December 17, 2007

The Four Horsemen: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and Dennett together at last

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Part 1

Part 2

In a June diary piece for his old parish the New Statesman, Christopher Hitchens explored possible monikers for the recent raft of atheist writers. He noted that as a quartet (Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris) they would inevitably attract such hackneyed shorthands as the Gang of Four or the Four Musketeers. Thus, he offered an alternative, the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse, now refined into the more succinct Four Horsemen. Shorn of its playful end the title may only further the religious association between atheism and evil, but i’m just relieved that Hitchens and Harris haven’t been conscripted into the sickly sweet Brights favoured by Dawkins and Dennett.

It now emerges that the Four Horsemen were recently gathered at Hitchens’s Washington apartment, with the two-hour discussion on religion that ensued filmed for our enjoyment. Released on DVD on January 2nd, you can view it all now courtesy of Dawkins’s site.

Watching the discussion i was reminded of those collaborative Marvel comic books that crop up occasionally, Spiderman and Superman: United at last!, X-Men and the Fantastic Four join forces! Far more interesting than what the four agree on is what they don’t. The differences, between Hitchens and Dawkins on the Iraq war as a secular project, and betwen Harris and the others on the relationship of atheism to Eastern spiritualism, do much to prove that the ‘new atheists’ are far from a homogeneous block.

The most compelling discussion occurs when Hitchens argues that he’d miss religion in a hypothetical atheist world since then the debate would end; he’d have no one to refine his arguments against, no one to hone his wit in opposition to, no one to face down in swathes of smoke long after the bulk of audience have retired. It proves once more that an admiration for the dialect is one feature that remains from his Trotskyist days. An incredulous Dawkins is baffled by this stance and at a later stage Hitchens, maintaining he’d like to see all the churches empty, concedes its essentially contradictory nature. Which all goes to prove that a meeting of two atheists is still likely to produce three opinions.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Michael

    This is a great debate. I also love the fact it highlights the differences among the Atheists.

    I’m a big fan of all of them but definitely prefer the style of Dennett and the inclusion (of the meditative/mystical) by Harris. That axis seems more fruitful than the “Delusional” approach of Hitchens and Dawkins who seem to want to stir things up a little.

    My main beef with the scientist and the cultural critic is the denial of a developmental view, something along the lines of Ken Wilber’s ‘Integral’ model. I think Dennet could understand and incorporate these kinds of insight it if it was presented to him in the right way, and Harris would jump at the chance I think. I don’t think Dawkins and Hitchens are ever going to budge out of their mainstream conventional world views however.

    Great debate, thanks for posting the whole two hours!


    20 Dec 2007, 17:15

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