Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

Donate to Project Reason

Join the Mailing List

Sign up to receive email updates from Project Reason.

Log in

 
not a member? Join here.
Forgot your password?

The Scripture Project

Browse the Bible, Qur’an or Book of Mormon for scriptural criticism, insights and careful annotation.

Most Recently Updated Passages

Hall of Shame:

Sam Harris and Francis Collins

Andrew Brown
Posted: August 3, 2009.

Print: Guardian.co.uk

Anyone tempted to believe that the abolition of religion would make the world a wiser and better place should study the works of Sam Harris. Shallow, narrow, and self-righteous, he defends and embodies all of the traits that have made organised religion repulsive; and he does so in the name of atheism and rationality. He has, for example, defended torture, (“restraint in the use of torture cannot be reconciled with our willingness to wage war in the first place”) attacked religious toleration in ways that would make Pio Nono blush: “We can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene” ; he has claimed that there are some ideas so terrible that we may be justified in killing people just for believing them. Naturally, he also believes that the Nazis were really mere catspaws of the Christians. (“Knowingly or not, the Nazis were agents of religion”).

“A bold and exhilarating thesis” is what Johann Hari said of Harris’s first book (from which the quotes above are taken), though on reflection he might think it more bold than exhilarating. Richard Dawkins was more wordily enthusiastic in a preface for Harris’s next: “Every word zings like an elegantly fletched arrow from a taut bowstring and flies in a gratifyingly swift arc to the target, where it thuds satisfyingly into the bullseye.” (where else does he expect to find the bullseye?)

Read the full article | Print this article

Comments (23)

I like that most of the comments following this tripe were in defense of Mr. Harris. It is amazing this guy gets a forum to spout such non-sense.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Hmmm, isn’t this the same guy who received a bribe, excuse me, a prize from the Templeton foundation for being “the best religious affairs correspondent in Europe”....?

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

What an astoundingly bad piece of journalism from Mr Brown there.  I’m not familiar with his work, but from the comments on the Guardian site, I believe he has a bit of previous in matters such as these.

Would Sam have grounds for suing for libel or defamation of character?  Would be quite amusing I think.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

“where it thuds satisfyingly into the bullseye.” (where else does he expect to find the bullseye?)”

Well, the arrow could hit somewhere else on the target numb nuts.

How you get this from Sam’s writings, even if you disagree with them, is tough for me to see. It seems more that he is being willfully dishonest.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

5. homostoicus

I love it when supers argue that atheists can be as evil as religious people.  It makes me think we might actually be getting through to them.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Andrew Brown:

“He’s not a creationist, and he does science without expecting God to interfere. But he believes in God; he prays, and this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from a job directing medical research.”

Way to misrepresent someone’s position.  You forgot to mention the small detail that Collins actively promotes a theological approach to science and scientific questions.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Andrew Brown:

“First that they love science: nobody could accomplish scientifically what Collins has (and, incidentally, Harris hasn’t)

Ad hominem, and also an unsubstantiated claim.  Perhaps you missed Sam’s copious experience with Eastern philosophy.

“Harris, too, might be wrong about what science will discover – it isn’t any argument at all against his holding the job.”

And your point is?  Scientists cannot prove something to be wrong if IT IS NEVER GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY IT. Collins’ beliefs make him closed minded to many scientific questions because he ASSUMES he knows the answer based on insufficient evidence.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

http://www.reasonproject.org/newsfeed/item/sam_harris_and_francis_collins/#c1510
(scientists)*Science

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

I can see why this column is in the Hall of Shame.

Brown says Francis Collins “Is, unashamedly, a Christian. He’s not a creationist, and he does science without expecting God to interfere. But he believes in God; he prays, and this is for Harris sufficient reason to exclude him from a job directing medical research.”

Wrong. How can anyone who’s read Sam Harris come to such a conclusion about his criticism of Francis Collins’ appointment? What Brown wrote was inaccurate and over-simplified. 

If Francis Collins kept his religious beliefs to himself, he wouldn’t be so publicly criticized.

I can’t fathom how a man (Collins) of such education and training can champion the benefits of the scientific method while believing in something which there is no evidence—and saying the two are compatible. That seems insane to me, as though Francis Collins is bi-polar.

I don’t have sympathy for, but can understand why, ignorant people have nearly unshakable faith. But a highly educated scientist?.

posted on August 4, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

10. Albert Yome

In a world full of religious zealots, quacks and creationist nutters, Sam Harris is an oasis of calm and reason. I really can’t fathom what Mr Brown is on about, although perhaps like many of the religious, he lives in perpetual fear of the truth.

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Confusing the courtesy of tolerance with the delusion of equality is either foolish or an attempt at deception.  If you refuse to say that superstition is equal to science, you are accused of being intolerant.
Well I dogmatically assert that it is better to be smart than to be a superstitious idiot, and I don’t see why we should be polite to people who say the opposite.

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

12. dmarzoeki

Something is wrong? 
Albert Einstein said,  ’ No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong . ‘

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

I think it’s good that they link to the actual editorial in question, so that if you are so inclined you can click on it and read that Mr. Harris did not actually say most of the things that he is accused of saying (Collins is unqualified because he prays??? WTF?!) However I am sure that Mr. Brown is as aware as we are that once he has the ignorant on the hook, letting them know that Sam said exactly all the mean, terrible, Christ-hating things they want him to say, none of them are going to take the trouble to read a boring, fact-filled editorial in the New York Times of all places.

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

It is rather odd that Sam Harris would criticize Francis Collins since Harris himself admitted that he is becoming a scientist not in order to conduct unbiased research but in order to attempt to evidence atheism.
http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/05/atheism-new-emergent-atheists-part-2-of.htmlm

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

15. Joseph Frantz

Anthonzi says: “Perhaps you missed Sam’s copious experience with Eastern philosophy.”

How is this relevant to anything?

posted on August 5, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

16. Richard Morgan

“Sam’s copious experience with Eastern philosophy”
Gorgeous!
LOL

http://therepentantgene.blogspot.com

posted on August 6, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Brown says, “But militant atheism, of the sort that would deny people jobs for their religions beliefs”

He should do a little more research about running for public office in the United States.  An belief in god is a prerequisite for most, look it up.

posted on August 6, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Mariano #14:
Sam Harris doing neuroscience in order to *prove* atheism true? And pray, where exactly does he say this? 
 
His research is aimed at understanding the neurological underpinnings of belief. One of the goals is to determine whether religious belief is essentially different from other kinds of belief. He thinks that this is not the case, but of course (this being *scientific research*) whatever might be the case will be determined in the lab.

How you can distort this into “he is becoming a scientist not in order to conduct unbiased research but in order to attempt to evidence atheism” is beyond my understanding.

posted on August 6, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

19. readinggirl

Mr. Brown,

You lost me in the beginning when you claim Mr. Harris defends torture.  As I read his quote, he’s basically stating the fact that war and torture go hand in hand, and trying to separate the two is unrealistic.  Nice try… but you’ve failed.

posted on August 6, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

I see your congregation is eager to publicly condemn the unbelievers.

posted on August 7, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

What is also surprising is the inability of these individuals to distinguish between good and bad scientific ideas.  As much objection as this person evidently has to Harris’ ideas, Harris continues to scientifically evaluate belief (suggesting a profound inquisitiveness in no way dismissive of such phenomenon) while people like Collins automatically make conclusions where no evidence exists for them.  Who is more open minded?

posted on August 7, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Guys, please post your arguments on the Guardian site too!  (And with links to this site, to increase awareness of the Reason Project!)

posted on August 8, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.

Sometimes one has to wonder if argument is possible. Instead of seeking the meaning of an argument, atheist bashers are content to snip at a piece until there are quotes -sometimes not even a whole sentence- that they can use to paint us as evil or fear mongering. Brown is one of many that seek to undermine us through fragments of our words. As a previous poster mentioned people in support of Brown’s position will not care to read Harris’ argument, but ‘have faith’ however misplaced in the author’s journalistic integrity. Perhaps before we attempt to bring reason to the table in the religious debate we should attempt to instill reasonable literacy. Perhaps this would also bring some element of journalistic integrity too, but I am far too cynical to think that this will be won in my lifetime

posted on August 12, 2009
report this as inappropriate

You don't have permission to flag this entry.