This meandering, unmoderated discussion among Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett, a group dubbed the New Atheists, presents their unique positions in provocative but underdeveloped arguments. Composed mainly of transcriptions of a conversation among the four that was posted to YouTube in 2007, the book opens with introductory essays highlighting key points from the three surviving thinkers (Hitchens died in 2011). The writers open the conversation by defending themselves against claims of being overly arrogant; they argue that religion is a much less humble theological belief than atheism. Topics covered include the gap between academic theology and what preachers preach, religion’s problematic reliance on authority and ancient texts, and the potential for danger in all religious belief. Moments of genuine disagreement arise, including a relatively heated argument from Hitchens that religion should not disappear because he enjoys having a sparring partner. There is some begrudging respect for Christianity’s aesthetic achievements and a constructive section on which arguments could convince them to moderate their attacks (such as artistic merit), but the tone is generally harsh and unsparing. Readers who are looking for a taste of new atheism will get a good sense of the tone and style of these thinkers, but those familiar with the arguments will see this as an unpolished curiosity. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
If thinking were a sport, these four would be national superstars—and reading The Four Horsemen feels like having a front-row seat at the all-star game. This is more than a book about atheism and religion—it’s a lesson in how to use our intellect to cut through the haze of delusion and misconception inherent in any human society.”—Tim Urban, writer of Wait But Why?
“For people inclined to disbelieve supernatural explanations—in America, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters—The Four Horsemen is a smart, fun, funny, seriously provocative primer.”—Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 and author of Fantasyland
“We are slowly losing the hard-won right, gained by brave heroes of the enlightenment such as Voltaire and Hume, to be free to criticize religion without persecution and prosecution; the crime of blasphemy is creeping back. The words of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett are needed more than ever. These are the heirs to Voltaire.”—Matt Ridley, author of The Evolution of Everything
“These four are the kinds of thinkers we don’t get enough of anymore: unapologetic, uncompromising, and deeply generous with one another as well as with anyone who happens to be listening in. You needn’t be an atheist or a horseman to relish every word of this delightful book. You just need to be hungry for genuine intellectual inquiry and open debate. And, let’s face it, you’re probably starving.”—Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable
“This conversation is as good a place as any to mark the start of the Atheist revolution.”—Penn Jillette, author of God, No!
“Blasphemous, erudite, devastatingly truthful, slyly hilarious . . . Reading this book is like getting to spend a profound afternoon with some of our greatest intellectuals.”—Julia Sweeney, actress, comedian, author
“I was gripped. Throughout this erudite conversation the humility and openness of science shines against religion’s arrogance, hypocrisy, and sheer gall in just ‘making stuff up.’ How refreshing it is.”—Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine
In September 2007, four key proponents of New Atheism, popularly called the Four Horsemen, gathered for a two-hour filmed conversation in which they both explained their atheistic positions and addressed criticisms from theistic opponents. The discussion among Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist and ethologist), Christopher Hitchens (journalist, essayist, and political historian), Sam Harris (neuroscientist and moralist), and Daniel Dennett (philosopher) was viewed widely on YouTube. This book contains the entire transcript of that influential meeting as well as current reflections and comments by the group's three surviving members, as Hitchens died in 2011. Having the conversation available in book format is beneficial since current statements can be examined more closely and compared with arguments found in other writings. As the ideas of New Atheism in general and those of these four authors have received significant criticism over the years, revisiting the meeting allows these scholars to respond to criticism and contemporary readers to reflect anew on their ideas. VERDICT Spanning religion and philosophy, this work will appeal to readers of both, especially those interested in atheism and apologetics.—John Jaeger, Johnson Univ., Knoxville, TN