Sam Harris and The Very Bad Wizards

December 18, 2014 • 6:30 am
No, it’s not a new novel from Terry Pratchett.

If you’re in the mood for discussion about religion, free will, morality, drugs, guilt, blame and vengeance, then you are in luck. Sam Harris joined philosopher Tamler Sommers and psychologist David Pizarro on their December 15th podcast.
You can listen either on Sam’s site here or on The Very Bad Wizards site here.
It is a lengthy discussion, so download it and go for a walk with your headphones.

End Public Service Announcement.


28 thoughts on “Sam Harris and The Very Bad Wizards

  1. Thanks for the tip. I listen to lengthy podcasts on my waterproof mp3 player whenever my regular swimming partner is not available. I will add this to my playing list.

  2. Am I the only one who isn’t quite swayed by the argument of uniqueness of Judaism? For all I know, the contents of Torah (better known as The Old Testament) are as backward and barbaric as that of the Bible, maybe even more so.

    It’s all well and good that there are religious Jews who don’t really believe in their religion, but one could make the same point about the many Christians or Catholics around the world who only show up in church once a year to celebrate Christmas.

    1. Am I the only one who isn’t quite swayed by the argument of uniqueness of Judaism?

      Actually I don’t think this is an argument. It is, in fact, an empirical claim: That:

      Most Jews one will meet (at least in the West, or at least outside of Israel), to a much higher degree than Xianity or Islam, will be purely secular in their orientation and only follow Jewish rituals for purely cultural and family-bonding reasons, while believing not a whit in the YHWH of the Torah, Heaven, the stories in the Torah, etc.

      It’s an empirical claim that Jews are far more likely to be secular than Xians or Muslims.

      It is not an argument the Judaism is secular or that somehow less harmful.

      It comes up in the interview as: Don’t pick American Jews as your example of the metaphysics of religious people generally: Because American Jews are empirically much more secular than your typical religious person (generally or within the US).

      1. >Don’t pick American Jews as your example of the metaphysics of religious people generally: Because American Jews are empirically much more secular than your typical religious person (generally or within the US).

        Even more secular than a typical catholic? 🙂

        1. This is a little old; but I doubt it’s changed much since 2012:

          “In a Gallup Poll, 42 percent of American Catholics said the teaching claimed by the Vatican is very important

          But twice as many, 84 percent, said belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was very important to them as a Catholic. Overall, 97 percent said the belief was important to their faith.”

          1. There seems to be a wide gap between what Catholics declare in such polls, and their actions, which speak louder than empty declarations on paper.

            But anyway, do we have similar data for people who profess their faith in Judaism? Do we know how important it is for people of Jewish faith to await for the messiah?

    1. Sam’s position as one of the Four Horsemen is entirely deserved. A comparison with him and Hitch would be very appropriate. Of course, nobody today has Hitch’s acerbic wit, but Sam’s intellect is every bit as sharp. And both have (or had) some very disturbing political positions. It’s entirely possible to praise either for cutting through the bullshit of faith while also ripping them to shreds when appropriate. Indeed, more than possible, it’s exactly what either would call for — but do be sure to bring your own “A” game!

      The Hamster, in stark contrast, is a babbling idiot who thinks The Flintstones was an historical documentary.


    1. I hated that interview; I had the impression that the interviewer had the goal of deliberately misinterpreting everything Sam said merely to generate an adversarial atmosphere. Either that, or he’s really, really dumb.

      1. I hated it too. I mean I could barely listen to it with the sneering, arrogant attitude of Cenk Uygur really, really turned me off. He was like a dog trying to dominate a rival. It was embarrassing, IMO.

  3. As I was listening to the conversation Sam Harris appeared to be talking about a general non religious side about many Jews, even in some Rabbis he had debated. This was coming from actual experiences he had. I don’t believe he met to include all Jewish people or even a percentage. I don’t understand the hostility to this message?

    It would be an embarrassment to most atheist to call Sam Harris an embarrassment. Good Grief.

  4. I didn’t like this interview much. I understand Tamler was asserting it was an empirical claim that he still felt angry at people he perceived to be bad actors, even though it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way, but I think that really just highlights that he’s probably more emotional, or maybe it highlights what almost all of his responses seemed to highlight: that he seems dead set on preventing rigorous reasoning from affecting his emotions. I also don’t think he should attribute so much value to his anecdote in the discussion. It can be argued that if people in general truly realize and understand that the reasoning they intuitively use to justify anger and retributive desire is broken, that anger and retributive desire will very likely reduce, even if it doesn’t for him.

  5. I liked this conversation and especially Sam Harris, …or at least what I thought I understood he was saying. Was it Sam who said at one point that the illusion of free will is itself an illusion? If someone can illuminate that for me, please do, but I like the idea even in my present state of bafflement.

    Free will has been a frequent topic on this website, and one that I struggle with. I think the concept of consciousness, what it is or is not, has to underlie any discussion of whether there is free will, and Sam addressed that well, I think.

    1. I thought he said the illusion of free will is merely itself an illusion when you look at it very closely. In other words, we think that we are the author of our thoughts, but even that illusion disappears when we investigate it further.

      That’s my take on it.

      1. Oh, I think I get it. The illusion being an illusion is not so illusive after all. I liked the way Sam Harris described our feeling of “authorship” of our thoughts being instead that we just see them pop into view.

  6. I appreciate that they had a discussion, but my first reaction is that it was a lot of talking without a whole lot of discussion. It ended with a guy saying he hates & wants to kill his Roomba, which sort of summarises the talk… Sam was arguing for a more rational way of being wherein we understand that free will isn’t real *and* we act like it, while the guy disagreeing was saying it’s fine to be irrational so long as you understand you’re being irrational.

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