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Atheist defends critical focus on Islam

Sam Harris, the prominent atheist, has hit back at charges of Islamophobia levelled by fellow non-believers – insisting that some faiths are more "mistaken" than others.

In a lengthy riposte posted on his website, Harris maintains that some religions, including Islam, deserve closer scrutiny because they pose a greater threat.

The American author was responding to two articles, on the Salon.com and Al Jazeera websites, reported in The Independent on Saturday, accusing him of becoming openly Islamophobic rather than equally critical of all faiths.

Harris says in his response: "Not all religious doctrines are mistaken to the same degree, intellectually or ethically, and it would be dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend otherwise. For instance, a dogmatic belief in the spiritual and ethical necessity of complete nonviolence lies at the very core of Jainism, whereas an equally dogmatic commitment to using violence to defend one's faith, both from within and without, is similarly central to the doctrine of Islam."

He continues: "Mormonism is objectively less credible than Christianity, because Mormons are committed to believing nearly all the implausible things that Christians believe plus many additional implausible things.

"It is mathematically true to say that whatever probability one assigns to Jesus' returning to Earth to judge the living and the dead, one must assign a lesser probability to his doing so from Jackson County, Missouri."

Harris was writing in response to an open letter from a group of leading secularists calling on fellow atheists to "dial down the drama" and "be more charitable" when confronting their ideological opponents.

The letter is seen as recognition that some secular advocates can come across as being as fundamentalist and dogmatic as the religious zealots they are trying to oppose.