Friday, June 08, 2007

Some thoughts on the Dr. Mark Roberts and Christopher Hitchens Debate Part 1

I think that in a debate it is important to point out the untenable nature of your opponent's position and to present a positive case for your own (or at least defend your position from misrepresentations by your opponent). Roberts did neither, in my opinion. I understand that it wasn't the best environment for a debate but there was too many times that Christianity was misrepresented and Roberts let errors stand.

At the beginning of the debate Hugh asks Hitchens about a quote from his brothers' review of his book (Hitchen's brother is a Christian):

“Where is Christopher’s certain knowledge of what is right and wrong supposed to have come from?”
Hitchen's didn't really answer the question:
CH: Well, it’s the most commonly asked question of unbelievers, or perhaps I should say atheists, and I regard it, though you put it very politely, as a slightly insulting one. But the suggestion that you make is that if I don’t respect a celestial dictatorship that’s unalterable, nothing is going to prevent me from lying, cheating, raping, thieving and so on. Well, I can’t exactly tell you why I don’t do those things, or why I enjoy, say, going to give blood, which I do. After all, I don’t really lose a pint, but somebody gains one, and I have a rare blood group, and I might need some blood one day myself, so it seems an all-around very satisfying transaction. In a sense, do I need to say much more than that?
Roberts' response was one of the first of many disappointments during the course of the show:
MR: Well, on one hand, no. I think there are certainly moral, good people who believe all kinds of things, including atheism. In fact, I have sometimes said that I sometimes believe Christians kind of rely on God, and need God here because they actually are not as good people as folk who not believers. And somehow, we need a little extra help. I think there’s…the problem is not that there aren’t atheists and others who are moral and live morally, I think the problem would come if somebody who disagreed on a matter of ethics, and said well, I understand that you, Christopher, believe I shouldn’t, you know, shoot this innocent person. But in my view, I think I should shoot this innocent person. I’m not sure how, and I’d be interested, how would you say to that person at that point no, you, shouldn’t, and here’s why you shouldn’t.
Um, what does Roberts do with this passage?
Romans 3:9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
I think that it undermines the gospel to say that anyone is capable of doing good because they aren't. Now, those of you who don't believe in God will say, "What about Hitchens giving blood or the endowment of millions to charitable causes?" We view those acts as good but how does God view them:
Isaiah 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
It is only when we understand the standard of God and that it can only be met in Christ (sinless man and holy God), that we understand the inadequacy of our deeds as Paul did when he became a Christian:
Philippians 3:3 For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh- 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Now you can argue that an atheist wouldn't care about the opinion of a nonexistent God and I realize that but it's still the truth. I would have stated that it doesn't matter what we view as moral because God has a much more exacting standard and then I would have followed it up with this question: Why do so many people throughout the course of human history believe that God is angry with them? Many religions have an appeasement aspect, why?

I understand that Hitchens would have a descent response to this question but that wouldn't stop me from asking because I think it makes the point that man knows that he is under the wrath of God and has came up with ways throughout history to try appease that wrath.

I was happy that Roberts pressed Hitchens because it is an important point and one that a debater would have to make sure got answered or point out that his opponent doesn't have an answer. Hitchens tries to answer with an appeal to conscience:
CH: Well, I think I would probably be capable of giving some good reasons. I think for one thing, it would be an outrage to their conscience. Let’s don’t consider the interest of the other person for a moment. And after all, some people do need to be shot, but you stipulated innocence. Well, it would be an outrage to your conscience if for some reason, we do, we are aware of doing ill or doing good. The test I apply in my book, a fairly good, pragmatic, American test, is what do you do when no one’s looking? The fact is someone is looking. You have an internal conversation with yourself where you don’t want to look or feel bad. I don’t think this comes from God. I think it comes as part of our evolution. Darwin points out, and others have noticed since that there are animals who behave ethically to one another. They have solidarity, they have family groups, they seem able to feel sympathy. They certainly come to each other’s aid, in the case of some of the higher mammals. I think our morality evolved, and I don’t believe that my Jewish ancestors thought that perjury and murder and theft were okay until they got to Mt. Sanai and were told no dice. But there’s another insulting, if I may say this, implication to the question, which is that those who do subscribe to the idea of an all-seeing permanent surveillance from a celestial dictatorship, are therefore going to behave well. Now, there’s absolutely no evidence for that proposition at all. And some of the things that are enjoined by the Ten Commandments, such as not envying other people’s property, which in my view, is a great spur to innovation, as well as the thought it’s impossible not to have, actually don’t lead to moral preachments, nor do commandments to mutilate the genitals seem to me to be moral preachments, nor does the idea of terrifying children with stories of hell appear to me to be moral. There’s a great deal of wickedness that’s attributable purely to religious belief. Morally normal people wouldn’t do these things if they didn’t think God was desiring them to do so.
At this point it would have been helpful to stop and address Hitchens assertion about the law. This was the perfect opportunity for Roberts to preach the gospel and also show how the Old Testament is crucial to Christianity (which is a point that Hitchens brings up later in the debate and Roberts lets slip by without an adequate response).

Hitchens might have been surprised to learn that Paul would agree with his assertion that the law doesn't lead to "moral preachment." That wasn't it's purpose:
Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Galatians 3:23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
The purpose of the law was to show God's people that it's impossible to please a holy God apart from Christ.

Also, though Hitchens thinks that parts of the law are immoral (I'm sure that he would agree with the "thou shalt not kill" part of the law), the Jews believed that it was a gift from God:
Romans 9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
The circumcision was a sign of what God promised to do for the people of God:
Genesis 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." 9 And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
Far from being immoral, it was a sign of God's love and care. It was a sign of the place that Israel had in the plan of God and that they belonged to God.

Of course Roberts didn't have time to say this. I just wished that the debate would have been turned more toward what we believe and less about what Hitchens thinks we believe.

I do think that he made a good point in the following (except the statement about in bold :-) but he should have done it in the context of the Romans 3 passage that I quoted before:
No, my point would be that Christopher, you would explain the fact of human conscience in light of evolution. That may well be true. I would actually say something I know you don’t believe, but you and I can differ on all kinds of things, that your innate morality is in fact quite a real remnant of your having been created by a moral God, and that one of the reasons that your arguments work, appeal to common conscience and stuff like that, is that we have in fact embedded within us something more than the accident of evolution, but something that God has in fact given, however twisted it might be. And so I think on the religious side of things, I can at least make a stronger case not only for why we should be moral, namely that there is a God who knows all things, and says this is a good way to live, but I can even explain why atheists are in fact moral, and that is they’re created in God’s image.
There are so many aspects to this point but I don't want to make this post too long since I know most of you haven't even made it this far :-) More tomorrow Monday.