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The Four Horsemen: Hour 1 of 2 - Discussions with Richard Dawkins

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One of the things we've all met is the accusation that we are strident or arrogant, or vitriolic, or shrill. What do we think about that? Hah! Yeah, well I'm amused by it, because I went out of my way in my book to address reasonable religious people. And I test-flew the draft with groups of students who were deeply religious. And indeed, the first draft incurred some real anguish. And so I made adjustments and made adjustments. And it didn't do any good in the end because I still got hammered for being for being rude and aggressive. And I came to realise that it's a no-win situation. It's a mug's game. The religions have contrived to make it impossible to disagree with them critically without being rude. Without being rude. You know, they sort of play the hurt feelings card at every opportunity, and faced with a choice of, well, am I gonna be rude or am I going to articulate this criticism? I mean, am I going to articulate it, or am I just gonna button my lip? Right, well, that's what it is to trespass a taboo. I think we're all encountering the fact that that religion is held off the table of rational criticism in some kind of formal way even by, we're discovering, our fellow secularists and our fellow atheists. You know, just leave people to their own superstition, even if it's abject and causing harm, and don't look too closely at it. Now that was, of course, the point of the title of my book is there is this spell and we gotta break it. But if the charge of offensiveness in general is to be allowed in public discourse, then, without self-pity, I think we should say that we, too, can be offended and insulted. I mean, I'm not just in disagreement when someone like Tariq Ramadan, accepted now at the high tables of Oxford University as a spokesman, says the most he'll demand, when it comes to the stoning of women, is a moratorium on it. I find that profoundly-- much more than annoying. Right, yeah, but I think -- Insulting, not only insulting, but actually threatening. But you're not offended. This is -- You are not taking -- I don't see you taking things personally. You're alarmed by the liability of certain ways of thinking. as in Ramadan's case But he would say or people like him would say that if I doubt the historicity of their prophet Mohamed I venged them in their deepest feelings. I am in fact -- I think all people ought to be offended at least in their deepest integrity by saying the proposition that without a supernatural, celestial dictatorship we wouldn't know right from wrong. That we only live by -- But are you really offended by that? Doesn't it just seem wrong to you? No, I say only, Sam, that if the offensiveness charge is to be allowed in general and arbitrated by the media then I think we're entitled to claim that much without being self-pitying or representing ourselves as oppressed minority which I think is an opposite danger, I will admit. I also agree with Daniel that there is no way in which the charge against us can be completely avoided because what we say does offend the core very seriously anyway We deny the divinity of Jesus for example, many people will be terrifically shocked and possibly hurt. It's just too bad. I'm fascinated by the contrast between the amount of offense that's taken by religion and the amount of offense that people take against merely anything else like artistic taste, your taste in music, your taste in art, your politics. You can be, not exactly as rude as you like, but you can be far, far more rude about such things. And I'd quite like to try to quantify that, do research about that. Actually you test people with statements about their favorite football team or their favorite piece of music or something and see how far you can go before they take offense compared to -- Is there anything else apart from, say, how ugly your face is that gives such -- or your husband or wife or girlfriend or partner's face. Well, interesting you say that, I regularly debate with John Donahue, the Catholic defense lead, and he actually is righteously upset by certain transient modern art which ....... by blasphemy. For example, [unclear]'s best piece with the elephant dung on the virgin, and so on. And, indeed, I think it's quite important that we share with Socrates and other pre-monotheists, a revulsion to desecration or to profanity we don't want to see churches desecrated or religious icons trashed and so forth. We share an admiration for at least some of the aesthetic achievements of religion. I think this whole notion -- I think out criticism is actually more barbed than that, in a sense that we are not -- we are offending people but we are also telling them that they are wrong to be offended. Physicists aren't offended when their view of physics is disproved or challenged. This is not the way rational minds operate when they are really trying to get at what's true in the world. And religions purport to be representing reality and yet there's this peevish and tribal and ultimately dangerous reflexive response to having these ideas challenged. I think that we're pointing to the total liability of that fact. Well, and too, there's no polite way to say to somebody -- you've wasted your life -- Do you realize you've wasted your life ? Do you realize you've just devoted all your efforts and all your goods to the glorification of something which is just a myth. Or have you ever considered -- even if you say -- Have you even considered the possibility that maybe you've wasted your life on this? There's no inoffensive way of saying that. But we do have to say it because they should jolly-well consider it. Same as we do about our own lives. Oh, absolutely. Dan Barker's making a collection of clergymen who lost their faith but don't dare say so because it's their own living, it's the only thing they know how to do. Yuh, I've heard of one of them at least. -- Have you? Yes. I used to have this one when I was younger, arguments with members of the Communist Party. They sort of knew that it was all up with the Soviet Union. Many of them had suffered a lot, sacrificed a great deal and struggled immensely to keep what they thought that was the great ideal life. Their main spring had broken but they couldn't give it up because it would involve a similar concession. But that certainly, if everyone says how could you say that to them about serving the Soviet Union, Didn't you know you're going to ....them cry another ...hurt their feelings. Don't be ridiculous. Don't be absurd. I find it in many cases almost exactly analogous argument. When people tell me I'm being rude and vicious and terribly aggressive in the way I -- I say If I were saying these things about the pharmaceutical industry or the oil interests -- ah, would it be rude? Would it be off limits? No. 'Course it wouldn't. Well, want religion to be treated just the way we treat the pharmaceuticals and the oil industry. I'm not against pharmaceutical companies. I'm against some of the things they do, but want to put religions on the same page with them. Including denying them tax exemption. Yuh. --Yes. And in the English case state subsidy. I'm curious how religion acquire this charmed status that it has compared with other things. In somehow we all bought into it, whether we're religious or not, and that's some of historical processes led to, this immunization of religion against -- well, this hyper offence taking that religion is allowed to take. And what's particularly amusing to me finally, first it infuriated me but now I'm amused is they've managed to enlist legions of non-religious people who take offence on their behalf. In fact, the most vicious reviews of my book have been by those who aren't themselves religious but they are terribly afraid of hurting the feelings of people that are religious and they chastise me worse than anybody -- Exactly my experience. And I think one of you how condescending that view is. It's as though -- it's like the idea of penitentiary, other people need them, you know, that we must keep these people safely in their myths. Yes. I think there's one answer to that question which may illuminate a difference that I have with -- maybe all three of you -- there's something about -- I still use words like spiritual and mystical without furrow my brow too much to the consternation of many atheists. I think there is a range of experience that is rare and that is only talked about without obvious qualms in religious discourse And because it is talked about only in religious discourse it is it is just riddled with superstition and it's used to cash out various metaphysical schemes which it can't reasonably do, but clearly people have extraordinary experiences whether they have them on LSD or they have them because they were alone in a cave for a year or they have them because they just happen to have the neurology that that is particularly laid ....that allows for it. But people have self-transcending experiences and people have the best day of their life where everything seemed, you know, they seemed one with nature, And for that, because religion seems to be the only game in town, in talking of those experiences and dignifying them everyone -- that's one reason why I think it seems to be taboo to to criticize it because you're talking about the most important moments in people's lives and trashing them, at least from their view. Well, I don't have to agree with you, Sam, in order to say that is a very good thing you're saying that sort of thing. Because it shows that, as you say, religion is not the only game in town when it comes to being spiritual. It's like it's a good idea to have somebody from the political right who is an atheist because otherwise there's a confusion of values, which doesn't help us and it's much better to have this diversity in other areas. I think I sort of do agree with you but even if I didn't I think it was valuable to have that. -- Right. If one could make one change, and only one, mine would be distinguish the numinous from the supernatural. -- Yes. You had a marvelous quotation from Francis Collins, the genome pioneer who said while mountaineering one day he was so overcome by the landscape and then he went down on his knees and accepted JC a complete non-sequitur It's never been suggested that JC created that landscape. A frozen waterfall in three parts that takes your mind to the trinity. Well, absolutely, we're all trying that union in one way or another, we're programed for that. That's very clear. There wouldn't ever be for had it god. --Right -- You know that for experience. But that would be an enormous distinction to make and I think it would clear up a lot of people's confusions -- what we have in our emotions are the sapless value of our personalities the bits that aren't particularly useful to our evolution although we can prove half of it. Do belong to us all the same. Don't belong to the supernatural and are not to be conscripted or annexed by any priesthood. It's a sad fact that in a sense people won't trust their own valuing of their numerous experiences, this isn't as good as it seems unless it's from god, unless it's in some kind of a proof for religion. No, it's just as wonderful as it seems, it's just as important. It is the best moment in your life, and it's the moment when you forget yourself, and become better than you ever thought you could be in some way, and see in all humbleness the wonderfulness of nature. That's it ! And that's wonderful. But it doesn't add anything to say: Golly, that has to have been given to me by somebody even more wonderful. It's been hijacked. It's also, I'm afraid, I think it's a deformity or shortcoming in the human personalty, frankly, because the religions keep stressing how humble it is, and how meek it is, and how accepting, and almost to the point of [..] obligation is. Blanche [?] makes extraordinarily arrogant claims for these purposes: 'I suddenly realized that the universe is all about me' Be humble about it. Come on. We can laugh people out of that, I believe. Right. I am so tired of the -- "If only professor Dannett had the humility to bla, bla, bla ... and humility, humility ..." And this from people of breathtaking arrogance. I think -- You shove that aside. You say: Don't mind me, I'm on an errand for god. This is the point I think we should return to this notion of the arrogance of science. Because there's no discourse which enforces humility more rigorously. Scientists, in my experience, are the first people to say they don't know. If you get a scientist to start talking off his area of specialization he or she immediately starts hedging his bet. saying: I'm not sure but surely someone in the room knows more about this than me and of course all the data is not in, this is --- the mode of discourse in which we are the most candid about the scope of our ignorance. come up with that kind of false modesty.

Video Details

Duration: 58 minutes and 4 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Josh Timonen
Director: Josh Timonen
Views: 345
Posted by: arthurcf on Mar 4, 2010

On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.

All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion - some positive, and some negative. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public's reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.

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