Does God Exist? – The Debate Continues

In the debate held Saturday at Biola University between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist William Lane Craig dealing with the question Does God exist, Dr. Craig made what I thought was a brilliant debating tactic. In his opening statements he undercut what I surmise is Mr. Hitchens primary position. He said, and repeated from time to time throughout the evening, that the social implications of belief in God were not part of the discussion about His existence.

Mr. Hitchens, having written god Is Not Great and Is Christianity Good for the World?, certainly seems to have strong opinions about the social implications of belief in God.

I suspect that’s why much of the debate settled on the discussion of Dr. Craig’s moral arguments for the existence of God. Mr. Hitchens did begin, however, addressing some of Dr. Craig’s other arguments.

He said first that atheism, being a position against a particular belief, can’t disprove God. Rather, atheists believe there is no plausible or convincing evidence for the existence of God.

However, he also said that a test of a good argument is that it can be falsified. [Which seems to me to undercut his view that atheism can’t disprove God]. The idea of a designer starting the evolutionary process can’t be disproved and therefore isn’t a good argument.

Further, he said that even if you did believe in a designer, you can’t get from that position to belief in a being who cares. He then said that if there was a God, He was a poor designer because the universe takes up so much space and so much time passed before He made Himself known to save any humans at all. Such waste shows that if there was a designer, he did a poor job or just doesn’t care.

In fact, he said, all the evidence Christians point to for God can be explained without God. He stated that extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence, and he doesn’t find any.

Interestingly, I though Dr. Craig, in his rebuttal, had a great answer to the suggestion that God was ineffectual or wasteful. He said efficiency is only important to people with limited time or limited resources. God, having an infinite amount of both time and resources, wouldn’t have any need to meet some finite definition of efficient.

Back to Mr. Hitchens’ positions. I thought he came to the heart of his views toward the end of the debate, but let me back up. When he was introduced, the host said something about him being an advocate for freedom. I didn’t understand that until the end.

Mr. Hitchens, you see, when discussing the idea of objective morality said this:

It’s degrading to say that morality comes from on high. It’s servile. A kind of heavenly North Korea.

He added that he believed in free will, though he didn’t know why. But a bossy god would seem to reduce free will because then we would be accountable.

Then towards the end of the debate he said:

Emancipate yourself from a celestial dictatorship and you’ve taken the first step to being free.

At last, the notion that Mr. Hitchens was an advocate of freedom made sense. Above all else, it seems he wants his autonomy, even though he believes his life serves no lasting purpose and will end in oblivion. He would rather be the master of his fate and the captain of his own … well, I doubt that he believes he has a soul.

And how is he a master of his fate when he himself states that the end is oblivion?

So it is only in the here and now that he wants to be in charge. Apparently he wants to be the one to say what is right and what is wrong. For although he believes there is a right and a wrong, that any atheist can do any moral act that any Christian can do, he wants to be the one to say what is moral.

The acts of religious people down through history are clearly immoral, according to Mr. Hitchens. And the good that religious people have done can be duplicated by anyone without a belief in God. So what good is he if he existed?

Tomorrow more of my thoughts on Mr. Hitchens’ assertions, because obviously I’ve reported his views with some of my reactions woven in.

By the way, if you would like to read other detailed reports on the debate, I recommend Doug Geivett’s Blog and Wintery Knight Blog (this latter gives you a play-by-play account, next best thing to an actual transcript).

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10 Comments

  1. […] RebeccaLuellaMiller Blog Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Blogging Tips (Tag)Blogtalk: A Practical Introduction to Educational Blogging. Island Pro-D Da…Some Great Blogs To Check Out….Facebook Founder Marc Zuckerberg Admits He Uses Twitter […]

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  2. Thanks for the Rebecca! Hope you don’t mind if I take a look around your blog.

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  3. If you want to understand what is driving Christopher Hitchens, you need to look into his brother Peter. Try this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-459427/Hitchens-vs-Hitchens.html

    I heard Hitchens on radio in Sydney. I thought he was in the group with Dawkins and Harris. Militant atheists who distort their arguments. He was trying to make the point that religious people in power perpetrated great massacres, but rational atheists did not. Someone mentioned Stalin and he just spluttered for a moment. Then all he said was that Stalin trained for the priesthood when he was younger. I don’t know whether that is true or what relevance it has. You could also think of the French Revolution or Year Zero in South East Asia. Where powers set out to deliberately eliminate religion they tend to do so as murderously as Hitchens et al accuse religious people of doing.

    A relevant book to this is The Twilight of Atheism by Alister McGrath. He charts the rise and fall of state atheism and shows how it is a failed project. The loud atheists are saying that if everyone stopped believing in God then peace would break out and the world would be perfect. That’s a large amount of faith. More than I have.

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  4. What a fascinating debate, Becky. Thanks for posting on it.

    Servitude is only degrading if you are slave to a devil or a dog or some other low thing. If you are in servitude to the God who created the universe, who made you and loves you, it is not degrading, it is glorifying.

    But how can a blind man see this?

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  5. Winterly Knight, thanks for stopping by. And be my guest—took around A Christian Worldview of Fiction as much and as often as you like. I hope you’ll also feel free to join in the discussion again.

    Becky

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  6. Ken, I read Alister McGrath’s rebuttal to Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you’re interested you can see my posts here and here. I thought McGrath showed himself to be a preeminent apologist.

    Thanks for the link and for the thoughts about other-than-religious atrocities. I don’t know why no one brings up Mao’s Cultural Revolution either. Or the Cambodian killing fields. Seems greed and power have motivated a lot of people to do horrible things. As I see it, “religion” is a cover for the real issue—man’s sinful nature.

    Becky

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  7. Sally, good point. And the idea that we are “free” if we aren’t serving God is falicious. We are in servitude to our sin nature. Ironic that the morality argument Mr. Hitchens made, focused on atheists being able to do the same good things Christians can do. But what about doing the bad things they don’t want to do? Who’s at fault there?

    Becky

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  8. When reading these comments I was reminded of two poets. One is Bob Dylan in Slow Train Coming, which opens with the song You Gotta Serve Somebody. The other is John Donne in his holy sonnet, Batter My Heart. Both worth revisiting. Both seem to turn on the idea that we are kidding ourselves if we believe we can be totally free and self-contained.

    Re the atrocities: I recently read Letter to America by Sam Harris. He seemed to suggest that Stalin was just mad. This new group of militant atheists seem to run an argument like this:

    Religion is inherently bad and causes people to do bad things. If they do good things, it is just an aberration and does not prove that religion is true. Atheism is inherently good and rational and causes people to do good things. If atheists to bad things it is because they are just personally mad. It does not prove that atheism if false.

    On a radio program I heard a mathematician talking about intelligent design. He suggested that it was merely people saying that there were things they didn’t understand, therefore there must be a designer. He said we could understand many things. He seeemed to imply that therefore there must not be a designer. I realised that neither argument is compelling.

    More and more I get driven back to the idea that Jesus is the evidence we need. Scientists seem to have problems with religious ideas. Partly, I think, because they are not comfortable with the idea of truth as story. They don’t like mysteries, they prefer things they can explain. But also I think they have the idea of themselves as a kind of secular priesthood, given authority to explain the great mysteries of life. Because in Jesus God became flesh and dwelt amongst us, the truth is available to anyone. We don’t need scientists to figure it out and explain it to us.

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  9. Religion is inherently bad and causes people to do bad things. If they do good things, it is just an aberration and does not prove that religion is true. Atheism is inherently good and rational and causes people to do good things. If atheists to bad things it is because they are just personally mad. It does not prove that atheism if false.

    Great summary of that position, Ken, and an even better conclusion. I never thought about Jesus’s very accessibility being a stumbling block for those who wish to claim a place in the intellectual elite. Well said.

    Becky

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  10. I think that quote sufficiently demonstrates that I can’t think and type at the same time! I hope the meaning managed to meander past my mangled typos.

    I once heard one of Australia’s foremost atheists justifying his stance with the thought that his father had died too soon and a terrible death. After that he could not believe in a benign providence. It seemed to me the height of arrogance to believe that your own personal story defined the nature of the universe.

    The other thing that hangs intellectuals up is the specific nature of Christianity. The incarnation means that the truth came amongst us in flesh and blood. You may have noticed that many intellectuals have a preference for Buddhist ideas. These are more cool, less specific, more individual. It came from a historical basis, but isn’t tied down to it. It can be adopted as a personal system without any other implications. I suppose it’s better than them getting tangled up in various forms of magic, which is the other road sometimes taken.

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