The Unbelievers, A New Film Starring Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, & Cormac McCarthy

The so-called New (or “Gnu”) Atheism arrived at a time when fear, anger, and confusion over extremist religion had hit a fever pitch. Suddenly, people who didn’t pay much attention to religion—their own or anyone else’s—became intensely interested in religious criticism and debate; it was the perfect climate for a publishing storm, and that’s essentially how the movement began. It was also, of course, predated by thousands of years of philosophical atheism of some variety or another, but “new” atheism had something different to offer: while its proponents largely hailed from the same worlds as their intellectual predecessors—the arts, political journalism and activism, the sciences and academic philosophy—after September 11, these same people took the discussion to the popular press and a proliferation of internet outlets and well-organized conferences, debates, and meetings. And their expressions were uncompromising and polemical (though not “militant”—no shots were fired nor bombs detonated).

In the wake of over a decade of controversy unleashed by “new atheism,” a new film The Unbelievers (trailer above) follows two prominent scientists and stars of the movement–evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss—as they trek across the globe and explain their views. Dawkins and Krauss receive support from a cast of celebrity interviewees including Ricky Gervais, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen, Cormac McCarthy, Sarah Silverman, Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, and several more. The film’s website has no official release date (other than “2013”), but it does feature links to online buzz, both glib—Krankie snarks that the trailer makes it look like Dawkins and Krauss have packed in the science and started a band—and subdued; the evangelical Christian Post does little but quote from the press package.

These champions of reason-over-religion have always had powerful critics, even among those who might otherwise seem sympathetic (take Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton’s charge that new atheism is nothing but counter-fundamentalism). Then there is the host of religious detractors, many of them respected scientists and philosophers themselves. One notable name in this camp is famed geneticist Francis Collins, who headed the Human Genome Project. Obviously no denier of the explanatory power of science, Collins nonetheless argues for faith as a distinct kind of knowledge, as he does in the interview excerpt below from an appearance on The Charlie Rose Show.

The debates seem like they could rage on interminably, and probably will. I, for one, am grateful they can happen openly and in relative peace in so many places. But as the same sets of issues arise, some of the questions become just a bit more nuanced. British presenter Nicky Campbell, for example, recently presided over a large debate among several prominent scientists and clergy about whether or not all religions should accept evolution (below). While Dawkins and Krauss ultimately advocate a world without religion, the participants of this debate try to shift the terms to how scientific discovery and religious identity can coexist with minimal friction.

Related Content:

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Never a First Human Being

Something from Nothing? Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss Discuss Cosmology, Origins of Life & Religion Before a Packed Crowd

Alain de Botton Wants a Religion for Atheists: Introducing Atheism 2.0

Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness



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  1. dale watters says . . . | February 21, 2013 / 12:33 pm

    its fucked up that no one handles medical malpractice. Desert Oasis in Palm Springs is criminal in the way they treat their patients. HMO are bigger than the law and is held accountable by no one.

  2. David says . . . | February 21, 2013 / 3:52 pm

    I grew up an atheist enamored of science, science fiction and fantasy. I evolved a different view after coming of age experiences in and around my college years. At this point, having studied formally and informally both science and religions, I conclude that none of them have it right.

    None of the major human religions have a lock on “truth” but all of them have noble pieces of it. Science is awesome, but we are yet toddlers splashing in the shallows, picking up pretty shells and making sand castles. The “truth” lies beyond the current framework of both scientific and religious thinking. I think the scientific method is solid, but it still requires human creativity and intelligence to get anywhere with it.

    I certainly don’t believe in a deity who intentionally created the universe in any way like human scriptures describe. To believe that God created us with a purpose and a special plan is both arrogant and immature in the face of a “known” universe on the scale we can now just begin to measure. If there’s a personal God, such a being is operating across billions of light years and getting “personal” with a mindbogglingly vast diversity of life forms. If there’s a God like that, human scriptures to date haven’t captured that effectively…at all. Such a God is a vast, elemental super spider of a being…which would be pretty damn cool, actually.

    Yet science has yet to account for consciousness and mind beyond a rudimentary sense of biochemistry and electrical brain functions. Science theorizes that 95% or so of the “known” universe is dark (matter and energy). That’s an awful lot of mystery to be so damn confident about, atheists. However, I don’t blame science for not making claims that it can’t prove. I do blame humans who are overly constrained by a worldview limited to what’s “proven.”

    I put good money on the potential for humans to evolve (given a chance) to a point where our mastery of the physical world involves a paradigm shift or three about the nature of mind/spirit/information. At what point does a sophisticated enough pattern become self-sustaining beyond the physical body? Is that a soul…or just higher brain function elevated to a place where it can sustain its programming and memory and sentience in the as yet poorly understood fabric of spacetime?

    You want to be immortal and have eternal life? Evolve. It may take a million years…but that’d be worth it and the journey is bound to thrill.

  3. David Jones says . . . | February 22, 2013 / 12:41 am

    @ David .. your comments are highly astute. At this point in our apparent development we are not capable of truely understanding the implications of the Universal space and our inherent relationship to it. There are it would seem many ‘models’ on which to base a particular perspective but they are merely that .. just paradigms of which there are probably an infinate number to explore. We do not need the the misconstrued, obstinant arrogance of DOGMA to underpin our ability to perceive the nature of reality. Our human narrative is both linear in as much as we live and die in material terms but at any point in the journey of life there are vertical interpretations to consider. We are evolving still and our collective intellect requires that we expand both inwards and outwards. I would suggest that at this point in our journey no one person or premise has the monopoly on the true nature of reality and our placement within it.

  4. Aysenur uNAL says . . . | February 22, 2013 / 2:36 pm

    I have never been able to understand how any reasonably intelligent person could NOT be atheistic…

  5. harry` says . . . | February 24, 2013 / 2:31 pm

    I believe that David has the best point .I am puzzled by the lack of humility and the arrogance of the Atheists in their claim with certainty that THERE IS NO GOD. I could understand an Agnostic but there can not be a reasonable Atheist.

  6. Scott says . . . | April 4, 2013 / 3:41 am

    God is as outrageous a hypothesis as the billions of other hypotheses that can be dreamed up. Science isn’t out to prove there is no god but through the scientific explanations the god of the gaps get painted into smaller and smaller corners. Ignorance is now a willful choice.

  7. Mary says . . . | April 30, 2013 / 10:55 am

    When my daughter and son asked me why I didn’t believe in God, I told them this, “Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean that it is magic.” What was before the Big Bang? I don’t know, but it doesn’t have to be magic.

  8. David 2 says . . . | May 6, 2013 / 2:32 pm

    To Harry, Why would you show humility to a group who cover up for pedophiles, campaign to stop condoms in Africa causing aids to become epidemic, and practiced genocide against the indigenous Canadian tribes while preaching that their religion is the only way for humanity to have morals?
    .

  9. Reg says . . . | May 15, 2013 / 8:22 pm

    To my new “friend” harry:

    The old tired “atheists claim ‘THERE IS NO GOD’”. Sorry. After examining theist claims of God and not a shred of evidence, our claim is, “WE DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD.” To use your false claim, would give the whole sad hypothesis more validity.

    To my new “friend” David:

    > I conclude that none of them have it right.

    But if you conclude, then aren’t you claiming YOU have it right? You’re not really “above” this debate then are you? You can’t really claim the moral high ground. The theists claim they have it right about believing in God. Atheists don’t claim to have answers, we claim that since the theists have nothing to show for their claim other than their faith, the hypothesis is lacking in veracity and thus very uninteresting.

    > None of the major human religions have a lock on “truth” but all of them have noble
    > pieces of it.

    ALL of them eh? And noble to boot? Well, I guess you’re a big fan of Deepak and share his OPINION that “all religions and all spiritualities are right; it is the non-believers who are wrong.”

    >Science is awesome, but we are yet toddlers splashing in the shallows, picking up pretty >shells and making sand castles.

    Please. Spare us the poetry. Thank you Keanu, for saying science is “awesome” but it’s such a tired insult to those who do real scientific work. I think we know who the real toddler is here.

    > The “truth” lies beyond the current framework of both scientific and religious thinking.

    Oh, it does? Really? How noble of you to say. You really seem to like yourself quite a bit. I only wish I could attain such a higher level of thinking. Of being. And you have what to offer for making such a grand and truly magnificent statement?

    >I think the scientific method is solid, but it still requires human creativity and >intelligence to get anywhere with it.

    Thank you for saying. And how in any way does the requirement reduce it to the level of religious thinking which has absolutely no methodology whatsoever for its claims, other than FAITH? It doesn’t.

    >Such a God is a vast, elemental super spider of a being…which would be pretty damn >cool, actually.

    Like, pretty, way, totally cool bra. Pass the blunt will ya?

    > Yet science has yet to account for consciousness and mind beyond a rudimentary sense > of biochemistry and electrical brain functions.

    Total arrogant BS. No, YOU have to account for consciousness and mind if YOU think there is something “beyond” the physical brain. If you think neuroscience is rudimentary, then you categorically don’t know what the …. you’re talking about.

    > Science theorizes that 95% or so of the
    > “known” universe is dark (matter and energy). That’s an awful lot of mystery to be so
    > damn confident about, atheists. However, I don’t blame science for not making claims > that it can’t prove.

    Here we go again. Hopelessly lost in the “mystery.” Spooky language. Woo-woo! Just because we do not currently have an adequate explanation for a phenomenon does not mean that it is forever unexplainable, or that it therefore defies the laws of nature or requires a paranormal or “mysterious” explanation. Theists and theologians SAY – not theorize – on the question of, “Is it possible the universe could exist without God?”, No!, it could not. So of course, David should and would reply, “That response is an awful lot of nothing to be so god-damn confident about theists.” Those who do not believe in God and are therefore, atheist, don’t care if you believe in God – go nuts! – but if you think she operates in the “known” dark universe, we CAN answer that question with robust scientific analysis, and therefore, end up rejecting that hypothesis as being null.

    > I do blame humans who are overly constrained by a worldview limited to what’s
    > “proven.”

    Then you’ll give me the courtesy of blaming humans who are overly constrained by a worldview that is limited to claiming a (non-existent) virtue on what could be, Oh, what could be!, but yet, when asked for an even miniscule amount of substance to the claim, have nothing to offer except saying just because something isn’t proven, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have validity. If that’s the standard by which you operate, good luck to you, I’m interested in real scientists, doing incredibly difficult and very valid research that develops into strong theories based on facts.

    > I put good money on the potential for humans to evolve (given a chance) to a point
    > where our mastery of the physical world involves a paradigm shift or three about the >nature of mind/spirit/information. At what point does a sophisticated enough pattern >become self-sustaining beyond the physical body? Is that a soul…or just higher brain >function elevated to a place where it can sustain its programming and memory and >sentience in the as yet poorly understood fabric of spacetime?

    Lots of philosophizing here and no action. How about putting your money where your mouth is and start getting to work on it. Just because you have an idea, does not make it worth a thing except in your own brain until you can demonstrate it. You can sit under your apple tree and wax poetic all day long about how “poor” and “rudimentary” our understanding is (which is a total insult to real scientists, unlike you, who do this every day of their lives) but you haven’t done a thing to contribute to understanding.

  10. Mila says . . . | September 21, 2013 / 1:06 pm

    Goodness Reg, calm down, have a cup of tea and maybe indulge in some calming psychedelics and see if you still feel that there’s nothing “beyond the consciousness of the physical brain”…

  11. Jake says . . . | November 6, 2013 / 4:50 pm

    To everyone babbling about whether atheist make sense because they don’t believe in God. They are perfectly justified in saying there is no god for the same reasons we aren’t preparing for war against the space monkeys coming from neptune. There is no evidence to support them. Absence of evidence really is evidence of absence. Research the null hypothesis, it’ll help you understand better!

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