New Atheists Fading

fa2ca69d3781fc952689016a8eddeafcLast year, I cited some evidence that suggested the New Atheism movement was past its peak and was beginning to fade into insignificance.  This year, it sure looks like the New Atheism movement continues that trend.  Consider some basic facts.

In May 2015, Jerry Coyne published his book, Faith vs. Fact.  Even though Coyne’s previous book was a NYT best seller, and Coyne was a credentialed fresh face representing New Atheism to the general public through a mainstream publisher, his new book never made the NYT’s best seller list and was essentially ignored outside the atheist community.  In fact, neither Harris or Dawkins bothered to promote it much.  Today, Coyne’s blog seems to focus more on animal pictures and other forms of click bait than atheist screeds and he has even recently agreed to tone down his stridency.

In September 2015, Richard Dawkins published the second volume of his autobiography.  Despite being so popular among the atheists and so skilled at promoting his products, Dawkins’ book never made the NYT best sellers list and has largely been ignored outside the circle of his culture war allies.  In fact, it only has a mere 21 reviews on, several with the same complaints

This book is simply a bunch of mostly silly stories with a lot of self promoting statements (he constantly mentions one of his previous books every other page!). I enjoyed reading The Selfish Gene and I loved The God Delusion. But, this is a silly book with no scientific content. I consider Richard Dawkins to be an excellent scientists with a well deserved recognition due to his scientific work. But, this book was a great disappointment and a waste of time to read,



Too much of the book consists of the author dropping names.


Richard has done a lot of great work,but his one makes him redundant.

So while Dawkins continues to be under attack for his oddball tweets, his One Trick Pony show is starting to bore some of his adoring fans

In October 2015, Sam Harris co-authored a new book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance.  While he has a significant fan base that buys whatever he writes, and being the son of a Hollywood TV show producer, clearly has many media connections, his book too has largely been ignored and never made the NYT best seller list.  Harris has also been the subject of blistering critiques from large websites, including articles such as Can anyone save atheism from New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris? and Sam Harris can’t be redeemed: Ben Carson, Noam Chomksy and the defining hypocrisy of the New Atheist movement and Sam Harris’s Quantum Universe (or, How to Say One Thing While Meaning Another).  Finally, after failing miserably to achieve its stated objectives, it sure looks like Harris’s Project Reason is in the gradual process of closing up shop.

As for PZ Myers, no new book and his once mega-popular atheist blog now struggles to get more than 20 comments per blog entry.   And Myers does spend a portion of his time attacking Sam Harris.

Last year I asked, ” So we must begin to wonder – is New Atheism past its peak?”

I think we are in a stronger position to answer that question – Yes.  We can tell because after all these years, it’s the same people writing books and promoting themselves and each other year after year.  And the reach of their message seems to progressively dwindle to the point of where they are mostly talking to each other.

So why do you think the New Atheist movement is fading away?

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20 Responses to New Atheists Fading

  1. GeoffSmith says:

    Two reasons:
    1. Lack of intellectual credibility.
    2. People who don’t care about intellectual credibility literally think of them as weird losers and make fun of them. Even irreligious people I know make fun of these folks as though they picked their nose in school or farted in an elevator.

  2. Kevin says:

    I think it’s just natural population decline. New Atheism sprung up in a climate of fear over religious terrorism due to 9/11, and this gave anti-religious bigots a platform to lash out and blame “religion”, and there were some people who nodded their heads along with it because, let’s face it, Christianity was already well in decline by then, and the whole gay marriage thing was casting Christians and conservatives in a negative light with younger adults. We also had a bunch of people who hopped onto the “I’m going to be an edgy prick within the anonymity of the Internet” who thought it was cool to use all the New Atheist buzzwords and catchphrases to insult other people and elevate themselves as intellectually superior to the majority of the nation – also from the teenager / young adult demographic.

    Of course, non-bigots can’t be sustained by anti-religious rhetoric, so they began dropping out. Reasonable atheists were embarrassed by New Atheism and began speaking out against them with increased confidence. The Kool Kids grew up and got a life, rather than sitting around the Internet making stupid insults on every religious topic they could find.

    At this point, New Atheism is left with its exposed core, comprised entirely of anti-religious bigots. And since “time heals all wounds” and 9/11 is no longer a fresh concern, their rhetoric simply disappears into cyberspace and no one cares.

    That’s my opinion.

  3. TFBW says:

    The September 11 incident certainly was a rallying point for New Atheism: it presented an opportunity for peddlers of religious hatred and bigotry to hawk their wares before a shocked and receptive audience. Aside from the outrage wearing off, the intervening years have given New Atheism time to fracture, because it turns out that a common lack of belief in God, or even a common antipathy towards theism, isn’t really enough to unite them. Perhaps Dawkins and Harris have said some more openly ludicrous things in the meantime, or maybe it’s just the outrage wearing off and the tolerance for hyperbole wearing off with it, but complaints are on the rise against them. It’s definitely a downward trend.

  4. stcordova says:


    I say this as a Christian.

    I think the reason is that the society has become so much more secular now. The GNUs needed the warfare thesis to survive, and now the war is getting won or mostly won, they have not much utility.

    I was part of an atheist discussion group at James Madison University for 12 years. I predicted to the group that they would disband because over the last 12 years there was so much secularization that the group would be as meaningful as a “disbelievers in Zeus group”.

    The war is over, we live in a post Christian, non-religious culture. Also, it’s hard to justify that Christians are a huge threat to society. I don’t hear that from many atheist quarters. They just don’t care anymore…

    In my Bible study we’re sad for these developments, but on the other hand some of us felt the Christianity in the USA was nominal anyway and not very sincere. The remnant in the churches are sincere and church services and prayer meetings are better than they have ever been.

  5. mechanar says:

    A few reasons
    1) Calm rational responses against it like this blog
    2) infighting
    3) No realistic chance of achieving any of set goals without abolishing fundamental principles of democracy
    4) Open Display of fanaticism
    5) More important issues than anyones atheism
    6) Lack of substantial Political importance

    I guess in the coming years all that will remain of new atheism will be shrill and annoying comments on youtube Videos which most of the time have relatively little to do with the subject of religion anyway. Once saw a clip from the simpsons were reverend lovejoy was playing guitar and in the comment section there were a couple of typical new atheist slogans. What are you supposed to do with that? Laugh? Cry? Point out how utterly ridiculous its is to “change the world” this way? Oh well I can live with a few trolls as long as they are kept away from Power.

  6. Billy Squibs says:

    While Dawkins might well be doing his level best to undermine his reputation one tweet at a time, I’d have to agree with stcordova. In parts of Europe (I’m from Ireland) and amongst a certain demographic – roughly those 40 and under – it’s secular as far as the eye can see. The whole conflict thesis has been so totally imbibed by a certain demographic within society that it’s practically a truism. That Dawkins is increasingly an embarrassment to himself and others is in a sense besides the point because the New Atheists have very much made serious gains in the public conciousness.

    My prediction is that if New Atheism is on the wane the darling of the media will instead be a particular type of feminism (New Feminism?) and that this will be a powerful enemy of traditional religion and of Christianity in particular.

    Still, Christians are playing the long game, no?

  7. Gary Good says:

    Atheism may be fading because people cannot live a consistent atheistic life. Under a materialistic or naturalistic belief system, there is no basis to believe in the science and reason that they lift up as their god. It all comes crumbling down. When someone denies the one true God, the more natural path (even if it passes through atheism) is some form of mysticism. That’s why we have so many people saying they are spiritual but not religious. We see this in the Humanities departments of many Universities. Because of their hatred of God, however, the atheists biggest enemy (if they really believe in science and reason) are the postmodernists, not Christians. The postmodernists took over the Humanities department and are infiltrating the Science department.

  8. I wonder if the greatest result of the ‘New Theism’ will literally be the rise of a ‘New Theism’. I, for one, can tell you that my now obsessive interest in philosophy and apologetics only arose due to the New Atheism, and I doubt that I am the only one. Furthermore, while the New Atheism may have caused lukewarm believers to drop Christian theism, I know that it has also battle-hardened and readied other believers into defending their faith quite handily. In fact, with the rot that is occurring in secular universities and colleges today, perhaps Christian universities, with the rise of serious Christian intellectuals, will once again start to be looked at as the best academic institutions for truly open learning and inquiry in the future.

  9. Michael says:

    Lots of good answers above, as I think multiple factors are at work. Let me add another. Oddly enough, Islamic terror is a huge problem for New Atheism. It’s hard to make the case about the menacing nature of Christianity when the newspapers provide so many instances of such extreme brutality in the name of Islam. A little town in Arkansas trying to put up a nativity scene at city hall just doesn’t quite compare to two Islamic terrorists murdering over a dozen people at a Christmas party. The New Atheists sense this and have shifted signficant attention to Islam, figuring they can exploit public fears with this religion. But in doing so, they have run head-on into the buzzsaw of political correctness and find themselves being shredded by accusations of racism and islamophobia.

    So they are stuck between a rock and a hard place: Make Christianity the Great Threat and have people laugh at you or make Islam the Great Threat and have people label you as racists.

  10. TFBW says:

    Michael, what you describe is true of the world as it stands now, but it’s not true of the world as it was around ten years ago when New Atheism was making its first big impact. Take The God Delusion for example: the latter half of the book is a polemic against religion in general, casting all brands of monotheism in the nastiest possible light. If the book were to be re-launched from scratch right now, would it be received as well as it was back then? I think not. To me, that says that the change has not primarily been with New Atheism itself, but the environment. New Atheists used to go unchallenged when they indiscriminately portrayed any kind of monotheism as the Great Threat. Now, not so much: formerly sympathetic atheists are more likely to push back when verbal attacks of that sort target some group in which they have a secondary interest (e.g. women, minorities, etc).

    In other words, the general appetite for such outlandish bigotry seems to have diminished somewhat. The only cause for this I can think of is our increasing distance from September, 2001.

    On reflection, however, perhaps we can also lay some of the blame on the off-message controversies that Dawkins and Harris have blundered into. Dawkins, for example, has found himself on the politically incorrect side of the subject of rape in the interim. I suppose once you’ve been called out for politically incorrect views on one subject, people are more likely to speak up on other subjects. It’s a kind of shibboleth: perhaps once Dawkins spoke inappropriately about rape, many atheists went from thinking of him as “one of us”, to “one of them”, and those two categories get markedly different treatment with regards to what gets called out and what gets a free pass. Stray off message, and alienate parts of your support base.

    I think perhaps that Dawkins and Harris were both under the illusion that their words were as gospel, thanks to their initial success, and so going off message simply wasn’t a possibility.

  11. Kevin says:

    Oh but listening to our local atheists here in the Mtn Home area, you would think it was indeed the end of the world if that nativity scene went up. I understand their point from a legal position but sheesh.

  12. Dhay says:

    > And Myers does spend a portion of his time attacking Sam Harris.

    For example, his PZ Myers’ 26 November 2015 blog post entitled “I get email, Sam Harris edition”.

    Myers quotes a Harris fan emailer, who produces the math to ‘prove’ Harris is right, then Myers rips into and ridicules Harris’ figures and into the emailer and into Harris himself:

    The best example came from the podcast: imagine that for every 10,000 migrants, only 20 Muslim men are sufficiently radicalized to have the motivation and the ability to launch a Paris-scale attack. In truth the ratio is higher, but for arguments sake, this means ten Paris scale massacres per year per 100,000 migrants.

    We don’t. QED, my correspondent and Sam Harris are full of paranoid, racist shit.
    [Myers’ emboldening.]


    Myers ends with a condemnation of Harris’ plausible deniability, Harris’ habit of saying two contradictory things at once

    Cenk Uygur nails Harris on his rhetorical deniability. Really, if you fall for his game of “here’s this evil thing I want you to think about, but I’m saying it’s evil, so don’t blame me if maybe we have to do it”, then you’re a fool.

    This links in nicely to illustrate Myers’ 9 December 2015 brief post entitled “Quantum Harris”:

    Someone please collapse the waveform! Marek Sullivan explains how Sam Harris gets away with it: he simply says many contradictory things that can’t possibly all be true, so that when he’s accused of being a right-wing neo-con he can just point to some paragraph or disclaimer that makes no sense relative to the sense of his essay, and presto! He’s shown that you’ve misinterpreted him!

    It’s a good trick. Too bad so many atheists have been gulled by it.

    And that links on to Marek Sullivan’s “Sam Harris’s Quantum Universe (or, How to Say One Thing While Meaning Another)” counterpunch article, also linked by Michael in the main article, which is well worth a read. I have long been astounded that nobody has spotted Harris’ say-two-contradictory-things-at-once plausible deniability trick.

  13. Dhay says:

    It occurred to me that if Harris thinks it’s OK to pull figures out of a hat to prove the dangers of Muslim immigration, I should be allowed to do the same to prove what a viciously nasty sociopath Harris is. And I’ll strongly emphasise the subject of “Quantum Harris” and Sam Harris’ tactic of ensuring plausible deniability (and legal deniability when it goes pear-shaped for the victims of his con-trick.)

    A few years back, while booking a holiday cottage, I was amused that the advertising blurb said no less than three times that the cottage was “near to the historic X to Y railway line”; for nobody but a train geek could be interested in that; but when a goods train thundered past the bedroom window, a mere 20 feet away from it and at the same level, at 6 am each and every morning, I got the idea: what had been repeatedly projected as a positive feature, to be enjoyed, was in fact a considerable detriment, mentioned so that with plausible deniability the advertiser could say, “It’s your own stupid fault – we gave you plain warning it was there.”

    Sam Harris’ blog article, “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” falls in the same category. The article was originally written in July 2011, but was updated in 2014 in anticipation of his “Waking Up” book launch, which book apparently reproduced the blog word-for-word. Although it is first and last in favour of drug use, specifically recommending use of psychedelics, if you read the middle of his oh-so-long and disjointed blog with those critical reading skills which Richard “fairytales bad” Dawkins would like everyone to develop – and which skills Harris presumably thinks his own readership definitely lacks – you will see that he has hidden in plain sight a strong condemnation of psychedelic drug use.

    First: “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness.” etc. So for Harris, using drugs to alter consciousness is not different in kind from talking to a friend, eating tasty food, or enjoying a good book. No problems there, he implies, provided we steer clear of certain addictive drugs like tobacco, methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine.

    And, ”…if she does not try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in her adult life, I will worry…” Heck, psychedelics are so wonderful that everybody, even his beloved daughters, should take psychedelics – he’ll worry if his daughters don’t.

    ”Some drugs of extraordinary power and utility, such as psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), pose no apparent risk of addiction and are physically well-tolerated…” Harris has missed his true vocation as a skilled advertising copywriter. Note what is missing in this eulogy: no mention of the risk from mental problems, which can be severe during and after a bad trip, as Harris’ own testimony shows.

    He’s pushing Ecstacy, too: “MDMA… is susceptible to abuse, and some evidence suggests that it can be neurotoxic.”; “some evidence”, he says!, knowing that the more correct description is “nearly all evidence”, or “I cannot link you to or name any contradictory evidence” – in the footnote to this Harris links to five studies demonstrating neurotoxicity, adds that these five are “the tip of the iceberg”, links to zero dissenting studies and suggests that “There are credible claims…” – er, what, who claims this, this is mere insinuation – that the whole iceberg of solid adverse evidence is tosh. It’s advertising copywriting again; Harris is up front (if burying the bad news in a footnote can be said to be up-front) about why the first consciousness-altering drug he took, Ecstacy, is harmful, but slyly implies it is not so very harmful, so why not take it after all, it’s merely “some” risk of brain damage, not the massive evidence of near-certainty that he links to. I think Harris wants his readers to skim-read themselves into taking MDMA, so they, too, can realise that “profound changes in consciousness” are possible and will strive (but probably struggle – see below) to achieve Buddhist enlightenment.

    Last; a newly-added (in 2014) bottom line and summation: “The power of psychedelics, however, is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.” … ”I believe that psychedelics may be indispensable for some people—especially those who, like me, initially need convincing that profound changes in consciousness are possible. After that, it seems wise to find ways of practicing that do not present the same risks. Happily, such methods are widely available.”

    Food is indispensable for a starving man if he is not to die; he needs it; but for what purpose are psychedelics indispensable, a need, and what consequences follow if one does not take them? They are not indispensable for me – I perceive no need to take psychedelic drugs, to experience “profound changes in consciousness”, or to adopt the “widely available” safer substitute of Buddhist meditation. The person who needs me and others to take psychedelic drugs is Harris, because if we don’t take psychedelic drugs we are unlikely to buy Harris’ book – assuming we are one of the “lucky ones” (see quote from Harris, below) who don’t have a “harrowing” and “excruciating” bad trip, in which case we are very likely to steer well clear of everything Harris recommends.

    The reason why we are unlikely to start meditation, and then continue with it, can be seen in Harris’ 2011 blog, “How to Meditate”, where he says: ”The practice of mindfulness is extraordinarily simple to describe, but it is in no sense easy. Here, as elsewhere in life, the “10,000 Hour Rule” often applies. And true mastery probably requires special talent and a lifetime of practice.” Get that: the practice of mindfulness is in no sense easy; it is a skill that requires special talent, and a lifetime of practice; special talent, and – assuming a socially acceptable two half-hour meditations per day – takes twenty seven years of practice to get 10,000 hours level competent; nothing much to show for your efforts for a very, very long time, even for those who have a special talent for meditation. (In his “Adventures in the Land of Illness” blog, Harris says, “Judging from the look of things, the median age in both places [waiting rooms] is about eighty. (For years, this also seemed to be the median age of my atheist fans.)”, so it looks like many of the devotees of the Bodhisattva Mahasattva Sam Harris will die before achieving competence.) Hardly worth the bother, is it.

    This expectation of slow progress is well supported by Buddhist tradition: there is no difficulty in finding books which tell the reader that progress may be slow because the meditator is “dealing not only with the karma of the present life, but also the karma accumulated through countless previous lives” – which is either an interesting conclusion of contemplative science, one which we can no doubt expect Harris to publish in scientific journals for peer review soon, or perhaps it is merely a “just-so” story cobbled up to explain why even the meditator who does everything right can realistically expect to make but slow progress. Hardly worth the bother, is it.

    Harris also says, “Teach a person to meditate, pray, chant, or do yoga, and there is no guarantee that anything will happen. Depending upon his aptitude or interest, the only reward for his efforts may be boredom and a sore back.” I suspect these are the unspecified “some people” for whom, Harris claims, “psychedelics may be indispensable”; he doesn’t actually say who, nor why, but leaves it to those who can’t or won’t read him analytically and critically – Harris’ fans, presumably, blinded by his gushing tone and by confirmation bias – to assume “psychedelics may be indispensable” for them personally.

    Before asking whether “psychedelics may be indispensable” it is sensible to first ask if they are safe; and the answer is clearly that they are not. For all that he is pushing psychedelics to others, and (eventually) to his daughters, Harris himself long ago ceased to take the psychedelic drugs he is recommending – because he doesn’t dare risk taking psychedelic drugs, of any type. He says, ”This is not to say that everyone should take psychedelics. As I will make clear below, these drugs pose certain dangers.” (Is this “certain”, as in ‘some’, or ‘a number of’, or is it certain as in ‘it will certainly happen? This is advertising-speak again, where a skim-reader will infer that ‘certain’ means ‘some’, but where a careful reading of Harris’s own experiences tells us the dangers are, sooner or later, inevitable.

    He continues: “Undoubtedly, some people cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug. It has been many years since I took psychedelics myself, and my abstinence is born of a healthy respect for the risks involved.” Is the “some people” who mustn’t take psychedelics a different set of people to the “some people” for whom “psychedelics may be indispensable”; Harris doesn’t tell us; and he gives no criteria whatsoever for discovering whether one falls into the set who must (“indispensable”) take psychedelics or falls into the set who (“even the slightest tug”) mustn’t; the implication is, we are to find out by trial and error.

    Are psychedelics indispensable anyway, when “The freedom from self that is both the goal and foundation of “spiritual” life is coincident with normal perception and cognition…” That is, Harris tells us the hallucinatory visions that psychedelics give rise to are not versions of that Buddhist enlightenment he encourages people to strive for via meditation; he says “I view most psychedelic experiences as potentially misleading. Psychedelics do not guarantee wisdom or a clear recognition of the selfless nature of consciousness. They merely guarantee that the contents of consciousness will change.” And he testifies that they will not always change for the better, but very often for the worse – changing to “clinically insane”, “psychotic”, “painful and confusing”, “harrowing”, “excruciating”, “terrifying” “self-torture”.

    Harris acknowledges firstly, that use of psychedelics will give some people mental problems, and secondly, that Harris doesn’t take psychedelics himself – and hasn’t for many years – he daren’t – because he is very aware of the risks (to sanity) posed even to himself, even to a thoroughly experienced drug-user who has been meditating himself into allegedly the very best of mental health for decades.

    What are the risks? Well, he says ”…psychedelic drugs… can also produce mental states that are best viewed as forms of psychosis.”

    And, ”There is no getting around the role of luck here. If you are lucky, and you take the right drug, you will know what it is to be enlightened (or to be close enough to persuade you that enlightenment is possible). If you are unlucky, you will know what it is to be clinically insane.”

    He seems to be saying it’s a matter of chance whether you get a bad trip; but his first bad trip was after he had taken LSD “at least ten times”, ie after little more than ten times. Although he took great care to start his trip in the right mental and physical space, so that “What could go wrong?” “Everything, as it turns out. Well, not everything—I didn’t drown.” “For the next several hours my mind became a perfect instrument of self-torture. All that remained was a continuous shattering and terror for which I have no words.”

    The trips last, I gather, for about ten hours, a long time to be trapped in such horror; but it gets worse, because “time dilates in ways that cannot be described— … these experiences can seem eternal”, and “Immersion in the present moment to this degree is synonymous with the feeling that one has always been and will always be in precisely this condition.” This means that instead of having the assurance that the horrors will be over in at most a mere ten hours, one has the certainty that one will never escape them: he asks, “Have you ever traveled, beyond all mere metaphors, to the Mountain of Shame and stayed for a thousand years?” (cf Daniel 12:2.)

    “My “bad trips” were, without question, the most harrowing hours I have ever endured, and they make the notion of hell—as a metaphor if not an actual destination—seem perfectly apt.”

    The ill effects of the bad trips are persistent, “Even if LSD and similar drugs are biologically safe, they have the potential to produce extremely unpleasant and destabilizing experiences. I believe I was positively affected by my good trips, and negatively affected by the bad ones, for weeks and months.”

    Were the bad trips rare? No, they became usual, to be expected every time: for “…once the doors to hell opened, they appeared to have been left permanently ajar. Thereafter, whether or not a trip was good in the aggregate, it generally entailed some excruciating detour.” So how rare are bad trips? Well, we have Harris’ own testimony to go by, that it was the first bad trip was during or after the twelfth trip (or so – an imprecise “more than ten”); after that, bad trips and part-bad trips happened “generally”, ie nearly every time. Those are lousy odds.

    Harris’ book, which repeats all that is in his blog, is intended to be read by many – he certainly hoped it would be a best-seller. Some of those readers will be persuaded by his urgings to take psychedelics. Everybody’s different, so some people will be more susceptible than Harris to bad trips, some less susceptible, and the nature of chance means it is impossible to predict whether a particular individual taking psychedelics for their very first time will or will not experience the horrors and lingering horrors of a bad trip. The laws of chance for large numbers, though, laws which enable insurers to be near-certain of a healthy profit, tell us that if 100,000 of the people who are readers of his blog or book are persuaded by Harris that they themselves ‘must be’ those “some people” for whom psychedelics are ”indispensable”, and if an average of a mere one in a hundred have a bad trip, that’s 1,000 trips into what Harris unambiguously describes as a hell; based on Harris’ own experience of one in twelve or so for a first bad trip, that could easily be 8,000 descents into mental hell. But that’s evidently a peak on the Moral Landscape for Harris.

    Harris says that a bad trip does increase “one’s respect for the tenuous condition of sanity, as well as one’s compassion for people who suffer from mental illness”; for otherwise, he thinks, “it may be impossible to imagine what it is like to suffer from mental illness.” So if I understand Harris aright, for Harris the risk of your suffering an experienced eternity in an excruciating mental hell is well worth it, because you, er, then better understand what it is like to suffer the mental agonies of madness. Well, those that return to normal after “weeks or months” do presumably understand madness and psychosis better; but what of those “some people” “who cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug.” This is how Harris leads all sentient beings to liberation from suffering.

    Harris’ penultimate paragraph stresses the benefits which he alleges come from good trips, that “The power of psychedelics, however, is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.” (One wonders how he can know he is not hallucinating that he has “understanding” in the same way that Harris tells us DMT users hallucinate elves and aliens with “understanding” – but it sounds so wonderful at face value that I could, if gullible, be sure I absolutely must rush out of my door to buy LSD this very moment.)

    But that paragraph has surely to be reversed for a bad trip “The power of psychedelics is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of despair and delusion* that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime.” (* Add other horrors of your choice as mentioned in Harris’ blog post.)

    Some of those people will experience hell on earth on their very first trip; and all of them will experience hell on earth, sooner or later, if they continue tripping. It is not indispensable to these “some people” that they take psychedelics; it is instead “indispensable” for Sam Harris that they brave the nightmare risks and take psychedelics or else they are unlikely to buy his book, to follow his meditation practices past the “boredom and a sore back” stage, or to influence others to buy his book.

    Nasty man.

    Let’s tailor, in [ ], PZ Myers’ Cenk Uygur quote from my last response, which is a condemnation of Harris’ plausible deniability, of Harris’ tactic of saying two contradictory things at once:

    Cenk Uygur nails Harris on his rhetorical deniability. Really, if you fall for his game of “here’s this [wonderful drugs] thing I want you to think about, but I’m saying it’s [harmful], so don’t blame me if maybe [you get harmed]”, then you’re a fool.


    I’m sure my drug casualty figures above, plucked from zero peer-reviewed papers and much ignorance, might have no more validity than Harris’ anti-Muslim immigration massacre calculation figures, quoted in my previous response – which figures are obviously absurd because he has predicted that the reported one million Muslim immigrants to Europe this year alone should be perpetrating one hundred Paris scale massacres per year, or a revealingly absent two Paris scale massacres a week; my point is that I can use my own calculation to demonstrate, with a level of certainty evidently acceptable to Harris (and to at least one fan), that Harris is a viciously nasty sociopath.

  14. FZM says:

    In parts of Europe (I’m from Ireland) and amongst a certain demographic – roughly those 40 and under – it’s secular as far as the eye can see. The whole conflict thesis has been so totally imbibed by a certain demographic within society that it’s practically a truism. That Dawkins is increasingly an embarrassment to himself and others is in a sense besides the point because the New Atheists have very much made serious gains in the public conciousness.

    The situation seems broadly similar in the UK, although I think the New Atheists have just been one part or facet of a bigger secularization process. Lately, as a member of this under 40 age group, I’ve been wondering if some of the deeper commitment to and impetus behind the secularizing world view doesn’t in fact come from those over 40 who were growing up and coming of age in the 60s, 70s and 80s. (Thinking about the ‘4 horsemen’ for example, only Sam Harris doesn’t seem to fit into this demographic). For younger people secular assumptions and a highly secular viewpoint are maybe things that are more handed down from parents and the previous generations of thinkers and taken for granted.

    I find it hard to guess at where things will go once the influence and certainties of these older post-war Western European generations start to fade, at about the same time as the obvious preponderance of ‘the West’ in world affairs will also be changing and diminishing.

  15. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris, “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” > … The power of psychedelics, however, is that they often reveal, in the span of a few hours, depths of awe and understanding that can otherwise elude us for a lifetime..

    Ah yes, this is presumably the same depths of awe and understanding that Jerry Coyne recorded expressed as: “The walls are fucking BROWN.” (See Oddly enough, this depth of awe and understanding has eluded me for a lifetime; and oddly enough, I have no plans to rectify my lack of such depths of awe and understanding.

    And this is presumably the depths of awe and understanding of which Harris wrote earlier in his post, “I have spent hours, both good and bad, in which any understanding that I had ingested a drug was lost, and all memories of my past along with it.” — Ah yes, that’s a level of understanding which has most certainly descended to an emphatic low.

    It’s ‘Quantum Harris’, explicitly declaring one thing while others of his words spell out a contrary.

    I also see in Harris’ post, that for the (LSD) drug taker, “Within the hour, the significance of his existence will bear down upon him like an avalanche.” Harris has had “the significance of his existence bear down upon him like an avalanche” — yes, so heavily, so unmistakably — quite a few times, so he must by now be in a position — and if consistent with the tone of the post, also eager — to share with us the vitally important news of what is the significance of his existence (and presumably the significance of your and my existence.) Except he doesn’t, not here, not elsewhere, so I suspect that like Coyne he has either forgotten the ‘hammered home like an avalanche’ significance of his existence or — if Harris ever wrote it down — it was something like, “The walls are fucking BROWN.”

    It’s ‘Quantum Harris’, explicitly declaring one thing while others of his words spell out a contrary.

    And I note from Footnote 5 that not only can you use LSD to “prove” the Buddhist idea that you have no self, you can (should your whim go the other way) instead use DMT to “prove” the contrary, ie that you do have a self (or a self in some form) which can be transported elsewhere; ‘Quantum Harris’ is promoting both alternatives, though I am sure he intends us to read him as promoting just LSD’s apparent (seeming) loss of self:

    I should say, however, that there are psychedelic experiences that I have not had, which appear to deliver a different message. Rather than being states in which the boundaries of the self are dissolved, some people have experiences in which the self (in some form) appears to be transported elsewhere. This phenomenon is very common with the drug DMT, and it can lead its initiates to some very startling conclusions about the nature of reality.

    Harris says he has never taken DMT; but that’s almost no surprise; I expect he has realised that taking a drug which would very probably firmly (“avalanche”) convince him he has received “depths of awe and understanding” from little green men and fairies would rather spoil the credibility of any books or articles he might subsequently write — indeed, would expose him and all of his views to derision.

    Many users of DMT report being thrust under its influence into an adjacent reality where they are met by alien beings who appear intent upon sharing information and demonstrating the use of inscrutable technologies. … these accounts are almost entirely free of religious imagery. One appears far more likely to meet extraterrestrials or elves on DMT than traditional saints or angels.

    Ah, DMT users don’t meet, and get their depths of awe and understanding from, Buddhas, bodhisattvas or Dzogchen masters, it seems. Odd that, what with these being so wise and full of depths of understanding.

    I note that three books out of Harris’ nine-book bibliography are by Terence McKenna:

    His books are well worth reading, and I have recommended several below, but he was, above all, an amazing speaker. It is true that his eloquence often led him to adopt positions which can only be described (charitably) as “wacky,” but the man was undeniably brilliant and always worth listening to.

    Which is ‘Quantum Harris’ again: he won’t give you any advice himself on how you can or might tell whether you are or are not one of those people who are “undoubtedly” around, one of those people who “cannot afford to give the anchor of sanity even the slightest tug”, who absolutely mustn’t take psychoactive drugs or they will become mentally ill; his advice instead is to read McKenna’s books on drug taking; — but if anything goes wrong, Harris can distance himself from whatever in McKenna’s advice harmed you, Harris never recommended or would recommend that, Harris warned you that a bad trip was a matter of “luck” or chance, and Harris warned you that something or other of what McKenna spoke and wrote, indeed lots (“often”) — of course, it will turn out to be whatever caused you harm — “can only be described (charitably) as “wacky””, ie more fool you for heeding McKenna. Plausible deniability indeed: let someone else be seen as giving the bad advice, someone you praise highly — but come on, Harris did warn you they’re as nutty as a fruit-cake, why did you heed the advice of a declared loopy?!


    > It is true that his eloquence often led him to adopt positions which can only be described (charitably) as “wacky,”…

    Last I knew, eloquence was how well you expressed your positions, but certainly not a cause of them. As written, Harris seems to be spouting incoherent illogical gibberish.

    Do Harris’ readers actually read his stuff intelligently, if they can “understand” this — perhaps I lack the depth of understanding that only psychedelic drug taking can impart.

    Does Harris himself re-read and attempt to understand what he has written?

    I note that in the ‘Acknowledgements’ section of his book “The End of Faith”, Harris writes, “My copy editor at Norton performed a veritable exorcism upon the text, armed with nothing but a red pencil.” Somehow I am not astonished to read this. It’s a pity the “Waking Up” copy editor wasn’t as good.

  16. Dhay says:

    > Harris has also been the subject of blistering critiques from large websites, including articles such as …

    Add to Michael’s list the recent blistering Salon critique of Sam Harris by Omer Aziz, entitled, “Sam Harris’ detestable crusade: How his latest anti-Islam tract reveals the bankruptcy of his ideas” and subtitled, “Harris’ haughty ignorance & chauvinism are on full display in his new book, a “dialogue” with a former radical”.

  17. Tracy says:

    Ah yes: Omer Aziz. This fool has done himself no favors. Here he is in all his childish, defensive glory:

  18. Dhay says:

    Tracy > Ah yes: Omer Aziz. This fool has done himself no favors. Here he is in all his childish, defensive glory:

    The links to the Omer Aziz written critique and to the Sam Harris attempted refutation by podcast — as a fan, you would no doubt say Harris succeeded — are in my and your responses immediately above.

    Aziz’s critique is entitled “Sam Harris’ detestable crusade: How his latest anti-Islam tract reveals the bankruptcy of his ideas”.

    Harris’ podcast is entitled “The Best Podcast Ever”.

    To examine and discuss both or either in full would take rather more time and patience than I have, and to spend hours responding to your twenty words of sneer and insinuation, doubly a waste of time. So I’ll content myself with pointing out the contrast between the two titles, which I judge indicative of the respective authors’ mentalities: one is straightforward, “manly”, openly challenging; the other is indirect, childish, petulant and snide; which is which, do you think.


    If you are interested in actually examining and discussing the issue, Michael looks at the first part of the podcast in what’s currently his latest post:

    Please do feel free to add some intelligent and reasoned responses to that thread.

  19. Dhay says:

    Further to “Quantum Harris” — a term explained in more detail in Marek Sullivan’s Counterpunch article entitled “Sam Harris’s Quantum Universe (or, How to Say One Thing While Meaning Another)”, which is linked in the OP; or to save you scrolling up, it’s:

    — Further to “Quantum Harris”, who says or writes two incompatible ideas in the same book or article, blogger Mano Singham has a post entitled “The Harris-Murray two-step” in which he comments that in Harris’ podcasted discussion with Charles Murray a year ago (which resulted in a late-erupting heated disagreement with Vox Editor Ezra Klein) Murray repeats the pattern of strong claims, subsequently watered down with all manner of backtracking and qualifications and caveats that greatly undermine those claims, which characterise The Bell Curve.

    And he says that Harris also followed that pattern of strong claims, subsequently watered down with all manner of backtracking and qualifications and caveats that greatly undermine those claims. Singham’s summary bottom line is:

    Harris and Murray are made for each other so it should not be surprising that they find themselves on the same side on this issue. They both pretend to be clear logical thinkers, unafraid to go where the evidence leads even if it results in ‘politically incorrect’ conclusions. But in reality, they are merely adept at using rhetorical shiftiness to say many different things and thus create hatches to escape through when challenged.

    In the comments below someone calls this the “Motte & Bailey” tactic, with a link to the RationalWiki article explaining the term’s origin and full meaning. I rather like the term, see how it applies to Harris and Murray, and note that “Quantum Harris” has been caught yet again using rhetorical shiftiness to say many different things and thus create hatches to escape through when challenged.

  20. Dhay says:

    > Harris has also been the subject of blistering critiques from large websites …

    … And small blogs, too. Mano Singham has posted “A perfect example of the Sam Harris two-step”:

    … people like Harris say things that are rife with ambiguity. I and many others have noted before the disingenuous way that Sam Harris argues that enables him to be on both sides of an issue, something that I have labeled the Sam Harris two-step, though he is not the only one to use it. Charles Murray is also a master at it. They both seem to say outrageous things then, when challenged, point to other statements that seem contradict it. …

    So what happens if you call out Harris …? He (and his many supporters) will indignantly respond that you are dishonestly and deliberately taking him out of context (this is his favorite defense) by pointing to the next statement Harris makes …

    It doesn’t really add much, if anything, to his earlier post as linked in my response immediately above. But it does go some way to explaining why Harris can complain:

    One constant has been that I, to a degree that seems fairly unique, manage to encounter opponents for whom it’s a major part of their strategy to misrepresent my actual views. … it seems to me that this happens to me to an extreme degree.

    Well, Harris makes his own bed and has to lie in it.

    With contradictory statements to choose from, Harris’ readers can cherry-pick an interpretation: for his fans, Harris’ views are ‘obviously’ the agreeable statements, they are whatever the fan likes; for those disagreeing with the disagreeable statements, Harris’ views are ‘obviously’ whatever the critic doesn’t like.

    His critics (opponents, says Harris, indicating for Harris critiques and criticisms are fighting talk) are likely not misrepresenting Harris’ actual views, they are likely correctly representing as objectionable the parts of Harris’ actually stated views which fans selectively overlook.

    It’s perhaps worth remembering that Harris is an enthusiastic practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is brutal and anything goes to get a win.

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