Sam Harris and Chris Hedges on

June 18, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

This is a lively debate, as you might expect. You’ll can view the entire debate at

Sam Harris opens the debate by arguing that there are only three types of arguments used by those defending religion:

  • That a particular religion is true;
  • That believing in religion is useful; or
  • That atheist are immoral (and other ad hominem attacks on atheists).

Harris elaborates on each of these three types of arguments. 

Chris Hedges opens by advocating that all of us need to stop tolerating the intolerant.  He joins with Sam Harris on this point.   Hedges then moves on to argue that Harris “conflates faith with tribalism,” holding that tribalism is not religion.  He credits monotheism with giving rise to the recognition of the individual, altruism and “the open society.”  Hedges makes the argument hard to join, however, when he asserts that “The question is not whether God exists.” 

Hedges is a sharp critic of Harris’s alleged militant stance against Islam (see the end of Part III & the beginning of Part IV).

There’s lots of discussion about sociology, politics, science and disenfranchised populations along the way.  The entire discussion is laced with references to the real world, which keeps it lively.  An issue that haunts this discussion, though, is the difficulty identifying the type of believer who is problematic.  What kind of believer is the kind about whom we need to be concerned? 

These are two highly competent spokespeople.  The debate is well worth viewing.


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Category: Religion, The Middle East

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tim Hogan says:

    I understand Harris "argues" there are three catagories of arguments for religion but, I assert he commits ab initio a fallacy of composition. and mistakes his small numbers of categories for the complete pantheon of what might be argued in support of his opponents.

    I find it most interesting that one of Harris' catagories involves an immediate ad hominem attack upon Harris' opponents. Sophistry at best, disappointing at the least.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    What kind of believer is the kind about whom we need to be concerned?

    I thought Harris' point was that all types of believers were equally dangerous because the ones on the outermost moderate "circles" are sheltering the fundies and Dominionists at the "center" from the wrath of Sam?

    So Hedges, who has a critique of the religious right that is based on a great deal of first-person investigative research (as opposed to reading holy texts with the most literal interpretation possible, and making a bunch of conclusions based on this reading mixed with a superficial understanding of history and current events) is just as dangerous and deluded as Pat Robertson. At least that is my understanding, according to a literal reading of Harris article "God's dupes."

    Then too, Harris respects the fundamentalists more, because according to him, they "really" believe in their texts – because only literal belief counts, apparently. It's as if a professor gave an A to a student who wrote a paper on "Crime and Punishment" who analyzed the narrative as if it really happened and drew a simple moral, without ever looking at the historical context, literary genre, symbolism, metaphor, etc,, and failed a student who wrote a paper that teased out all the nuances and multiple interpretations and then analyzed how the same forces of the human heart that preoccupied Dostoevsky can be seen in the world today.

    If you know the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, I think it helps to see that Harris is almost certainly a TJ, thinking/judging. So for him, it's most important that people get their facts straight – there is no magic guy in the sky, no virgin birth and all that jazz, and then everything will be just grand and we will all get along. Whereas an FJ, like Hedges or -ahem- me, will say that our conscious beliefs are often just rationalizations of subconscious forces and can't be opposed as successfully by rational argument as by getting at the root causes.

    I'm very much afraid that Harris' "we are at war with Islam" is throwing fuel on a fire that is already too hot for my liking. I'm also afraid that the very necessary conversation we need to have about the Constitution and the separation of church and state is going to turn into an Atheists vs. Believers pro-wrestling style sideshow, like Harris' "debate" with Rick Warren.

  3. Ben says:

    Tim, if you aren't busy, lets hear an argument for religion, which does not fit snugly into one of the three catagories. Not to tease, I find it fascinating to watch "believers" once confronted with Harris' flawless (in my opinion) logic.

  4. Vicki Baker says:

    BTW, thanks for the alert that the entire debate has been posted. I got tired of checking.

  5. Ben says:

    Sam Harris puts it on the line again. I haven't finished it yet…

  6. Erich Vieth says:

    Ben: Pretty good stuff by Harris. E.g., "If [sorcery] declines, what gaps does it leave in the functioning of individuals and social groups?…"

  7. Ben says:

    I never realized how evil Harris must be to even SUGGEST that witches are not real. Methinks HE must be a witch! Take him to the scales…

  8. Ben says:

    Harris speaks at the Atheist Alliance:

    Consider the unique features of Mormonism, which may have some relevance in the next Presidential election. Mormonism, it seems to me, is—objectively—just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas. For instance, the Mormons think Jesus is going to return to earth and administer his Thousand years of Peace, at least part of the time, from the state of Missouri.

    I think that “atheist” is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don’t need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people “non-astrologers.” All we need are words like “reason” and “evidence” and “common sense” and “bullshit” to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    Ben: as a non-astrologer based in Missouri, you've got me wondering if there will be any cool job opportunities for those of us based in Missouri when they start administering The 1000 Years of Peace. Do they know what street Jesus will be living on? I'm just wondering whether it might be walking distance from my house.

    Then again, I'm wondering what's going to happen at the EXPIRATION of 1000 Years of Peace. I mean, after all, if it's going to be yet another year of PEACE, they would have called it 1001 YEARS of PEACE. This is causing me some anxiety . . .

  10. Bobin says:

    I, and all other things, am part of the natural world [of sub-atomic (energy) particles]. Descarte, the scientist, despaired of finding God in the natural world, and because God had to exist, concluded therefore that the natural world didn't exist. But God was always in his thoughts, which were thus the real world, 'Cogito ergo sum'. Of course he was partly right. Gods and ghosts and memories and imagination and poetry and so on, do live in our thoughts, but only in our thoughts. The natural world indisputedly exists and is all that exists. No God to be found there, unless you are going to call a sub-atomic particle "God" !


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