Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sam Harris & The Demagogues

I love Sam Harris. He is smart. He is well spoken. He is a thinker. He is ironic and sarcastic and sees the humor in things. I really enjoy listening to his presentations and debates and interviews - even though I disagree with him on almost everything - certainly on his atheism.

One of the ironic things about Sam Harris is that he is often agreeing with people about principles even though he despises the people with whom he is agreeing. He agrees with people of faith that it is important to have universal moral principles and that Islam is not a religion of peace - but he despises people of faith. In various contexts I have heard him say something like, "...it is unfortunate that the only people who agree with me on this are religious demagogues."

I am pretty sure that he means that people of faith are coming to their conclusions through ignorance and prejudice, while he is coming to his conclusions through well reasoned argument. Fair enough. I think he can probably find many examples of ignorance and prejudice among religious peoples around the world.

I would make the point, however, that just because a view is held by people who are ignorant or prejudiced does not mean they are wrong about that view. One proof is the fact that Sam Harris sometimes agrees with the views of demagogues he despises and disagrees with the secularists that he identifies with.

On the other hand, just because Sam Harris is a scientist, it does not mean that he himself is not a demagogue. He preaches his anti-theistic views with as much demagoguery as anybody. Certainly he cannot argue that he is not prejudiced in his approach to every question. He is. He approaches everything from his own worldview presuppositions. Anything that does not fit is excluded.

As for ignorance (not to be confused with a lack of intelligence) Sam Harris makes errors even in his public presentations. He evidently subscribes to a long discredited theory of cultural evolution in which he sees non-western cultures as "primitive." He also seems to believe that people a mere 2,000 years ago were somehow less evolved than humans today - not able to reason as well as he is. (I'm sure he knows this is completely false even according to evolutionary science - but he treats people of those time periods and earlier as if they were idiots and very gullible.)

Then there is his faith. He has faith that there is no God. He has faith that matter and energy are eternal - they never came into existence. He has faith that natural processes and principles turned an explosion into the universe and eventually brought about life. He has faith that macro-evolution existed and brought about the incredible diversity and complexity of life we observe today.

So, when he preaches his messages, Sam Harris is also a demagogue. He sees himself as brilliant and people who disagree with him as idiots. He does not believe in God - any god. Morality is relative - depending on utility. There is no sin. There is no ultimate justice. There is no hell and no eternal life.

He believes, and so he teaches. But this is demagoguery - not proof.

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