Friday, 3 September 2010

Hitchens' unanswerable challenge...answered!

Christopher Hitchens stated that he had issued this challenge to many people and had yet to get an answer to it, here it is: Name one moral action a religious person would do that an atheist couldn't also do.  He added this supplementary - if one such action can be named, then he could name any amount of immoral actions committed by religious people that atheists would not do.

Now this challenge is so confused and groundless that I am amazed he ever verbalised it.  The challenge can be answered in a superficial way, but it can be demolished in a foundational way. 

In the particular setting in which I heard it both ways were taken.  We will look at the superficial answer first.  He was told that actions such as worship, evangelism, prayer etc. were moral actions that an atheist could not do, but Christopher's reply was that he didn't think they were moral actions.  So we have to rephrase Christopher's challenge to this, "Name one thing that I agree to be moral that I could not do as an atheist."  You can see now why it is "unanswerable".  If he agrees it is a moral action then why would he not do it?  Any action that conflicts with his atheism, he just says it isn't moral.  He can't seem to see the foolishness of his position, or that it would cut both ways, because he talks about the immoral things that people do because of religion, but those religious people would simply say to Christopher, "I don't consider those things we do to be immoral."

However, his challenge spectacularly misses the point, and this is where we go for the foundation - who determines the morality of an action?  What is morality and immorality anyway, how can anyone judge and why should anyone care?  Christopher says, "Name one moral action religious people can do that atheists can't."  I adjust the challenge and return it to him, "Name one moral action, and tell me why it's moral - where are you getting morality from and what are you measuring morality with."  This is another example of how atheists cannot live consistent with their beliefs - they have to stand on a Christian foundation if they want to condemn it.

His "new atheist" colleague, Richard Dawkins, in similar fashion totally fails to get it.  In his book, The God Delusion, he writes about believers who challenge him as to why he bothers to be good, given his belief that there is no God to meet, he responds by asking the challenger if that is the only reason they are good - to avoid punishment or get reward.  To be fair to Dawkins his response misses the point because the challenge misses it too.  The question is not why be good, the question is "what is good?"  Eliminating God eliminates the catagory as anything real or objective.

In addition, don't forget that in true Christianity people aren't good to avoid punishment because Christians are saved from punishment by Christ's work, not theirs.  My salvation doesn't depend on me, it depends on Christ, and this allows me to do good not out of fear but out of true devotion - this again sets Christianity apart from other religions, which are all works-based.