Our Old, New Reply to Sam Harris | The Intersection

[![Moral Landscape][1]][2]Last year, I [replied][3] to Sam Harris’s online [critique][4] of _Unscientific America_. More recently, I heard from two separate people that a similar critique appears in his new book, _[The Moral Landscape][2]_.

It’s the anthropocene: Stuff gets around.

I haven’t read the new book yet, but I leafed through it over the weekend and found the two pages or so that discuss us. It’s essentially the [same critique][5] we [answered before][3], and in a way that to my mind still reads as well composed and representative of what I think.

So rather than writing a new response-or trying to quote directly from a book I don’t have in hand yet-let me give an example of what Harris said before, and how we responded. For instance, Harris wrote the following:

While it is invariably advertised as an expression of “respect” for people of faith, this accommodationism is nothing more than naked condescension, motivated by fear. Mooney and Kirshenbaum assure us that people will choose religion over science, no matter how good a case is made against religion. In certain contexts, this fear is probably warranted. I wouldn’t be eager to spell out the irrationality of Islam while standing in the Great Mosque in Mecca. But let’s be honest about how Mooney and Kirshenbaum view public discourse in the United States: watch what you say, or the Christian mob will burn down the library of Alexandria all over again.

And I replied:

There is a bit of bravado here. The point is not to watch what you say, but to understand the context in which you are trying to communicate—and to recognize that most Americans are not going to be dragged all the way from fundamentalism to atheism thanks to the force of reasoned arguments. No matter how much we may wish it, it just isn’t going to happen. Giving them some more moderate stopping off points along the way is the only common sense approach if you want to change minds, or change the culture. In this sense, what is derided as “accommodationism” is actually an extremely important position between two poles on the intellectual spectrum, a position where many people will want to reside–right or wrong.

There was plenty more in this vein. You can read Harris’s original critique [here][4], and our longer response [here][3].

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[1]: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/files/2010/10/Moral-Landscape.jpg (Moral Landscape) [2]: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1439171211?ie=UTF8&tag=chriscmooneyc-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1439171211 [3]: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/09/15/a-reply-to-sam-harris-regarding-unscientific-america/ [4]: http://www.reasonproject.org/archive/item/the_strange_case_of_francis_collins2/ [5]: http://www.project-reason.org/archive/item/the_strange_case_of_francis_collins2/ [6]: http://feedads.g.doubleclick.net/~a/Qa9Iz6sdic2sCdKvCxCSe5K8Ow8/0/di [7]: http://feedads.g.doubleclick.net/~a/Qa9Iz6sdic2sCdKvCxCSe5K8Ow8/0/da [8]: http://feedads.g.doubleclick.net/~a/Qa9Iz6sdic2sCdKvCxCSe5K8Ow8/1/di [9]: http://feedads.g.doubleclick.net/~a/Qa9Iz6sdic2sCdKvCxCSe5K8Ow8/1/da [10]: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/DiscoverBlogs/~4/rRqIjEW0OSI

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