September 2008


To Love and Cherish

Doing Apologetics

Christianity: The Basics

What is Wrong with Social Justice

Christianity and Secularism

Evidence for the Bible

Archive for September 12th, 2008

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.