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Such accusations – which are assertions, of course, not arguments, with their resentful air of noble hurt – were brandished as if they constituted a refutation of all that this New Atheism stood for. After thousands of years of supremacy, suppression and censorship, the religion managed to transform themselves miraculously into victims of cruel verbal abuse, snobbish bullying and intellectual persecution.
The Four Horsemen PDF Book
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It is against such a background that this conversation takes place. Indeed, the first topic that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens address is that very issue of ‘offence’ – how offence is taken by religion’s guardians whenever their claims and practices are examined in the forensic light of reason, history and knowledge.
Reading the Four Horsemen on this subject now, one realizes that all conversations about any ideology or belief are subsets of the religious debate. Yes, the Four Horsemen can be mordant and almost cruel in their swatting of adversarial flies, but they always play by the rules. The rules of all intellectual activity – whether scientific or non-scientific – spin down to one golden precept.
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The testing of assertions on the anvils of logic and verifiable fact. For an argument to obtain, it must make sense rationally and empirically. This does not cast the New Atheist as a cold, unfeeling Mr Spock. Reason and experience recognize that many pious adherents are sincere in their faith.
While it is honourable and legitimate to speculate as to the truth of the tenets of religious faith, there is no call to mock or undermine the individually devout. Flaubert’s Coeur simple, the old servant Félicité on her knees, telling the rosary and looking up with reverent wonder at the stained-glass window above the altar, is not ripe for scorn.
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But the dogma relayed from the Vatican by the cardinal in his palace, dogma that keeps Félicité on her knees, the palace stocked with wine, and the populace plied with nonsensical edicts and eschatological threats… well, that is fair and necessary game. Enquiries into the legitimacy of claims that spill out into the public arena and influence education.
Law-making and policy have no obligation to consider bruised feelings. If the truth of the existence of God is a first-order matter, it is soon dropped in debates and replaced with second-order questions: Maybe faith and belief in divinity and an afterlife, even if founded on claims for which there can be no evidence, may nonetheless be considered a force for good?
Maybe they offer moral guides and ethical codes without which the world would be a cruel and riotous place? Much of what we live by is metaphor. Why shouldn’t we accept a religious narrative irrespective of its truth – as a framework in this relativist culture cursed by the disappearance of structure, hierarchy, and meaning? The Four Horsemen PDF Book
The Fearless Four dive right into all these second-order topics. While not going so far as to allow for Stephen Jay Gould’s unsatisfactory proposition of NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria, an idea that can be expressed as ‘Render unto science what is science’s, and render unto religion all the rest’), we can see that each member of the Four is happy to agree that the world.
The cosmos, and our human apprehension exhibit and experience the numinous. This is not any kind of concession, for numen is (despite what some dictionaries might suggest) no more suggestive of the existence of divinity than lumen, or indeed any less attractive phenomena – cruelty, cancer and flesh-eating bacteria, for example.
The glory of this gathering is that everything each player in the quartet contributes on religion and atheism, science and sense, applies with equal urgency to the troublesome topics of our present age. Sitting in on these dialogues of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens reminds us that open enquiry, free thinking and the unfettered exchange of ideas yield real and tangible fruit. The Four Horsemen PDF Book
Who imagined that the future of such obvious and surely ineluctable enlightenment principles might in our lifetime be threatened – threatened by shrieking intolerance from both sides of the old political divide, but also by our own fear, indolence and misplaced courtesy? This real danger is what makes the publication of this book so timely and welcome.
May new generations continue to be inspired by the glamour and glory of the Four, and the valour and value of free thought openly and gracefully exchanged. Among the many topics we discussed in 2007 was how religion and science compared in respect of humility and hubris. Religion, for its part, stands accused of conspicuous overconfidence and sensational lack of humility.
The expanding universe, the laws of physics, the finetuned physical constants, the laws of chemistry, the slow grind of evolution’s mills – all were set in motion so that, in the 14-billion-year fullness of time, we should come into existence. Even the constantly reiterated insistence that we are miserable offenders, born in sin, is a kind of inverted arrogance.The Four Horsemen PDF Book
Such vanity, to presume that our moral conduct has some sort of cosmic significance, as though the Creator of the Universe wouldn’t have better things to do than tot up our black marks and our brownie points. The universe is all concerned with me. Is that not the arrogance that passeth all understanding?
Carl Sagan, in Pale Blue Dot, *3 makes the exculpatory point that our distant ancestors could scarcely escape such cosmic narcissism. With no roof over their heads and no artificial light, they nightly watched the stars wheeling overhead. And what was at the centre of the wheel? The exact location of the observer, of course.
No wonder they thought the universe was ‘all about me’. In the other sense of ‘about’, it did indeed revolve ‘about me’. ‘I’ was the epicentre of the cosmos. But that excuse, if it is one, evaporated with Copernicus and Galileo. Turning, then, to theologians’ overconfidence, admittedly few quite reach the heights scaled by the seventeenth-century archbishop James Ussher. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Download
Who was so sure of his biblical chronology that he gave the origin of the universe a precise date: 22 October, 4004 BC. Not 21 or 23 October but precisely on the evening of 22 October. Not September or November but definitely, with the immense authority of the Church, October. Not 4003 or 4005, not ‘somewhere around the fourth or fifth millennium BC’ but, no doubt about it, 4004 BC.
Others, as I said, are not quite so precise about it, but it is characteristic of theologians that they just make stuff up. Make it up with liberal abandon and force it, with a presumed limitless authority, upon others, sometimes – at least in former times and still today in Islamic theocracies – on pain of torture and death.
It’s fascinating to see how the theological mind works: in particular, the lack of interest in – indeed, the contempt for – factual evidence. Never mind whether there’s any evidence that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven; it would be good for people to believe she was. It isn’t that theologians deliberately tell untruths. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Download
It’s as though they just don’t care about truth; aren’t interested in truth; don’t know what truth even means; demote truth to negligible status compared with other considerations, such as symbolic or mythic significance. And yet at the same time, Catholics are compelled to believe these made-up ‘truths’ – compelled in no uncertain terms.
Even before Pius XII promulgated the Assumption as a dogma, the eighteenth-century Pope Benedict XIV declared the Assumption of Mary to be ‘a probable opinion which to deny were impious and blasphemous’. If to deny a ‘probable opinion’ is ‘impious and blasphemous’, you can imagine the penalty for denying an infallible dogma!
Once again, note the brazen confidence with which religious leaders assert ‘facts’ which even they admit are supported by no historical evidence at all. The Catholic Encyclopedia is a treasury of overconfident sophistry. Purgatory is a sort of celestial waiting room in which the dead are punished for their sins (‘purged’) before eventually being admitted to heaven. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Download
The Encyclopedia’s entry on purgatory has a long section on ‘Errors’, listing the mistaken views of heretics such as the Albigenses, Waldenses, Hussites and Apostolici, unsurprisingly joined by Martin Luther and John Calvin. *5 The biblical evidence for the existence of purgatory is, shall we say, ‘creative’, again employing the common theological trick of vague, hand-waving analogy.
For example, the Encyclopedia notes that ‘God forgave the incredulity of Moses and Aaron, but as punishment kept them from the “land of promise” ’. That banishment is viewed as a kind of metaphor for purgatory. I suppose the remaining deep questions are things like: ‘How does brain physiology produce subjective consciousness?’ ‘Where do the laws of physics come from?’
‘What set the fundamental physical constants, and why do they appear finetuned to produce us?’ and ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ The fact that science can’t (yet) answer these questions testifies to science’s humility. It most certainly doesn’t imply that religion can. Science may or may not, during the next century or so, solve these Deep Problems. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Download
And if science – including the science of evolved superhuman aliens – can’t answer them, nothing can. Certainly not theology. But I said I was going to make a point about the intellectual courage of the atheistic worldview, and I’ll do it in the context of the Deep Problems. Why is there something rather than nothing?
Our physicist colleague Lawrence Krauss, in his book A Universe from Nothing, *8 controversially suggests that, for quantum-theoretic reasons, Nothing (the capital letter is deliberate) is unstable. Just as matter and antimatter annihilate each other to make Nothing, so the reverse can happen.
A random quantum fluctuation causes matter and antimatter to spring spontaneously out of Nothing. Krauss’s critics largely focus on the definition of Nothing. His version may not be what everybody understands by nothing, but at least it is supremely simple – as simple it must be, if it is to satisfy us as the base of a ‘crane’ explanation (Dan Dennett’s phrase), such as cosmic inflation or evolution. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Free
It is simple compared to the world that followed from it by largely understood processes: the big bang, inflation, galaxy formation, star formation, element formation in the interior of stars, supernova explosions blasting the elements into space, condensation of element-rich dust clouds into rocky planets such as Earth.
The laws of chemistry by which, on this planet at least, the first self-replicating molecule arose, then evolution by natural selection and the whole of biology which is now, at least in principle, understood. Certainly the rise of the New Atheism was enabled in large measure by this expansion of mutual knowledge.
Some of your best friends may be atheists, and you may know that, but now almost everybody knows that almost everybody knows that some of almost everybody’s best friends are atheists – which makes it much less daunting and dangerous to ‘come out’ as an atheist. There is strength in numbers, but much more strength when the numbers know roughly how numerous they are. The Four Horsemen PDF Book Free
It permits a measure of coordination, which doesn’t even have to be carefully reasoned out. It has recently been shown that bacteria – which are about as uncomprehending as a living thing can be – engage in quorum sensing, delaying their commitment to a new simple strategy until they have detected enough allies in the neighbourhood to mount a mass action.
There is another relatively subtle effect that can be achieved by everyday folks. You don’t have to be politically powerful or famous or eloquent or even notably influential in your community: you can be a sacrificial anode. The term sounds both dangerous and religious, but it is neither.
It is well known among sailors and fishermen and others who work on boats and ships, and it goes by other names: cathodic protection system, or just zinc, or sometimes – a term I like because it conjures up such shocking images – sacrificial plate. (Did you just picture the head of John the Baptist on Salome’s serving platter?)\ The Four Horsemen PDF Book Free
When a steel boat or ship with a bronze or brass propeller sits in salt water, a battery of sorts is created, with electrons flowing spontaneously from steel to the alloy, eating it away at an alarming rate. A brand new solid-brass propeller can become pitted in a few days and destroyed in a few months; painting it with some protective shield is ineffective.
The solution: bolt a small piece of zinc (other metals will work, but zinc for various reasons is best) to the steel (alternatively, thread a zinc nut of sorts on to the stainless steel propeller shaft) and your problem is solved.