Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dinner with Dawkins and Hitchens

On Saturday night I had the great pleasure of pulling together a small dinner in which there were no Blessings or Grace recited. But we did have tri-tip, halibut, peach pie, Clos Du Bois PInot and probably the world's two most influential living atheists--Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. (The rest of my Top Ten list would include Pinker, Harris, Jillette, Shermer, Randi, Sweeney, Kurtz and PZ Myers!)

The dinner brought the two bestselling authors together for the first time--a chance for them to collaborate on responses to their common critics (see image right, courtesy Jurvetson). For example, just two hours earlier following his address at Kepler's Bookstore, Dawkins had been asked , "Weren't the worst atrocities of mankind perpetrated by atheists like Stalin and Hitler?"

Dawkins had responded that not only is there substantive debate regarding the faiths of Stalin and Hitler, but there are good and bad atheists and good and bad believers--there is no historical correlation between atheism and atrocity any more than there is correlation between faith and atrocity (and probably less so). A stronger correlation can be shown between heinous dictators and mustaches. Is a flexible worldview based on evidence and reason, Dawkins asked, more or less likely to incline someone to murder than a religious approach based on a holy book from a divine authority? "The question answers itself."

During dinner, Hitch (as his beautiful wife endearingly calls him) offered an additional rebuke: faith and church aligned the German and Russian populations behind Hitler and Stalin, while a skeptical , evidence-oriented population would have likely resisted the quasi-religions of their atrocious leaders.

The dinner capped off a successful event at Kepler's Bookstore in Menlo Park, where Dawkins once again filled the house. Watch the video of his address, and the Q&A session that followed.

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  1. Oh, come on. Two most influential living atheists? I think you dramatically underestimate the number of atheists in actually influential positions.

    Of course, if you mean American though leaders, you're right, but the United States and Americans are't in actuality things that most people spend very much time thinking about at all.

  2. er, Dawkins and Hitchens aren't Americans. They're British.

  3. Hitchens is now an American citizen! He is quite proud of it, although any outside observer would still conclude that he seems like he should be muddling about the grounds of Oxford.

  4. Anonymous3:17 PM

    So, I'm supposed to believe that a goofball like Penn Gillette is more influential than Noam Chomsky? I rather doubt it.

  5. Anonymous3:18 PM

    Hitchens is now an American citizen!

    Legally, but he certain gave the impression that he was still a British subject when he was recently on Question Time.

  6. Wow, I never thought my off-the-cuff Top Ten list of influential atheists would be so seriously scrutinized! I happily yield to whoever has a better list.

    Having said that, I do happen to think that Penn Jillette is more influential than Noam Chomsky.

  7. If Hitler had been an atheist, he wouldn't have wanted to find the Ark of the Covenant!


    (By the way, you've been linked from Pharyngula, so you might get a whole pile of comments to moderate.)

  8. Anonymous9:29 AM

    Well, try Dan Dennett and A.C. Grayling both of whom deserve far more respect than they seem to get.

    Dennett's book "Breaking The Spell" is "better" than Dawkins' "God Delusion", but didn't sell as well because it's longer, and is much tougher to rebuke.

    Your list was fine, but at least Dan should've been on there... I know he's been in the hospital lately, but come on!

  9. David,
    Thank you for sharing your good fortune in having brought Dawkins and Hitchens together, but I do have to ask how it was managed. Did you have some special connection with the Kepler's Bookstore event or did you simply pay them to show up? Was the dinner at your home? Come on, spill. What were the circumstances whereby you were able to bring these two to your table?

  10. anon,

    what the hell was i thinking? of course dennett!


    i do have a connection with kepler's--i am a small investor in the bookstore. also, i had the good fortune of hosting a dinner for richard in my home last time he came to town, but this time Hitchens graciously offered up his summer home for the dinner.

  11. Anonymous6:53 PM

    To say that Hitler and Stalin had support from religious communities completely ignores the history of WW2 where Christians and Jews alike were persecuted . Stalin completely destroyed the Orthodox Church in Russia before a shot was fired in WW2, while the Pope dennounced communists and would not accept fascism (while some bishops did, such as in the Balkans). These atheists *were* responsible for the biggest atrocities of the 19thC, and those persecuted were religious followers and believers of one denomination or another

  12. While Dawkins has a bit of a temper than is not always good for his arguments, he comes across as being honest. Hitchens, on the other hand, does not argue at all, but insults, denigrates and taunts his opponents, like a simple bully. Hitchens often promotes misconceptions and completely invalid arguments and does not appear to be interested in truth at all.

    Final analysis - they both shout a lot and are authoritatively militaristic, which appeals to the wannabe-individualist culture of today.

  13. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Dawkins has a temper, more than anyone else, I'd say. The restraint he's shown when faced with some of the lunatics he's gone toe to toe with is actually quite admirable, if not above and beyond.

    Hitchens, though probably a few ranks below Dawkins, is someone I admire as well, despite not agreeing with nearly as much. Dawkins being the Atheism Rottweiler, as he's called often, Hitchens is likely the pit bull. He's not a biologist or a physicist, but anyone who would call him a poor debater is I think confusing ineptitude for what is actually viciousness--and that's why I like to hear him speak. Call it misplaced or juvenile admiration on my part if you like, but he's quite valuable in the sense of helping along the idea that it's not a faux pas to "take the gloves off" when criticizing religious belief.

  14. Anonymous8:53 PM


    Yeah... really insightful comment. I mean it's not like Hitchens or Dawkins wrote best-selling books or are influential public speakers both in America and abroad. And I'm sure the reason nobody thinks about America is that they're too busy thinking about the cultural, economic, and military superpower of... Finland. One day I hope I can be as cool as you by ratting on other peoples homeland without substantiating my claims whatsoever. Oh wait... I just did. Thanks dude.