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(generated from captions) This Program is Captioned Live. # Theme music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi and welcome to Big Ideas, Short Cuts We're kicking off this edition of RSA Animations. with one of those wonderful This one is based on a talk author Iain McGilchrist. by psychiatrist and best-selling It's about the divided brain human behaviour, culture and society. and how it's profoundly altered brain research to explain, McGilchrist draws on a vast body of in very amusing and erudite detail, of our brains. the left and right hemispheres of birds and dogs as well. There's a nod to the divided brains The division of the brain don't like to talk about anymore. is something neuroscientists in the '60s and '70s It enjoyed a sort of popularity split-brain operations after the first and it led to a popularisation to be entirely false. which has since been proved the brain does reason It's not true that one part of and the other does emotion - both are profoundly involved in both. only in the left hemisphere. It's not true that language resides are in the right. It doesn't - important aspects is only in the right hemisphere - It's not true that visual imagery lots of it is in the left. And so, in a sort of fit of despair, talking about it. people have given up But the problem won't really go away is all about making connection, because this organ, which is profoundly divided. It's there inside all of us the course of human evolution and it's got more divided over the corpus callosum so that the ratio of to the volume of the hemispheres has got smaller over evolution. when you realise And the plot thickens function, of the corpus callosum that one of the main, if not THE main the other hemisphere. is in fact to inhibit is going on here So something very important from one another. about keeping things apart is profoundly asymmetric. And not only that, the brain It's broader at the back on the left and broader on the right at the front and backward. and slightly juts forward the brain from underneath And it is though somebody got hold of and given it a sharp twist clockwise. What is all that about? one would do it symmetrically - If one just needed more brain space, the skull is symmetrical. all this is contained is symmetrical. The box in which some bit of one hemisphere Why go to the trouble to expand and some bits of another rather different things? unless they were doing What are they doing? who have these divided brains. Well, it's not just we Birds and animals have them as well. to think of it, I think the simplest way to feed on a seed is if you imagine a bird trying or pebbles. against a background of grit and clearly It's got to focus very narrowly on that little seed against that background. and be able to pick it out But it's also, if it's to stay alive, different kind of attention open, it's got to actually keep a quite for predators it's got to be on the lookout depending on specifics, or for friends, for whatever else is going on. And it seems that birds and animals use their left hemisphere quite reliably for this narrow focused attention

is of importance to it. to something it already knows vigilant broadly And they keep their right hemisphere

commitment as to what that might be. for whatever might be, without any the world. for making connections with So, they approach their mates

using the right hemisphere. and bond with their mates more But then you come to the humans in humans too, and it's true that actually

is one of the big differences - this kind of attention broad, open, vigilance, alertness, the right hemisphere gives sustained,

where the left hemisphere attention to detail. gives narrow, sharply focused their right hemispheres And people who lose

the window of attention. have a pathological narrowing of their frontal lobes The big thing about humans is of the brain - and the purpose of that part to inhibit the rest of the brain. to inhibit, happening. To stop the immediate from the immediacy of experience. So, standing back in time and space to do a few things. And that enables us It enables us to do always telling us we're very good at, what neuroscientists are which is outwitting the other party, being Machiavellian.

because that's absolutely right, And that's interesting to me and intentions we can read other people's minds we can deceive them. and if we so want to, curiously missed out here But the bit that's always to empathise for the first time is that it also enables us distance from the world. because there's a sort of necessary you just bite. If you're right up against it, But if you can stand back is an individual like me, and see that other individual and feelings like mine, who might have interests and values

then you can make a bond. as there is in reading - There's a sort of necessary distance, too far, you can't read it. too close and you can't see anything, that is provided So, the distance from the world of all that is human, is profoundly creative and the Erasmian. both the Machiavellian

to manipulate the world, Now, to do the Machiavellian stuff, which is very important, interact with the world we need to be able to use, and use it for our benefit. Food is the starting point but with our left hemispheres, things and make tools. we also grasp, using our right hand, to grasps things, as we say, We also use that part of language it pins them down. something's important So when we already know and we want to be precise about it, in that way. we use our left hemispheres

a simplified version of reality. And do that, we need if you're fighting a campaign, It's no good, on all the plant species having all the information in the terrain of battle. that grow is to know the specifics What you need that matter to you of where certain things are and so you have a map and you have little flags. It's not reality but it works better. The newness of the right hemisphere makes it a devil's advocate, it's always on the lookout for things that might be different from our expectations. It sees things in context, it understands implicit meaning, metaphor, body language, emotional expression in the face. It deals with an embodied world in which we stand embodied in relation to a world that is concrete. It understands individuals, not just categories.

It actually has a disposition for the living, rather than the mechanical. And this is so marked that even in a left hander who is actually using their right hemisphere in daily life to manipulate tools with their left hand, it is their left hemisphere, not their right hemisphere in which tools and machines are coded. So this is very interesting and it changes the view of the body. The body becomes an assemblage of parts in the left hemisphere. If I had to sum it all up, I would get away from all those things we used to say -

reason and imagination. Let me make it very clear. For imagination you need both hemispheres. Let me make it very clear, for reason you need both hemispheres. So, if I had to sum it up, I'd say the world of the left hemisphere, dependant on denotative language and abstraction yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known,

fixed, static, isolated, decontextualised, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast,

yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected,

implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world. But in the nature of things, never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And to this world it exists in a certain relationship. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is however within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection but the perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.

There's a problem here about the nature of the two worlds. They offer us two versions of the world

and obviously we combine them in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world but for a broad understanding of it, we need to use knowledge that comes from the right hemisphere. And it's my suggestion to you that in the history of Western culture,

things started in the 6th Century BC, in the Augustan era and in the 15th/16th Century in Europe, with a wonderful balancing of these hemispheres. But in each case it drifted further to the left hemisphere's point of view. Nowadays, we live in a world which is paradoxical - we pursue happiness and it leads to resentment and it leads to unhappiness and it leads, in fact, to an explosion of mental illness. We've pursued freedom but we now live in a world which is more monitored by CCTV cameras and in which our daily lives are more subjected to what de Tocqueville called 'a network of small, complicated rules' that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom.

More information - we have it in spades but we get less and less able to use it, to understand it, to be wise. (Toilet flushes)

There's a paradoxical relationship, as I know as a psychiatrist, between adversity and fulfillment, between restraint and freedom, between the knowledge of the parts and wisdom about the whole.

It's the machine model again that's supposed to answer everything but it doesn't. Think about this - even rationality is grounded in a leap of intuition. There is no way you can rationally prove that rationality is a good way to look at the world. We intuit that it is very helpful. And this is not new - at the other end of the process, rationality, we know from Godel's Theorem, we know from what Pascal was saying hundreds of years before Godel that the end point of rationality is to demonstrate the limits to rationality. In our modern world we've developed something that looks awfully like the left hemisphere's world, we've prioritised the virtual over the real. The technical becomes important. Bureaucracy flourishes. The picture, however, is fragmented. There's a loss of uniqueness. The 'how' has become subsumed in 'what'. And the need for control leads to a paranoia in society,

that we need to govern and control everything. I think there are three reasons. One is the left hemisphere's talk is very convincing because it shaved everything that it doesn't find fits with its model off

and cut it out. So this particular model is entirely self-consistent, largely because it's made itself so. I also call the left hemisphere the Berlusconi of the brain... (Audience laughter) ..because it controls the media, it's very vocal on its own behalf. The right hemisphere doesn't have a voice and it can't construct these same arguments. And I also think, rather more importantly, there's a sort of hall of mirrors effect - the more we get trapped into this, the more we undercut and ironise things that might have led us out of it.

And we just get reflected back into more of what we know about what we know about what we know. And I just want to make it clear

I'm not against whatever it is the left hemisphere has to offer, nobody can be more passionate in an age in which we neglect reason

and we neglect careful use of language, nobody could be more passionate than myself about language and about reason, it's just that I'm even more passionate about the right hemisphere and the need to return what that knows to a broader context.

It turned out that Einstein's thinking somehow presaged this thing about the structure of the brain. He said, 'the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.' We have created a society that honours the servant,

but has forgotten the gift.

Next up, a selection of atheists from the Global Atheist Convention. Daniel Dennett, A.C. Grayling, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Two philosophers and a human rights activist. First up is Daniel Dennett, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Described as 'The great de-mystifier of consciousness' he's also known as one of the foremost thinkers of our time. In this extract, Dennett lays out how to detect if you're an atheist or not. Today I'm going to talk about how to tell if you're an atheist. In my other role as a researcher of the conscious unconsciousness in the brain, one of my favourite phenomena, but I've never actually witnessed it directly is Anton syndrome. Which is a variety of anosognosia. This is where the patient has a serious problem and is completely unaware of it. Completely oblivious of the problem. There are a variety of different cases of anosognosia, but probably the most extreme is Anton syndrome which is also known more informally as 'blindness denial'. Now, these are people who have been just struck blind, they've had sight all their lives, they have recently been struck blind by some cerebral accident and they don't realise it. They are blind and they do not know that they are blind. They deny it and they carry on, noticing that they're having some problems, but they don't think it's blindness. Well, as I say, I've never actually seen it first-hand, it's rare and it usually lasts only a few days or weeks. And I have a standing invitation or request to various people in the field who might get an Anton's case, call me up, send me an email, I'll be on the next plane because I really want to see it first-hand, I have some hunches about how to think about it and how to interact with people who are suffering Anton syndrome. It's hard to believe that it's possible. I know have had students A lot of people -

they think they're making it up. when they hear about it first for somebody to be blind They just don't think it's possible and not realise it. are not stupid, they're not insane, Well, it is possible and these people of some sort of brain disorder. they're just victims my topic of today, Well now, that's just to introduce affliction - atheism denial. which is a much more common (Applause)

who deny that they're atheists I think we all know people they realise what they really are. and we're not so sure that I'm going to talk about. And that's what

with Linda LaScola. And I was talking about this recently as many of you would know, Linda and I, have been conducting some research and unstudied category on the curious and important of preachers with parishes or non-believers. who are secret atheists to Dan Barker, we found five, And we found, thanks in part interviewed for our first study, we actually found six that we one of them got cold feet the facts about her from our study. and we completely expunged all about the first five We published one which we're just about completing. and now we're into phase two, more interviews, Linda's done a whole lot it up probably this summer we're going to be writing

to thank those who've supported it, And let me just take this opportunity in this calendar year. And probably publication or in the fall.

and she noticed this pattern, and she's doing all the interviewing, about what we were finding But, talking with Linda which will be a more grand study yet. for phase three yet, We don't have support we always need more support.

we both noticed this pattern we all noticed this pattern, that many of our preachers, for this study even though they volunteered atheists. didn't want to call themselves in the National Catholic Reporter. And in fact we recently placed an ad the ad, quite frankly. I was surprised that they took which is another publication, The Boston Pilot, refused the ad and wouldn't say why. published it just a few weeks ago But the National Catholic Reporter little passage there where it says: and I'm going to point out one We couldn't say atheist. Because they wouldn't accept that. are only too willing to acknowledge But there's many pastors who in their heart of hearts that what they believe think they believe is not what their parishioners of real anguish to them, and that is a source was mentioning earlier. as Dan Barker clergy to say that they're atheists. Now, it's very hard then for some pretty surprising. Now, in this group that must seem we do, isn't it obvious? Except we all know why, or we think at least in America, There are terrible connotations of the word atheist. the cognitive dissonance - And there's they're supposed to be people of God. what's known as the Concorde fallacy And probably one of the biggest is or sunk costs. most of your life in something, When you've invested that wasn't a good investment turning away from that and deciding is very hard to do. and years after bad The tendency to throw good months is very hard to resist. Now, we atheists don't feel this way. saying that we're atheists, We don't have any difficulty to be talking to two audiences. but in fact today I'm going to the audience that I anticipate To this audience here today and also get out on the web. in due course, once these talks a few quiet, secret Christians And I think in fact that there are in attendance here. And I'm talking to them too.

and those who are curious about us. So I'm talking about us,

who are curious about us. I'm talking to us and those we atheists are a happy lot. As you know, a mountain of artificial guilt, We're deeply moral but we don't have but we don't consider them sins. we do feel guilty about our misdeeds Well, how about you, then? Out there, might you be an atheist? Might you be an atheist? Jeff Foxworthy, There's an American comedian, 'You might be a redneck'. whose main schtick is the poet laureate of redneck jokes. These are redneck jokes, he's if you've been married three times You might be a redneck and still have the same in-laws. centrepiece on your dining room table You might be a redneck if the by a famous taxidermist. is an original signed work them online. They're pretty good. And there's a lot more, you can find One of the things I like about them

of rednecks, is although he's making fun it's a sort of affectionate fun. And I don't think the rednecks mind. Interesting fact. Jeff Foxworthy's shoes a little bit, So now I want to follow in

'well, you might be an atheist and say, to be curious about us.' if you're reflective enough somewhere, So, if you're listening to me now you might be an atheist. Before you move to another website, you might be an atheist I'd like to point out

if you're afraid to listen

about yourself. because of what you'll learn

I think. That pretty well covers everybody, So, let's get down to some details. issue of the New Statesman, Richard Dawkins in the Christmas that he recently completed, reported on a wonderful survey this done by professional surveyors. that is to say his foundation had the census of 2001 seemed to show He points out that were Christian. that over 70% of British people commissioned a survey And the Dawkins Foundation accordance with its strict rules, done by the Ipsos MORI group in so this was a carefully done survey. And this is what they found, themselves as Christian that the percentage that describes to 54%. had dropped in the UK from 72 Plus or minus two. That's a very significant drop. in Richard's article, You could read about it otherwise publicised than England. I don't know how much it was of those 54% census Christians, More interestingly, identified by this methodology that is there are the ones as Christians, a church service half of them hadn't attended at all in the previous year, further 12% had never done so. 16% hadn't in the last ten years, (Laughter) So this has pared the group down quite interestingly, I think we have to say. Even more important, only 44% of the census Christians, less than half of that 54%, claim to believe that Jesus is the son of God. I want to highlight that. (Laughter) And I want to amend it very slightly. Only 44% of the census Christians SAY they believe

that Jesus is the son of God, and I'm sure you share my suspicion that a great many of those who say that are thinking, sotto voce, 'Well, in a sort of metaphorical and symbolic way, yes'. They don't literally think that Jesus is the son of God. How could you believe that? It's interesting that 56% don't bother with a symbolic or metaphorical dodge, they just say 'No, I don't believe that'. So we're paring it down a little bit more. So, now I want to ask you out there, do you believe that Jesus is the son of God. AUDIENCE: No. If not, you might be an atheist.

Now, every Christian out there knows that there are lots of Christians, literalists, fundamentalists who would say something stronger. They'd say 'you're an atheist' not 'you might be an atheist'. But you see, I'm more tolerant. I only say you 'might' be an atheist.

A few more questions. Do you believe that God literally listens to prayers and intervenes in peoples lives, if not, you might be an atheist. Do you believe that God is on our side in war? Or in football games? If not, you might be an atheist. Do you believe that God created all creatures great and small? If not, you might be an atheist. Well, I know what some of you out there are thinking, not in this room but in the wider world. You don't believe any of that nonsense about son of God and taking sides in football games and all that, but still, you say, you believe in something divine. Not a personal God, not a God that makes the creatures and answers the prayers but still something divine. A sort of benign force. I think I get it. (Laughter) May the Force be with you.

But, you know, I believe that Star Wars is a fantasy, how about you?

Oh, I've got to tell a little story. I do some radio interviews and once with a Christian radio station, the interviewer was just beside himself talking with me, and said 'Wait a minute, wait a minute. Are you telling me that you don't believe that there's some force that governs the whole universe and protects our lives and all the rest?' And I said 'I do, I do.' And he got very excited and said 'You do?' And I said, 'Yeah, I do, I really do.

I call it gravity.' (Audience applause) Doesn't make me a theist.

At least I don't think so. Here's another common dodge, not a dodge, a common response. 'What God is, is a concept.' It's a concept in people's minds, it's a concept that enriches their spirits. And inspires them. If you believe this, you're definitely an atheist. That was Professor Daniel Dennett at the Global Atheists Convention and you can find the extended talk on our website. Next up from the same convention, philosopher and writer A.C. Grayling canvassing the future of atheism. It looks as though with the spread of enlightenment, the spread of literacy, the spread of scientific knowledge, that more and more people are coming to think, along with Dan Dennett, that they might be atheists. And that's good news.

It's supported by a lot of empirical data,

for example, from Pew polling in the United States which we think of as a country - God-besotted country - where increasingly, especially among under-35s, larger and larger proportions of the population are saying affiliation or commitment. that they have no religious But it's important to look back a bit across the landscape of history phenomenon is to understand what the present bad-tempered discussion in this discussion, sometimes rather

a religious commitment between people who retain and those of us who don't. at the 16th century, If you look back, for example, after the Reformation, when the Roman Catholic Church, in the West, which had been THE church and control lost a great deal of influence over great swathes of Europe and it fought back very bitterly. in the 19th century Same thing happened after Darwin second half of the 19th century, and after the movements in the especially in Germany stemming from the scholarship, but also in the UK, of the Bible questioning the historicity religion, at any rate, and showing that the Bible of was a document made by many people, over a very long period of time many texts, interpolations in it. and that there were spurious for people of faith And these were anxious times as they did and they did the same thing in the 16th-17th century, much as a cornered animal might do. and that is they fought back the same phenomenon now. And I think we're witnessing After what we refer to as 9/11 quite a dramatic one, there's been a polarisation, in the public square. over religion and its place have had a residual religious faith And a lot of people who have - openly and strongly have come out much more

in support of their faith about religion very much and a lot of people who didn't care in these discussions and didn't really bother to take part realised that they had a commitment on the other side of the argument, the non-religious side and felt that they had to step up too about what we're to do and be part of the discussion the place of religion about the effect, the influence, in our education, in our public policy discussions, its effect on science that it has on individual lives, and in particular the effect of minorities individual lives of women, of gays, where religious zealotry in countries is a major influence. And so the trend that we've seen, in the world especially in more advanced economies over the last couple of centuries change to the historical rhythm and in particular the dramatic of the 18th century introduced by the Enlightenment was talking about which earlier on Peter Singer referring to Steve Pinker's book to greater peace and cooperation where that development among people, became more pronounced Enlightenment. as a result of the 18th century and a positive trend That trend is a good on this side of the debate, and it's one that we, need to capitalise on. what next for atheism, So we ask the question of things what should people with our view be thinking about doing

that this healthy trend continues to try to make sure to be a work of long breath, even though, of course, it's going as the French say - perhaps even centuries it's going to be many decades, is liberated from its past, before finally humanity and superstition the deep roots in ignorance

as the established religions. which we now think of

we need to focus on. I think there are three areas of the metaphysical debate - One is the question

of the universe that we occupy. the debate about the nature

Of course, physics and cosmology tells us a great deal about that

and Lawrence is going to tell you about that in a little while. in addition to all the forces and entities described by physics there is something else - are there supernatural agencies, are there gods and goddesses, angels and archangels. That discussion, the metaphysical discussion, is one which still needs to be pursued. We still have to have a conversation with people

who want to believe there are agencies of that kind and that's a discussion about rationality, about evidence, about our understanding and the way that we achieve further understanding about the nature of the universe.

The second debate is a debate about secularism, a debate about just where religious organisations,

the religious voice, is positioned in the public debate and its influence on government policy and its place in education. And the third and in some ways perhaps the most important one

because it is the one which might most quickly help people

who are wavering in their views about religion or who would like to be able to free themselves from religion is the debate about the ethical, about our lives, about how we live them and make decisions about what sort of communities we're going to construct and what the basis of our relationships with one another should be. This is a very, very important one and this is why a lot of people who don't have a religious commitment commit themselves to a humanist view of the world. And by a humanist view I don't mean anything very elaborate, just the view that our ethics, our attitude towards other people and our sense of responsibility to them should be premised on our best, most generous, most sympathetic understanding of human nature and the human condition. That's a point I'll come back to in a moment.

The first point, the point about the metaphysical discussion, what kind of place is this universe, and what does it contain? Well, I'm very diffident and indeed reluctant to disagree with anything that Dan said a little while ago. And Dan suggested that what we should do is just slip in little atheistical comments like Disney - Walt Disney was an atheist. By the way, I didn't know that so it's good to know. Or some people still believe that there are gods and so on.

But little remarks like that just dropped in would help people to get a kind a sense of perspective,

of what they hear from other resources. I have a little anxiety about that in the following way and for very good evolutionary reasons. Children are very gullible, very credulous. And the things that adults, on whom they rely, in their immediate circle say about the world are important to children. Fire burns, buses run over you so you must be careful, you must do this, you mustn't do that. These are things that children have to believe. They have to be very, very accepting

of what is offered to them on the authority of the adults in their circle in order for them to survive. So they are prepared to believe everything. They believe in fairies, they believe in the tooth fairy, for example, they believe in Father Christmas. I mean, I've been bringing up my youngest child as an atheist. My wife says to me that means she'll probably want to be a mother when she's a teenager. We learn the lessons from the religions that if you can indoctrinate them early enough they will always revert to type later. So I've been bringing her up to say - never to use the word 'God' but always to use the phrase, gods and goddesses.

I'll also point out to her that when people use the word God with a capital 'G' as if it were a name, as if it referred to something, she should ask the people who do that to substitute the name Fred because then it shows the vacuity of what they're saying.

Who created the universe? Fred. So - and then you suddenly see that it's actually not explanatory at all. Who says that you shouldn't lie or you should honour your mother and father? Fred says it. Well, once again you see the vacuity of it.

So I've always taught her to say gods and goddesses and she said to me one day when she was about seven or eight, 'I don't believe in gods and goddesses but I do believe in the tooth fairy.' And I said, 'Well, that's actually pretty smart of you because there's much more empirical evidence for the tooth fairy, than there is for God.' (Laughter) (Applause) And I could leave it up to her to find out as she did at the age of 10 or 11 that there wasn't a tooth fairy and that there wasn't a Father Christmas. By the way, she's quite serious about Father Christmas. She came up to me about two Christmases ago, in fact, and said, 'Don't tell Mummy but I know about Father Christmas. But don't tell her about it because she likes to believe that I still believe that there is Father Christmas.' (Laughter) So that was a bit of nuanced thinking also. But she is an example of how children can accept anything, can accept the fairy stories, can accept the legends,

can accept the religious teachings of their community, can believe in the tooth fairy and in Father Christmas but the one thing which retains powerful social reinforcement after they've given up their credulity in things like Father Christmas is religion. If you live in a Christian community you're surrounded by churches their are church services on the radio, there's Christmas, there's Easter.

We talk about the Church of England, C of E, Christmas and Easter, that's what most people go for, but the fact that they still go for it is a reinforcement and so children continue to think that there must be something serious behind it if so many grown-ups get dressed up like the Archbishop of Canterbury and appear on telly. The Father Christmas thing and the tooth fairy thing don't get reinforced in that way. And therefore there is a job of work to be done. The job of work involves trying to get people, children especially, to think a bit critically about the sorts of things that people believe and why they believe them. This is a very, very familiar point. You want to demand of people that they be rational in their beliefs and what you mean by rational is that there should be a ratio, a proportion, between the grounds that they have for thinking something about the world, the beliefs that they hold and those beliefs themselves, that if somebody makes a claim about how the world is that they've got to come up with a robust case and they should be open to having that case examined and they should explain to you what would count as confuting or even refuting that case. And if they don't do that, if it's a matter of bare assertion or appeal to tradition, or appeal to authority, that that can't be good enough. And so that's the job of work that we have to do on the metaphysical front and it has to be done in a number of different ways, not just addressing the claims made about the nature of the universe - that it was created by a powerful agency, designed on purpose to fulfil certain functions and so on,

but also by inviting people to think a little bit about the origins and the history of the religions. To look, for example, at how the religions have behaved in history and to ask whether that stands up to any kind of justifying case for them. It is written somewhere, I forget where, 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' Well, indeed, look at their fruits. Look at how history has panned out under the government of religions. For almost all of human history - of recorded human history, at any rate, there have been religious leaders, religious teachers, the influence of religious beliefs in society and we can ask ourselves quite legitimately the question, 'How has that been for humankind? Has it, on the whole, been a successful story?' And that's something that we should challenge people to understand

because it's been a very important feature of the way religions have survived, not only that they proselytise young children and adults, parents, teach their children the same beliefs that their own cultural tradition treasures but also because they've obscured facts about the past, they're re-invented themselves in ways that make them more acceptable to any present time. For example, the Church of England in the 1920s at one of its synods abandoned the doctrine of Hell. We've seen, just in recent years, the Vatican apologise for its persecution of Galileo. By the way, the anniversary of the trial of Galileo was just two days ago, as you may know. Forgetfulness, amnesia about the past and how religions behaved in the past is very useful to them because they can present themselves now as being positive agencies in our societies, doing charitable work, encouraging people to be kind to one another. They complain bitterly, apologists for religion, that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile to them in their criticisms of them. I always say when people talk about militant secularism I always say, look, 'You know, when you guys were in charge, you didn't use to argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we're doing is we're presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions and you complain!' (Applause) In fact it was T.H. Huxley, 'Darwin's Bulldog', T.H. Huxley, who, in a letter to Darwin said, bishops are like - it's not a very kind remark this, by the way, but perhaps nevertheless true. He said, 'Bishops are like pigs. If you poke one they all squeal.' (Laughter) And this is what's been happening in the last ten years, criticism is received as an offence, as an affront, and even the reasonable people, uses this phrase, 'militant secularism'. I've always been surprised by that. I've often wondered, for example, what a fundamentalist atheist is. Fundamentalist atheist. What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? That somebody who believes that a part of a god exists maybe... (Laughter) a left foot or a buttock or that God exists on one day in the week, that's Sunday. That's actually what most Christians think. (Laughter) So I mean you - it's very difficult to accept these charges of fundamentalism and militancy when, of course, one look at the landscape of history shows us what militancy and fundamentalism really does mean. That was philosopher A C Grayling. And you can find the extended talk on our website. Remember also you can follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook. Last in this atheist's jamboree is the controversial human rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Brought up as a Muslim in Somalia, she sought asylum in Holland and has since been a fierce critic of the treatment of women in Islam. Because of her outspoken stances, she's been the subject of death threats from Muslim extremists. She's very critical of what she describes as political correctness by the secular West in their reluctance to take a public stance against the practices of fundamentalist Islam. While she was speaking at this convention a small group of Muslims gathered in protest against her chanting for her to burn in hell. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I'll get to the intense question of this afternoon about the protests in the Arab world of 2011. The first question to be asked is, what would a secular spring mean to the societies in North Africa as opposed to an Islamist winter? For me, secularism means democracy and the rule of law and thereby the relevant institutions. An end to corruption. And an end to human rights violations. Freedom of speech, so that government opposition can organise and compete for power with an incumbent office and freedom of the press.

Freedom of conscience, so that individuals can worship whatever they want and whoever they want but they can also choose not to worship. Women's rights. To veil or to unveil, to chose their own mates. To work outside the home and keep their pay. And for me a secular spring in the Arab world would mean the introduction of laws

that would protect women from violence. Not only in public, but particularly from violence at home. (Thunderous applause) A secular spring for the Arab world would mean economic growth that would attract foreign investments and where tourism would thrive. It would also mean peace with Israel. At least an acknowledgement that the Jewish people have a right to their own state. A secular spring in the Arab world would have ushered in the end of Islamic terrorism. That would be a thing of the past. The Muslim youth, particularly the male among them would develop a confidence in life before death as opposed to life after death. (Applause)

But for those of you who have been watching what's going on in north Africa and the Middle East what you see is not a secular spring for the Arab people and the Muslims who live in that part of the world, but an Islamist winter. Everywhere, where elections have been held in Tunisia and Egypt, in Morocco, we have seen Islamist victories. In places like Yemen and Libya where the old autocratic regimes have been toppled we see, informally that Islamists are in power or will soon be in power. In Saudi Arabia, the protests were silenced not only through repression - which we never read about, but also through bribery. In Bahrain a very small, oil-rich country - we did see the protests and they were silenced through repression but the response to that repression compared to the response to the repression committed by the likes of Mubarak was very mild in the west. In Syria, I think the most resilient of the Arab protesters. it's ongoing. And the butcher in charge continues to massacre his own people. (Smattering of applause) Ironically, however, it is very well possible that if Bashar al-Assad of Syria is toppled and the royal family of Bahrain are taken off power that the Islamists will again win through fair elections. So what does an Islamist winter look like? What will it look like? There is a great deal of controversy over that amongst observists. A lot of them think that the Islamists, once in power, will become like the Christian democrats of Europe. I don't think so. I think that the corruption that the Arabs protested against will be replaced by a religiously sanctioned one. We can see that because the Muslim Brotherhood for instance in Egypt and other places has infiltrated the opposition. They have promised to not fill a candidate for presidency but they did. They promised - more importantly - that they would be tolerant towards non-Muslims and women and at this point they're not. And the only country where they're actually part of the government they have started putting away authors and artists on ludicrous charges such as 'provoking society.' What on earth is an author supposed to do? Or an artist, if not to provoke society? (Thunderous applause) It also means that human rights will be violated but this time it is going to be backed by Allah and his messenger. Forget about freedom of speech that's going to be conditional to Islamic teachings. Forget about the freedom of the press, it will be allowed as long as it is convenient to push the autocrats out of office and as long as it is necessary to placate the west. Forget about the freedom of conscience because under an Islamist winter the plight of Christians, in Egypt, for instance but in other places is going to be dire. And is dire. They're killed. Their churches are destroyed. The women are raped. But it's not only Christians.

It's also the plight of Muslim dissidents and that of Muslim minority sects. Women. Geoffrey Robertson earlier talked about, at length, what the Catholic Church does to young children. At least the Catholic Church is subject to the rule of law. When the Islamists take over they are going to lower the age of marriage to nine. The concept of guardianship - the fact that females will never be considered to be capable adults is going to become official. Women who work within the strictures of the Islamist agenda will be touted as strong, powerful women. And Sharia law will be applied to justify violence in public and accommodate more plainly violence at home for those women who find living under Sharia unbearable. As far as economic growth is concerned Islamists obviously understand in the short term at least that to consolidate their power they have to improve the economy. And to do that they'll have to employ rational methods. Those rational methods will be implemented on the short term - look at Turkey. But they will be justified with a range of fatwas, allowing for instance, interest loans, peace with Israel. The devil speak recontinued.

If you read anything that the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists say, what you will find in there is a call for the destruction of Israel. In English, they murmur something about standing by the rights of Palestinians

to support a peaceful protest. But if you scan their language if you scan their writings and their speeches you will never find the promise of a two state solution. Islamic terrorism, under an Islamist winter, is going to become a matter of domestic and foreign policy. That was Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaking at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne.

And you can find the extended talks from all these speakers on our website. That's all for Big Ideas for today. I'm Waleed Aly, catch you next time. Closed Captions by CSI This Program Is Captioned


SONG: # Solidarity forever #

Where to now? The union movement tries to march on

after the HSU debacle. I know I

speak for everyone in this room

when I say that misuse of

members' money and contempt for

the accountability to members

are unacceptable. (Applause)

European markets take a hit

as Greece searches for a

political solution. There could

be an immediate knock-on effect

on the rest of Europe. Because

there'd be a real risk in that

case that Greece would descend

into political and social

chaos. What are the odds of

teenagers resisting the