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Dennett - Letting the Neighbours Know
Daniel Dennett opens his introductory article to The Four Horsemen by comparing the internet revolution with the Cambrian Explosion 543 million years ago, when life on earth suddenly worked out how to exist in multi-cellular forms. The new transparency of online communication is the enabler of atheism,providing a technological platform for coordination, openness and honesty. Just as bacteria can sense a quorum as a basis for action, so too Dennett argues atheists benefit from communication. Like a brass propeller protected by a zinc anode from ocean water corrosion, he thinks sympathetic politicians benefit from the presence of radical atheists who are visible and undaunted. Frank and open sharing of information can help reduce political polarization and shift opinion.
Dennett rejects Hitchins’ argument that religion poisons everything, pointing instead to the good that religion can do. The reality of religious extremism does not invalidate how churches can overcome desolate friendless isolation by welcoming people. Religion may be irrational, but at least it provides comfort, which few other social institutions can do. The challenge he sets is to transform religion to stop believing irrational and insincere nonsense. Achieving that requires respectful and constructive conversation.
The high moral values of truth, evidence and honest persuasion are what Dennett aspires to. I suspect the problem here is that no one is willing to acknowledge the blind spots in their own philosophy, so the challenge is always to be open to test assumptions.
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