Continuing in chapter six of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” Hitchens finally comes to the subject of the chapter: Arguments from design. He starts with the famous argument of William Paley about finding a watch on a beach. While we may not know who or what made the watch, its complexity and construction shows that it was not produced by natural forces, but was designed and made by some intelligence for some purpose.
Hitchens links in the first part of the chapter where he pointed to the tendency of some to attribute whatever is good to God and everything else to something other source, by claiming that believers only attribute to design what appears to be a good design. Since not everything can be attributed to good design, we are wrong to attribute anything to it. However such an all-or-nothing argument really makes no sense. To see why, consider for the moment that Paley’s mythical beachcomber had found the watch next to a plain old rock. According to Hitchens’ reasoning, since it does not appear that the rock was designed, there is no reason to conclude the watch was designed either.
Hitchens quickly moves on to talked about design in living things, which he of course then explains away by the atheistic catch all of evolution, ridiculing the very notion of creation. One of the things about Hitchens, is that he makes what seem to him to be brilliant and unanswerable points, but which are really just slanted statements about which the only thing that is really puzzling is that he would actually consider them arguments in the first place.
Consider the following example. When talking about death, Hitchens writes, “This of course raises the uncomfortable (for believers) idea of the built-in fault that no repairman can fix. Should this be counted as part of the “design” as well?” And just in case, it is not clear enough to the reader how brilliantly stunning this argument is, Hitchens then adds, “(As usual, those who take the credit for the one will fall silent and start shuffling when it comes to the other side of the ledger.)” (p 79)
Hitchens may call it shuffling, but I certainly see no reason to be silent on this. If other Christians are silent, it probably more for puzzlement that anyone would see in this as a difficulty much less an argument against Christianity. In fact, the Bible it pretty clear on this point. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death,” and Hebrews 9:27 says “people are destined to die.” Psalm 90 tells us that “We live for 70 years, or 80 years if we’re healthy” (ISV) Sure death is unpleasant, but it does seem to be built into to our present state.
This is what make Hitchens’ smug argument that design must be false, because we have a “built-in fault that no repairman can fix” to be so puzzling. This is not a problem for Christianity, this a key teaching; though Christians would clarify this as no mere human repairman can fix, as that it can be fixed, that we can live forever, also a key teaching of Christianity.
This raises another key issue. Whenever arguing against a position, to be truly successful one must argue against the totality of the position, not some idealized subset. Most atheists, including Hitchens here, address the issue of God as a designer, isolated from the rest of Christian teaching. In short they completely ignore that no longer live in the first two chapters of Genesis, where God created the world and it was good. We live in the fallen world of the rest of the Bible. Sin corrupted not only humanity but the rest of creation as well (Roman 8:18-22). Exactly how the rest of creation was affected is not stated in the Bible. But it is a part of the teaching of the Bible, and cannot be ignored when considering questions of design in the universe.
From this puzzling argument, Hitchens goes to yet an even more puzzling argument. He writes, “when it comes to the whirling, howling, wilderness of outer space, with its red giants and white dwarfs and black holes, it titanic explosions and extinctions, we can only dimly and shiveringly conclude that the ‘design’ hasn’t been imposed quite yet.” (pg 79-80).
The only thing that would leave me speechless about such an argument is the utter ignorance of the natural laws that govern this and the evidence of design they show. Hitchens cites as additional evidence that the other planets in our solar system can’t support life and that our sun “is getting ready to explode.” (pg 80), as if these were somehow arguments against design. The problem is that a key aspect of design is purpose. A watch may be more carefully designed than a hammer, but if you need something to drive a nail, the a watch is probably unless. That the other planets can’t support life says nothing about their design, unless God wanted them to support life. That the sun will no longer support life in the distance future says nothing about design unless God needed it to support life in the distance future.
So Hitchens’ macro arguments come to nothing. But having silenced the opposition in his own mind on these macro issues, Hitchens then proceeds to the micro arguments, which is where I will pick up next time.