It Helps to Not Quote-Mine

A comment left on a video I toasted yesterday:

Nope, there is nothing militant about that. But that is not all they are saying.

There is something militant about calling believers “child abusers” (Dawkins), as belonging in cages (Dennet) and saying, “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them.” Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pages 52-53.

One by one now.

Dawkins doesn’t call believers “child abusers” for having children and believing. He calls them child abusers for labeling their child as a “Christian child” or a “Muslim child” or even an “Atheist child” because that’s pretty much indoctrination.

To use an extreme example, say a Jehovah’s Witness has a child and that child has a need for a blood transfusion and the Jehovah’s Witness parent says “you can’t get treatment because you are a Jehovah’s Witness child”. That, of course, is an extreme example. At the very least it should still be the child’s right to choose what to believe and being told what they have to believe or else they’ll go to Hell is arguably child abuse.

You can quote things out of context? Cool! I can too. I can also give you the context of things quoted out of context.


Safety demands that religions be put in cages, too–when it is necessary.

End of Faith pages 52-53,

The power that belief has over our emotional lives appears to be total. For every emotion that you are capable of feeling, there is surely a belief that could invoke it in a matter of moments. Consider the following proposition:

Your daughter is being slowly tortured in an English jail.

What is it that stands between you and the absolute panic that such a proposition would loose int he mind and body of a person who believed it? Perhaps you do not have a daughter, or you know her to be safely at home, or you believe that English jailors are renowned for their congeniality. Whatever the reason, the door to belief has not yet swung upon its hinges.

The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.

Ultimately, Harris ends up making more of a statement of fact about how beliefs do lead to blood-shed in many cases and so self-defense is often necessary.

And who determines which beliefs are so dangerous? The atheist. Of course Sam Harris make excuses for pre-emptive nuclear war, pages 129 on, torture, and anti semtism (the Jews brought it on themselves.)

Yay! More quote-mining!

What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-rage nuclear weaponry? If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are of what their state of rediness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime-as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day-but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe. How would such an unconscionable act of self-defense be perceived by the rest of the Muslim world? It would likely be seen as the first incursion of a genocidal crusade. The horrible irony here is that seeing could make it so: this very perception could plunge us into a state of hot war with any Muslim state that had the capacity to pose a nulcear threat of its own. All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns.

Hey, Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and dancing pink unicorns on the planet of Neptune are real!

Now that I’ve given the context of the quote, I’d like to say that I didn’t see the Jews brought up on page 129 at all so that was really unhelpful.

Can you imagine an officially atheistic government?

I don’t want an officially atheistic government. Neither do Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, or Harris.

I want a secular one. Think America, a pluralistic democracy, without the remnants of the McCarthy era (“In God we trust” on dollar bills “one nation under God” in the pledge) and without fundamentalists being able to get away with in-school prayer and banning the teaching of evolution. People are free to believe whatever they want, they just aren’t free to force somebody else to believe it or live by their rules.

I can. Gulags, “re-education” camps, brainwashing centers, you name it.

Since when did atheism=totalitarianism? Atheism just means you don’t believe in a god. It doesn’t mean a Stalinist society. Could you show how atheism necessarily leads to totalitarianism?

If anything comes close to a totalitarian age in our country I’d bring up the McCarthy era again where we had a lovely little witch-hunt and people’s lives were ruined because they were evil godless commies. That wasn’t very atheistic of us, nor very secular.

You keep at it with that quote-mining and weakening your case, then. Have fun!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rev. Reed Braden on August 8, 2008 at 2:11 am

    That’s ironic coming from you. You quote-mine me as if quote-mining is going out of style tomorrow!

  2. Reed, I don’t need to quote-mine you to prove that you’re an ass.

  3. Posted by jaded_facade on August 8, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    A most excellent post…er…toast. Quote mining, and generally misrepresenting your opponent’s arguments, is unfortunately a rather common tactic among the logically impaired. But, then again, how else should one go about creating such funny straw men arguments? The only downside is that the average reader is most likely not equipped to see through such fallacious and empty statements, and may actually believe this kind of nonsense. Oh, and Reed, it is all nonsense that you’re spewing.

  4. Posted by skep on August 11, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Yes. It helps not to quote mine… [looks significantly at some other commentators]

  5. Posted by Donald on September 19, 2008 at 3:28 am

    I stumbled on this 6 weeks late. The full Harris quote that you supply leaves him looking as stupidly bloodthirsty as any out-of-context version possibly could. I read this on his own blog. The man is morally clueless. There are real life people called Islamists and some of them run countries and obviously anyone reading his argument will think of Iran. So if the real life Islamists in the real country Iran ever acquire nuclear weapons and a delivery system, Sam Harris evidently thinks that Israel would be justified in killing tens of millions of Iranians because the Iranian President is an anti-semite and has been widely quoted (some say misquoted) as wanting to wipe Israel off the map. That’s nuclear genocide and anyone who ever does this should be tried for crimes against humanity.

    If he’s not making a real argument about real dangers, then why not just say we might have to wipe out the Borg if they ever come into our solar system? If he’s only talking about imaginary Islamists in some parallel universe that we somehow know are going to launch nuclear missiles, then he should make that clear.

    BTW, I’ve seen Harris write on Western vs. Islamic atrocities–he’s so prejudiced on this it’s like reading something by John Hagee. In his universe, for instance, the Israelis try to avoid killing civilians. That’s his fanaticism talking–apparently he can’t bring himself to read Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch reports, or he might found out his beloved civilized Westerners aren’t quite so morally superior as he imagines.

  6. Ahem…

    “All of this is perfectly insane, of course: I have just described a plausible scenario in which much of the world’s population could be annihilated on account of religious ideas that belong on the same shelf with Batman, the philosopher’s stone, and unicorns.”

    Thank you.

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