Guest post by Simon Frankel Pratt.
I think that Harris is good at presenting a kind of naive though not completely stupid position that many thoughtful but poorly informed secular Western liberals are likely to arrive at. In a sense, his positions should be the challenge or the foil against which informed experts and public intellectuals frame their answers. For example, Harris’s views on the links between religion and violence are almost entirely wrong, as scholars such as Atran have shown, but they are understandable.
The problem is, of course, that Harris does not engage with the experts.
He does not frame his views as naive or as questions in need of answering, but as the obvious answers. He does not consult with experts on his issues, and when experts tell him that he’s wrong, he either dismisses them impatiently (such as he did with Dennett on the matter of free will) or actually resorts to personal attacks and slurs (as he did with Scott Atran). Instead of offering a clear, concise, and well articulated starting position for us to engage in further enquiry and refinement of our views in light of the evidence, he sells his opinions as discussion-ending truths which we are foolish or harmful to ignore.
This bothers me a lot. It bothers me not just because I dislike Harris’s tone and disagree with his views, but because I see Harris’s actions as a violation of the duties and ethical obligations that public intellectual figures have to guide their audiences to more critical, self-aware, and historically/scientifically informed views.