The Hitchens Challenge

I briefly alluded to this in a previous post. I’m going to very quickly present Christopher Hitchens’ challenge on morality and try to explain why I think it’s a bad argument. Here he is presenting it at a debate with (I believe) Alistair McGrath.

So if you can’t watch that for whatever reason, the challenge basically goes that noone can show an example of a moral action or statement that is made because of religious belief, that would not also be made by an atheist. On the other hand, everyone can think of an evil thing carried out explicitly because of religious belief.

Now I’ll admit that I haven’t read any of Hitchens’ books (except for The Portable Atheist, but he was more an editor in that one). I presume he makes this argument in God is Not Great, and perhaps there he explains this further, but this is my objection to the way I’ve seen the argument presented.

The first thing that a religious person would probably use as an example is prayer, or praising God, or confession or something like that. This would be rejected because it has to be something that is demonstrably a moral thing to do, and things like that aren’t demonstrably moral. But if he’s asking for something that can be shown to be moral, then an atheist would also do such an act purely because it is demonstrably moral. So he’s excluding the very kind of thing that would refute his argument right from the offset.

Now I agree that those kinds of things aren’t moral, but if a god were shown to exist then you could argue that they would be. So we can’t really answer his challenge until we can show that a god either does or definitely does not exist. On that basis I think this is a poor argument, one that Hitchens makes frequently, and one that I wouldn’t expect from such a great thinker as him. It’s not really a good argument one way or the other.

Edited to include: What I suppose it does show is that morality does not come purely from a religious belief. But then that’s not an argument I’ve ever seen a Christian make.


2 Responses to The Hitchens Challenge

  1. Valerie says:

    Hitchens a great thinker? One who would not raise his own flesh and blood – should their father Peter die – simply because their father was a Happy Clappy? That’s not very moral or great thinking to me!!!

    As a woman – and I’ve asked women I know from the extremely religious to the anti-theist to everything in between – the hypothetical of raising the children of a relation who’s beliefs were the opposite or odious to your point of view – and not a single one said they’d refuse raising the children even if it caused economic hardship!

    I believe in NOT having religion/spirituality decide abortion issues either but his blatant rant against Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu (aka Mother Theresa for the RC crowd) who has given up her life helping the poor simply because of a few ‘dated’ personal beliefs is ridiculous. One does NOT throw the baby out because of the bathwater! One shouldn’t cherry-pick but look at all the things a person has done good and bad, plus sacrifices made (the fact she is a RC nun means no sex or marriage – which is a HUGE sacrifice if you ask me) to see she has done more on the ‘good’ side if things – organizations that helping people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children’s and family counselling programs, orphanages, and schools for the poor.

    Let’s tally this PRO’S she has helped hundreds of thousands of people in 9 major social issues, with 2 major sacrifices (first no sex, second no major personal wealth allowed) versus the ‘Cons’ of having two personally ridged beliefs (NO abortion, NO condoms) and some donors she took from who might have been dodgy.

    So 11 Pro’s versus 3 Con’s, seems like a decent person to me so why villify her so much? Why not rather respectfully point out your critism of the ‘weak spots’ if the person is overall doing good? Does is matter two figs that she is doing it in the name of someone who may or may not exist? Do the actions not stand on their own as being good and more important that some ‘supernatural’ attributation of purpose that may or may not exist?

    I’m a pragmatic and a practicalist – to me it is the actions of people in the real world that matter not their reasoning behind such – because we can only prove and live with the actions.

    Plus he’s sexist an a closet-homophobe to boot! “” “” who doesn’t give two figs about the mind of the woman he’s with as long as she’s good at bj’s

    In other words a total LOSER!

  2. grammarking says:

    Welcome to the blog.

    I am under the impression that the Hitchens brothers have made up. They have had several interviews together. I also have no idea why you think being a woman or asking lots of women is at all relevant to that.

    You have also only addressed the tiniest part of Hitchen’s objections to Mother Teresa. You say that she helped hundreds of thousands of people, but one of Hitchens’ main points was that actually she didn’t, she just gave the poor a place to die. She did not even give them painkillers, saying that pain was good for the soul, and yet when she herself fell ill she was in the best Swiss clinic that money could buy. Millions and millions of pounds went into that charity and despite repeated calls for it there has never been an investigation into where the money went. She opened convents across the world rather than help the poor. Many of these donations were sought from third world dictators.

    You seem to place some kind of respect on people who take chastity and poverty vows. I don’t really, particularly a chastity vow as it’s entirely unnecessary, she’s not benefiting anyone by not having sex. The fact that she herself did not have sex also gives her no authority whatsoever to comment on other people’s sexual practices, something she did frequently. She was a hypocritical old toad.

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