Would you like to listen to Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens discussing religion for two hours? My initial impulse was that I wasn’t especially interested, even though I admire these thinkers/writers and I agree with many of their ideas. My hesitation was that I was already quite familiar with their works.
I jumped in, though, and watched the video (it’s hosted at Richard Dawkins’ site). I was delighted with this material. This video is well worth watching, whether or not you’ve read any of the participants’ books. Each of these four participants is well known for writing a book that challenges religious beliefs. In this video, they often move beyond the eloquent arguments they have made in writing and, instead, they address many aspects of the psychology of belief, the psychology of argument and where we should go from here. The session is filled with memorable anecdotes and personal reflections.
It is true that Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens have much in common. But there are also a surprising number of points where they diverge in their thinking. When they diverge, they do it with mutual respect, and the discussion moves well all the way through.
Some of my favorite topics:
What preachers think in private (whether they “know better” than to preach the way they do).
Whether it’s ever possible for a rational argument to succeed regarding a devout believer.
The type of faith we have in scientists and other types of experts.
The arrogance of those who claim to speak for God.
Those who are noumenous (those who experience a secular sense of mystery) versus those who claim religious beliefs.
That each of the participants enjoys having a Christmas Tree during the holiday season.
Sophisticated theology characterized as “stamp collecting.”
That well-educated believers somehow succeed in keeping “two sets of books.”
Are there some absolutely true things that responsible people shouldn’t investigate and shouldn’t promulgate?
What are atheists missing when they coldly dismiss religious beliefs, out of hand?
The problem with those who live lives of perpetual distraction.
Whether the participants would prefer a world in which churches were always empty.
The connection between religion and art.
Whether one can lose one’s self in religious stories without actually believing them to be true.
The discussions of these topics will often surprise you. Don’t make my mistake and presume that you could have written the script.