“Everything that is done or written is done by someone who is half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee. It’s not going to be any better than that.”
In this episode of Little Atoms, Christopher Hitchens explores the dangers of mans tendency towards religion and our attitudes to freedom. The ultimate fight, he argues, is against censorship.
Man created God, God didn’t create man. Hitchens describes this creation as an ineradicable problem that humanity cannot solve.
Religion takes advantage of our bad wiring and selfishness. We would be better off if we grew out of it, but until we give up wishful thinking and our fear of death, it is impossible”.
Although religion is an incurable affliction, Hitchens argues that western leaders must not dismiss the threat posed by it.
“The possible interception of messianic ideas with apocalyptic weaponry is increasingly something to be worried about.”
Our predisposition towards order and security undermines our struggle for liberty. For Hitchens, this explains why liberation struggles are so rare and so unsatisfactory.
“Most people, most of the time, have no great desire to be free. We would rather have the trouble of putting up with oppression rather than having the trouble of throwing it off.”
With the threat posed by religion and our apathy towards liberty, Hitchens believes the ultimate enemy we face is censorship. Hitchens argues that all things associated with enlightenment are worth dying for. He describes the struggle against censorship as “a fight that can be won but certainly one that cannot be lost”.
First broadcast 08/06/07
Nell Zink was born in 1964 in southern California and grew up in rural Virginia. She attended Stuart Hall School and the College of William and Mary, where she majored in philosophy.
Rather late in life she got a doctorate in Media Studies from the University of Tübingen, Germany. She works as a translator for Zeitenspiegel Reportagen and lives in Bad Belzig, south of Berlin. She is the author of the recently published novels The Wallcreeper and Mislaid.
Nick Lane is a biochemist in the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London and leads the UCL Origins of Life Programme.
His first book, Oxygen, was one of the SundayTimes Books of the Year in 2002. Power, Sex, Suicide was named as a book of the year in The Economist in 2005 and was short-listed for The Aventis Science Book Prize.
Life Ascending won the 2010 Royal Society Prize for Science Books. His latest book is The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is?
Joanna Biggs is a writer and editor at the London Review of Books, where she has reported on the student protest movement, the recession in Middlesbrough, Legal Aid cuts, censorship in China, and manufacturing. She is the author of All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work.
Stevan Alcock is a writer, linguist and translator. Born and brought up in Yorkshire, he lived in Berlin for several years before moving to London where he graduated with an Honours BA in German Language and Literature from Goldsmiths College. In 2013 Stevan was awarded an MA (Distinction) in Contemporary Prose Fiction by Kingston University. His debut novel is Blood Relatives.
Gavin Francis is a GP, and the author of True North and Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins, which won the Scottish Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and Costa Prize. He also writes for Guardian, The Times, London Review of Books and Granta. His latest book is Adventures in Human Being.
Lynsey Addario is an American photojournalist whose work appears regularly in The New York Times, National Geographic, and Time Magazine. She has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Darfur and the Congo, and has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Genius Grant and the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. She is the author of It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War
Dr Brandy Schillace writes about culture, the history of medicine, and the intersections of medicine and literature. She is Research Associate and guest curator for the Dittrick Medical History Center and Managing Editor of the international medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. She teaches for the SAGES department at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and has lectured at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, the University College of Dublin, and the New York Academy of Medicine. She writes for The Huffington Post and InsideHigherEd, among other publications. She is the author of Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Can Tell us About Life and Living.
Caitlin Doughty was born and raised in Hawaii. She moved to California after gaining a degree in Medieval History from the University of Chicago. She is now a licensed funeral director living and working in LA. She is also a writer, performer and film-maker and is the creator of 'The Order of the Good Death', an online community of artists, actors, poets, musicians and directors who are committed to staring down their death fears through art. Caitlin is the author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, And Other Lessons From the Crematorium.
Emma Jane Unsworth is a journalist and won the Betty Trask Award for her novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Portico Prize. Her short story 'I Arrive First' was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012. Emma’s latest novel Animals has won a 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize.
After fifteen years writing strategy for advertising agencies, Alex Hourston took a break to go back to university and her first love, books. She completed a Masters in English and started a PhD, but put it aside when the idea for her debut novel In My House surfaced. She is currently working on her second novel, an exploration of infidelity and emotional inheritance.
This podcast also features Naomi Alderman discussing the work of Tim Parks
On Wednesday 29 April the winner of the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. In the second of two special editions of Little Atoms, Neil Denny talks to two more shortlisted writers, Henry Marsh and Marion Coutts.
Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s foremost neurosurgeons. He has been the subject of two major documentary films, Your Life in Their Hands and The English Surgeon, which won an Emmy. He was made a CBE in 2010. He is the author of Do No Harm: Life, Death and Brain Surgery, which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Marion Coutts is an artist and writer. She wrote the introduction to art critic Tom Lubbock's memoir Until Further Notice, I am Alive, published by Granta in 2012. She is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and the author of a memoir, The Iceberg, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2014, and has been shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
On Wednesday 29 April the winner of the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. In the first of two special editions of Little Atoms, Neil Denny talks to three of the shortlisted writers. This week: Miriam Toews, Scott Stossell and Sarah Moss.
Miriam Toews was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She has published four novels and a memoir of her father, and is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Award, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award (twice), and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Her latest novel is All my Puny Sorrows, which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and the author of the New York Times bestseller My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She is the author of two novels; Cold Earth and Night Waking, which was selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011. She spent 2009-10 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Iceland, and wrote an account of her time there in Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, which was shortlisted for the 2013 RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her latest novel, Bodies of Light, was published by Granta Books in 2014, and is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
David Stubbs joined the music magazine Melody Maker in 1986, and worked there for 12 years. His most famous creation, Mr Agreeable periodically reawakens over at The Quietus.
He has also written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire, When Saturday Comes and Uncut, and was a presenter of the Resonance FM football show Café Calcio.
David is the author of numerous books, including Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko but Don’t Get Stockhausen. His latest book is Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany.
Christopher Bollen lives in New York City. He regularly writes about art, literature, and culture. He is the author of Lightning People and is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine. His latest novel is Orient.
ZoeWilliams writes comment pieces, interviews and reviews. She is best known as a Guardian columnist, but her work has also appeared in the Spectator, NOW magazine, the New Statesman and the Evening Standard. She is the author of numerous books on parenting, and her latest book is Get it Together: Why We Deserve Better Politics.
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for the Independent and won the 2011 Frieze International Writer's Prize. She is currently working on a PhD at Goldsmith's college. Eat My Heart Out is her first novel. Also this week, writer Frank Swain on Gattaca.
First broadcast on 22nd March 2014.
Susan Pinker is a developmental psychologist and award-winning newspaper columnist who writes about psychology and social science in the Globe and Mail. She has worked as a clinical psychologist for twenty-five years and has taught at McGill University in Montreal. Known for her progressive and thought-provoking work, her previous book The Sexual Paradox took an unflinching look at the gender gap. Her latest book is The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters.
Gary Wilson is the presenter of the popular TEDx talk The Great Porn Experiment and hosts the website Your Brain on Porn, which was created for those seeking to understand and reverse compulsive porn use. He taught anatomy and physiology for years and has long been interested in the neurochemistry of addiction, mating and bonding. Gary Wilson is the author of the book Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.
Susan Pinker portrait by Susie Lowe