Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christopher Hitchens & Debates

I spent last Saturday listening to 3 debates involving Christopher Hitchens. He is the author of a recent militant anti-religion book titled 'God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything'. However, Hitchens is not the reason I listen to these debates, but his debaters. The first debate involves Alister McGrath, the second Dinesh D' Souza, and the third Mark D. Roberts.

Alister McGrath, a historical-systematic theologian, and an ex-practising scientist, is ever a mannered and civil person. His debate rhetoric always filled with courteous and non-confrontational remarks. Due to his background as an academian, he talks precisely like one. He is very elaborative and articulate in his words. But due to this, sometimes, one finds he does not managed to engage all of Hitchens’ points. In this debates, it makes McGrath seems docile and vulnerable to Hitchens’ mountains of rhetorics. I think it is a disappointment that McGrath did not expound his scientific theology to handle Hitchens’ argument for the incompatibility between science and religion. Having knew about McGrath’s work in science and theology, I think he can do much better than that. And it will definitely crush Hitchens' false dichotomy between science/reason and faith, as exemplifies in his book Science of God.

Dinesh D' Souza, a political commentator, on the other hand, is direct and confrontational. That alone makes the debate stimulating and provocative. He is very sharp and engage Hitchens’ and the questioners’ point directly. At many turns, he manages to pin Hitchens to the mat and triumph over his contention. Perhaps this give reasons to why one should read his new book, which is confrontationally titled ‘What Is So Great About God?’ as against Hitchens’ ‘God Is Not Great’.

Mark D Roberts, a NT scholar, engages best with Hitchens’ repudiation of the reliability of the NT account of Jesus. It appears that the authority Hitchens relies on in this field is Bart Erhman. From there he get his idea of textual corruption of the Bible. But textual criticism is nothing new to many informed believers. In fact the late Bruce Metgzer, the recognised authority of NT textual criticism, who is also the teacher of Ehrman, is a well-mannered lifetime believer. So I think Hitchens’ reliance on textual criticism to doubt the reliability of the NT is just too shallow. One only need to read Burridge, Hengel, and recently, Bauckham and Roberts to appreciate the reliability of the NT material.

Through three debates, I noticed Hitchens stresses a lot that we cannot pick and choose which part of religion to acknowledge and which to reject. That means if you acknowledge religion is good because a believer brought back your lost wallet to you, you must also acknowledge the religion of which its believers who explode themselves as good.

I think this is one of Hitchens’ conceptions of coherence. That means the believer must acknowledge the religion of the good believer as one acknowledges those who explode themselves, if one wants to stay coherent that the idea of religion is good or true. But I think this is a false notion of coherence. This is just mere rhetoric to impose one false idea on to others in order to falsify them. In practice, individual believer get to chose to acknowledge what is deem best and rational to one’s own predisposition towards one’s religious canon. Even scientists get to pick and chose their preferred scientific theories. If you are a scientist, that does not mean you have to acknowledge ‘irreducibly complexity’ and evolution, and young-earth science, and whatever one finds out there which comes in the name of science. I am sure Hitchens does not acknowledge young-earth science as science according to his conscience and rationality. If he can chose and pick his own preferred ideas to acknowledge, I do not see any reason he has to forbid believer to do the same according to the believer’s own conscience and rationality. Unless his objection is what I charge it to be: mere rhetoric to falsify others! This is not the only falsification rhetoric he tries to impose on believer. There is another one on morality.

One argument for the existence of God is the ground for morality. That means without God, humans has no ground for morality and ethics. Hitchens challenges theist to name one moral action taken or uttered by a believer that is not taken or uttered by a non-believer. Or name one wicked act that non-believer will take or utter it otherwise.

Roberts came nearest to answering that. At first, he did not name any of these moral action but he engage Hitchens on the premise that the reason why his argument from common morality is appealing is precisely because everyone has been endowed with a pre-fixed idea of morality. Humans are being made in God’s image explains why Hitchens’ argument is so appealing. Then later, Roberts responded that praying for his son is a good moral action, which a non-believer cannot think likewise. Hitchens says that is irrelevant. Of course it is irrelevant to him! That is precisely the point! He is a non-believer! And Roberts just gave a moral action which a believer deem right yet the non-believer think otherwise.

I think there is a more explicit moral action than the one named by Roberts. Roberts’ response is good but lack the obligatory force to be a moral action on the believer. That means a believer who does not take prayers seriously does not has much obligation to consider praying as a moral action. I think there is in fact an utterance to which is a moral act of affirmation of a statement of truth on the part of the believer. Since it is an act concerning true statement, it is also a moral obligation for the believers to affirm such statement as true. If a believer denies this statement as true, then he or she will be immoral and thus cannot be a believer. And that moral utterance is ‘God exists’. This statement is right and true to the believers, and not to the non-believers.

1 comment:

The Inquisitor said...

"Rights are like witches and unicorns - you can describe them in great detail, and they are common concepts, but that should not cause us to believe that they are in any way real."

By Morus, a commentor on a blog