Christopher Hitchens’ debate with Douglas Wilson (Part 11)

Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson Debate at Westminster Theological Seminary, Part 11 of 12

PART 5 

5/25/2007 08:49 AM

Christopher Hitchens

If you insist, I shall concede that the significance of the Samaritan lies in his ethnicity. It’s not a very impressive parable to begin with, though when I was taught it first in Sunday school, it was held up as an example of universal charity (with the added implication, not strange to us for some reason, that pious people are no more likely to behave with love and compassion than are others). Incidentally, what do we know about the ethnicity of the man who fell among thieves, or of the tribal character of those thieves if it comes to that? Surely you should be able to pronounce with authority on those details, too?

I agree that the origins of the cosmos are obscure—mysterious, if you like—to both of us. It’s still you who makes the mystery, though, by insisting that very recent developments on this tiny speck of a planet on the edge of a galaxy are what impart significance to the entire “Big Bang” or divine first cause. To ask what caused either is to invite, as you are aware, an infinite regression of questions about what caused either of those causes. In my book I cite the great [Pierre-Simon, Marquis de] LaPlace, who opened the modern era by saying that accounts of the cosmos and its workings were now complete, or incomplete, on their own terms. They did not require a “god.”

Belief in a deity has been optional ever since. Believe it if you choose, but be aware that it raises more questions than it answers (actually it doesn’t answer any important questions) and is thus highly vulnerable to Ockham’s trusty edge. Deists used to agree with you about a Creator but were not religious in that the assumption of such an entity did not license the further assumption that he or she desired to intervene in human affairs, let alone the assumption that the torture and death of a single individual in a backward part of the Middle East was the solution that we had been awaiting for tens of thousands of years of brutish Homo sapiens existence.

Apply something of the same reasoning to the origins of morality. I say that our “innate” predisposition to both good and wicked behavior is precisely what one would expect to find of a recently-evolved species that is (as we now know from the study of DNA) half a chromosome away from chimpanzees. By the way, do not take that as a denigration of humankind. Primate and elephant and even pig societies show considerable evidence of care for others, parent-child bonding, solidarity in the face of danger, and so on. As Darwin put it:

Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or nearly as well-developed, as in man.

We can now observe this to be the case. But animal and human “altruism” is contradicted by the way in which species are also designed to fight with, kill, dominate, and even consume each other. Humans are capable of even greater cruelty because only they have the imagination to inflict it. I do not think that this indicts the Creator who made them this way, because I long ago dispensed with the assumption that there is any such entity. Thus, it is you and not I who are left with the questions about God’s coexistence with evil. See where your talent for needless complexity has left you.

The fluctuations between social and anti-social conduct are fairly consistent across time and space: some societies have licensed cannibalism but they tend to die out, and others have licensed human sacrifice and infanticide (usually under the influence of some priesthood). But I answer your question by making the pragmatic observation that, if we surrendered to our lower instincts all the time, there would be no language in which to write this argument between us and no society in which we could find an audience. The struggle to assert what is positive in our human capacity—I don’t mind Lincoln’s metaphor of our “better angels” if you promise not to take it too

literally—is arduous enough. If I take myself, I find that I can derive pleasure from giving blood for free and also from contemplating the deaths of my clerical-fascist enemies in the ranks of Al Qaeda and even from the misfortunes of others who do not threaten me. I am sure you could give parallel examples of your own. But telling us that we are created sick and then ordered to be well is no help in clarifying this problem. And telling us that the solution to it only became available some two thousand years ago, according to some highly discrepant and selfcontradictory accounts, cannot strike me as anything but absurd. What on earth is proven— except your own vulnerability to making tautologous statements—by the claim that “Jesus Christ is good for the world because he came as the life of the world”? You cannot possibly “know” this. Nor can you present any evidence for it. And its corollary—that without Jesus we are abandoned to wickedness in all its forms—has the horrible implication that worthy actions are pointless unless accompanied by your own rather ill-grounded faith. As I say, believe it if it helps you. But do not insult the millions of people who have done the right thing without requiring any such supernatural authority. And do not tell me that I must be in love with death if I dissent from your view. That’s too much. Your Christianity, in case you have not noticed, has actually made you a less compassionate and thoughtful person than, without its exorbitant presumptions, you would otherwise be.

CH

Related posts: 

Christopher Hitchens’ view on abortion may surprise you

Christopher Hitchens – Against Abortion Uploaded by BritishNeoCon on Dec 2, 2010 An issue Christopher doesn’t seem to have addressed much in his life. He doesn’t explicitly say that he is against abortion in this segment, but that he does believe that the ‘unborn child’ is a real concept. ___________________________ I was suprised when I […]

Christopher Hitchens discusses Ron Paul in 3-2-11 inteview

Max Brantley in the Arkansas Times Blog reports that Ron Paul is leading in Iowa. Maybe it is time to take a closer look at his views. In the above clip you will see Chistopher Hitchens discuss Ron Paul’s views. In the clip below you will find Ron Paul’s latest commercial. Below is a short […]

Evangelicals react to Christopher Hitchens’ death plus video clips of Hitchens debate (part 3)

DEBATE William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens Does God Exist 07 Below are some reactions of evangelical leaders to the news of Christopher Hitchens’ death:   Christian leaders react to Hitchens’ death Posted on Dec 16, 2011 | by Michael Foust   DEBATE William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens Does God Exist 08 Author and […]

Evangelicals react to Christopher Hitchens’ death plus video clips of Hitchens debate (part 2)

DEBATE William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens Does God Exist 04 Below are some reactions of evangelical leaders to the news of Christopher Hitchens’ death: Christian leaders react to Hitchens’ death Posted on Dec 16, 2011 | by Michael Foust DEBATE William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens Does God Exist 05 Author and speaker Christopher […]

Evangelicals react to Christopher Hitchens’ death plus video clips of Hitchens debate (part 1)

DEBATE William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens Does God Exist 01 Below are some reactions of evangelical leaders to the news of Christopher Hitchens’ death: Christian leaders react to Hitchens’ death Posted on Dec 16, 2011 | by Michael Foust Author and speaker Christopher Hitchens, a leader of an aggressive form of atheism that eventually […]

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: