Thursday, February 15, 2007

Genius or error?

In the Sullivan/Harris debate, Sullivan has time and again--at least to the careful reader--exposed the utter vacuity of his specifically theistic belief. Having transferred his superstitious magical thinking to conservatism, Sullivan has left to "God" specific ideology, no actual content at all, just feel-good platitudes. Sullivan can have his private "truth" about God, and allow others their private "truths" about God, because none of these truths actually matter.

But most readers have neither the time nor the inclination to read so carefully, and Sullivan is almost unmatched for his talent in making the vacuous sound good, very good. Even when he's right, as on gay marriage and torture, he's right about the blatantly obvious, where sincerity and rhetoric count for so much and analysis for so little. At the end of the day, I don't think Harris is a good enough writer to overcome Sullivan.

Someone in the atheist camp needs to match Sullivan's sincerity and rhetorical force. More importantly, we need to perform some emotional and psychological judo. We need to warmly accept all the lovey-dovey feel-good emotionalism, and show how it's not only compatible with atheism, atheism makes it better.

I'm doing my best, but my talent and training are less oriented to singing rhetoric and more to computer manuals, and I need years more practice.

We need a poet. Sam Harris is a lot of things, many of them good, but he's not a poet.


  1. R. Scott Bakker at Vanderbilt is pretty eloquent. His fantasy series, "The Prince of Nothing," was written to finance his Ph.D. in philosophy, and is chock full of interesting thoughts on tradition vs. progress, theism/faith vs. atheism, etc.

    I have my moments, but my thinking tends to be haphazard and slipshod. Part of what makes Sullivan so eloquent is that he has nearly two millenniums' worth of neo-Platonism to crib from.

    I think that the key lies in encouraging the very human traits of empathy and projection. I need to ponder it a bit further.

  2. I'll have to add the book to my Amazon queue.

    The problem is perhaps not just Sullivan's eloquence, but also Harris's tin ear and somewhat... ah... confused philosophy, mentioned in the same breath as Dawkins and Dennett by virtue only of the miniscule pool of atheist writers. In my darkest moods, I suspect Harris might be to atheism what Alan Colmes is to liberalism.


Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

With few exceptions, I will not respond or reply to anonymous comments, and I may delete them. I keep a copy of all comments; if you want the text of your comment to repost with something vaguely resembling an identity, email me.

No spam, pr0n, commercial advertising, insanity, lies, repetition or off-topic comments. Creationists, Global Warming deniers, anti-vaxers, Randians, and Libertarians are automatically presumed to be idiots; Christians and Muslims might get the benefit of the doubt, if I'm in a good mood.

See the Debate Flowchart for some basic rules.

Sourced factual corrections are always published and acknowledged.

I will respond or not respond to comments as the mood takes me. See my latest comment policy for details. I am not a pseudonomous-American: my real name is Larry.

Comments may be moderated from time to time. When I do moderate comments, anonymous comments are far more likely to be rejected.

I've already answered some typical comments.

I have jqMath enabled for the blog. If you have a dollar sign (\$) in your comment, put a \\ in front of it: \\\$, unless you want to include a formula in your comment.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.