Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sit down to discuss religion.

February 29, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

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. 

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Category: American Culture, Good and Evil, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Ben says:

    You may enjoy this friendly little flare up about Dawkins' recent lectures:

    (wilkins) on dawkins:

    "I noted with interest that he seems to have abandoned his claim that an agnostic is somebody who has an evenly balanced probability assessment of the existence of God, which is total crap. But he failed to say if that meant he now accepts that while atheists and theists alike are making knowledge claims, agnostics simply aren't. I doubt it.

    What I most came away with was that he sets it up that one simply cannot understand the existence of religion, and so must treat it as an evil, immoral, or simply irrational thing. Apart from begging the question (since he is so fond of talking about logical errors), it makes the origins of religion a miracle. Now Dawkins is fond of miracles. He has said that evolution begins with the first replicator, ignoring the fact that replication systems are complicated things that cannot appear, as it were, by fiat. It's a scientific miracle as he presents it "

    myers responds to wilkins:

    "As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that's complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas. Further, my standard reply to questions about what I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It's a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together."

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/wilkin

  2. Jack Cisco says:

    Atheist Delusions, by David Bentley Hart, contains an opening chapter that demolishes these New Atheists.

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