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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • Hitchens – God Is Not Great V

    Listen to the MP3 

    Last time I discussed Christopher Hitchens’ contrasting of reason and religion in his book, “God Is Not Great. In addition to the problems mentioned last time, Hitchens premise that atrocities, religious or otherwise occur because people are not completely rational is itself flawed. Some evil can be very rational, as modern history has shown.

     

    This is one of the core weaknesses in atheism and thus it is not too surprising that atheists try to avoid its implication, as Hitchens does later in the book. I will discuss Hitchens’ defense when we come to it, but here I want to lay out the problem and why it is so difficult for atheists.

     

    In simple terms, atheists as a general rule see the conflict between atheism and religion as at its core one between the rational and the irrational, with atheism being on the side of reason.  If humanity would only abandon its irrational, that is religious, past, we could establish a sort of secular utopia grounded on the principles of science.

     

    This all sounds very good and wonderful but in this sense atheists are sort of like use car salesmen selling an old clunker that will hardly make it off the lot, as if it were a new sport car.  It all sounds so nice as long as you don’t look too closely or ask too many questions.  The main difference would be that unlike a shady used car salesman, the atheist is being completely honest for they really believe what they are saying.

     

    As we pointed out last time, reason is merely a tool, and is only as good as the data it has to work on and the framework in which it works. With the right data and the right framework, tremendous evil can be very rational. Atheists are often allowed to avoid this problem because making it involves pointing out how rational evil can be, and thus this often puts the theist in the position of seeming to argue for evil.

     

    However, I believe that such arguments are important for two reasons. First, it shows the serious problems with relying only on reason as the atheist claim we should.  Second, and more important is that these argument are effectively being made today, even if not directly. In short as society is becoming more and more secular we are moving slowing and incrementally in this direction as each small step is justified with this reasoning, even if few are willing to point out where this line of reasoning will ultimately lead.

     

    A key difference between the Judeo-Christian world view and the atheistic worldview is over the view of who we are. The Bible teaches that we are not only creations of God, but that we are created in his image. In fact it is from this view that the entire concept of human rights was developed for what right does anyone have to interfere with what God has given, even if they are the King?

     

    The atheistic worldview, on the other hand, sees humanity as simply another animal, the result of a long series of random mutations and chance happenings that have resulted in human beings. In short we were the result of a process governed by the survival of the fittest.

     

    From the time that Darwin published the Origin of the Species; the concept of evolution by natural selection was embraced by atheists. Not only did they immediately incorporate it into their attacks on Christianity, they also began to look at ways they could apply these new scientific principles to governing humanity. The result was the now discredited sciences of Eugenics and Social Darwinism. 

     

    Where Christianity teaches we are to care for the poor, the weak and the infirmed, Social Darwinism taught that those that succeeded in life must be the fittest. Those that didn’t were being selected out and little or nothing should be done for them as that only weakened society.   The science of eugenics applied the principles of evolution to procreation arguing that by limiting procreate among those that were deemed inferior on the one hand, and the use of selective breeding on the other we could make better people.  In fact, it was the science of eugenics that spurred efforts for birth control and were a major factor in formation of groups such as Planned Parenthood.

     

    Ultimately these new sciences were discredited when Hitler and the Nazi’s took them to their ultimate conclusions in the Holocaust.  While atheists frequently attempt to find a link between Hitler and religion, Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews for religious reasons; he wanted them exterminated because he believed them to be inferior people who were contaminating the pure Arian or master race.

     

    More importantly, his choices were not all that irrational, when seen in framework of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. After all people have selectively bred and or destroy animals for thousands of years so as to enhance certain traits and eliminate others. If the atheists are correct and we are just another type of animal, why not do the same with people?

     

    The answer initially was that people have rights. But human rights are an inherently religious concept grounded in the belief that we are created in the image of God. As that foundation has been weakened the evolutionary rational of Eugenics and Social Darwinism is reemerging and next time I look at this in more detail.

     

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.

    4 comments on “Hitchens – God Is Not Great V

    1. Pingback: Running Toward the Goal » Blog Archive » Hitchens: God is not Great - V

    2. [quote]Some evil can be very rational, as modern history has shown.[/quote]

      I’m of the impression that “evil” is, by definition, irrational. In any event, good and evil are subjective terms, not absolutes.

      [quote]If humanity would only abandon its irrational, that is religious, past, we could establish a sort of secular utopia grounded on the principles of science. [/quote]

      This is a fairly legitimate statement. I take issue with basing real-world decisions on fantasy-world ideals. I have no problem with irrationality or fantasy, but the capability of distinguishing between fantasy and reality is the hallmark of sanity. Judging modern moral dilemmas based on the values of a culture that shared few of our modern values could be considered insane.

      [quote]As we pointed out last time, reason is merely a tool, and is only as good as the data it has to work on and the framework in which it works. [/quote]

      Agreed. GIGO (Garbage in, Garbage out)

      [quote]With the right data and the right framework, tremendous evil can be very rational.[/quote]

      Yes. Withholding the information that such a thing was evil, or twisting the information in such a way as it appears good would be generic examples of this type of behavior. Such behavior manifests in numerous ways – such as the mother who justified drowning her children because “God told her to do it” or the guy who shot his roommate because the roommate was an atheist.

      How often are rational arguments rejected in favor of religious arguments? How often are religious arguments revised after society comes to adopt the rational arguments that contradict the religious?

      (Examples? How about geocentrism vs heliocentrism as a classic; Slavery – OK in the bible under specific conditions, morally reprehensible today; Women’s rights. How about Ben Franklin’s invention, the Lightning Rod? It was deemed a bit of heresy by religious people of the time, because it was seen to tamper with God’s Will. Today, though, virtually all church steeples have some type of lightning protection based on that design)

      But I digress…

      [quote]However, I believe that such arguments are important for two reasons. First, it shows the serious problems with relying only on reason as the atheist claim we should.[/quote]

      You demonstrate a valid point – we should be skeptical of the data we have, and we should always attempt to expand and verify our data set. We should not explicitly trust what we are presented, and we must be willing to alter our viewpoint to the data, NEVER alter the data to fit the viewpoint. (This, by the way, is a practical definition of Science.) You are correct, we must not rely exclusively on reason, but also on skepticism and curiosity. “I was just following orders” is not a valid excuse. We can’t claim that an evil was necessary because of some interpretation of a book, some hallucination, or someone else said it was OK. We must take personal responsibility for our actions.

      [quote]Second, and more important is that these argument are effectively being made today, even if not directly. In short as society is becoming more and more secular we are moving slowing and incrementally in this direction as each small step is justified with this reasoning, even if few are willing to point out where this line of reasoning will ultimately lead. [/quote]

      Yes, they are effectively being made. We as a society ARE becoming more secular. Rational arguments lead to further rational arguments, or to a paradox. Paradoxes are science’s way of saying “Stop, you made a mistake – go back and try a different route” Aside from those two points, we simply don’t know what direction human understanding will take, so we cannot accurately predict the ultimate destination of this line of reasoning.

      [quote]A key difference between the Judeo-Christian world view and the atheistic worldview is over the view of who we are. The Bible teaches that we are not only creations of God, but that we are created in his image. In fact it is from this view that the entire concept of human rights was developed for what right does anyone have to interfere with what God has given, even if they are the King? [/quote]

      I’m not seeing anything about how rationality interferes with “what god has given”. In fact, it can be argued that through better understanding of ourselves and the world he created for us, we can better understand God, and therefore our purpose in His plan.

      [quote]The atheistic worldview, on the other hand, sees humanity as simply another animal, the result of a long series of random mutations and chance happenings that have resulted in human beings. In short we were the result of a process governed by the survival of the fittest. [/quote]

      A distinction we carry with every other creature alive on Earth today. We are all successful examples of creatures fit to survive life on Earth.

      Pterodactyls and Dodo birds, on the other hand, are examples of creatures that were not nearly as successful. Ants are arguably better adapted than Humans, as are most insects, which can survive and thrive in a range of environments we can only visit temporarily.

      [quote]From the time that Darwin published the Origin of the Species; the concept of evolution by natural selection was embraced by atheists. Not only did they immediately incorporate it into their attacks on Christianity, they also began to look at ways they could apply these new scientific principles to governing humanity. The result was the now discredited sciences of Eugenics and Social Darwinism. [/quote]

      Eugenics and Social Darwinism are not sciences, they are political tools, in much the same was as terrorism is a political tool. Bombing abortion clinics, picketing funerals, drowning your children, prohibiting condoms… These are all political tools too. Surely you don’t agree with these concepts. In the same manner, I don’t agree with social Darwinism, Eugenics, Communism (As it has been implemented in the past), or denying the rights of others. If you speak to Atheists, you’ll find that the vast majority share my views.

      [quote]More importantly, his choices were not all that irrational, when seen in framework of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. After all people have selectively bred and or destroy animals for thousands of years so as to enhance certain traits and eliminate others. If the atheists are correct and we are just another type of animal, why not do the same with people? [/quote]

      To some extent, society already does this – we mandate certain vaccinations, certain schooling. We enforce a code of behavior on all persons within that society. And if people are unwilling or incapable of adapting to these codes, we deny them certain rights.

      But what you are referring to is genocide, and you’re suggesting that Atheists could come to believe that Genocide is an acceptable practice. Since you don’t seem to want to recognize that Atheists possess any moral code, we’ll throw out all the moral arguments, for a moment, and focus on the practical ones: attempting to destroy a group of people generally turns out pretty bad for the aggressors. If you don’t outright destroy them, they get pretty angry and start looking for help to resist you. Considering that human nature tends to sympathize with the victims more than the aggressors (Good Samaritans?) and that other groups are capable of recognizing the threat an aggressive neighbor poses, you generally end up on the losing side of the battle.

      If we are allowed to consider morality in the equation, people (and numerous other creatures) adhere to a moral code described as “As long as you are not interfering with someone else, do what you want to do”. (Contrast this with the Golden Rule, which is usually interpreted as “It’s OK to do unto others, if you’re willing to tolerate them doing it unto you” – this is much less concerned with the rights of others) Clearly, destroying a whole group of people is interfering with them.

      [quote]The answer initially was that people have rights. But human rights are an inherently religious concept grounded in the belief that we are created in the image of God.[/quote]

      No. Look at any communal creature – from antelope to zebras – and you’ll see a concept of “rights” between members of the species that do not apply to all others. The right to exist, the right to mingle, the right to choose a mate, the right to privacy… Chimpanzees, and many others, use strength in numbers to defend these rights – if a strong chimpanzee gets in a fight with a weaker one, the rest of the community will defend the weaker chimp, and attack the stronger one.

    3. Some of this was so general that I agreed with it, or dealt with areas I will be expanding on in the coming weeks (this has taken beyond the scope of Hitchens book, so I will be expanding on this in a series of posts called “Created Equal?” in the coming weeks before I return to Hitchens). However here are a few comments.

      [In any event, good and evil are subjective terms, not absolutes.]

      Is torturing babies for fun inherently evil, or is it inherently morally neutral, being “evil” because we subjectively call it evil? How can you maintain a concept of Human Right and no absolute evil? Would not a massive violation of Human Rights, such as in genocide be evil?

      [How often are religious arguments revised after society comes to adopt the rational arguments that contradict the religious? How about geocentrism vs heliocentrism as a classic; Slavery – OK in the bible under specific conditions, morally reprehensible today; Women’s rights.]

      Not very good examples, Geocentrism vs heliocentrism is not really a religious view. As for slavery you neglect that the abolitionist movement was religious movement. As for Women’s rights, I deal with that in an upcoming article, but the Bible is pretty clear that women are equal.

      [I’m not seeing anything about how rationality interferes with “what god has given”. In fact, it can be argued that through better understanding of ourselves and the world he created for us, we can better understand God, and therefore our purpose in His plan.]

      I would agree. I have nothing against rationality. In fact I taught critical thinking for several years. I only object to the contrasting of reason and religion as if they are inherently in conflict or incompatible.

      [But what you are referring to is genocide, and you’re suggesting that Atheists could come to believe that Genocide is an acceptable practice.]

      I am only point out the historical fact that post-Darwin but pre-WWII Social Darwinism and Eugenics were seen as both rational and sciences, especially by atheists, so not only could they, some did.

      [Since you don’t seem to want to recognize that Atheists possess any moral code,]

      I cannot fault you for not having read all of what I have written, but not only do I recognize Atheists can be very good and moral people, I have written this in blogs and in my book Christianity and Secularism. I would only ask that you not jump to conclusions because I cannot fully present my entire thoughts on a subject in one post.

      Concerning Rights [No. Look at any communal creature]

      This a very large subject, but a few quick comments. 1) Patterns of behavior hardly constitute rights. 2) This does not change the historical basis on which Rights were developed. 3) The concept of Human Rights is now in turmoil since the foundation has been removed and no suitable foundation has yet been proposed. Just look for example at China’s attempts to redefine Human Rights to include things such as a group right to develop which would supersede individual rights such a speech.

      Elgin

    4. Pingback: Rational Evil

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