Via the wonders of YouTube and blue tooth technology, as I drove to and from my holiday family visit, I was able to listen to many wonderful Christopher Hitchens’ videos and audios over my radio. One of the rare treats was a two-hour (in two parts) conversation among Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens. Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, convened and recorded by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
The following dialogue, which I particularly like, begins at about 15 minutes and is just a teaser for a marvelous experience with discourse:
- DENNETT: I don’t think many of them ever let themselves contemplate the question, which I think scientists ask themselves all the time, “What if I am wrong? What if I’m wrong?” It’s just not part of their repertoire.
- HITCHENS: Would you mind if I disagree with you about that? A lot of talk that makes religious people hard to, not hard to beat, but hard to argue with, is precisely that they ‘ll say that they’re in a permanent crisis of faith. There is indeed a prayer, “Lord, I believe; help thou my own belief.” Graham Greene says, the great thing about being a Catholic was that it was a challenge to his unbelief. A lot of people live by keeping two sets of books. In fact, it’s my impression that a majority of the people I know who call themselves believers or people of faith do that all the time. I wouldn’t say that it is schizophrenia; that would be rude. They’re quite aware of the implausibility of what they say. They don’t act on it when they go to the doctor or when they travel, or anything of this kind. But in some sense they couldn’t do without it. They’re quite respectful of the idea of doubt. In fact, they make, uh, they try and build it in when they can.
- DAWKINS: Well, that’s interesting then, and so when they are reciting the creed with its total, sort of apparent conviction. Is this a kind of mantra which is forcing themselves to overcome doubt by saying, yes, I do believe, I do believe, I do believe.
- HITCHENS: And of course, like their secular counterparts, they’re glad other people believe it. It’s an affirmation they wouldn’t want other people not to be making.
- HARRIS: Also, there’s this curious bootstrapping move which I tried to point out in this recent On Faith piece, this idea that you start with the premise that belief without evidence is especially noble, this is the doctrine of faith, this is the parable of Doubting Thomas. So you start with that, and then you add this notion, which has come to me through various debates, that the fact that people can believe without evidence is itself a subtle form of evidence. I mean, that we’re kind of wired, Francis Collins, you mentioned, brings this up in his book, the fact that we have this intuition of god is itself some subtle form of evidence. It has this kind of kindling phenomenon, where if once you say, it’s good to start without evidence, the fact that you can is itself a subtle form of evidence, and then the demand for any more evidence is itself a kind of corruption of the intellect or a temptation or something to be guarded against. And you get a kind of perpetual motion machine of self-deception where you can get this thing up and running.
- HITCHENS: Well, they like the idea that it can’t be demonstrated, because then there’d be nothing to be faithful about. If everyone had seen the resurrection, and we all knew that we’d been saved by it, then we would be living in an unalterable system of belief, and it would have to be policed, and it would actually be, those of us who don’t believe in it, who are glad it’s not true, because we think it would be horrible, those who do believe it don’t want it to be absolutely proven so there can’t be any doubt about it, because then there’s no wrestling with the conscience, no dark nights of the soul.
But the entire two hours is a treasure of discussion and dialogue. Enjoy.
And to you I say, Namaste.