in Philosophy who wrote a book that Publishers Weekly described as “simplistic and misguided” and “ineffectual.” His arguments were not new or powerful. In fact, his book flirted with mysticism and reincarnation! So how did Harris ever become one of the Four Horsemen? He wasn’t accomplished, he wasn’t original, and he just wasn’t that smart.

Yes, he sold a lot of books. But there were atheists who were selling books long before Harris. Victor Stenger, for example. He was writing atheist articles and books long before Harris and Stenger was a physicist. But Harris’s book received attention from the media and Harris began getting published in the NYT, Newsweek, and other forms of mainstream media. Ah, maybe that’s they key. Harris, as one of the Four Horsemen, is a media creation. The media chose him. The media helped make him. How in the world did Harris pull that off?

Then, around 2006, I read an article that gave us some biograhphical information about Harris – he dropped out of college and travelled the world getting high and attending meditation retreats:

He flew around the country and around the world, to places such as India and Nepal, often for silent retreats that went on for months. One of his teachers was Sharon Salzberg, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. Harris stood out, she recalls, not just because of his relative youth — everyone else was a generation older — but because of his intensity.
[…]
During his 11-year dropout phase, Harris read hundreds of books on religion, many of which are listed in the lengthy bibliography of “The End of Faith.” His interests eventually turned to philosophy of the mind, which led him to re-enroll at Stanford in 1997, this time to study philosophy. He wrote a lot before and after he got his diploma, but nothing was published.

There was a clue staring me in the face. Just how in the hell could someone who dropped out of college afford to spend 11 years traveling the world, attending retreats, reading books, and writing unpublished works? Someone who can fly around the country and world, “to places such as India and Nepal, often for silent retreats that went on for months,” is someone who comes from money.

And it looks like I was right.

Over at his blog, Sam Harris posts the first chapter of his book about drugs and meditation as tools to uncover truths about our reality. The chapter begins with a personal story:

I once participated in a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the world’s mosquitoes, it was fulfilled on the first day. What was in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where we were finally permitted to rest—alone, on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lake—for three days of fasting and contemplation.

I had just turned sixteen, and this was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mother’s womb. It proved a sufficient provocation. After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake, the promising young man I imagined myself to be was quickly cut down by loneliness and boredom. I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist, philosopher, or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization. Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time, millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothing more transcendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.

I found the experience of sitting undisturbed for three days amid pristine breezes and starlight, with nothing to do but contemplate the mystery of my existence, to be a source of perfect misery—for which I could see not so much as a glimmer of my own contribution. My letters home, in their plaintiveness and self-pity, rivaled any written at Shiloh or Gallipoli.

When I read this, it struck me that Harris had a rather unusual childhood. At age 16, he was part of a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. He was “in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry” which culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where he stayed alone in the wilderness for three days of fasting and contemplation. He didn’t do this with his family, because he sent “letters home” full of self-pity and plaintiveness. In fact, the nature of those letters makes it look like he was sent to this wilderness camp.

And what camp would that be? Sure sounds like Outward Bound to me:

Named after the nautical term for a boat leaving its pier, Outward Bound was the brainchild of a progressive German educator named Kurt Hahn, who wanted to raise survival rates among sailors at sea during World War II. His hope was to toughen young men’s resolve through teamwork and compassion and a sense of shared mission. When Outward Bound came to the U.S., in 1961, its curriculum was adjusted to meet the American landscape head on: Every student in Elisa’s nine-person “patrol,” for example, would summit a high peak, rappel a cliff, climb a rock face, live for weeks in the wilderness, and, as the climax of their experience, sojourn alone for two days in the rite of passage known as the “solo.”

Once again, we see the money, given that a 23-day Outward Bound trip costs around $5000. That’s a significant chunk of change to drop on your child for something to do in the summer.

But then it all became crystal clear when I recently noticed something on Wikipedia that was not there the last time I checked it:

Harris grew up in a secular home in Los Angeles, son of actor Berkeley Harris[9] and The Golden Girls creator and TV producer Susan Harris.[10]

Whoa!!

Now I’m not one to trust Wikipedia, so if you read the reference 10, it takes you to a 1985 article where Susan Harris says: “Kids love the show, even mine. If my kid (Sam, 18, a Stanford freshman) gives his reluctant nod of approval, I know I`m doing something right.”

Sure enough, Sam was born in 1967, making him 18 in 1985 and Stanford was the place he discovered ecstasy.

Susan Harris was also an extremely successful TV producer. From her entry on Wikipedia:

Harris created numerous TV series: Fay, Soap, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Benson, It Takes Two, The Golden Girls, Empty Nest, Nurses, Good & Evil, The Golden Palace and The Secret Lives of Men.[1] She also wrote or co-wrote all of the episodes of Soap and appeared on two episodes of that show as a hooker named Babette. Her most successful show was The Golden Girls. Harris married television producer Paul Junger Witt on September 18, 1983; he co-produced all the shows she created. She was married from 1965 to 1969 to actor Berkeley Harris, with whom she has a son, Sam Harris who is a neuroscientist, philosopher and author.[2]

The first script Harris sold was Then Came Bronson. She then wrote for Love, American Style, All in the Family, The Partridge Family and the TV adaptation of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. Her abortion episode for the Bea Arthur-starring series Maude in the 1970s won Harris the Humanitas Prize. She would later work with Arthur again in the 1980s when Arthur took one of the lead roles in The Golden Girls.

[…]

Harris formed the production company Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions with Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas. She was honored with the Writers’ Guild’s Paddy Chayefsky Award in 2005 and inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2011.

So it turns out I was more right than I ever knew. Sam Harris not only comes from money, lots of money, but he also comes from media. When your dad was an actor, and your mom and step-dad are TV producers, you have not only money, but something more important…..media connections. Sam Harris, one of the Four Horsemen, is a media creation.

Suddenly, lots of things about Sam Harris start to make sense – his passion for meditation, the New Age-flavor to his thinking, the contacts with gurus, his history of psychedelic drug use, getting published in mainstream media outlets, debating with actors, and, of course, his starring role as one of The Four Hoursmen.

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51 Responses to Sam Harris Finally Makes Sense To Me

  1. TFBW says:

    … the trophy degrees, the two-bit one-man “think tank” — yes, it all makes perfect sense in the context of a made-for-media scientist persona. Not that I’m putting down trophy degrees, mind you: I have more trophy degrees than Sam Harris (the BSc is the only one I can justify as being career-necessary), but unlike Sam I’m not abusing my PhD to claim “scientist” status in order to bolster perceived authority as an aid to selling books, getting paid speaking engagements, and being an activist.

    Then again, what can you expect from someone who’s had an upbringing steeped in the entertainment industry? They’re in the business of producing superficial copies of reality, tailored for popular perceptions. Sam has just the right amount of public-facing credentials to offer a scientific veneer. Any substance beyond that veneer is wasted effort in entertainment industry terms.

  2. Michael says:

    Well stated, TFBW.

  3. vonleonhardt2 says:

    They are all publish or perish, if religious people just shrugged then they’d all be broke. It’s why they act inflammatory, but walk a thin line. Gotta make that money. I don’t think any of them are atheist, they all worship and serve mammon.

  4. Michael says:

    Wow, I am late to the party. Back in April 2013, Sam Harris’s connections to money and media became known on the internet:

    Sam Harris’s ideas are an embarrassing relic of everything that was wrong with post-9/11 panic and the view of the U.S. as besieged by evil inhuman Muslims everywhere.

    He is also an out-of-touch-with-humanity Hollywood scion who has sought to build up a reputation as a disinterested scientific genius while concealing his origins as the son of Golden Girls creator Susan Harris. Probably because his posturing as the 21st century Tom Paine seems so silly as the child of such a funny person. And in his first book he pushed fringe ESP pseudoscience and babbled about “the search for the sacred” as a replacement for religious culture. Classic Southern California lunacy.

    I think that person is pretty much spot-on about Harris concealing this part of his biography for so long. When you are supposed to be the made-for-media scientist persona (I like that one, TFBW!), you’re supposed to come from Academia, not Hollywood.

    Harris-as-son-of-TV producer must have been known by many in the media. Apparently, his “islamophobia” went too far for someone and that media person decided to “out” this part of Sam’s life.

  5. GRA says:

    Many who “make it” in entertainment have media connections. Either their parents and/or uncle or aunts are industry types (either producers, directors, actors, maybe even a screenwriter), or even their fellow siblings, but most likely it’ll be the adults that help the kids gain roles in order to build a career to a point where that child becomes a brand. Very rarely do you get a person whose parent(s) were below the line workers becoming established actors or whatnot.

  6. Dhay says:

    If you want to build up your brand, as a trustworthy leader into the unexplored, initially unrewarding and notoriously laboriously difficult territory of Buddhist meditation, you will prepare by building up your image as a trustworthy leader, someone whose word can be utterly trusted, perhaps by first writing a book which stresses that one should (hardly) ever lie, and which stresses that Sam Harris himself (almost) never ever lies — which book, “Lying”, Harris has indeed written and published.

    Not that I take Harris at his word, or believe the carefully constructed image. Harris’ “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” blog post contains — amongst many deceptions — the argument that because MDMA (Ecstasy) and some of the psychedelics might have therapeutic uses, they should be completely unregulated and available for unsupervised recreational use. Note that Harris has a BA in philosophy, so must be fully aware that his argument supports no more than, that after further testing and FDA approval the relevant drugs might reasonably be made legal for doctors to prescribe to treat specific medical problems: in claiming it supports unregulated recreational use, Harris is deliberately, knowingly, deceiving his readers. And he is deceiving them in order to lead them towards harm.

    Look at the footnote on MDMA. In the 2011 original, Harris listed — and provided weblinks to — six peer-reviewed papers which unambiguously concluded that taking MDMA is likely to result in brain damage, and tells us that these six are just the “tip of the iceberg” of similar unfavourable studies; in the revision he made shortly before “Waking Up” was published (and in that book) Harris kept that exact warning, but added that, “There are credible claims, however, that many of these studies used poor controls or dosages in lab animals that were too high to model human use of the drug.” This appears to say there’s good reason to ignore the previous studies BUT credible (to whom) claims (by whom, and just claims) that many… Had Harris a single genuinely credible peer-reviewed study concluding that MDMA usage is safe, he would have identified it and linked to it; so it looks very much like Harris wants his readers to ignore hard scientific evidence because of his deceitful unsupported insinuations.

    Having taken MDMA and risked, or actually suffered, brain damage, or having taken the psychedelics which he also recommends — even his daughters should try them, he says — but which can and often do cause nightmarish horrors (read the article attentively to fully appreciate the horrors), his readers will then, he hopes, be willing to move on, as he did, to try Buddhist meditation.

    To achieve that level of trust, he requires a carefully constructed image as a totally honest person. We all do trust “Honest” Sam Harris, don’t we.

  7. Michael says:

    GRA: Many who “make it” in entertainment have media connections. Either their parents and/or uncle or aunts are industry types (either producers, directors, actors, maybe even a screenwriter), or even their fellow siblings, but most likely it’ll be the adults that help the kids gain roles in order to build a career to a point where that child becomes a brand. Very rarely do you get a person whose parent(s) were below the line workers becoming established actors or whatnot.

    Indeed. It turns out Sam Harris is the Kim Kardashian of Atheism.

  8. Michael says:

    Dhay:

    If you want to build up your brand, as a trustworthy leader into the unexplored, initially unrewarding and notoriously laboriously difficult territory of Buddhist meditation, you will prepare by building up your image as a trustworthy leader, someone whose word can be utterly trusted, perhaps by first writing a book which stresses that one should (hardly) ever lie, and which stresses that Sam Harris himself (almost) never ever lies — which book, “Lying”, Harris has indeed written and published.

    Fascinating. Yes, that little 100 page book didn’t seem to fit his overall interests and goals. But now that you mention it this way, it is another things that makes more sense as part of a marketing strategy. As for Sam never lying, in light of now knowing his parents are wealthy, connected Hollywood types, all that talk about concealing his past for “security reasons” seems rather dishonest to me.

  9. TFBW says:

    … all that talk about concealing his past for “security reasons” seems rather dishonest to me.

    Not at all. He was referring to job security. His.

  10. nate says:

    This article was obviously written by someone who has never read his work. Instead of resorting to worthless ad hominem and speculation about why he’s famous, why dont you contest the message behind the things that he says? That’s the real reason why he became one of the four horsemen. Nobody is more articulate than Sam Harris in a debate. He clowns on people like Deepak Chopra and William Lane Craig effortlessly, and they’re some of the biggest leaders in their fields. Im sure you’ll find arguing against what he says is far more difficult than going “durrr his mommy and daddy were rich so now hes famous because they helped him that way and sent him on expensive trips”. The guy is a master orator, he’s more articulate than really anyone else I’ve ever heard, and he’s a down to earth honest and funny guy. If you’re too ignorant to realize why Sam ABSOLUTELY needs to conceal his location and details about his family for security reasons then you are RIDICULOUSLY uninformed as to what he does for a living. The guy receives tons of death threats from people who really do want to kill him. He’s face to face combating Islamic fundamentalism, and as we all know those guys are not afraid to kill a journalist or artist here and there. They enjoy it. As for “trophy degrees” – that’s just a silly claim. Like it’s simply absurd. He has a degree in philosophy in order to gain philosophical training that he can (and does) use in debates. It is incredibly helpful to be able to see through meaningless rhetoric, but its easier said than done. His philosophy degree absolutely applies to what he does. As for the neuroscience phd, this isn’t just something you do for fun, or to show off. He earned it long before he was one of the four horsemen. He did his doctoral thesis on studies done using fmri concerning belief and decision making. Wouldnt that be a nice insight to have, especially when debating people who believe in nonsensical garbage more fervently than anything else? Am i saying that having connections wont help you immensely in hollywood? No, not at all. Am I saying that Sam Harris’ work has merit beyond what the guy who wrote this article would have us believe? Without a doubt. Also, just as a side note, Sam NEVER plays the “im a scientist so im right” card. Never. Not even once. While he makes arguments in accordance with science, he never makes claims based on authority. I would love if you could find an explicit example of it, so I can show you one of him doing the exact opposite. Then again, its no surprise a person suffering from psychotic delusions (belief in a personal god who answers prayers) wrote this to begin with. You cant attack substance so you resort to ad hominem. What else is new.

  11. Dhay says:

    Nice rant.

    nate > As for the neuroscience phd, this isn’t just something you do for fun, or to show off. He earned it long before he was one of the four horsemen.

    A quick look at Wiki “He received a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 …”) and at RationalWiki (“In 2008, four prominent atheist authors got together to discuss religion and their positions. The DVD was entitled “The Four Horsemen” (in reference to the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) and ever since they have been referred to by this title.”) contradicts that Sam Harris didn’t earned his PhD long before he was one of the four horsemen.

    Your claimed knowledge of Harris’ work would impress me more if you could have been bothered to get the simple things right; instead, you have demonstrated rank ignorance, bluff and bluster regarding the most easily-checked basics; how you thought you wouldn’t be found out escapes me!

  12. Dhay says:

    > … contradicts that Sam Harris didn’t earned his PhD …

    … contradicts your claim that Sam Harris earned his PhD …

  13. Kevin says:

    Nobody is more articulate than Sam Harris in a debate.

    Articulating a bad idea in impressive manners doesn’t make the bad idea better.

    Wouldnt that be a nice insight to have, especially when debating people who believe in nonsensical garbage more fervently than anything else?

    Yes, I would love to see Sam Harris’ brain on an MRI during one of his debates when he spouts off his nonsensical garbage.

    While he makes arguments in accordance with science

    Sometimes, though usually he just spouts off his idiotic opinions in an articulate fashion.

    Then again, its no surprise a person suffering from psychotic delusions (belief in a personal god who answers prayers) wrote this to begin with.

    Watch out, everyone, it’s the poster child for maturity and critical thinking. The fact that you’re on here spouting off and accusing others proves that you’re completely delusional about the implications of your own beliefs, so no one who frequents this blog – all of whom come across as far more knowledgeable, if not intelligent, than you – is going to be even remotely impressed. Now, if you can pull your head out of New Atheism 101’s anus and start using your brain, come back and we can have a conversation.

  14. Michael says:

    A quick look at Wiki “He received a Ph.D. degree in cognitive neuroscience in 2009 …”) and at RationalWiki (“In 2008, four prominent atheist authors got together to discuss religion and their positions. The DVD was entitled “The Four Horsemen” (in reference to the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) and ever since they have been referred to by this title.”) contradicts that Sam Harris didn’t earned his PhD long before he was one of the four horsemen.

    Indeed. What’s more, it was Hitchens himself who named them the Four Horsemen in 2007:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/life-and-society/2007/06/sam-harris-dennett-horsemen

    Nate doesn’t seem to understand that Harris was a star among the atheists long before he got his PhD.

    Your claimed knowledge of Harris’ work would impress me more if you could have been bothered to get the simple things right; instead, you have demonstrated rank ignorance, bluff and bluster regarding the most easily-checked basics; how you thought you wouldn’t be found out escapes me!

    I don’t think he was bluffing. I think he is a victim of Sam Harris’s marketing machine and really believed Harris got his PhD long before becoming a famous atheist. That’s the very type of illusion that Harris would like to see others have about him. After all, in 2004, Harris was lying in his book promotion, claiming he was “finishing” his PhD.

  15. Michael says:

    If you’re too ignorant to realize why Sam ABSOLUTELY needs to conceal his location and details about his family for security reasons then you are RIDICULOUSLY uninformed as to what he does for a living. The guy receives tons of death threats from people who really do want to kill him.

    Do you have evidence to back up this truth claim?

    Then again, its no surprise a person suffering from psychotic delusions (belief in a personal god who answers prayers) wrote this to begin with. You cant attack substance so you resort to ad hominem. What else is new.

    I think you need to calm down and meditate.

    Look, I’ve never noticed much substance to Harris. Sorry. He’s just a guy who has two things going for him:

    1. He comes from money and has lots of media connections.
    2. He spent his time developing this sleepy, meditative tone to his speeches that creates the illusion he is being calm and analytical. But the “substance” of his arguments typically amounts to setting up straw men and then sneering at them with his meditative tone.

    But you can, of course, prove me wrong. Why don’t you “challenge” us with Sam Harris’s most powerful argument against the existence of God?

  16. TFBW says:

    Michael said:

    After all, in 2004, Harris was lying in his book promotion, claiming he was “finishing” his PhD.

    That might be unduly harsh. I started my PhD in late 2003, was finishing it from 2005 to 2010, and received the degree in 2011. A PhD thesis is finished when you’ve managed to persuade the appropriate authorities that it’s worthy of the degree, so the time to finish can vary significantly.

    In my case (making a long story as short as possible) the first draft that I submitted somewhere in the middle of my candidature was rejected on the basis that it “needed more”. I pointed out that it was already close to the departmental limit of sixty thousand words, and they gave me permission to exceed that limit. This resulted in a complete re-write which weighed in at a shade under a hundred thousand words when it was accepted.

    I don’t know the specifics of Sam’s case, but if he had started writing his thesis at the time he said he was “finishing” it, then that’s not a stretch in PhD terms: it is the last phase if you’re doing a thesis-based PhD.

  17. Michael says:

    In the Life Sciences, you typically don’t start finishing the thesis until after all the experimental work is done. And you typically publish those results as soon as possible, so they don’t become dated. Sam’s two papers were published in 2008 and 2009 (he didn’t do any of the experiments for the 2009 paper). It doesn’t look like he was finishing in 2004.

    Also, we know he was busy from 2004-2009. Busy doing non-thesis related things like promoting his first book, writing and promoting a second book, setting up his think tank, giving speeches, appearing on TV, etc. He had a remarkable amount of time for non-thesis related activity.

  18. TFBW says:

    If you put it that way, then yeah, I can’t put a charitable spin on it. It was a real stretch to claim that he was “finishing” anything in 2004. It does look like he was pushing his soon-to-be PhD status for marketing reasons.

  19. Dhay says:

    nate The guy receives tons of death threats from people who really do want to kill him.

    Michael > Do you have evidence to back up this truth claim?

    I take security seriously and, as you know, I get occasional death threats. Not long ago, the cartoon controversies came back around as a news item, and I thought, I should have a cartoon contest online. I can kick this off. But I think about it for a few minutes, I might have bounced it off my wife, and then I realize, “No, this is the thing that will make my life a living hell.” You have to pick your battles. This something that would send me into the witness-protection program, and so I decided not to do it.
    http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/100757/qa-sam-harris

    Sam Harris says he was having “occasional”, not “tons of”, death threats, as of that article’s May 29, 2012 date.

    I note that Jerry Coyne thinks newspapers which refused to publish example offensive cartoons in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre are cowardly — see eg his blog dated January 9, 2015, entitled, “The Guardian joins the roll of cowardly papers”; for Coyne, “a living hell” is fine for Guardian employees.

    No doubt he thinks his friend Sam Harris is equally cowardly — he wouldn’t want to be two-faced, would he — but values the friendship too much to say so publicly.

  20. Dhay says:

    nate > … Sam NEVER plays the “im a scientist so im right” card. Never. Not even once. While he makes arguments in accordance with science, he never makes claims based on authority.

    I think I can let Jerry Coyne pronounce on this one: in his April 17, 2015 blog entry entitled, “Doctors ask for the quack-ish Dr. Oz to be fired from Columbia”, Coyne includes:

    But the main issue is whether Oz’s recommendations or public statements constitute, as Columbia maintains, an expression of “academic freedom and. . . freedom of expression for statements [faculty] make in public discussion.” Normally I’d say “yes,” but it’s problematic since Oz’s public statements are sometimes dangerous, as any endorsements of homeopathy or spiritual heaing. If he does this while flaunting his Columbia credentials, then it’s dereliction of his professional duties as a physician. However, he certainly doesn’t say this crap while he’s teaching or treating anyone at Columbia.

    I rather think we can conclude from this that Coyne thinks that someone who makes public statements while flaunting their credentials can be taken to be making claims based on authority.

    Actually, there are further parallels between Dr Mehmet Oz and Dr Sam Harris; let’s take Coyne’s words and make appropriate substitutions, based on Harris’ “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” blog and recent book:

    “Harris’ public statements are sometimes dangerous, as any endorsements of MDMA (Ecstasy) or LSD. If he does this while flaunting his Neuroscience credentials, then it’s dereliction of his professional duties as a neuroscientist.”

    Coyne wouldn’t want to be two-faced and hypocritical, would he. I think we can safely assume that if Harris were teaching Neuroscience at Columbia University, Coyne would be among those seeking for the University to fire him.

  21. Andromeda says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many peer reviewed papers has Harris published?
    and when was the last time he published?
    does any of the papers he published has anything to do with the content of his popular books and speeches?

    Thanks

  22. Michael says:

    Just out of curiosity, how many peer reviewed papers has Harris published?

    Two. Both are from his PhD work.

    and when was the last time he published?

    In 2009.

    does any of the papers he published has anything to do with the content of his popular books and speeches?

    I think one of them. It looks like he rewrote his thesis to sell it as his pop book arguing that science can tell us right from wrong.

  23. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris’ peer-reviewed papers are as follows:

    Functional Neuroimaging of Belief, Disbelief, and Uncertainty in 2008
    http://www.samharris.org/images/uploads/Harris_Sheth_Cohen.pdf

    The Neural Correlates of Religious and Nonreligious Belief in 2009
    http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0007272

    Performance comparison of machine learning algorithms and number of independent components used in fMRI decoding of belief vs. disbelief. in 2011
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099263/

    To which can be added his PhD thesis, which is the only one which is his sole work.

    Michael > I think one of them. It looks like he rewrote his thesis to sell it as his pop book arguing that science can tell us right from wrong.

    Harris’s PhD thesis was entitled, “The moral landscape How science could determine human values”, and argues “that belief, being the mechanism by which we represent reality in our thoughts, spans the imaginary gulf between facts and values.”

    The argument was partly based upon “Two studies our lab has done on belief, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), suggest that it is a content-independent process, principally mediated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. I discuss this work in light of the current literature on decision-making, the norms of reasoning, moral intuition, the self, consciousness, and related topics in the sciences of mind.”
    http://search.proquest.com/docview/366925574/

    Note it’s “Two studies our lab has done on belief …”, not work that Harris claims as his own work. These are the first two, the third but using the fMRI data generated by the first two to test which data-processing algorithms are fastest, or otherwise best, at displaying results while the subject is still in the fMRI machine, rather than having to wait for results to be analysed by slower methods. So the two neuroscience papers relevant to Harris’ PhD were acknowledged by Harris to have been done by “our lab”.

    Whether it was a neuroscience PhD is debatable: the subject (also classification) of the thesis is “Neurosciences, Philosophy”, and the keywords are “Philosophy, religion and theology, Biological sciences, Beliefs, Religion, Morality, Brain”, so the thesis is recognised as being cross-disciplinary rather than just neuroscience. Because the PhD thesis title is identical to the title of the book Harris published almost immediately after his thesis, and because Harris has a history of re-using material — just look at how much previously blogged material was incorporated into “Waking Up” — it looks almost certain that Harris’ “neuroscience” PhD thesis will actually look very similar to his book.

    That’s to say, Harris’ “neuroscience” PhD thesis will be primarily a work of philosophy, not of neuroscience; the two lots of neuroscience research and the few relevant conclusions drawn from them — “belief is belief is belief”, summarises Harris — will play a very small part.

  24. Dhay says:

    > … the third but using the fMRI data generated by the first two …

    Correction: the third experiment — an experiment in the best way to crunch data instead of having to send the data to Oxford University to be analysed (as happened in the first experiment) — used only the data generated by the first, none from the second.

    I’ll re-emphasise that the third experiment produced no new data, and no new conclusions, regarding belief and disbelief. And that although Harris’ first experiment provided the data analysed in the third, it doesn’t look as though — on the evidence of “Waking Up” — Harris has or had a sufficient grasp of mathematics and statistics to have taken any active or leading role in the third.
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/atheists-leaders-embrace-the-spiritual/#comment-6141

  25. Dhay says:

    nate > Then again, its no surprise a person suffering from psychotic delusions (belief in a personal god who answers prayers) wrote this to begin with.

    Let’s have a look at the peer-reviewed scientific literature, shall we? In The Prevalence of Delusion-Like Beliefs Relative to Sociocultural Beliefs in the General Population, published in the journal Psychopathology (2011;44:106-115) it says:

    Delusions remain one of the most powerful constructs in psychiatry, given their contribution to the diagnosis of patients considered to have lost touch with reality. For Jaspers delusions were ‘psychologically irreducible’, and constituted the ‘basic characteristic of madness’. While established psychiatric definitions claim that delusions are (1) held despite what almost everyone else believes and (2) qualitatively distinct from those beliefs ordinarily held by members of a person’s culture, most clinicians are not in a position to know the prevalence of such beliefs within society. Thus this criterion that a delusion is ‘not [a belief] ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or sub-culture’ is typically not based upon evidence of how widely accepted such beliefs are.

    The paper then goes on to reveal research findings that “delusion-like beliefs” (including DSM-IV “bizarre” clinical delusion-like beliefs) are not rare, as had been supposed, they are actually very common indeed; one or more delusion-like beliefs are present in 91% of the UK population at some strength (strong, moderate, or weak) of belief – yes, that’s a mere 9% of the UK population who are completely free of delusion-like beliefs, whereas the overwhelming majority hold several simultaneously – and one or more delusion-like beliefs are present in 39% at ‘strong’ belief level.

    One or more of the weirder DSM-IV “bizarre” delusion-like beliefs are present in 76% of the UK population at some strength (strong, moderate, or weak) of belief, and are present in 25% at ‘strong’ belief level.

    I’ve no reason to suppose populations elsewhere will be found to be different.

    Along with a range of non-bizarre delusion-like beliefs, e.g. “Some well-known celebrity is secretly in love with you” (prevalence 6.9%), the prevalence of ten DSM-IV “bizarre” delusion-like beliefs was investigated; the first eight were:

    You are dead and/or do not exist.
    Relatives or close friends are sometimes replaced by identical-looking imposters.
    Part of your body does not belong to you.
    The reflection in the mirror is sometimes not you.
    People you know disguise themselves as others to manipulate or influence you.
    Some people are duplicated, i.e. are in two places at the same time.
    Certain places are duplicated, i.e. are in two locations at the same time.
    There is another person who looks and acts like you [other than your twin, presumably.]

    Bizarre, yes?

    The last two DSM-IV “bizarre” delusion-like beliefs are of particular interest, in view a) of Sam Harris’ telling us we have uncontrollable “monkey minds” and b) Harris and Jerry Coyne telling us that everything we do (and think) is the fully pre-determined result of genes and environment – no free will, no control of thought or action:

    Your thoughts are not fully under your control.
    You are not in control of some of your actions.

    It appears that the publicly proclaimed ‘strong’ belief level core-beliefs of Jerry Coyne and nate’s hero Sam Harris are officially DSM-IV “bizarre” delusion-like beliefs. Or perhaps I should adopt nate’s terminology and describe Coyne and Harris as persons suffering from psychotic delusions.

  26. Dhay says:

    One of the non-clinical ‘delusion-like beliefs’ studied by Rachel Pechey and her PhD supervisor, Peter Halligan in the above-mentioned research was “You are an exceptionally gifted person that others do not recognise”. This ‘delusion-like belief’ was prevalent in the UK population at the following strengths: weak, 17%; moderate, 20%; strong, 4%; total, 41%.

    The question occurs to me: what do self-designated “Brights” have in common?

    Apart from being one of the many who hold a particular ‘delusion-like belief’, that is. Or should I adopt nate’s terminology and describe “Brights” as persons suffering from psychotic delusions.

  27. Steve C Groh says:

    This blog begins by insinuating that Sam Harris simply does not have the intellectual heft of the other “Horsemen.” That is a fascinating claim given that Dawkins and Hitchens clearly regarded him very highly. In fact, intellectuals are pretty good at recognizing the merits of other intellectuals…even when they disagree. For this reason, you will find few (if any) who would be so brazenly (and erroneously) dismissive of Sam Harris’s abilities (particularly in the realm of reasoned debate).

  28. Dhay says:

    Steve C Groh > For this reason, you will find few (if any) who would be so brazenly (and erroneously) dismissive of Sam Harris’s abilities (particularly in the realm of reasoned debate).

    You presumably mean reasoned arguments like:

    1. Imagine that al-Qaeda is filled, not with God-intoxicated sociopaths intent upon creating a global caliphate, but genuine humanitarians. Based on their research, they believe that a deadly batch of vaccine has made it into the U.S. pharmaceutical supply. They have communicated their concerns to the FDA but were rebuffed. Acting rashly, with the intention of saving millions of lives, they unleash a computer virus, targeted to impede the release of this deadly vaccine. As it turns out, they are right about the vaccine but wrong about the consequences of their meddling—and they wind up destroying half the pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

    What would I say? I would say that this was a very unfortunate event—but these are people we want on our team. I would find the FDA highly culpable for not having effectively communicated with them. These people are our friends, and we were all very unlucky.

    [Quoted by Harris from his The End of Faith]
    https://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-limits-of-discourse

    Looks like argument by flight-of-fancy; I’m not impressed. I realise you are an enthusiastic fan of Harris — I consider it a matter of courtesy and clarity to give each name in full, once, before dropping to the surname, whereas you Harris’ full name twice but chopped Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins to their surnames — but would urge you to read that post in full: others are far less impressed with Harris’ abilities than you are.

    One of those unimpressed others is Noam Chomsky. I’d say that Sam Harris simply does not have the intellectual heft of Chomsky.

    *

    > In fact, intellectuals are pretty good at recognizing the merits of other intellectuals…even when they disagree.

    The flip side of the contempt with which Harris refers to the French intellectual philosopher Jean Baudrillard (and Chomsky, too, in places) is that, by your criterion above, Harris is not himself an intellectual.

    And as a final thought, have you considered how contemptuous Harris is of the intellectual abilities of his fanbase — have you not realised that his repeated declarations that he doesn’t want to subject you to “boredom” actually tell you he thinks his fans have the concentration span of a gnat.

  29. sashan says:

    Wow. So coming from money with a heritage in media invalidates the logic of ones argument. What an insight this blog post has been.

  30. Michael says:

    coming from money with a heritage in media invalidates the logic of ones argument. What an insight this blog post has been.

    Never said that it did. Try again.

  31. Kevin says:

    Sashan,

    I would reword what you wrote into “Since Sam Harris’ arguments are so abysmally bad, and since he advocates Buddhist tenets, then how did he manage to gain enough exposure in anti-religious bigot circles to become a so-called Horsemen? He has connections.”

  32. Ryan says:

    This blog post has seriously been embarrassing to read, specifically because of the arrogance with which the author seems to believe he has just “cracked the case wide open.” Hahahaha all of these arguments are so pathetically bad and painfully stupid, they’re impossible to take seriously. Look you dumb shits, if you have such a problem with Sam Harris, instead of fashioning more tin foil hats and claiming that the only reason he is popular is because of media connections, maybe you could try some analysis of his actual arguments. Sam Harris is a well respected intellectual, whether you like it or not. All of you motherfuckers sound like the same people who complained about Carl Sagan for doing the show cosmos, or you think that Niel Degrasse Tyson is somehow less of a physicist because he is a prominent figure in pop culture. You all sound like a bunch of pussies. Sam Harris has earned the respect of some of the world’s greatest minds, people like physicist David Deutsch, Elon Musk, even Jerry Coyne, as someone earlier mentioned. And if you want to talk about constructing well reasoned arguments, Sam Harris actually does it better than Dawkins. Objectively. Anyone who has done their homework, or who has studied science and philosophy, and worked to get over whatever stupid bias seems to be driving this post, those people will read this blog and laugh. Much like I have. Try again, lame ass Hahahaha

  33. TFBW says:

    I think that Ryan’s comment stands on its own merits.

  34. Michael says:

    Ryan: This blog post has seriously been embarrassing to read, specifically because of the arrogance with which the author seems to believe he has just “cracked the case wide open.”

    This comment has seriously been embarrassing to read, specifically because of the arrogance with which the author seems to believe he has just “debunked the whole thing.”

    Hahahaha all of these arguments are so pathetically bad and painfully stupid, they’re impossible to take seriously.

    Ah yes, I see you have learned well from your idol, Sam Harris. A common Harris technique is simply to label a position in such a way as if it is beneath him. Then sneer. Note how have you failed to actually engage any of the points I have raised. But you need to get the sneer down better. You have to replace the “Hahahaha” with a sleepy, meditative tone.

    Look you dumb shits, if you have such a problem with Sam Harris, instead of fashioning more tin foil hats and claiming that the only reason he is popular is because of media connections, maybe you could try some analysis of his actual arguments.

    Of course. The Sam Harris Sneer is typically purchased through arguing against a straw man. Why should his fans be different? No where did I argue that the “only reason he is popular is because of media connections.” I was merely trying to understand how Sam Harris ever became one of the four horsemen. As I noted, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett all had reputations prior to the New Atheism movement. What made them Horsemen was the willingness to take those reputations and previous accomplishments and use them to prop up the New Atheist movement. Harris? He had no such reputation prior to the New Atheist movement.

    What made Harris famous was the post-911 culture among the internet atheists and influential atheists among the larger culture. His only novel contribution was to take 911 and use it as a platform to launch a generalized attack on all of Western religion. Media connections helped him to promote the book and the internet atheist community rallied around it. A symbitoic relationship emerged. What got him more widely noticed was when Richard Dawkins decided come on board and take over from there. If someone like John Loftus had a millionaire Hollywood producer as his mother, he might have been the fourth horseman. Or, if Dawkins had failed to join in when he did, Harris would probably be more like Loftus today.

    But I know. You think it is the brilliance of his mighty arguments that turned him into a well respected intellectual such that his single book catapulted him to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett status.

    As for his arguments, there are very few that are truly “his.” That is, he doesn’t really bring many novel insights to the table. His atheism itself, for example, seems to be premised entirely on the Argument from Evil and the notion that science teaches us there is no God. Both of those arguments are not new and I have extensively analyzed them on this blog, finding them to be wanting.

    An argument that seems more specific to Harris is his attack on religious moderates. I debunked that attack here.

    Look, if you think there is some mighty Sam Harris argument that we are all tap dancing around, then by all means, spell it out. What is the Sam Harris Argument that we should be analyzing?

  35. Michael says:

    I think that Ryan’s comment stands on its own merits.

    LOL. But it’s a lazy Saturday morning for me today.

  36. Kevin says:

    I found it hilarious that being admired by Jerry Coyne is supposed to be praise.

  37. Ryan says:

    Okay, I don’t actually have time to lay out a bunch of arguments and debate with you guys about them, I just wanted to leave a comment so you know that many of the people who find your blog post, read it, chuckle, and move on. I certainly don’t want you to believe that most of the people who find this post agree with you. And I fear that you may actually think that because of this comments section. Hence, my leaving a comment. This blog was returned after a pretty general google search after all, so many many people have been directed to it, and I was stunned to see that most people in this comments section were just eating this shit up. Although, it’s really just like 4 of you who keep the comments going.

    Look, I don’t care about this blog, I just wanted to leave the comment for the reasons stated above. I am not going to restate a bunch of Harris claims just to debate a bunch of nobody’s online. To be the pessimist, and from reading this post, it seems abundantly clear that there will be no convincing you anyway. You have your mind made up. What would be the point of debate? Would you even respectfully acknowledge it if somebody else made a claim that illustrated how yours is so fucking pointless?

    The Jerry Coyne thing, dude I only brought him up because somebody else did earlier. I certainly don’t think the admiration of Jerry Coyne is a true measure of excellence. I was merely demonstrating that other scientists (scientists that people consider to be real scientists, while they think of Harris as something of a pseudoscientist) are all friends with him. They all respect him. He has regular conversations and debates with many of them. As I mentioned in my comment. They, the real “scientists”, do not dismiss Harris as anything of a “media creation with no originality”. So where do you motherfuckers get the gall to believe that you are seeing something that the physicist David Deutsch isn’t? That is what I meant by arrogance. It’s goddamn embarrassing. And all of your talk about how he uses his PhD as a way of exerting scientific authority, or as a means of selling books, what the fuck was that all about? A PhD will give you scientific authority in whatever area you did your research. That’s kinda the fucking point. To be an expert. And I have never heard Harris act smug about his Neuroscience credentials. Again that is just such a stupid thing to bring up.

    Really the whole idea behind this post was that Sam Harris is only a part of the “four horsemen” because he has media connections, right? Okay, there is a lot wrong with supposing that, but it seems so trivial, who really gives a shit? What the fuck does it matter how he became popular? What arguments that you hear Sam Harris making are so fallacious? What is actually wrong with people respecting him as an intellectual? Why do you have a problem with that? More specifically, do you think that Sam Harris is unintelligent, unoriginal, or uninformed? Seriously, if that is what you are claiming it just demonstrates how little you actually know about the man. Do more research than a fucking wikipedia article. Jesus.

    And I am asking questions. Don’t accuse me of Straw Manning your arguments. If I missed something that you were saying then I apologize, and I especially apologize if I misrepresented your arguments. I’m not trying to. I’m losing interest and time on this stupid post.

  38. TFBW says:

    @Ryan:

    I certainly don’t want you to believe that most of the people who find this post agree with you.

    Don’t worry. Nobody was under the misguided impression that the post was going to change the minds of any Sam Harris fans. On the contrary, your style of response is the expected one from that quarter.

    They, the real “scientists”, do not dismiss Harris as anything of a “media creation with no originality”. So where do you motherfuckers get the gall to believe that you are seeing something that the physicist David Deutsch isn’t?

    Why would David Deutsch call out Sam Harris when Sam was so helpful in promoting David’s book on his podcast? That would be counter-productive to David’s own media interests, and I’m sure he knows which side his bread is buttered.

    A PhD will give you scientific authority in whatever area you did your research.

    You don’t have a PhD, do you? I do, and FYI it’s not a Mantle of Authority, it’s just an entry ticket. Good for impressing outsiders, though. Insiders — not so much. Insiders want to know what you’ve achieved since getting it, because “has a PhD” is kind of par for the course on the inside.

    My academic qualifications are on a par with Sam’s (in a different field), and I haven’t pursued a research career either. I make sure my PhD has top billing on my résumé, but I don’t promote myself as a scientist. Even if I did take up a research role, I’d start at the bottom of the totem pole (which is one disincentive to going down that path — I’m already too well-established elsewhere).

    And I have never heard Harris act smug about his Neuroscience credentials.

    Nobody said he acted smug about it. He just presents himself as “Sam Harris, the Neuroscientist”, when the PhD is as far as he’s ever taken that. Just about every other neuroscientist on the planet has done more actual neuroscience than Sam, because he did the bare minimum to earn the title. He earned the degree just to gain an aura of authority, and you, old chum, are lapping it up exactly the way it was intended. Truth is, it would be just as accurate to call him, “Sam Harris, the world’s Least Accomplished Neuroscientist”.

    Really the whole idea behind this post was that Sam Harris is only a part of the “four horsemen” because he has media connections, right? Okay, there is a lot wrong with supposing that, but it seems so trivial, who really gives a shit?

    You, apparently, since you’re getting so worked up and potty-mouthed about it. It seems fairly obvious that you care about it because you’re a fan, and talk like this challenges Sam’s credibility (built on the perception that he’s a real scientist), and that sort of thing often upsets fans. I don’t really want to make this a comment about you and your disposition, but asking “who gives a shit?” is just begging for commentary on motivations, isn’t it?

    What arguments that you hear Sam Harris making are so fallacious?

    There’s plenty of rhetoric posing as argument to criticise, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is to explain the Sam Harris anomaly — how this guy came from nowhere to become recognised as a Horseman of New Atheism. If you think that this history renders his arguments fallacious, then that’s your genetic fallacy, not ours.

  39. Kevin says:

    Ryan,

    First of all, I’m reasonably certain that if any of the Christians who post on this blog came across an atheist site trashing Jesus and God and all the apostles and every theologian who ever lived, that we would not react as strongly as you are over criticism of Sam Harris. Unless you are in fact Sam Harris, I find your reaction to be rather curious.

    Second, not everything Harris writes is absurd, as I’ve seen some articles he’s written over various political topics that are well written, if not particularly insightful. However, when he gets on the general topic of religion, then much like Dawkins and Coyne, he embarrasses himself with cringeworthy nonsense. An example that has recently been discussed on this blog has been his notion of “religious moderates”.

  40. Kevin says:

    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/sam-harris-criticizes-religious-moderates-and-misses-the-target/

    Here is the thread on Harris’ failing regarding so-called religious moderates.

  41. Dhay says:

    Ryan > Sam Harris is a well respected intellectual, whether you like it or not.

    Harris doesn’t seem to be respected by Noam Chomsky. Nor is he respected — he is strongly criticised — by what he terms “the Regressive Left”, a derogatory term which tells us the disrespect is mutual. Whether or not Harris is a well respected intellectual, Harris is evidently also a well disrespected intellectual.

    Of course, you can validly call him well respected if you yourself and some number of others respect him; plainly Harris is someone who polarises opinions. Presumably your opinion matters, and it should prevail over my contrary opinion, because I see you claim to have done your homework and/or to have studied science and philosophy:

    > Anyone who has done their homework, or who has studied science and philosophy, and worked to get over whatever stupid bias seems to be driving this post, those people will read this blog and laugh. Much like I have.

    According to you, these people seem to be “many of” or even “most of” the people who read this blog:

    > I just wanted to leave a comment so you know that many of the people who find your blog post, read it, chuckle, and move on. I certainly don’t want you to believe that most of the people who find this post agree with you.

    Given that you have done your homework and/or studied science and philosophy, you will no doubt be keen to demonstrate your expertise by telling me what absolute number, or percentage, of viewers read this blog and laugh, much like you have, as claimed; by telling me what your confidence level for those figures is on a scale of 1-100; by revealing what empirical evidence, other evidence, reason, scientific or philosophical arguments or other valid epistemology supports those figures and supports your “many of” and “most of” claims.

    > Do more research than a fucking wikipedia article.

    Does this long and analytical response count?
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/12/16/new-atheists-fading/#comment-10766

    Or I have dissections of Harris’ “Neural Correlates …” research papers; and much else of substance. Just saying — I really don’t care whether you read them or not.

  42. Ryan says:

    Alright, here will be the last thing I say then I have to let this go.

    I’m tempted to ask what your PhD is in, but I will try to refrain. No I do not have a PhD. I’m currently working on a Masters in Bioengineering however, and yes I have friends and colleagues who are PhD’s and who do count as experts in heir area. So I don’t know what world you come from where your PhD is just a “ticket” but I feel sorry for you. I’m fairly well versed in the world of academia.

    Chomsky, an intellectual who was once very notable but who has also lost the respect of many others in recent decades. And no I’m not saying that because of the tiff with Sam Harris, but because I have heard plenty of intellectuals harshly criticize his backwards thinking, especially when it comes to issues of a political nature. I honestly don’t have much of an opinion on the guy, but I know that Sam Harris was not the first to challenge his positions.

    You guys can think of me as a Sam Harris fanboy all you want. I really do enjoy nearly everything he has to say, but don’t think for a second that I haven’t done my fucking homework. I have analyzed his positions from every possible angle I can think of. I’ve given an honest listen to most of his critics. One of whom I’ve come to respect, namely William Lane Craig. I am not a fan of religion, and the Christianity if Craig drives me absolutely crazy, but the man knows philosophy, and he has certainly done his homework when constructing his positions and his points of argumentation. I really respect his level of intellect.

    Finally, I apologize for being a dick, and I will submit to you that I have not researched your blog to understand all of your arguments against Sam Harris. I will say again however, I certainly hope you have better ones than this because this is just plain stupid. It reads like a character assasination and nothing else. Furthermore, I hate to break it to you, but this argument and many of the others that you have posted in comments section are far from original, just like you claim Harris is. Anybody who has done any online reading about who Sam Harris is, or what he has written about, has heard all of these arguments, and much better ones, a thousand times over. There is nothing special or original or even remotely thought provoking about your critique. It goes away with a simple shrug of the shoulder. I have had in depth conversations about some the arguments from Sam Harris, specifically on his thesis, The Moral Landscape, and I have changed my thinking in the face of better reasoning. I can’t say that agree with everything Sam has ever written or said, but there was nothing that I got from this particular blog post. That is my harsh, albeit underwhelming and cheap criticism of YOUR criticism. I don’t have the energy to demonstrate to you all the topics that I have discussed with others concerning Sam Harris. If you want me to send you my personal notes, let me know, I guess. But until then, just keep doing your thing and I’ll just leave it, and your blog, alone.

  43. Ryan says:

    Before somebody else points it out let me acknowledge the poor grammar, punctuation, and syntax within my comment. I’m currently mobile, doing this on my phone.

    Also, @Dhay, of course I don’t have the numbers or the statistics. If you’re familiar with the concept of context I would hope you understood it in my last comment. I’m talking in a bit of aean spirit and I’m obviously talking out of my ass when I say things like “most of the people”. However, I say that because it is reasonable to assume that if a person arrived at this blog post by searching Sam Harris it more probable that they searched his name because they liked something about him and wanted to know more. Which is also why I stated that if they were people who really wanted to know more, and they did more reading on who the man Adam Harris is, they could easily laugh at this blog post. The whole media creation argument is so pointless and stupid. If said person wanted to know more about Sam Harris and why he is popular, and they found this article, and the first few paragraphs are just talking about how he had a rich mother with media connections and that explains his popularity, it is reasonable to assume that most people would shrug and say, okay, haha, who cares about that.

    I don’t work for google, I don’t even know where you can access the number of page visits from different ip’s, and I certainly don’t care enough to run statistical tests. I was just saying that. I didn’t know you were going to ask me for an analysis haha.

  44. Ryan says:

    And also, &Dhay, I say that because secularism is on the rise. I don’t have sources, but I’m sure we could both find them. I’m sure we have both heard it from a number of different places that secularism is on the rise in most of western civilization. Churches are reporting declines in memberships, or at least steady deceleration to new membership. Most of Europe, Japan, china, Russia, and even in the US now, I believe you assume safely that a search of Sam Harris, on a very macro scale, is more likely to be a search of wanting to know more about him because of his atheism. Just saying. Again, i can’t cite it, I’m out, perhaps a little tipsy, but i bet we could both find a source. Maybe I’m a wrong.

  45. Ryan says:

    Last thing too, David Deutsch does disagree with Harris about his thesis. When you say “of course deutsch wouldn’t call him out, Harris promoted his book”, you’re way off. you can listen to the conversation on his podcast if you so choose. Harris gladly welcomed deutsch’s critique.

    Deutsch is a genius. And again that is just tinfoil hat wearing nonesenze that you guys seem to think that anyone who isn’t criticizing Harris must be in cahoots somehow. So lame.

  46. Michael says:

    There is nothing special or original or even remotely thought provoking about your critique. It goes away with a simple shrug of the shoulder.

    Opinion noted. And I can empathize, as that’s how I feel about your comments.

    But here’s the thing – actions speed louder than words. If you encounter someone on the web who writes, “I’M NOT ANGRY!!!”, you tend to think, “Yeah, right.”

    Now you have not used all caps, but have typed out 2000 words (many on your phone) telling me how bad and unconvincing the blog post it, complete with mocking us “dumb shits,” yet I still don’t see one place where you have shown what is wrong. In fact, from my position, it looks like I struck a raw nerve.

    Look at it this way. This particular blog entry essentially asks (and tries to answer) a simple question – How was Sam Harris so quickly catapaulted to Dawkins/Hitchens/Dennett level of status? My explanation goes along the following lines:

    What made Harris famous was the post-911 culture among the internet atheists and influential atheists among the larger culture. His only novel contribution was to take 911 and use it as a platform to launch a generalized attack on all of Western religion. Media connections helped him to promote the book and the internet atheist community rallied around it. A symbitoic relationship emerged. What got him more widely noticed was when Richard Dawkins decided come on board and take over from there.

    Your answer seems to be that his End of Faith was so brilliant it caused people everywhere to take notice. That is, Harris did with one book what Dawkins and Hitchens did with a lifetime of books.

    So I asked you to provide one of his best arguments from that book. You misinterpreted that to mean I was wanting to debate you. Like you, I have no time for such debates. But if you could list one of best arguments from End of Faith, I can take a look at it sometime in the future.

  47. TFBW says:

    What strikes me most about this little exchange is the utter “I’m right and you’re wrong” conviction on display, along with the combative attitude. Where, in this scheme, is there any possibility of constructive argument? Nowhere that I can see: it’s just an angry shouting match.

  48. Ryan says:

    Okay, look guys, I really do have to leave this blog post alone, but before I do I would like to apologize. You’re right. I was being mocking and I was being a total dick for no real reason. My excuse would be that I have found myself somewhat hardened after spending the last year arguing with Trump’s trolls in many online forums. But I realize that isn’t an excuse, and you guys have been rightfully annoyed by my comments, but you have not been insulting like I was. I feel like an ass. I would like to apologize.

    Finally, no I cannot tear your critique apart, and I really don’t care to try. My big criticism is just that, okay, so even if Sam Harris was capitulated to national recognition as an atheist scholar, along with with the others, only because of his mother and media connections, it doesn’t matter at all. The point seems rather moot. He is by far the most relevant and perhaps the most respected and widely recognized by the popular thinker’s of the world. And that isn’t me shitting on the others. Dawkins is a respected Zoologist, Dennett is a respected philosopher, and Hitchens was a respected writer. I am well aware that there are plenty of people who really think that Harris is ignorant and uninformed. Trust me, I have sought these sources out. I have tried so hard to find the best criticisms of Sam Harris that I could find, and I found plenty, but none of them were convincing. Talk about doing your homework, Sam Harris has certainly done his.

    I don’t want to keep going on about this and I realize that I haven’t really said much of anything. I am just saying, look, I’m really not stupid, I’ve heard and tried to understand any of the pitfalls that others talk about in the reasoning of Sam Harris and I have given my best effort to acknowledging how he might be wrong. And again, I have some of my own complaints, but for the most, the dude is solid. Seriously solid. It is very very difficult to take down a Sam Harris argument. The best person I have seen do it was William Lane Craig. That is my opinion, I know we disagree.

    Anyway, I’m sorry for being an ass. If I were to sum up my “critique”, if you could call it that, I’m just saying that Harris so popular because he has convinced so many people and he has a great mind that we, the people who like him, love to hear at work. I’m gushing, and I don’t really know how to avoid it. But that is my point, it has nothing to do with media connections. IF it did, he would have quickly faded away. But he only gets more and more popular with every book, article, and television appearance. He is nowhere close to being “exposed” or discredited. He only gains more notoriety from fellow scholars and intellectuals.

  49. Vy says:

    Alright, here will be the last thing I say then I have to let this go

    That’s a dime a dozen.

  50. TFBW says:

    @Ryan:

    I would like to apologize.

    That’s very gracious of you.

    … I’m just saying that Harris so popular because he has convinced so many people and he has a great mind that we, the people who like him, love to hear at work. I’m gushing, and I don’t really know how to avoid it. But that is my point, it has nothing to do with media connections. IF it did, he would have quickly faded away.

    He’s selling a product, and a market exists for it — no question. He is, from all accounts, an effective orator — not just anyone can position themselves as an author and paid public speaker and make it work. That explains why he hasn’t quickly faded away, but it’s unlikely that he would ever have broken into the market if it weren’t for his family media connections and money. You have to get noticed before you can stand on your own merits. The other Horsemen had prior fame and/or notoriety before New Atheism became a thing. Sam didn’t. A little look at his show-biz heritage gives us a clue as to how he managed to get an express ride to the top. Granted, he’s stayed there on the basis of his own product and marketing skills since then.

    Any arguments against what he actually says are entirely a separate matter, and tempt genetic fallacy if they refer to his origins as a Horseman. That’s why it’s not under discussion here. If you think that William Lane Craig has put in a solid performance arguing against Harris, though, then I’d suggest it’s because Craig is one of the few people on the public debating circuit who employs solid logical reasoning in his arguments. He always makes a point of distilling his case into a syllogism, just to make things clear. Practically everyone else majors on rhetorical techniques to persuade the audience.

    Try to extract a syllogism out of any New Atheist argument — Sam Harris or otherwise. In my experience, it’s a great way to expose how vague and mushy the arguments really are. Most of my practical focus is on Dawkins, though, so don’t take it as a slight against Harris. On the contrary — take it as a challenge. If you can formalise a Harris argument down to a syllogism the way that WLC does for his own arguments, I’d be only too interested to see it. Post a link.

  51. Ryan says:

    Cool man, that’s a decent challenge. Perhaps, whenever I have the time to revisit this conversation I will also revisit your blog and try to muster some sort of argument for discussion. I hope to do that one day, maybe after grad school haha. Again, sorry for being an ass, I appreciate you dudes being cool. I promise to be nothing but cool whenever I come back. Keep it real!

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