I'll unpack Sullivan's response bit by bit below, and offer my comments at the end. I have tried to redact parts that I felt weren't germane to the debate itself, and if it is felt that I have done so unfairly, I apologize;
- I think that Sullivan correctly identifies the problem, but from his last sentence, indicates that he doesn't fully implicate the direness of his situation. Or perhaps he does. Harris is pointing out (correctly) that Sullivan's faith claims don't stand up to scientific scrutiny. Sullivan's response is a feeble attempt to relativize the nature of proof. I think he knows he is going under.
"My response rests on an understanding of truth that is not exhausted by empiricism or materialism. I do not believe, in short, that all truth rests on scientific premises and can be 'proven' by empirical or scientific methods. I believe science is one, important, valuable and respectable mode of thinking about the whole. But there are truth questions it has not answered and cannot answer. "
- This is Sullivan devolving into wishful thinking. He wants to believe there is knowledge outside of empiricism and the scientific method - yet he refuses to offer any example of this revealed knowledge that will stand up as 'knowledge' in any other sense, nor does he present us with anything resembling 'truth' that is independent of science. No, instead, Sullivan insists merely on the possibility of this truth - not because it actually exists, but because for his faith to remain operative it must exist as at least a philosophical possibility. To force Sullivan to put his faith precepts to the test of reason and knowledge would be to annihilate them. If Sullivan were right, and his Catholic belief in transubstantiation were somehow 'revealed truth' it would nevertheless still have to compete for legitimacy with any and every other religious truth espoused by any and every adherent to a religion anywhere. For sure some religions have deeper traditions than others, but in comparing the TRUTH of a religion, they all face the same obstacles of empirical fact vs desired outcome. Standing on revelation will place Catholics no higher above the water line than anyone else.
"It might even include an appreciation of other modes of rational discourse that are not empirical in origin or form. Take, for example, the question of historical truth. You rely in your books on a lot of historical facts to buttress your empirical case. But these facts are not true - and could never be proven true - by the scientific method that is your benchmark. There are no control groups in history. There are no experiments. But there is a form of truth. Discovering that historical truth is the vocation of a historian - and it is a different truth than science, and reached by a different methodology and logic.
- It is not a different truth than science at all. Where history can resort to the scientific method it always does, but when it cannot, it makes the best case it can with the materials available. The standards of proof are not different in historical studies, but the legitimacy we credit to those historical truths is dependent on the amount of empirical support they have. History will not save Sullivan here.
- Now he's scrambling. Math isn't an interaction with the physical world? Tell that to an engineer! Math is logically separate from empirical truth? In what regard? His most desperate move is to invoke 'aesthetic truth', a last desperate hope to find solace in the ineffable. Except that nowadays we know what makes a face beautiful, and don't have to rely on something as unreliable as aesthetics for the answer.
"My point here is to say that once you have conceded the possibility of a truth that is not reducible to empirical proof, you have allowed for the validity of religious faith as a form of legitimate truth-seeking in a different mode."
- Sullivan is now reduced to mouthing post-modernist platitudes about knowledge as a form of 'truth-seeking in a different mode'. As far as I am concerned, this is Sullivan refusing to get up from the canvas. Rather than address seriously Harris' damaging points, Sullivan hides behind po-mo relativity. Lets call this for what it is, a brutal knockout for Harris in the third round.
- And here is where Sullivan and I are in complete agreement. The best defense of atheism AND religion is to not use the machinery of government or state to impose it on others. I have no interest in living in a society that is forcibly atheist anymore than I desire to live in a country that compels me to believe in invisible beings. In this regard my political preference and Sullivan's are the same. Leave the state out of these matters, and allow the individual to pursue their own interest. The fact that as humans we choose to pursue beliefs that are factually false, or otherwise at their core incoherent, is a reflection of our human nature. Despite the facts, we humans want to believe certain false things are true, and we are capable of all manner of intellectual contortions and rationalizations to do so. It's human nature for us to make these kinds of passionate mistakes, and the only way for us to manage them is to allow each of us the right to pursue these mistakes with all our passion outside the public sphere and free from governmental interference.
In this Sullivan is correct, however irrational and illogical I think his beliefs are, I still prefer to live in a society that protects his right to possess them than one that does not.
"And that brings me to the asymmetry of our positions. We both accept that there may well be a higher truth beyond empirical inquiry or proof. I respect your opinions in this matter, and feel informed by them. You regard my opinions as inadmissible in public debate, ludicrous, a form of lying, and irrational. Yes, you are being intolerant. More, actually. The entire point of your book is intolerance. Where I respect your position, you refuse to respect mine."
- Here's the thing, to have an opinion is one thing, to claim the truth of it is quite another. I respect Sullivan's right to believe in whatever fantasy world of virgin births, celibate priests, magic books and telephones to god that he wishes, but he cannot claim that these beliefs are 'true' and expect us to respect that position. His beliefs simply do not merit being called true, and that is why we call them 'beliefs' and not 'knowledge'.
This does not, nor should not exclude his (or anyone elses) political opinions from the public sphere, nor do I think that Sam Harris is arguing that it should, but to live in the reality based community is to agree at the basic of confining ones opinions to what is real.
For example, it is possible to be pro-choice and be Christian, or be pro-life and be secular - policy is not always descriptive or linked to the philosophy that it was arrived at or justified by - and as such, no political opinion, not even an opinion based on a specific religious concern known to be false, can be prima facie discarded, but it will be by empirical means and measures that they are evaluated and judged.
Another way of putting it is this; I don't mind if a policy has religious aims, goals, or effects, but I do mind if it bestows any particular sect a religious privilege, advantage or recognition.
"Stick The Pistol in the modern era and he would be the most polarizing figure in sports, someone who combined T.O.'s insanity, A-Rod's devotion to stats and Nash's flair for delighting the crowds. Skip Bayless would blow a blood vessel on "Cold Pizza" screaming about Pistol's ball-hogging. The "SportsCenter" guys would create cute catchphrases for his no-looks. Bloggers would chronicle his bizarre comments and ghastly hairdos. Fantasy owners would revere him as if he were LaDainian Tomlinson or Johan Santana. Nike would launch a line of Pistol shoes. He'd be the subject of more homemade YouTube videos than every other player combined and have a trophy case filled with ESPYs." - Bill Simmons
This is what the US right wing has now adopted in order to ensure loyalty to Bush and his war plans for Iraq.
It's a level of dementia that at first blush looks to be unprecedented in its vulgar authoritarianism - except that it is the perfectly predictable result of Bush administration history.
Afterall, we've seen the 'Bush Pledge' in numerous guises before.
Sullivan is one of my favourite writers, but his Catholicism (even more than his initial support for the war in Iraq) has always been irksome to me. From what I see here he gets thrashed pretty hard by the atheist Harris.
Oh. So. Good.
Here is Sam's salvo against 'moderate religion';
"But there are several problems with such a defense of moderate religion. First, many moderates assume that religious “extremism” is rare and therefore not all that consequential. Happily, you are not in this camp, but I would venture that you are in a minority among religious moderates. As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. This idea is extreme in almost every sense—extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration—but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare."
Ultimately, if you don't love the Phoenix Suns maybe you don't really like basketball.
That all said, here's some well deserved love for the Raptors, who have gone from misbegotten horrendous afterthought of a franchise to a team that is becoming a must watch.
Why? Let us count down 10 of the reasons;
10. All but driven into the ground (but still showing signs of life) the Raptors were in need of being 'blowed up real good'. Enter Brian Colangelo. No fewer than nine new faces on the team, including 4 of 5 starting players. This is the direct result of new management at the top - as the Raptors miraculously managed the hiring of Brian Colangelo from the aforementioned Phoenix Suns brain-trust. Colangelo's fingerprints are already on virtually every component of the team (making many wonder how long hold-over Sam Mitchell will stay as coach). How these new pieces have started to come together to form the basis of a compelling team is the major plot-line of the Raptors, but make no mistake, this is not Ford's team or Chris Bosh's team, or even Sam Mitchell's team. It's Brian Colangelo's, and we can all thank goodness for that.
9. BC's BIG trade. One of the moves that had everyone in the Raptor blogosphere apoplectic was the trade of fan favourite 6'10 power-forward Charlie Villaneueva for the 6' point guard T.J. Ford. As a rule in the NBA, you don't trade talented big-men to get smaller players, and the decision by BC to send CV-Smooth elsewhere made the fan base as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Well the fan-base can relax. Ford is not the injury risk spastic shooter we were lead to believe. He's a warp speed, pass-first point guard who can penetrate defenses almost at will, and his injury is a thing of the past. He's wicked smart, and has a developing chemistry with Bosh (as well as a shared Texan background). Ford is clearly in the picture for most improved player in the NBA, having gone from zero to hero by landing with the Raptors. And CV-Smooth? He showed signs of forming a formidable big-man tandem with 7'0" centre Andrew Bogut, but a knee injury has side-lined him for a lengthy stretch. Meanwhile, Ford is breaking ankles and breaking hearts. BC knew he needed to rebuild his team from the PG out, and Ford has all the ingredients; killer speed, smarts, and above all, play-making ability, to be the foundation. Charlie who?
8. Rasho Nesterovich and Cash from the Spurs for Matt Bonner, Alvin Williams and a 2nd rnd pick. Rasho gives the Raptors a legit centreman allowing the team to refocus Bosh as the teams go-to power-forward. Rasho gives them solid defensive play, rebounding, and a handful of points. Most of all though, he gives the team an important anchor to the defense, so that Bosh doesn't have to match-up against every other teams big-man and wear himself out. He may not play a key role in every game (especially when the Raptors go small), but when you need to guard one of the All-star big men (his blanket job on Kevin Garnett was picture perfect for three quarters), Rasho is the guy. Bonner and Williams? Both are riding pine in San Antonio.
7 and 6. Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker. Two moves BC made in the off-season were to sign Garbo (the MVP of the Spanish league), and Parker (MVP of Tel Aviv Maccabi) to add depth to the squad, and each has come close to permanently seizing a starting job. Both bring years of experience in the international league to the table, and both have the kind of all-round game that can plug holes on any squad. Garbo is an excellent rebounder, defender, and passer, with a range on his shot consistent to just inside three point range. Capable of guarding the bigs, and banging in the post when necessary, Garbo is the teams 'glue guy', and along with Rasho gives the team a defensive presence it has lacked as a franchise since Oakley departed )he also has the best nickname in basketball - apparently his Spanish team-mates referred to him as 'the Porn Player' because of his seedy appearance. Awesome). Parker is a responsible Mr. Everything. He can shoot the three, effectively guard even the fastest of the other teams guards, and can drive and kick when necessary. He's not a true rookie (like Garbo), having played a season or two previously before his extended stay in Europe, but Parker has clearly developed his game to provide reliable minutes at the 2 Guard or small forward for the Raptors. Typical BC moves - identifying overseas players who have something that can contribute to the Raptors and getting them into the organization. Why trade for a great player when you can just sign one as a free agent?
5. Jose Calderone. How important is this guy to the Raptors? He's becoming the Leandro Barbosa of Toronto. Last years bench warmer is now good enough to start as a PG for almost half the league (can you imagine what the Lakers would look like with him?) and he continuously pushes Ford for the top PG spot on his team. Ironically, he may also be the better overall floor general at this stage as Ford still has the habit of going faster than his own brain or ball-handling skills can sometimes deal with, creating turnovers out of scoring chances. When Ford and Bosh came out and crapped the bed in a dismal first quarter against Wince Carter and the Nets, it was Calderone who lead the bench guns to a 50+ pt night and kept the team competitive. He never complains, always gives a solid effort, and he doesn't mind that Ford gets the headlines. He's money.
4. Sam Mitchell. Sure there have been some substitution issues in a lot of games (mostly early on when you know he is being unusual in handing out the minutes because he wants to see certain players perform in different situations), but he hasn't made a glaring mistake late in games with defensive assignments like he used to, and showed against Dallas that he is capable of getting his team ready to play even the best of the league. Mitchell knows he is not the GM's golden boy. He knows that Colangelo probably has all of the assistant coaches in Phoenix on speed-dial just waiting for their contracts to expire so he can legally poach them. He knows he is on everybody's 'The next coach to be fired' list. He knows. He just doesn't care. With all of the distractions that could be derailing the team (injuries to Bosh and Ford during a crucial road-trip, etc.), Mitchell has somehow navigated them through the worst and towards a possible playoff berth.
3. Chris Bosh. Is getting everything he ever asked for;
- A partner in crime committed to getting him the ball in scoring position - Check (TJ Ford)
- A true centre to take the hardest defensive assignments off his plate - Check (Rasho)
- Depth players to help the team stay in games when he isn't on the floor - Check (Calderone, Garbo, Parker, Bargnani, etc.)
In return, he's delivering All-Star quality numbers at around 25pts and 12 rebounds a game. He's becoming ever more assertive in the post, is developing an understanding of when and where to push at a defense, and he is even adding the long bomb three to his arsenal. In short, he's holding up his end of the bargain. If he can keep his snarl going for longer portions of the game, he'll be almost unstoppable.
2. Andrea Bargnani
The rookie was a controversy as the number one overall pick in what was considered to be a weak NBA draft (because it is the first draft impacted by the ban on drafting under 19's) but he has proven that he has the goods to be better than anyone expected (except the Raptors scouts). Espn and others had him pegged as a soft 6'10" (probably because they weren't that interested in scouting him), but he is in fact a legit 7 footer, and his skill set is way better than originally thought. Why so exciting? He has the speed of someone several inches shorter, he can move and dribble with either hand, he has lightning fast passing abilities, his BB IQ is off the charts, and oh yeah, did I mention he's built like a close-in finisher, but has range on his shooting to way past the three point line. All in all, he only needs to add a little mass to his frame so he can bang with the other bigs, and a little experience. Once he adds those, he'll be even more unstoppable than Bosh.
1. Bryan Colangelo has a vision. What is his vision exactly? Well, we are fortunate enough to be able to see what a BC built team looks like - and they are 26 and 2 in their last 28 games.
9. The bad guy clawing up his hands and assuming a kick boxing posture vs the kung-fu stance w/ boxing affectations that Bruce Lee made famous. Sweet. Li lacks the bouncy pop of his predecesor, preferring a simple shoulder bob to a full blown imitation. I thought overall the effect was subtle, a nod to Lee without simply aping him.
7. The 'just-missed-punch-eye-poke-slap'. Li will continue to work baddies left eye from hereon. Likewise, baddie is now conciously going to work Li's shoulder. All of which reminds me of what Rick Tocchet said upon returning from shoulder surgery and being asked if he thought that other teams would be targeting his shoulder; 'Of course. S'what I would do.' Is it less moral to deliberately blind an opponent when he is trying to separate your arm from it's socket?
6. Artfully framed shots. Once Li flips baddie into the courtyard and they start to fight out there, pause the film and take note of how the director breaks the background up visually into halves thirds and quandrants using the railings, ramps, rocks, and eventually swatches of bright red leaves, to frame the fighting taking place in the foreground.
5. Not content to merely try and blind his opponent, Li moves on to throat strikes followed by what appears even in slow motion to be a nose tweak/slap right out of the Three Stooges.
4. Like all great fights there has to be some modicum of challenge, and in this case, we have Jet Li forced to absorb a huge beating from the badguy after heaps of abuse to his right shoulder render it and the arm into just so much warm, limp, steak. Then as in all great fight scenes (including the aformentioned Lethal Weapon showdown) the hero must return dislocated shoulder to its home socket and resume the whoop-ass. Call this the shoulder socket rule. Keep in mind that in reality a separated shoulder being returned to its socket inexpertly could result in pinched nerves, tissue, etc. far worse than simply having it separated. Don't do this at home kids.
3. The latent homoeroticism officially erupts with Freudian frivolity at 5:20-22 when bad guy knocks over a rack of swords.
Too subtle? This is shortly followed by;
- Bad guy knocked onto ass, then rolls onto back and splays his legs. Grimaces as he does so.
- Series of abdomen blows render bad guy doubled over at crotch height for Li to wail on
- Li stands over bad guy in a position of superiority, bad guy gets out by driving his head upwards into Li's crotch and throwing him off.
That said, as unintentionally(?) homoerotic entertainment goes, this is nothing compared to the classic of all classics in this regard, 'Commando'.
2. The inevitable decision on the bad guys part to escalate the conflict by going for a sword after he should have admitted his inferiority and defeat. As all mover watchers know, this decision can only mean that the bad guy will be summarily killed.
1. Jet Li's decision to fight back against the sword wielding bad guy, not with a sword (which was available) but rather, his belt. Sweet.
- Mel Gibson's 'Do you want a shot at the title?' fight with Gary Busey (note this takes place well before either of them went crazy or got fat) in the first Lethal Weapon movie.
- In the loopy French flick 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' a native Canadian travels France as the side-kick for a detective assigned by the Dauphin to end the mystery of a beast that randomly kills and eats villagers. Yes, it's a very strange film. But the scene where our Canadian native beats on several villagers using a long wooden pole was worth the price of admission alone.
- Jackie Chan's 'ladder' scene in 'First Strike'. Not a great movie, but the stuff he pulls off with an aluminum ladder is simply insane. Worth renting for that scene alone (and of course the end of credits recap of his out-takes on shooting that scene).
- Ong-Bak the Thai Warrior deservedly got Tony Jaa's double knee drop from a great height as a great move, but they missed the real winner - his no-stunt-double, feet first leap through a ring of razor wire. The other move I would have picked first is the devastating knee-to-head he dishes out in his first fight at the bar.
- No particular stunt stands out, but 'District B-13' was an excellent little ripper of a martial arts flick that flew way under the radar.
The first is an older test, which places you in a continuum between Jesse Jackson (1) and Ronald Reagan (40).
In other words, it's exactly the kind of political test I think is fatally flawed. The complexity of political opinion isn't something that can be charted on a line (and certainly not one that uses Ronald "Trees cause pollution" Reagan as exemplar of anything).
And I admit, I was a tad disturbed by the results - I scored 19 (a shade to the 'left' of Colon Powell), while my better half scored a mere 8 placing her between Hilary Clinton (1o) and (5) Ted Kennedy.
The second is the 'Vote Match' test.
(note: before taking the test you have to select 'political philosophy' from the choices or you simply get compared to Presidents)
A tad more sophisticated (which isn't saying 'more accurate'), it came out a little differently this time than the last test. It seems both I and the better half now score more or less equally as hardcore liberal by their definition (very much the same as 'classical liberal')
Curiously the test with more variance in its possibilities lumps us together, while the test with less differentiation spreads us further apart.
Ok, so that's cool enough on it's face, but at the end was this teaser;
"Further down the line there is the possibility of constructing a "suicide gene" to code for deadly amino acid primes. It could be attached to genetically modified organisms and activated to destroy them at a later date if they turned out to be dangerous, Hampikian suggests."
- Which reminded me of....
Tyrell - "You were built as well as we could make you."
Roy - "But not to last."
Welcome to Los Angeles, 2019.