The Irrational Atheist – Part 2

As I stated in my previous post, there are a lot of great things in Vox Day’s The Irrational Atheist. However, I have to say that he is in rare form as he rakes Sam Harris over the coals in the chapter entitled, “The End of Sam Harris.” This, of course, is a takeoff on the title of Harris’s first book, The End of Faith. I slogged through both that book and his Letter to a Christian Nation, which was supposed to be a response to the feedback he received from his first book. I found both books to be incoherent, but I simply could not eviscerate Harris the way Vox Day has. It is nothing short of magnificent.

The first thing Day does is to point out something I missed entirely. Harris simply doesn’t seem to be aware of any major Christian intellectual work. As Day says:

While Harris doesn’t one cite minor Christian intellectual figure like Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, John Wesley, G.K. Chesterton, or even C.S. Lewis, he does find it relevant to provide one reference to Tim LaHaye, thirteen references to Hitler, Himmler, and Hess, and six whole pages devoted to Noam Chomsky. Because, after all, no one is more suited to explain the Christian faith quite so well as an elderly author of pop religious fantasies, a trio of dead Nazis, and a left-wing Jewish linguist. (p. 115)

Thus, Harris has not even educated himself on what Christians say about the issues he raises in his books. It’s no wonder that he displays an incredible ignorance of religious philosophy.

After demonstrating Harris’s profound ignorance of Christian philosophy, Day then lists twelve factual or logical errors that underpin most of Harris’s thinking. However, those errors do not include the most prominent one Harris makes. Day points out that Harris’s famous red state/blue state argument is based on deceptive use of the data.

If you have not heard this argument, it is probably the most-quoted Harris argument. In order to try to indicate that Christianity actually fosters violence, Harris says that if you look at violent crime statistics, the majority of the 25 cities with the lowest crime rates are in “blue” states, while the majority of the 25 cities that have the highest violent crime rates are in the “red” states. Since Christians tend to vote Republican, this means that the predominantly Christian “red” states are more violent than the less Christian “blue” states.

At first glance, this argument makes some sense. However, I was always skeptical, because he basically uses the violent crime rates in cities, but then he sorts them by state. Well, Day actually looked at the data sources Harris used, and he shows quite convincingly that this odd sorting system is deceitful on the part of Harris.

Day points out that if you are trying to look at the violent crimes in a particular city, you should rank them using the statistics that most represent the city’s political tendencies. Well, while voting results are not given by city, they are given by county. Since the city makes up a more significant fraction of the county than it does of the entire state, the county’s political leanings are a better representation of the city’s political leanings than are the state’s political leanings. If you sort the cities by their counties’ political leanings, you find a slim majority of the 25 least violent cities are in “red” counties, and a very large majority of the 25 most violent cities are in “blue” counties.

Thus, if political leanings are a measure of religiosity, the more religious counties boast the safer cities, and the least religious counties have the most violent cities. Now I don’t agree that political leanings are a measure of religiosity. However, that is Harris’s assumption. Given his assumption, he can support his argument only if he employs the worst method of sorting the data. If he sorts the data properly, they support the antithesis of his argument.

In one short chapter, Day simply makes mincemeat of Harris’s main arguments. After reading it, my first inclination was to actually feel sorry for Harris. When an philosopher with a degree from Stanford (who is also working on his PhD) is intellectually outmatched by a computer game designer, it has to be embarrassing for the philosopher. However, I then recalled one of Harris’s most infamous quotes:

If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion. 1

Someone who makes idiotic statements like that deserves to be embarrassed at every opportunity. Good job, Vox!

REFERENCE

1. http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/369/the_temple_of_reason?page=2
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