Shortly following my last criticism of Sam Harris’ article on gun control he posted a follow-up (FAQ on Violence) responding to various criticisms, many that overlap mine. In his prior article he slowly worked his way out on a limb of irrationality. In this one he takes a leap off of it.
I’ll ignore his initial discussion suggesting that other people “simply do not want to think about this topic in any detail”. It seems pretty clear to me that Sam hasn’t. He is back-end rationalizing and doing a very poor job of it.
Thankfully he lists addressed issues in FAQ format making it easier to respond. If you aren’t interested in the long discussion, here is a quick summary of my new criticisms:
Sam Harris recently posted a blog article as part of the post-Newtown gun control debates (The Riddle of the Gun). He essentially mimics many of the NRA arguments, himself being an avid gun owner and user. He does nominally criticize the over-simplicity of some NRA argument against sensible gun control laws but he spends the bulk of his effort attacking the idea of gun laws as necessary or effective. As an avid reader of his I find his reasoning to be sloppy, contradictory, and irrelevant and I hope to show you what is wrong with his thinking.
For those not familiar with Sam Harris, he is a well-known author with a well-rounded background. He’s the son of a Jewish mother, Quaker father, and spent 11 years studying and practicing Hindu and Buddhist meditation in Nepal and throughout Asia and dabbled in Martial Arts. He has degrees in philosophy from Stanford as well as a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience and has conducted research into the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty. Harris is better known for his books that apply this background in areas such as religion (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and applied moral reasoning and cognition (The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying).
I highly respect Sam. He lives what he writes and he usually has a well-thought-out debate style. Watch any video of him debating theists and you’ll see what I mean. I have written before about his book, Free Will, (Free Will Hunting) and criticized his debate with security expert Bruce Schneier regarding airport screening and profiling (Err Lines on Security). I was surprised at the sloppiness of his arguments there, though Schneier was sloppier and Harris more convincing. With this additional sloppiness on gun control, and the less then stellar essay in his book Lying, I’m beginning to think Harris is coasting.