Poking around on utube, I found this fascinating discussion between 4 of the most outspoken atheists out there today: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. I have watched four parts out of the twelve so far and have decided to start a 3 part series of my own, linking to four clips at a time and throwing out stream of consciousness reflections on what I watch. Here are the first four clips. I invite your own commentary on these videos!
Discussion - Part 1
Discussion - Part 2
Discussion - Part 3
Discussion - Part 4
So far most of what they say I agree with, except of course the atheism part. I have been a little disappointed by the fact that they haven't differentiated between rational faith and irrational faith. (for example accepting scientific empiricism vs. believing in a 6000 year old earth) I was happy in the beginning of the second clip when Harris allowed for the reality and language of supernatural experiences, if not supernatural reality itself. I was also appreciative of Hitchens (who I think in general to be an incredible charismatic and profoundly intelligent writer) disagree with Dennett that religious people claim not to doubt their faith, giving a few examples. Then Dawkins makes an unfair assertion in my view that people of faith pray over and over to brainwash themselves out of doubt. Not really. We pray because it invokes the experience of self sacrifice and oneness with our reality. We pray because we want to detach ourselves from our own ego and open up to love and compassion in our lives. I don't pray because I want to be cured of doubt. It would scare me if I had absolutely no doubt. Of course I doubt; there is no way to prove that I am praying to anything other than the floor and ceiling. But I feel that it is even harder to prove that something (the universe) came from nothing. Human consciousness has evolved the capacity for self reflection, scientific inquiry, and the conscious development of all virtues. It seems to me unlikely that this consciousness born out of some form in some galaxy was an accident. It seems to me likely that the universe itself is moving towards a greater perfection, one that will spawn in our day and age the unity of humankind. It is interesting to think of how the cells in a human body unite to form a human consciousness. What new meta consciousness will be created when humankind unites?
By the beginning of part 3, it is starting to feel like an atheism support group. The biggest frustration with watching this is that they are taking the most extreme examples of religious dogmatism and intolerance, and using them as examples of the delusion of belief. Why not instead argue the most rational forms of spiritual practice? Why not argue against Robert Wrights argument for purposeful directionality in a material universe? Why not argue against Adam Frank's promotion of spiritual experience without regard to religious reality?
Finally! by the middle of part 3 Dawkins suggests that there is a difference between sophisticated, nuanced professors of theology and the Jerry Falwells of the world. Then he says, which I agree with, that many of these said theologians will say one thing to each other and something much more dumbed down and literal to their congregation. I think that this has been a major problem with religion generally. The "flock" relies on the clergy for spiritual interpretation, and are then very susceptible to manipulation. In the Baha'i faith, we are all encouraged to independently investigate the truth. There is no clergy to interpret the writings for us. In fact, there is a highly developed process of study that relies on dialogue and practical application.
Interesting line by Harris: "What does moderation consist of, it consists of having lost faith in all of these propositions, or half of them because of the hammer blows of science." If religion is seen as a static belief not prone to evolution, then I agree. But, if religion is viewed as a constantly evolving structure, based upon the conceptual capacity of its adherents, then science can be seen as a necessary catalyst for religious evolution. And religion can be seen as the core human experience of the sacred that takes us beyond reductionist explanation, into a realm of meaning and motivation.
In the beginning of part 4, Dennit says that in fact the clergy deserve ridicule because they should know better. The flock should not be ridiculed because they are just placing their faith in a percieved authority. Good ol' Hitchens. He counters Harris and says that its the congregation who make a fool out of themselves. Also compares irrational believers to racists who claim that they know no better. Concludes by saying all those believing in religious superstition are open to ridicule.
Near the end of part 4, they argue that science is subject to competition and peer review, whereas religious theology is not. Dawkins makes the point that we don't understand quantum physics, but that it can still be used to make very accurate predictions and eventually we will understand it better. On the other hand, we don't understand the concept of the "Trinity" and it never will be understood, much less be used to make any kind of prediction. Again, while I agree with the said virtues of science, it does not address human motivation in an ontological manner. In a manner that is meaningfull in that we choose to give it meaning because it makes our life worth living. The "Trinity" was a theogical construct arising out of a projected ontological need, and was valuable for its time and place. In this day we can move on from antiquated theologies, but we shouldn't forget them.