Misconceptions about Sam Harris

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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:

Quote:

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?

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I'd like to point out

I'd like to point out several things:

 

1] There is one known atheist in congress.

 

2] According to a poll at the Harris institute [no realtion to Sam Harris] as many Democrats as Republicans believe in God [I'll try to dig it up] contrary to your "membership in the Democratic party correlates positively with atheism"

 

3] For prop 8, all the studies I've seen show that cohesion is a better predictor of intolerance than religious devotion.

 

4] I'll get to the rest later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Cpt_pineapple wrote:1] There

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

1] There is one known atheist in congress.

And?

Actually, there is one known *out* atheist. Apparently, according to Lori Lipman Brown, as discussed in the linked thread, there are at least 21 'known' atheists/non-believers, even if they are anonymous.

Quote:

2] According to a poll at the Harris institute [no realtion to Sam Harris] as many Democrats as Republicans believe in God [I'll try to dig it up] contrary to your "membership in the Democratic party correlates positively with atheism"

I'd be interested in that. However, the relevant stat would be that Demos and Reps have the same rate as the general population (or lower or higher), not just that they have the same rate.

This is one of those stats I remember vaguely. I'd have to google it if someone challenged me on it. But I'm pretty sure I remember correctly.

Quote:

3] For prop 8, all the studies I've seen show that cohesion is a better predictor of intolerance than religious devotion.

How were 'cohesion' and 'religious devotion' measured?

I would say the best predictor would be 'homophobia'. But after that, I'd say that 'specific religious beliefs' would be a very strong predictor, even if 'religious devotion' is not as strong. My contention is not that all faith leads to voting for Prop 8, but that specific beliefs based on faith do.

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Cpt_pineapple
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natural wrote:And?Actually,

natural wrote:

And?

Actually, there is one known *out* atheist. Apparently, according to Lori Lipman Brown, as discussed in the linked thread, there are at least 21 'known' atheists/non-believers, even if they are anonymous.

 

As much as I would like it to be true, I don't like that methodology for several reasons:

 

1] Small groups such as congress can have disproportionate demographics than the general population.

 

For example, a Canadian atheist club is unlikely to have 77% Christians even when 77% of Canadians are Christian.

Or even pick a religiously neutral club like a swim club or book club. It could be more than 77% Christian or less.

 

2] It is nearly impossible to determine which ones are atheist and which aren't. 

 

 

 

Quote:

I'd be interested in that. However, the relevant stat would be that Demos and Reps have the same rate as the general population (or lower or higher), not just that they have the same rate.

This is one of those stats I remember vaguely. I'd have to google it if someone challenged me on it. But I'm pretty sure I remember correctly.

 

 

Here it is

 

http://harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=618

Republicans: 93%

Democrates: 81%

 

The general population is 82% according to the same site.

 

It also shows belief in ghosts, astrology, hell, Jebus, UFOs etc...

 

Also by gender, education etc... so it's a good resource

 

Quote:

How were 'cohesion' and 'religious devotion' measured?

 

Membership in groups and saying "my group is the bestest etc..."

 

Devotion was measured through frequency of prayer.

 

Quote:

I would say the best predictor would be 'homophobia'. But after that, I'd say that 'specific religious beliefs' would be a very strong predictor, even if 'religious devotion' is not as strong. My contention is not that all faith leads to voting for Prop 8, but that specific beliefs based on faith do.

 

Homophobia would be a form of intolerance.

 

 


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Cpt_pineapple wrote:natural

Cpt_pineapple wrote:

natural wrote:

And?

Actually, there is one known *out* atheist. Apparently, according to Lori Lipman Brown, as discussed in the linked thread, there are at least 21 'known' atheists/non-believers, even if they are anonymous.

 

As much as I would like it to be true, I don't like that methodology for several reasons:

1] Small groups such as congress can have disproportionate demographics than the general population. 

For example, a Canadian atheist club is unlikely to have 77% Christians even when 77% of Canadians are Christian.

Or even pick a religiously neutral club like a swim club or book club. It could be more than 77% Christian or less.

If there were a club with 535 members, and you interviewed 60 of them, and 21 (35%) reported they were non-believers, and the general population rate was 10% non-believers, would you be more likely to guess:

A) that the entire club contained ONLY 21 (4%) non-believers

B) that the entire club contained the base rate of 10% or 53 non-believers

C) that the entire club contained significantly more than the base rate of 10%, say at least 15% = 80 non-believers?

In my argument on that thread, the guy was arguing for A. I speculated for C, but went with the conservative B for the purposes of the argument.

Quote:

2] It is nearly impossible to determine which ones are atheist and which aren't.

You don't think in a one-on-one interview you could have a good chance of telling which are atheist and which aren't, especially if you can ask them directly? Maybe not perfect, but probably better than random chance.

Quote:

Here it is

http://harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=618

Republicans: 93%

Democrates: 81%

 

The general population is 82% according to the same site.

Ironically, those numbers are even more optimistic than my conservative 8-10% estimate. With those numbers, and a 50/50 composition of Reps/Dems, that would be 19+51 = 70 non-believers, just going by the base population rate.

But, I take your point that the correlation I spoke of may not be there. I also checked http://religions.pewforum.org/reports which had some interesting stats, but unfortunately, they fucked up the 'unaffiliated' grouping by putting self-declared 'atheists' and 'agnostics' with extremely vague 'secular unaffiliated' and 'religious unaffiliated', rather than going by actual beliefs. As a result, it's difficult to get anything useful about 'non-believers' from that survey. In any case, it also shows there's not really a correlation with Dem party affiliation and atheism. However, if you go by Dem-leaning, then it's there. But that wouldn't help my argument about Congress.

Quote:
Quote:

How were 'cohesion' and 'religious devotion' measured?

Membership in groups and saying "my group is the bestest etc..."

Devotion was measured through frequency of prayer.

Edited: Oops I misinterpreted what you said the first time.

Interesting that those both are indicators of specific faith-based beliefs, which was my argument. You don't usually pray unless you believe it works, for example. For cohesion, it almost goes without saying that "We're the saved ones!" is a specific faith-based belief. And specific beliefs are indicators of specific religions, and specific religions are indicators of *other* specific beliefs, such as belief in the sanctity of marriage or in the immorality of homosexuality. In other words, the closer your indicators get to specific faith-based beliefs connected to anti-gay sentiment, the more closely they will track something like voting for Prop 8. I bet if your survey tracked specific religious sects, it would find that some sects are more associated with voting for Prop 8 than others, and this might very well be a better indicator than 'cohesion' or 'devotion'.

I bet what's happening is that it just so happens that beliefs about group superiority and us vs. them are correlated with religions with anti-gay beliefs more so than beliefs about prayer are correlated with religions with anti-gay beliefs. Thus, while 'cohesion' appears stronger than 'devotion', if you accounted for the specific religions associated with 'cohesion' beliefs and 'devotion' beliefs, the effect would disappear. In other words, there may be some religions with high 'cohesion' beliefs, and low 'anti-gay' beliefs, and people from these religions would track lower on Prop 8 than members of a religion with low 'cohesion' beliefs and high 'anti-gay' beliefs.

I can see that a measure like freq of prayer (devotion) or tightness of group (cohesion) might still be indicators even accounting for specific beliefs, but again, my argument is about faith, and if you could measure that, I think it would account for both freq of prayer and tightness of group. In other words, while members of religion A may trend higher on Prop 8, there would still be variation within that group. If you could also measure 'strength of faith', then that would account for all of: Increased cohesion to group, increased freq of prayer, and also increased Prop 8.

Quote:

Homophobia would be a form of intolerance.

Homophobia by itself is not intolerance. You would have to act on it in a way that harms or interferes with people, such as voting for Prop 8.

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Cpt_pineapple
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natural wrote:If there were

natural wrote:

If there were a club with 535 members, and you interviewed 60 of them, and 21 (35%) reported they were non-believers, and the general population rate was 10% non-believers, would you be more likely to guess:

A) that the entire club contained ONLY 21 (4%) non-believers

B) that the entire club contained the base rate of 10% or 53 non-believers

C) that the entire club contained significantly more than the base rate of 10%, say at least 15% = 80 non-believers?

In my argument on that thread, the guy was arguing for A. I speculated for C, but went with the conservative B for the purposes of the argument.

 

 

But you haven't interviewed 60 members of congress. Like I said of the 535 members, one professes non belief.

 

Quote:

You don't think in a one-on-one interview you could have a good chance of telling which are atheist and which aren't, especially if you can ask them directly? Maybe not perfect, but probably better than random chance.

 

If you ask them directly, yes. If you don't then no.

 

 

Quote:

Edited: Oops I misinterpreted what you said the first time.

Interesting that those both are indicators of specific faith-based beliefs, which was my argument. You don't usually pray unless you believe it works, for example. For cohesion, it almost goes without saying that "We're the saved ones!" is a specific faith-based belief. And specific beliefs are indicators of specific religions, and specific religions are indicators of *other* specific beliefs, such as belief in the sanctity of marriage or in the immorality of homosexuality. In other words, the closer your indicators get to specific faith-based beliefs connected to anti-gay sentiment, the more closely they will track something like voting for Prop 8. I bet if your survey tracked specific religious sects, it would find that some sects are more associated with voting for Prop 8 than others, and this might very well be a better indicator than 'cohesion' or 'devotion'.

I bet what's happening is that it just so happens that beliefs about group superiority and us vs. them are correlated with religions with anti-gay beliefs more so than beliefs about prayer are correlated with religions with anti-gay beliefs. Thus, while 'cohesion' appears stronger than 'devotion', if you accounted for the specific religions associated with 'cohesion' beliefs and 'devotion' beliefs, the effect would disappear. In other words, there may be some religions with high 'cohesion' beliefs, and low 'anti-gay' beliefs, and people from these religions would track lower on Prop 8 than members of a religion with low 'cohesion' beliefs and high 'anti-gay' beliefs.

I can see that a measure like freq of prayer (devotion) or tightness of group (cohesion) might still be indicators even accounting for specific beliefs, but again, my argument is about faith, and if you could measure that, I think it would account for both freq of prayer and tightness of group. In other words, while members of religion A may trend higher on Prop 8, there would still be variation within that group. If you could also measure 'strength of faith', then that would account for all of: Increased cohesion to group, increased freq of prayer, and also increased Prop 8.

 

Read it yourself

 

http://www.psych.ubc.ca/~ara/Manuscripts/Hansen%20&%20Norenzayan_religion_chapter.pdf

 

 

 

 


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Quote:Quote: You don't

Quote:

Quote:

 

You don't think in a one-on-one interview you could have a good chance of telling which are atheist and which aren't, especially if you can ask them directly? Maybe not perfect, but probably better than random chance.

 

 

 

If you ask them directly, yes. If you don't then no.

 

I would say that asking them to respond anonymously to an open letter would be more likely to get an honest answer than asking them directly.  These are politicians, and they are not going to risk their career by siding with a minority.  Asking them directly may expose those who do not want to be exposed.

While not practical, the most honest answers would be to have each one go to an anonymous kiosk and vote theist/atheist.  This allows them to express freely their position without retribution, and may allow for the most honest answer.

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