Hitchens’ Challenge

imgresThe great atheist writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens issued a famous challenge: “I challenge you to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion.” He insisted that he had never encountered anyone who was able to do so.

Now it seems, a contender has stepped into the ring, and although I don’t claim to be half the writer or orator that Christopher Hitchens was, I shall examine the article which can be found in it’s entirety, here.

First of all, Hitchens’ challenge is rigged. You must play by his rules. That means you can only answer with good or noble things that are possible in an atheistic framework. That essentially guarantees the outcome of the challenge in the atheist’s favor.

imgresFirst of all, in what way can the challenge be rigged?  How can one state that rules are required.  It is a simple statement asking for evidence of an act of nobility that has no requirement for any religious stance. So before the article even gets up a head of steam, you have already laid the groundwork for any excuses as to why your response is shredded.

Respond with something that a religious person can do which appeals to the existence of God or the supernatural, and you will be laughed out of the room.

And rightly so. An appeal of any kind is not an act, nor is it noble, it is merely a statement of belief in a higher power and an admittance that one lacks the necessary tools to complete a particular task.

For instance, an atheist cannot “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

In what way is this a noble act? Not noble. Not an act, merely a profession of adoration. Although you are correct in that no atheist could say that, but I add the corollary, no atheist would want to!

Jesus said that this was the most important commandment.

Did he, by crikey! So what is being said here, is that the word of a historically unproven figure is worth more than that of any atheist living or dead, who may have led a moral life. What a contemptible thing to say. Almost as contemptible as the contention that murder, theft and fraud are less important than unconditionally loving a mythical being.

So, on the Judeo/Christian view, an atheist is incapable of doing the greatest good and most noble thing.

Opinion, not fact.

Alas, that sort of answer is not allowed.

For good reason.  It is meaningless and does nothing to offer any sort of valid response to the challenge.

You have to come up with something that is possible for an atheist. See the catch? Thus, the challenge is guaranteed to stump religious people. It essentially says “assuming your religion is false, and the world of physical actions is all the exists, name one moral thing that you can do that an irreligious person can’t do.”

What catch? The assumption of one’s religion being false is not mentioned by the challenge, and is therefore a poorly constructed strawman.  Remember, the challenge requires a noble act, not the issuing of a statement of spirituality that is only relevant to the person making it.

Second, and more importantly, Hitchen’s challenge is actually of little consequence in the debate about God and religion. Nobody is arguing that you have to religious in order to do good.

Exactly. Nobody, including Hitchens is arguing that.  But you seem to have brought it in anyway.

In fact, Christianity teaches that all people are created in the image of God, and are endowed with an inner sense of right and wrong.

And I say that god was created in the image of man.  Until you prove God’s existence, this particular portion of your article has little to no value.

Hitchen’s challenge does not address the real issue: why are some things good and noble?

That’s because it’s an entirely different question, that he didn’t ask! Do I sense another scarecrow in my immediate future?

The answer cannot simply be “because we think they are,” or “because they benefit us.”

Why not?

Such claims lead to moral relativism or consequentialism–things can be good or noble to me, or have outcomes that I deem beneficial, but nothing is really good or noble in itself. In that case, Hitchen’s challenge could simply be dismissed.

You are arguing a point that nobody made. So dismiss away, but in doing so you are simply evading actually attempting to answer the challenge.  The challenge makes no mention of the objectivity or relativity of the nobility or goodness of the task, merely that request to show that it would only be possible for a person of your religion to accomplish.

After all, he asked for “one good or noble thing.” That is a request for a thing that is objectively good (possessing goodness in and of itself). As it stands, the challenge is akin to saying something like “I challenge you to name an invention that I cannot use unless I believe in inventors.”

Objective morality? I shall refer you to a previous post where I discuss this very issue. Anyway the personal belief of the actor should have no bearing on the act of nobility… Which is the whole point of the challenge!

Most of use would immediately realize that as pure nonsense. Of course it is not necessary to believe in inventors in order to use inventions. You can use an iPhone without believing in Steve Jobs. But if no inventors exist, then no inventions would exist. So you would be foolish to make such a claim.

I agree. And nobody has.

The existence of inventions points back to the existence of inventors. Hitchen’s is 100% right, it is not necessary to be religious in order to do good or noble things. No one is arguing that. But if God, as a transcendent agent of unchanging moral character, does not exist, then objectively good and noble things also do not exist.

Fundamental flaw. You need to prove this particular point in order for any of your article to have merit.

That is not a claim that belongs only to Christian apologists. Many of the great atheist thinkers have made the same point (I have written at greater length on the moral argument for God’s existence here.)

I’ll examine the linked blog post at a later date.

The existence of objectively moral acts points back to the existence of God.

Really? Prove it.

Hitchen’s challenge simply misses the mark.

It would appear that you are the one who missed the mark.  You have attempted to subvert the clearly worded challenge into a completely different debate and argued that (badly) instead of addressing the challenge.

To be honest, if this is the best you can do, I don’t hold much hope for your moral arguments for God’s existence.

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