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Open Challenge to Sam Harris
Posted: 30 March 2006 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Sam Harris makes some very important points.  Our cultures need to submit religious thinking to real scrutiny.  This is vital. 

However, his argument is polluted with many flaws.  The fallacy of composition is consistently appears in the discourse.  Not all religious systems are the same; we cannot so easily lump them together in comparisions.  He is biased in his use of examples and thus unbalanced.  Are there no examples of the positive influence of religion?  See David Sloan Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral for some examples.  (This author is also atheist).  Mr. Harris is shallow in his research of the history of Chrisitan theology, for example, and this makes his opponents into straw men. 

I submit that Mr. Harris book has not undergone the peer review that would remove these flaws and make the book all the more powerful.  As it stands now however, the book is at best weakened by its flaws.  At worst, it seems biased and dishonest. 

Let's scrutinize all religious ideas.  But let us also scrutinze our scrutiny.  What good is scrutiny if it is mistaken? This is an honest challenge.  Let's have some honest and thoughtful answers.

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Posted: 30 March 2006 01:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Sure what your saying would make his book a more rounded intellectual argument but that wouldn’t be pratical or on topic.
He’s writing about “The End of Faith” not “The Bad and the Good of Faith”.(hehe “The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly of Faith” Edit: TC is the ugly, not sure who the bad and the good are…) I’m also pretty sure he at least mentions that there are positive sides to religion. While on the flip-side most books from christians would not mention any good side to secularism. In the last chapter even tries to direct readers from an externalized religion to an internalized spirtuality, this is in essence him conceding the good portion of religion which is it’s inherent focus on the spirtual self. Anyway, like I was saying before, I would imagine his purpose wasn’t to make the greatest most sound logical argument but to be convincing to a general audience. If it were an almost totally sound logical argument it would be pretty much boring to everyone but my self and those who have grounding in logical argument. (though most here on this board dont actually have much grounding in argument they are still pretty damn intelligent, with of course the exception of religious oddballs)

Well anyway you seem to have a pretty intelligent argument here which in essence i agree with. Your just misdirected.

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Posted: 30 March 2006 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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A really good and well-rounded intellectual argument can be practical and on topic.  That’s the ideal and the challenge.  Since you admit Mr. Harris has not done this, I say that he has not met the challenge. 

As for the positive influence of religion, maybe he mentions something.  But that’s not my point.  He is tendentious as he cites negative influences.  This makes him unbalanced and inaccurate.  Is that a good way to persuade the public?  Where he does this, he just works spin and propaganda. 

By the way, what is religion? Grouping all the religions together is flawed.  They are too different. Each one should be evaluated individually.  Where they overlap, we can be clear about that.  This is another major flaw in the book.  My point here is supported by good scholarship on the topic. 

Christians and secularism.  There are way too many wacko Christians, and they are also the loudest.  But I think Christianity allows for a good theory of secularism.  See Marsden: The Secularization of the Academy.  So you are wrong there, and your hypothetical citation “Christians would not mention” does not convince me at all.

So here’s what your saying, in order to convince the largest possible audience, let’s forgo good logical argument; let’s skew the facts to favor our case. In short, let’s use bad argument to destroy bad argument.  Worse than spin!

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Posted: 30 March 2006 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Bluejway, the book has been critiqued, both negatively and positively. And it managed to win the PEN award. Please correct me, but that amounts to something equivalent to peer review.

I see it essentially as a broad philosophical statement. Harris is putting forth an argument in as detailed a way as possible while maintaining a broad enough readership to assure that the book will not be ignored.

If I’m mistaken, please correct me, but peer review applies to reports on scientific studies, right? Or do you know of some tradition that involves peer review of philosophical arguments? Of non-fiction polemical writing?

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 30 March 2006 04:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”]Bluejway, the book has been critiqued, both negatively and positively. And it managed to win the PEN award…. [Snip]

Harris is putting forth an argument in as detailed a way as possible while maintaining a broad enough readership to assure that the book will not be ignored. [Snip]

If I’m mistaken, please correct me, but peer review applies to reports on scientific studies, [Snip]

Nothing justifies bad scholarship. 

Mr. Harris writes well.  Maybe his award is for that.  Is he getting awarded for mistakes, bias, mis-information, spin, and lack of good scholarship on some of his key points?

I meant peer review in a general sense, not in the hard academic sense.  Let’s try a little humility.  For example, “I don’t know historical theology that well.  Perhaps I should have an expert check my points.”  Without this the result is: bad content.  Too bad.

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Posted: 30 March 2006 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The decision to present one fully explored side of an argument does not make “bad scholarship.”  There are plenty of books that make the other argument.  It isn’t a scientific hypothesis, it’s a book.  It isn’t a legal decision either.

Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” is one of countless examples which just so happens to be on my shelf.  Should Mr. Strobel also have made a case for Satan?  How about the fact that he didn’t fully explore the case for Mohammed in his book?

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Posted: 30 March 2006 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Thanks, Klangdon. That’s what I was trying to say.

Bluejway, feel free to snip all of my more difficult questions out of your way. They’re really not that important.

And in case nobody has done it yet: Welcome. Please stay around for a while. But answer the hard questions.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 30 March 2006 04:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Klangdon,

Agreed.  Fully exploring one argument does not make bad scholarship.  But what if my exploration is one-sided to the point of bias?

Strobel’s book is a case in point.  It’s not a great book. But he carefully tries to consider objections to the points he makes. Let’s not question his motives. 

Mr. Harris makes no such attempt.  Let’s not question his motives either.  But we cannot make a good argument if we argue against straw men.  Mr. Harris is not intentional here.  But he is ignorant (in the good sense of the word) of many things he writes about. 

Homunulus,

What hard question did I snip away?  Bring ‘em on dude.  I’m open to changing my views.  Are you?

Bluejway

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Posted: 31 March 2006 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“bluejway”]Let’s scrutinize all religious ideas.  But let us also scrutinze our scrutiny.  What good is scrutiny if it is mistaken? This is an honest challenge.  Let’s have some honest and thoughtful answers.


I think you’ve missed the careful distinction Sam makes in TEoF between religions and faith. I think keeping that distinction in mind also probably answers most of your challenges, but I’d be interested to hear if that’s actually the case or not.

Byron

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Posted: 31 March 2006 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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SpepticX and Friends,

Since you have mentioned this, what exactly is the careful distinction that Sam Harris makes between religions and faith?  I doubt it is significant.  But try me. 

Please see my post on Crackers and Bombers. I think my argument holds water there, and shows a problem in Harris’ approach. 

That’s one example.  More to come.

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Posted: 31 March 2006 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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*shurg* Your still misdirected, you can’t substitute your beliefs of value for others beliefs. (even though I to also value a logical argument that does not mean others do to, or that it is the most important aspect of a piece of nonfiction writing) I would also imagine Sam Harris would shurg off your challenge as simply inconsquencial. I can’t imagine it would matter him since he to most likely understands his argument is not a whole one, but he wants to sell books. (though i would not like to speculate too much on what he knows or does not know, but since he was capable of writing the book in the first place i would imagine him to be a smart guy)

As to some of your other points, what other religions do you have in mind that he does not address that fall into the trap of idiotic blind faith? (he specifcally address Christianity, Islam, and eastern traditions this does not leave many religions left..)  I can’t imagine your talking about Scientology..or Mormonism.. Sure all religions overlap, notice they are all called by the same word “religions”. His argument attacks the core of Christian and Islamic traditions, which is of course the concept of faith. The definiton of religion does not specifically mention faith so i would see where you would be annoyed that he makes such generalizations. Most religions today, though, do have a concept of faith.

Also you have giving no examples of mis-information or mis-takes. I wont argue the book is biased and has some spin but any good persuasive argument has that. Persuasion and Logic in the setting of the average person are on different ends of the spectrum. For more intelligent people they move together. I dont think Harris sacrfices any “scholarship”, meaning he does not write things he knows to be false, but he certainly does have some procative spin in his book.

Honestly, you expectations are much to high. You assume to much and your attacks are misdirected. You should write your own totally logical argument for what you believe and see how well it sells.
I’d buy it, at a second hand book store of course…  :wink:

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Posted: 31 March 2006 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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bluejway:

Homunculus,
What hard question did I snip away? Bring ‘em on dude. I’m open to changing my views. Are you?

Here’s the question, bluejway:

. . . do you know of some tradition that involves peer review of philosophical arguments? Of non-fiction polemical writing?

Sam Harris has no reason to write a book that explains all of what you seem to expect of him. I suspect that he’d be the first to admit that his knowledge is limited to his areas of expertise. And he’d certainly be foolish to argue opposing views as being central to his very clear thesis.

How would you write such a book? How many thousands of pages would it contain?

Finally, I too am open to changing my views. But in my late-middle age, I’ve become a simpleton and can no longer see Ghosts, visions and myriad mysterious ways. Matter of fact, they kind of started to get on my nerves years ago and hence my apostasy. I am more than willing to consider changing my views if the analysis excludes any hint of hocus pocus or ancient superstition. I invite you to wake up to the current century as well. The view here is staggering.

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Posted: 31 March 2006 10:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Homunculus and Friends,

Thanks for your replies.  When my book hits the used book stores, I’ll be sure to let you know. 

Point of Agreement #1
I conceed that I have raised the bar too high.  Popular books must make some sacrifices.  I will relax my standars (a bit) for Mr. Harris.  This also means that you cannot raise the bar too high for C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, and other Christian apologists. 

Point of Agreement #2
We strongly dislike unwarranted belief.  This means we will dislike unwarranted theistic and atheisitc belief.  This means we will also dislike beliefs that are based on misunderstandings or clearly false information.

Answer to Question #1
Regarding peer review, I did answer.  I said that he should have had an expert check his theological points.  This would have greatly improved his overal argument (and removed bad ones). I was purposely loose with the word “peer review” and I admited it.  As for peer review of philosophical arguments, it exists for philosophical journals, and it exists at academic philosophical conferences, so it does exist.  Sorry I did not see this as a big question. 

Answer to Question #2
Examples of Mr. Harris logical and factual errors abound.  Please see my post Crackers and Bombers.  He mentions this idea on his appearance on Fox TV, and in the book.  Many Catholics believe that “God becomes a Cracker.”  I agree this belief is unwarranted.  But Harris puts it in the same category as suicide bombing.  He’s logically wrong.  Suicide bombing is unwarranted from start to finish.  No warrant to believe it.  And it clearly has a bad logical consequence.  God becomes a Cracker lacks warrant (there are better theories of communion), but the logical consequence is good.  Remember an act of heroism on your behalf. Reflect on your behavior.  Live life in gratitude for what others have done for you.  Live altruistically. 

Perhaps you see this as trivial.  I see it as a pattern in his book.

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Posted: 31 March 2006 04:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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[quote author=“bluejway”]Answer to Question #1
Regarding peer review, I did answer.  I said that he should have had an expert check his theological points.  This would have greatly improved his overal argument (and removed bad ones). I was purposely loose with the word “peer review” and I admited it.  As for peer review of philosophical arguments, it exists for philosophical journals, and it exists at academic philosophical conferences, so it does exist.  Sorry I did not see this as a big question. 

Answer to Question #2
Examples of Mr. Harris logical and factual errors abound.  Please see my post Crackers and Bombers.  He mentions this idea on his appearance on Fox TV, and in the book.  Many Catholics believe that “God becomes a Cracker.”  I agree this belief is unwarranted.  But Harris puts it in the same category as suicide bombing.  He’s logically wrong.  Suicide bombing is unwarranted from start to finish.  No warrant to believe it.  And it clearly has a bad logical consequence.  God becomes a Cracker lacks warrant (there are better theories of communion), but the logical consequence is good.  Remember an act of heroism on your behalf. Reflect on your behavior.  Live life in gratitude for what others have done for you.  Live altruistically. 

Perhaps you see this as trivial.  I see it as a pattern in his book.

Regarding #1 above, which expert is the right expert, bluejway? Is it the one mumbling to himself in the psych ward due to head-splitting questions and expectations resulting from religious indoctrination? Maybe you have an expert in mind who outshines my tortured example, but I can’t imagine that it will end this debate, since our mental wards are bursting at the seams with people babbling religous nonsense. Please tell me exactly how any expert in a field that admits mystery as part of its core structure can be relied on. Finally, tell me how a PEN award is anything but agreement coming from peers.

As for # 2, we have crackers vs. bombers. Irrationality vs. Insanity.

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Posted: 01 April 2006 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“bluejway”]Klangdon,

Agreed.  Fully exploring one argument does not make bad scholarship.  But what if my exploration is one-sided to the point of bias?

Strobel’s book is a case in point.  It’s not a great book. But he carefully tries to consider objections to the points he makes. Let’s not question his motives. 

Mr. Harris makes no such attempt.  Let’s not question his motives either.  But we cannot make a good argument if we argue against straw men.  Mr. Harris is not intentional here.  But he is ignorant (in the good sense of the word) of many things he writes about. 


Bluejway

Well said, Blue.  Had your earlier entry been so stated, you would have gotten no argument here.  Welcome, by the way. 

If you look at many of my posts, I’ve accused Mr. Harris of biases and assumptions throughout.  I think we’re all biased to a degree, as Mr. Harris certainly is.  Flawed as it is, his book offers a great basis for debate and it refreshingly takes dogma head-on for what it is.  I say Bravo to Sam!

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Posted: 01 April 2006 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I have not yet had the time to fully read Mr. Harris’ book, as soon as I finish my current book I will read it. I have been reading what Bluejway has been saying about Harris’ ignorance of Christian theology. I have noticed in my exposure to the atheist culture, especially the online atheist culture, that there is a great deal of ignorance of traditional Christian theology. Many atheists tend to regard American fundamentalist dispensationalist Christianity the likes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell as normative Christianity. Not only do most Christians in the world practice a religion different from those two, but most Christians in history including Luther and Calvin would have regarded Falwell and Robertson as heretics. If atheists wish to understand Christianity, they must take the time to study what Christianity actually is, not just the wacko religious right in America.

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