The Four Horsemen

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The Four Horsemen is a 2007 video produced by the Richard Dawkins Foundation, featuring Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens — four authors who have been accused of being new atheists or neo-atheists — in which they discuss both the phenomena of publishing atheist books and advocating atheism, and respond to critics. Below is a precis of what is discussed. The notes are marked with minutes and seconds keyed to the downloaded version.

Hour 1[edit]

0:10 Dawkins opens the discussion with a question to the other guests — on what they think of the accusation that they have been particularly strident, arrogant, shrill or vitriolic in their advocacy for atheism. Dennett notes that you cannot temper the atheist message, and that religions have created a situation where it is impossible to criticise their beliefs without them shouting about their offense. Hitchens suggests that atheists should reverse this practice against the religious and start claiming offensiveness, and points to Tariq Ramadan as a religious advocate who he personally finds morally offensiveness. Dawkins notes that it is mystifying that people find statements about religion more particularly offensive than other fields — political beliefs, artistic expression. Dawkins asks how religion has reached a status as an untouchable entity. Dennett notes that non-religious people have condescendingly taken up the religious baton, and are offended by proxy.

Harris brings up the question of spirituality, noting that religion has been tacked on to spirituality — and that we need to free numinous and spiritual experiences from religious propagandists.

13.30 The conversation turns to humility and arrogance — the false humility of religious beliefs, when in fact they are all about the belief that the universe is all about them. They respond to the claim that science is arrogant — when, in fact, scientists and academics more generally admit their areas of ignorance quite explicitly.

17.05 Harris discusses how the fact that people can believe things without evidence is taken as evidence for the thing which they believe and describes it as a perpetual motion machine of self-deception. The participants discuss the circularity of the epistemological arguments used for faith — that doubt is itself a part of belief, the virtue of trust, hurt feelings, and so on.

24.15 Dawkins brings up the distinction between the sophisticated theologians and the believer in the pew — and suggests a profound deception goes on in the use of sophisticated language among educated believers, and the gaudy miracle show being used on the gullible lay persons. Hitchens argues that senior leaders of the Church of England are blaming floods in Britain on homosexuality,[1] and that sophisticated theologians like Alister McGrath need to publicly condemn this if the idea of a "sophisticated" religious distinction is to be held.