TIA Tuesday: The Salvation of Christopher Hitchens

Last week, Vox was telling us that Christopher Hitchens had essentially eviscerated his own arguments, thus “proving” his intellect to be a fatally flawed and impotent one. This week, he’s going to argue that Hitchens is just about ready to become a Christian, or at least a theist. (Hmm, I wonder if those two claims are supposed to be related?) He bases this latter claim on Hitchens’s “four irreducible objections to religious faith.”

If these four objections are truly the basis for Hitchens’s hostility towards God and religion, then the irrepressible atheist may be much closer to returning to the faith of his fathers than anyone suspects, because one of these objections is trivial, one is irrelevant, and the other two are simply wrong.

Hitchens on the verge of seeing the light? This should be interesting.

Let’s have a look at each of these four objections, and Vox’s corresponding response.

1. It wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.

Hitchens might as reasonably reject science on the same petty basis, considering the wide range of abiogenetic hypotheses, cosmological creation myths, and astrophysical fiction currently on offer. Is he similarly opposed to DNA because Francis Crick subscribed to the Directed Panspermia hypothesis and an X-Files variant of Intelligent Design dependent upon space-traveling aliens?

Vox falls into two errors here. The first and most obvious is that science does not embrace a “wide range of abiogenetic hypotheses, cosmological creation myths, and astrophysical fiction[s]” as being the definitive answer to the origins of man and the cosmos. Scientists are considering and investigating a wide range of possibilities because we don’t yet know what the true answer is. And that leads to Vox’s second error: assuming that you can’t know which answers are wrong until you know the answer that is right.

Quick, what’s the exact value of the square root of pi? To the last decimal place? It’s an irrational number, it doesn’t have a last decimal place. But you don’t need to know the exact value of the square root of pi to know that it is not seventy-two. Likewise, you don’t need to be able to trace out the precise sequence of chemicals leading to the origin of life on earth to know that a story about talking snakes and a magical worldwide flood is clearly not a historically-accurate account of how our planet became what it is today. Truth is consistent with itself, and an objective, scientific investigation into real-world truth consistently reveals characteristics of reality that are more consistent with the scientific hypotheses than with any Bronze Age myth. (There, I used “Bronze Age” correctly this time.)

2. It combines the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism.

This is alliteration, not a genuine objection. And it is incorrect. Orwell’s “boot in the face forever” is arguably the best conceptual expression of the maximum of servility and it is a secular one, given religion’s preference for eschatological scenarios over steady-state theories.

Vox seems (or pretends) not to have noticed that little word “solipsism” there. Even if he had, Orwell’s “boot in the face forever” is merely an external, physical coercion. You can use physical force to demand both “right acts” and “right thoughts,” but no dictator, not even Hitler, has ever had the power to invade the secret, inner thoughts of the heart, the way God supposed to be able to do. While the worldly dictator can demand outward servility, only religion can carry this subjugation all the way into a person’s private thoughts. So Vox’s rebuttal is, in fact, not true.

His omission is even more telling, because no worldly dictator can demand solipsism. It would be counterproductive; it’s hard to persuade someone to submit by convincing them that they’re real and you’re not. The peculiar nature of the Christian faith, however, is that it forces the believer to give their allegiance to a “higher” truth, a truth that is not bound to the “mere” constraints of mundane reality, but that is finer and more spiritual than this coarse and unredeemed matter. Divorced from the constraints of observable and verifiable reality, however, the Christian “truth” is of necessity a subjective reality, and one that draws the believer into a functionally solipsistic world view, even if it is not explicitly and intentionally defined as such. Indeed, the Republican war on science is just one outward manifestation of this Great Divorce.

What Hitchens is highlighting with this objection is the insular and self-referential pattern of religious thought that manifests itself when gullibility displaces true faith as the measure of spirituality. Define “spiritual maturity” in terms of the things a person can drive themselves to believe despite all real-world evidence to the contrary, and you cannot help but end up with a mind that is not only wrong about the real world, but that is thoroughly and invincibly immunized against it. This is the kind of self-contained reality in which blowing up innocent men, women and children can become a virtuous and pious act of service to God, and that makes it a fitting target for Hitchens’s objection.

Now, I disagree with Hitchens quite a bit on the topic of whether “religion” really poisons everything. I blame superstition and militant ignorance, not religion, though I grant you it’s a distinction that is often difficult to make. The innocuous religious beliefs are made largely irrelevant by their very inoffensiveness—it’s the offensive and intrusive ones that dominate the debate, and it is these against which the wrath of Hitchens is directed. And with that I quite agree.

3. It is the cause of dangerous sexual repression.

There is loads of evidence that it is not sexual repression, but the absence of sexual repression that is dangerous. Abstinence never killed anyone, but AIDS certainly has. Male homosexuals are the least sexually repressed humans on the planet; they also happen to enjoy the shortest life expectancy. While sexual repression might explain the horrific history of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergymen, it does not explain the much greater incidence of sexual abuse by secular educators in the public school system.

Apparently, Vox isn’t too clear on the difference between sexual responsibility and sexual repression. Nor does he show any signs of understanding the psychosocial consequences of sexual repression. Our culture is the product of centuries of Christian repression of normal, natural sexuality; its values and censures have insinuated themselves into the Western mind to the point that words like “dirty” and “sinful” and “nasty” are glib euphemisms for “sexual.” Is it really so hard to see the connection between centuries of treating sex like something wrong and unacceptable, and the emergence of predatory sexual practices based on secrecy and the exploitation of the easily-intimidated?

And please, let’s not have any smarmy lectures about gay promiscuity from anybody who thinks “marriage” should be legally defined in such a way as to discourage committed long-term gay relationships. Amend the US Constitution to protect the right of gays to marry each other, and then we can discuss how immoral a lack of marital fidelity is, gay or straight.

4. It is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.

This is an irrelevant and tautological statement. “I object to something in which I don’t believe because it is not true.” All human action is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking, indeed, all technological advancement is. It is not a reasonable basis for an objection to religion; the statement might as easily be applied to the airline industry.

Once again, Vox completely misses (or pretends to miss) the point Hitchens is making. Truth is consistent with itself. When believers prefer to believe what is inconsistent with reality instead of accepting the self-consistent real world sort of truth, they are embracing conclusions that are grounded on wish thinking instead of being grounded in verifiable reality. When people claim, as the Bob Jones home school “science” curriculum claims, that in every case where the evidence contradicts the Bible, it’s the evidence that’s wrong, then people are basing their conclusions on wish-thinking instead of on the real world. It is precisely this displacement of real-world truth with contradictory and inconsistent beliefs, which Hitchens finds objectionable. Airlines have nothing to do with it.

So sorry to disappoint, but when Vox claims that Hitchens is surprisingly close to returning to the faith of his fathers, it just goes to show Vox’s poor depth perception. Hitchens’s objections are solid and well-grounded, and Vox’s replies merely flippant and insubstantial.

 
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Posted in TIA, Unapologetics. 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “TIA Tuesday: The Salvation of Christopher Hitchens”

  1. jim Says:

    I noticed Vox mentioned your ongoing review of TIA the other day (with the usual dismissive contempt, I should add). I’ve been paying closer attention to his blog the last week or so, chiming in now and again. For a self-promoting smartguy, his logic is genuinely appalling. His strategy seems mostly based on semantic misrepresentation, and always punctuated by personal derision, derision, DERISION! He NEVER seems to argue in good faith…. he’ll say just about anything to win a point (though even THAT’S in his own mind) I understand his preference for live debating…he just doesn’t hold up under any thoughtful scrutiny, and I suppose his style plays to the local sycophants. His really IS a personality cult, if I ever saw one.

    Your comment on objection #1 points out his bad faith. As much as he’d hate to admit it, science’s hypotheses, and even their conclusions, are always TENTATIVE. Science’s authority always comes in degrees, concomitant with what seems presently reasonable given the information available.

    The Creation Myth, on the other hand, claims perfect authority upon no evidence, but solely upon its own word (any supporting ‘evidence’ comes after the fact, and only in order to support the original proposition). Not only that, but the Creation Myth is inextricably bound up in an aura of moral consequence, such that one isn’t just in error for questioning the dogma. One is evil.

    This is apples and oranges, folks! And Vox doesn’t make the argument because it’s logically compelling; he just does it because ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING IS ARGUABLE. At least, it is to a polemicist whose goal is to ‘win’ an argument, and not a sincere search for the truth. Just keep throwing shit at the fan, and even if none of it sticks to the fan, well…it stuck to the floor, didn’t it? I WIN!

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for any serious discussion from Vox. Like everybody else, you totally don’t understand his grasp of logical principles…or so he says.

  2. jim Says:

    Oh, and objection #4…ugh! I went around and around with some of his minions over that one some time back. They didn’t seem to want to differentiate between wish(ful) thinking, and just plain wishing. “Pretends to miss” is right…this deceitful niggling over semantics is their modus operandi over there. The thing is, all this crap is easy enough to deal with if one has the time and inclination to do so, but it never goes anywhere. ‘Cause in the end, bad arguments are all they’ve got.

    I imagine that, somewhere in the world, Ray Comfort is executing a slight re-write of his legendary ‘banana proof for God’s existence’, even though he’s already admitted to the utter lameness of the argument. Eventually, everybody will get tired of calling him on it, and he’ll claim victory by attrition (much like Dinesh D’Souza claims victory by disinterest and absence of opponent).

  3. Galloway Says:

    Excellent post, Deacon! You did a great job of disecting some of vox’s convoluted logic. Vox doesn’t agree with Hitchens that human morality has evolved . And yet there was a time when the Catholic church, that bastion of Christianity, advocated torture and murder to deal with heresy. Since the church no longer holds that position, then it’s safe to conclude that ‘morality has evolved’.

    At the end of chapter 9, Vox Day states: “Free will is at the heart of the Christian faith.” I don’t see how. Either you follow God’s directives or burn in hell forever. That’s like a mugger holding a gun on someone and demanding that they hand over the money, then when he’s caught, telling the police that the victim handed the money over at his own free will.

  4. jorgaba Says:

    Vox is interesting because he gives us all a window into how an intelligent rationalizer of theism thinks, without having to wade through the preposterous jargon and theo-babble of academic theology (e.g., Plantinga, Craig)

    Vox, of course, has zero understanding of what science is and how it works. He does not comprehend what it means for a theory to explain and predict observations, and we’ve seen over and over again that he doesn’t understand the concept of evidence. I think this last point is the real origin of his problems: a sheer undercomprehension of what evidence is and what it means to build a case from it.

    Not that this stops him from making proclamations about the status of scientific concepts, like abiogenesis, cosmological creation, and biological evolution. He declares he has “read the research” and that he finds “serious logical problems” with it all, and ultimately that science is pretty useless (One of his favorite claims is that it is the free market and not science that creates new technology — wrap your head around that one).

    He criticises science despite no scientific knowledge, and then he turns around and lambasts atheists for making claims about religion without being theologians.

    Realize though that this is all seems totally reasonable from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand the concept of “evidence”. In an evidence-free world, there is no knowledge; there are only assertions. Theological and scientific assertions are basically the same as one another. The only expertise one needs is in how to maniuplate concepts and make intuitively-persuasive declarations. You can always make a pretense of applying rules of logic to create arguments, you just can’t anchor them to anything, and you can’t justify their use. So to save yourself from relativism and nihilism, you declare the existence of purely abstract “essences” that underlie all your intuitions and prejudices. And Voila — Gods are born.

    To Vox, as with most theists, God is just the assumed “true essence” that must exist if life is to be saved from pure meaninglessness and relativism. If relativism is false (or incoherent, or self-defeating), then some “essence” must be there to prop up truth…so he really does view God as a logical conclusion. And because he doesn’t understand evidence, he doesn’t understand what it means to START from the evidence and argue toward a conclusion. So he infers that when atheists start at the evidence and arrive at a different conclusion, they must be using faulty logic. So, he writes an entire book, poking around atheists arguments, looking for any pretext to dismiss their arguments as illogical. And he never realizes how far his BASIC inability to comprehend the concept of “evidence” causes him to miss the mark.

  5. Nemo Says:

    I just want to say, thank you for reading this bozo, so I don’t have to.

  6. John Morales Says:

    jorgaba has nailed it.

  7. harebell Says:

    I visit Vox’s blog occasionally and try and comment meaningfully but they aren’t interested in rational discussion.
    One particular commenter asked me to prove I exist and I did but she was convinced that I was a robot. I guess it was her attempt at the “brain in a vat” argument. But she did give me one piece of advice so that I could prove that god exists to myself:
    “Believe and your own personal elohim will reveal itself.”
    Now according to Vox’s crew that’s hard evidence, but Jorgaba you’re so right, evidence to him and his acolytes is what they want it to be so that they can say that they won the argument, when all they really did was confuse the thread until nobody cared anymore.

  8. Ric Says:

    I was recently writing about fairmindedness as it relates to critical thinking. It strikes me that VD is the poster child for a LACK of fairmindedness. He indeed is a master rationalizer and sophist.

  9. Modusoperandi Says:

    jim “…this deceitful niggling over semantics is their modus operandi over there.”
    Hey! When I niggle, let me assure you that it’s neither deceitful nor “over there”.

    Galloway “Vox doesn’t agree with Hitchens that human morality has evolved . And yet there was a time when the Catholic church, that bastion of Christianity, advocated torture and murder to deal with heresy. Since the church no longer holds that position, then it’s safe to conclude that ‘morality has evolved’.”
    Yes, but you’re forgetting that a) evolution is a false theory devised by “scientists” that hate God and, b) the Catholic church isn’t the One True Church. True Christianstm clearly believe whateveritis that Vox believes (much as other True Christianstm like Pat Robertson or Ray Comfort, the Pope or any number of other True Christianstm, whose belief is incompatible with Vox, themselves and others, that have found the narrow way believe that their way is the capital ‘T’ True way). If Vox is the only one that believes what Vox believes, then Vox is the only True Christiantm…besides that Jesus fellow, and get this, he was Jewish.

  10. Bacopa Says:

    Galloway: You said the freedom God gves us is like the freedom a mugger gives us. I agree, but there is still some degree of freedom there, though no kind of freedom which would exempt the mugger from moral condemnation.

    The sad state of affairs according to many Christian theologians is that God offers us Heaven or Hell and ten doesn’t (to use the Deacon’s words) show up in real life so that we can know he exists and has the power to affect how things go for us in the hereafter. some Christians think this is as it should be, for if god were to reveal himself more clearly, we would no longer be free to reject him. In other words, we are made less free by knowing more.

    I dispute this. An informed choice is just as free as a choice made in ignorance. More free, I’d think; because the more I know about the possible consequences of my potential actions, the more I can act in a way to satisfy the balance of my desires. But God does not give us this advantage. If God showed up in my life, I’d know the facts about my coming afterlife and could make an informed choice. God hs not shown up and I am left with a bunch of inconsistent texts and personal testimonies that are maddeningly unpersuasive.

    Getting back to your mugger analogy. I’d rather be mugged by a menacing figure who showed me his gun so I could be sure of what was up than meet a person who casually walked up to me and asked for $20, and then shot me in the back an hour later because I refused. The real mugger gave me a real choice as bad as it was.

    Furthermore, the idea that knowing more about God would make it impossble to freely accept or reject him is un-Biblical. Adam and Eve had had direct experience of God, yet they ate the fruit. The Israelites experienced the plagues of Egypt and saw the pillars of fire and smoke guiding them across the desert, but some of them made and worshiped the golden calf.

    BTW, wha’chall think about that whole Solar Messiah hypothesis? The idea that religious movements are affected by the astrological ages defined by the procession of the equinoxes. The Exodus happened (if it happened) during the change from the age of Taurus to the age of Aries. Moses hearled in the age of Aries by rejecting the golden calf (Taurus) and replacing it with the passover lamb and the shofar, the ram’s horn. Jesus (supposedly) came at the time of the transition from Aries to Pisces and their’s a lot of fish references and imagry surrounding him. There’s even one text in the Gospels that says to seek the man bearing water (Aquarius) to know when Jesus will return. That would be around 2150 when procession will carry the vernal equinox into Aquarius.

    I got all this from some one third BS youtube link someone emailed me. The other two thirds made me think. But I do remember looking up the “Man bearing water at the end of the age” quote (Luke, IIRC) and it was really there.

  11. Modusoperandi Says:

    Zeitgeist? I’d take everything that film says with a grain of salt. Two grains, actually. If memory serves, it plays fast and loose with the facts.

  12. Bacopa Says:

    Two grains indeed. One grain is a quarter BS, two grains is a third. Zeitgeist did itself no favors with the false etymogies of “sunset” and “horizon”. That was utter nonsense, but some of the rest of it checks out, including the “man bearing water” reference.

    Sure, Zeitgeist is part BS, but if it erodes Christianity, more power ot it.

  13. Modusoperandi Says:

    Bacopa “Sure, Zeitgeist is part BS, but if it erodes Christianity, more power ot it.”
    Now back up a couple thousand years…
    “Sure, the Christianity is part BS, but if it erodes the Roman pantheon of gods, more power to it.”
    Are you sure you want to stand by your statement?

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