Loathe as I am to respond to textwalls, here we go:
I’m not mad at Sam Harris. I’m just enforcing the scientific principle without fear or favor. If you’re a medical doctor, we expect you to be up to date on your view of the body. A neurosurgeon who went about trepanning people for headaches would lose his license. Does Sam’s poor quality PhD free him for all time from updating his beliefs in light of evidence?
It’s a bad scene when I’m the guy defending Sam Harris, but didn’t he get his Ph.D. from UCLA? Isn’t UCLA’s neuroscience department supposed to be one of the best in the United States? Why are you calling his Ph.D. a poor-quality Ph.D.? This is an ad hominem attack, which, of course, is a logical fallacy. Do you have some evidence about the UCLA neuroscience department, or Sam’s Ph.D. in particular, upon which you are basing this claim?
Also, which beliefs, exactly, does he need to update in light of evidence?
Isn’t that what he wants from Christians and Muslims? Isn’t it reasonable to expect that as a public figure he practice what he preaches?
That’s correct. I think Sam takes umbrage with the anti-scientific statements that you find all over the Bible. You can basically start with the very first statement, “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.” That is a non-scientific statement. It is a non-falsifiable claim. This is largely innocuous, but we find similarly unscientific text in Leviticus that suggests exiling or killing people for being gay. That’s no longer innocuous.
And if Sam isn’t being scientific when he is attacking religion, then what is he doing? I think he’s rationalizing the prejudices of his W.E.I.R.D. culture and blindly following cultural intuitions he picked up from his family.
What he’s doing is engaging in argument. You could also label it rhetoric, or even propaganda. He is trying to make an argument that supernatural belief is unhealthy for humankind. He bases this on applying inductive logic to available data. He may or may not be right, but that is what he is doing.
Why are you attacking his motives? That is another logical fallacy. He has his beliefs, and he is an outspoken advocate. Why are you making assumptions about his family? Why do you think he is blindly following cultural intuitions? Do you have evidence on which to base these attacks?
In that sense, he’s no different than most people.
Most people are not outspoken atheists.
That however isn’t what science is about. And I think it’s important that the world know it. It’s time we all had a real think about what science is.
There’s an entire school of thought known as philosophy of science which is precisely about this. The person I referenced earlier, Karl Popper, was investigating the meaning of science over half a century ago, and he is far from the first and far from the only one. I think there are a lot of interesting ideas that have come out of the philosophy of science.
Is it having a PhD and then litigiously attacking those who don’t know what you know? Or is it an approach to life that is experimental?
It has nothing to do with an approach to life or with attacking people. It has nothing to do with Ph.D.s. It is simply a methodology of building and organizing knowledge. What people choose to do with that knowledge is up to them.
Because real scientists like Spiros Michalakis, Dacher Keltner, Jon Haidt and Atul Gawande will tell you it’s the latter. And they not only preach that, they do their darnedest to practice it.
Two logical fallacies for the price of one: No True Scotsman and Appeal to Authority.
Science is the most demanding belief system and if you really live it there’s not much room for the sort of condescension and self-righteousness that Dawkins and Harris practice.
This whole idea of “living science” is seriously misguided. Science is a tool. You wouldn’t say “living shovel is tough.” You live according to the ethos (or lack thereof) to which you subscribe. Science is not an ethos. Sam’s ethos may incorporate science as a valid means of obtaining knowledge (and you could try to argue he fails to use that properly), but science does not compel him to be anti-religion. His own normative and empirical beliefs do that. The question is simply whether his beliefs are logical and in accordance with available scientific evidence or not.
The wonderful thing is that we live in the age of the internet. Sam can do a podcast. I can do a podcast. Dawkins can write book and I can write books. And my goal is to give a voice to the hundreds of scientists the world doesn’t see who I think are much, much better ambassadors for how to live a scientific life than Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. I think it’s time for a changing of the guard (or at least a changing of minds by Sam and Richard) and my job is to be John The Baptist and prepare a way for people like Jon Haidt, Spiros Michalakis, Dacher Keltner, Atul Gawande, Joe Henrich, Jennifer Jacquet, Carol Dweck, Richard Nisbett, Thomas Sowell and on and on. There’s a glorious gospel of science that needs to be preached. And we have to call out the false prophets of science to get that gospel out there. It’s a very Christian and Muslim friendly message. Excited to share it with the world!
One thing about science is that it always improves upon itself, correcting its past mistakes and shortcomings. Certainly, the evolution of science and anti-mystical advocacy will mean we improve upon the Sam Harrises and Richard Dawkinses of the world. I happen to think Satanism has a place in that, and I count myself as a part of that evolution.