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We didn’t do much religion coverage today …

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File:A small cup of coffee.JPG The new atheists have been holding out on us lately.

On the other hand, someone told us about this Raw Story item: Professional atheist Sam Harris looks like an idiot in this email exchange with Noam Chomsky

My, my. What do readers think?

Is it no longer cool to be a new atheist?

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2 Replies to “We didn’t do much religion coverage today …

  1. 1
    ronvanwegen says:

    Hi Barry, Not a comment but a suggestion for your site. As you have been writing for many years the archive list at the right of the page is very long. You might consider reducing it in some way so that the Recent and Popular posts are nearer to the reader’s eye. Just a thought. Otherwise – keep on keeping on!

  2. 2
    Timaeus says:


    I’ve just read the entire exchange. I carry no brief for Sam Harris, or for New Atheism, but I don’t agree that Harris looked like an idiot.

    Harris was actually standing up for a traditional view of morality, one in which intentionality is central. Chomsky, in being continually slippery about where he stood regarding intentionality (Harris had to keep pressing him for clarity on the question), was being his usual contrarian (and arrogant) self.

    If there has ever been a human being on the planet without even an ounce of humility, it’s Chomsky. He speaks to and about everyone else as if they are idiots. His condescension, and prickly oversensitivity to criticism, is unbearable. And it’s nothing new. It’s an attitude he has cultivated all his life, from the time he was a young wunderkind in linguistics. He really thinks of himself as a sort of mental god wandering around on a planet full of mere mortals who just cannot think intelligently, and need him to straighten them out.

    Harris’s replies were gracious and peace-making, not like Chomsky’s, which deliberately sought to ratchet up the temperature of the exchange. Harris writes like your next-door neighbor that you talk to over the back fence, whereas Chomsky writes in the haughty style of the most arrogant of German professors or the most supercilious of doctrinaire neo-Thomist philosophers.

    There is a wonderful old interview of Chomsky by William F. Buckley, from the late 50s or early 60s, which used to be on the internet somewhere. Even then, you could just feel the deep contempt that Chomsky felt for any thinker who did not agree with him. And he’s never got any better.

    Chomsky isn’t even a good reasoner, for all his high IQ and academic achievements. It doesn’t follow that the close proximity of one event to another proves causality. We can’t be sure, just from the closeness in time of the two destructive events he was discussing with Harris, that the one was a retaliation for the other. There is grounds for suspicion, yes; but suspicion must be confirmed by documents. Has Chomsky got any documents? Did he smuggle secret papers out of the White House proving that the bombing in Africa was for retaliation? How about some scholarship, Chomsky?

    Chomsky may have been a great linguist in his day (though many doubt even that). But on political matters, he has always been willing to believe absolutely the worst about the government of his own nation, on suspicion alone, or nearly on suspicion alone. He is ideologically motivated. I have little respect for the man.

    Harris bent over backwards to agree with Chomsky that the US had done many bad things. But Harris doesn’t share Chomsky’s reflexive assumption that all US administrations are nasty enough to strike back at poor nations out of sheer political pique. Harris is willing to at least listen to possible alternative explanations.

    I don’t know who wrote the column title at RawStory — I can’t find a byline anywhere (perhaps the author of the column lacks the courage to give his name) — but it’s clear that the one who looks like an idiot is not Sam Harris, who in the exchange proved articulate, polite, and animated by a sound moral theory; the “idiot” is the columnist at RawStory who could read the same exchange I did, and not conclude that it was Chomsky who was being the idiot.

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