Sam Harris embarrasses himself… again

The White Buffalo draws our attention to this debate:

Wars are still waged, crimes committed, and science undone out of deference to an invisible being who is believed to have created the entire cosmos, fine-tuned the constants of nature, blanketed the earth with 20,000 distinct species of grasshopper, and yet still remains so provincial a creature as to concern himself with what consenting adults do for pleasure in the privacy of their bedrooms. Incompatible beliefs about this God long ago shattered our world into separate moral communities—Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc.—and these divisions remain a continuous source of human violence.

What’s hilarious isn’t the way that Sam Harris barely manages to address a single point made by Dennis Prager, (who is a good guy but isn’t exactly the sharpest theist in Creation), nor the way Harris later lies and tries to pretend that Prager hasn’t addressed his points, but the way that some clueless atheists actually think he acquitted himself well and won the debate.

Seriously, Prager could have nailed Harris to the wall on day one after that stupid “continuou source of human violence” bit. And what science is being undone? How, precisely, does one undo science? Seriously, as I wrote in my column today, Harris can’t write a paragraph without making multiple errors of fact and logic.

Mailvox: play nice or Ann will sing

JWB raises an oft-heard objection:

I’ve been enjoying the installments in your “Clowns of Reason” series. Being neither a theist nor atheist, but rather a positivist who eschews all metaphysics (as fruitless, rather than meaningless), I’ve taken some argument “talking points” from your latest writings.

I did have one response to a point you made in your broadside against Dennett. It is to a throw-away laugh line in your piece, so it isn’t substantial to your argument. But calling modern philosophy equivalent to extensive bong usage? Being both a philosopher of science and a neuroscientist, I can’t defend 9/10 of what my professional philosophy colleagues say–but not because they’re drug-addled! Most are sober thinkers who work on narrow, assumption-ladled issues that are of no real consequence to anybody. Your caricature built on a 1960s stereotype detracts from your credibility.

In any case, I’ll look forward to more of your writings.

Given the way in which modern philosophy has failed to produce a Hume or Nietzsche, let alone a Plato, Descartes or Aquinas, I think it rather deserves mocking. And given that the philosophy professor I knew best in college never hesitated to fire up the bong with a philosophy major who was a friend of mine, I think the crack is merited.

I’m curious, though, to know how my occasional rhetorical barbs can somehow detract from my credibility when easily demonstrable errors and even outright howlers never seem to render intellectual figures such as Harris, Dawkins and Dennett any less credible. I mean, Dennett was absolutely shredded by Wieseltier in the New York Times – my column was kind by comparison – and yet many people will continue to take him seriously.

Does accuracy truly count for less than style?

I don’t believe so. This objection, which JWB is far from the only one to make, reminds me a little of when a family member remarked that Ann Coulter would be more popular if only she wasn’t so nasty. I laughed and responded that given her indisputable position as the premier right-wing commentator, who has more books written about her than most commentators write, the only way she could become more popular would be to release a sex tape and record a mediocre pop album.

Come to think of it, what would an Ann Coulter CD look like? I imagine tracks like this:

Joe McCarthy (a remake of Desperado)
Don’t Call Me, Al
The Devil Went Down to Arkansas
Fort Marcy Blues
The Wind Beneath the Right Wing (featuring C tha E from the Fraters Libertas)
Drumstick