Blackford comes at the book from the standpoint of someone who actually agrees with Harris's criticisms of the view Harris explicitly attacks--but complains about the book anyway, for reasons that are, I must say, disturbingly familiar. Blackford's complaint is summed up in the following passage:
Harris may, indeed, have isolated one tendency in the thinking of some philosophers and some ordinary people. Perhaps he has met people who think about free will in a way that matches up with his definition, and I'm sure some readers will find that the definition rings true for them (the evidence suggests, remember, that ordinary people do not all think alike about free will - and philosophers certainly do not).I say this critique is disturbingly familiar because, well, it has the same basic form as my criticism of Harris's attack on religion in his first book, The End of Faith. Here is what I said in Is God a Delusion?:
But Harris does not claim to be attacking one tendency, perhaps a dangerous one, in ordinary thinking or the philosophical literature. Nor does he limit himself to claiming (against the evidence to date) that it is the dominant tendency.
As far as he is concerned, he is writing about the true conception of free will, and anyone who disagrees is changing the subject. They are not talking about free will, he thinks, but only about "free will" - about an intellectual construction of their own making. That is almost the reverse of the truth, and if anything it is Harris who wants to change the subject by insisting on his own pet definition.
Religion, for him, is about scriptural literalism...Religious moderates are therefore represented as people without the integrity of their convictions, people who are simultaneously unwilling to accept where literalism leads (because of the influence of modern insight and rationality) and unwilling to accept where modernity and rationality lead (because of nostalgic attachment to the text).Apparently intellectual vices are hard to shake off. Or maybe when a fallacious way of reasoning works once (works in the sense of launching you to fame and fortune), there's little incentive to abandon it.
We aren't led to this conclusion unless we accept the equation that Harris makes between fundamentalism and religion. Harris never considers the possibility that fundamentalism may be the perversion...He blithely equates religion with fundamentalism, and the rest is easy: fundamentalism is irrational; it has no resources for transcending itself. If religious moderation is born out of fundamentalism, it can only be because these moderates can't stomach fundamentalism but are unwilling to follow reason to its conclusion.
Had Harris offered, at the start of the book, a narrow stipulative definition of "religion," and said that he was only attacking religion in that very narrow sense, I would have praised the book for identifying a dangerous phenomenon and explicating precisely what made it so dangerous. But instead, Harris allows his attacks to sweep indiscriminately across anything that calls itself religious...