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« Reviews of Hitchens...and the Reviews of Hitchens | Main | What's the Point of Being a Christian? »

May 25, 2007


Melinda, Greg often says on his radio show that a story is not an argument. You seem to be saying the same thing in response to Hitchmen when you say, "Nice story, but no proof." Hitchmen was giving a sociological explanation for the origin of religion without really arguing for it.

But then later you said that Christianity has more explanatory power than atheism or other religious worldviews. In doing so, aren't you assuming that explanatory power counts as evidence for the truth of a story?

If explanatory power counts as evidence, then wouldn't Hitchen's story carry with it the proof you think it lacks as long as it adequately explains things?

Now of course I understand that you find problems with his story--you don't think his explanation IS adequate. But I'm asking more of a hypothetical question. If explanatory power counts as evidence for the truth of a story (in other words, if the story being told is able to account for all the evidence we're aware of), then stories CAN serve as arguments, can't they?

I think the way Greg put it on his radio show was that merely posing an alternative explanation is not the same thing as a refutation. That, i agree with. If two stories both are able to account for the evidence, then you have to decide which one does a better job of it.

"This portrait is of an arrogant, condescending, unhappy man."

Atheism in a nutshell. You need borrowed morality in order to achieve this level of disfunction.

I was going to read this book. Thanks, Melinda, for saving me the trouble.

Good review Melinda. Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are simply producing polemics with little real argument.

One point I have to disagree with though is when you say "Let me say something that isn’t very pleasing to think about Religion isn’t false just because it’s cruel. Even if every one of Hitchens’ accusations were accurate, they don’t disprove the truth of religion. God might be a cruel being who does delight in manipulating man. In that case, Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything” might be true, but his real claim is that God doesn’t exist. And that just doesn’t follow from every evil example of religion."

My problem with this relates to the other comments you have made regarding grounding morality. Hitchens et al all seem to take the argument that our moral sense is 100% accurate. Without a grounding though, this is an empty claim (Much like Greg shows when he talks about people not believing in God because of brussel sprouts).

Showing that our moral sense is not 100% accurate is trivial (based on disagreements with other people), so it should be considered that maybe we only think some things are cruel, when they are really kind. And that is the crucial point. If God really is cruel (and our moral sense of that is accurate), then these example DO disprove Christianity, as Christianity claims a perfectly good God.

So, in order to be able to defend Christianity, there are two (and only two as far as I can tell) possible responses to Hitchens' list of biblical cruelty.

1) Hitchens misinterprets the text
2) Our moral sense is wrong

Nice work, Melinda. There's a certain anti-intellectualism about Hitchen's work as well as the recent publications by Harris, Dawkins, et al. It's not that they are not smart men. They are very bright, articulate, and forceful in their argument. What they lack, however, is an appreciation for how their critiques rely so heavily on intellectual capital they have inherited from traditions they now despise. Hitchens writes of religion poisoning everything, without offering an account of everything and how we can tell whether it has been poisoned. Dawkins laments of what he thinks is the waste of intellectual talent on the part of young-earth creationist, Kurt Wise, one of Stephen Jay Gould's prized PhD students at Harvard. Of course, Dawkins does not explain to his readers how a view such as his, one that denies that living organisms have natures with intrinsic purposes, allows him to make negative judgments about human beings and their moral failure to nurture their native abilities.

A true intellectual tries to tie these loose ends up. He realizes the weaknesses of his own view and tries to strengthen it in a way that shows respect for those who see these weaknesses and choose another route such as theism. A propagandist doesn't care, since he knows his audience takes all these things for granted and they do not expect an answer since they don't know that there's even a question. By hiding the question under a pile of grievances pretending to be arguments, Dawkins and Hitchens disrespect their readers and treat them in precisely the way they think God treats them.

This is why we still read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Hume, etc. They grasped that the life of the mind is more like detective work than pugilism, that insight is more like a tapestry than a rope.

"Atheism in a nutshell. You need borrowed morality in order to achieve this level of disfunction."

Hi J. R., I believe this is more due to an hyperactive elbow more than anything else. Given Hitchen's current state, it is hardly fair to judge atheism by his work.

Melinda! Well done. I'll still have to pick up the book because he is an entertaining writer, and reading just about any atheist squirming beneath reality only strengthens my faith. Well done.

Here's a link to a five part debate between Christopher HItchens and Douglas Wilson.

Some of Melinda's assessment is reflected here as well.

Well done review Melinda. Thanks!

I just read Melinda's post, Dr. Beckwith's comment, and Kinsley's and Reynold's reviews. I also caught Hitchen's reaction to the death of Falwell. Perhaps for Hitchens, our present circumstabces have rendered polite philosophical discourse pointless.

I believe this passage from "Animal Farm" may underlie Hitchen's understanding of religion and render the fine distinctions some reviewers have found lacking in his book irrelevant.

"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Kinsley makes this interesting point in his review:

"For Hitchens, it’s personal. He is a great friend of Salman Rushdie, and he reminds us that it wasn’t just some crazed fringe Muslim who threatened Rushdie’s life, killed several others and made him a virtual prisoner for the crime of writing a novel. Religious leaders from all the major faiths, who disagree on some of the most fundamental questions, managed to put aside their differences to agree that Rushdie had it coming. (Elsewhere, Hitchens notes tartly that if any one of the major faiths is true, then the others must be false in important respects — an obvious point often forgotten in the warm haze of ecumenism.)"

After these responses to Rushdie's book, it is understandable that one might see a parallel to the "Animal Farm" passage.

"The book became the focus of major civil liberties battles throughout the world. Religious leaders ranging from
New York's Cardinal O'Connor to the Chief Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem condemned Rushdie and his book as an 'attack on religious belief.' In Great Britain, Christians closed ranks
with Muslims, insisting that all religions be included under the notorious 'Blasphemy Law,' which at present protects only the Church of England. Civil libertarians criticized the proposal, noting that such a move would effectively outlaw any criticism of organized religion and religious belief."

"While most booksellers in the United States carried "The
Satanic Verses", numerous civic and religious leaders
criticized Rushdie for "insulting" Muslims or religion in

Reynold's review is of little use, he seems not to be aware of the histories of secularism, the Enlightenment, the varieties of Marxism, and much of anything else. He can't get beyond a crude McCarthyism
"To the contrary, secularism is an aging phenomenon of the dying First World that is terrified of the worldwide growth of theism. There might have been a time to fear secularism, when it was young and sweeping everything before it in Russia and Central Europe."

Reybolds also writes in the same review:

"Atheists have a problem. Secularism hasn’t produced much historically and is fairly unappealing. When it has been placed in charge of a culture, it either killed millions in brutal states nobody would imitate or committed demographic suicide in dead end socialist Western Europe. Since the 1960’s secularists have manged to shoot through centuries of accumulated cultural confidence and capital in just under five decades."

Hitchens wrote the Atlantic essay below a few years ago. To Hitchens we may not have the luxury of abstract discussions. Orwell and Trotsky may have more immediate relevance to the impact of religion on the real world than Plato and Aristotle.

Clearly, theists once again, have irritated the halls of secularism - particularly in the academy. I read Sam Harris's THE END OF FAITH, read excerpts of THE GOD DELUSION, and have not read Hitchen's latest. This is like reading Bertrand Russell all over again. Why in God's name do these guys hammer on morals and ethics, as if they are discernable? As Dostoevsky said, "Without God all things are permissible." I think they would agree, unless of course you throw some Christian Theism in the pot.

Well done commentary Melinda! I think you are right to say that Christopher Hitchens is an angry arrogant and unhappy man. I would also like to add a very sad man because there were thousands of people who will mourn Jerry Falwell and Christopher Hitchens couldn't wait to exploit the moment by saying some vile things about Jerry Falwell right on the day he died. I believe this is indicative of someone who is a very sad man and may be a very lonely man because he does not have the connectedness to Jerry Falwell had with countless individuals spanning over 30 years of his ministry. I heard there were over 14,000 people that were crammed into the stadium for the eulogy and for the graduation class. Thank you for sparing me the time and effort to read Mr. Hitchens latest polemic against religion in pointing out that it is more about how Christopher Hitchens thinks that about atheism. If that is the case then I can see why you would describe him as an arrogant angry and unhappy man. Christopher Hitchens needs our prayers!

I have not read Hitchens book yet but I would be curious to know how Materialism has been "proven". The second the universe was found to have a beginning materialism was dead. By what "naturalistic" process did the universe come into being? This point is missed by most if not all materialists. Carl Sagan even missed the point in his Cosmos series. He said the Cosmos is all there is, ever was, or ever will be. This isn't so. Science tells us that there was a point when the Cosmos wasn't.
I find it fascinating that this point is seldom if ever stressed when debating the materialist position. The materialist not only has no answer, he can never have an answer because he would have to explain how matter creates itself out of nothing.

As far as the violence is concerend, just because something was "done in the name of..." doesn't follow that the thing done was in accordance with...

Man what a worn out argument. Does the guy ever bother to talk about the things done in the name of "Reason"? The list is mighty long and bloody. In fact the Secularist ideologies has managed to obliterate approx 100 million people in the 20th century alone.

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