A little classy conversation for your Sunday morning

Sit down with a nice cup of tea and listen to 30 authors talk about gods.

1. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction Writer
2. Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Laureate in Literature
3. Professor Isaac Asimov, Author and Biochemist
4. Arthur Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright
5. Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate in Literature
6. Gore Vidal, Award-Winning Novelist and Political Activist
7. Douglas Adams, Best-Selling Science Fiction Writer
8. Professor Germaine Greer, Writer and Feminist
9. Iain Banks, Best-Selling Fiction Writer
10. José Saramago, Nobel Laureate in Literature
11. Sir Terry Pratchett, NYT Best-Selling Novelist
12. Ken Follett, NYT Best-Selling Author
13. Ian McEwan, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
14. Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate (1999-2009)
15. Professor Martin Amis, Award-Winning Novelist
16. Michel Houellebecq, Goncourt Prize-Winning French Novelist
17. Philip Roth, Man Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
18. Margaret Atwood, Booker Prize-Winning Author and Poet
19. Sir Salman Rushdie, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
20. Norman MacCaig, Renowned Scottish Poet
21. Phillip Pullman, Best-Selling British Author
22. Dr Matt Ridley, Award-Winning Science Writer
23. Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate in Literature
24. Howard Brenton, Award-Winning English Playwright
25. Tariq Ali, Award-Winning Writer and Filmmaker
26. Theodore Dalrymple, English Writer and Psychiatrist
27. Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize-Winning Novelist
28. Redmond O’Hanlon FRSL, British Writer and Scholar
29. Diana Athill, Award-Winning Author and Literary Editor
30. Christopher Hitchens, Best-Selling Author, Award-Winning Columnist


  1. DLC says

    And now, equal time for the Goddist Nuthouse camp, with Orson Scott Card, Tim LaHaye and Stephenie Meyer.

  2. DLC says

    Addendum: After watching the video, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of the authors I’d read. I also want to add that Hitch’s piece was brilliant. Short, concise and to the point. Not that the others weren’t well-spoken. Thanks for posting this one, PZ.

  3. alysonmiers says

    As a new, obscure god-free writer, I am going to join in the fun.

    The difficulty of prayer is that no one else can hear those voices in your head, and it turns out that whatever you hear as the voice of God ends up being what you were already inclined to believe in the first place.

    Nevertheless, the believer is only too happy to accept the idea that praying means hearing the voice of God, and therefore concludes that if you’re doing it right, you’ll hear the same voice in your head as they do. When someone exhorts you to pray, they don’t really want you to listen to God. They want you to listen to them.

  4. niftyatheist says

    I really enjoyed this. In fact, I made the mistake of starting it before I put the coffee on, and never did get the coffee to sip while watching it. Must go do that now and view the video again.
    I would like to have the clip of Christopher Hitchens talk at the end in a separate link (will check youtube). THat was classic Hitchens; concise, searingly honest, human and so obviously right.

  5. peterh says

    A most impressive list; similar lists pop up from time to time. The True And Faithful will inform you such people are “merely trying to make a name for themselves.”

    /Immediately changes subject to “what’s for dinner?”

  6. Aquaria says

    The ones I found the most enjoyable, for different reasons:

    Ian Banks demolished the notion that atheists are nihilists, or lacking in wonder or have nothing live for.

    Norman MacCaig’s, for being the most unintentionally hilarious. The terseness of his initial reply, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and the utter disgust with an idiot of an interviewer was sublime. But then I always find arrogance amusing. As long as it’s arrogance based on being right.

    Douglas Addams, for one of the most brilliant takedowns of the design argument–in so few words.

    Hitchens, of course, for addressing the barbarity of christardery, its inhumanity and how it’s more than just an escape from reality, but an escape from responsibility. Devastating.

  7. shouldbeworking says

    What the heck do they know? Just a bunch of well-educated, well-spoken people with nothing better to do than to show how silly religion is.

    (jealous mode off)

  8. says

    alysonmiers #5

    Nevertheless, the believer is only too happy to accept the idea that praying means hearing the voice of God, and therefore concludes that if you’re doing it right, you’ll hear the same voice in your head as they do. When someone exhorts you to pray, they don’t really want you to listen to God. They want you to listen to them.

    You’re so right! I never thought of it that way before, but that’s dead on.

    “Pray about it,” as it has been used to me, always meant, “I certainly don’t agree with your plans/strategy/interpretation, but I won’t attempt to correct you. God will set you straight.” And then when I still didn’t change my mind, well, it was just that I wanted my own way and wasn’t listening to God at all.

    Since God always, always agreed with them.

  9. Hayden says

    I especially liked what Asimov had to say. We have a good system for determining what is and is not true, and religion is the antithesis of that.

  10. anchor says

    Dammit, why can’t people who have these otherwise fine video ideas knock it off already and refrain from putting on the idiotic background music??? SO FUCKING LOUDLY?????

    It’s not the first time. There’s been a regular epidemic of them lately – a recent one linked to from here, I seem to recall, that came out of RichardDawkins.net that also drove people bananas.

    I can’t listen to half the speakers for this distraction of wretched pseudo-musical-solemn pianistic bullshit composition, WHICH THEY TURN UP as Hitchens comes on (all but drowning him out just when one really needs to pay close attention to that speaker who speaks as swiftly and richly as he thinks). On top of that, they think it ever so stylish to FADE OUT THE SPEAKERS to transition to the next one. These imbeciles figure they’re entitled to step all over these speakers to heighten the drama and emotion with what they imagine is common good taste presentational sense. I have news for those responsible: you’re taste SUCK.

    Man, there’s nothing more exasperatingly hideous than a moron with a computer and a collection of vid programs who is afflicted with delusions of film-making expertise.

  11. davem says

    @anchor: Eh? You need a decent set of loudspeakers. It really wasn’t that bad. Indeed, I hardly noticed the background music at all, even replaying it to see what you were on about..

  12. duphrane says

    @anchor: I actually enjoyed the music here, but that may be because I’d already heard a decent number of these. I had especially liked Hitch’s argument, which I’d heard a few times, and the music gave it something more of an emotional impact, whereas before I had engaged with it on a rational level.

  13. niftyatheist says

    Dammit, why can’t people who have these otherwise fine video ideas knock it off already and refrain from putting on the idiotic background music??? SO FUCKING LOUDLY?????

    anchor…I had the exact same thought. Didn’t mention it because I always figure my CAPD issue is my issue and (like davem above) most people hardly notice it and cannot understand why it would bother anyone else. The music really interferes with understanding if the listener has any sort of auditory processing disorder. I am accustomed to rewinding and listening again and again until I understand. But I wish I didn’t have to on this type of thing. The words of the speakers themselves are awesome enough – why gild the lily with background music? (Or, for people like me, why turn it into a garbled mess with unnecessary background noise?)

    I still really appreciated the video, but yes, I sorely wish the music had been left off. Have searched for clean YOuTubes and coming up empty-handed for the Hitchens one so far. No doubt, my failure of internetz skillz.

  14. anchor says

    @davern: Eh? Interesting presumption you make on no evidence whatsoever. I have professional equipment (filmmaking with specializing in soundtrack and film score composition happens to be my line of work). No, you’re wrong. It is really that bad. I do not appreciate any distraction from the friggin’ content. What’s important here is the words that are spoken, not the damned style of presentation. The musical background gets in the way, period. You wouldn’t want some background drivel played during a live poetry reading, would you? (Unlerss of course its some special ‘performance-art’ piece that specifically calls for it). Some of us still have principles.

    @duphrane: If I wanted an “emotional impact” from music I’d seek out a venue that featured it unblemished by voice-overs from people. I surely wouldn’t bother with pretentious crap like this though. It’s like being stuck in an elevator playing Musak. Hack-shit (Gesuntheit). To each their own tastes, I guess.

  15. catnip67 says

    Actually I listened to this whilst on a long drive in the car. Brilliant to listen to & just as incisive. Just means I don’t know who said what, although I recognized some of the voices. Now I shall go back and listen again whilst watching. .
    I barely noticed the music.

  16. anchor says

    Sorry for the typos…those who understand the primacy of the content understand that much.

  17. anchor says

    @niftyatheist : Yes, exactly so. even without the disorder, there is dilution of full comprehension. I don’t have the links to the studies involved, but it is apparently a measurable phenomenon.

  18. Wowbagger, Madman of Insleyfarne says

    Hitch, as he so often did, sums it up perfectly: “This is nonsense. It can’t be believed by a thinking person.”

  19. drjtp says

    Dear anchor,

    “Man, there’s nothing more exasperatingly hideous than a moron with a computer and a collection of vid programs who is afflicted with delusions of film-making expertise.”

    Ouch. I’m sorry you’ve become so exasperated by my little video. My inclusion of music is based on feedback, where 95% of people have said they prefer the music. I’m also sorry that you’ve got the impression that I think I have film-making expertise simply because I make YouTube videos as well as I can. I really don’t know what to say. I don’t pretend to have video-making expertise, but I still wanted to make the sort of video I want to watch. And I’m going to try and make one as well as I can with what limited knowledge I have. Should only experts be allowed to make youtube videos? Or should non-experts not try to add detail to their video for fear of being accused of thinking their experts?

    It sounded perfectly fine to me and to friends I showed it to prior to posting it. It is precisely because I’m not an expert that I possess only very basic software, so I edited the music volume as carefully as I could within my software’s limitations. I’ve had no help, I’ve made all my videos single-handedly from scratch, and I do have a busy day job.

    I wonder why you felt the need to come on this blog, call me a moron and insult me personally, when you could have simply tried asking me on YouTube whether I would post another version of the video without the music. It’s obviously very easy for me to do that, though I’d rather not have two of the same. But if many people including yourself requested this, I would have done so. I did a similar thing with one of my previous videos. No one called me a moron for being a non-expert, they simply made requests which I granted.

    Kind Regards,

    Jonathan Pararajasingham

  20. niftyatheist says

    when you could have simply tried asking me on YouTube whether I would post another version of the video without the music. It’s obviously very easy for me to do that,

    I would really appreciate a version without the background music.

  21. anchor says

    Dear Jonathan Pararajasingham,

    For your enlightenment (and, hopefully, the future enjoyment of viewers of your videos) may I recommend PZ’s take on spurious arguments:


    [Cue terrific Doppler-shifting wooshing noise as it flies right over your head leaving no clue behind]

    One may infer from your comment that at least 19 people actually requested that music played at that volume level BEFORE you made that video? Do whatever you like, but don’t expect me or other professionals (or the other alleged 5%) to alter their opinion. Don’t want to improve your craft? Don’t like critiques after the fact? Fine. You are free to reject criticism and show everyone you are also good at making excuses in response. Dandy.

    You had a very fine idea here. Tops. That’s why I expressed my exasperation, because its more than about your video-making acumen. It’s the words of those 30 distinguished authors, not just your “little video”. Get it? Its just a pity it couldn’t have been better. It WOULD have been BETTER without the intrusive background. Such intrusion is not classy. There’s no aesthetic elegance or finesse in it. It reeks of ineptitude or clumsiness. The material did NOT need any such forced assistance to enhance the message. Admit it: you just got carried away.

    You might have been surprised to find the other 19 would as quickly and enthusiastically have endorsed an untrammeled version – at least a version that doesn’t place the smarmy style before substance at such volume levels – but never mind. (Are you sure those 95% “preferred” the music BEFORE you made this video?). The important thing is the favorable reactions you receive and may interpret as you will. Trefore, you must be doing something right. Therefore any dissent must be out of bounds. Ok then. I’ll give you the gratification. Best video I ever saw. Can’t imagine it improved. Those words were terrific and their meaning was greatly enhanced by the subtle musical accompaninment, and I never once cringed at having to turn up the volume or repeatedly replay sections of the piano passages that had words plastered all over them. Please do make many more, and be sure to give your viewers more of what they appear to want.

  22. drjtp says


    You seem to be unaware that I have made previous videos of exactly the same kind, and it is the messages I have had in response to them over the last few months that I refer to in my “95%”. It is a fact that most people prefer the music, I wouldn’t have included it otherwise. Do you think I’m trying to deliberately make them unpopular? The views are high, and according to reponses I’ve had the music is part what is driving up the viewing figures. You can assert it makes no difference, but I’d rather go with what the majority are saying.

    I’ve also not suggested that I don’t like critiques after the fact, I simply don’t see it as helpful to come on this blog and tell other people that I’m a moron, when if you really wanted to provide feedback and get something changed, you could’ve done so directly to me on youtube via a simple message. You chose to throw a childish fit in here instead, and while I’m sure you feel proud to profess your stunning filmmaking expertise among morons like me, it doesn’t actually make you look all that smart.

    Anyway, you’re clearly going to continue to remain angry about this. So I’ll just leave you to it. I hope you manage to get it under control someday. Perhaps calm yourself down by making us all an expert video yourself? Tragically if you’d approached this in a civilised manner, we could’ve collaborated where I provide the clips and you could’ve made an expert film out of them. But, alas.

    All the best,


  23. drjtp says

    Dear niftyatheist,

    I will send you a version without the background music. Email me via my website (drjtp.com) with your contact details.



  24. says

    Really good video. Quite a high proportion of Brits in it. I loved the old Scottish fella!
    P.S Just for the record JP. I liked the music.
    P.P.S Anchor. You come across as a twat

  25. chigau (同じ) says

    I didn’t notice the background music.
    I was distracted by the psychotic camera-work in the Hitchens segment.

  26. consciousness razor says

    Seriously, anchor, what has crawled up your ass? There’s no reason to be such a jerk about it.

    drjtp: Thanks for doing the videos. I agree sometimes the background music could be toned down a bit, though I didn’t consider it too intrusive. However if a lot of people like it (and more importantly, if you like it) then by all means do whatever works.

  27. drjtp says


    “The material did NOT need any such forced assistance to enhance the message.”

    I’ve watched hundreds of documentaries, and intermittent background music is a common feature. Among documentary makers, it seems that music is recognised as a factor which will enhance viewing figures.

    I tried to use the same idea in my first video, and it now has 140K views, with next to no complaints but plenty of compliments about the music.


  28. drjtp says

    Thanks andrewspeedie and consciousness razor for the support :)

    And yes, an unplanned high-proportion of Brits. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to find many clips of non-English speaking atheist writers (of which there are a fair few) with subtitles.

  29. hallucigenia says

    Hey anchor,

    Generally speaking, people who really are accomplished experts in things don’t need (or have time) to run around the internet making anonymous and unprovable claims about how much of an expert they are. They derive their self-esteem and satisfaction from actually accomplishing things. Because whether or not you really are an expert film maker (“with lots of professional computer equipment”!), all you’ve really demonstrated here is that you’re a pompous douchebag.

    Just sayin.

  30. ibyea says

    While anchor is exaggerating, he kind of does have a point. The music is distracting me from the actual points of the speaker. And he is right that it actually got bad when Hitchens was speaking, although again, I think he exaggerated it.

  31. andyo says

    I noticed the music, but cause it seemed to me a bit incongruous (my opinion, not a criticism) with the content, not because of the volume. I don’t know what anchor is going on about not being able to understand. I get niftyatheist’s problem with it, but he’s not the one being a big douchebag about it.


    I was distracted by the psychotic camera-work in the Hitchens segment.

    This is what kinda bothered me, but I didn’t have to be watching the video to hear the words.

  32. says

    JP, I really enjoyed the video, thank you for putting that together. I also enjoyed the music when I noticed it. My only moan is about the low sound when people were speaking, but I put that down to me never getting around to getting decent speakers for my laptop.

  33. catnip67 says


    Thanks for putting the video together. I (and it seems others) got something out of it, even if the pedants had to have a bitch over (for me anyway) minor items.

  34. Koshka says

    Thanks for the video. No complaint on the background music from me. I did not even notice it. Had to replay to notice it. But then I am not a professional.

  35. Ms Anne Thrope says

    So many of my heros in one place, fantastic! Just to add my opinion to the debate, I did find the music quite loud, to the extent that it does distract from the speech.

  36. says

    Can we just drop the music issue? Many found it unproblematic, some thought it was a little too loud or a little intrusive, and a boni-fide expert found it so grating and profoundly distressing as to ruin art, video, music, life, and love for him forever and ever.

    Ok. We’ve ironed that out. It has been noted.

    drjtp: it’s clear you spent time and care to make these videos and they are appreciated. You don’t seem to be a moron and I don’t think any babies exploded as a result of any music you might have included in your videos.

    Which is one point against you, because, being an atheist, I fucking love exploding babies.

    Just fucking love them.

  37. McCthulhu's new upbeat 2012 nym. says

    I finally got a chance to watch this video through to the end. The thing that saddens me, and PZ brought this up in a topic a week or so ago, are the many English accents but few from the US. It would be an interesting study to see the contrast of events between the two countries that led to these divergent cultures of differing religious influence.

    If the declaration of Independence never occurred, would a British state education in the US result in as high a level of skepticism? Did the fears of living on the very frontier of the New World create a greater stress and desire for superstition in comparison to those who resided in the UK where everything was essentially plowed and planted and civilized?

    Makes me now wish I had been an history major instead. Oh well, maybe a chance next life if Buddhism turns out to be true, eh?