‘America’s Most Dangerous Man’: Sam Harris Interviewed in Jewish Publication

Some excerpts from an interview with Sam Harris in the Jewish publication Tablet:

My argument is that no group of people, and certainly no society, has ever suffered because everyone became too willing to hear arguments and data and got too interested in other people’s points of view. The zero-sum contest is between believing things for good reasons and believing things for bad reasons, you know? And it just so happens that science, 99 percent of the time, is on the right side of that cut. And religion more or less 99 percent of the time is on the wrong side.

All I’m arguing for really is that we should have a conversation where the best ideas really thrive, where there’s no taboo against criticizing bad ideas, and where everyone who shows up, in order to get their ideas entertained, has to meet some obvious burdens of intellectual rigor and self-criticism and honesty—and when people fail to do that, we are free to stop listening to them. What religion has had up until this moment is a different set of rules that apply only to it, which is you have to respect my religious certainty even though I’m telling you I arrived at it irrationally.

So, if there is an argument for why the Quran is so good, please bring it forward. I’ve read the Quran several times and it’s not that good. In fact, it’s conspicuously bad as a moral map, and a spiritual map. You can wander blindfolded into a Barnes & Noble, and the first book you pick off the shelf will have more wisdom than the Quran. The Quran is uniquely barren of wisdom relevant to the 21st century. It’s got a few good lines about patience and generosity, and the rest is just vilification of the infidel.

The full interview is here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roccim Marlo Rocci

    Barnes & Noble?  Are they still in business?

    • Dan

      Well, if you count 691 stores in America ‘in business’ then I guess so.

      • randall.morrison90

        Borders…the bookstore that pioneered having an “atheism section” went Bankrupt last year.

        Not a damn store left on the face of the earth! LOL!

        • Fsq

          You cant really be saying that because Borders had an atheist section that is the reason they went bankrupt?

          Wow. Dont know what they put in the Kook Aid you have been drinking, but perhaps you should take a look at some nice Logic courses at your local learning annex and getting a script for Adorol.

          • Ulyanov

            He didn’t say that you dumb bitch.

  • ortcutt

    It’s a little disappointing that Harris gave an interview with a magazine of “Jewish life, arts, and ideas” and his only real criticism of Judaism is that it might lead you to oppose stem-cell research.  The discussion of Hezbollah/Israel was strikingly one-sided, calling liberal critiques of Israel “white guilt” without any recognition that many secularists have secular objections to both Hezbollah’s Islamism and Israel’s support of religious fanatical Jews.  For someone who claims to support free discussion, Harris sure pulled his punches.  

    • Tom_Nightingale

      The discussion of Hezbollah/Israel was strikingly one-sided, calling liberal critiques of Israel “white guilt” without any recognition that many secularists have secular objections to both Hezbollah’s Islamism and Israel’s support of religious fanatical settlers. 

      Yea, because giving both sides of the argument time is always the best idea, especially in things like evolution and creationism…

      • ortcutt

        Your analogy makes no sense whatsoever.  A better one would be someone who only criticizes homeopathy, but then belittles critics of phrenology and claims they have “cranium envy” rather than acknowledging that they have valid criticisms of the practice.  Why is valid criticism of religiously-motivated policies, including intrusive and illegal settlements by religious fanatics being belittled as “white guilt”.  There are religious Jews in Israel who venerate Baruch Goldstein, the man who murdered 29 people in Hebron in 1994.  Is bringing up that fact “white guilt” or just even-handed criticism of violent religious fanaticism whether it’s perpetrated by Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc…?

        • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

          That’s a very stupid analogy. The percentage of Jews in Israel who support Baruch Goldstein can be counted on one hand. The percentage of Palestinians who support suicide bombings, was around 50% – depending on how and when the question is asked. That’s an enormous difference. Also, I can remember the names of every single Jewish terrorist who commits such atrocities as strafing a mosque full of people (Baruch Goldstein) or assassinates a head of state (Yigal Amir). On the other hand, there have been so many suicide bombings that I cannot remember a single name of a single one – there are just far too many to remember.

          • ortcutt

            When did I say the percentage was the same?  Never, that’s when.  Please don’t attribute claims to me that I haven’t made.  

            • http://www.summerseale.com/ Summer Seale

              Considering you used the term “even-handed criticism”, I felt obligated to demonstrate that being “even-handed” is a stupid idea because it is not a situation which is morally equivalent – which is exactly the point that Sam Harris was trying to make. One which, apparently, you didn’t understand.

              • ortcutt

                Even-handedness does not imply ignoring differences, but nor does it require ignoring lesser problems or dismissing them as products of “white guilt.”  There are legitimate secular criticisms of Israel as a confessional state, the present Israeli government and of factions of Israeli society. Making those criticisms in an even-handed way requires not glossing over the problems on one side or belittling legitimate criticisms.  Even-handedness is not the same as false equivalence, something that you apparently don’t understand.

            • Faq

              You dont need to say the actual words when trying to argue from false equivalency.

              It is like saying we are supposed to guve equL credence and time to thise saying alchemy is good and works versus thise that say it is bunk and chemistry is right.

            • randall.morrison90

              BS.  You implied they were the same. 

    • randall.morrison90

      He does not pull his punches in The End Of Faith…he clearly states that the Jews are to blame for their own victimhood because they refused to assimilate fast enough.

      Like Dawkins and Hitchens, he is full of anti Semitic bile.

      He just hates Muslims worse.

  • http://autisticmetalhead.blogspot.com/ BreadGod

    America’s Most Dangerous Man? Hardly.

    • Pseudonym

      The subtitle says “The Christian right, radical Islamists, and secular leftists agree: this atheist is America’s most dangerous man”.

      The Christian Right thinks that President Obama is America’s most dangerous man (or possibly George Soros, depending on who you ask). Secular leftists think it’s one of David or Charles Koch. I have no idea what radical Islamists think.

      In reality, Sam Harris is only a danger to his own credibility.

  • compl3x

     Why is a man who discusses ideas and shares his views with others considered dangerous? More troubling is the idea he is “the most dangerous”. Frankly, that seems like an entirely insulting way to describe him.

  • Ken

    The major hole in Harris’ proposal is that there is no built-in cut off point for discussion. Crazy ideas will continually resurface with minute alterations, bogging down any rational discussion with reiterations of the same old arguments dressed up in different disguises.  That has been the tactic on the “missing link” argument, when every found link just generates demands for more and more intermediary links.  It’s a war of attrition, which will never admit rationality when it conflicts with dogma, because God said so in this book that was written generations after the “factual events” it describes.  And we all know how accurate memories are.

  • Renshia

    I liked this. It’s a great quote;

    The difference in science is that our reliance
    upon authority is cashed out by a conversation that is searching and
    competitive and demanding at every stage so that people do not get away
    with believing things merely because they want them to be true.

  • alconnolly

    To bad Sam Harris does not apply this quote by Sam Harris to himself ” All I’m arguing for really is that we should have a conversation where
    the best ideas really thrive, where there’s no taboo against criticizing
    bad ideas, and where everyone who shows up, in order to get their ideas
    entertained, has to meet some obvious burdens of intellectual rigor and
    self-criticism”. For instance in his bigoted racist and dangerous (as in it reduces our security) ideas regarding profiling people who “look Muslim”. He does not allow comments on his blog. Yes he really believes in an “honest discussion”. (PS: I do think he makes many relevant and admirable points generally, but he falls far short of scientific ideals in being willing to abandon bad ideas when exposed, choosing pride over truth.


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