A Response to Christopher Hitchens’ Challenge

Implied in his book God is Not Great and explicitly stated in debates, Christopher Hitchens poses a challenge to those who claim theists have some sort of moral superiority:

Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

Basically, it’s a rhetorical question. Everything religious people can do, non-religious people can do. So your religion doesn’t make you any more moral than the rest of us.

Christian blogger Amy Hall doesn’t think the question is fair, though, and she offers this response to the challenge:

As it happens, there is an answer to Hitchens’s question — one that seemed obvious to me immediately — and it illustrates perfectly the problem with the challenge. The highest moral good a person can do is to worship the living, true, sovereign God — to love Him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Not only will no atheist ever do this, no atheist can do this. But of course, since they do not recognize worship as a real, valid moral good, no atheist would accept this response to Hitchens’s challenge. They necessarily reject it precisely because it correctly answers the challenge; because it succeeds, it fails. Any correct answer that exists will necessarily fail…

Of course, we can argue over whether worshiping God is a “moral” act. I don’t think it’s immoral, either, but doesn’t make a damn bit of difference? No.

Atheist Daniel Florien says something similar:

Atheists would not reject [Amy's claim] because it “correctly answers the challenge” — they would reject it because the answer is built on unproven presuppositions — for instance, that there is a god, that this god is good and just and sovereign, that this god wants to be worshiped, and that to worship him is a moral action.

If she can prove the answer’s presuppositions, then I would agree Hitchens’s challenge has been answered. But until then, it remains.

What do you think: Is Hitchens’ question a fair one? Is Amy’s concern legitimate?

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Hitchens’ question is fair but kind of irrelevant. Does a person’s ability to perform certain actions have any bearing on whether there is a God or whether religion is worthwhile?

    But, Amy is right – worshiping God is the a moral act than an atheist cannot perform. Daniel is right also though in that this answer rests on presuppositions. But his response is also built on presuppositions – as any response to anything is. We all have presuppositions and there is no getting around them. Every argument becomes circular at some point. I believe Christianity, with its presuppositions, is far more coherent and believable and rational than is atheism/naturalism and its presuppositions.

    So, Amy wins. And plus, the Christian and Atheist would first have to agree on what constitutes “morality” before the question is satisfactorily settled for both sides, and that might be a tough job.

  • http://spgreenlaw.wordpress.com/ spgreenlaw

    When I first read God is Not Great I remember that question sticking out. I think it is an interesting bit of rhetoric and it illustrates an important point: We atheists are not bad people. We are frequently very good people, just like your (religious) selves.

    But yes, without any agreed upon morality, the question becomes impossible to navigate, as Amy Hall’s criticism and the reply that follows it show. Those who feel the most need to answer such a question (the most religious among us) will have a very different conception of morality.

    An example, whereas a utilitarian like myself makes ethical decisions based on the positive or negative results of action and the pleasure/pain derived by those a decision affects, a fundamentalist christian will claim that morality must come from God and by extension, their Holy Book. To a certain extent, our morals might be cohabitant, but ultimately we will not see eye to eye, and often even maintain opinions that are polar opposites.

    Incidentally, this sort of thing happens with many such challenges. “Psychics” complain that Randi’s challenge uses unfair (which of course means scientific) criteria. On the other side you have Kent Hovind challenging evolutionary biologists to prove that no other hypothesis could be correct. Obviously Randi’s rules are far more sane than Hovind’s, but these is the sort of problems that arise when people don’t share at least a few basic principles. The whole thing dissolves, and communication is practically impossible.

  • Aj

    The challenge assumes that both parties can reach an agreement of what is a moral act.

    A religious person could argue that killing in the name of God is good. It’s not a flaw in the challenge, Amy Hall shouldn’t have assumed that it was her screwed up morals.

    Why should the challenge use “Christian” morals?

  • http://spgreenlaw.wordpress.com/ spgreenlaw

    Aj,

    The challenge sort of begs the question when it assumes that we can agree on morality. Clearly that’s an unnaccepted premise. Hitchens knew that many religious people would disagree with him on what a moral action is in the first place, as the book plainly shows time and time again.

    But this is only an issue if he even meant the challenge earnestly in the first place. I think he meant it as a (very effective) thought game for the more moderately faithful who are on the fence about whether atheists can actually be good. It is extremely successful at that, as conversations I’ve had with a few liberal Episcopalians have taught me.

  • http://skepfeeds.wordpress.com/ Skepdude

    Worshiping any god or gods is no more of a moral act than putting sugar in your coffee. It is the height of stupidity to claim that your personal devotion to anything, let it be a god or science, is worthy of moral praise.

    Anyone who makes this assertion has no clue what morality is. What that person is doing is completely redefining morality so that any answer fits it. Of course if we’re allowed to change the rules we can get to any destination we want. Imagine playing a basketball game where the players can change the rules as they go,for example changing an opponents 3-point shot into a 1-point shot for no reason, and changing your 3 pointer into a 13 pointer. What kind of game could ever be played like that?

    What is so moral about worshiping god? The fact that you’re worshiping a specific god? In that case that excludes all other gods, which tends to make worshiping a god immoral as not as it’s not “The God”. Or is it the worshiping which makes it moral, in which case worshiping the devil would also be moral.

    Hitchen’s challenge has not been answered. The religious zealot shows the lack of her logical abilities when she claims she did.

  • http://notreallyalice.wordpress.com Alice

    The highest moral good I can do is to worship the living, true, sovereign Flying Spaghetti Monster with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    I win too.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    I’m with greenlaw a bit. It seems it was intended to be rhetoric to acknowledge that an atheist can do “good” in this world too.

    I think to take it beyond that to actually try and “defeat” his argument or whatever is a waste of time that could be used doing more good for both the christian and the atheist.

    Where a Christian may feed someone hungry out of love because it’s how “The Kingdom of God” is supposed to run, an atheist may feed someone who is hungry out of love simply because they’re hungry. In both cases, the need is met, and nothing beyond that is measurable. I think that’s okay.

  • Jeff Satterley

    I think we need to consider the point Hitchens was trying to get across to us.

    Throughout his book, and most of his other writing, he takes for granted that God probably doesn’t exist. He assumes that that argument has been made enough in plenty of other places not to merit its rehashing. If you have not yet been convinced that the God hypothesis is at least problematic, and you’ve read the arguments already, there is probably nothing new Hitchens can present to change your mind. So, his argument is meant for those who think that perhaps religion helps us be better people, despite the fact that God probably does not exist.

    It is true that if God exists, then his argument is in jeopardy. However, he starts by assuming God doesn’t exist, to show that religious belief does not increase the potential for moral activity. So, we are necessarily talking about a humanistic approach to morals, since any morals dealing with the supernatural have been assumed to be delusional. We may not agree on the moral value of some actions, but given that all humanistic morals deal with the happiness and well-being of people (possibly other animals, but definitely always dealing with physical entities), there is no moral action that cannot be performed without a belief in the supernatural.

  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    Intent is a significant issue in juding the moral weight of an action. If one does something moral (giving to charity, refraining from violence) because of fear of divine retribution, the moral worth of that activity is less than if one does the same thing because of a recognition of the harms and benefits that other people and society in general will realize because of them. If one “loves” God because one is commanded to do so by Jesus under pain of eternal banishment to perdition (see the Gospel of John 14:21 and 15:6), then that motive diminishes whatever moral worth that act of love would otherwise have.

    Of course, it is no more moral to love God than it is to love the Easter Bunny.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    What Amy has done is a form of “moving the goalposts.” She has just picked something she knows Atheists cannot claim to do, and called that “moral.” Let’s move them right back.

    Name one thing – that has a real, tangible effect on the world around us – that a Christian can do that an Atheist cannot. Prayer and worship cannot be demonstrated to have an actual effect, therefore they are not relevant to this discussion.

  • Gabriel

    I think the Hitchens question is fair but I have always had a slightly different take on it.

    Is something moral if it is only done to avoid punishment or receive rewards?

    i.e. Is my giving money to charity moral if I only do it so I won’t go to hell or so I will go to heaven?

  • brad

    If the claim is that Christians are morally superior to atheists, then Hitchens question seems kind of irrelevant. The fact that either an atheist or theist could perform some action in no way suggests that they do perform those actions.

  • QrazyQat

    Believing that worshipping a god is a moral act is an assumption which needs to be proven, and this requires some proof that such a god exists and that worshipping it is moral. Given that so many of the actions of the god talked about in the Christian bible are grossly repugnant, worshipping such a being is immoral.

  • http://spgreenlaw.wordpress.com/ spgreenlaw

    Jeff Satterley,

    That’s a really intriguing way of looking at it. I like it.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    even as a youth pastor myself, I’d say to the comments above:

    If a Christian acts out of fear of hell, or desire for “heaven” (i.e. gold and stuff)….then they’re probably missing what Jesus was talking about anyways.

  • Kyle

    The highest moral good I can do is -insert logical fallacy here-.

    It should be pointed out that, now that I have asserted my logical fallacy to be true, I am the winner of this argument.

    Thus (if you follow my illogic), I win.

    It is good to be the winner. Winner takes all!

  • ubi dubius

    How is worshipping [g]od moral? It seems selfish to me. Xtians are frequently telling me that if you worship [g]od, you go to heaven instead of hell. It’s simply seeking rewards instead of punishments. How is that moral?

  • Jason

    What positive effect does worship alone have on anybody but the person performing it?

  • Jamboh

    Amy, a Christian, refers to her god. A follower of Norse religions might refer to Thor or a Pastafarian to the FSM, and so on for the hundreds of gods. All are acclaimed to be the “one, true sovereign god” and all others to be false idols. Can Amy see why we poor atheists are confused?

    When she proves HER god exists and that he is good and that he is moral then I might listen. Till then, unfounded (yet sincere) beliefs do not even approach a proof.
    Nice try Amy but not even close.

  • Polly

    The highest moral good a person can do is to worship the living, true, sovereign God — to love Him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    I think it’s positively sick to define the highest morality as paying homage to a being that neither needs it nor deserves it while people starve to death or die of preventable illnesses.

    Amy Hall, get your priorities in order.

  • http://www.str.org Amy

    Hey guys, a few of you missed my point (but a few of you got it–thanks!), so I wanted to clarify. My answer to the challenge isn’t worship. My answer is this: the question cannot logically be answered and is therefore invalid. Worship is merely an illustration to show why the question is invalid. Even if true answers exist, by definition Hitchens would not accept them as an answer to the question the way it was asked. I explain this in more detail in my full post, but in a nutshell, Hitchens is asking theists to name one thing he thinks is moral that only believers think is moral. Since nobody can give a logically contradictory answer, it’s really only empty rhetoric. The same problem would result if I asked an atheist to name one moral thing a theist couldn’t do. I’m sure an atheist could think of many things (like convincing theists to become atheists), but by definition, only something he considered moral but I didn’t would be something I couldn’t do. But if I don’t consider it moral, it will fail to answer my question–even if it’s actually a true answer, so it can’t be used to prove anything. Thanks for the link, Hemant!

  • http://darwinsdagger.blogspot.com Darwin’s Dagger

    How is worshiping a God who drowns babies moral? How is worshiping a God who sends bears to eat children moral? How is worshiping a God who would condemn millions of souls to eternal damnation, for the temporal errors made during a fragile and uncertain state of existence, moral? Sounds like the height of immorality to me, kind of like worshiping Hitler.

  • http://www.urantiansojourn.com Saitia

    There is only one meaningful difference in the moral actions of a God knowing believer and those of a secular, or humanistic morality. Humanistic morality is ultimately devoid of survival values, God-knowingness, and God-ascension.

    Many God-knowing individuals are not blind to the difficulties or unmindful of the obstacles to finding God in the maze of superstition, tradition, and materialistic tendencies of our times. But if the nonreligious approaches to cosmic reality presume to challenge the certainty of faith on the grounds of its unproved status, then those who have experienced spirit can likewise resort to the dogmatic challenge of the facts of science and the beliefs of philosophy, on the grounds that they too are unproved; that they are likewise experiences in the consciousness of the scientist or the philosopher.

    “Of God, the most inescapable of all presences, the most real of all facts, the most living of all truths, the most loving of all friends, and the most divine of all values, we have the right to be the most certain of all universe experiences.” —The Urantia Book

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    As is implicit in several preceding comments, I can’t construct a meaning of “moral” that includes Amy Hall’s proposed answer that doesn’t also include a whole lot of statements that she would almost certainly exclude, as for example

    The highest moral good a person can do is to worship the living, true, sovereign God, Hadad — to love Him with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

    Indeed, based on the Old Testament she must exclude that statement.

  • http://www.withoutgods.net anton kozlik

    Hi Gang, I think this entire argument needs some levity added. I would really like if readers, especially Christians, took my challenge. Try it! You have nothing to lose except your beliefs!

  • Brian E

    This post was unnecessary – Daniel’s answer was sufficient. Belief in a particular religion is loaded with presuppositions – and according to most Christians, one of those presuppositions is an exclusive pathway to morality. Hitchen’s proposal simply points out the absurdity of this; thus the flaw is not in Hitchen’s challenge but in the original proposition (Christianity).

    Amy, you’ll have to explain to me why the question itself is flawed instead of the original proposal (that Christianity has an exclusive pathway to morality).

  • Jason

    Amy,
    You are saying that worship renders the question invalid because you are arguing from the abiguity of “moral”. What would your definition of “moral” be, then? And I’m curious, what positive effect does worship alone have?

    EDIT: It is a case of special pleading. A case of “the things that God does are good”, rather than “God does good things”.

  • Awesomesauce

    I think those who are attempting to argue with Amy’s point are also forgetting (missing?) the point of the question.

    Even if there is a logical fallacy inherent in the question (not saying there is, only “what if”), this would not invalidate the point.

    Now, if presuppositions can be moral to the people that have them, then people with opposing presuppositions can be just as moral.

    Thus, even if we allow for “wishy-washy” definitions of what is considered moral, atheists, theists, agnostics, deists and so on are all equally capable of defining (or not defining) their own morals. Subsequently, they are all capable of neglecting or practicing these self-defined morals.

  • David D.G.

    Let me just say that Amy’s absurd and disingenuous sophistry — which is ALL that her response was — makes this atheist disinclined to be particularly friendly toward her. Such a smug and nonsensical response deserves not only dismissal, but contemptuous ridicule.

    Her response did not “answer” the challenge; it merely attempted to nullify it by redefining reality, and thus the nature of the challenge, in its own favor. Where I come from, this is called “cheating” — or at least, in cases such as this, sheer intellectual dishonesty.

    Also, I want to heartily endorse Polly’s comment:

    I think it’s positively sick to define the highest morality as paying homage to a being that neither needs it nor deserves it while people starve to death or die of preventable illnesses.

    Amy Hall, get your priorities in order.

    A-freakin’-men!

    ~David D.G.

  • Sentium

    It is lamentable when presuppositions create large groups of like minded individuals that oppress those of dissimilar presuppositions. Atheists, as a group, have never oppressed a people: anti Semites vs. Jews; Muslims’ vs. all non-believers; Christians vs. Heretics; Christians against non-believers; etc. etc. etc.; etc. on and on and on.

  • False Prophet

    We could argue whether the worship of god(s) is moral or not, but Plato wrote a famous dialogue about it over 2,500 years ago, so we might want to consult that first.

  • http://imaginggeek.blogspot.com Bryan

    I think Hitchens gets the nod here. I’m sure many Christians think Amy Hall’s answer gives her the win, but I don’t think that prayer is automatically moral. In fact, most prayer tends to be rather selfish – asking god for personal favors, or favors on behalf of others. I’m not up on my Christian theology, but I’m 99% sure that selfishness is not a virtue.

    Likewise, the content of a prayer should be factored in. Once again, I’m not up on my Christian theology, but I’d argue that praying for someones death (say McCains, for example) is not a moral thing to do.

    Of course, for those of us who don’t believe in a magical fairy in the sky the issue is moot – at best its a self-indulgent waste of time.

  • Harknights

    Amy-

    if I understand what you are saying is that there are no such thing as morals. Or more to the point that you make up morals as you go. That might be true of an unclear word such as moral. I think was was intended was.

    What social morals does one get by believing in God that an Anthiest can not have. You can’t say believing in God because that’s where you start. You didn’t get the moral of believing in God by believing in God.

  • Cade

    Hitchens’ challenge is actually fairly circular if it’s to be called an argument of any kind.

    Consider these 2 situations:
    Hitchens and a theist have the same view on a moral question.
    Hitchens and a theist have a different view on a moral question.

    In the first instance, Hitchens’ wins the challenge, of course. And in the second instance he can just say that their opinion isn’t actually morally valid.

    It’s an interesting rhetorical proposition, but I’d shudder to call it an argument for anything.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “I explain this in more detail in my full post, but in a nutshell, Hitchens is asking theists to name one thing he thinks is moral that only believers think is moral. Since nobody can give a logically contradictory answer, it’s really only empty rhetoric.”

    Amy, that was the ENTIRE POINT! He was made a challange his opponent couldn’t win. You may think it is wrong… but theists continue to slander atheists on the subject of morality.

    The fact of the matter which you only seem now to have grasped, is alot of Christain morality relies of belief in God- and if he doesn’t exist, it isnt really moral.

    Prayer is NOT moral if God is all seeing- after all, he already knows.

  • eL_sTiKo

    There’s a wonderful quote I remember from my youth, but regrettably I cannot cite the source despite my best googlings:

    Man must do good out of good intent, Not the servile fear of punishment.

  • Jeff Satterley

    I still think it’s fairly obvious that Hitchens is making the argument to change the mind of those who believe that even though God probably does not exist, religion is necessary for people to be maximally moral.

    Of course it’s obvious that if God is the one making the rules that a theist must be more moral than an atheist. However, divine command theory is preposterous, there are plenty of arguments against it (unless you think God can just change his mind one day and make rape and murder morally permissible). So, if God does not decide the morality of actions, but those actions have some intrinsic moral value external to God, then there is no reason that an atheist cannot perform any moral act that a theist can.

    Unless you have a radical new defense of divine command theory, I don’t think it matters whether Hitchens will never agree with you on what is and is not morally imperative or permitted.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info Blue Nine

    If Amy thinks that the challenge is invalid because atheists and theists cannot agree on morality, does this mean that theists will be quiet and keep their religion to themselves? Doesn’t this mean that a theist has no basis for judging an atheist? Or, for that matter, another theist?

    Theists deal with absolutes when it suits them. They talk in absolutes when they want to control others. But when they can’t win, all of a sudden it’s all about context and definitions.

  • Miko

    Seeing as the form of worship suggested in the Bible is blatantly immoral (animal sacrifices, destroying temples of other religions, murdering those who disagree, etc.), I’d say that there’s a fair claim that actually worshiping said deity is an immoral act. Seeing as those who claim to worship said deity would object on the grounds that they do not (typically) commit these acts, it’s fair to observe that in fact they are not actually worshiping the deity, and so the issue is moot.

  • Pseudonym

    I agree with Daniel Hoffman’s response, but I’ll go one further. You can turn the challenge around:

    Name one unethical statement made, or one unethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

    The only correct response to this challenge is a response similar to that of Amy Hall. You essentially need to define “belief” as unethical and go from there.

    (And no, the answer is not “suicide attacks” or even “flying planes into things”. There are plenty of instances of suicide attacks in the history of warfare; Kamikaze and Selbstopfereinsatz are obvious examples from WW2. It’s not to hard to think of a lot of other cases of mass murder/suicide carried out by nonbelievers, but we usually think of them as crimes, not terrorism.)

  • Jen

    At first, I was going to agree with Polly’s comment- it is immoral to spend time worshipping a (probably false) god rather than dealing with the suffering of the world. On the other hand, its probably also immoral to argue on a atheist blog about Catholic crackers or FFRF ads rather than making the world a better place. However, I think it is fair to argue that Amy and I are both doing the same thing in terms of helping the world- nothing, in this example – but at least I realize I am not helping anything, whereas she feels she has acted morally and made the world a better place.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    As Brad points out, what Christians generally claim is that they’re more moral than atheists, so Hitchens’ comments seem irrelevant. I’ve never meet a theist so silly as to claim that no atheist can ever do anything moral. They just say that the average Christian is more moral than the average atheist. (Or alternatively, that an atheist who is moral lacks a valid ontological basis for his/her morals.) Hitchens’ argument doesn’t seem to be at all relevant to this. What you would want to test the standard Christian claim is to test large numbers of Christians and atheists in a situation where we all agree on what constitutes moral behavior (like seeing if they stop to help a baby in a well), and see which group has a better percentage of moral behavior. I tend to doubt that there would be much difference between the groups. Historically, I think the two groups come out about equal.

    I suppose that Amy could be seen as technically correct, in that no moral standards are empirically testable, so you could take the stance that no question about morality is sensical. In the same vein, I guess I could claim that I’m extremely moral, since I eat a lot of bananas, and like to teach people about convection, and those are two of the most moral things a person can do. Hey, who can prove me wrong? But this strikes me as an extraordinarily silly cop-out. Basically, Amy seems to be saying that we could have different moral beliefs, so there’s no way to talk about them.

    Amy, if you’re still around, what I’d say is this. Forget about Hitchen’s challenge. Hitchens is arguing against something that I have no reason to believe anyway, so I don’t much care whether it’s a good argument. If you have some basis for believing that theists are more moral than atheists, then explain what that basis is. Either show me empirical evidence that theists are more moral in activities that we all agree are moral (e.g. helping babies in wells), or explain, using beliefs we have in common, why theistic activities like praising a powerful entity are moral. If your superior morality consists purely of a class of activities that you’ve chosen to define as moral, and can’t explain why they’re moral in any comprehensible way to outsiders, then that’s great, but I’m going to claim superior morality based on my banana-eating.

    Seriously, I totally don’t get why “The highest moral good a person can do is to worship the living, true, sovereign God,” even assuming for the sake of argument that such an entity exists.

  • Christophe Thill

    Worshipping a god is “moral”? But what does “moral” mean, then? I’d tend to define the word by the fact that whatever it qualifies has positive effects, and for more than just one person. So, what are the positive effects of this worship?

  • http://friendlyhumanist.blogspot.com Tim Mills

    This talk about “morality being subjective” is all very clever, but misses the point. Hitchens is not that subtle in his thinking or speaking. Speaking to a general audience, he clearly meant “moral” in a secular sense (as in not-presupposing-one-belief-over-another, not as in assuming-religion-is-false).

    It may not be precise or philosophically rigorous, but it is meaningful. And it is the appropriate scope for such a question. In that scope, things like murder, theft, breaking a promise, etc are immoral; saving a life, helping someone in need, etc are moral. Worshipping a god cannot be judged one way or another without introducing further presuppositions (and thus begging the question).

    As has been pointed out, there is only one reasonable answer to his question. But it was rhetorical. It highlights the fact that, although there is only one reasonable answer, nevertheless many people assume that religion does convey some inherent moral superiority.

    By re-interpreting Hitchens to suit her own presuppositions, Hall simply reinforces his point: the only way religous people can claim inherent moral superiority is by stepping outside of secular reasoning and insisting that their beliefs be given special status.

  • Vincent

    The ACA asks it better when it asks for an example of one good done by religion that could not have been done without religion.
    It doesn’t ask for hypotheticals.

  • http://www.str.org/blog Amy

    >>I suppose that Amy could be seen as technically correct, in that no moral standards are empirically testable, so you could take the stance that no question about morality is sensical.

    Please understand that that’s not at all what I’m saying. I refer you back to my earlier comment. My only point is that if there is something truly moral that only believers would recognize as moral, then by definition, Hitchens will not accept that answer since he is not a believer. In other words, even if there are true answers out there, they are ruled out immediately. The question can’t possibly determine anything in a debate–it’s a logical impossibility.

    It’s funny to read the flow of this conversation. One person misstates my argument, and then the next person adds something to that, and on and on, until I don’t even recognize the way my argument is being characterized. This wasn’t about prayer, or the idea that morality is subjective, or moral superiority, or that there are no such thing as morals (where did you get that?), or giving my belief special status, or whether or not worship is really moral (I wouldn’t expect any of you to agree to that–that’s precisely what creates the logical problem with the question), or even about being a theist or an atheist. I’m definitely not saying worship renders the question invalid. What I’m saying is much simpler than that and only has to do with the logical structure of the question. Logic renders this question an invalid question in a debate because it’s structured logically to preclude any true answers even if they exist. That’s it. The logical problem exists regardless of whether or not God exists. I think some of you are letting your strong feelings against theism get in the way of looking objectively at a simple logic issue.

    Vincent, your question creates exactly the same problem I described above.

    Cade, you get what I’m saying (and a couple others, too). Thanks!

  • Juan

    I find Hitchen’s question simply stupid. Of course anything a religious person can do an atheist can do also, they are both human beings. A more intelligent question would be: “Name an ethical action made by a believer that could not be justified by a non believer”. That question deserves some thought. Consider this: someone wants to kill another person, a religious person can say: “don’t do it, because god will send you to hell if you do”. An atheist would be able to say “don’t do it”, but without any real justification. We atheists may act morally if we want to, but we must admit that we really have absolutely no justification for being able to say “people should not do X”.
    In other words, if a person does not care about his fellow beings, a religious person can justify he should act morally anyways because it will eventually benefit him (going to heaven). Us atheists have actually no way to tell that person he should act morally.

    • Tcl154488

      Err…wrong.
      Athiest response. Don’t kill because it is not what you would want. Don’t do it because you will be imprisoned. Etc etc.
      Religious dogma teaches don’t do it because you’ll go to hell, unless you repent or unless your god ordered you to do it. Justifiable homicide has NEVER been frowned upon among the religious community. Neither has genital mutilation, hanging, stoning, torture, burning at the stake, acid burns, crucifixion etc etc etc etc.
      Also unless you actually lack the mental capacity to perform acts of good without reward or prohibiting yourself from performing acts of evil without fear of punishment, then your problems are mote deep rooted than any scripture can tell you.

    • Shaadiq

      hahahahahahaha. You crack me up. What about ‘I don’t wanna get killed, so I’m not gonna kill anyone else’? Countless examples: ‘would I like it if my wallet was stolen? No, I wouldn’t. So it’s only fair I’m not gonna steal anyone’s wallet and make them go through the same thing’. A lot more effective than ‘I’m not gonna steal this wallet ’cause god will love me less and maybe even make me suffer in hell for all eternity’, no?

  • Karl

    First, Juan you don’t sound like an atheist to me? You wouldn’t be misrepresenting yourself a bit, would you? I could be wrong? But…come on? You’re telling me, as an atheist yourself, you have no justification AT ALL, NOT to kill people? I’m an atheist and I can think of plenty of justifications for the matter! What about: because ‘I’ wouldn’t want to be killed and/or treated that way myself? Or how about: because it’s a sick, sadistic and barbaric act-emotions that have been cultivated through years of psychological evolution to provide one with ‘empathy’ for their fellow human beings? Are you saying you have no ‘empathy’ BECAUSE you’re an atheist? Pardon me, but that sounds awfully close to good old ‘religious logic’ to me? Again, I could be wrong…if you truly feel NO empathy for the person being murdered in your hypothetical scenario, I find that pretty frightening and sad. Second, I think Amy and others are forgetting the rest of Hitchens’ proposal? He doesn’t say ONLY; ‘…name an ethical act performed by a religious person, that could not have also been performed by an atheist’, he (seems to) purposely follow that with: ‘Now, name an UN-ethical act that could ONLY be performed by a religious person, and wouldn’t be acted on by an atheist.’ We can easily think of examples to the latter proposal, but in the former; he seems to be purposely exposing religion for what it is: unnecessary! I believe that’s his point? For he demonstrates that it’s only through religion that a person would be compelled to commit certain unethical acts in the first place, yet by contrast there are NO ethical acts a person can engage in JUST by following religion and religion only. I don’t think he’s merely tried to set up an unanswerable proposal for the sake of debate? I think he’s attempting to demonstrate-by precise and explicit example-his main thesis and the subtitle to his book:”how religion poisons everything!”?

  • http://reasyn.blogspot.com/

    A non-believer could not honestly affirm the moral basis of anyone who
    believes morality to be revealed by a god. All an unbeliever can do is
    to assert that the believer has no “real” basis for such morality,
    whereas the believer can affirm the morality of a non-believer, based as
    it is on reasoning they could honestly agree with.

    It is immoral to undermine the basis of someone’s existing morality, thus encouraging immorality.

    This answer is completely by definition, without any need for a presupposition of any particular morality or belief system.
     


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