"Reason in Exile" pgs 11-
11-12: I hate this first vignette. It provides this picture of a suicide bomber that is both callous and facile. Harris implies that the specifics are irrelevant because ultimately all suicide bombers are the same: they have no regard for life, no second thoughts, they're totally calm and devoid of personality. Oh, and they're Muslim. Through his generalized vignette, he intimates that the parents of suicide bombers are all proud of their children's actions and find them not just laudable, but cause for a neighborhood-wide celebration. While this may be true some of the time, it's certainly not true all of the time. The only reason to make such an intimation is to manipulate and inflame anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment.
12: He equates "belief" in science with belief in religion, aliens and politics. So let's see here: that's science=culture, science=crazy, and science=personal preferences for cultural products.
13: Here is a fun syllogism. Most people in the world believe that the creator of the universe has written a book of some kind. Each such book claims to be infallible. THEREFORE all people who believe in sacred texts believe that those texts are infallible.
13: All of these texts agree on one point: God does not endorse respect for other religions, their values, their believers or the views of those believers. "Intolerance is thus intrinsic to every creed." Next to this I wrote, "You are a boob." The implication is, of course, that if you believe in a religion, you must also be intolerant. He follows up the previous quote with "Once a person believes - really believes - that certain ideas can lead to eternal happiness, or to its antithesis, he cannot tolerate the possibility that the people he loves might be led astray by the blandishments of unbelievers. Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." Why is this an absolute statement? By stating this as an absolute, I am forced to think, "Not all the time." And then I thought, "Wait, so you're telling me that adherents who don't try to convert everyone they know don't really believe?" I mean, it's just disrespectful to everyone.
13: He actually says, "...criticizing a person's faith is currently taboo in every corner of our culture." Yes, because Mormonism and Scientology aren't real faiths. And depending on what part of the country you're in, neither is Catholicism.
13: "...religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse." My note reads, "That's because they're not rational! What are you? A Vulcan?" Seriously: anyone who has ever gone through an uebermensch phase in high school knows how irrational emotions are and how difficult they are to ignore. This was the first clue that Sam Harris has not matured past the 10th grade.
13: Okay, here is a link between my problem from page 12 and the above problem also from page 13: "Criticizing a person's ideas about God and the afterlife is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about physics or history is not." That's because someone who believes gravity is one of the unappreciated "sticky" forces is a buffoon. Physics is objective. And history is really meant to be an interpretation of objective data. You can ask someone to explain their interpretation, to back it up with evidence. You can't do that with religion because it's a different kind of thing. It's silly to compare them. You might as well say, "Criticizing a person's personal taste in clothing and food is thought to be impolitic in a way that criticizing his ideas about addition or what his name is are not."
13: "And so it is that when a Muslim suicide bomber obliterates himself along with a score of innocents on a Jerusalem street, the role that faith played in his actions is invariably discounted." Whaaa? Are we reading different newspapers? Are we watching different tv stations? Because from where I sit it's far from discounted: it's so obvious, it's taken for granted. There is the second sign that Sam Harris has a 10th grade perspective on the world: he can't tell the difference between taking something for granted and discounting it. He follows this up with, "Faith itself is always, and everywhere, exonerated." That is just not true. What he sees as exoneration is, in my opinion, respect for complexity. If every suicide bomber were touted as Muslim Faithful Kills Dozens, it would leave no room in the discourse for the millions of Muslims who have not and would not blow themselves up. We talk about political alliance and economic state not because we're saying, "Faith is never dangerous," but because we want to say that faith isn't always dangerous, isn't usually dangerous.
Okay, that is just three pages and this is already really long. I'll post more later. There's fun stuff to respond to: Harris believes beauty is objective! He uses bad examples! He assumes a null hypothesis of "God doesn't exist" instead of "God does exist"! It's fun fun fun!