Dawkins vs. Harris

What explains this?

harris and dawkins

Dawkins has always been the heart of New Atheism, meaning its decline and his decline are linked at the hip.

Harris, probably because of his Hollywood background/connections, is much more media savvy and branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff and now, with the “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff.  His most recent public decision to break with Patreon was a stroke of media savvy brilliance.

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15 Responses to Dawkins vs. Harris

  1. Dhay says:

    > [Sam Harris’] most recent public decision to break with Patreon was a stroke of media savvy brilliance.

    Indeed. He’s been afraid of Patreon shutting down his account as it has shut down several other ‘online content providers’ with content that is deemed too unsavoury for a respectable company like theirs to be associated with or to support via their service.

    Basically, he’s shut down his Patreon account before Patreon shuts his account down.

    But instead of presenting it to the public as “I was afraid of Patreon shutting down my income because my own content is close enough to unsavoury for that to be a foreseeable risk”, he has presented it in The Washington Times as “Neuroscientist Sam Harris has dealt a public relations nightmare to crowdfunding platform Patreon by blasting its “Trust and Safety” team while announcing his plan to drop the platform within 24 hours.”

    That’s some spin.

    Patreon, I think, can safely ignore Harris’ claim that they have “a public relations nightmare” and carry on with their business as before; Harris was just one of many customers, and I suspect his ability to influence other Patreon users will be limited.

    Harris has manufactured a blaze of self-promoting publicity.


    Following links in my previous S2L responses I find his leaving Patreon has not been the decisive (“within 24 hours”) act of strong principle against a misbehaving Patreon which the article implies it is, it’s been in the pipeline since July or August 2017:

    *** Author Update *** – Following the completion of this article, Harris has since announced that come September 2017, he will be withdrawing his Patreon account. Sighting the shutting down of Laura Southern’s account by the Patreon team, Harris has stated that although he believes in Patreon and what they are trying to achieve, he simply “cannot afford” the risks associated with receiving his crowdfunded income via third party regulation. If we are to take this explanation from Sam at face value, one must assume that he is doing what he does best – protecting his financial interests – …


    Yet he’s only just left. The principle guiding Harris has obviously been protection of income by first establishing a subscription model, move only when it’s established enough.


    Harris “believes in Patreon and what they are trying to achieve”, yet goes out of his way to harm Patreon’s reputation and business. That’s principle for Harris.


    Funny, Harris announced the closure on Twitter, which is a notoriously active banner of ‘online content providers’; plenty of people have had their Twitter accounts blocked because of Tweets (content) that people complained about: so no doubt we can expect Harris to take a principled stand and cease using Twitter. In a blaze of self-promoting publicity, of course.

    Likewise FaceBook.

    Bet he closes neither.

  2. stcordova says:

    Sometime back when Mike, you said, Dawkins Jumped the Shark. Spot on!

  3. unclesporkums says:

    Right, remember, even HE’S being an “accommodationist” (favorably comparing a Church’s bells to a Mosque’s call to prayer)

  4. Pingback: New atheism in decline? | Uncommon Descent

  5. Dhay says:

    In Hemant Mehta’s blog post dated 19 December 2018 and entitled “The Miami New Times Shines a Light on the Diversity of Atheism in the City” he quotes that paper and its quotes, saying:

    While the details are particular to Miami, the gist of the piece could easily apply all over the country.

    The article tells us that “American atheists remain an almost voiceless minority. In the United States, their population has barely budged — just 3.1 percent of adults identify as atheist, up from 1.6 percent in 2007.” But that’s not the gist Mehta is referring to; he quotes selectively from the much longer MNT article, drawing his readers’ attention to :

    This snippet of a conversation is a welcome addition to articles like this, though, because it shines a light on how many atheists are now trying to break away from the attitudes of other prominent atheists. [Emphasis Mehta’s.]

    “I stopped caring about where the atheist community was going online years ago because I sensed all this toxicity there,” says Eduardo Pazos, one of the meetup’s organizers. “You mean with misogyny?” asks Elena Izquierdo, another of the group’s leaders. “Yeah, lots of misogyny, lots of Islamophobia, a lot of other toxic elements,” Pazos says. “We need more atheists to look up to,” member Galia Ofer interjects. “We don’t have enough of them.”

    Those are the kinds of conversations that seem to be happening more and more often, at least in places I’ve visited. People are fed up with the antics of the more famous “New Atheists,” the atheists on YouTube who use their platforms to trash feminists while finding allies on the political right, the social media spaces where people use the cover of anonymity to create toxic environments, etc. … There’s also the sheer whiteness of so many of our public gatherings.

    “There is a huge sense of disconnect that many people of color feel,” says Mandisa Thomas, who founded the nonprofit Black Nonbelievers in 2011. “That is changing, and there are more organizations and people recognizing it, though there is still a long way to go.” … “The identity of atheism is still seen as white, so there is an institutional apprehension to identifying as atheist,” Thomas says. “If you are black and atheist, you risk being seen as a race traitor.”


    If you weren’t familiar with the atheist “scene” in Miami before this, readers will at least come to realize they’re far from alone in their doubts.


    Mehta tells us that:

    The People are fed up with the antics of the more famous “New Atheists,” the atheists on YouTube who use their platforms to trash feminists while finding allies on the political right, the social media spaces where people use the cover of anonymity to create toxic environments, etc

    And the article itself examples these with:

    Controversies within the atheist community have almost certainly contributed to its low numbers. Nationwide, women and people of color remain a minority among atheists, and problematic figureheads such as Richard Dawkins seem to be regularly embroiled in accusations of bigotry and misogyny. [Examples given.] …

    Other celebrity atheists, including podcast host Sam Harris and the late author Christopher Hitchens, have faced similar criticism for their comments about Muslims and women. And those kinds of remarks aren’t coming only from the top — online atheist communities are notoriously rife with demeaning comments. In 2015, the /r/atheism subreddit was ranked the third most toxic on all of Reddit.

    Atheism also has a race and ethnicity problem. Just 3 percent of atheists are black; only 10 percent are Latinx, according to Pew’s research.

    The decline of interest in Dawkins is thus easily explained by Mehta’s post and the original fuller article; what is perhaps surprising is the increase in interest in Harris; but Harris has kept away from New Atheism for “enough time” that people evidently now think of him as just a media personality:

    … I have spent enough time off the topic of atheism and religion, or the conflict between science and religion, that I’ve attracted new podcast listeners, mostly, who are not so familiar with my work on that topic.


    That’s Harris in on-stage discussion, 13 January 2018.

  6. Dhay says:

    > Harris … branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff …

    I’d say that right from the start Sam Harris was (and still is) primarily a Bodhisattva (a Buddhist evangelist who has vowed not to rest until all sentient beings are enlightened.

    Let’s have a look at Harris’ last chapter, Chapter #7 in The End of Faith, his first book; it’s entitled “Experiments in Consciousness”, the section headings being: —
    * The Search for Happiness
    * Consciousness
    * What Are We Calling “I”?
    * The Wisdom of the East
    * Meditation

    Got the message? While there’s no doubt that Harris was, and is, vehemently anti-religions, especially anti- the Abrahamic religions, the first six chapters are a preparation for the culmination [ ** ], Chapter #7 which evangelises Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist practice. (There’s even a eulogised quotation from the Tibetan Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava.)

    ( ** Harris’ Afterword, which Wiki says was added a year after first publication, refers to what’s obviously Chapter 7 as “the last chapter.”)

  7. TFBW says:

    … online atheist communities are notoriously rife with demeaning comments.

    The problem is the targets, not the tactics, right?

  8. Dhay says:

    It’s a small detail, I know, but that eulogised quotation from the Tibetan Buddhist sage, Padmasambhava, was introduced with:

    While this [book] is not a treatise on Eastern spirituality, it does not seem out of place to briefly examine the differences between the Eastern and the Western canons, for they are genuinely startling. To illustrate this point, I have selected a passage at random from a shelf of Buddhist literature. The following text was found with closed eyes, on the first attempt, from among scores of books. I invite the reader to find anything even remotely like this in the Bible or the Koran. [The quotation and eulogy followed.]

    Yep, Sam Harris did write that: that, with eyes closed, he went to his ‘Buddhism’ bookshelf, selected just any old book from the “scores” there, eyes still closed, opened that book at a random page, eyes still closed … and on opening his eyes he found he had selected a classic passage of Dzogchen teaching. That’s rather like socially aware me opening the Bible, eyes closed, and putting my finger straight on Ezekiel 34.

    Reading between the lines, Harris seems to be trying to convince his readers that the Sutras (etc) are nothing but pure gold, he can confidently expect to find that pure gold on opening any book on Buddhism whatsoever. (Or any of the books on that particular shelf of his, anyway.)

    Now it’s not impossible that Harris did indeed carry off this extremely improbable feat — and first time, too — but my experiments with my own twenty-five or so books of on Buddhism (which are what’s survived successive clear-outs after youthful enthusiasm waned) tell me I’m more likely to find a passage about hungry demons, about the vast numbers of jewels in vast numbers of Buddha-realms, the magical ‘Gate Gate’ mantra at the end of the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, and other dross, mostly dross.

    It’s not impossible that Harris did indeed carry off this extremely improbable feat, no, but it is extremely improbable; so improbable that my ‘incredible story’ detector has gone off. On previous occasions when it has gone off the storyteller has generally turned out to be a scoundrel.

    Is Harris a liar?

  9. Dhay says:

    > Harris, probably because of his Hollywood background/connections, is much more media savvy and branched out from New Atheism, first with meditation related stuff and now, with the “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff.

    That’s prescient: up to the OP date all of Sam Harris’ podcasts — he’s effectively stopped blogging this while — were announced as “In this episode of the Waking Up podcast…”; between 20 December 2018 and 16 January 2019 inclusive that changed to “In this episode of the podcast…”; the next was announced as “In this episode of the Making Sense podcast…” and the last two to date — and I suspect future podcasts — have a big red banner saying “MAKING SENSE” and “SAM HARRIS”; and the web page for podcasts is now headed “MAKING SENSE PODCAST”


    I have no doubt that Harris will continue to be a hater of theists, especially of Muslims (who are very resistant to Harris’ Buddhist evangelism); I have no doubt that he will continue to evangelise Buddhist philosophy and practices; I do see Harris has re-positioned himself (now openly, whereas before it was de facto) as a chat show pundit.

    Or “intellectual”, as he likes to style himself.


    The other half of ‘Dawkins vs Harris’ (the thread title) continues to decline. Jerry Coyne, in his 05 February 2019 blog post entitled “A discussion between Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins” tells us that:

    Here’s a conversation between Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins at last year’s CSIcon meeting in Las Vegas. Curiously, none of these CSIcon videos have gotten many views; this one has only 337 views, and two of them are mine.

    Damned by faint interest, eh. And:

    The moderator, Nick Little, a Center for Inquiry attorney, goes on a bit long in his introduction, but the rest is fine, though completely dominated by Stephen Fry.


    Yes, the video is dominated by Fry, completely dominated; it’s notionally a conversation, but Dawkins says very little and much of that is asking questions of Fry; the moderator says more in his introduction than Dawkins does throughout: looks like nowadays when Dawkins has equal billing he is but a minor player.

  10. Dhay says:

    Having observed (above) how Richard Dawkins’ conversation with Stephen Fry was dominated by Fry, I wondered how Sam Harris’ 28 January 2019 podcast conversation with Stephen Fry went; the answer is, on the evidence of the bits I listened to it’s far more balanced.

    (The podcast is two hours long, and while I would be perfectly happy to read through a transcript of a two hour conversation — which can be done relatively quickly, and I can easily find, analyse and quote any passage which catches my interest, enabling interaction with the text and ideas — I balk at the idea of stream-of-consciousness listening for two hours.)

    What I did get out of it is found in Harris’ introduction to the changes (at 01:40+): Harris doesn’t now know why he had linked the podcast to the title of his Waking Up book — perhaps he should ask the Why Evolution is True and Friendly Atheist bloggers, it’s evidently a New Atheist brain infection and infectious; he’s most certainly not given up on Buddhist evangelism — he’s now got six, that’s six people working full-time on the Waking Up App and he says that team is growing, so it’ll be more than six before long.


    While I was half-listening for something interesting on the podcast I browsed PZ Myers’ blogroll and came upon the 04 February 2019 A Trivial Knot post entitled “Atheist movement postmortems”, which briefly summarises five ‘atheist postmortem’ articles and blogger posts — “it seems this is a bit of a genre” — and his own from 2017. It’s interesting to analyze a young atheist blogger’s thoughts.

    He didn’t like Tom Gilson’s recent “laughable” Stream article:

    Anyway, the most laughable remark is about atheists’ “failure to gain traction in academia,” and “failure to produce any intellectually respectable thinking on their side.”



    Tom Gilson doesn’t seem to understand that atheism is a social movement, and social movements typically prioritize getting things done over acquiring “intellectual respectability”.

    Ah, so intellectual respectability doesn’t matter. That’s just as well, because:

    As for “intellectually respectable thinking”, well it is true enough that Dawkins wasn’t very good at philosophy and Harris wasn’t very good at anything.

    Damning, huh. So much for the “intellectually respectable thinking” of Harris, that shining “intellectual of the dark web”. (Is Dawkins supposed to be another such “intellectual”?)

    He continues:

    But I don’t think that was their job. Their job was to rally people. If you rally enough people, you’ll find some with the relevant expertise to make it more intellectually rigorous./blockquote>

    Ah, after all these years of rallying there must now be people out there (he says “you’ll find some”) who, in response to the rallying of atheists and of New Atheists like Dawkins and Harris, have already made atheism “more intellectually rigorous”. You wonder why they are not more in evidence, certainly I wonder, but the blogger has a ready if scathing and silly answer:

    And you’d never hear about it, because intellectual rigor is fundamentally boring and does not get read by the people who clamor for it.

    Intellectually rigorous stuff just doesn’t get read by the ‘Science and Reason’ and ‘Evidence and Reason’ crowd — ooh, this blogger’s scathing indeed. They clamor for it but do not then read it.

    There’s also the implicit claim that the atheist bloggers who do get read (or their podcasts listened to) are not intellectually rigorous, they are second rate at best — again, that’s scathing.

    And what stops those alleged intellectually rigorous atheists (or, more generally, intellectually rigorous scholars) from publishing articles; and nothing stops even intellectually challenged atheists from linking to them, indeed why would they not? Where are the articles, where are the links!

    Intellectual rigor is fundamentally boring, says the blogger. Sounds like when Harris says he won’t go into a subject because his readers/listeners will find it tedious or boring, that’s a euphemism for ‘I’ve gotta shut it down, this discussion is getting intellectually interesting, they won’t cope!’

  11. TFBW says:

    The thing that stood out to me in Dhay’s comment above was the snippet from Jerry Coyne, “the most laughable remark is about atheists’ ‘failure to gain traction in academia.'” It’s true to say that atheists have traction in academia, mostly in the form of neo-Marxists, and mostly in the form of political traction rather than academic traction (they dominate through administrative control, not through academic excellence). However, if you do a little bit of closer analysis, you find that (a) Coyne is just being a dolt as usual, and (b) it’s a small world.

    The actual quotation from Gilson, which Coyne brutally truncates, is as follows.

    There’s more behind New Atheism’s collapse, including, per the ever-insightful Shadow to Light blog, the New Atheists’ “failure to gain traction in academia,” which I would rephrase as their failure to produce any intellectually respectable thinking on their side. There are solid-thinking atheists, but they have stayed clear of this New Atheist movement.

    So let’s be clear: the “failure to gain traction in academia” is not something that Tom Gilson said, but rather was Tom Gilson quoting our very own blog-host, Michael. Tom’s preferred way of phrasing it is, “failure to produce any intellectually respectable thinking on their side.” Second, note that this isn’t about the failure of atheists in general to make headway in academia: both Gilson and the original Shadow To Light autopsy speak specifically of the New Atheist movement, which is a quite specific sub-genre of atheism. New Atheism spawned numerous conferences and rallies, now all moribund at best, but had no perceptible impact on academia (where the neo-Marxist strain dominates). Apparently Coyne does not want to recognise or allow such distinctions within atheism, but it means that his criticism, even after it’s been corrected for misattribution, rests on an obtuse misinterpretation of what’s being stated in the article he criticises.

    Shocking, right? Who would have supposed that a man like Coyne, who wrote an entire book premised on a tendentious definition of “faith”, would perform such shoddy analysis?

  12. Dhay says:

    H/T PZ Myers, in his 08 January 2021 ““Cheap Talk” skepticism”, reveals that Sam Harris, a self-styled “intellectual” and member of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ has announced on his website (in Podcast #225, at about 03:40) that he has resigned his IDW membership — handed in his “imaginary membership card” of “this imaginary organisation”, that for him was always joined “tongue-in-cheek”:


    Funny, Podcast #225 was dated 18 November 2020, but Harris is still listed as a “Leader”:


    No rush to leave, then, and anyone deterred by the reasonable expectation that Harris will, as usual drone endlessly will not get to know he’s “left” — actually, this one is more interesting and is only half an hour long, though it tells the educated layman nothing he won’t have heard from numerous sources already, or decided for himself.

    Back to Myers, who starts:

    Ah, that is a useful term. As Aaron Rabinowitz explains, “Cheap talk skepticism occurs when someone expresses skepticism in a way that comes at little cost to them, though it frequently comes at a significant cost to others.” These are people who cultivate an environment in which they can make bold assertion and receive little pushback, who don’t actually invest something of themselves in challenging the status quo. And Rabinowitz delivers examples!

    If there is any room for criticism in this explosion of cheap talk skepticism, I believe it should be focused on the individuals with the platforms that allow them both the time for proper skepticism and the obligation to skepticism properly. In the parts of the skeptical world referred to as the Intellectual Dark Web, there has been rampant cheap talk skepticism around both Covid and the recent American election. Under the umbrella of “distrusting institutions”, there has been such an absurd amount of “just asking questions” that Sam Harris felt compelled to very publicly “turn in his IDW membership card”. Unfortunately, Harris neglected to explicitly criticise anyone by name, which makes is hard to determine if his criticism was meant just for the brothers Weinstein, or if he was including folks like Maajid Nawaz, who he has frequently promoted and who I’d argue has been one of the worst of the cheap talk skeptics. …


    So, the alleged “foremost” member of the Intellectual Dark Web — the self-puffing Travis Pangburn, who set up a rival version a year or so ago that anyone could be part of (if sufficiently pretentious, and upon paying per article submitted for admiration) claimed so — namely Harris, thinks (like Pangburn) that the (other) Intellectual Dark Web members are lightweights; or as Myers and Rabinowitz put it, “Cheap talk skeptics”.

  13. TFBW says:

    The levels of self-awareness (the lack thereof) exhibited in these accusations of “cheap-talk skepticism” is so mind-boggling that I don’t even want to know the details.

    The last half-decade has witnessed a very sudden transition in what counts as respectable behaviour in what we might call “thought leadership in the skeptosphere”. The seeds were planted during the 2012 Reason Rally, but the Trump era accelerated the reactions to warp speed. Once upon a time, or so I like to imagine, ideas were held in esteem because they were supported by good arguments. In the New Atheist era, ideas were held in esteem by association with Science, and held in contempt by association with Religion. Now we have entered an era in which the ideas themselves dictate whether you are good or evil: the Progressive Left has a monopoly on Good, and everyone else is an Evil Fascist. Judgement is now passed (on the Good; the Evil Fascists are predestined for the Wrong Side of History) on whether one is being a sufficiently effective activist for the Progressive cause. The so-called Intellectual Dark Web contains elements of scepticism towards Progressivism, so of course renouncing it is the Right Side of History thing to do, but it isn’t enough, because it isn’t sufficiently activist.

    The trend is towards “mindless ideology”, which is ironic, given that’s essentially how New Atheists characterised religion.

    Bringing this back to the original topic, the above is one of the reasons that Dawkins no longer gets any respect: he’s no good at Woke Activism. Peak Dawkins was November 2006, according to Google Trends, with a long, slow decline ever since. The Trump era did nothing to halt the decline. If you conduct the same analysis now, you’ll see that peak Harris was October 2014, and although he did trend upwards beyond that spike, the height of sustained interest was between February 2017 and February 2019, beyond which the trend has been downwards, so he made much more capital out of the Trump era without strictly making it the basis of his brand. Some of Harris’ endurance has to be attributable to his association with Jordan Peterson, who dwarfs both of them on this chart starting in 2018. Harris was clearly ahead of Dawkins from June 2016, but still significantly less popular on the whole time-frame since 2004.

    Having said that, add Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers to the comparison if you want a laugh.

  14. I wonder how many of the non-woke New Atheists are starting to realise that Christians might have a point when we argue that without God there is no foundation for moral values or duties. Science certainly doesn’t have the authority to provide it.

  15. Dhay says:

    H/t Private Eye #1539. One ‘vanguard member’ of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ intelligensia is Maajid Nawaz, founder of the “world’s first counter-extremist organisation”, the Quilliam Foundation; also co-author of a book with Sam Harris; also radio host on Britain’s LBC channel…

    …who there repeated and promoted Trumpian conspiracy theories that “the election was being stolen”, repeated and promoted Sydney Powell’s still unsubstantiated claims — we’ll see what evidence (if any) she actually has when Dominion Voting Systems’ case against her hits court — and other claims of the same standard.

    Some years back I had the misfortune to be related to a convicted paedophile, whose children told their granny, then my wife, that he had said that the killer in the infamous Dunblane Primary School Massacre (of 16 children and one teacher dead, 15 wounded) did no wrong, he was perfectly entitled to kill them, The parents made the killer kill the children. Why so? Because the parents had no right to deny him — deny because they strongly suspected him of being the paedophile he in fact was — deny him the post of Scout Master and with it free, unsupervised access to their children.


    I see similarities between that twisted paedophile’s words and:

    Later Nawaz appeared to accept that the protesters were indeed Trump supporters, but he decided they were the victims of provocation. “You see what happened at the American Capitol,” he said on LBC. “If you mess with elections, that’s the only outlet they have.”

    Seems Nawaz reckons the various electoral officers, plus others in the electoral system — presumably including State Courts and even the Supreme Court, perhaps including the Senators and VPOTUS who were to formally count and declare the final result — made the invaders of the Capitol invade, violently; seems he reckons that, like the killer of sixteen kids at Dunblane, they were perfectly entitled to do so.

    Anyway, that’s a taste of the piss-poor intellectual standard that Nawaz, an IDW ‘vanguard member’, has risen to.


    I’d wonder what the other vanguards in this branch of “thought leadership in the skeptosphere” (h/t TFBW) have risen to — I know there’s a number of articles critical of them — but I really can’t be arsed.

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