I know a lot of you are unhappy with him right now, but I’ll tell you what I like about Sam Harris. He doesn’t shy away from talking about controversial topics and he doesn’t back down from his critics. Instead, he’s continuing an interesting discussion.
He begins with a thought experiment:
Imagine that you work for the TSA and are executing a hand search of a traveler’s bag. He is a young man in his twenties and seems nervous. You notice that he is carrying a hardcover copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You pick up the book and ask him if he likes it. He now appears even more nervous than before. You notice something odd about the book — the dust jacket doesn’t seem to fit. Your remove it and find a different book underneath. How do you feel about this traveler’s demeanor, and the likelihood of his being a terrorist, if the book is:
A. The Qur’an (in Arabic)
B. The Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide
C. Overcoming Impotence: A Leading Urologist Tells You Everything You Need to Know
If you care more about A than B, C, or D, as I think you should, you are guilty of religious profiling (and calling it “behavioral profiling” doesn’t change this fact).
Is he wrong? I’m honestly less interested in that answer than I him watching him go back and forth with his critics. This is a discussion he feels is worth having and the fact that so many commenters have a hard time responding to him without letting their emotions (and gut reactions) get in the way shows that he has touched a nerve. If he’s proven wrong, I want to see him acknowledge that. If he’s right, I want to watch him try and defend his views (hopefully, without being too stubborn about it). This is something we — as atheists — are supposed to do well. Debate, discuss, use reason and evidence, listen to the experts, admit if/when we’re wrong, and then keep asking more questions. It’s fascinating to watch.
Harris says that security expert Bruce Schneier (who has argued against profiling) will be responding to Harris’ arguments tomorrow. Can’t wait to read what he writes.