ISIS: Sam Harris’s Spiritual Cousins

As we all know, Sam Harris likes to blame faith and religion for the killings caused by extremist Islamic terrorists.  In fact, after the terrorist attack in Paris, many atheists on the internet were sharing the following Sam Harris meme:

sep-11

Apart from the nonsense of the terrorists not being cowards (brave men don’t attack defenseless civilians), what of this idea that it is “perfect faith” that drives the extremists to kill?

Consider the following news article from the Washington Post:

The tiny pill fueling Syria’s war and turning fighters into superhuman soldiers.

A powerful amphetamine tablet based on the original synthetic drug known as “fenethylline,” Captagon quickly produces a euphoric intensity in users, allowing Syria’s fighters to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon.

There’s plenty more all over the internet.  For example:

Earlier this week when French police raided a cheap hotel room rented by the Islamic State (Isis) terrorists who had unleashed the Paris massacres on Friday the 13th, they were surprised to find among the debris of pizza boxes and sweet wrappers, used syringes, needles and plastic tubing. But there is growing evidence to suggest the gunmen, who killed dozens at the Bataclan venue, fuelled their slaughter with drugs, with some of the survivors of the horror reporting the killers appeared to be in a “zombie-like” state…… Captagon is known to be a drug used by fighters all over Syria, leading some to suggest that the hotel room discovery tells us that the Paris attackers had taken Captagon as part of their preparations before the attack……. Meanwhile, Isis pharmacists are understood to have produced the drug to supply to its militants to enhance their fighter feelings of invincibility and increase endurance.

Oh, the delicious, delicious irony.

First, it looks to me like many terrorists need to supplement their “perfect faith” with…..drugs.  And that tells me faith is not a big part of their “perfect faith.”

Better yet, the terrorist drug of choice is an amphetamine-like designer drug.

And that takes us right back to Sam Harris:

in the winter of 1987, I took the drug 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as Ecstasy, and my sense of the human mind’s potential shifted profoundly. Although MDMA would become ubiquitous at dance clubs and “raves” in the 1990s, at that time I didn’t know anyone of my generation who had tried it. One evening, a few months before my twentieth birthday, a close friend and I decided to take the drug.

Ecstacy is another amphetamine-like designer drug.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  While it was an amphetamine-like designer drug that awakened Sam Harris’s atheist spirituality, it’s another amphetamine-like designer drug that allows terrorists “to stay up for days, killing with a numb, reckless abandon.”

Harris wants to blame faith for the terrorist killings at the hands of ISIS when we could just as easily blame Sam Harris’s notions of atheist spirituality.

In fact, with this new information, we should revisit many popular Gnu memes. For example,

Drugs are an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes drugs.

And if we are supposed to blame religious people for ISIS, why not use the same Gnu logic and start blaming pot smokers for ISIS?

 

 

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15 Responses to ISIS: Sam Harris’s Spiritual Cousins

  1. John says:

    Just a question,if you don’t mind:

    Since there are around two views of Islam taken by a number of Christians,one that Islam is merely wrong,and the other that it not only is wrong but that it’s teachings support such terrorism as commited by ISIS,which view do you hold?

    Do you hold the view that Islam is wrong,but does not support terrorism?Or the view it does teach some violent things as well?

  2. TFBW says:

    It is ironic indeed that ISIS seems to share Sam’s pharmaceutically-aided approach to religion. I do wonder, though, how Sam recognised “perfect faith” in the first place. I can only assume that he recognised it on the basis that it looked like what he was expecting to see. I doubt that his faith-meter would even twitch in the absence of an atrocity.

  3. Dhay says:

    John, perhaps you like dichotomies, but could I point out that there are a wealth of viewpoints. Islam and ISIS being the focus, perhaps you would like to substitute “ISIS” for “Qutb” in the attached summary of a book by the theologian of conflict resolution, mutual understanding and reconciliation, Miroslav Volf.

    http://www.dioceseofcoventry.org/images/document_library/UDR00594.pdf

  4. FZM says:

    Do you hold the view that Islam is wrong,but does not support terrorism?Or the view it does teach some violent things as well?

    I guess any system of beliefs that has political (in a broad sense) content and doesn’t include a commitment to absolute pacifism could be held to teach or allow some violent things.

    It seems like there are a variety of interpretations of Islamic teaching; some people believe it justifies terrorism, others don’t. Shia mullahs, for example, have apparently issued a fatwa stating that suicide bombers go straight to hell. So it looks like they don’t think that Islam justifies suicide terrorism.

  5. Dhay says:

    > They were men of faith — perfect faith …

    I looked this up in The End of Faith, and looked back to see what Harris thinks faith is. On page 62 I find:

    Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Read in the right way, this passage seems to render faith entirely self-justifying: perhaps the very fact that one believes in something which has not yet come to pass (“things hoped for”) or for which one has no evidence (“things not seen”) constitutes evidence for its actuality (“assurance”). Let’s see how this works: I feel a certain, rather thrilling “conviction” that Nicole Kidman is in love with me. As we have never met, my feeling is my only evidence of her infatuation. I reason thus: my feelings suggest that Nicole and I must have a special, even metaphysical, connection—otherwise, how could I have this feeling in the first place? I decide to set up camp outside her house to make the necessary introductions; clearly, this sort of faith is a tricky business.
    [My emboldening.]
    http://www.pdf-archive.com/2014/10/19/sam-harris-the-end-of-faith/sam-harris-the-end-of-faith.pdf

    So Harris’ concept of faith is based upon the now very familiar New Atheist deliberate misinterpretation (eisegesis) of Hebrews 11:1. My by now often-used response to that is: https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/steven-pinker-reviews-coynes-book/#comment-9385

    Harris fleshes out his Hebrews 11:1 eisegesis into something ludicrous: faith is something that justifies Harris stalking Nicole Kidman, should that take his fancy. And this Nicole Kidman stalking faith, as he immediately continues to tell us, is (in his view):

    … faith in its ordinary, scriptural sense …

    Christian faith (or something identical) justifies stalking Nicole Kidman? Harris cannot be serious, surely, he has to be clowning around, here.

    Or is Harris a genuine clown.

  6. TFBW says:

    So I had a glance at The End of Faith, and based on the part I’ve read, I am inclined to think that it’s an irrefutable book. I went looking for something to refute, specifically, and have found nothing so far. Maybe there is some argument in there which is in error, and which could be refuted by pointing out said error, but I can see that it is not the sort of thing one can do by reading a dozen or so pages.

    In fact, in the pages that I read, I found no trace of argument at all: I found only rhetoric and polemic. If anyone can point me to somewhere in that book where he actually constructs some kind of argument for something, I’d appreciate it, but I’m not going to read page after page of anti-religious polemic and pro-scientism propaganda in search of an actual instance of reasoned argument.

    With Dawkins, at least, I can expect to find some badly mangled ideas presenting themselves as an argument somewhere (“Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit”, anyone?), but it looks like Harris knows enough about philosophy to avoid stating something which admits to any sort of refutation. If your book consists entirely of slurs against religion and scientistic assertions, then there’s nothing to refute, since neither a slur nor an epistemic assertion is subject to refutation.

    As an aside, I’m sure I could count on Harris to retort, “those aren’t slurs — I’m just stating facts about religions.” It’s true that he refers to some facts, but highly selective statement of facts can still count as a slur, particularly when he selects things from one religion, or even one tiny subset of one religion, and presents it as though it were representative of religion in general.

    I think you’ve got Harris wrong, Dhay: he is neither clowning around, nor a genuine clown. His hostile eisegesis reflects his partisan position on the subject of theistic religion (where the “theistic” is, as ever, an important qualifier). In other words, he is not a clown, but a religious bigot, on a par with any other preacher who stands up and condemns someone else’s religion on the basis of prejudice and cherry-picked examples to back it up. He is cut from the same cloth as the religious fanatics that he rails against; judging others by his own standards, and declaring some to be the root cause of the world’s major woes, whose continued existence we suffer at our peril.

    He’s not promoting bloody violence against this threat, as I’m sure he’d hasten to point out, but he is posturing as though all his ideological enemies are capable of committing some insane, faith-based atrocity at any moment, which is the right direction to be pushing if you want their blood to flow later. Not that I’m saying Sam actually wants such blood to flow, present tense, but he’s pushing in the wrong direction if he wants to avoid it. Maybe he doesn’t want to avoid it, or maybe he doesn’t realise he’s acting against his own interests if he does.

    And since I’ve come to the topic, albeit in a roundabout sort of way, I’m going to answer John’s question: does Islam teach violence, or not? The question seems to contain the assumption that “Islam” is a single thing. It’s a bit like asking, “do magnets attract metal, or not?” The assumption that all metals are of a kind in relation to their interaction with magnets is false. The assumption that all Islam is of a kind in relation to violence also appears to be false, and the question can not be answered in the affirmative or negative without tacitly accepting that false assumption. Some do, some don’t.

  7. Dhay says:

    The Washington Post article says of Captagon:

    Doctors report that the drug has dangerous side effects, including psychosis and brain damage, according to the BBC.

    That’s just like the drugs Sam Harris has taken, though he doesn’t take them now (nor for decades, now) because “It has been many years since I have taken psychedelics, in fact, and my abstinence is borne of a healthy respect for the risks involved”.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/drugs-and-the-meaning-of-_b_891014.html

    But the risks haven’t stopped Harris from recommending to his followers that they should ignore his own “healthy respect for the risks involved” and take these unhealthy unacceptable-to-him risks themselves.

    Harris’ article tells us that “3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or “Ecstasy”) has remarkable therapeutic potential, but it is also susceptible to abuse, and it appears to be neurotoxic.[1]”; the footnote explains that “A wide literature now suggests that MDMA damages serotonin-producing neurons and decreases levels of serotonin in the brain. Here is the tip of the iceberg:” [gives six links to peer-reviewed research papers]

    And as regards LSD and other psychedelics, “Ingesting a powerful dose of a psychedelic drug is like strapping oneself to a rocket without a guidance system. One might wind up somewhere worth going–and, depending on the compound and one’s “set and setting,” certain trajectories are more likely than others. But however methodically one prepares for the voyage, one can still be hurled into states of mind so painful and confusing as to be indistinguishable from psychosis. Hence, the terms “psychotomimetic” and “psychotogenic” that are occasionally applied to these drugs.”

    And of course, Captagon has, er, “remarkable therapeutic potential”, or the terrorists wouldn’t be taking it as a therapy for the fear and weakness which might otherwise have afflict them.

  8. FZM says:

    I had a read of some of ‘The End of Faith’ using the pdf link provided by Dhay.

    I think TFBW makes a fair point here:

    In fact, in the pages that I read, I found no trace of argument at all: I found only rhetoric and polemic. If anyone can point me to somewhere in that book where he actually constructs some kind of argument for something, I’d appreciate it, but I’m not going to read page after page of anti-religious polemic and pro-scientism propaganda in search of an actual instance of reasoned argument.

    …because there don’t seem to be that many real arguments presented. It’s mainly just a series of often questionable (or probably false) assertions and claims.

    I can imagine that it might have had a formative influence on other ‘New Atheist’ literature. The absence of much attempt to define key terms (‘Religion’, ‘Science’, ‘Evidence’, ‘Faith’ etc.) in anything other than a vague, nebulous and fragmentary way (if it’s attempted at all) is obviously handy if you want to go on presenting arguments that are difficult to refute, if only because it’s hard to say whether any of the claims being made are really more than tautologies or trivialities pretending at first glance to be something else.

    With Dawkins, at least, I can expect to find some badly mangled ideas presenting themselves as an argument somewhere (“Ultimate Boeing 747 Gambit”, anyone?), but it looks like Harris knows enough about philosophy to avoid stating something which admits to any sort of refutation.

    I’d also agree with this. ‘The End of Faith’ doesn’t seem to have the substance, such as it is, of Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’.

    I’m thinking that the anti-religious atheists of the previous century (when radical atheistic secularism was so repressed and marginalised throughout the world) made the mistake of trying to offer better and more substantial arguments for their claims and of following them through to their logical conclusions. It’s perhaps this that now leads Harris etc. to classify their belief systems as ‘religious’.

  9. Dhay says:

    In the recent “Richard Dawkins Makes ISIS Stronger” response thread I brought up the (allegedly proposed) billboard campaign to publicise a Sam Harris tour in Australia. TFBW quoted the organisers as saying “We were quite surprised. One can be offended by them but it is a personal opinion. We want to involve people in intellectual dialogue, not vilify.’’

    Two of the poster quotations (“cracker” and “ancient literature”) were from Page 73 of Harris’ 2005 book, The End of Faith, and share the qualities of that book, summarised nicely by “I found no trace of argument at all: I found only rhetoric and polemic”; one (“90%”) is from the 2006 article http://jewcy.com/jewish-religion-and-beliefs/monday_why_are_atheists_so_angry_sam_harris;the last (“Koran … toilet”) is from the 2005 article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/bombing-our-illusions_b_8615.html; I’d say the comments by TFBW and FZM on the book apply to the articles, too.

    Not that the poster memes are intellectual: rhetoric and polemic is hardly that, especially when combined with a large dose of sophistry — look up “cracker”, whereupon you will find that Harris has written about communion in an abusively disparaging manner.

    Then look up “vilify”, whereupon you will find that it is to “speak or write about in an abusively disparaging manner”: the claim to “not vilify” looks weak indeed; and we haven’t even started on Harris’ very publicly stated desire to flush the Koran down his toilet.

    (Hmm, if Harris ever did flush the Koran down his toilet he might well expect a violent reaction — from his neighbours, already fed up with the teenage mum who has repeatedly blocked and backed up the drains with her soiled nappies, fed up with idiots like her — and like Harris. But Harris, as he has reported in a number of blog posts, and in his Waking Up doesn’t have the intellectual and scientific ability of his plumber; if he cannot work out that water pouring through the ceiling cannot be rainwater if it’s not raining, and hasn’t rained for three months, he’s quite likely to think it’s OK to flush books down the toilet.)

    Does anyone have any idea how one has an “intellectual dialogue” with a billboard? It declares its playground cat-call jeering message, but does not listen or discuss. The term “moronic monologue” seems more apt.

    It’s interesting that the campaign organisers chose four quotes written a decade ago to prime the, er, “intellectual dialogue”: the clear implication is that the campaign organisers believe, and also expect their target audience to believe, that Harris is over the hill; that Harris’, er, best work was written a whole decade ago, and that Harris has written nothing of comparable or better quality in the whole decade since 2006.

  10. Dhay says:

    Talking of plumbers, Sam Harris (see S2L posts, 15 January 2014 and 20 June 2014), Alan Sokal (29 March 2014), Jason Rosenhouse (22 September 2012) and Jerry Coyne (14 May 2012 and Faith vs Fact) have all embraced a definition of “science” which, they each emphasise, includes what plumbers do.

    Coyne puts it as well as any of them:

    But science is more than a profession; it’s a method—a method of inquiry that arose from the Enlightenment. In that sense, plumbers and car mechanics practice science when they diagnose problems.

    In the above S2L posts Michael (supported on 21 September 2012 by quotes from the philosopher of science, Massimo Pigliucci) ripped into this nonsense.

    What’s interesting is that Harris finally seems to have retreated from the unscientific consensus, and in his latest blog post, entitled “Sam Harris: The ‘Salon’ Interview”, has at last come round to the point of view of Pigliucci and Michael:

    Apparently, becoming a neurosurgeon [Ben Carson] can be like becoming an electrician or a plumber—you can learn it like a trade, and your mind can remain more or less untouched by the scientific worldview.

    http://www.salon.com/2015/10/10/sam_harris_dangerous_new_idiocy_incoherent_islamophobic_and_simply_immoral/

    Now, in sharp contradistinction to what he formerly claimed, and what his fellow New Atheists are presumably still claiming — do they know yet of Harris’ implicit criticism — Harris is now claiming that plumbers are “more or less untouched by the scientific worldview”.

    Did you notice that barely qualified “untouched”.

    Now that Harris has so thoroughly scorned the unscientific consensus of his former self and his New Atheist allies, I look forward to their matching retreats and retractions.

  11. Dhay says:

    Oops, wrong link to Harris’ blog; try:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/sam-harris-the-salon-interview

    The Salon article mistakenly linked to is interesting in itself, mind, and well worth a read. Harris doesn’t like the article, and linked to it only to show an example of a bad article about himself — Harris thinks the only journalist worth reading on Salon is Jeffrey Tayler — also strongly approved of by Jerry Coyne — who has followed Harris’ own practice of writing basically contentless and uninformed rhetoric and polemic closely enough to be a Harris clone.

    This particular Salon article — and according to Harris, many others like it appearing in Salon, I must look them up — was definitely not written by a Harris clone.

  12. Dhay says:

    In the recent “Richard Dawkins Makes ISIS Stronger” response thread I brought up the (allegedly proposed) billboard campaign to publicise a Sam Harris tour in Australia. TFBW quoted the organisers as saying “We were quite surprised. One can be offended by them but it is a personal opinion. We want to involve people in intellectual dialogue, not vilify.’’

    In his comments on Pascal’s Wager — see the previous thread — Harris said of the Wager:

    Like many cute ideas in philosophy, it is easily remembered and often repeated, and this has lent it an undeserved air of profundity.

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-empty-wager

    Doesn’t this just apply to memes — such as Harris’ Australian “billboard” memes.

    Sam Harris’ writings are rather like a rhinoceros, in fact: they won’t do much in the way of real work for you, and yet at close quarters they will make spectacular claims upon your attention.

    Sam Harris’ memes make spectacular claims upon your attention, rather like a charging rhinoceros — to use his cute, memorable and easily repeated phrase; and they have a rhinoceros’ ability and intent to involve people in intellectual dialogue.

  13. Jay says:

    Being a man of faith is a terrible thing to be?

    /www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaKUBGhuqP4

    Really?

  14. Jay says:

    Whoops. Messed that link up. Sorry.

  15. Atheist Max says:

    Christians love to say,
    “Look at all the good done in the world thanks to the truth of Jesus – the Missions, the hospitals and the soup kitchens.”

    But…Do you give the same credit to Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Queda who run soup kitchens and hospitals in the Middle East in the name of Allah? Do their good deeds confirm “the truth” of Mohammed?

    What about Doctors without Borders? 22,000 doctors (most of whom are French and Atheist) volunteering to put out diseases like Ebola and Polio in war zones around the world? Do those good deeds confirm ‘the truth’ of Atheism?

    The Q’uran commands killing: “Slaughter the infidels wherever you find them” – Surah
    The New Testament commands killing: “Kill my enemies in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    The Bible commands killing: “Kill the unbelievers in the daylight” – Yahweh (Deuteronomy)

    Atheism does not command killing.
    The US Constitution is Atheist and it allows all religions to be freely practiced:
    “Congress shall make no law establishing a religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.” – US Constitution.

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