Monday Update – 1/13/14

Today’s schedule: wake up late, fry up some eggs, and watch some stimulating debates on the existence of God (I know, you all wish you were me). The particular showdown I viewed today was between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Frank Turek (author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist). The late Hitchens is one of my favorite personalities to watch for two reasons: first, I find his wit and intelligence nearly unmatched; and second, I find his arguments for atheism more formidable than those of any other figure I’ve come across. That’s not to say I agree with each of his points, but I find his general worldview difficult to counter. As I’m sure most of you do when critically listening to a debate, I mentally attempt to locate and expose logical flaws as I hear them. Hitchens’ arguments are the most airtight I’ve encountered to date as I could only find two rather minor objections to his view in the 2+ hour debate I watched today.

The first (and more significant) was this: when asked to provide a base for morality in the absence of a moral law giver, Hitchens appeals to the audience by advocating modern, Western moral norms. In other words, he essentially cites the fact that, since the vast majority of people would not go on a killing rampage, it follows that a human moral standard is non-violence. However, to date I’ve never heard him cite a reason other than societal consensus (or conscience, which I will get to in a moment) for his moral imperative of non-violence. In other words, if we are purely products of naturalistic evolution, there is no good reason not to kill another human being.

It’s an elementary objection, but it’s one to which I’ve never seen a good answer. Hitchens may be a smart man, but his intelligent admonition not to kill is no reason not to kill. After all, who made him the boss? I’m composed of the same matter as was Mr. Hitchens. There’s nothing special about him, me, or the person being targeted for murder. What society deems appropriate should hardly be considered a prohibition either, as I’m sure Mr. Hitchens would agree were he still with us. Vast majorities in Muslim countries consider death by hanging an appropriate punishment for homosexuals, and Mr. Hitchens’ indignation towards such practices is well-documented. Sometimes, society gets it wrong. Christopher Hitchens would be the first to tell you that.

The second objection I have is that Hitchens cedes the existence of conscience. He asserts that those who don’t follow that “little voice inside” are sociopaths and psychopaths. The idea of conscience is entirely scriptural. Hitchens doesn’t mind sharing this view with the Bible, but he never provides an origin for conscience. Is it molecular? Is it even physical? Why did the current development of homo sapiens somehow get the benefit of this built-in morality cop while our predecessors did not? Is it simply a function of larger brains capable of advanced intelligence? Incredibly, Hitchens cites Socrates’ reference to an internal “daemon” that sounded an alarm bell when Socrates constructed an improper mental argument. What chemical or physical form did this daemon take? How does it fit into an evolutionary framework? Let’s assume higher intelligence is the root of conscience. What makes us think our higher development gives us the right to impose moral absolutes on others who may not agree with us? What if one has no demonstrable conscience — do we have the right to lock him or her away? What if that is the next stage of our evolution? Hitchens considers a moral God who allows suffering the ultimate tyranny. But if there is no God, wouldn’t the ultimate tyranny be the dominant race (humans) imposing one morality upon everyone? In a godless context, nothing could be more regressive. As the universe increases in entropy, why should the human attempt to remain static by enacting laws to preserve the species? Shouldn’t chaos rule? Why put off the inevitable by requiring all humans to participate in the same moral code?

I welcome feedback as these are unfinished thoughts. Thanks for reading.