The Four Horsemen: The Conversation that Sparked an Atheist Revolution
When Richard Dawkins writes about biology, he makes my heart sing. Few writers bring science to life in such a beautiful way.
He has an astonishing talent for explaining complex processes in a clear way without compromising on truth or detail. Reading it drives me to joyful worship of God.
But when Richard Dawkins writes about theology or religion, that same singing heart of mine begins to cringe.
Dawkins is one of the ‘Four Horsemen’ that the title of this book mentions.
The other three are: Daniel Dennett, a renowned psychologist and philosopher; Sam Harris, an author and intellectual; and Christopher Hitchens, the late author, journalist, critic, speaker, and debater.
These men are often referred to as the ‘Four Horsemen of New Atheism’ because of their influential critiques of religion. They’re seen as leaders of the movement that will bring down ancient superstition which we call ‘religion’.
This wasn’t a movement that they ventured on together. In fact, they only met once. And the transcript of the conversation they had makes up the bulk of this book.
The conversation is intriguing, thought-provoking, and often very funny. It’s also quite revealing.
Here are some of the most influential modern atheists in the world – witty and charming men – speaking openly about what’s on their hearts. The result is both challenging and tragic.
It’s so important that Christians read and engage with the work of these men. They’re mouthpieces for a movement who have questions, fair criticisms and wildly mistaken ideas about Christianity.
As I have engaged with them, here are five things I’ve learned from the Four Horsemen.
1) There’s nothing new about ‘New Atheism’
During this famous conversation, Hitchens says that religious people have no new arguments to bring to the table. They simply repeat old ones.
However, the objections these guys have are themselves old objections.
Sam Harris claims that no good response has ever been made for the problem of suffering (a question raised by an unfortunate man named Job, thousands of years ago).
Another objection is the moral failings of believers (this problem is three chapters younger than creation itself).
Then there are the so-called contradictions between faith and science (an objection which has been undermined by believing scientists the world over).
These problems have plagued God’s people for millennia. People have simply forgotten the answers.
2) We must face up to the terrible crimes committed in Jesus’ name
Though the morality of believers doesn’t dictate truth, it’s only natural that people are slow to trust our ‘good news’.
Hitchens raises the worrying question of what the church might do if it still had the power to condemn people to torture and death.
People are now very aware of the evil committed by the church across history. And they won’t stand for any shrugging off of responsibility.
As a huge barrier to non-believers, this is an opportunity to face up to the church’s shortcomings and resolve to do better.
3) Our faith must be reasonable
Christians aren’t the only people unhappy about a society which has rejected capital-T Truth. We have this in common with the New Atheists. They want beliefs to stand up to scrutiny.
Do you know why you believe what you believe? Do you even really know what you believe? Are you ready to give an answer for your faith?
Our God isn’t vague or distant. He stepped into our world as a man. His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead changed that world. And so, Jesus Christ stands up to questioning and probing.
Dawkins regularly claims that there’s ‘no evidence’ for Christianity, and people believe him. But there are Christian organisations all over the world researching evidence of all kinds for biblical history.
And, unsurprisingly, the Bible’s authority is seen for what it is – absolute.
4) Defending the faith is crucial
As I’ve read the New Atheists’ books, I’ve seen how many misunderstandings they have.
Sometimes it’s not clear whether they have deliberately ignored responses by Christians or if they simply don’t know the answers exist. But people trust them.
Atheists are the ones shouting the loudest. The Christian defence of the faith – or ‘apologetics’ as it’s called – doesn’t have the same platform.
This is why face-to-face conversations are so important.
If every Christian is familiar with the big questions of the day and can draw on resources and is happy to defend the Christian view, we can begin to stem the tide.
5) Winning hearts is even more crucial
Mark Twain once said, ‘You can’t reason someone out of something that they weren’t reasoned into in the first place’.
This quotation is often used by atheists to explain why it can be so hard to overturn religious thought. But I think we Christians can turn this back on them.
Some of the arguments put forward by these ‘Four Horsemen’ really don’t make a lot of sense. For example, in Dawkins’ essay, he lists a series of scientific discoveries and achievements before saying that none of them owe anything to the work of theologians.
What he doesn’t say is that they also owe nothing to the work of bakers, taxi drivers, policemen, and many other respectable and useful professions.
And yet, the four horsemen slap each other on the back and congratulate themselves on their genius. This isn’t a view brought about by reasonable thought and argument.
People need to be captured by the gospel. They need to hear and know the profound beauty of God’s grace. They need to feel the weight of their sin and the wonder of the cross.
Pray, Christian. Pray without ceasing that God makes his glory known (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Pray that God will give you the words to move people.
It will take a powerful work of God to change people. Fortunately, our God works powerfully.