Materialistic and one-sided criticism of religion

"Horsemen" can in this context be translated into intellectual "musketeers", as Stephen Fry does in the preface to the book The Four Horse-men: The Conversation That Sparked and Atheist Revolution. The four are Sam Harris (Aramis), neurobiologist, moralist, author and researcher on the relationship between morality and spirituality and meditation teacher; Daniel Dennett (Athos), philosopher and author; Richard Dawkins (d'Artagnan), evolutionary biologist and Darwinist and author of bestselling books that The blind watchmaker og The selfish gene; and finally: Christopher Hitchens (Portos), who was a writer, essayist, polemicist, historian, well-known debater on the internet and YouTube and who became the author of the book God is not Great. The starting point for this book was a two-hour discussion of modern atheism these four had in 2007 at Hitchens's home in his library. The entire discussion is available on YouTube and is now published in book form, along with new essays from three of them (Hitchens died in 2011).

Faith and science

Now it is not so often religion itself that is criticized in this book, but cultures where religion is used for a political and social purpose. Although religion is obviously made by humans, it must be distinguishable to some extent between religion as a historical phenomenon and the practice of various forms of religious practice in daily life. Religious scholars like Rudolf Otto or others who have researched religion as a transcendent and transcending project are never included in the discussion. The four "musketeers" also talk as if faith and science have been separated forever, but this divorce is a product of the 20th century. Another problem is that it seems that the four cannot accept that religion can be anything more than a dogmatic system for stupid people who will not acknowledge the facts of science. In this book all scientific criticism is absent. Religion is equated with bullshit, while science is given a martyr-like role. But I mean it's people who kill, not religion. It's just a tool.


As mentioned, these four do not distinguish between religion used in a cultural context and religion itself. When it comes to the natural sciences, there is no distinction between the people who practice natural sciences and the natural sciences. Another weakness is that religion is accused of being "bullshit" and characterized by hubris, while science is described as infinitely modest on behalf of reality.

If we place four people who think almost the same, in the same room, the discussion gets limited interest.

In this way, the four enter into a tradition of reason from Socrates to Voltaire and Can: reason and rationality against religion, stupidity and oppression. Within this framework, the four musketeers unfold with bravura; they are extremely knowledgeable critics, but they also sometimes make it easy for themselves.

"I want religion to be treated in exactly the same way as the pharmaceutical industry or as oil companies," says Richard Dawkins. Comparing religion to an oil company seems foolish and testifies to a striking lack of empathy and human knowledge. These four understand nothing of religion on a deeper level, but only engage in cultural criticism in an extremely simplistic and materialistic way. They appear to be blinded by their own excellence, and they do not seem at all willing to admit that even physicists can be upset if a theory they have been working on for twenty years is suddenly refuted. No, then, not according to Harris. They only follow the truth and become unconditionally happy if someone refutes their theories. In science, there is no dogmatism, Harris claims. But science also has its dogmas, and even there there are people in need of defending their bastions. There are also hierarchies of power and programmatic dividing lines within the field of science.

Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, from the conversations on Youtube


For these four, the truth is only one thing: the scientific truth. There is no trace of an expanded concept of science here, where the truth can contain more than purely scientific facts. For example, Dawkins says that even if a poem by John Donne is beautiful, it does not mean that the poem is about the truth. As an art interpreter, he will then have to completely distinguish between form and content.

Dennett is occasionally the most interesting contributor. He believes that a distinction must be made between the spiritual and the numinous and the traditionally dogmatic religious. For why must the dogmatic religion have a patent on spiritual and numinous abolitions? I experience him as more open than the other three.

Had I been present during the discussion in Hitchens' library, I would have said: Begin to immerse yourself in religion on a deeper level than the materialistic. Read Rudolf Otto, Karl Barth, Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Archbishop Nathan Söderblom, and admit that science can also be driven by hubris, power and the desire for truth. Admit that religion can be about something other than prejudiced oppression of women and female genital mutilation, admit that religion can give us an expanded understanding of reality.

If we place four people who think almost the same, in the same room, the discussion gets limited interest. One of them should have been replaced by science critic Ruper Sheldrake, who wrote the book The delusions of science. Among other things, he has researched telepathy and other paranormal activities. In the book he writes, among other things: «The difference between scientific and religious dogma is that people who are religious know that they have a religious belief, while those who subscribe to the dogmas of science do not know that these are beliefs, but imagine that that's the truth."

Otherwise, I must say: If you go to your poor truth, Richard Dawkins, then I will go to my rich lie.

You can see the discussion above.

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