Shermer and Harris pwn Chopra at Caltech

November 6, 2013 • 9:56 am

I’ve deliberately neglected Deepak Chopra for most of my life, as I don’t need the tsouris.  But now, after having listened to him more and more, I find out that he’s not only a dreadful purveyor of woo, but also a pretty nasty guy when he’s challenged.

In this ten-minute clip, apparently filmed at Caltech, Shermer and, especially, Sam Harris, simply take Chopra’s woo-peddling to pieces.  Chopra comes off looking really bad. And he won’t let other people talk.

In truth, I think any of us could fabricate and peddle the same stuff that Chopra does, and make a million dollars doing so. As Harris says, “This is a game. . . for people who don’t know much about science and how science is done.”

Lots of people seem to vilify Sam for his views, something I don’t fully understand since I think they often distort those views; but one thing can’t be denied: on the debating platform, Sam is the true heir of Christopher Hitchens.

140 thoughts on “Shermer and Harris pwn Chopra at Caltech

  1. Many of the commentors over at the Freethoughblogs take Harris to task for, in their opinion, being too harsh on Islam and Muslims. In fact, there are two ex-Muslims who blog over there who are a lot tougher on Islam then Harris is.

    1. Harris has some particular stances that are very questionable, such as on loose gun control, justifying racial profiling, or justifying the use of torture. He is taken to task mostly for those. I am not aware of any great atheist ire over criticisms of Islam/Muslims specifically, except perhaps over positions 2 and 3 above.

      Harris has a lot of well thought out and justifiable ideas, and conveys them in general very well to the public. Yet when he is questioned about some things, such as those mentioned above, he tends to drop into anecdotes and just so stories to defend them while ignoring any kind of statistical or empirical evidence brought to bear against the beliefs he has adopted.

      I think the atheist movement has benefited quite a bit from Harris’ involvement. He has a few poor ideas, but they are mostly overshadowed by good contributions. Fortunately we have no saints, so we can be selective about what to endorse from him.

      1. He did not advocate racial profiling, but religious profiling. As you surely know, Muslims are not a race. And I don’t think that stand is “very questionable;” after all, El Al does it too. As for torture, if you think he’s “justified the use of torture,” you haven’t read what he wrote about it. He asked us to consider the possibility that, in some hypothetical situations, torture might be justifiable. I found that a stimulus to thinking, not a “justification.” He was challenging people’s knee-jerk reactions, which is what good philosophers and skeptics do.

        I do disagree with him on gun control, but the fact that you, who generally like the guy, mischaracterize his stands on two important issues shows the problem.

        Sam makes skeptics think, and sometimes they just don’t like that!

        1. I think part of the skeptical vitriol directed at Sam over the torture question came from him discussing possible benefits from its use in the same types of hypothetical scenarios as used by Bush administration officials, at a time when the administration was instead using torture just to beat worthless confessions and accusations out of innocent bystanders — if not for pure sadism.

          That is, even if one could (which one can’t) hypothetically justify torture in some sort of Platonically ideal sense, it’s never been used in any other than the Orwellian manner — and those who use and advocate for torture have always used the Platonic ideal to justify its use.

          I don’t think Sam wants to see torture applied in Orwellian circumstances. But I do think he’s been uncharacteristically (for him) naïve in his handling of the issue, and in a way that can only encourage the use of Orwellian torture.

          Considering the high emotions surrounding the question, the pushback he’s received shouldn’t be surprising from a group that, for the most part, strongly tends towards liberalism and pacifism.


        2. OK, I’ll grant that Muslim is not a race. Still, if you are going to point extra security measures at people who “look Muslim” the racism seems pretty difficult to avoid. The real sticky point for all this though, is that profiling, religious or otherwise, just does not work. I have yet to hear Harris respond to any of that criticism, we just get more just so stories about a particular situation where the profiling would work. That is just bad reasoning.

          Similarly, after stating that the collateral damage in war could justify particular uses of torture, he has yet to respond to the problem that there is no reason to think that torture is at all effective. In both those cases he disregards the opinion of experts in favor of his just so anecdotes.

          He makes very similar errors in his discussions of gun control.

          I welcome clarification if you can present it, but you too quickly read far too much into my cursory mention of Harris’ positions. Perhaps I was a bit sloppy, but briefly mentioning that he justifies the use of torture hardly implies that he justifies the use of all torture. I was mostly responding to colnago80’s implication that FTB only objects that he is too hard on Muslims.

          1. He doesn’t actually advocate “racial” or “religious” profiling. He advocates “profiling.” This takes into account things like age, clothes, ethnicity, behavior, etc. He repeatedly says that he would include himself in the group of people to be looked at more carefully (due to his age, sex, etc.). Race or religion is not the only factor. And if you have yet to hear Harris respond to his critics, you haven’t been trying very hard. Check out his blog for starters. He had an email debate with one of his critics on there, which he clearly won.

            1. The salient point is that profiling of any kind does not work, which breaks the back of his whole argument regardless of how he intends to implement said profiling.

              I realize that there are Muslims out there that just want to tar him as racist. That approach has no merit, and it is not why I take issue with his conclusions.

              If you have an example where Harris directly addresses the problem in his argument that profiling is ineffective, I would very much like a link to it. I don’t have any animosity towards him, I just think him severely misguided on a few issues.

              1. Intrusively searching the very elderly and the very young does not seem to work, either. And the sort of profiling El Al does demonstrably seems to work.

              2. The “profiling” El Al does is actually primarily the result of careful one-on-one interrogation by highly skilled security professionals. Overly simplified, they ask you what you’re up to and look for signs of dishonesty. They probably have extensive NSA-style dossiers on all travelers at their disposal, as well, and know what kinds of inconsistencies between your record and your answers to probe at.

                To characterize it as “profiling” is more than a bit of a misnomer. And the El Al agents will tell you that what we refer to as “profiling” here in the States is a recipe for disaster.

                And, oh-by-the-way, for both logistical and, in many cases, legal reasons (not that the latter matters much any more), Israeli-style security screening will never fly (if you’ll excuse me) anywhere outside of a small, wealthy nation.



              3. You are correct.

                I should clarify that predictive profiling that deliberately does not draw inferences on appearance or ethic stereotypes and focuses on specific actions or conditions is completely legitimate. The looks based profiling Harris espouses is what is ineffective.

              4. Age profiling certainly works for insurance companies in mitigating their losses/increasing their profit.

              5. Bruce Schneier is one of the leading experts on security. He literally wrote the book on applied cryptography.

                Since then, he’s realized that, as essential as math is to security, it’s just a starting point, and often rendered irrelevant as attackers simply go after systems where there is no such security. As usual, Randall Munroe illustrates the point perfectly.

                And so Bruce has become an outspoken critic of the joke of security theater of the TSA, and especially of the principle of profiling.

                In a rebuttal to Sam hosted at Sam’s Web site, Bruce effectively dismantles the profiling argument with some very simple, easy-to-follow math. In short, profiling actually (even if counter-intuitively) makes you less secure — and that’s well before you take into account any efforts an attacker might do to defeat profiling (such as recruiting a redheaded Irish grandmother in a wheelchair, or at least the actor who plays her on TV).

                If it helps, it’s a problem not entirely unlike the Monty Hall problem or the Birthday Paradox. The mathematical results are clear and unquestionable once you work through it, but very few people are able to arrive at the correct answer intuitively, and many are likely to distrust the answer even after they’ve confirmed it for themselves.



              6. Read the Schneier post at SH’s site and also their follow-up debate. Like Sam, I am not convinced. There was a lot of fence-moving going on.

              7. I think the basic flaw is that even if virtually all terrorists are Muslims, it doesn’t mean that a Muslim has a significant probability of being a terrorist. This is because, in spite of the scare stories from the security services, terrorists are actually quite rare.

                Yesterday, the British security services testified to Parliament that they had uncovered 34 terrorist plots since the 7/7 bombings. Let’s say that’s around 200 terrorists. Even if they were all Muslims, with 1.5 million Muslims in the UK, the chance of picking one up by screening a random Muslim is about 0.01% You can improve the odds by observing that all the terrorists were men in their 20’s and 30’s (assuming they were, of course) and only screening Muslim men under 40, but then the obvious counter move by the terrorist is to recruit women, or older people, or teenagers caucasian converts.

        3. >He did not advocate racial profiling, but religious profiling.

          Well … in his article “In Defense of Profiling”, which sparked that controversy, he said

          “We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.”

          with the later adendum

          “When I speak of profiling “Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim,” I am not narrowly focused on people with dark skin. In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice).”

          For me that shows quite clearly that he indeed thinks of Muslims as being distinguishable by their looks – and given that a Muslim terrorist would surely not state their true religion at an airport, only that fact would make it possible to spot them, after all.

          His argument doesn’t make sense if you assume he’s not thinking of Muslims as a subgroup which can be profiled for on visual criteria.


          1. This:

            “In fact, I included myself in the description of the type of person I think should be profiled (twice).”

            argument put forward by Harris has always bothered me. He states this as if it gives his argument more credibility. It would not matter if he was brown-skinned Muslim making the same pro-profiling argument. It’s the argument that matters and it’s a bad argument.

            Just for the record, I agree with Sam on most issues. He’s a great thinker. But his gun control and profiling opinions (and most of his torture opinions since he bases the argument on some just-so scenario unlikely to ever happen in the real world).

            Sam is great in debates,too. Where Hitchens (whose approach I loved) is very bluntly blunt, Sam manages to make the same very biting points, but in a subtle way, without altering his tone of voice. He’s almost polite in his tearing apart the arguments of whack-jobs like Chopra.

        1. …of course, that’s the other point.

          I’d be inclined to agree with him that the cringe-inducing euphemism, “collateral damage,” is an horror of a similar variety as torture.

          But that’s an argument to eliminate civilian deaths, not to torture more. It’s the “It’s no worse than this other horrible thing!” argument, a close cousin of “But we’re quite not as bad as North Korea!” argument. It’s a race to the bottom, not a quest for enlightenment.

          At absolute best, it’s an admission of failure, that we have exhausted all other options and nothing conceivable presents itself as an alternative. If Sam’s argument was that we don’t currently have any better choices and therefore we should devote ourselves to coming up with them, I’d have a lot more sympathy for his position — especially given his credentials as a cognitive neuroscientist and thus, presumably, the insights he could offer.

          But, if that’s his position, I’ve never heard him articulate it….


            1. Yeah, I’ve read that. I just re-skimmed it to confirm that, indeed, Sam makes no mention of the need for the development of a superior alternative to torture, even at times when he’s grasping at straws with ticking-time-bomb scenarios even with, as he uses for dramatic effect in his example, a negligible chance of actionable intelligence resulting from torture. Wouldn’t it be better to have something superior with a higher chance of working and without the evil of torture that we could use in cases of ticking time bombs? Why don’t torture apologists ever encourage such developments and instead insist that we must at least consider maintaining this horrific and antiquated and ineffective and dangerous (to those who would wield it) weapon in our arsenal?

              And the naïvet&eaccute; I referred to earlier about parroting the arguments from Platonic ideals whilst ignoring that those same arguments are used to justify the universally-Orwellian applications of torture are on full display in that essay, as well.


              1. I am very surprised by Harris’ view on gun control, only now find out. I have great respect for him from what I’ve seen so far in discussions, and for that reason read his justification of gun ownership. Didn’t make sense to me, sorry. The bottom line is high gun-ownership means offenders are more likely to bring guns, negating any benefit owning a gun might bring. Even when it makes you feel safe.

              2. I think I’d summarize it by stating that I’m at least in broad agreement with Sam on most everything except for sociopolitics…on which we have some stark disagreements.

                It’s worth noting that it’s exactly the sociopolitical realm in which PZ wishes to catherd atheists into A+. I don’t see how somebody like Sam could ever even remotely fit into that clique (or desire to do so), and I don’t much see the point of a modern atheist “movement” that would go out of its way to exclude somebody like him. Sam and I might go at it hammer-and-tongs over torture and nukes and what-not, but, damnit, I want him by my side when the faith-heads show up!


              3. Did you notice the part where he wants torture to remain illegal? I think his argument should be read in the opposite direction – against collateral damage, not in favor of more torture, even though his imagination is too vivid to claim that torture would necessarily be wrong in every hypothetical situation.

              4. That wasn’t my complaint. Rather, it was that he’s not even suggesting we search for alternatives at the same time he’s admitting that it’s a flawed “technique.”


              5. …and, I should add, since you brought it up: a policy, even an unofficial one, that we should abandon the rule of law when the need is great enough…well, first, that’s not how civilized nations behave…because, second, nations that condone such excuses rapidly degenerate into tyranny. Just look at what’s happened since 9/11, where all those “special powers” that were granted for use against evildoers are now being used against regular citizens, with the NSA even helping the FBI build cases against petty drug users, allegedly because they “innocently” overheard something in one of their illegal wiretap dragnets of NSA agents’s girlfriends.


              6. RE gun control–I’ve suspected that perhaps the very real threats to his (and esp. his family’s) life/lives might have colored his views here. It’s one thing to consider the subject when your odds of dealing with violence-prone ideologues are that of the average Joe; another when your odds are considerably higher.

              7. I’m still fond of my idea of limiting private gun ownership to non-automatic (not even semi-automatic) weapons. If you can’t fend off the bad guys with a revolver or a double-barrled shotgun, you’re unlikely to be able to hold them off with any sort of firearm.


              8. @ Diane

                That is my thinking too. For me, owning a gun would be like owning a vicious animal that is more likely to turn on me than protect me. However, there could be circumstances that adjust the probabilities in favor of me keeping that vicious animal – perhaps I live in an area where muggings or break-ins and violent crime are very frequent.

                I have read that Sam travels with bodyguards – one wonders at the kind of threats that he must have received.

                The problem is, while gun ownership may make sense for a few individuals, it’s utter madness when on the scale that we have in the US.

              9. Ben: If your main point is that torture should be near the bottom of the list of desperate resorts, I am fairly certain Harris agrees – I think very nearly everybody does, though, so it’s hardly worth spending much bandwidth on.

  2. Leonard Mlodinow also dismantles him nicely in an audience Q&A. Mlodinov takes him to task about his purloining of the terms in quantum mechanics.

    3 mins – On YouTube:

    Physicist Leonard Mlodinow vs. Deepak Chopra

    1. After this exchange, I noted that Mlodinow accepted Chopra’s offer of a followup meeting to discuss differences. I later asked Mlodinow what had come of that. It appears he was pursuing helping Chopra develop a book. I was puzzled and told him I wouldn’t want to get close to that guy on a bus. I don’t know what ever became of the project.

      1. They co-authored a book called “War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spirituality Meet — and Do Not.”

        “Deepak Chopra did an excellent job explaining why the all-embracing holistic quantum field suggests a dynamic, alive cosmos. This is an interesting and provocative book which will be read and talked about for a long time to come.” —Hans Peter Duerr, Director Emeritus, Max-Planck-Institute for Physics and Astrophysics

        Hard to believe.

        1. Hard to believe

          Not at all. You just have to consider the source of this quote. And while director of a Max-Planck-Institute is an impressive title, Hans Peter Dürr himself has been a strong source of woo for quite some time.

          Amazing how deep a man with his credentials can fall.

          1. Not surprising at all. Nobel physics prize winner Brian Josephson is a believer in cold fusion, ESP, and PK, dubious propositions indeed. Then we have the late Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling’s totally unsupported claims about vitamin C.

            Even the most prestigious of scientists are not immune from nonsense.

    2. I found that display one of the most arrogant things in my life. A physicist says to a non-physicists “you are misusing the terms of my discipline”, the non-physicist responds “well, you should learn from me”.

      I’d really like to think that Chopra is a charlatan, but my experience on the net of people believing in their own grandeur suggests otherwise.

      1. One has to be made of some special alloy of brass to spew this nonsense at Caltech and claim that it is a deeper understanding of physics than the audience has.

        1. Not all of one. Just a certain portion of the dangly bits.

          This especially true in the case of Upchuck Choker, as his skull is thick, dense, and soft, rather like a stale loaf of bread.


  3. This is one of my favourite debates because the looks on Sam Harris’s & Michael Shermer’s faces are priceless. It’s also funny to see Deepak completely losing it when his opponents, especially Harris, are so calm.

    I like how Sam Harris told him to “dial it back” and then Deepak Chopra couldn’t even own his rage and blamed it on Michael Shermer. I saw an interview later with Michael Shermer who said that Deepak’s son was filming him at a retreat & Deepak couldn’t relax because he was still angry at Michael Shermer from the debate.

    The burns from the questions were nice too – like when a physicist stands up and tells him he has it all wrong, but of course that didn’t convince Chopra to change his opinion & you still hear him babbling on about his quantum woo.

    1. Yes, that was fun! Too bad though the quantum physicist was not allowed to rectify the Hawking quote, while the Jamaican guy could go on and on about his eye-issue.

  4. It’s a shame that Shermer didn’t get a chance to finish the explanation of the double-slit experiment, because I’m pretty sure he would have been able to put the question of scale in perspective.

    It’s true that certain weird things happen to very, very, very, very, very small objects. But those weird things are just as small as the objects themselves. When you put even a small number of such objects together, they still individually do those weird things, but the weirdness remains as small as the individual bits not the larger collection of individual bits. It’s like the background hiss of a cassette tape: it’s there, yes, but it’s negligible in comparison to the actual recording. Except, of course, that the difference between big and small is far more than the difference between signal and noise on a tape.

    Now, it so happens that there are ways of magnifying and amplifying the tiny weirdness so we can do interesting and useful things with it, but it’s very difficult to do so — and it’s not some sort of magic spice that transforms the big world by the smallness. It’s just us putting the flea circus under the microscope and broadcasting their antics on the big-screen TV. We’re still not at all affected by what goes on there.

    The heart of Chopra’s woo is inappropriately extrapolating quantum weirdness into the macro scale. Once you understand the difference in scales, Chopra’s woo becomes as incomprehensible as somebody insisting that, because he can get his 1/100 scale model toy car up to 10 MPH, therefore the real car must be able to do 1,000 MPH, and a monster supercar a thousand times the size of a real car must be able to go faster than the speed of light.

    As the famous saying puts it, he’s not even worng.



    1. Yep, that’s a good explanation Ben. Of course, most people under thirty who read it will say, “What is this ‘cassette tape’ of which you speak?” 🙂

      The trouble with the woo-sotted (I don’t know if this describes Chopra – he may just be a snake-oil salesman) is that you can throw scientific facts at them all day long and none of it will ever stick. If they ever admit that science has explained pretty much everything that normal humans will ever interact with, then they will have to accept that there is no mystic force that might solve their problems (or that they can blame their problems on). Unlike most traditionally religious folks, they arrived at their wacky world view pretty much under their own steam and thus we skeptics appear to be attacking them in a way that is even more personal then when we challenge Christian beliefs, which were mostly handed to then by their parents. This may explain why Chopra gets so worked up. Or, maybe he’s just afraid that his meal ticket is being threatened.

        1. … and blusters and gets indignant when he’s told he’s dead wrong…. he must think that using a loud voice will hammer home his ‘truth’ or drown out rational thought.

    2. Microns and Milliseconds. That is about where we are with sustained coherent observable ‘macroscopic’ quantum states. Pairing and ordering in superfluids and superconductors, who have macroscopic effects, are manifested by extremely short scale effects, where the participation of many, complex pairings are present and not necessarily correlated, at any one time. This does not imply macroscopic entanglement or other quantum niceties in our hot brains, for example.

      If Chopra were a skilled human he would sit down and read Phil Anderson and Tony Leggett, starting with this paper (paywall):

      Chopra is frighteningly deceived.

      1. Yes, exactly.

        I wouldn’t be totally shocked to find quantum effects at play in human brains; there are some quantum-based efficiency enhancement tricks employed by chloroplasts, and IC designers are sometimes plagued by quantum-induced crosstalk and noise and the like. Any such effects will be practically negligible, and really only of interest to those neuroscientists not focussing on cognition.

        I don’t think we can yet absolutely perfectly 100% rule out the possibility of quantum computation in the brain, but we can sure put a significant number of nines against the possibility. That would be a Nobel-worthy discovery…but quantum computing is still Turing-equivalent, so the wooists wouldn’t gain anything with that, either.



    1. What struck me was not the words, but the demeanor. Sam, Michael and Moldinow (not in clip above) were all so calm and reasonable, whereas Deepak was all worked up, frantic to get his wonderful arguments out. Did the woman ever get to say a word?

    1. Oh, that is THE definition of “pwned!” I’m still laughing. Brilliant, indeed. Talk about “Hoisted with his own petard.” Absolutely marvelous.
      Thanks so much for the link and the guffaw!

  5. great slapping of deepak, but harris has a long way to go before i’d say he could fill hitchens shoes… but count me in for the ride.

  6. dawkins did a great job on real time w/bill maher 2 weeks ago, even getting 3 theists to doubt the claim to the moral high ground most theists claim as theirs alone.

    1. Yes, but I wish he had helped Maher out when he tried to explain, to Michael Moore in particular, why Islam is a particularly bad religion. It seems like what people like Moore are hearing is that Muslims are particularly bad. No, people are all the same. It’s religions that are all over the place. The Aztecs sacrificed huge numbers of people for their gods. What a bad religion! Get it now Mr. Moore?

      But to say something actually on topic here: The audience seemed very sympathetic to the scientific view. DC seems not to think about the points he’s being faced with; like a religious person he stands by his views regardless – and then he emphasizes his scientific credentials, AND plays the “I’m offended card.”

    1. You made me laugh.

      You do not need to apologize. I do not think of Deepak as an Indian. He is just a misguided human being.

    2. ‘Sokay. I think y’all’ve more than made up for it with Ramanujan and Ramachandran alone.

      …not to mention vindaloo and the sitar and Bollywood and….


        1. Yeah…I typed that and thought of abandoning my plans for making lasagne this evening and eating out…but there aren’t any conveniently-located Indian restaurants near, so I’ll stick with Italian tonight.


          1. Another reason why I love living in NYC so much. You name a cuisine and there is conveniently located restaurant nearby. My personal favorite is Burmese. There also the Cambodian truck, but I don’t know where he’s parked tonight.

            1. Yeah, the Big Apple certainly has its charms…at the price of living asshole to elbow with ten million of your closest friends, and concrete and steel and glass and asphalt all the way to the horizon, which is just the other side of the street….

              Great place to visit, and to enjoy every moment of said visit. I just can’t imagine living there.


              1. Yes, there’s certainly that.

                And, even if I could afford to live there…well, if I could, I could also afford a very nice house in rural British Columbia and another similarly nice one in New Zealand, and I could also afford to move from the one to the other as the seasons indicated. And I could also afford to visit New York (or some other megalopolis) on occasion according to my whims.

                …assuming, of course, I ever wanted to deal with US Customs and the TSA….


              2. If you could afford all that, you could afford your own Lear Jet.

                And I’ll bet the nabobs have some privileges with customs, too…

  7. It’s just so perfect and predictable that Deepak should reference RUMI while talking about the interconnected mystery of the universe and how our consciousness is part of a great sea of Consciousness. Deepak practically fetishizes Divine Mystery. I love how Sam compares Deepak’s brand of woo to a “mystic sitting in a cave”.

  8. It’s unfortunate that Sam gets a lot of flak from other skeptics/atheists – his violation of liberal orthodoxy results in little approbation from certain quarters. Well done Sam!

  9. Instead of a god of the gaps, Deepity Chopra is peddling a god of the quantum leaps.

    Long before I knew who he was, I, being an Arthurian enthusiast, bought an early book of his, a novel about the magician Merlin. It was truly awful- the worst Arthurian fiction I have ever read.

  10. I just wanted to comment about the 1min 48sec mark when Chopra is calling Shermer out, and Shermer has this “I’m going to rhetorically hammer this idiot” look on his face. Love it.

    1. Hammer as well as he may, Chopra really has the upper hand. He’s not really listening to these classy criticisms. He seems to be using them as prompts to speak to his real constituents (like a clever politician): Those in the audience who don’t know the difference. They buy his books and pay his speaking fees. They pay for his mansion and fast cars.

      1. I tend to agree that he has the upperhand, and for the reasons that you state. Sam certainly realized this and tries to call him on it when he accuses Woopak Chutzpah of being “happily misunderstood”. That is, Woopak knows damn well that when he uses the word “God”, much of his paying audience take that to mean a personal God like Yahweh, but he has no real incentive or desire to correct them.

        For this reason, I greatly admire the likes of Shermer and Harris, for what they are doing is a frustrating and often thankless task.

  11. Off topic, but related to the discussion on FGM two days ago: UK Channel Four tonight 6 November 22.45 – “The Cruel Cut”. Probably will be available on 4OD later.

  12. Sam is brilliant, there is no doubt and I love him, and he is always getting better as an orator, but he is not yet an heir to Hitchens. For one thing, even if Hitchens had a gun, which I really doubt, I would never conceive of Hitchens promoting that guns would be needed to keep him safe. It just seems unnecessarily insecure of Sam to make public arguments for their use. You have to have the whole package to be Hitch II…and that may not be possible.

    1. Isn’t this the same Hitchens that supported the idiotic, tragic, and wasteful invasion of Iraq, and refused to back down even when shown that the case for invasion was based on lies?

      Even Hitch was certainly not the “full package”.

      1. In my post I mentioned Sam’s and Hitchens’s qualities as debaters. Is it really necessary now to drag in Hitchens’s stand on Iraq as part of this discussion?

        I don’t think so. What do you think it adds, except that none of us will agree with anybody, even atheists, 100%.

        There is nobody that is the “full package”, but sometimes we can try to show approbation for someone who was in the main a great plus for the “cause” rather than single out his flaws.

        Frankly, I’m tired of somebody dragging in Iraq EVERY TIME Hitchens is mentioned.

        1. Sorry Jerry, I only brought it up in response to someone bringing up Sam’s chink in his armor regarding guns.

          It was my way of saying that if we can look past Hitch’s bad position on Iraq, then we can certainly cut Sam some slack on the gun thing.

          Wasn’t my intention to drag Hitch down – I forgave him for his stance on Iraq long ago although it certainly baffled me.

        2. Sorry Jerry, I only brought this up to give a sense of proportion. If we can give Hitch a pass on Iraq and argue that it in no way diminishes the power of his oration and arguments against theism, then certainly we can cut Sam some slack for his (gasp) position on responsible gun ownership.

          Personally, I forgave Hitch a long time ago for his pro-war stance although it still baffles me why he took it. I’ll not mention it again unless it happens to be the topic of post.

        3. At present Krauss has a cadence which I think matches Hitchens better than Harris’, but I like Harris’ overall presentation style of gathering-then-releasing tension is better. They are different and that is good.

          It is rare, if improbable, to get repeats…i.e., the next Picasso, the next Fermi, and next Miles Davis, the next Michael Phelps. But it can be great fun looking for people who march close to the same step, at least with some skills.

      2. +1
        Add the charge that Hitchens was a “former-socialist”. I’m amazed at how many readers mischaracterize what Hitch and Harris actually say and write. Hitchens advocated the removal of Saddam Hussein because he despises dictators. He traveled the world extensively and was well-acquainted with the suffering inflicted on the populace by dictators and the State. He was an international champion of human rights and the rights of individuals as codified in the US Constitution. He loved Orwell and despised Kim Jong-Il with good reason. He was not responsible for Abu Ghraib or the deaths of innocent Iraqis or the WMD cover story to justify going into Iraq or a bungled Iraqi war effort–he was (correctly) for removing the monstrous dictator Saddam Hussein (insert Assad, Ghadaffi, Hitler if you like).

        I love Sam Harris too because he is unafraid to challenge dogma and make us all think. His essay on violence is true, his knowledge of self-defence is correct, and his stance on guns is enlightened. I very much appreciated his discussion of torture and collateral damage in TEOF. I fail to see how one justifies the unintended and inconvenient disembowelment of a child proximal to a drone strike meant to kill a known terrorist (and that child might suffer in agony for a week before succumbing to sepsis, aka torture) while simultaneously being against coercive interrogation of known terrorists who have operational knowledge that will result in the murder of innocents. It appears to come down to intent. And that “whoops” is a better justification for inflicting pain on innocent people (while trying to kill presumed guilty people) than inflicting pain on demonstrably guilty people (to try to save the lives of innocent people) who are intent on inflicting pain on those innocents.

        1. I’ll be brief, because I don’t want to derail the topic anymore than I have, but I think that you are sugar-coating the simple fact that we went to war based on misinformation – propoganda if you will – and that Hitch was one of those who refused to accept the finding that WMDs did not exist. I heard him on the radio giving some of the most appalling arguments to rationalize this, which goes to show that even great minds can lose the plot from time to time.

          The world is full of dictators; it does not mean that we go stomping around the world playing supercop, and generally causing misery and screwing things up in the process. I doubt that you were a supporter of the war, and would instantly recognize the poverty of Hitch’s pro-war arguments if someone else was making them.

          1. “…the simple fact that we went to war based on misinformation…”

            Sorry to put an old canard to sleep, but there were WMDs all over Iraq. I know because I was there. And I discovered some!

            I was covering the first Gulf War for several TV companies, I was left behind at The Peace Camp when all the journalists were told to leave as war approached. And got the very first photos of the allied bombing. The first was a picture of a row of bombed shops with a mosque in the distance. It went on the front page of almost every newspaper and magazine in the world. And it disproved Stormin’ Normin’s claim that the allied bombs were targeted to military objectives. We heard that a Baby Milk Factory had been bombed, which was thought to be an act of terrorism by the Americans against the civilian population. The truth is a little stranger.

            Some of us took a bus to near Abu Ghraib to see the Babymilk factory, but on the way we stopped at the wrong factory. A big sign at the gates said ‘BabyMilk’ but the place was a chemical weapons factory full of soldiers. There were old tyres burning at the back to pretend that the place had already been bombed. I was formerly a research chemist and knew it was a chemical factory by the smell, by the chemical containers and by the layout of the place. Some soldiers rushed out and began punching the bus drive to make him move away. Five miles further on we found the real bombed Babymilk Factory. I checked it out and it was genuine. My film and photos went all around the world. That was 1992. Hans Blix and his UN team destroyed many WAD facilities but not all. I later found more.
            Back home I found declassified CIA documents on the internet from local Iraqi spies who had driven past the first, phony Babymilk factory and had reported it to the allies. Clearly we bombed the wrong factory! Feel free to apply this corrective to historical mistakes.

            S’funny how the hidden truths of the world come out on Jerry Coyne’s blog!

  13. Here is the essay containing that Einstein quote that Chopra used:
    Science and Religion II, Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, 1941

    The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

    It’s a real quote from Einstein, but look at the context. Find out how Einstein uses the term “religion.” I count four major errors in the paragraph in which the quote appeared. Einstein said some very dumn things about science and religion.

  14. Sam could have saved time by asking Deepak to detail what work and peer-reviewed publications he has done in the fields of theoretical physics, quantum mechanics etc.

    Otherwise, have to agree Sam was great in this. He calmly and clearly pointed out the problem (one of many) with Deepak and many of his woo-peddlers.

  15. I like and admire Michael Shermer. But I absolutely love Sam Harris. I think I might have a man crush….
    I have read most of Harris’ books and articles, and watched many of his speeches, tv appearances, debates etc, trying to find something that I disagree with. I have so far failed. But perhaps, unlike me, he prefers chocolate to vanilla?

    1. Ditto.

      I love Sam too, mostly for his intellectual prowess, his clarity and conciseness of communication, and his honesty and humility, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s so clean cut!

      1. Excellent points. I have never seen Sam Harris (Sammy H to his mates) raise his voice. I remember when he was in coversation with Rick Warren, a theist aka “liar for jesus”, and Warren asked Harris “why he was so angry.” Sammy H just replied “Do I sound angry?” He is the best counter argument to the “angry atheist” canard of the LFJ’s.

      1. Puebla, Mexico. It is my home town, and for the second time I’ll have the privilege of driving Prof. Dawkins from and to the airport, and escorting him around. Exciting!

        The debate will take place as part of an event called Ciudad de las Ideas (at which Prof. Coyne spoke some years ago), and it’s very similar to TED:

        The debate will eventually be posted to Youtube. I’ll let you know when it is.

          1. I gladly will. Since I won’t actually be doing the driving – I’ll just ride along with Prof. Dawkins, so will probably get quite a bit of time to talk.

            I’ve been volunteering to help with the event for many years and once spent a long evening having dinner and (many) drinks with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. I think that was the same year that Prof. Coyne was there, but unfortunately he had to leave early, so I couldn’t talk much to him.

            Prof. Dawkins came two or three years ago, and he’s a kind and charming man. Intelligent too, but you all know that already.

            1. “I’ve been volunteering to help with the event for many years and once spent a long evening having dinner and (many) drinks with Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.”

              You lucky, lucky bastard!

              I heard that when Sam gets a few drinks in him, he actually exhibits more than one facial expression. I kid!

    1. I would have thought Chopra would have deserved the rejoinder Dawkins gave to William Lane Craig: “Look good on your CV, not so good on mine”.

      But really, Richard Dawkins – and Sam Harris – are far too gentlemanly to do to Chopra what should be done to him. I would have loved to see Christopher Hitchens demolish him. Chopra just annoys me intensely with his nonsense.

  16. “In fact, if anyone on this stage is more scientifically credentialed, it’s me…I’m an MD…” -Dr. Chopra

    “I’m not a scientist or a physicist, Mr. Spock…” – Dr. McCoy

    1. An MD? Is that Doctor of Medicine (I guess). That _really_ qualifies him as an expert in quantum physics, doesn’t it? (/sarcasm).

      I usually find that people who feel it necessary to start reciting their qualifications are the least competent in the field. He really, really should know better than to start waving his degree around in front of an audience like that. I assume he’s too full of himself to realise just how naive and amateurish that makes him look.

  17. I loathe Chopra. He’s too bright to come out with stuff that stupid, so I get the feeling that he’s simply lying for money. And lots of it.

  18. (Sorry if this has already been posted in this thread)

    For a bit of fun try out the Random Deepak Chopra Quote Generator:

    You can even test yourself on which quotes are genuine Chopra and which are made up. I got a little over 50% correct.

  19. Deepak Chopra was featured on PBS one night, so I paused a bit to watch.

    He did not have any original ideas to offer, his material was lifted from philosophers past and if he reminded me of anyone, it is L. Ron Hubbard, whose good material was plagiarized from others, and whose original material was awful.

    I’m sure Chopra would not appreciate the comparison. Good! It is not complimentary unless you admire effective con men and wish to be numbered among them.

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