Well, I'm overwhelmed ladies and gentlemen, and I did promise Richard [Dawkins, who presented his eponymous award] that if my voice didn't go to rags I would try and speak to you a bit if that's all right.
A few years ago a group of us met in my house. I'm afraid we got called the Four Horsemen. I have to plead partly guilty of that myself: I thought I'd better come up with something before anyone else did and it was supposed to be the Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse. But there it is… we got saddled with it. Of course, long may this illusion flourish, it's promoted me to parity with Professors Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris –and I have set my whole life, I'd like to think, against the spread of delusion. It is nice to be associated in that company.
How else were we going to reply to the rising menace of Islamic jihad? How were we going to have, for example, to deal with the emergence of probably the most reactionary papacy since the mid-19th century? A very reactionary eastern Orthodox church if it comes to that, as well the eastern Catholic forces now ranged behind the dark and sinister figure of Vladimir Putin? Then one mustn't exempt of course the millennial settlers in Palestine who believe that by bringing in as many fanatics of Jewish origin as they can and forcing out as many Palestinian Arabs as they can they may bring on the Messiah and indeed the apocalypse, and look forward to the destruction of our species with relish.
At this present moment I have to say that I feel very envious of someone who is young and active and starting out in this argument. Just think of the extraordinary things that are happening to us. Go for example to the Smithsonian museum, to the new hall of human origins which shows among other things the branches along which three, maybe four if you count Indonesia, humanoid – shall we say, anthropoid – species died out within measurable distance of 75,000 years or so. Possibly destroyed by us, possibly not. We know they decorated their graves, we think they probably had language ability, we don't know if they had souls. I'm sorry I can't help you there. We probably assumed that they would have alluded to having some kind of god.
But no religion has yet pronounced on these cousins and brothers and sisters of ours because they don't fit, there is no way of fitting them into the ridiculous story that makes this tape wind round and round again and lead us to the grand solipsist conclusion that this whole thing is designed with us in mind. But what a wonderful thing to be starting out in this tremendous new field of endeavour. How fabulous it would be if you had a gift for physics to get a job as an intern with Lawrence Krauss, for example, who is just beginning to unravel the idea of the alternative parallel universe.
I suppose I should close now because I've said all I wanted to say for myself... In the meantime we have the same job we always had, to say, as thinking people and as humans, that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. We have to begin by repudiating all such claims – grand rabbis, chief ayatollahs, infallible popes, the peddlers of mutant quasi-political worship, the dear leader, great leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record I realise it is they who are the grand imposters, and my own imposture this evening was mild by comparison.
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