A commemoration of the only extended conversation the four bestselling authors ever had.
It was the loosest of confederations that united these “Four Horsemen” of the literary atheist apocalypse. The publication, around the same time, of bestselling challenges to organized religion by neuroscientist Harris, philosopher Dennett, biologist Dawkins, and journalist/essayist Hitchens linked them in the public’s mind, as each of them participated in increasingly public debate on the ascendance of atheism and the decline of religious faith. The bulk of this slim volume is a transcript of a two-hour cocktail conversation among the four, in 2007, at the annual conference of the Atheist Alliance International, filmed by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and subsequently available on DVD and YouTube. Padding what would otherwise be a 90-page transcript in large print are a biographical and contextual introduction by Stephen Fry (“sitting in on these dialogues…reminds us that open enquiry, free thinking and the unfettered exchange of ideas yield real and tangible fruit”), a new essay by Dawkins (“The Hubris of Religion, the Humility of Science, and the Intellectual and Moral Courage of Atheism”), and considerably shorter introductory pieces by Dennett and Harris. Though the conversation has plenty of wit and bite, it is the atheist equivalent of preaching to the choir, capable of reinforcing convictions but unlikely to topple or change any. It’s a convivial conversation without agenda, as the four thinkers try to figure out what they’re collectively trying to accomplish and what the best outcome might be. Dawkins takes the hardest line, hoping that organized religion will simply disappear as the world comes to its collective senses; Harris is the most mystical, confirming the sacred and practicing meditation while distancing both from God; Hitchens wants the debate to continue forever; and Dennett appreciates some of what churches do, though not what they believe.
Mostly for devotees of the New Atheism. More than a decade later, not much has changed, as the faithful and the skeptics continue to talk past each other.