AREAS OF KNOWLEDGE: RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS

Albrecht Dürer (1497–98) Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Woodcut.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Albrecht Dürer (1497–98) Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Woodcut.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

ENCOUNTER WITH RADICAL ATHEISM

This is one of the few pages on the TOK Resource site that does not lay out an overt class activity. The heartfelt comments from four famous atheists echo many of the themes addressed more tentatively in the other four Religious Knowledge System units. 

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel C. Dennett all have books on best-seller lists, viral videos, public talks and articles on the subject of uncompromising atheism. They have their own internet meme: The Four Horsemen!

Richard Dawkins---Sam Harris---Christopher Hitchens---Daniel C. Dennett

Richard Dawkins---Sam Harris---Christopher Hitchens---Daniel C. Dennett

“Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.” 

― Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.
— Harris, Sam (2006). Letter to a Christian Nation. Knopf, New York.
If I were designing a phony religion, I’d surely include a version of this little gem — but I’d have a hard time saying it with a straight face:

If anybody ever raises questions of objections about our religion that you cannot answer, that person is almost certainly Satan. In fact, the more reasonable the person is, the more eager to engage you in open-minded and congenial discussion, the more sure you can be that you’re talking to Satan in disguise! Turn away! Do not listen! It’s a trap!

What is particularly cute about this trick is that it is a perfect “wild card,” so lacking in content that any sect or creed or conspiracy can use it effectively. Communist cells can be warned that any criticism they encounter is almost sure to be the work of FBI infiltrators in disguise, and radical feminist discussion groups can squelch any unanswerable criticism by declaring it to be phallocentric propaganda being unwittingly spread by a brainwashed dupe of the evil patriarchy, and so forth. This all-purpose loyalty-enforcer is paranoia in a pill, sure to keep the critics muted if not silent.

Did anyone invent this brilliant adaptation, or is it a wild meme that domesticated itself by attaching itself to whatever memes were competing for hosts in its neighborhood? Nobody knows, but now it is available for anybody to use — although, if this book has any success, its virulence should diminish as people begin to recognize it for what it is.
— Daniel C Dennett (2006) Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. Viking, New York.

I have given the last word to Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) whose widely read book, Why I'm not a Christian was published in 1927. Russell was a famous philosopher of math and logic at Trinity College, Cambridge.

In TOK we encountered "Russel's paradox" in This Statement is False in the Mathematics Area of Knowledge. Russell mentored philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein whom we met in Wittgenstein and the polysemy of language unit in Language as a Way of Knowing .

Russel was a member of the British aristocracy and was a controversial public intellectual throughout his life.  He became a high profile pacifist during the First World War. For this perceived betrayal he lost his academic position and spent time in jail. Later he became an indefatigable campaigner against nuclear weapons. Here is his telegram to President Kennedy during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

"YOUR ACTION DESPERATE. THREAT TO HUMAN SURVIVAL. NO CONCEIVABLE JUSTIFICATION. CIVILIZED MAN CONDEMNS IT. WE WILL NOT HAVE MASS MURDER. ULTIMATUM MEANS WAR... END THIS MADNESS."