Sam Harris's Blog, page 7

January 25, 2015

By Kathy Sweeney

The neuroscientist, author and philosopher on the Tesla Model S, Brazilian jiujitsu and his fear that the machines will take over…

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Published on January 25, 2015 08:21 • 110 views

January 21, 2015

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Published on January 21, 2015 20:46 • 79 views

January 16, 2015

(Photo via Armand Turpel)

It seems increasingly likely that we will one day build machines that possess superhuman intelligence. We need only continue to produce better computers—which we will, unless we destroy ourselves or meet our end some other way. We already know that it is possible for mere matter to acquire “general intelligence”—the ability to learn new concepts and employ them in unfamiliar contexts—because the 1,200 cc of salty porridge inside our heads has managed it. There is no reason to believe that a suitably advanced digital computer couldn’t do the same.

It is often said that the near-term goal is to build a machine that possesses “human level” intelligence. But unless we specifically emulate a human brain—with all its limitations—this is a false goal. The computer on which I am writing these words already possesses superhuman powers of memory and calculation. It also has potential access to most of the world’s information. Unless we take extraordinary steps to hobble it, any future artificial general intelligence (AGI) will exceed human performance on every task for which it is considered a source of “intelligence” in the first place. Whether such a machine would necessarily be conscious is an open question. But conscious or not, an AGI might very well develop goals incompatible with our own. Just how sudden and lethal this parting of the ways might be is now the subject of much colorful speculation.

One way of glimpsing the coming risk is to imagine what might happen if we accomplished our aims and built a superhuman AGI that behaved exactly as intended. Such a machine would quickly free us from drudgery and even from the inconvenience of doing most intellectual work. What would follow under our current political order? There is no law of economics that guarantees that human beings will find jobs in the presence of every possible technological advance. Once we built the perfect labor-saving device, the cost of manufacturing new devices would approach the cost of raw materials. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new capital at the service of all humanity, a few of us would enjoy unimaginable wealth, and the rest would be free to starve. Even in the presence of a truly benign AGI, we could find ourselves slipping back to a state of nature, policed by drones.

And what would the Russians or the Chinese do if they learned that some company in Silicon Valley was about to develop a superintelligent AGI? This machine would, by definition, be capable of waging war—terrestrial and cyber—with unprecedented power. How would our adversaries behave on the brink of such a winner-take-all scenario? Mere rumors of an AGI might cause our species to go berserk.

It is sobering to admit that chaos seems a probable outcome even in the best-case scenario, in which the AGI remained perfectly obedient. But of course we cannot assume the best-case scenario. In fact, “the control problem”—the solution to which would guarantee obedience in any advanced AGI—appears quite difficult to solve. 

Imagine, for instance, that we build a computer that is no more intelligent than the average team of researchers at Stanford or MIT—but, because it functions on a digital timescale, it runs a million times faster than the minds that built it. Set it humming for a week, and it would perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work. What are the chances that such an entity would remain content to take direction from us? And how could we confidently predict the thoughts and actions of an autonomous agent that sees more deeply into the past, present, and future than we do?

The fact that we seem to be hastening toward some sort of digital apocalypse poses several intellectual and ethical challenges. For instance, in order to have any hope that a superintelligent AGI would have values commensurate with our own, we would have to instill those values in it (or otherwise get it to emulate us). But whose values should count? Should everyone get a vote in creating the utility function of our new colossus? If nothing else, the invention of an AGI would force us to resolve some very old (and boring) arguments in moral philosophy.

However, a true AGI would probably acquire new values, or at least develop novel—and perhaps dangerous—near-term goals. What steps might a superintelligence take to ensure its continued survival or access to computational resources? Whether the behavior of such a machine would remain compatible with human flourishing might be the most important question our species ever asks.

The problem, however, is that only a few of us seem to be in a position to think this question through. Indeed, the moment of truth might arrive amid circumstances that are disconcertingly informal and inauspicious: Picture ten young men in a room—several of them with undiagnosed Asperger’s—drinking Red Bull and wondering whether to flip a switch. Should any single company or research group be able to decide the fate of humanity? The question nearly answers itself.

And yet it is beginning to seem likely that some small number of smart people will one day roll these dice. And the temptation will be understandable. We confront problems—Alzheimer’s disease, climate change, economic instability—for which superhuman intelligence could offer a solution. In fact, the only thing nearly as scary as building an AGI is the prospect of not building one. Nevertheless, those who are closest to doing this work have the greatest responsibility to anticipate its dangers. Yes, other fields pose extraordinary risks—but the difference between AGI and something like synthetic biology is that, in the latter, the most dangerous innovations (such as germline mutation) are not the most tempting, commercially or ethically. With AGI the most powerful methods (such as recursive self-improvement) are precisely those that entail the most risk.

We seem to be in the process of building a God. Now would be a good time to wonder whether it will (or even can) be a good one.

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Published on January 16, 2015 22:43 • 29 views

December 16, 2014

0:00-47:00—Intro and costs and benefits of religion

47:00-1:17:00—Drugs, the self, free will

1:17:30-end—Blame, guilt, vengeance, moral responsibility

David Pizarro is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His primary research interest is in how and why humans make moral judgments, such as what makes us think certain actions are wrong, and that some people deserve blame. In addition, he studies how emotions influence a wide variety of judgments. These two areas of interest come together in the topic of much of his recent work, which has focused on the emotion of disgust and the role it plays in shaping moral, social, and political judgments.

Tamler Sommers is an associate professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Houston with a joint appointment in the Honors College.  He is director of the Honors minor Phronesis: A Program in Politics and Ethics.  His research focuses on issues relating to moral responsibility, criminal justice, honor, and revenge.  Sommers is the author of two books: Relative Justice: Cultural Diversity, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility (Princeton, 2012) and A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain (McSweeney’s, 2009).  He received his PhD in Philosophy from Duke University in 2005.

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Published on December 16, 2014 19:23 • 56 views

December 5, 2014

By Sally Kohn

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Published on December 05, 2014 13:05 • 171 views

December 3, 2014

Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is also a regular affiliated professor at Claremont Graduate University, and he has been a guest professor for two years at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. He is also a Fellow of the Secular Global Institute.

Zuckerman is the author of Living the Secular Life, Faith No More, and Society Without God. He has also edited several volumes, including Atheism and Secularity, Sex and Religion, and The Social Theory of W.E.B. Du Bois. Zuckerman writes a regular blog for Psychology Today titled “The Secular Life,” and he also writes for the Huffington Post. His work has also been published in academic journals, such as Sociology Compass, Sociology of Religion, Deviant Behavior, and Religion, Brain, and Behavior.

In 2011, Zuckerman founded the first Secular Studies department in the nation. Secular Studies is an interdisciplinary program focusing on manifestations of secularism in societies and cultures, past and present. Secular Studies entails the study of non-religious people, groups, thought, and cultural expressions. Emphasis is placed upon the meanings, forms, relevance, and impact of political/constitutional secularism, philosophical skepticism, and personal and public secularity. Zuckerman earned his PhD in sociology from the University of Oregon in 1998. He currently lives in Claremont, California, with his wife, Stacy, and their three children.

*  *  *

Harris: Your most recent book is Living the Secular Life, and you founded the secular studies program at Pitzer College. Perhaps we should begin by clarifying what “secularism” is, because many people use it as a synonym for “atheism,” which it isn’t.

Zuckerman: I’m going to resist the urge to whip out all my lecture notes, because this stuff is central to what I teach, and I’ve got a lot to say here. But I’ll try to be as brief and concise as I can.

We’ve got three terms that are closely related, but also distinct.

First off, let’s start with “secular.” To me, that simply means “non-religious.” In a nutshell, I’d say someone is secular if 1) he or she does not hold any supernatural beliefs about deities, spirits, or netherworlds 2) he or she does not engage in any religious rituals or rites, and 3) he or she does not identify or affiliate with a religious group, denomination, or tradition.

Next comes “secularization.” This term refers to a historical process whereby a given society becomes less religious over time: Fewer people hold religious beliefs, fewer people place importance on religious rituals or rites, fewer people identify as religious, fewer institutions exist under the auspices of religious authorities, and so on.

Finally, what you asked about: “secularism.” For me, the “ism” is key here. It implies ideology. Social movement. Political agenda. How things “ought” to be.

On this front, we’ve primarily got good, old-fashioned Jeffersonian secularism, which at root is nothing more than the ideology or political position that church and state ought to be separate and that government ought to be as neutral as possible when it comes to religion in the public square. This version of secularism is basically anti-theocracy-ism (or what used to be called disestablishmentarianism). It is an ideology that is often embraced by both religious and secular people. And it most definitely is not the same thing as “atheism.” In this instance, “secularism” is a political or ideological position concerning the relationship between government and religion (keep them separate!), whereas “atheism” is a personal absence of belief in gods.

Harris: Yes, it was the Jeffersonian sense of the term I had in mind, and I think that’s the meaning worth emphasizing. Secularism in this sense does not require unbelief. It merely demands a commitment to keeping religion out of politics and public policy. Secularism is the only viable response to religious pluralism—otherwise incompatible religions will vie for political dominance. Secularism, essentially, is a condition of permanent truce.

Zuckerman: I totally agree. But there is definitely another popular form or manifestation of secularism—one that is much less focused on the separation of church and state. This form is about people and groups actively trying to disabuse other people of their religious beliefs or involvement. It is a secularism that actively seeks to combat and critique religion. It is predicated upon the view that religion ought to go away, that religious beliefs ought not to be believed in anymore, that religion is a harmful thing and society would be generally better off if it just went away. Think of the 1980s hit “Dear God,” by XTC. That song wasn’t advocating for the separation of church and state. Rather, it was trying to get its listeners to agree that believing in God is silly or absurd. Or think of your first book, The End of Faith, which is not a detailed defense of the separation of church and state but primarily about exposing the irrational, malevolent, and harmful aspects of religion. This form of secularism—as exemplified by XTC’s song and your first book—is definitely not the same thing as “atheism,” per se, but it comes fairly close: Most secularists who actively seek to make religion go away and want to disabuse other people of their supernatural beliefs are atheists.

Harris: Can you summarize the current commitment to secularism in the West? Is it increasing?

Zuckerman: In certain parts of the West—particularly Europe, Australia, and Canada—secularism is going strong. However, in other places, including the USA, the situation is much less clear-cut.

In terms of political secularism, we see many instances in which the realms of religion and government are becoming more clearly and strongly divided. For example, Sweden officially disestablished religion from government in 2000. And in Britain, challenges to religious involvement in the public schools are growing. In Israel, there is increasing opposition to the governmental support of religious institutions and to the ability of religious fundamentalists to opt out of compulsory military service. In France, the separation of church and state is widely celebrated, and restrictions on religion in the public sphere are increasing.

However, here in the United States, the wall of separation between church and state is becoming less secure, especially in light of recent court decisions. I’m thinking specifically of some cases decided in 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that closely held, for-profit corporations can claim exemption from laws that go against their owners’ religious beliefs. It also decided that kicking off city council meetings with explicitly sectarian Christian prayers is constitutional. Even the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that the teacher-led, God-centric language of the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t discriminate against the children of non-theists.

In other ways, however, the kind of secularism that involves weakening religious faith or lessening the strength, prestige, and pervasiveness of religion in society has been incredibly successful in the West, even here in the USA.

I don’t want to barrage you with endless numbers, but the stats are staggering when it comes to people in the West who are abandoning religion. Consider just these tidbits: A century ago in Canada, only 2% of the population claimed to have no religion, whereas today nearly 30% of Canadians claim as much, and approximately one in five does not believe in God. A century ago in Australia, less than 1% of the population claimed no religious identity, but today approximately 20% of Australians claim as much. A century ago in Holland, about 10% of the population claimed to be religiously unaffiliated; today more than 40% does. In contemporary Great Britain, nearly half the people claim no religious identity at all; the same is true in Sweden.

Furthermore, 61% of Czechs, 49% of Estonians, 45% of Slovenians, 34% of Bulgarians, and 31% of Norwegians do not believe in God. And 33% of the French, 27% of Belgians, and 25% of Germans do not believe in God or any other sort of universal spiritual life force.

In the East, the most recent survey information from Japan illustrates extensive secularization over the course of the past century: Sixty years ago, about 70% of Japanese people claimed to hold personal religious beliefs, but today that figure is down to about 20%. Such levels of atheism, agnosticism, and overall irreligion are simply remarkable—not to mention historically unprecedented.

I just got the latest data on Latin America: 37% of people in Uruguay, 18% in the Dominican Republic, 16% in Chile, 11% in Argentina, and 8% in Brazil are non-religious. These are all unprecedented levels of secularity. And Jamaica is currently at 20% nonreligious! Gabon and Swaziland are at 11%! (While that may seem small, keep in mind that only 8% of people in Alabama are non-religious).

Secularism is growing in virtually all nations for which we have data; even the Muslim world, which contains the most-religious societies on earth, has a growing share of secular people (many of whom, unfortunately, must keep their secularity well hidden because of the danger of prison or death for being open about their lack of faith).

The proportion of Americans walking away from religion has continued to grow, from 8% in 1990 to somewhere between 20% and 30% today. Secularity is markedly stronger among young Americans: 32% of those under 30 are religiously unaffiliated. And somewhere between one-third and one-half of all those who respond “none” when asked what their religion is are atheist or agnostic in orientation—so the rise of irreligion means a simultaneous rise of atheism and agnosticism. Furthermore, the vast majority of nonreligious Americans are content with their current identity; among those who now claim “none” as their religion, nearly 90% say they have no interest in looking for a religion that might be right for them.

Of course, one wrench in all this is birthrates. Religious people have more kids than secular people. So demographically, the future is unclear.

Harris: Many of us have acknowledged that “replacing religion” may not be an appropriate goal, religion does offer people many things they want in life—and these are things that most atheists also want. We want nice buildings that function as dedicated spaces for reflection and celebration. We want strong communities. We want rituals and rites of passage with which to mark important transitions in life—births, marriages, deaths. We just don’t want to lie to ourselves about the nature of reality to have these things. This poses a real challenge, because once we get rid of religion, we are left without an established tradition for meeting these needs, and the alternative is often piecemeal, halfhearted, and unsatisfying. How do you see us solving the problem of creating strong secular institutions and traditions that don’t feel hokey?

Zuckerman: You are spot-on here. Religion provides so much for people in terms of social capital, life-cycle rituals, and so forth, and if it were to just go away, most people would experience serious lacuna. True, a few die-hard hermits out there want none of the things that religion provides, but they are quite rare. Most people want and enjoy at least some of the many things that religions have to offer, even if they don’t buy all the supernatural nonsense.

So here are the options, as far as I can tell:

First, secularize religion. By that I mean keep the rituals, the holidays, the buildings, the gatherings, the knickknacks, but let the supernatural beliefs wither and fade. The example of this that first comes to mind is Reform Judaism. Most American Jews get what they like out of Judaism—the ceremonies, the holidays, the sense of belonging, multi-generational connections, opportunities for charity—and yet they have jettisoned the supernatural beliefs. Many liberal Episcopalian congregations, too, are in this vein. Also Quaker meetings. And most Scandinavians, with their modern form of Nordic Lutheranism, are as well. They observe traditional religious holidays and they participate in various life-cycle rituals and they congregate now and then in church and they even “feel” Christian—and yet they do all these ostensibly religious things without a scintilla of actual faith in the supernatural.

Personally, I think it would be great to have Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. all existing here and there, but neutered of their supernatural hoo-hah. I know that may seem contradictory or absurd, but I believe it is possible.

The second option is to create humanist congregations, like Sunday Assembly. The disadvantage here is that you are basically starting from nothing, which feels a little weird—there is no heritage, no tradition, no sense of something that has been around for generations. Not much for kids. But the advantage is that you get to create what you want and how you want it. I dig Sunday Assembly. I think the possibilities for such groups are strong. Obviously, they don’t appeal to most secular people—but for those who want the best of religious affiliation without all the supernaturalism, it is a damned viable option.

A third possibility is to find secular vehicles that provide at least some of the things religion has to offer. I’m thinking of sports, for example. Soccer. My Sunday morning soccer game fulfills me deeply: It makes me feel alive, it connects me to friends I otherwise would never know or see, it marks the end of the week, etc. Or music. My daughter’s love of music provides a lot: a sense of existential meaning, a sense of community via links with other fans, rituals in the form of concerts, and so forth. My younger daughter’s involvement in ballet serves a similar function, providing self-improvement, conscientiousness, camaraderie, performances. Others can find at least some of the things religion offers by communing with nature, or being creative, or engaging politically, or meditating.

I have learned in my research that the vast majority of people who walk away from religion don’t miss it and find numerous ways to live meaningful lives without it—through work, family life, friends, hobbies, art, sex, philosophy, theater, hunting, working on cars, dancing, and so on.

Of course, all that said, religion may not be so easily replaced, and the fact that secularism seems to correlate strongly with individualism could become a problem down the road.

Harris: Moving beyond religion is an immense challenge, and I greatly appreciate your contributions on this front. One of the main impediments to the spread of secularism has been the widely and lazily held belief, even among the non-religious, that religion will always be with us—as though the persistence of the current batch of supernatural ideas were a law of nature. I hope people will read your book to learn more about what the transition to secularism will look like. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.


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Published on December 03, 2014 20:06 • 110 views

November 4, 2014

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Published on November 04, 2014 20:52 • 106 views

October 28, 2014

(Photo via Mitchell Joyce)

Joseph Goldstein has been leading meditation retreats worldwide since 1974. He is a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and the Forest Refuge. Since 1967, he has practiced different forms of Buddhist meditation under eminent teachers from India, Burma, and Tibet. His books include The Experience of Insight, A Heart Full of Peace, One Dharma, and Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening. For more information about Joseph, please visit

Joseph has been a close friend for more than 20 years. He was one of my first meditation teachers and remains one of the wisest people I have ever met. In this two-hour conversation, we discuss how he came to devote his life to the study of meditation. We also debate some of the finer points of the practice.

Although parts of this discussion are accessible, much of it is quite esoteric. I suspect that only experienced meditators will find the second half interesting, or even intelligible. My latest book, Waking Up, provides some necessary context, but there is no substitute for time spent engaging these practices on retreat.—SH



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Published on October 28, 2014 09:10 • 74 views

October 23, 2014

I recently sat down with Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks to discuss my most controversial views about Islam, the war on terror, and related topics. It was, of necessity, a defensive performance on my part—more like a deposition than an ordinary conversation. Although it was a friendly exchange, there were times when Cenk appeared to be trying very hard to miss my point. Rather than rebut my actual views (or accept them), he often focused on how a misunderstanding of what I was saying could lead to bad outcomes—as though this were an argument against my views themselves. However, he did provide a forum in which we could have an unusually full discussion about difficult issues. I hope viewers find it useful.

Having now watched the full exchange, I feel the need to expand on a couple of points:

Journalistic Ethics

The passage of journalism into its digital future is proving more than a little perilous. We seem to be circling a vortex, at the bottom of which lies the perennial problem of money: How can writers, editors, and publishers get paid for their work? I can’t help but feel that a reliance on advertising is encouraging the worst instincts in everyone involved. There is comedy to be found here, of course. I recently came across an article accusing me of “sexism” that was paid for by ads promising access to “Sexy Asian Brides.” However, the results of any system of bad incentives are rarely amusing. We must find some way to correct course.

I began my conversation with Cenk by complaining about how he had treated me on his show in the previous weeks. I think his unwillingness to acknowledge the difference between valid criticism and misrepresentation was a missed opportunity (for him). He seems to believe that allowing a target of defamation to give his or her side of the story provides the necessary balance. He also detects an ethical symmetry where none exists: If writer X has been spreading malicious lies about writer Y, and Y accurately describes X as “a liar,” that does not give each party an equivalent grievance against the other. Cenk seems to view most claims of misrepresentation as a he-said-she-said stalemate that is, in principle, impossible to resolve.

This is a growing problem in journalism. In my conversation with Cenk, I briefly discussed Salon’s unethical treatment of me, but I’ve had many other encounters with journalists and editors that should trouble readers.

For instance, I recently discussed an incident in which Glenn Greenwald forwarded a tweet describing me as “genocidal fascist maniac” (Reza Aslan did the same). Feeling that these attacks had gone on long enough, I decided to call John Cook, the editor in chief at the Intercept.

Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Me: My criticism of Islam is not racist.

Cook: It is racist.

Me: John, Islam is not a race. You can’t convert to a race. And my criticism of Islam applies to white converts just as much as it does to Arabs or anyone else born in a Muslim country. In fact, it applies to converts more because they weren’t brainwashed into the faith from birth.

Cook: So all Arabs are brainwashed?

Me: What?

Cook: You just said “Arabs are brainwashed.” That’s racist.

Me: I was just making a point about the difference between having an ideology drummed into you from birth and converting to it as an adult who may have had the benefit of an Oxford education! These are different cases. And I am less judgmental of the former.

The conversation continued like this for 40 minutes. I felt like I was talking to a robot programmed to run a reason-destroying, political-correctness routine until the end of the world. It was, in fact, the most maddening encounter I’ve had with another human being in decades. I actually hung up on the man. (I haven’t done that since high school.)

I have no idea what Cook’s background is, but this is not a person who should be guiding journalism into its digital future. The only ethical defense he could give me for Greenwald’s retweeting defamatory nonsense about me (again, calling me a “genocidal fascist maniac”) was that “everyone knows that retweets don’t equal endorsements”—as if this were some high principle of journalistic ethics. Of course, in this case it was an endorsement. Greenwald has repeatedly described me as a dangerous bigot in print and on social media—and reaffirming this negative impression of me was the whole point of his passing this tweet along to his 420,000 followers.

What makes Cook’s precarious hold on journalistic integrity so ominous is that he, Greenwald, and colleagues have been given $250 million in funding from Pierre Omidyar. This is a fantastic sum of money—indeed, it is the same amount that Jeff Bezos recently paid for the Washington Post. It is difficult to see how this bodes well for the future of journalism.

It is also important to observe how social media is facilitating this race to the bottom. For instance, one of my critics on Twitter recently misrepresented my views about the distinction between what is “natural” and what is “good.” When discussing this difference, I often say things like “There is nothing more natural than rape: orangutans do it; dolphins do it; and people do it.” But the next words out of my mouth are always something like, “But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for certain species. Rape is one of the most immoral behaviors there is.” Perhaps you can guess how this person summarized my views about rape for his 10,000 followers: In a series of tweets he represented me as someone who sees no moral problem with rape at all, because it is a perfectly “natural,” biological imperative.

When I complained about this on Twitter, here is what Murtaza Hussain, Greenwald’s colleague at the Intercept, tweeted: “You’re going to have to come to grips w/ the fact that no ones misinterpreting you—you just have monstrous views.” Needless to say, Hussain has written multiple articles attacking me as a racist, warmonger, and “Islamophobe.”

Here is the most charitable interpretation I can make of this behavior: People like Greenwald and Hussain are so sure that they are on the right side of important issues that, when they see someone whom they imagine to be on the wrong side, they feel justified in distorting his views in an effort to destroy his credibility. This is an all-too-human impulse, of course, but it is extraordinarily destructive behavior in “journalists.”

Correcting an Error of My Own

Given how maliciously he has misrepresented me (and how much I have complained about it), it is very unfortunate that I seem to have spoken misleadingly about Greenwald’s attitude toward collateral damage at the end of my conversation with Cenk.

I did not mean to suggest that Greenwald is insensitive to the reality of collateral damage. I meant to say that in his vilification of me for my discussion of torture, he has ignored that my argument is based on my own concern for collateral damage. Given his penchant for defamation and his disinclination to follow careful arguments, he has helped make it nearly impossible to discuss these issues in a public forum. But my point did not come across at all well, and I seemed to suggest either that Greenwald is, like many people, unaware of how horrible collateral damage is or that he does not care about it. Anyone familiar with Greenwald’s work will know that either charge is ludicrous. (If anything, he is too sensitive to collateral damage, and this clouds his thinking about U.S. foreign policy, jihadism, and related matters.) 


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Published on October 23, 2014 20:13 • 56 views

October 20, 2014

1. C.J. Werleman, a writer for Salon and Alternet, has made a habit of publicly misrepresenting my views.

2. When I first noticed this behavior, I contacted him, initiating a brief and unpleasant email exchange.

3. After that exchange, Werleman went on to misrepresent my views with even greater fervor.

4. Werleman was subsequently discovered to be a serial plagiarist.

5. His response to this public humiliation was to accuse me of being a plagiarist too. Specifically, I am alleged to have plagiarized the work of Mark Steyn.

6. Evidence for this charge has been presented on a blog that seems to have been created yesterday for this purpose by “Stephanie Cranson” (who also joined Twitter only yesterday). Note that this is two days after Werleman claimed to have knowledge of my stealing Steyn’s work. I shall let readers make of this timeline what they will.

7. This newborn blogger has noticed that a passage in Letter to a Christian Nation (2006) seems suspiciously similar to one in Steyn’s book America Alone (2006)—which, we are told, was published six months earlier.

8. However, the suspicious passage also appears in my first book, The End of Faith, published two years earlier still (2004). It can be found on page 26 of both the hardcover and paperback editions.

9. Another passage I am alleged to have plagiarized from Steyn also appears in The End of Faith (p. 133). For that, I cited the following source in an endnote: “From the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report 2002, cited in Lewis, Crisis of Islam, 115–17.”

10. “Stephanie Cranson” makes other allegations on “her” blog that are equally unfounded.  For instance, she claims that I plagiarized from my friend Richard Dawkins, on the basis of similarity between the following passages:

Dawkins: “Although Martin Luther King was a Christian, he derived his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience directly from Gandhi, who was not.”

Harris: “While King undoubtedly considered himself a devout Christian, he acquired his commitment to non-violence primarily from the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi.”

The Dawkins quote appears on page 307 of The God Delusion. Mine can be found on page 12 of Letter to a Christian Nation.  As readers can learn on Amazon, these books were published a day apart in September of 2006. And, needless to say, this observation about King’s debt to Gandhi has been made many, many times before.

11. This will be the last thing I ever write about C.J. Werleman.


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Published on October 20, 2014 07:54 • 136 views

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