Misconceptions about Sam Harris
I'm curious how other people here would have handled this debate. The topic started as being a criticism of Sam Harris, but IMO it became about debunking misconceptions about Sam Harris and The End of Faith.
Aside from the OP, there was this comment (starting on the second page of comments) that spurred a lengthy back and forth:
- As nonbelievers, I strongly believe that we cannot completely write off every single theist--moderates and extremists alike. And, for the United States at least, I can provide a very pragmatic argument for believing so: By even the most optimistic accounts, there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress.
21 out of 535. And only one of them is "out."
We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society by ourselves. We need the moderates. But that's not necessarily tragic or detrimental to our cause. The first amendment guarantees that any law enforced in the United States must have a secular reason behind it. So if we want the moderates on our side, we don't even have to make it about faith. It is not necessary. In fact, if we do attack faith, we will only unite the moderates to the extremists more. Because they do hold these beliefs. It's not like they don't care about that which they hold central to their identities. And if you accuse one of their central beliefs as being no better than an extremist-shield, they will respond defensively and be less open to lending you their support.
My solution: Don't do that.
To borrow an example: It is irrelevant to any debate about actually solving social problems whether the members of a side believe in a "nice moderate gay-marriage-loving cute kitten god" or a "'god hates fags kill everyone that's not me' god," because neither god has a place in a legislative bill. That's true of the United States and it's true of any country that holds to the separation of church and state. That's why extremists make up bullshit arguments about gay marriage undermining the sanctity of marriage. That's secular language masking their sectarian beliefs. Our job is to peel away the secular language and expose their religious bullshit to the harsh light of interrogation. Play off the differences in the beliefs of extremists and moderates. Faith is one of the similarities.
This actually privileges science greatly, because science is always, necessarily secular. So keep the terms of the debate framed in secular terms. If it's a personal debate, then ... I dunno, do whatever you want, but remember that ultimately we can't force anyone to believe anything. The good news is we don't have to.
It just got uglier and uglier. In my opinion, I'm happy with how it turned out. I don't see how anyone could read that exchange and not come away seeing the guy as having dug himself a deep hole and calling in a bulldozer to fill it in on top of himself. However, I wonder if my intuition is accurate. What do you think the outcome of that exchange was, considering not just myself and the other guy, but also the audience of other people (mostly atheists) reading it? How would you have handled it?