Sam Harris: genocidal maniac or suicidal logician?

Sam Harris is whining about the fact that people are still actively holding him accountable for the clear and obvious meaning of his written words, and he is still attempting to shade the truth while doing so.

“I know one thing to a moral certainty, however: Both Greenwald and Aslan know
that those words do not mean what they appear to mean. Given the amount
of correspondence we’ve had on these topics, and given that I have
repeatedly bored audiences by clarifying that statement (in response to
this kind of treatment), the chance that either writer thinks he is
exposing the truth about my views—or that I’m really a “genocidal
fascist maniac”—is zero. Aslan and Greenwald—a famous “scholar” and a
famous “journalist”—are engaged in a campaign of pure defamation. They
are consciously misleading their readers and increasing my security
concerns in the process.”

What a load of utter codswollop. Sam Harris clearly and openly and unmistakably wrote that it MAY be ethical to kill people for believing dangerous beliefs. Not for doing anything, not for harming anyone, but for simply BELIEVING CERTAIN BELIEFS. His repeated “clarifications” and obfuscations don’t change that established fact and he has never recanted his statement. Nor, I note, has he ever come right out and declared specifically WHAT beliefs are so dangerous that it is ethical to kill people for nothing more than holding them.

There is absolutely no reference to ACTION, only to BELIEF, in his statement. Don’t forget, his entire thesis in THE END OF FAITH is the intrinsic danger that  stems from the mere possession of faith.  Harris can’t complain about “selective quoting”, as the entire context actually makes it worse. He wrote: “Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful
means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of
extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to
some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot,
otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in

And then he compounds his justification of genocide with more deceit about his own behavior: “I have never knowingly distorted the positions I criticize, whether they
are the doctrines of a religion or the personal beliefs of Francis
Collins, Eben Alexander, Deepak Chopra, Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, or
any other writer or public figure with whom I’ve collided.”

In other words, he’s pleading ignorance in the vast panoply of untruths he has told about Christianity, history, and other matters. In TIA, I showed what a sloppy and careless thinker Harris is; it is no surprise that his carelessness with words is still coming back to haunt him. I mean, look at his idiotic trainwreck of a defense here:

“Aslan and Greenwald know that nowhere in my work do I suggest that we kill harmless people for thought crimes.”

No, Sam, you expressly justify killing DANGEROUS people for thought crimes. And just who will decide who is dangerous and who is harmless? You? Roger Goodell? The Learned Elders of Zion? The Pope? Ironically enough, it is Harris’s own logic that would clearly justify killing Sam Harris. Look, I think Sam Harris is actually a likeable, well-meaning individual who isn’t quite a smart as his fans believe him to be. But Harris desperately needs to stop trying to defend the indefensible, admit that he fucked up on this as he did with both the “religion causes war” and “Red State” arguments, own up to his mistakes, and recant his lunatic justification for thought-based genocide.

He should simply say: “I was wrong. It is not ethical to kill people for their beliefs, no matter how dangerous those beliefs may be.” Or, if he can’t honestly do that, he should be forthright and say: “It is ethical to kill people for excessively dangerous beliefs, and those beliefs are: X, Y, and Z.” If he won’t do either, he will fully merit the criticism and contempt that will continue to flow his way.

On the sweetness of ankles

I have to admit, just when I think the old Fowl Atheist has bottomed out, (the last time he managed to publicly demonstrate his embarrassingly poor grasp on human genetics), he manages to dig himself in deeper. It is vastly amusing that he didn’t even hesitate to plunge right into this one. Remember when he didn’t want to debate me because it would be punching down? Now Richard Dawkins’s former fartsniffer and failed successor is so desperate to be relevant again that he’s swinging wildly at shadows:

Wait, what? I did a search; no, neither Vox Day nor Theodore Beale have published anything in Nature, or any other science journal, and they also haven’t been cited anywhere in the scientific literature. Weird. How can he make this claim?

As it turns out, his claim is so tenuous and absurd that you have to laugh.

Here is his ‘hypothesis’, which is his: Religion doesn’t cause wars. He said this in his blog, and he also says it in his self-published ‘I hate atheists’ book, both of which hardly anyone reads, and which aren’t exactly popular with scientists.

However, he now claims that anyone anywhere who even says something vaguely like that (for instance, Scott Atran, who has argued that religion is not the primary causative agent in terrorism), is “citing” him, even if they don’t mention his name or his source, or explicitly acknowledge other sources. It’s all him. It is entirely his idea. It’s not as if people have been making excuses to exonerate religion from all blame for centuries, it was his idea.

As we have learned to expect from him, PZ can’t even get the simplest facts right.

  1. The Irrational Atheist is not self-published. It has never been self-published. I’m sure Glen Yeffeth, who is an atheist himself, and all the good people at Ben Bella books will very much appreciate the attempted insult. I say attempted insult because anyone who isn’t locked into the dying publishing model recognizes that independent publishing is not merely the future, it is the now. As for hardly anyone reading it, it’s still selling well enough that when I asked Glenn if I could have the rights back so that Castalia could sell it, he laughed and told me no.
  2. Scott Atran and others are, in fact, citing me, whether they realize it or not. It is very easy to prove it. They are taking it from this Wikipedia page, which took it from a Christian site which took it from TIA. The reason I know this is that the numbers that everyone is citing are not the numbers that appear in the Encylopedia of Wars. As it happens, no such numbers appear in the encyclopedia at all. They are the numbers that I used the encyclopedia to calculate and appeared in The Irrational Atheist.
  3. It is all me, as it happens. It was an entirely original idea, as evidenced by my 2004 WND column published prior to the publication of the encyclopedia, entitled God, George Bush, and War. The metric for disproving the hitherto common atheist claim, a claim that some atheists still make today, is obvious only in retrospect. Nor, as it happens, is it the only way to disprove the mistaken idea that religion causes war, as I came up with another metric that works equally well, but is less numerically quantifiable, which is why it was not cited by Wikipedia, Atran, and others.
  4. It’s not an excuse. The fact that religion does not cause most war is a historical fact of military history, of which PZ is obviously ignorant.
  5. You don’t hear much about religion causing war anymore. Not even PZ is dumb enough to try to directly push the canard. You don’t hear much about the Red State argument anymore either. In both cases, TIA is why.

It’s a bit ironic that PZ is so intent on claiming that I am not a scientist, when he was the original inspiration for my hypothesis, successfully tested in a study by Boston University scientists, that atheists are not neurotypical and that there is a positive correlation between atheism and autism.

This shabby attempt by PZ to deny historical reality, by the way, is one reason I make a habit of including some very minor information that is original, such as the “k”s in Psykosonik, in most things that I do. Doing so makes it very easy for me to see who is actually getting their information from me and who is not, regardless of what they pretend. I don’t usually bother to point it out, as the important thing is the propagation of the information, not the credit. But I always know.

Petty little anklebiters like PZ don’t bother me in the slightest. After 13 years of them nibbling at my ankles, I’d probably find the sensation unsettling if they ever stopped.

Two TIA reviews

Because it has been a long time since The Irrational Atheist was published, because my refutation of the “religion causes war” argument has been widely accepted, and because Richard Dawkins has increasingly rendered himself a parody of his former public persona, it’s easy to forget that the core arguments remain timeless. Here are a pair of recent reviews of the book, the first by a Christian, the second by an atheist. If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to consider picking up a copy sometime. 

Trench Warfare. Acerbic and Funny

I bought this the first time I saw it on a shelf in hardcover. I rarely ever buy books on impulse, but this was one of those times. It sat on my shelf for about six years, however. Finally, I had the time to delve into it. The Irrational Atheist is a direct response to “new” atheism that is unlike most other responses (most other significant responses being quite a bit more respectful than Day’s). If you enjoy reading about theological, moral and social issues AND sarcasm, well this book is for you.

Day focuses his arguments in the very thick of the new atheist’s claims. Christian apologists and philosophers have rarely taken these guys seriously, mostly because none of them (except Dennett) deserve to be taken seriously in the realm of philosophy. And while the response of the apologists has been necessary for the churches to hear, none have really focused on some of the “lower” issues. By this I mean issues such as whether or not atheism is gaining converts in the U. S., whether or not religion ‘causes’ war, whether atheists are smarter than non-atheists, whether religion stifles science, etc.

From knowing nothing of Vox Day other than what he has written in his book it’s very obvious that he’s an intelligent man. Imagine Dennis Miller writing a book in response to the new atheists and you will kind of get a glimpse at the wit and humor that comprise this work. These issues of history and social issues seem to be his strong point and he handles them with brilliance. The heart of the book includes detailed chapters into his personal beefs with each of these writers. My guess would be he has the least respect for Sam Harris and the most for Dennett, but Hitchens would be neck and neck with Harris.

The last few chapters discuss various other related issues: the Holocaust, Spanish Inquisition, Crusades, human sacrifice, atheism’s responsibility for the destruction of millions of lives, a chapter on some of the theological arguments used by these writers and an appendix of a discussion between the author and Socrates concerning the Euthyphro dilemma.

If this topic interests you I heartily recommend this be on your shelf. As I said, most Christian apologists or philosophers answer via way of philosophy or theological correction or biblical defenses, all of which are very important. Day prefers to get down in the trenches and battle them head-on, via some literary lex talionis. Not for the faint of heart.

This atheist loves the book. Logical refutations (finally!) of atheist talking points.

I am an atheist, and I really like this book. Vox Day’s style is a
direct and a refreshing relief from wheelbarrow loads of empty
platitudes. To summarize the book: “God loves you, but I don’t. Here’s why blindly following the high priests of atheism is stupid.”

The author says (paraphrasing, don’t remember exact phrasing): “This
book isn’t to convert you or argue in favor of God. I don’t care at all
if you believe or not. This book is to demolish the atheist arguments.”

there is no chance I’m going to be converting to Catholicism, or any
other sky deity religions, I have to applaud the hard logical reasoning
and fresh insights as Vox takes a hammer to the arguments of Hitchens,
Dawkins & Harris. It’s a refreshing change from all the arguments
that boil down to “God exists, therefore God exists”.

That’s a fair summary. And before the Churchians leap in to wag their fingers, I will readily admit that my failure to love everyone is indicative of my imperfect Christianity. I’m also not particularly good on turning the other cheek, avoiding impure thoughts, and avoiding the use of rough language. But I fail to see that blatantly lying and erecting a false veneer of superficial spiritual perfection would be an improvement upon the open and honest expression of my thoughts and feelings on various matters.

Fun with atheists

This is amusing for several reasons, particularly the way in which the atheist clearly has no sense of the extent to which he is overreacting.  Barry posted the following review of TIA on GoodReads:

Very good, provided logical and philosophical arguments
against atheism rather than the general apologetics which rely on
historical records and such.”

That’s it. Positive, descriptive, and succinct.  And it inspired the following response from an atheist named abc.

“well i tend to disagree i didnt find it logical,it was more lying by
omission and selective use of imformation with no acknowledgement of the

To which Barry, quite reasonably, responded:

“Really, what parts do you think were actually ‘lying by omission? Or
did you actually read the book. I have heard this over and over from
evangelical atheists. What was misrepresented? What was lying? I
think this is just a drive by posting.”

Thereby inspiring the following response, which is so over-the-top it almost sounds more like an agnostic with a sense of humor trolling Goodreads than the usual socially autistic atheist.  Especially the bit about the burger.  But whether it is real or not, it is funny.

“Do not label.You have no right what so ever to label people,no
bullying.None what so ever.Do you know what ‘evangelist’ means?’A person
who seeks to convert other people to christian faith,especially by preaching’ (source:wikipedia) And what is an atheist:someone who doesn’t
believe in existence of god.Now an evangelist in his nature can’t be an
atheist and an atheist not a’s like saying ‘a guilty
innocent’.Now that having been said i’ll come to the other part,the fact
that writer chose to dismiss the argument of Dawkins etc,by picking up
parts he wanted to and not trying to provide a complete analysis of
their work.He should also have acknowledged where they pointed out
religion sanctioned violence.For he knew it to be true he failed to
acknowledge it.That is not what i believe unbiased and
comprehensive.Being critical of it or not he should have mentioned it.he
omitted stuff that he thought he couldn’t argue with.Now that’s
injustice to the writers as that’s not all they said and Vox Day has not
refuted their argument.What about those he hasn’t taken up?That’s
‘omission to me and lying he was by implying that he had completely
refuted the argument of these writers or that his work was complete or
comprehensive.Leaving out stuff he has failed to acknowledge he did no
allow the writers work a fair analysis.For omitting stuff and implying
to have refuted all the work of theses writers is lying buy omission to
me.The writer using modes and interpretations he wanted to constituted
to me as ‘omission’.When he makes comparisons with today’s world and
statistics he fails to acknowledge sectranian issues that have
perpetuated and bred violence.Abuse of women sanctioned by religion,the
writers may not have highlighted that but if Vox Day was setting about
to do what was logical he should have included that.And called black
,black and white ,white(no racism)What he fails to say is that
islam,christanity,jewism etc all allow violence in many forms.he chose
to focus on statistic of his choice and i which i believe not to be
independent related to crime,now pray forgive me,were we talking about
that?No.So he choses what to say and what to say it about.another thing
if the writers(Dawkins etc.) were talking about the criminality of a
religious person,that is entirely different from whether religion
sanctions criminal behaviour or not.Well i couldn’t understand what you
have heard over and over from whom ever you have heard it from.Hearing
something over and over does not make it wrong.i dont know what you have
heard so i cant begin to decide on what it is but if a black person
were to campaign over and over racism was wrong,that dosen’t discredit
the truth of his actions.and if this book has all the flaws that it is
accused of ‘over and over’ they wont descredit that that is what it
is.(P.S the term writer/writers is used for Dawkins etc. unless implied
otherwise)That is my opinion and i wont want to take this any further.I
am going to go have a burger,i am feeling light headed.

Sometimes, when dealing with this sort of atheist, it is best to simply back slowly away and be sure to make no sudden movements.

Atheists abandon “religion causes war” argument

Scott Atran is the first atheist to publicly come out and admit the historical nonexistence of the oft-claimed connection between religion and war in Foreign Policy:

Moreover, the chief complaint against religion — that it is history’s prime instigator of intergroup conflict — does not withstand scrutiny. Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored “God and War” audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history’s most lethal century of international bloodshed.

Not only does Atran accept the argument I originally presented in a WND article before refining it in The Irrational Atheist, but his article is actually much less of a Fighting Withdrawal than the misleading subtitle – What we don’t understand about religion just might kill us – would lead the casual reader to believe.

Atran doesn’t mention either me or TIA, but TIA is clearly the source as not only is the argument the same as the one I first presented in 2004, but the war count of 123 also happens to be uniquely mine. The actual count from The Encylopedia of Wars index is not 123, but 121 – they made some errors, in my opinion, counting some non-religious wars such as the Fourth Crusade as religious and vice-versa – but the authors of the encylopedia actually failed to fully recognize the implications of their historical catalog concerning the historical irrelevance of religion to war. This can be seen in their Introduction:

“Wars have always arisen, and arise today, from territorial disputes, military rivalries, conflicts of ethnicity, and strivings for commercial and economic advantage, and they have always depended on, and depend on today, pride, prejudice, coercion, envy, cupidity, competitiveness, and a sense of injustice. But for much of the world before the 17 century, these “reasons” for war were explained and justified, at least for the participants, by religion. Then around the middle of the 17th century, Europeans began to conceive of war as a legitimate means of furthering the interests of individual sovereigns….

The [French] revolution increased the size of the armed forces for European states from small professional outfits to huge conscript armies, whose citizen-soldiers needed more than reasons of state to risk their lives and fortunes for their rulers. The objectives of warfare were broadened from the conquest of this or that sliver of a kingdom to the spread of revolutionary ideals, and through this ideological backdoor something like the fervor of religion slipped back into war along with the mass of conscripts. Once again wars needed to be in some sense “holy” or, in the more secular lexicon of the times, “just”.”

Now, it doesn’t bother me terribly when people actively seek to avoid giving me credit for my more original ideas. I’ve learned to expect it, which is why you’ll never find this argument on Wikipedia even when everyone eventually comes to accept it as the historical fact that it truly is. I only find it genuinely irksome when others subsequently try to take credit for them or to claim they were always part of the status quo. The important thing is that the ideas are getting out there and the memes are spreading, and removing that specific arrow from the atheist’s rhetorical arsenal was always my main polemical object in presenting the argument.

That being said, I do find it amusing that The Irrational Atheist appears to be one of the more influential books that no one of substance will publicly admit to reading. In addition to the Atran admission – to say nothing of the informatively abrupt silence of Dawkins and Harris on the subject of religion and war – let’s not forget the Boston University study that offers initial confirmation of my hypothesis of a link between atheism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Mailvox: undermining atheism

These emails tend to illustrate the effectiveness of refusing to permit atheists to make their evangelical claims unchallenged. I particularly appreciated the first email, as it highlights the importance of shattering the false intellectual pride that holds so many young and psychologically immature atheists entrapped. One man writes some encouraging words about the breaking of a spell:

I wanted to personally thank you for the impact you’ve had on my life. This was the first time in several years that I celebrated the holiday by worshipping Christ. Your debate with Luke broke the pseudo-intellectual spell that atheism/agnosticism held over me, introduced me to a sophisticated Christian theology, and helped to reconnect me with my faith. The unwelcome eviscerations of an AWCA found their way to a young man whose ego desperately needed a disemboweling. In a delicious twist of irony that Tolkien himself would have appreciated, your indifference towards my salvation has made all the difference towards achieving it. With the amount of hate mail that you must receive, sometimes it’s nice to know that your words do inspire. I’m truly grateful.

A lawyer reading TIA writes with a related question:

After coming across atheist trolls in the comments section of a CNN article, I was disturbed by militant atheism and its assertions after reading more about it. Writings from individuals such as Gregory Paul caused me trouble with my faith, so I bought your book, The Irrational Atheist, as a Christmas present to myself. I am enjoying your book – it’s entertaining and useful for strengthening my faith since I don’t have a lot of time to both read the claims of New Atheists and methodically consider them. I thank you very much for your work for packaging an analysis of their works into one book.

If you would indulge a question, I would appreciate it. While at Barnes and Noble, I decided to look for New Atheist works to quickly peruse and get a feel for them. While there, I encountered a book from Sam Harris called The Moral Landscape where Harris claims that science can determine morality.

My question is this: I am on page 66 of The Irrational Atheist, and, given Harris’ new book, I am curious as to what you would add to or subtract from the following statement: “The second possibility is that they genuinely believe science leads ineluctably toward certain moral conclusions. Although the careless reader could be convinced of this by a judicious selection of quotes, both Dawkins and Dennett specifically deny this to be possible and even Harris only dares to base his moral appeals on reason, not science.”

I would simply add what I have already written about The Moral Landscape, which is to say that Harris is correctly attempting to provide atheism with a science-based case for rational materialist morality. Without any form of universal warrant, rational materialism remains a barren and psychologically vacant philosophy that lacks emotional appeal as well as even the smallest modicum of moral authority. Harris understands this, which is why he wrote the book in a futile effort to provide a basis for both. I would also note that this attempt does not change the quoted sentence from TIA in the slightest, as Harris not only fails to begin making his case, and as anyone who has actually read the book will know, does not even claim to have done so but merely argues that such a case might one day be made.

But I’m not the only one undermining atheism; I have considerable help from within the godless citadel itself. In this very interesting review from danieljc, we can observe that Mount Chapter Four appears to have struck again!

I decided to give this book a chance seeing as how passionately anti-atheist the author is, I wanted to see if the author could muster up any reasonable arguments for his position. With an open-mind, I proceeded reading the first few chapters….and then I closed the book. The quality of the writing is abhorrent and haughty, not to mention unjustifiably egotistic since the author does not offer any reasonable argument for his position. The author goes on in hopeless drivel with repeated digressions attacking Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens that are almost all ad hominem. There was not an instance of reading this pathetic book where I felt my mind changing for the better, even worse I felt as if I was reading Christian right-wing propaganda. I tried to be as unbiased as I possibly could reading this, but the sheer amount of deceit and misrepresentations of facts forced me to close it for fear of vomiting my lunch if I read just another sentence. This is vile, contemptible nonsense ladies and gentlemen, this book adequately personifies everything that is wrong with the United States of America. This anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-reason, movement that marches under the banner of the Christian right. I tried to stay neutral, tried to stay balanced, but this book as forced me to take a side, the opposite side of whatever loathsome position this author seeks to uphold.

It is easy to see the deceit that is so habitual for many evangelical atheists, which ironically enough, is the very weakness that makes them so easy for the informed theist to defeat them in debate. This is precisely why I have repeatedly pointed out that one MUST assume they are lying snakes until it is demonstrated otherwise; that review is a beautiful attempt of the utterly shameless manner in which so many atheists attempt to deceive.

The amusing thing is that the book doesn’t pretend to be more than a critique of the fallacious arguments presented by the five atheists mentioned, and even if one wants to argue, however unconvincingly, that the critiques are flawed and the arguments are correct, one cannot possibly claim that any of the critiques rely upon ad hominem attacks. These “reviews” are not actual reviews, they are merely thinly disguised efforts to prevent people from actually reading the book and discovering how feeble the atheist arguments presented by the various New Atheists happen to be.

As the more intelligent atheists will recognize, this tactic is very counterproductive from an evangelical perspective, because if the effort is unsuccessful, the subsequent discovery that the book is not as it is described only underlines the popular sentiment that atheists are immoral, dishonest, and completely untrustworthy. This is not fair to the individual atheist who is intellectually honest and personally reliable, but is the inevitable consequence of the tendency of many atheists to rely upon attempted emotional manipulation rather than reasonable intellectual disputation.

Mailvox: correcting TIA

In which we are treated to a history lesson that corrects my description of the multiverse theory mentioned in TIA. In the chapter titled “Darwin’s Judas”, I wrote: “Those indisposed to accept the anthropic principle attempt to get around the massive improbability problem it presents by imagining that there are billions and billions of universes, for all things are possible through the scientist who postulates very large numbers. Only by postulating a potentially infinite number of universes can our wildly improbable universe become mathematically probable. Of course, there are no signs of any of these other universes, nor did science ever take the idea of parallel universes seriously until the alternative was accepting the apparent evidence for a universal designer. But not only is multiverse theory every bit as unfalsifiable and untestable as the God Hypothesis, it is demonstrably more improbable. If we accept Dawkins’s naked assertion that a universal designer is more complex than the one known universe, a designer is probably less complex than any two universes and infinitely less complex than an infinity of them.”

However, it appears I am entirely wrong about the multiverse concept being developed as a reaction to the anthropic principle. The gentleman writes:

One point that I think I should mention, though…. the “many worlds” interpretation of what’s going on was not invented by Darwinists in a desperate attempt to widen the playing field and give chance a chance–although they may well have seized upon it. The proposition actually predated the present debate by many years as the 1957 doctoral dissertation of Hugh Everett III at Princeton, who took the scientifically impeccable approach of accepting the mathematical formalism of quantum theory as meaning what it said. Collapsing wave functions and the assignment of statistical weights to the possible outcomes do not follow from anything inherent in the theory itself, but are consequences of the conventional imposed interpretation. Everett’s treatment effectively denies the existence of a separate classical realm, as distinct from a ghostlike superposition of potentialities, and asserts the existence of a universal wave function which never collapses, but decomposes naturally into a multitude of mutually unobserved but equally real worlds, each evolving in time, and in which the familiar statistical quantum laws will be found to apply.

I stand corrected. And, to be honest, also a little shocked that one of my favorite living authors, whose books rank highly in my personal top 100, actually happened to read one of my books. This is an excellent lesson in the importance of doing all of the tangentially relevant research; I researched the anthropic principle, but only bothered to read up on the various anti-theological attacks on it rather than investigating the multiverse theory itself.

TIA: a deeply clueless critic

As I mentioned previously, I’m going to let Evangelical Realism finish his review of TIA before responding to it in its entirety, but since I had a request to respond to one of his more amusing attempts, I shall do so here. It should demonstrate the truth of my battleground aphorism: the best strategy is an incompetent enemy:

I think I’m becoming more familiar with Vox Day’s style of argumentation: just throw a bunch of nasty stuff and hope something sticks. Chapter 5 of The Irrational Atheist is a good example, and it opens with a tasty bit of ad hominem.

In the historical introduction to his famous military treatise, the Chinese general Sun Tzu advised the wise general to lure his opponent from ground where the opponent holds a strong position in the hopes of being able to attack him in a weaker one. It is interesting to see that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins both make inadvertent use of this tactic with their mutual assertion that religious faith bears responsibility for enabling the making of war even when it is not, in itself, a primary cause of conflict. It is also ironic, given their near total ignorance of military history and the art of war.

Now we know what sort of role Vox wants to cast Harris and Dawkins in: that of ignorant buffoons pontificating about subjects they know nothing about. I’d be tempted to mention something about pots and kettles, if Vox had been able to demonstrate any actual ignorance on Harris’ and Dawkins’ part, but it seems that their “errors” are not so much factual contradictions as they are merely the “mistake” of looking at things differently than Vox does.

A truthful statement relevant to the matter under discussion is not an ad hominem attack. Neither Sam Harris nor Richard Dawkins know the first thing about military history or military science and I expect they would admit as much when asked. Second, notice that Evangelical Realism is a deeply dishonest reviewer. He repeatedly attempts to hold me to a completely different standard than he holds Harris, Dawkins and the others, moreover, he is too ignorant of military history to understand the way in which their errors demonstrate their obvious lack of knowledge about the subject. ER makes no attempt to demonstrate that Harris and Dawkins possess any knowledge of military history or military science whatsoever – he can’t, because there is absolutely no evidence for it and a fair amount to the contrary – moreover, he is clearly unaware that Harris already conceded the larger point that he is attempting to defend in the Fighting Withdrawal from “religion causes war” to “tribalism causes war”.

He begins by conceding the visible merit of the assertion that it does make a difference whether your soldiers sincerely believe in an afterlife and in glorious rewards for those who die in battle. But even though Harris and Dawkins are actually correct, they’re still wrong. They’re supposed to be ignorant buffoons, after all, so there must be something bad that Vox can say about them:

The First Crusade was a long time ago, it has been more than a thousand years since the massacre at Solomon’s Temple took place. In that millennia [sic], many wars have been fought, very few of which have involved unarmed youth militias inspired by insane devotion to a god. Moreover, from a military perspective, suicide attacks are a negligible tactic.

That’s the “rebuttal.” Faced with the undeniable fact that religious fervor does indeed play a secondary contributory role in war, Vox falls back on the argument that Harris and Dawkins are wrong because religion is not the sole/primary cause of wars. This rhetorical bait and switch pretty much sums up all of his arguments regarding religion and war.

ER makes two blunders here. First, I conceded no such thing. I merely admitted the apparent logic of the argument – which is merely a variant of the “no atheist in foxholes” that so many atheists angrily deny – before stating “even in these examples, one can see the first visible cracks in the argument.” While it’s quite possible to construct a reasonable logical case for atheist cowardice and theist fearlessness, this is not tantamount to proving the case with evidence. Neither Dawkins nor Harris ever offer any empirical evidence here in support of their purely philosophical argument.

His second and much more egregious blunder is to wrongly equate “negligible tactic” and “very few of which have involved” with “secondary contributory role”. Religion does not play a secondary contributory role in war. It does not play a tertiary contributory role in war. It plays virtually no role in war at all, it is not even involved in any way more than 90 percent of the time. There is no “rhetorical bait-and-switch”, ER either made a huge mistake or he is attempting a shamelessly dishonest substitution himself.

Part of the reason his argument is so weak is because he seems to have mixed feelings on the topic himself. For example, after Harris cites a list of long and bloody sectarian conflicts, Vox responds:

[N]early every example given here includes Muslims. To Sam Harris, all religions might be equally mythical and therefore the same, but it is hard to fail to notice that it is not the Jains, Mormons, Hindus, or Christians who are actively stirring up violence all over the world.

Of course, if it were Christians, or even Jews, showing up in all those contexts, it’s a safe bet he would attribute this to the persecution of God’s chosen people by the forces of evil, but since it’s Muslims, why then it’s only because they’re “actively stirring up violence.” But it shows some of Vox’s mixed feelings that he would join Harris and Dawkins in suggesting a connection between religion (Islam) and violence. Given the choice between rejecting religion and rejecting science however (Chapter 3), Vox would rather get rid of science than get rid of Islam. It’s a tough call, but he has to side with religion against science, because there isn’t any objective, verifiable argument that could be used against one religion that won’t work equally well against them all.

This pair of bizarre statements has nothing to do with anything, except to try to obscure the fact that virtually no religion has historically had much to do with war, if anything, except one. I have no “mixed feelings” and what I would do or would not do in an alternate universe where Jews are actively waging holy wars across China or Christians are engaged in a bloody crusade to recapture the holy city of Los Angeles is totally irrelevant. It’s not my fault that ER doesn’t like the empirical evidence provided by some 6,000 years of human warfare.

But, to return to the subject at hand, Vox claims that, of Harris’ list of sectarian conflicts, at least four aren’t religious at all.

1. The conflict in Palestine is primarily ethnic, not religious…

2. The conflict in Northern Ireland is primarily ethnic and political, not religious…

3. Although foreign Muslims have come to the aid of their co-religionists in the Chechen war, the cause has absolutely nothing to do with any religious conflict between the Chechen Muslims and the Orthodox Russians, but the fact that Chechnya has been seeking independence from Russia since it was forcibly annexed in 1870 by Tsar Alexander II…

4. In Sri Lanka, the political divide is linguistic, not religious. Tamil-speaking Hindus and Christians are allied against Sinhalese-speaking Buddhists and Muslims…

Now remember, the claim Vox is allegedly rebutting as “near total ignorance” is the claim that religion plays a contributory role in violent group-vs-group conflict. His rebuttal, however, consists of the same old bait-and-switch: the Middle Eastern conflict is not primarily religious; the Northern Ireland conflict is not primarily religious, etc. In other words, he’s completely ignoring the question of what role religion does play in these conflicts; he’d rather talk about what religion is not doing. (And one thing we’ve noted before: it’s certainly not helping!)

ER gets it wrong again here. The Harris claim I am rebutting here is not “the claim that religion plays a contributory role in violent group-vs-group conflict”, but rather the specific claim that “conflicts that seem driven entirely by territorial concerns, therefore, are often deeply rooted in religion.” In these four cases, none of the conflicts are rooted in religion at all, let alone deeply.

Vox spends a lot of time talking about factors other than religion which do play a significant role in war; apparently this is supposed to prove that Vox knows more about history than Harris and Dawkins. But it’s really just so much smoke and mirrors, a distraction to divert attention from the question of what role religion does play in generating enthusiasm for wars that might otherwise be more easily recognized as based on prejudice, greed, lust for power, etc. And even with all this hand-waving, Vox still doesn’t get everything quite right.

In a continent with only four religions or religious denominations of note in 1400, Europe was divided into over 1,000 independent political states. This number was reduced by half only 117 years later, at the start of the Protestant Reformation. And while there was certainly an amount of violent interdenominational Christian conflict during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it is difficult to imagine that even with the increase in the amount of potential religious conflict, more wars took place than occurred during the century leading up to it, wherein half of the political entities disappeared, swallowed up by their larger, more powerful neighbors.

Why do we need to content ourselves with “imagining” how many wars took place between 1400 and 1517? As Vox states elsewhere in TIA, he has the full 3-volume Encyclopedia of War. Why not just look up the figures? You can bet that if he had actual statistics to back up his claims, he wouldn’t make such vague speculations. But the fact of the matter is, war is not the only way smaller states can unite into larger conglomerates. Did the original Thirteen Colonies become 50 United States by invasion and conquest? Was the current European Union built by bullets and tanks? Diplomacy, economics, union via royal marriages: there are lots of ways of building larger states that do not require open bloodshed.

Yes, a detailed recitation of the other factors almost completely ignored by Dawkins and Harris and apparently unknown to both does, in fact, tend to show that I know a good deal more about the subject than the other two gentlemen. Sam Harris has gracefully conceded as much by stating his inability to quantify these matters. Why not just look up the figures for that period? Because, as I point out in TIA, they are incomplete. The Encyclopedia lists 90 European wars during that time, but as with the Assyrian wars, one war tends to stand in for several of its type. For example, the single entry for the German Civil War (1400-1411) actually covers three separate low-level wars between King Wenceslaus of Germany and Bohemia and the Elector of the Palatine, the Margrave of Moravia and his brother, the King of Hungary. Also, the historical data from that time is far too incomplete to presume that we have an accurate accounting of why each political entity was subsumed, what we do know is that none of the wars at this time could have been religious in nature because there was no religious divide in that area during that period except for the various wars against the Turks.

ER’s second question is laughable. If he’d looked at the table in TIA listing every historical U.S. war, he’d know that the answer is yes, the original Thirteen Colonies did become the 50 United States through invasion and conquest. As it is also stated in TIA, the European Union is not yet a political entity, anyhow, I fully expect it to engage in civil war when one of its member-states attempts to secede in the next decade if it does not collapse first. There are certainly ways of building larger states peacefully, but a brief survey of any country will readily show that this is far less often the case than the use of violence.

Vox also has problems with the idea of in-group/out-group rivalries.

Most endo-exo rivalries stem from basic territorialism and the will to power, not rival group identities; the champions of reason have it backwards. Consider the rival groups we currently identify as “French” and “German.” As recently as 814, they were a single ethnic group known as “the Franks.” While the French national identity was forged early on, thanks in part to the open geography of France, there was no German nation as such, instead there was only the multiplicity of principalities known collectively and inaccurately as the Holy Roman Empire, which over time came to be dominated by the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty in the south and the Kingdom of Prussia in the north.

It was not until after the Napoleonic wars and the Franco-Prussian wars that anything resembling what we would recognize today as being “Germany” came into existence…

Is it more reasonable, then, to assume that any latent French hostility towards Germans stems from an out-group identity that didn’t even exist for most of French history, or a simple and understandable distaste for being invaded and slaughtered by a group of distant cousins with a proven historical predilection for doing so?

Believe it or not, Vox is actually trying to argue that just because the national identities of “French” and “German” didn’t exist until recent times, neither group had any group identity during the time the one group was invading and slaughtering the other! It’s the same bait-and-switch tactic as before: introduce some other factor (territorialism) which also played a role in the conflict, and poof, the other role (group rivalry) has somehow been proven not to have contributed anything significant. Or at least, Vox has attempted to distract our attention from it. Maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away? But even Vox admits that both groups knew which group was invading, and which was being slaughtered, as shown by his question at the end. So the group identity was there, no matter how it was labeled.

ER somehow manages to avoid both significant points here in reaching an errant conclusion. First, he avoids mentioning the fact that I am using this example to rebut the idea that group identities come from religion, as Harris and Dawkins claim. In this case, they cannot have, since the identities predate the religious divide. Second, ER fails to understand that his conclusion has it precisely backwards, because the national group identities stem from the slaughter, the slaughter doesn’t stem from the group identity! They were all Franks, brother fighting brother and uncle fighting nephew. The Gallic Franks subsequently called French didn’t hate the Teutonic Franks subsequently called Germans for being not-French, they hated them for being prone to invade them no matter what they were called. ER’s reasoning is circular.

Vox tries a similar “rebuttal” by suggesting that, if religion plays a role in war, we ought to see higher rates of volunteerism in countries like Iran. For some reason, he declines to take other factors into consideration (i.e. economy, unemployment, ratio of nominal religion vs. sincere belief, etc), and he also omits any reference to the various Islamic militias and paramilitary organizations like Hamas and Al Qaeda. Nor does he make any distinction between the rate of volunteerism in times of peace (when the possibilities of martyrdom are low) versus rates in times of war. No, all he wants to do is throw out a number that he can claim is, in some sense, contrary to what he himself has already conceded to be true: that religion does have an influence on support for, and participation in, violent conflicts.

Notice here again that he criticizes my evidence while defending a position for which no evidence at all is given. The various militias and paramilitaries are numerically insignificant; neither Hamas nor Al Qaeda are Iranian operations anyhow and so have nothing to do with the evidence presented.

And he reverts to his peculiar predilection for defining things in terms of lists by insisting that if religion contributed anything significant to warfare, we ought to find references to it in the various lists of strategies and tactics compiled by the likes of Caesar, Sun Tzu, and so on. Since they do not include religion in their written lists, Vox concludes that religion has no significant role in warfare. In one fell swoop, Vox invalidates the entire military chaplaincy! Oops.

ER demonstrates both his poor reasoning and his military ignorance here. Not every aspect of the military has anything to do with strategy and tactics, while the chaplaincy has its place but no one with any knowledge or experience of the military would consider it to be of of any strategic or tactical importance. Certainly the Waffen SS, the Red Army and the People’s Army never saw any need for it. Indeed, it is more than a little amusing to imagine a general wondering where to best make use of his chaplains when considering an upcoming engagement.

UPDATE – ER is more clueless than I’d realized. He’s now trying to make the bizarre point that admitting the obvious existence of chaplains in some Western armies somehow excuses the complete ignorance of Dawkins and Harris of all things military as they attempt to argue that religious faith is somehow dangerous to mankind. But military chaplains are a complete irrelevancy, for example, an estimated 2,300 chaplains are known to have served in the Union army, an insignificant fraction of the 2,778,304 troops enlisted.