When Two Blowhards Collide

A new front in the Atheist Wars has opened up:

Sam Harris Made Himself Look Like an Idiot in a Email Exchange with Chomsky and Has Shared It with the World

Some time ago, Chomsky accused Harris of being a religious fanatic and apparently, Harris has been seething about this. So he, in essence, challenged Chomsky to some internet debate and had to settle for an email exchange where he does end up looking like an idiot.

Anyway, keep in mind both Harris and Chomsky are atheists who insist they are committed to Reason and Evidence. And it looks to me like Reason and Evidence don’t have the power to generate consensus about the truth.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in atheist wars, Sam Harris and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to When Two Blowhards Collide

  1. James Scott says:

    According to the Wiki….

    “When asked if he is an atheist, Chomsky replied “What is it that I’m supposed to not believe in? Until you can answer that question I can’t tell you whether I’m an atheist.”[197]

    Thought he is an atheist according to the tedious Gnu negative definition(lacks god-belief).

    Cheers.

  2. Dhay says:

    PZ Meyers gives quite a good commentary on the exchange, concluding:

    … Harris exhibited his usual woefully oblivious moral ineptitude, and Chomsky slapped him down hard. I am most amazed by the fact that Harris then promoted this as a personal victory.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/05/03/a-classic-mismatch/#more-23842

    But do also look at Sam Harris’ blog, where a Postscript to his original blog of the exchange has just appeared. The Postscript is partly apologetic, mostly self-justifying, and tries to pin the blame for Harris’ failure to have a “productive” conversation with Noam Chomsky (where I think “productive” simply meant Harris would declare victory in battle) on Chomsky rather than on Harris himself.

    Meyers thinks Harris did treated it as a battle rather than a genuine conversation, and remarks — “He seems to seriously believe he’s winning this debate” — that Harris tried to declare victory when hopelessly losing.

    Having failed to get Chomsky to submit, or to yield in the slightest, Harris then effectively declared it, conveniently but implausibly, a no-winner no-contest, a mere discussion that Chomsky should be blamed and censured for stifling — though it was never a discussion, and Harris never actually treated it as anything other than a contest.

    To paraphrase one of Harris’ blogs on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, if you go up against an opponent who knows what they are doing it’s no good playing the grandmaster, waving your rhetorical hands in the air, and expecting your opponent to expect to immediately fall over: if you go up against someone who knows what they are doing, you can expect to get an immediate and severe bruising.

  3. Bilbo says:

    The only stuff that I’ve read in depth by Chomsky are his views on language-learning. I was deeply impressed. I’m also impressed by the fact that he answers all of his emails. The only other famous person I know who answered all of his correspondence was C.S. Lewis.

  4. UpstateIslandersFan says:

    Sam Harris seems to be the product of the 24-hour news cycle culture we live in. He’s called upon for sound bytes and cheap debate and propped up for the need to fill dead air, rather than think reflectively about something.. It’s funny to see the people who jump to his defense, claiming he is some type of established neuroscientist, when he is clearly not. I think that years down the road people will understand people like Harris for the phenomena they are. He really does seem glib and arrogant and ultimately empty.

  5. TFBW says:

    Around here, we think of Sam Harris as a made-for-media scientist. You’ve pretty much spelled out the job description for that role, UpstateIslandersFan.

  6. Ratheist says:

    “And it looks to me like Reason and Evidence don’t have the power to generate consensus about the truth”

    Says a blowhard using a computer to write ignorant crap and send it to the internet invented by rational humans who came to a consensus using reason and evidence to accomplish this and many other feats.

  7. TFBW says:

    Oh, zing! Feel the sting of the non sequitur, Michael.

    But seriously, “Rathiest”, your Poe act is fooling nobody.

  8. Kevin says:

    Ratheist, turn around and look up, because the point of Michael’s post flew so far over your head that you apparently don’t even know what the subject matter is.

  9. I liked Chomsky because he wasn’t intimidated by all of the folks who were gushing over how Koko the gorilla proved that humans were no different than animals.

  10. calebt45 says:

    Hi Mike, here’s Gnu Falsehood #221 that I recently discovered:

    Christopher Hitchens once said: “The suicide-bombing community is not absolutely 100 percent religious, but it is pretty nearly 100 percent religious.”

    Robert Pape, an expert on this topic, wrote: “Researching my book [Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism], which covered all 462 suicide bombings around the globe, I had colleagues scour Lebanese sources to collect martyr videos, pictures and testimonials and biographies of the Hizbollah bombers. Of the 41, we identified the names, birth places and other personal data for 38. We were shocked to find that only eight were Islamic fundamentalists; 27 were from leftist political groups such as the Lebanese Communist Party and the Arab Socialist Union; three were Christians, including a female secondary school teacher with a college degree. All were born in Lebanon.

    What these suicide attackers – and their heirs today – shared was not a religious or political ideology but simply a commitment to resisting a foreign occupation.”

  11. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris > “Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything.”

    If we take Harris’ words and apply them to the 9/11 plane-bombing — or to any other Jihadi action, or to ISIL’s current efforts to establish an Islamic state — it can be argued that the main intentions in each case were impeccable. If intentions are everything, where ethics are concerned, the 9/11 bombers (etc) were behaving ethically.

    I rather think Harris’ needs to revisit the idea that, “Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything”, and to abandon it, qualify it or add nuance. When examined, it appears to be, er, what Harris calls, “rather rhetorical language”, otherwise known as plain wrong.

    It is perhaps surprising that Harris lays such emphasis upon intentions: he has many times highlighted how the meditator will quickly find that thoughts, ideas and intentions just appear in the mind, quite outside of voluntary control. In Chapter 2 of The Moral Landscape, after discussing Libet-type experiments and their implications, Harris says:

    The truth seems inescapable: I, as the subject of my experience, cannot know what I will next think or do until a thought or intention arises; and thoughts and intentions are caused by physical events and mental stirrings of which I am not aware.

    There you have it, I think: according to Harris, not only is there no free will, there are no free intentions either; they are just something that happens to you.

    I rather think Harris’ needs to revisit the idea that, “Where ethics are concerned, intentions are everything”, and to abandon it, qualify it or add nuance. When examined, it appears to be, er, what Harris calls, “rather rhetorical language”, otherwise known as plain wrong, even on his own testimony.

  12. Dhay says:

    New Atheist philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has slated a whole raft of other New Atheists, but reserves special ire for Sam Harris:

    I have read quite a bit of Sam Harris (too much, in fact), and I have made it very clear what I think of him. I have also read quite a bit of Chomsky (not enough, unfortunately), and he is one of the few people that I honestly regard as a role model, both as an intellectual and as a human being.

    So I began reading the exchange with trepidation, and gradually my stomach got more and more turned by what I was seeing. I invite you to put down your iPad or Kindle, or whatever you are using to read this post, and go read the exchange in full to make up your own mind about it. If your reaction is that Harris was trying to have a genuine intellectual discussion and that Chomsky was unfairly dismissive, then there probably is no point in you wasting time with the rest of this essay.

    If however, like me, you come out of the reading with the impression that Harris was looking for easy publicity, that he displays an astounding combination of arrogance, narcissism and rudeness, and that Chomsky simply did what many of us perhaps should do more often, which is to not suffer fools gladly, then you may enjoy what I’m about to say next.

    The Harris-Chomsky exchange, in my mind, summarizes a lot of what I find unpleasant about SAM [the skeptic and atheist movements]: a community who worships celebrities who are often intellectual dilettantes, or at the very least have a tendency to talk about things of which they manifestly know very little; an ugly undertone of in-your-face confrontation and I’m-smarter-than-you-because-I-agree-with [insert your favorite New Atheist or equivalent]; loud proclamations about following reason and evidence wherever they may lead, accompanied by a degree of groupthink and unwillingness to change one’s mind that is trumped only by religious fundamentalists; and, lately, a willingness to engage in public shaming and other vicious social networking practices any time someone says something that doesn’t fit our own opinions, all the while of course claiming to protect “free speech” at all costs.

    https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/reflections-on-the-skeptic-and-atheist-movements/

    Pigliucci savages only Harris: directly and indirectly, he savages the lot.

    Perhaps we could ask Jerry Coyne to assist us in working out which “[insert your favorite New Atheist or equivalent]” has recently been relentlessly ‘claiming to protect “free speech” at all costs.’

  13. Dhay says:

    Er,
    Pigliucci savages not only Harris: directly and indirectly, he savages the lot.

  14. Dhay says:

    Dhay > … look at Sam Harris’ blog, where a Postscript to his original blog of the exchange has just appeared. The Postscript is partly apologetic, mostly self-justifying, and tries to pin the blame for Harris’ failure to have a “productive” conversation with Noam Chomsky (where I think “productive” simply meant Harris would declare victory in battle) on Chomsky rather than on Harris himself.

    Having already added that written Postscript, Harris has now added a spoken second Postscript.
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/final-thoughts-on-chomsky

    My comments on the first Postscript apply to the second.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s