Sunday, November 21, 2010

God Needs A Quality Control Department 2.2

This is Part II of my thoughts on the debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Dembski on November 18, 2010, in Plano, Texas. The focus of the debate is this question: does a good god exist? In this clip I'll cover the beginning of Dembski's opening remarks.

<Clip 02 - 12.47 - 12.54 - Existence of god>

I think it's fair for us to expect him to address the existence of god. Let's see whether he delivers.

<Clip 02 - 13.02 - 13.08 - Different tack>

Why can't you use the standard arguments for the existence of your god? Not because we're stubborn, not because we lack spiritual discernment, but because all of the standard arguments have been thoroughly discredited. If they were based on facts, clear thinking, and honest discussion, you could use them. Let's see whether your "different tack" has any value.

<Clip 02 - 13.08 - 13.16 - Hitchens disbelieves>

Wait. He just told us that he intends to address the existence of god. What is he addressing here? Not the existence of god, but instead Hitchens' lack of belief in god? Whether we believe in the existence of a god has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether that god exists. If you're just going to talk about someone's beliefs, whether those of Christopher Hitchens or those of your neighbor's cat, then you've totally left the conversation. Nothing you say about Hitchens or his beliefs has any bearing. And by the way, you're totally wrong when you say that "evils perpetrated in the name of religion" are among Hitchens' reasons for being an atheist. Whether religion is good or evil has no bearing on whether there is a god.

Dembski really wades into the deep end from here. This might take a while.

<Clip 02 - 13.20 - 13.32 - Faith destroyed>

No, Hitchens (and you) know that science has given us new knowledge, not "believe." No, neither Hitchens nor any other rational person believes that our scientific knowledge "destroys religious faith." "Darwinian evolution," as you call it, says nothing at all about religious faith. The fact that evolution has been occurring for billions of years, which is completely independent of Darwin's theory, contradicts several religion-based claims concerning the age of the earth, the origin of species, and especially the origin of humans. If anything destroys faith, it is the wholesome desire to resolve cognitive dissonance of the kind that sets in when one finds facts that contradict long-held beliefs.

<Clip 02 - 13.32 - 13.36 - Evolution chapter>

Sure, you could ask, but it would be at best a meaningless question, and at worst, a misleading question intended to cause the 12-year-old children in the audience to conjure up their parents' favorite buzzwords such as "agenda." Further, Hitchens' book (we're talking about "God Is Not Great" here) is not a defense of atheism. It's a much-needed attack on religion.

<Clip 02 - 13.36 - 13.52 - Mysterious>

He's talking about Chapter Six here. He's also grossly misrepresenting Chapter Six here. Yes, the book does say, "[w]e no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious." However, the claim that "religion, according to Hitchens, renders biological origins mysterious" is simply a lie. One might attempt to say that Dembski simply misunderstood the entire chapter, but that would be extremely naive. This man has mutiple college degrees, has published books, and has attempted to publish in scientific journals. He knows how to read. He knows how to comprehend what he reads. He is lying.

First, Hitchens never claims that "religion renders biological origins mysterious." I'm certain that Hitchens believes no such thing; it's a preposterous, nearly meaningless statement. There is no place in Chapter Six where he would have made such a claim, even if he did hold that position. In this chapter, titled "Arguments From Design," Hitchens discusses--what else?--the arguments from design that have been made by the likes of William Paley. In fact, having now re-read it, I see that Hitchens' opening remarks are based primarily on this chapter. It seems to me that in preparation for the debate, Hitchens must have done Dembski the kindness of announcing his intention to use this chapter as a foundation. The basic message of the chapter is, of course, that looking at the cosmos and at our bodies, we find it hard to believe that an intelligent being was responsible, or at least, an intelligent and benevolent being.

If we want to be honest about the message of the chapter, we have to back up a couple of paragraphs from the place where Dembski quotes, to this: "No divine plan...is required. Everything works without that assumption." Hitchens is simply rejecting the positive claims made by myriad religious people that the wonder of the cosmos and the complexity of living creatures imply a deity. Given all the complaining that Jesusianismists do about atheismists taking bible verses out of context, Dembski is a terrible hypocrite. Let's take Hitchens' statement in its proper context:
Skepticism and discovery have freed [thoughtful believers] from...having to answer distressing questions about who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the idiot child...The faithful stand acquitted...we no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious.
Hitchens is pointing out that the religious, who used to explain disease and disorders as manifestations of their god's mystery, are off the hook.

That's Part II(c). Thanks for watching.

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