The Four Horsemen

Richard Dawkins at the 34th American Atheists ...
Image via Wikipedia

30th of September 2007, my favorite 4 ‘militant atheists’, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion, convened by RDFRS and filmed by Josh Timonen.

All four authors have recently received a large amount of media attention for their writings against religion – some positive, and some negative. In this conversation the group trades stories of the public’s reaction to their recent books, their unexpected successes, criticisms and common misrepresentations. They discuss the tough questions about religion that face the world today, and propose new strategies for going forward.

Here goes the complete 2-hour discussion in 2 parts – enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2


This video is provided free online by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) and http://RichardDawkins.net .

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Advertisements

Open letter to all my Muslim friends

Prelude: this introduction is unnecessary for the people who know me. But, just in case… I am atheist and against any organized religion. I am all against discriminating two human beings based on ‘my imaginary friends are different from yours’ basis. I am against all fundamentalism. I am ashamed of incidents of Godhra as well as Mumbai. I am not a Hindu or Muslim or part of any imaginary classification. I am a human being, I bleed red – just like you.

For a long time, any rationalists like me saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm?

Mass genocide of World War II changed that, innumerable riots in my country changed that, “Ram Janambhumi – Babri Masjid” changed that, Gujarat Massacre changed that, September 11th changed that. And now, the recent Mumbai Massacre changed that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense; it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition. Dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

On February 6, 2006, three Pakistanis died in Peshawar and Lahore during violent street protests against Danish cartoons that had satirized the Prophet Muhammad. More such mass protests followed weeks later. When Pakistanis and other Muslims are willing to take to the streets, even suffer death, to protest an insulting cartoon published in Denmark, is it fair to ask: Who in the Muslim world, who in Pakistan, is ready to take to the streets to protest the mass murders of real people, not cartoon characters, right next door in Mumbai?

I am sad. I am angry. Not only for the destruction of hundreds innocent lives. I am deeply hurt by these one after another blow to collective human spirit. I am scared by the increasing probability of the fact that now one non-Muslim will look at a Muslim with more mindful of doubts, fear and prejudices. I am scared for you my friend. Now, no one but you can take the first step against this marching parade of lunatics. Only you can start the jihad against this state-of-fear!

The only terrorist who were captured alive – is just a 21 years old boy!

What kind of brainwash can fill up a 21 years old heart with so much bitterness and hatred? Did he never hugged a kid? Never kissed a girl? Never walked in rain alone and thought, life is not bad after all?

Don’t you have the fundamental duty to condemn everything related to this monstrosity? Stop being just an apologist, I desperately need to see your rage! If your sacred-religious-holy-believe played even 1% part in this, don’t you have a moral obligation to be vocal against that? If your fundamental believes are susceptible to a misinterpretation in this humungous proportion, don’t you HAVE to stand up and scream – I am NOT part of this barbarism!

Instead, to my utter disbelief, I find that you are too busy to decide if Yoga is haram or not! 

Instead, I receive chain mails from some of you, somehow justifying the Mumbai massacre by the ill-treatments of Muslims in India. Well my friends, here are two points summary for you –

  1. Over 90% of Muslims in India are descended from people of converted muslims, people from lower socio-economical strata. They had no other options to escape from the barbaric and ugly manifestations of Hindu caste based discriminations. And unfortunately that sorry state of classification never changed. It’s nothing unique, many civilizations face the similar carry-forward effect of socio-economic strata in various form and format. The religious rigidity didn’t help much either.
  2. There are plenty of Muslims in India who are successful, ironically much more successful than Muslims in Islamic countries. Ever heard of Abdul Kalam? All the top actors in Bollywood are Khans! I can go on, but what’s the point!

Also, please do not try to tell me that all of these are just misinterpretation and Islam got nothing to do with it. Just as a random example –

They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.

~Koran 4.89.

[Just an example verse; there’s a lot more of this nonsense. In case this comforts you – not only Koran; all Abrahamic religious scriptures are full with same tonality of aggressive medieval statements. Fundamentalist Hindu’s are oxymoron by definition, there are NO ‘fundamentals’ in Hinduism to start with. Still they are too all ready to take another human life in the name of their own imaginary friends]

It is the time for you to stand up my friends, to declare those can’t be the god’s words. This is the time to declare you are not only sorry about the incidents, rather you are ready to take on face-to-face with all those murderers.

Because, this kind of murderous violence only can stop when all the good Muslims, including the community elders and spiritual leaders who want a decent future for their country — declares, as a collective, that those who carry out such murders are shameful unbelievers who will not dance with virgins in heaven but burn in hell. And they do it with the same vehemence with which they denounce Danish cartoons.

Let there be light. It’s too dark here now.

Please also read : Thomas L. Friedman | Preet-O | Julia Suryakusuma

Gujarat Riots: Tehelka Story

Prelude: I read this report through multiple RSS feeds yesterday night, and today morning mentioned this to one of my colleague, who is a ‘person of Indian origin’ 😉 and in general I respect his intelligence and opinions. Unfortunately we do not share same point of view about religion. All hell broke loose and the following debate was (very) heated!

Anyway, just to clarify,

  1. I am NOT only against ‘Hindu fundamentalism’, I am against all religious fundamentalism. Rather let me say, I believe (all) religions poison everything!
  2. Tehelka constantly target ‘Hindu right wing’, I agree, but the point is, they bring proof. Period! Why they don’t go after ‘other’ religious fundamentalists? Yes, I believe they should. But that doesn’t nullify the true investigative journalism they bring to the table. 
  3. There are no Perspective difference of ‘Truth’ when it’s proven. It’s called beyond reasonable doubt.

 

Tehelka has proof on camera that brings to light the compliance of the State machinery in Gujarat in the riots in 2002. It is reported that Narendra Modi gave the rioters 3 days to do what they wished. He asked the administration to look the other way, while the genocide unfurled.

Watch this video of Babu Bajrangi, A local Bajrang Dal leader and one of the main conspirators. And be very very scared and ashamed!

 

Contents of the full report at Tehelka:

 

First-hand accounts from the men who plotted and executed the genocide in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Sabarkantha. Mayhem was meticulously planned and carried out by VHP-Bajrang Dal cadres across Muslim localities. READ »


The VHP and the Bajrang Dal manufactured and distributed lethal weapons across the state, often with the connivance of the police.
READ »


Shocking accounts of how the guardians of the law colluded with the outlaws to make Gujarat’s horror even worse.
READ »


Key BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal activists speak openly of how Narendra Modi blessed the anti-Muslim pogrom .
READ »

How public prosecutors ran with the hare and hunted with the hound, keeping their sympathies strictly for the accused. Government Counsel Arvind Pandya on how he hopes to subvert justice by manipulating the Nanavati-Shah Commission, set up to ascertain the truth.
READ »

The truth behind Naroda Patiya, the grisliest massacre of 2002. Ahmedabad police’s collusion in the pogrom and its cover-up. Gory details of how former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was hacked limb by limb at Gulbarg Society, in the words of those who did it. READ »

How spontaneous mob fury was shown as a premeditated conspiracy by the police who produced fake witnesses by bribing, coercion and torture. READ »

2 great documentaries by Richard Dawkins

Richard DawkinsOne of the greatest thought leaders who shaped my ‘soul’ is Richard Dawkins. I am really delighted to find these 2 videos online at Best Online Documentaries

[Wikipedia : Clinton Richard Dawkins (born March 26, 1941) is a British ethologist, evolutionary biologist and popular science writer who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University.

In his scientific works, Dawkins is best known for his popularisation of the gene-centered view of evolution – a view most clearly set out in his books The Selfish Gene (1976), where he notes that “all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities”, and The Extended Phenotype (1982), in which he describes natural selection as “the process whereby replicators out-propagate each other”. As an ethologist, interested in animal behaviour and its relation to natural selection, he advocates the idea that the gene is the principal unit of selection in evolution.]

Those who haven’t read his books (The God Delusion , The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker) yet, these 2 documentaries will be a great introduction to Dawkins work and his thought process.

The Root of All Evil? Episode 1: The God Delusion(Google Video)

In the first part of this two-part Channel 4 series, Professor Richard Dawkins challenges what he describes as ’a process of non-thinking called faith’.

He describes his astonishment that, at the start of the 21st century, religious faith is gaining ground in the face of rational, scientific truth. Science, based on skepticism, investigation and evidence, must continuously test its own concepts and claims. Faith, by definition, defies evidence: it is untested and un-shakeable, and is therefore in direct contradiction with science. In addition, though religions preach morality, peace and hope, in fact, says Dawkins, they bring intolerance, violence and destruction. The growth of extreme fundamentalism in so many religions across the world not only endangers humanity but, he argues, is in conflict with the trend over thousands of years of history for humanity to progress – to become more enlightened and more tolerant.

The Blind Watchmaker, Jeremy Taylor and Richard Dawkins, BBC Horizon, 1987 (Google Video)

Dawkins makes reference to the watchmaker analogy made famous by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley, arguing more than fifty years before Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, held that the complexity of living organisms was evidence of the existence of a divine creator by drawing a parallel with the way in which the existence of a watch compels belief in an intelligent watchmaker. Dawkins, in contrasting the differences between human design and its potential for planning with the workings of natural selection, therefore dubbed evolutionary processes The Blind Watchmaker.

In developing his argument that natural selection can explain the complex adaptations of organisms, Dawkins’ first concern is to illustrate the difference between the potential for the development of complexity of pure randomness as opposed to that of randomness coupled with cumulative selection. He demonstrates this by the example of the Weasel program. Dawkins then describes his experiences with a more sophisticated computer model of artificial selection implemented in a program also called The Blind Watchmaker.

Blind Watchmaker Applet (the “Blind Watchmaker” biomorph program written in Java)

Also, don’t miss Richard Dawkins speech, Mind-Bending Nature at TED, along with lots of other gems! RELATED POST: Atheist, Atheism and some more blabbering

Atheist, Atheism and some more blabbering

From my childhood, like many of you, I am in search of God; during many turmoil of my life – I was waiting for some miracle, wanted to believe in some supernatural, a supreme being. And after that, when things and situation stabilized, I felt ashamed of myself – how can I be so weak? A perpetual state of fear and underestimation of my own credibility – does that mean God? Or is it a search of peace and identity?

 

First of all – let’s have some clear definition of Spirituality, God, Religion and Ritual. Most of the time we are confused with God and Religion, and religion to most of the Homo sapiens is a set and subset of ritual believes, deeply embedded in the cultural roots of a society. Belief in a Supreme Being or God and religion is not the same.

Most of the religions, including ‘New Age Religions’ (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) were invented by a few superior people of the society, all of these were time-specific, based on the best knowledge and ‘practical’ best practices available at that given time. Basic philosophies behind religions may be eternal, but how the rituals remain as same for ages?

Religion is the Opium of the people” (translated from the German “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes”) is one of the most frequently quoted (and sometimes misquoted as “opiate of the people”) statements of Karl Marx, from the introduction of his 1843 work. Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which was actually subsequently released one year later in Marx’s own journal Deutsch-Französischen Jahrbücher-a collaboration with Arnold Ruge. Here is what Marx said, in context:

Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man-state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. [Emphasis added]

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Note that the sense in which the word “opium” is used is quite different from modern. At the time when Marx wrote this text, opium was freely available and viewed as a painkiller rather than an illegal dangerous drug. It is sometimes suggested that today the phrase “sedative of the people” might be closer to the original Marxian meaning.

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm?

Mass genocide of World War II changed that, innumerable riots in my country changed that, “Ram Janambhumi – Babri Masjid” changed that, Gujarat Massacre changed that, September 11th changed that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense; it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!

If you still can stand for some more heat – after religion, I am going to jump onto the topic of GOD! Yes, I have the right – NOT to believe on something, if you have the right to believe.

Now where the God or Supreme Being came from? Think carefully – isn’t all the unexplainable incidents and unpredictability of future – reminds you of God? There will always be unknowns in science. Many theists see these unknowns as reasons for believing in God. The argument usually goes something like this: “We don’t understand how the universe got here; therefore God must have created it.” (This is today’s version of the argument, years ago it was “We don’t understand thunder, therefore the thunder God must have done it.”) But is saying “God did it” really an explanation? No, it isn’t. An explanation is a description of something we don’t currently understand in terms that we do understand. Theists will usually admit that they don’t understand their God, saying things like “God works in mysterious ways”. Well if we don’t understand how God does something, then “God did it” is just about meaningless. We will never have all the answers, but postulating an infinite God and pretending that this provides the answers is just irrational. It is much better to have the intellectual integrity to simply admit that we don’t yet know. [Ref: Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps].

But is it only the difference between known and unknown? Don’t we have ‘educated’ people amongst us who do not believe in evolution, till date? Isn’t there witchcraft? Denial of big bang or quark? Future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.

By Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist

You may thrust yet another question at me, though it is merely childish. The question is: If God does not really exist, why do people come to believe in Him? Brief and concise my answer will be. As they come to believe in ghosts, and evil spirits, so they also evolve a kind of belief in God: the only difference being that God is almost a universal phenomenon and well developed theological philosophy. However, I do disagree with radical philosophy. It attributes His origin to the ingenuity of exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjugation by preaching the existence of a Supreme Being; thus claimed an authority and sanction from Him for their privileged position. I do not differ on the essential point that all religions, faiths, theological philosophies, and religious creeds and all other such institutions in the long run become supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against any king has always been a sin in every religion.

What is the difference between Atheist and Agnostics? The term ‘agnosticism’ was coined by Professor T.H. Huxley at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He defined an agnostic as someone who disclaimed both (”strong”) atheism and theism, and who believed that the question of whether a higher power existed was unsolved and insoluble. Another way of putting it is that an agnostic is someone who believes that we do not know for sure whether God exists. Some agnostics believe that we can never know. [Ref: www.infidels.org]

Here go some great conversational debates from www.infidels.org

“God is unique. He is the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe. He must by definition exist.”
Things do not exist merely because they have been defined to do so. We know a lot about the definition of Santa Claus – what he looks like, what he does, where he lives, what his reindeer are called, and so on. But that still doesn’t mean that Santa exists.

“Then what if I managed to logically prove that God exists?”
Firstly, before you begin your proof, you must come up with a clear and precise definition of exactly what you mean by “God.” A logical proof requires a clear definition of that which you are trying to prove.

“But everyone knows what is meant by ‘God’!”
Different religions have very different ideas of what ‘God’ is like; they even disagree about basic issues such as how many gods there are, whether they’re male or female, and so on. An atheist’s idea of what people mean by the word ‘God’ may be very different from your own views.

“OK, so if I define what I mean by ‘God,’ and then logically prove he exists, will that be enough for you?”
Even after centuries of effort, nobody has come up with a watertight logical proof of the existence of God. In spite of this, however, people often feel that they can logically prove that God exists.
Unfortunately, reality is not decided by logic. Even if you could rigorously prove that God exists, it wouldn’t actually get you very far. It could be that your logical rules do not always preserve truth – that your system of logic is flawed. It could be that your premises are wrong. It could even be that reality is not logically consistent. In the end, the only way to find out what is really going on is to observe it. Logic can merely give you an idea where or how to look; and most logical arguments about God don’t even perform that task.
Logic is a useful tool for analyzing data and inferring what is going on; but if logic and reality disagree, reality wins.

“Then it seems to me that nothing will ever convince you that God exists.”
A clear definition of ‘God,’ plus some objective and compelling supporting evidence, would be enough to convince many atheists.
The evidence must be objective, though; anecdotal evidence of other people’s religious experiences isn’t good enough. And strong, compelling evidence is required, because the existence of God is an extraordinary claim – and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

“OK, you may think there’s a philosophical justification for atheism, but isn’t it still a religious belief?”
One of the most common pastimes in philosophical discussion is “the redefinition game.” The cynical view of this game is as follows:
Person A begins by making a contentious statement. When person B points out that it can’t be true, person A gradually re-defines the words he used in the statement until he arrives at something person B is prepared to accept. He then records the statement, along with the fact that person B has agreed to it, and continues. Eventually A uses the statement as an “agreed fact,” but uses his original definitions of all the words in it rather than the obscure redefinitions originally needed to get B to agree to it. Rather than be seen to be apparently inconsistent, B will tend to play along.
The point of this digression is that the answer to the question “Isn’t atheism a religious belief?” depends crucially upon what is meant by “religious.” “Religion” is generally characterized by belief in a superhuman controlling power – especially in some sort of God – and by faith and worship.
(It’s worth pointing out in passing that some varieties of Buddhism are not “religion” according to such a definition.)
Atheism is certainly not a belief in any sort of superhuman power, nor is it categorized by worship in any meaningful sense. Widening the definition of “religious” to encompass atheism tends to result in many other aspects of human behavior suddenly becoming classed as “religious” as well – such as science, politics, and watching TV.
“OK, maybe it’s not a religion in the strict sense of the word. But surely belief in atheism (or science) is still just an act of faith, like religion is?”
Firstly, it’s not entirely clear that skeptical atheism is something one actually believes in.
Secondly, it is necessary to adopt a number of core beliefs or assumptions to make some sort of sense out of the sensory data we experience. Most atheists try to adopt as few core beliefs as possible; and even those are subject to questioning if experience throws them into doubt.
Science has a number of core assumptions. For example, it is generally assumed that the laws of physics are the same for all observers (or at least, all observers in inertial frames). These are the sort of core assumptions atheists make. If such basic ideas are called “acts of faith,” then almost everything we know must be said to be based on acts of faith, and the term loses its meaning.
Faith is more often used to refer to complete, certain belief in something. According to such a definition, atheism and science are certainly not acts of faith. Of course, individual atheists or scientists can be as dogmatic as religious followers when claiming that something is “certain.” This is not a general tendency, however; there are many atheists who would be reluctant to state with certainty that the universe exists.
Faith is also used to refer to belief without supporting evidence or proof. Skeptical atheism certainly doesn’t fit that definition, as skeptical atheism has no beliefs. Strong atheism is closer, but still doesn’t really match, as even the most dogmatic atheist will tend to refer to experimental data (or the lack of it) when asserting that God does not exist.

Just for fun, and not to end this post in a bitter note –
Ten Commandments Manifesto by
Hugh McLoid

I like the Bible – it’s a great piece of literature – but needs some context. So here’s my manifesto based on Exodus 20:1-17
1. God may, or may not exist – you decide. Does it matter if you believe in God? No, but if you do believe, believe in a good one.
2. Don’t mess about with symbols – Swastikas, Crucifix, Crescents, it all ends bad. Avoid them.
3. If you mess with any of the above – you’re fucked.
4. Best to forget a Supreme Being, chill out, have a beer, scotch or claret, and treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
5. Get a life and concentrate on being nice to others even if other people are assholes.
6. Stop being stupid – you’re not as smart as you think you are. But remember neither is your boss nor are all the other people who tell you they are smarter than you.
7. Put one day aside a week for your self – your deserve it.
8. Don’t be a slave and don’t make slaves of others.
9. If your mum and dad love you – give it back in spades.
10. Don’t do any bad stuff like murder, adultery, theft, lying, or fucking a donkey.
By and large life is good, people are good. Keep a song in your heart and the truth on your tongue.

UPDATE:

How can I miss my favorite Scott Adams

Atheist: “Religion is irrational.”

Believer: “Oh yeah? Atheism is a religion too, because it’s a cause that’s believed on faith! See Merriam-Webster’s 4th definition of religion.”

Atheist: “Atheism is religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.”

Believer: “You can’t prove the non-existence of God. And belief without proof is faith. Check Merriam-Webster’s second definition of faith. Therefore, atheists are irrational by definition.”

Atheist: “You can NEVER (or almost never) prove a negative. Besides, some things are so obvious that proof is unnecessary. Do you believe there’s a monster under your bed? You have no proof that it doesn’t exist. Therefore, by your reasoning, it’s only reasonable to believe there MIGHT be a monster under your bed.”

Believer: “Hey, you never know.”

And so it is argued by both believers and agnostics that atheists must be either irrational – believing the non-existence of God without proof for that position – or atheists are really just fence-sitting agnostics and don’t admit it.

My question is this: If you reckon that the existence of God has less than a 1 in a trillion chance of being true, based on all the available evidence, but not proof, can you call yourself an atheist? And if so, would you still be irrational?

UPDATE (28th Feb 2007):

Richard Dawkins at The Late Late Show

Richard Dawkins BBC Interview