Comments on Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig debate

Here are some comments on the Hitchens and Craig debate I got from the Stand to Reason Blog:

April 06, 2009

Hitchens Made Two Major Admissions – No Three

There were two things Christopher Hitchens said in the debate Saturday night at Biola. 

First, he admitted at one point that he’d be very disappointed if God does exist because he feels his freedom would be impinged upon.  Hitchens stated quite clearly that freedom is his major concern about religion – the behavioral restrictions it would impose if God exists and also the earthly power religions have exercised in various forms, some leading to tyranny.  Hitchens has a true dedication to freedom in all its forms and has engaged in efforts extend freedom in the world, and he should be given credit for that.  And he has a true hatred, I think comes across, for religious tyranny.  But he also believes religion in any form exercises a personal tyranny, at least as he sees it.  His personal sovereignty, I believe, is what he would be most disappointed about giving up if God exists.

The second major admission is that he doesn’t have an explanation for the real moral values he believes exist.  One of the major problems of his book is that he continually calls religion evil and believes that that is a real, non-material value that he can judge others by.  He’s not a moral relativist.  He believes things are truly good and evil.  But in a materialist explanation of the world, which he believes, these kinds of non-physical values are aliens.  Hitchens has never offered an explanation.  Dr. Craig questioned him on this point during the cross-examination and Hitchens said that, if pressed, he’d offer an evolutionary explanation for morality but that he didn’t want to be reductionistic.  He will employ an evolutionary story if necessary, but he realizes that that makes moral values unreal, non-objective, useful fictions really, and that is not the kind of moral value he believes in.  He’s got something in his worldview that doesn’t fit and he admitted he doesn’t know how it got there.

I just thought of a third major admission Hitchens made by omission.  He never addressed the cosmological argument Craig offered.  He took some jabs at the other arguments Craig gave and he tried to make hay of the false cosmology religion has held in the past, but he ignored the cosmological argument altogether, didn’t show how any of the premises were wrong, or offer an alternate explanation, which I take to mean he doesn’t have a response.  It’s one of the strongest objections to a materialist worldview.

Posted by Melinda on April 06, 2009 at 08:24 AM in AA:Melinda, Ethics, Philosophy | Permalink


So from his point of view, who gets to decide what things are truly evil and truly good?

Posted by: Jeremy Melberg | April 06, 2009 at 08:42 AM

does anyone have a link to the debate? I can’t find it anywhere.

Posted by: Chris Scott | April 06, 2009 at 09:00 AM

I don’t think you really have to be able to explain a thing exhaustively to believe it. Before Newton people knew that if you jumped off a cliff you’d fall, and you might die. They didn’t understand gravitation, but that’s OK. It’s still a fact.

That’s kind of how I view morality. It’s a complex topic. It’s like numbers and logic in some ways. It seems to simply be in the nature of things. People write whole books on the topic and it’s hard to figure out who’s right. For example there’s a book with Jean Pierre-Changeux and Alain Connes on the nature of mind, matter, and mathematics. Changeux, the neurobiologist, believes numbers are nothing but projections of the human mind, whereas Connes, the mathematician, sees them as existing independently of minds. It’s a difficult question, but regardless I’m still going to use math to balance my checkbook.

The Christian sees that this is a difficult problem to resolve, so he sees an opportunity. Since we don’t have answers (right now) this is a perfect place to rush in and insert God as the explanation, since God explains everything. Well, yeah, he does. Is that really helpful?

I like to call radio shows sometimes. I’ve spoken with Greg a couple of times. I speak with a guy named Bob Dutko in Detroit. He claims that Christianity is backed up by “science, logic, and intellectual reasoning.” He’s a young earth creationist. One time I spoke with him about how certain virus sequences common to humans and chimpanzees show that we share a common ancestor. He replies “I have no problem with God inserting certain genetic sequences between humans and animals. Similar design, similar designer.”

I wanted to say (but didn’t get a chance) that of course you have no problem. You have no problem if the sequences are similar. God did it. You have no problem if the sequences are different. God did it that way. You have no problem with fossil evidence indicating intermediarries. God made a unique creature that way. You have no problem if there are no intermediarries. God didn’t make them. It doesn’t matter what is observed. God is consistent with all of it. He explains everything. He can explain lightning, meteorites, genetic similarities with humans and chimps. God explains morality, numbers, logic. He’s the universal all explaining entity. But with a track record so poor (what was long thought to only be explainable with God no longer is) I’m not just going to accept God as an explanation for morals. I’ll say for now I don’t know, and that’s OK.

Posted by: Jon | April 06, 2009 at 09:28 AM

Like all atheists who are smart enough to see the uselessness of moral relativism, Hitchens still must assume contradictions are reasonable to live with. How that is more noble than true relativism, i’m not sure. I guess my question to him would be…”why should I listen to anything you have to say?” I have an explanation for morality and it is backed up by what is observable. You sir…have have nothing more than your preference that you not be ultimately accountable. Any thinking person needs more than that, sorry.

Posted by: Frank Cory | April 06, 2009 at 09:45 AM

Why is it that many atheists and agnostics think Christians are arguing that if one cannot explain morality, then they cannot believe in a set of morals and live by them?

Posted by: Jesse | April 06, 2009 at 09:54 AM

If I was Craig, I might’ve asked Hitchens what it is he feels he has the freedom to do now that he would not be able to do if God exists. After all, Hitchens frequently makes the challenge that there is no moral a Christian can hold that an atheist couldn’t also hold.

Jon, you make “God” seems like an arbitrary explanation for anything we don’t understand, but I don’t think “God” is an arbitrary explanation for morals. It seems to me that morals MUST have their origin in a transcendent personal being who has authority over us.

Jesse, I’ve decided that in any debate where the moral argument for God comes up, it’s almost guaranteed that the atheist will not understand the argument or will misconstrue it somehow. And it doesn’t matter how many times they are corrected.

Posted by: Sam | April 06, 2009 at 10:31 AM

“Why is it that many atheists and agnostics think Christians are arguing that if one cannot explain morality, then they cannot believe in a set of morals and live by them?”

Jesse: Well put. I might take it a step further. As a Christian, I am inclined to believe that sane atheists must believe in a set of morals and (try to) live by them, even though they cannot explain their existence. The problem for them is in explaining it. And even atheists should admit that an objective universal morality, to the extent that it exists, is immaterial.

Posted by: Naturallawyer | April 06, 2009 at 10:33 AM

“It seems to me that morals MUST have their origin in a transcendent personal being who has authority over us.”
Exactly. A personal thing that is must be the source of these things we hold as Good. Abstract things do not exist of themselves. A number 12 doesnt actually exist even if there are 12 actual objects. Likewise, “good”, of itself, does not exist outside of a personal thing.

Posted by: Drew Carey Von Price Is | April 06, 2009 at 10:38 AM


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