My "Straw Man"

A reader writes:

Your latest response to Sam Harris was right on the money in so many ways - except that it seemed to me that you were reacting against something that Sam actually doesn't believe and didn't put forward (at least not nearly to the degree that you took it).

Of course, everyone understands that contingency is inescapable. I just think that Sam never claimed rationalism/science to actually be free of it, merely that they have less than faith-based religious beliefs do. His point on this (by my interpretation) was only that faith-based beliefs cling to contingency whereas science tries to identify and eliminate as much as possible. When he brought up the issue, it was predominantly in the context of this kind of relative sense.

For example, he wrote:

"Your determination to have your emotional and spiritual needs met within the tradition of Catholicism has kept you from discovering that there is a mode of spiritual and ethical inquiry that is not contingent upon culture in the way that all religions are"


"Imagine a discourse about ethics and mystical experience that is as contingency-free as the discourse of science already is."

Both of these are comparisons regarding relative levels of contingence, not claims that science is contingency free. I'm afraid you misinterpreted that in an extreme sense that wasn't intended, then used it as a straw-man.

I should leave this for Sam to unpack if he wishes in his next response, but felt it worthwhile to register the critique here. I won't add anything now except to say that I certainly didn't intend to attack a straw-man; and that I don't believe that the best kind of science is any less contingent than the most admirable expressions of faith.