Richard Dawkins and other atheists defend Sam Harris

Richard Dawkins just published a piece titled “It’s What Moral Philosophers Do,” which sketches a bit of moral philosophy and then ends by saying:

That is what Sam Harris was doing in his notorious discussions of torture and of profiling in airport security. He was doing what moral philosophers do, and he does not deserve the vilification and viciousness that he has received in consequence. He is not a gung-ho pro-torture advocate, he was raising precisely the hypothetical, thought-experiment type of questions moral philosophers do raise, about whether there might be any circumstances in which torture might be the lesser of two evils – thought experiments such as the famous “ticking hydrogen bomb and only one man in the world knows how to stop it” thought experiment. I am not coming down on one side or the other in that argument. Only saying that it is a serious moral philosophic argument. Merely to take it seriously and engage in it, as moral philosophers do, should not be grounds for pillorying and personal insults.

Similarly, Hemant Mehta recently responded to a piece about “The 5 Most Awful Atheists” by saying (I’ll just quote what he wrote about Harris, but his points about the others are good too):

Sam Harris’ The End of Faith ushered in an atheist revolution in publishing; it was the first “New Atheist” book that went viral and it made atheism sexy and ok to talk about. Even if he never wrote another word, his contribution to our movement is monumental. This is speculation, but of all the people who know who Sam Harris is, I would guess relatively few of them are even aware that he has opinions on racial profiling.

In a separate post, Hemant adds:

said it before and I’ll say it again: I read all of Harris’ posts about profiling Muslims at the airport, and none of them came across as “racist” to me. Racism implies an undercurrent of intolerance, and I suspect Harris has no problem with Muslims peacefully practicing their faith (other than the fact that their beliefs are wrong) or people like me sitting next to him on a plane. So I can understand his frustration with people reducing his argument down to “racial profiling.” It’s far more complicated than that. (For what it’s worth, I also didn’t think his argument for religious profiling was very persuasive.)

Well said, all of it, except that I suspect that Harris may be a bit bothered by Muslims who don’t bother anyone but privately teach all kinds of nasty things about unbelievers. Certainly I’m bothered by it, just as I have a problem with evangelical leaders who teach that I and many of my friends going to Hell for eternity, even when they avoid airing that odious doctrine too loudly.

Russell Blackford’s recent post on Harris is also worth reading–though I won’t quote it, because I recommend reading it in full.

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