An interesting collaboration occurred several years ago (September 30th, 2007). Four gentlemen gathered at one table for a conversation. The conversation was called ‘The Four Horsemen’. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, the major drivers of the “Gnu Atheist” movement, participated in this unmediated discussion/debate. For two hours of stimulating conversation, these four authors demonstrate their different approaches to accomplishing the same objective.
This conversation is a great testament against making sweeping generalizations about atheists. Atheists are almost invariably independent thinkers, and having a meeting or gathering like this has been said to be akin to herding cats. Still, the cats were herded and what a result. If you’ve not watched any of the video, I highly, highly recommend you do.
I would love to entertain a debate or discussion with people in a casual setting such as this on a frequent basis. Conversing about topics which are deemed untouchable by modern media and taboo in casual conversation is key to people’s understanding of them, and ultimately, the destruction of the taboo. To me, is important to raising awareness and fighting fear in the common populous that has been propagated by the various religious organizations for the last millennia. In the 60s, our parents (grandparents even?) decided it was okay to talk about sex. Will our gift to our children be the ability to freely discuss – and criticize – religion?
What I especially enjoy in this discussion is that all the men appear relaxed and engaged by the conversation. They are not talking down to anyone or trying to prove a point to an opposing world view, all the while having their own opinions and ideas on the topic of religion and human rights violations associated with religious practices. Richard and Christopher seemed to butt heads a few times, with Christopher having the overpowering advantage due to his passion and extensive historical, social and theological knoweldge. Richard seems to have a personal outlook on the religion topic and he tends to utilize biology more than history to refute the claims of preachers on the pulpit.
At 24 minutes into the first hour of the video, Richard talks about how people are accusing these four men of going after the easy targets (ex. congregations, worshipers, etc.) rather than the “sophisticated intellectuals and theologians”. These people don’t have to talk to easy targets; the more stimulating conversation is, obviously, between their colleagues. The Four Horsemen seem to need to speak out against religion out of moral obligation.
A point comes up about the belief that is ground breaking. The holy books are said to be the dictation to man from an omnipotent being, which is claimed infallible. Any religious person of the 3 main religions of the world have to accept this as truth, otherwise the entire idea of the institution is a fraud. Yet the faithful always state that a passage is true or a metaphor for something that is true based on the interpretation of the reader. Any rational person would see the man behind the curtain in this concept. Men have been using the concept of religion to control a populous and obtain notoriety and wealth for thousands of years, from the tribal shaman to the pope. Each practitioner of religion is equal in their knowledge that the practice they preach is false and guilty for spreading lies and bigotry as truth. If the Word is Truth, and the Word is absolute, how can there be room for interpretation?
Now rational people can and usually do see these and other claims as false. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. A completely non-scientific, but still intriguing, trend I have been noticing for years has been the peoples reaction to being confronted with new information. I have found that, in general, people are more willing to believe than to disbelieve. It is easier to accept making complacency have a greater frequency in test subjects. In fact, these data have been replicated in actual psychological studies of children, where they found that even when given all reason to believe to the contrary, the children would still believe a lie.
Body language changes dramatically based on what is happening around people. Honestly, words are not nearly necessary to communicate as a human being. The body, as is commonplace with animal communication, can say a lot. I would have loved to have observe the body language of the judge in India who ruled that astrology is a science.
An interesting note is that Christopher states does not want the world to exist without faith. And he does want the argument between religion and atheists to go away. And it is to these two points where Christopher Hitchens divides his ideas from the other three minds. He seems to enjoy the “theatre” of the argument. Richard Dawkins becomes passionate about this ideology that Christopher says. “Whether its astrology or religion or anything else, I want to live in a world where people think skeptically for themselves, look at evidence. Not because astrology is harmful. I guess it probably isn’t harmful but if you go through the world thinking that it’s ok to just believe things because you believe things, without evidence, then you’re missing so much. And that (stumble with words) its such a wonderful experience to live in the world and understand why your living in the world and understand what makes it work, understand about the real stars understand about astronomy, that its an impoverishing thing to be reduced to the pettiness of astrology.” Richard goes on to talk about the similarity of the same statement replacing “Astrology” with “Religion”.
Richard, even with his mastery of biology and science has not found the words that will once and for all convince the believers of religion that what they believe is not nearly as amazing and beautiful as the entire universe full of wonder. He is desperately trying to find the words but, like his peers, he has not been able to express his zeal for the natural, explainable world (if not soon to be explainable). I hope he lives long enough to find the particular phrase that will awaken the minds eye of fanatics to reason and evidence. Unfortunately, I think the words Reason and Evidence are profane in the religious world.
Richard Dawkins, I can say this with conviction, is responsible for my awakening to the scientific rational thinking that he is so fond of. Prior to viewing a lecture given by Richard, I was angered by religion and encouraged the dismantling of all religious institutions. After viewing the lecture, the words reason and evidence began to ring in my ears like the word of god rings in the ears of a fanatic. The difference being that those words opened my mind to the natural, where the religious fanatics ears close to the world and open to lies and evil. Even if the religious fanatic is not inherently evil, the words can hypnotize the person to commit evil on an extremely small level or on a destructive level. My mind opens only to the building of bridges and opening of doors to the wonder that exists.
That being said, Richard has, for me, discovered the words and phrase to bring out the knowledge seeking the he incites.