The deep irony of Sam Harris

In response to Ed Feser’s critique of New Atheist argumentation, J.J. Lowder responds:

[T]hat [sort of argument – ed.] is not what atheists who specialize in the philosophy of religion say.  In fact, not one of the best and most capable atheist philosophers of religion in the history of philosophy ever gave this Courtier’s Reply — not Mackie, not Rowe, not Schellenberg, not Q. Smith, not Draper, not Martin, not Oppy, not Phillipse, not Sobel, not Salmon, not Grunbaum…

I found this deeply ironic when put next to Sam Harris’s claim (given, for example, in his debate with Deepak Chopra) that he had no time for esoteric or philosophical accounts of God since this is not what the majority of persons meant by God. Whatever his motivation for this, it does have the benefit of allowing one to treat God as, by definition, the product of an unreflective and unsophisticated mind that never developed its conceptions of the divine with an eye to having to defend them from attack. A dose of gandersauce, however, lets us treat atheism in the same way, and so judge it according to its most popular and least academic formulation, which, judging by Lowder’s list, includes Sam Harris.

To be fair to Harris, unreflective Christianity has a good deal more political power which his popular brand of atheism lacks. But this seems to be a mere historical and geographical contingency. A whole society of atheists would provide just as much embarrassment for reflective atheists as a society of Christians provides for reflective Christians. Most people don’t have a rigorous or systematic account of God for the same reason that most people don’t have a systematic account of their pipes or their nervous system.

That said, the problem is deeper than this since both reflective atheists and Christians depend on their the mass of persons who are either atheist or Christian. I’m embarrassed by creation museums, end-of-the-world Anti-Christ miniseries, campus preachers, and the occasional Jack Chick pamphlet, but it’s still comforting to have enough of the populus in general agreement with you to make a political difference.


  1. Patrick said,

    February 26, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Depend in what sense?

  2. David T said,

    February 28, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Right… the fact that most people’s understanding of God is superficial is simply a result of the fact that their understanding of everything is superficial. And it leaves no excuse for someone – Sam Harris – who manifestly pushes beyond the superficial in his philosophy but remains philosophically superficial with respect to God as a deliberate policy. And if that is a result of the fact that his primary intellctual goal is the practical goal of blunting the political power of Christian belief, then he is just a sophist.

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