Sam Harris' Empty Use of Rhetoric

Macht over at Prosthesis has written a very interesting analysis of Sam Harris' assertion that "one could easily mount a defense of medieval witchcraft using the same arguments that many people use today to defend religion". Entitled Preach it, Harris, preach it! Amen my brother!, Macht exposes that Harris doesn't really make an argument, but rather relies upon assertions of "what we know" and prejudices.

Harris obviously chooses witchcraft because he knows most of his readers will think witchcraft is false. This is a rhetorical technique that I have noticed many of the "new atheists" have used - when Truth is on your side, you don't need arguments. Instead of attempting to show why his reviewers arguments are bad, he instead attempts to relate the reviews to something we already "know" to be false. Essentially, he's trying to get the reader to agree with him without giving any reason to agree with him. He's preying on the reader's prejudices.

Harris' article is a beautiful piece of rhetoric, even if it is lacking in substance. But it also gives us some insight into the "we don't have to engage religion because it is silly" meme that most of the "new atheists" seem to accept. In this article, Harris is essentially saying, "You know how you guys think that witchcraft is a silly, out-dated belief system? Well, that's pretty much how I feel about religion in general. That's why all your critiques of me and my friends miss the mark." Unfortunately for Harris, calling something silly and old doesn't really constitute an argument (unless you are amongst like-minded folks).

Beautiful, Macht. Harris' writing is much like most addresses made by students at High School graduations: lots of flowery language without much substance.


Jason Pratt said…
I'm having serious trouble getting past Macht's title without falling over in a fit of rampant giggling. The title alone is gold. {rotfl!} {bowing in Macht's direction!}

The dig about this recent habit being a 'meme', is priceless, too.

Anonymous said…
Amen, and yea amen again (whatever that means:) I waded my way through "Letter to a Christian Nation" out of curiosity and went away feeling sorry for the poor dopes (including, sad to say, some very eminent scientists) who read it and went away thinking that atheism had received some magical new bulwark. My God! How can anyone take this man seriously? And how did he not flunk out of Stanford? If "Letter..." was a philosophy paper at Princeton, if would have gotten an F--- (that's F triple minus, not 'fill in the blanks' for a rather cruder expression, heh heh).
Jason Pratt said…
Though that might count, too, JD. {g}

(In other news, Christian Cadre apparently rates an 'R' according to Hat tip to Bill for that one! Now I know why; it must be JD's fault... {lol!})

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