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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXV

    Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I have reached chapter fourteen, “There Is No ‘Eastern’ Solution.”    That Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and all other eastern religions get but a single chapter, and relatively small chapter at that, demonstrates that Hitchens main concern is with the three monotheistic faiths.   I am confident that the adherents of eastern religions will find much to object to in Hitchens brief critique, but I will leave it to them to defend their own faiths and will move on Chapter fifteen, “Religion as an Original Sin,” where Hitchens’ tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”  (pg 205)

    Based on some of the criticisms addressed last time, this immediately raises the question of what foundation is Hitchens using as a basis for his moral claims, and why should his foundation be accepted? But these are questions that atheists rarely answer.

     I will come back to the question of foundations in a moment, but first Hitchens list five points he finds immoral.

    • Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
    • The doctrine of blood sacrifice
    • The doctrine of atonement
    • The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
    • The imposition of impossible tasks and rules (pg 205)

    Hitchens does not spend much time on the first point as he has addressed it earlier. But his claim that this is not just wrong but immoral deserves a reply and it immediately brings us back to the question of moral principles.  I can understand why Hitchens would think that the Christian view of creation might be incorrect, but why it is it immoral? 

    It cannot be simply in the fact that he thinks it in error.  This is because many of the things that have been taught under the heading of science have also turned out to be incorrect, and no doubt some of the things currently taught will likewise be shown to be in error as new discoveries are made. So if it were simply a question of teaching things that turned out to be incorrect all human inquiry would need to be considered immoral as all human inquiry is error prone.

    For most, morality is not so much in the acts themselves, but in the choices behind those acts. The act of being correct or incorrect is an issue of fact, not morality.  For morality to enter in, one must choose to be correct (i.e. honest) or incorrect (i.e. dishonest).  But once again there is a problem for Hitchens as those who teach that God created the heavens and the earth do so because they believe it. So again they may be wrong, but why is this immoral?  As with so many of the moral claims made by atheists, in the end, about the best you can say is that it is immoral because they said it was immoral.

    When Hitchens moves on to blood sacrifice, things are not much clearer. The core of this section is spent on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, and not really on blood sacrifice itself. The last half of the section is on religious violence, which while tragic and evil, does not really say anything about blood sacrifice.

    From there Hitchens moves on to Atonement, and again his initial argument is at best confused and muddle, at least from the Christian view of atonement.  For example, Hitchens will have no trouble finding Christians to stand with him to condemn the Aztec practices of human sacrifice. 

    At least Hitchens does spend the center of this section on Christ’s death as atonement for our sins.  The core of his objection seems to center around questioning how he could in anyway be responsible for the death of Christ, or for Adam’s transgression as he “had no say and no part.”  However, few Christians would agree that his rhetorical questions reflect an accurate depiction Christian teaching. Instead of dealing with the complexities of the issue Hitchens simply gives a distorted stereotype which he then mockingly knocks down.  

    He spends the last quarter of the section on anti-Semitism.  Here at least Hitchens is dealing with real immorality for which the Church is at least to some extent responsible. However, there is a strange irony in his argument.  Hitchens correctly argues that even if the Jews at the time of Jesus’ death where as a group uniquely responsible, (which by the way I believe would be an incorrect understanding of New Testament), it would be wrong to hold future generations liable as well.  And yet he uses the crimes, and they were crimes, of some Christians in earlier generations, as a reason to attack the beliefs of those who had not part, no say and would and do condemn those crimes.

    In any event, the corporate guilt of the kind that fueled anti-Semitism, is something quite different than atonement or even original sin. In the end once again I am left with the question that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, why is it immoral?  

    Hitchens does touch on this, in the his final section of the chapter where he addresses his last two points, and that is will I will pick up next time.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIV

    Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and the question of whether religion makes people behave.   The core of his argument seems to be that religious people do at time behave very badly, while some noted atheists have behave quite nicely.  Therefore religion is not needed to behave.  

    One of the problems here is of sampling.  As the historian Jacques Barzum pointed out, any review of history will show that the acts we like to label as inhuman in their cruelty, are far too common to warrant that label, and in fact are all too human.  Yet, when they are done by the religious, they seem to stand out and thus get more notice, whereas the good that the religious do is often taken for granted, for it is just expected.  But this very expectation argues against Hitchens.

    A key misconception here is that religion does not make bad people good, it can however help and encourage people to be better.  Often the atheist attempt counter this by claiming that such argument mean that atheists must be immoral, and since not all are, such arguments must be false. While there is some  of truth in this argument, it somewhat misses the point. As I wrote in my book, Christianity and Secularism, “a person can be an atheist and still be a very moral person, and a person who does a tremendous amount of good.” (pg 179)

    Ultimately it amounts to a question of foundations.  Where do morals come from. For Christians, morality is grounded in God. Whether one agrees with the Christian view of morality or not, at least for the Christian there is a foundation for their moral views. Atheists are critical of this foundation because they reject the existence of God. But what alternative do they offer?  What is their foundation?  They have none, or at least no consistent foundation.

    Unlike the Christian the atheist is pretty much free to pick and choose whatever view of morality they like.   Again, since atheists often distort this point, let me be very clear, they are free to choose a view of morality that might be considered by most to be good, or one that most would consider bad, or even evil.   Many western atheists have in fact adopted a large part of the ethics of Western Civilization which is deeply infused with Judeo-Christian values. 

    But as Western Civilization moves way from Christianity, and the moral foundation that it provides, as one would expect, the moral standards have weakened.   Atheists and some others would say that this weakening of the Christian view of morality is a good thing, but even if the atheist is correct, it is still a weakening.

    One of the double standards that currently exists is that atheists  feel complete free to question Christian views of morality, and since they are grounded in a belief in God, to reject them as false because they are grounded in error.  But they are never asked to justify their beliefs, or the foundations for them. 

    For example, the current hotly contested moral question is over the definition of marriage. The traditional view of marriage being between one man and one woman, is rejected as an imposition of religion, even thought it has been the virtually the unanimous view of all of human society until the last decade or so. Even cultures like ancient Greece that encouraged homosexuality, still saw marriage as  between an man and a woman.

    In addition traditional marriage is based on a fact, though one that is often denied by the educated elites, that men and women are different.  From this fact flows the idea the best way to raise children is for them to have both a father and a mother in a committed stable relationship.  This was the reason for the government to get involved in marriage in the first place;  i.e., to promote such stable families for the raising of children.

    But deriving from false idea that there is not real difference between men and women, critics argue that the role of father and mother are completely interchangeable. It really makes no difference, as long as there is love.

    While it is acceptable to attack, ridicule and reject the traditional view, it is somehow illegitimate to question the other side, and it is considered especially unfair to point out their logical problems.   If love is all that matters, when why not three people who love each other? Why not a brother and a sister, or a father and a daughter?  Such question reveal the problem with their position.

    But that is the reason for the double standard, for ultimately there is no foundation, and ultimately everything goes. Weaken the foundation and the structure will crumble.   When abortion was first legalized claims that it would lead to euthanasia were rejected as silly, though now we have euthanasia in various forms.  Many things that were unthinkable just a few years ago, are now coming to be accepted.

    Where will it end?  As society slowly dismantles the Judeo-Christian value system, what foundation will be put in its place?  What core moral principles will be left and what sort of morality will be built on them?  It is very difficult to say.  But if history is any indication, the prospects are not good.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XVII

    Friday, October 3rd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing in chapter six of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I come to his discussion of the specific arguments for design.  Again there is a great deal of hyperbole and ridicule that one must wade through, and given the subject matter, a great deal of it is somewhat ironic.  Hitchens attempts to claim that it is theists that have been forced into this argument “with great reluctance,” and that atheists “have to improve our minds by the laborious exercise of refuting the latest foolishness contrived by the faithful. (pg 80-81)

    Hitchens would do to well to seriously read Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution in which Wells exposes a number of not only foolish arguments, but distortions, errors and in many cases outright fraud that has been and continues to be used to defend evolution.  The many examples documented by Wells are not obscure pieces of evidence, but well known and commonly cited examples,  such as that evolution is mirrored in the development of an embryo, or the Pepper moths that changed from white to dark because of pollution, both of which are in fraud category.   Yet, despite the fact some of these have been known to be false for decades, and in the case of the embryos for over a century,  these and the other examples in the book were still being used in standard biology textbooks at least as late as 1998.

    Nor is this simply a problem of the past. Hitchens, himself falls victim to one more recent examples is this string of myths used to support evolution, a supposed computer model that proved the evolution of the eye.  The simple fact is that there was no such program, nor, more importantly, could there be, at least any time soon, for reasons we will come to in a moment.

    In Hitchens defense, apparently he was relying on Richard Dawkins here who popularized this error.  Once the error was pointed out, atheists were quick to claim that Dawkins was only partially in error, for he was referring to a mathematical model develop by Nilsson and Pelger which he merely confused as a computer program.

    The differences between the study and a computer program aside, the problem with Nilsson and Pelger’s paper as a proof for evolution is the same that would plague any computer model; it is based on a whole series of assumptions which go to the core of the theory of evolution. If you accept all of the assumptions, that is, if you already accept evolution, then the paper will make a plausible case. But in the end, the conclusion of the paper is only as valid as the assumptions that are behind it.  It can at best only say how the eye might have evolved if all the assumptions were correct. It is hardly a proof of evolution as Hitchens was falsely led to believe.

    Unfortunately this is how much of evolution is defended. Pieces of information are distorted, expanded, or in some cases even created, and then strung together as so called proofs of evolution.  Anyone who dares questions this alleged evidence is ridiculed, attacked and rejected.  If they persist and expose the error, then we are told the error really doesn’t matter anyway.

    To further compound his problem, one of the points Hitchens makes against design, apparently unbeknownst to him,  is a major problem for evolution.  Hitchens quite correctly states that, “a theory that is unfalsifiable is to that extent a weak one.” (pg 81)   

    The problem of Hitchens is that evolution is unfalsifiable for two reasons.  The first is that it depend heavily on imagination.  A great deal, if not the vast majority, of what we think of as evolution, is not based on what we actually know happened, but on what scientist imagine might have happened.  Since we have a great capacity for imagination, evolution has a rich texture of what might have been, especially given how little we really know about the prehistoric past.

    Hitchens might object to this by claiming that evolution is science, and therefore must pass peer review and conform to the evidence. But modern science is not the open-minded investigation atheists like to claim. It is a narrow-mind and oppressive system that will severely punish any who question the current orthodoxy, as Pamela Winnick shows in her book A Jealous God.  One of the quickest ways to lose funding for your research, your job, and your livelihood is to raise a question about evolution.

    As for the evidence, there is in reality very little, and more importantly any potential problems are brushed aside with the claim that future research will resolve them. Even worst is the often used argument that we are here therefore evolution must have happened. The bottom line is that evolution is unfalsifiable.

    Sure if you interpret all evidence to fit your theory, let your imagination fill in any blanks, strenuously ignore any problems, and suppress any criticism so that only believers of evolution, or at least those who will not voice any doubts, can be considered scientists, then evolution will seem to be firmly established.  And yet, despite this the evidence for design grows stronger, not weaker, the more we know.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XVI

    Friday, September 26th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    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.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XIV

    Friday, September 12th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week, I am continuing in the fifth chapter of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” where Hitchens attempts to show that the metaphysical claims of religion are false.  After stating his claim that “All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule,” (pg 64-5) which I addressed last time, Hitchens briefly sketches the rise of secularism, lauding those who saw the light, ridiculing any who lagged behind.

    Now there is no doubt that there has been a trend toward the secularization of society, but this is hardly an argument one way or the other, and to be fair, it is not completely clear if Hitchens intends this as an actual argument or if he is just using this as background, or perhaps filler, as it takes up most of the chapter. If he intends this as an argument, it fails because it commits one or both of the following fallacies, appeal to the people, and appeal to misplaced authority.

    The fallacy of appeal to the people occurs when appeal is made to what the majority believe, instead of pointing to actual evidence. About the only place it can be somewhat acceptable, is when, after laying out the evidence, appeal is made to how many find the evidence convincing, but to be valid the emphasis must remain on the evidence.

    Now at times the evidence is so complex as to require special training to evaluate, for example, when dealing complex medical issues one should seek out a doctor. Appealing to people who are authorities instead of the evidence in these cases is not fallacious. But if Hitchens is intending this, then he commits the other fallacy.  

    The fallacy of appeal to misplace authority occurs when citing an authority who is not an authority in the particular field in question.  That someone is an authority on nuclear physic does not automatically mean they are an authority in other sciences such as botany, much less non-scientific areas like metaphysics.  But again, it is not completely clear that Hitchens is even intending this as an actual argument. 

    It is the last two pages of the chapter before Hitchens finally gets around to clearly making an actual argument, one based on Ockham’s razor, which holds that answers should not be unnecessarily complex. Basically his argument is, “it cannot be strictly proved that God, if defined as a being who possesses the qualities of supremacy, perfection, uniqueness, and infinity exists at all” (p 70), and we don’t need God to explain the universe, therefore, using Ockham’s razor God does not exist. 

    There are many problems with this argument.  The first is that Hitchens hides a lot in his carefully worded sentence. It is true that Ockham rejected that such a supremely absolute God could strictly be proved. This is because we only know about our universe. As such we can not say for sure that there are not other universes, and other gods for those universes.

    Ockham did however believe that it could be shown that were was a creator God, or first cause, for this universe.  In addition he believed that probable arguments could be made for the existence of a Supreme God.  (See Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy III, pg 84) While atheists dismiss probable arguments when it comes to God and religion, they have no problem with them elsewhere.  This is because at some level virtually everything we know depends on probable arguments.

    In logic this distinction between what can be strictly proved and what is an argument based on probability is what lies behind deductive logic and inductive logic.  The results of a sound deductive argument, where the premises are true and the reasoning valid, are strictly proved. Induction at best only yields results that are probably true for there always remains a chance however small that the conclusion might be incorrect; there always remains some doubt.

    Atheists jump on this doubt as a reason to reject induction when talking about God. However, they are quick to use induction elsewhere. After all, virtually all of science is based on induction.  The theory of Gravity is based on induction, not deduction and thus there remains some doubt about it, though admittedly this doubt is more theoretical than anything else.  In other areas this doubt is larger.

    Evolution is not even close to being strictly proved, and considerable doubts exists, but, this does not stop atheists from attacking and ridiculing those who point out problems and raise questions about the theory.  So when atheists reject probably arguments for the existence of God they are being extremely selective.

    Hitchens seems to be aware that Ockham believes a first cause, if not a supreme God, could be demonstrated for he proceeds briefly attack the idea.  But it is a feeble attempt.  Those interested can find a more completely discussion of the argument from first cause in my book Christianity and Secularism chapter two.

    In the end this chapter strikes me more as filler that could better have been summarized as the opening paragraph or two of the next chapter, where Hitchens discusses arguments from design.

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

    Hitchens – God is not Great XIII

    Friday, September 5th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God Is Not Great,” I come to Chapter Five where Hitchens asserts that the Metaphysical claims of Religion are False.  He begins the chapter with one of his typically broad attacks, that a Faith that can stand up to reason, “is now plainly impossible.”  In very limited way there is some truth in Hitchens’ claim. Christianity, as a rational system of thought, does have some problems; there are questions for which we do not have completely satisfactory answers.

     

    Now while the atheist may pounce on this as evidence that Christianity can’t stand up to reason, it is in reality little more than an admission that Christians do not have all the answers, which is hardly surprising, for nobody has all the answers.  It is just a fact that all major systems of thought have some problems for which they do not have the answer.

     

    This is why the atheist’s frequent demands for proof are at their core irrational. There are many problems with the atheist’s demands for proofs, but one is that when comparing major systems of thought to demand proof is absurd for nobody has it.

     

    Atheists attempt to avoid this little problem by declaring that they are the default view, and as such don’t need to provide proof, but this is at best a little self-serving. After all a Christian could just as easily declare that Christianity was the default view, and demand that atheist prove their claims.

     

    A much more rational approach is to realize that demands for proof are out of place when contrasting world views. Instead of who can prove what, a much better approach is to compare the evidenced pro and con. Instead of who can prove their system, which system of thought has the best explanation.  When this is done Christianity comes off quite well, and in fact I believe, though this is hardly surprising, does the best. This may perhaps be why atheists I have talked to so dogmatically insist on proof.

     

    From there Hitchens begins to savage and ridicule believers in the past in his typical fashion which seems founded more in hatred that in reason.  The best that can be said of it is that it is distorted slanting, that is, when it is not straying into the irrational fallacy of ad hominem attack.  It may please the atheist choir, but argues against Hitchens for those seeking a serious rational discussion.

     

    But Hitchens does eventually finish his rant and come to a coherent point, which in this case is “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody … had the smallest idea what was going on.”  From which he concludes “All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule.” (pg 64-5)

     

    Well in terms of a scientific understanding of the physical laws of the universe, Hitchens premise is correct. And for those religions with a large and significant focus on the problems of nature, the advancement of science is a significant problem and reconciliation is impossible. 

     

    However neither Judaism nor Christianity are focused on these natural problems but on the human condition, how it is broken and particularly in the case of Christianity, how it can be fixed. These are spiritual issues about which science is as silent as the Bible is on quantum mechanics.

     

    Some atheists claim that the behavioral sciences have shown that religion is not needed to explain human behavior, but such arguments are based more in the philosophical/religious view call scientism, and on writing off all problems as either not important, or with the atheistic catch all, we figure it out some day.

     

    For example, naturalistic science cannot even explain the phenomena of consciousness, or explain how we have free will and some have written these off as illusions. But real problems remain. For example, why are atheists trying to encourage people to abandon their belief in God, if people don’t even have a choice in the matter?  

     

    And while Hitchens can point to the absurd beliefs held by Christians in the past, did these beliefs come from Christianity, or from accepting what was the science of their day? Then again, Christians can point to the absurdities of secular belief today, such as the belief that there is no real difference between men and women which is behind much of current secular thought.

     

    One of the problems with science is that it frequently confuses ignorance of a subject with a lack of evidence.  For example, science saw no reason for biblical view of sex, therefore it must be false and based on superstition, something Hitchens frequently claims.  This despite all the visible problems of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, broken homes and the other problems that are conveniently just ignored.   But now recent studies on the brain are showing the casual sex with multiple partners does have detrimental impact on brain development. (See Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children).

    Science may have the best answer for how an apple falls when dropped, but when it comes to issue of good and evil or how we should live our lives, Christianity still have the best answers. Perhaps this is why in studies, religious people are happier.

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

     

    Hitchens – God is not Great X

    Friday, August 15th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Continuing my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great” brings be to Chapter Four, which is called, “A Note on Health, to which Religion Can be Hazardous.”   In one sense is completely true. That some religious beliefs can be has hazardous to your health, is a statement few if any would disagree with.  After all, in those religions that practiced human sacrifice, there was a definite health hazard for the one chosen to be sacrifice. However, I suspect that is not what Hitchens is arguing, as he is seeking a much more universal condemnation of religion.

     

    The problem is that the evidence he present does not support anything more universal.  The evidence he presents is basically a stroll through, what even many believers in religion would considered the strange and bizarre. His initial offering is the account of how the attempt to eradicate polio from the world, where blocked by a few “Muslim die-hards” who claimed that that polio vaccine was really joint conspiracy between the United States and United Nation to sterilize true followers of Islam and thereby eradicate the faith. As a result of the ensuing fatwa against taking the vaccine, predictably polio, which had been on the verge of eradication, reemerged in Nigeria, and then to Mecca, from which pilgrims took it disease back to what had been polio free countries.

     

    While a sad and even maddening account, it is hardly an incitement of all of Islam, much less all religion. The reason Hitchens gives for these clerics issuing the fatwa against taking the vaccine had nothing to do with the teaching Islam concerning vaccines, or even medical care in general. It stemmed from a belief that the vaccine was part of a conspiracy. So if anything this is an indictment against that mode of thinking that tends to see grand conspiracies, and secret forces behind events, not an indictment of religion, accept that in this instance the conspiracy involved Islam.

     

    Now perhaps Hitchens would have a point if such conspiracy theories were uniquely tied to religion, but a glance through the currently popular conspiracy theories argues strongly against this.  Consider this partial list: That 9/11 was an inside job; The Federal Reserve is part of a secret plan control the United States; the Moon landing was faked; The government is hiding evidence on UFO’s; The Trilateral Commission is trying to take over the world; and of course the many and conflicting theories on the Kennedy Assassination. (I reject all of these as false.) All are secular conspiracies.  In fact the first two are two of the three conspiracies addressed in the Zeitgeist the movie, the third being that Christianity is itself a conspiracy to control society. When it comes to conspiracy theories that do involve Christianity some are defended by a few atheists such as the resurrection was really a conspiracy, by the early disciples.

     

    Rather than being an indictment against religion one could probably make a good case that these are an indictment against secularism, for as G. K. Chesterton observed, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.”  Still, I would write them off as a particular problem of the human species, one of many.  Such conspiracy thinking is certainly found among those who are religious, but it is hardly limited to the religious, nor is caused by religion.

     

    That Hitchens uses this as an indictment of religion in general reveals a very fundamental problem that pervades much of his book, and in fact is found in much of the writings of the neo-atheists.  The problem centers around two logical fallacies, the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and the fallacy of Hasty generalization. I will look at Hasty generalization next time, as it is not only a problem here, but indicative of the examples throughout the rest of the chapter. 

     

    As for the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, it is also called the fallacy of false cause, and refers to claiming a causal relationship between two things, because on preceded the other.  The fallacious reasoning behind this fallacy was clearly presented by one of my teachers by the following example. There is a definite relationship between the amount of concrete in an area, and the amount of rape, the more concrete per square mile, the more rape. Therefore concrete causes rape. Now even though the premises are correct, the conclusion is absurd. The reason for the relationship is that the more concrete, the more people, the more people the more rape. People cause rape, not concrete. 

     

    Yet Hitchens’ example is not much better.  The fatwa against the vaccine was issue by people who were religious, therefore religion must be the problem. In reality the problem was not religion, but conspiracy theories, which are not inherently religious.

     

    This is a peculiar problem with so many of the neo-atheist arguments.  They are purportedly arguing against religion because it is so irrational. And yet so many of their arguments are grounded in not only error, but irrationality.  Now this was just Hitchens opening example, but, as I will discuss next time, the rest of the chapter, does not do much better.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great V

    Friday, May 23rd, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    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.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great III

    Friday, May 9th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week I return to my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great,” Similar to Dawkins and Harris, serious problems abound in the early pages of the Hitchens’ book. Many are simply statements of personal opinion with at best questionable background or support, such as his claims that “Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble, or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism.” (p 7)

     

    Other statements go straight to the heart of Hitchens critique. An example of the latter can be found in his claim that “the believer still claims to know! Not just to know, but to know everything.”(Author’s emphasis) This would be a valid criticism if it were true.  But it is not. In fact not only does this fail as an accurate description of religion in general, or even of Christianity in specific, it would be hard to find believers who would actually make this claim.

     

    Now a few paragraphs later, Hitchens does qualify this statement somewhat, by restating this criticism as “the sheer arrogance to tell us that we already have the essential information we need.” 

     

    While this is a somewhat more defendable statement, its open ended nature, and the general context of the discussion leads to the conclusion that Hitchens is still referring to essential information about everything. 

     

    One problem with this restatement is that “essential” is a somewhat relative term as there are many degrees of essential.  Ask someone what essential knowledge is to live in the United States, and you will likely get completely different answers than if you ask someone who lives in a third world country. Essential knowledge for one, such as how to grow food or find it in the wild, may be completely irrelevant for someone who buys their food at a market.

     

    Yet, if one tries to provide some definition to Hitchens’ use of “essential knowledge” either his argument disappears, or the definition is invalid.  If “essential knowledge” is defined as the knowledge needed for our relationship with God, then I would say that this not only applies to Christianity, but that it has a biblical warrant.  Jude 3 speaks of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”  In the Bible we have all the knowledge that we need for our relationship with God. But even here, there are few Christians that would say that we know everything there is to know about the Bible.

     

    But a view of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders Hitchens’ argument somewhat empty, has he spends a great deal of time contrasting this belief in “essential knowledge” with all that we have learned in science.  While we have learned a lot with science, Hitchens would hardly argue that a more detailed understanding of Gravity or knowledge of quantum mechanics is needed for salvation. Thus an understanding of “essential knowledge” limited to our relationship with God renders his argument a non-sequitur.

     

    Hitchens needs believers claiming to know everything about everything because it justifies what would otherwise be a major inconsistency in his argument.  Hitchens is highly critical of the pre-scientific beliefs of early believers and he sees this as a reason why religion as a whole is to be rejected today.  For example he says “Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, and Newman [may have] been laughably ignorant of the germ theory of disease or the place of the terrestrial globe in the solar system, let alone the universe, and this is the plain reason why there are no more of them today, and will be no more of them tomorrow.”(p 7)

     

    Yet when it comes to atheists, such erroneous beliefs are explained away by Hitchens, for earlier atheists were “great and fallible imaginative essayists.”  Atheists don’t claim to know everything about everything, so it is ok if they made mistakes in the past, as that is part of the learning process.

     

    This distorted view of religion can be seen in much of Hitchens’ criticisms, such as when he asks “How many needless assumptions must be made, and how much contortion is required to receive every new insight of science and manipulate it so as to ‘fit’ with the revealed words of ancient man-made deities?” (p 7) 

     

    Though I would drop the slanting found in words such as “needless” and “contortion,” pretty much the same could be asked of atheism. Just look at the assumptions and efforts they go through trying to explain how life started, some even going to the point of arguing that life was brought to earth by aliens from another planet. 

     

    The history of Christianity can be seen as a people striving to come to a better understanding of, and relationship with, God.  This journey has been full of missteps and even back steps, of wrong turns and dead ends, but on the whole has been marked by a better understanding; and the fruits of this have been seen in what I would argue have been great advancement made by society that came out of Christianity, from the birth of modern science, to the origin of Human Rights, from end of slavery, to the advancement of civil rights.

     

    Throughout the world Christians working through their churches are ministering to those in need, not only in their local communities, but around the world. They have been, and continue to be a tremendous force for good.

     

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great II

    Friday, March 14th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    This week in my review of Christopher Hitchens, “God is not Great,” I will look at what Hitchens calls the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.” According to him religious faith “wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.” (p 4)

    One immediate objection to these objections, is that Hitchens is committing a mistake common to so many atheist critiques, which is that these objections don’t really apply to religion as a general concept for religion is simply too diverse. They really apply mainly to Christianity. But casting them in terms of religion in general allows the atheist to talk of the problems of one religion as if they apply to all religions.

    Frankly, it is hard to apply them even to all of Christianity. For example, Hitchens first objection is that religious faith misrepresent the origins of man and the cosmos. Yet within Christianity, there is a whole range of opinions on origins, from a special creation in 7 days all the way to views that are virtually indistinguishable from those held by Hitchens, except that they would ultimately say that God was behind it all.

    Now perhaps Hitchens considers merely attributing the origin of man and the Cosmos to God as objectionable, but even here there are problems. One huge problem is that scientist can’t explain the origins of man or the cosmos, and as I describe in my book Evidence for the Bible there are serious problems explaining how the process started in the first place.

    Similar problems apply to his second objection, that religion combines “the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.” Frankly it is not even clear how this really applies to Christianity, much less religion in general. Granted the NT does teach that we are servants of Christ, but I find this hard to square with Hitchens’ claim that this is the maximum of servility as our position is also the Children of God who can say of God “Abba Father.” (Romans 8:15-16) As for his claim that religion is at the same time, the maximum of solipsism, or extreme egocentrism, this is a complete mystery. One could try to guess at what he means, but an argument that has to be guessed at is hardly a cogent one.

    Hitchens third objection is “that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression.” Again his one size fits all objection, hardly fits at all. After all can one really describe some of the other first century religions whose worships centered around visits to the temple prostitute, as sexually repressed? Sure, an over regulation of sex has been a feature of some religions, and some forms of Christianity, but some is not all.

    There is also the problem that what constitutes sexual repression is somewhat of a relative concept. For some any restrictions on sex is “sexual repression.” Is saying that sex should be restricted to the confines of marriage, sexual repression? We are certainly seeing the results of 40 years of sexual freedom, and they are not good. The breaking of the link between sex and marriage, has resulted in a huge increase in single parent households and the problems they bring. And often it is the children who often suffer the most.

    Contrary to the modern myths, men and women are different, and sex can have consequences. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control released this week, one in four teenagers, aged 14–19 has at least one sexually transmitted disease. In African-American girls the rate is 50%. And the study did not even include all sexually transmitted diseases. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun “There are 19 million sexually transmitted diseases in the United States – costing the health care system $15 billion a year – and almost half occur among the 14 to 25 age group.” And this is with modern medicine, antibiotics, and birth control. Given all these problems and we have only mentioned a couple, is it really all that unreasonable to think that when God said that sex should be only between a husband and wife, that perhaps he was not just trying to be a killjoy, but perhaps he really did have our best interests in mind?

    Hitchens fourth objection is that religious faith is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking. There is a rational problem with considering this an objection to religious faith, because it tends to be circular. The purpose of Hitchens objections is to say that religious false. But to say something is grounded on wish-thinking is to say that something is false. Thus, Hitchens is basically saying that religious faith is false, because it is false which is a circular argument and thus irrational.

    So Hitchens four irreducible objections to religious faith, are hardly even sound objections to religious faith in general, much less Christianity in particular. That he sees them as some insight into religion is sad.

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