Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Christopher Hitchens, who had been suffering from esophageal cancer for over a year, has died.  I think I first came across his work around 1990, at the time his book Blood, Class, and Nostalgia appeared.  (My copy is still around here somewhere.)  I recall seeing him on television -- grilling some George H. W. Bush administration official, perhaps -- and being very impressed by his forceful and formidable intelligence.  I have always been conservative and have usually disagreed with him, but I followed his work with interest from that point on, long before he started to please right-wingers with his well-argued criticisms of the Clintons and support for the Iraq war.  He was almost always smart, funny, and interesting even when he was wrong.

Except on religion, where he was a complete bore and an insufferable hack.  There is no use sugar-coating that fact now that he is gone, and Hitchens was not in any event a fan of the polite obituary.  Religion is the last subject about which to have a tin ear or a closed mind, and Hitchens had both.  Some Catholics seem to have gotten it into their heads over the last year that he might convert -- as if someone who is overtly so very hostile to Catholicism simply must be compensating for a secret longing for it, and is sure to be moved by the prospect of imminent death to let his inhibitions fall away.  This struck me as romantic fantasy, born of too steady a diet of happy “crossing the Tiber” stories.  Sometimes a man has mixed feelings about you, but will accentuate the negative, loath as he is to acknowledge the merits of an adversary.  And sometimes he just hates your guts, and that’s that.  As far as I know, Hitchens was no closer on his deathbed to becoming the next Malcolm Muggeridge than he had been when penning his decidedly un-Muggeridgean book about Mother Teresa.   I very much hope I am wrong.  

The Hitchens jokes in The Last Superstition are the only ones with any affection behind them -- well, some of them have it, anyway.  (No one who knows me or my work could think I regard a crack about one’s affection for the sauce as a serious insult.  Which makes it ironic that the one joke my publisher demanded I remove was a certain jibe about Hitchens’ boozing.)  Of the four horsemen of the New Atheism, Hitchens was the only one I found likable, and the only one possessed of a modicum of wisdom about the human condition, or at least as much wisdom about the human condition as one can have while remaining essentially a man of the Left.  While there was rather too obviously something of the champagne socialist about him, I do not doubt that he had real concern for real human beings -- rather than merely for grotesque abstractions like “the working class” or “humanity” -- and that he showed real moral and even physical courage in defense of what he sincerely took to be the best interests of real human beings.  But love for one’s fellow man, however genuine, is only the second greatest commandment.  

May God comfort his family, and may God have mercy on his soul.

117 comments:

Fripod said...

So now that the "four horsemen" label is no longer applicable, are they henceforth to become the "three stooges" of the New Atheism, or what?

Anonymous said...

It's safe to say that Hitchens is now getting precisely what he wanted while he was alive: A reality completely devoid of God.

This raises a couple of questions: How should a Christian go about coping with the death of someone close to him, someone who thoroughly hated the very idea of God while he was alive and whom the Christian consequently knows is in all likelihood suffering a state of Hell (I find myself thinking of his brother, Peter, who is still living and is a Christian)? And is there hope for redemption after death, a la C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce?

Anonymous said...

Hitchens made the New Atheists entertaining and worth engaging. His linguistic skills were first class. Unfortunately, this leaves the public spokesmen for atheism as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Neither are likeable or as media-friendly as Hitchens. They will surely continue to interview Dawkins for the shock value, but most people see him as a grumpy old man at this point.

This somewhat saddens me. Does this mean the New Atheism is over? They've lost popularity for a couple years now, but are we really left back in a world of Dan Barkers or John Loftus's? How depressing.

Crude said...

So now that the "four horsemen" label is no longer applicable, are they henceforth to become the "three stooges" of the New Atheism, or what?

They regularly called them the "Unholy Trinity" long before this, with Dennett being the one knocked out of the shot. Philosophers aren't really Cult of Gnu favorites, especially ones who get lit up in debate by Dinesh D'Souza, the Scrappy Doo of Christian apologetics.

(I like D'Souza, but at the time he was mostly known for his politics and being peppy. Call a spade a spade.)

Will said...

He was the only one of the new atheists who I could respect in any way for his wit and outspokeness on matters political and he was always entertaining in debate. Though he was always way of the mark when it came to religion and theism he gave it a good shot. The Haldane/Hitchens debate was funny in its contrast, a bellicose brashness of the Hitch, with quiet reserved demeanor of Haldane. And that's the other thing he was never afraid of a fight, unlike certain other parts of the Ditchkins.

@ Anon 12:12, Lewis never said there was salvation after death, though the implication of the Great Divorce is necessarily purgatorial, it strikes me that his vision was one of souls on earth on their way. In other words, things we do now (how much love we have, how much we cling to liberal dogmas) directly affect our souls destination. Think of Newman who said something to the effect that if we were not progressing in some way in love here and now, then we were falling back. But finally, we cannot have absolute certainty about the fate of Hitch in the next life, we are (fortunately) not the judge. Commend your prayers for his soul (God being outside of time can work in the soul at any time).

Paul said...

"Of the four horsemen of the New Atheism, Hitchens was the only one I found likable..."

Me too - although it took me a while to see it. He was also probably the only one of the Four Horsemen with any imagination, which is why I think many thought he was destined for faith.

I know one can read a lot into words, but the following video gave me a new appreication for the man:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAJ6-eDFNYg

My friend commented, "He must have looked into Dawkins's eyes and caught a glimpse of the abyss."

Lord have mercy.

Untenured said...

I am saddened by Hitchens passing. Not because I fear for his eternal destiny, which I do, but simply because it was always fun to watch him do his thing, whether on television or in print. I am going to miss the Hitch. He was a colorful, once in a generation sort of character. I am truly sad that he is gone.

Neil Parille said...

I never understood the appeal of this guy. He always came across as a bully.

____

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

On matters of simple historical and textual fact, moreover, Hitchens’ book is so extraordinarily crowded with errors that one soon gives up counting them. Just to skim a few off the surface: He speaks of the ethos of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “an admirable but nebulous humanism,” which is roughly on a par with saying that Gandhi was an apostle of the ruthless conquest and spoliation of weaker peoples. He conflates the histories of the first and fourth crusades. He repeats as fact the long discredited myth that Christians destroyed the works of Aristotle and Lucretius, or systematically burned the books of pagan antiquity, which is the very opposite of what did happen. He speaks of the traditional hostility of “religion” (whatever that may be) to medicine, despite the monastic origins of the modern hospital and the involvement of Christian missions in medical research and medical care from the fourth century to the present. He tells us that countless lives were lost in the early centuries of the Church over disputes regarding which gospels were legitimate (the actual number of lives lost is zero). He asserts that Myles Coverdale and John Wycliffe were burned alive at the stake, although both men died of natural causes. He knows that the last twelve verses of Mark 16 are a late addition to the text, but he imagines this means that the entire account of the Resurrection is as well. He informs us that it is well known that Augustine was fond of the myth of the Wandering Jew, though Augustine died eight centuries before the legend was invented. And so on and so on (and so on).

____

I remember him praising the Iraq war because it was going to create a secular Kurdish state. And he was gung ho about the Serbian war because he didn't like those bad Orthodox Serbs.

-NP

Anonymous said...

Had he not died, I was fairly certain that Hitchens would have converted within a few years. Not because of any "crossing the Tiber" sensibilities, but rather, just for something to do. The conversion would not have been genuine, of course. Hitchens was a life-long debater. In an interview with a British magazine a few years ago he openly admitted that when he got up in the morning he needed an argument the way some people need coffee, and if he didn't get one immediately he would go looking for one. Once he'd had enough of twisting the tails of Christians, he would have turned around and got stuck into his fellow horsemen just for the hell of it. I'm sorry he didn't live long to give us that performance.

Intelligence is a quality for which there is no recognized or accepted definition, but if you read any New Atheist bulletin board (particularly Dawkins') you will see an obsession with it that permeates everything the NAs do, a self-congratulatory tone emblematic of people who are desperately trying to convince themselves that they are the next evolutionary step in the human story. You always got the impression that Hitchens never bought into that, possibly because, of the four horsemen, he was the one who actually WAS noticably intelligent. He made Dawkins look like the perpetual undergraduate he actually is, and Dennett and Harris like a couple of self-important bores.

The Deuce said...

My condolences. In his political, religious, and historical knowledge, he was a great rhetorician.

BenYachov said...

I never liked him but I will pray for his soul.

Fortunately liking and loving aren't morally equivalent.

The Deuce said...

Intelligence is a quality for which there is no recognized or accepted definition, but if you read any New Atheist bulletin board (particularly Dawkins') you will see an obsession with it that permeates everything the NAs do, a self-congratulatory tone emblematic of people who are desperately trying to convince themselves that they are the next evolutionary step in the human story.

I've noticed. I think I correctly diagnosed the tendency in a comment at Crude's here: http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/2011/12/prophet-dawkins-and-cultists-of-gnu.html?showComment=1323714414508#c6852692365184353353

You always got the impression that Hitchens never bought into that, possibly because, of the four horsemen, he was the one who actually WAS noticably intelligent.

I agree that he was the only smart one, though I think his humility may have been the result of the personal lack of academic notes the NAs use as totems.

Anonymous said...

“One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.”

Tim Lambert said...

Thank you Anonymous @ December 16, 2011 7:56 AM.

That quote helps to show how bigoted Hitchens' views can be as well as poorly informed.

Anonymous said...

I will pray for the repose of his soul, but I am relieved that his atheistic rants are over on earth at least.

The above quote from Hitchens shows how an intelligent man didn't understand some basic things. Religion is not science; maybe his kids knew more scientific info than some religious figures, sure. But so what? Religion is about God, about love, about living a moral life--and it takes a lifetime to comprehend.

Now he knows.

Albert said...

I am sorry the poor man is dead, but I don't get all the tributes to his intellect. His book God is not Great was, if anything, a worse book than The God Delusion. It was full of obvious errors of fact as well as profoundly ignorant philosophy. It's hard not to forget the commonsenseatheism review of his debate with Craig: Frankly, Craig spanked Hitchens like a foolish child ...[Hitchens] did not even bother to give his concluding remarks, ceding the time instead to Q&A.

If Hitchens ranks as a great atheist intellectual, that, I am afraid says little about him and a great deal about the present state of atheist writing.

Albert said...

It's also worth Catholics - and all people of good-will - reflecting on a man who, on finding himself terminally ill said this:

Will I really not live long enough … to read – if not indeed write – the obituaries of elderly criminals like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?

Not intelligent. Just nasty.

Anonymous said...

"We’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them. And I think it should be – religion – treated with ridicule, and hatred and contempt. And I claim that right."

-Hitchens, a man not afraid of the dark.

Nate said...

R.I.P., Mr. Hitchens. An indefatigable wit, and a champion debater and writer. On both issues that defined him since the turn of the century--his defense of the war and his attack on theism--I disagreed with him heartily. Yet I never missed a chance to see him talk, and I always made sure to read everything he wrote. His mastery of the English language was inspiring, and I'd recommend reading him just to improve upon one's own skill in English prose and rhetoric.

I'll never forget watching him in a debate over the Iraq war. Hitchens eviscerated his debating opponents with humor, style, and erudition. It was awe inspiring.

Let us pray for him.

The Expatriate said...

I suspect Hitchens will do better in the afterlife, if there is such a thing, than the leaders of an institution proven beyond doubt to have sheltered child abusers.

BenYachov said...

>I suspect Hitchens will do better in the afterlife, if there is such a thing, than the leaders of an institution proven beyond doubt to have sheltered child abusers.

You mean Hollywood & the NYTimes right?

http://hotair.com/archives/2011/12/12/nyt-silent-on-shocking-hollywood-pedophilia-charges/

I know what you mean pal. If only the right wing patriarchal jerks in Hollywood would let women be actors and allow actors and agents to marry they wouldn't play with little kids and need the NYTimes to cover up for them.

Add to that Hollywood's repressed medieval view of sexuality. No wonder they break down and touch children.

Alyosha said...

Anonymous,

Actually, Lewis' Great Divorce doesn't support redemption after death. The book is more about purgatory in the classical sense. The "second chances" are illusory, and more of a literary device than theological speculation.

The Expatriate said...

@BenYakov Ah yes, Hot Air, the news site by idiots, for idiots.

Still nothing compared to what your church has done, bro.

The Deuce said...

Still nothing compared to what your church has done, bro.

Inasmuch as in Hollywood, it's still occurring at full speed unabated and appears to be more commonplace than it was in the Catholic church? Or do you mean that it's not as bad because at least people in Hollywood aren't being hypocrites when they molest kids?

man with a computer said...

I suspect Hitchens will do better in the afterlife, if there is such a thing, than the leaders of an institution proven beyond doubt to have sheltered child abusers.

Yeah, it's hard to imagine those NYC rabbis not in Hell. But who knows what could really happen? God is incredibly merciful.

But I'm with Ben here. I never liked Hitch and I believe he was a rotten character. Witty and intelligent, I guess, but very nasty. I'll pray for his soul anyways.

Felix said...

On politics he mattered, even if I always disagreed with him. On religion he did not, and this will still be the case even if atheism is true. I agree with Nate, the man posessed wits, humour and command of language that we could all learn from. These virtues of his will be missed in the areas where he mattered. A sad loss indeed.

BenYachov said...

>BenYakov Ah yes, Hot Air, the news site by idiots, for idiots.

Admittedly kneejerk Neo-cons like yourself have trouble with the truth when it comes from left leaning progressive websites.

>Still nothing compared to what your church has done, bro.

Since you spurn progressive left wing thought perhaps you should look at the right wing opinions of Mr. Alan Dershowitz.

http://www.andrewcusack.com/2010/10/04/dershowitz-pope/

QUOTE"Alan Dershowitz Defends Pope Benedict
Benedict XVI has “Done More to Protect Young Children” Than Any Other Pope According to Harvard Law Professor."

We all know Dershowitz would never advocate any left wing progressive thought.

Ray Ingles said...

Y'know, Feser manages to state what he didn't like about Hitchens without being nasty. Some of the commenters here could learn from that...

BenYachov said...

>Y'know, Feser manages to state what he didn't like about Hitchens without being nasty. Some of the commenters here could learn from that...

You tell em Ray!

Take that "The Expatriate" you right wing neo-conservative naughty person!

man with a computer said...

Y'know, Feser manages to state what he didn't like about Hitchens without being nasty. Some of the commenters here could learn from that...

Cry me a river, Ray. Come, here, cry it for me.

You and everyone here knows that Hitchens was not the kind of guy who would write 'respectful' obituaries stating what he didn't like about the deceased without being nasty. Nastiness permeated Hitchens' screeds, and his fans would always commend and defend that. So why are they expecting something different now that their idol is dead?

Oh, yes, I know. Turning the other check. That nice teaching that secularists/liberals love because it allows them to behave like jerks without being afraid of retaliation.

BenYachov said...

New Atheists sometimes remind me of the punk kids in the Harrison Ford movie WITNESS. (You remember when Ford plays a cop who hides out among the Amish from corrupt cops?).

The scene where a bunch of punk kids pick on the Amish's because they are non-violent and won't fight back.

Then one of them makes the mistake of picking on Harrison Ford. A bloody nose follows & hysterically the punk is indignant because Ford fought back.

Gnus act like jerks toward believers then act surprised when it is returned in kind.

Hitchens was a jerk but I am the last person who would want him to go to the Hot place.

But that doesn't mean I have to like him because I don't.

Anonymous said...

Loved Vox Day's elegant epitaph:


The conglomeration of atoms that were, for a very brief moment in history, collectively known by the name Christopher Hitchens, have begun to disperse.

The universe continues as before, uncaring and unaware.

Ray Ingles said...

man with a computer - "You and everyone here knows that Hitchens was not the kind of guy who would write 'respectful' obituaries stating what he didn't like about the deceased without being nasty."

Aww. Wounded, I am! :)

Still, if you're going to 'retaliate' with insults, you should at least try to live up to the standard he set...

man with a computer said...

Sure, Ray, I'll give it a shot:

"...but for all the disappointments attendant upon getting to know God, they are as nothing compared to those of meeting his Adversary. I knew it was going to be a long night when I saw that Satan would be serving me bourbon, not Scotch.

I was disappointed that I had not anticipated Satan's rather Australian manner, bluff, inarticulate, over-familiar, with a gratingly middle-class accent. And yet, for all his coarseness, something about him took me back to my collegian days, when I'd sometimes spend a rainy afternoon after a rugby match kneeling in the alley outside an Oxford pub."

Shelley said...

"The conglomeration of atoms that were, for a very brief moment in history, collectively known by the name Christopher Hitchens, have begun to disperse.

The universe continues as before, uncaring and unaware."


the universe maybe.
not so with human consciousn­ess.

this is precisely the point: ONLY humans CAN care--not some sort of "God" and not the cosmos.

TimLambert said...

Shelley,
how exactly could God not care?

What in anything you typed brings us to that conclusion?

TimLambert said...

Shelley said:
"this is precisely the point: ONLY humans CAN care--not some sort of "God" and not the cosmos."

How is any of that precisely the point after you quoted Vox Day?
It makes no sense.

BenYachov said...

>Still, if you're going to 'retaliate' with insults, you should at least try to live up to the standard he set...

I would be honored to do so.

"Some so called `religious' people no doubt hated Hitchens. Maybe on some level Hitchens hated himself? But self-hate is common and unremarkable. No, I would like to believe that nobody deep down in the core of their being truly deeply blackly hated Hitchens with the obvious exception of his liver."

You can quote me!:-)

Rest in Peace Hitch! :-)

TimLambert said...

Hitchens complaint will always boil down to this:

Some neurons firing are more valued than other neurons firing.

I never understood his objection with the object or product of that neural firing (whether it ultimately be the idea of God or the idea of ice cream).

He railed against God, but why? How do you assign value to one pattern of neural firing over another?

I'm not saying I agree with him. I think thoughts truly do have content. And that content can map closely (or not so closely) to the true nature of things.

But Hitchens doesn't have that liberty.
He's yelling at Basil Fawlty for hitting his car.

Shelley said...

The point is it's absolutely incorrect for you Christian theists to say "the universe is uncaring and unaware."

We have consciousness, we care, we are aware, and we are part of the universe. And really, what else matters?

man with a computer said...

Shelley,

Vox's obituary was meant to be satirical.

Anonymous said...

Shelley is making a typical atheist move. She (or he) is taking something individual and extrapolating it to the universal. I care, therefore the universe cares.

More realistically (from that perspective), one conglomeration of atoms dispersed another conglomeration of atoms had a chemical reaction triggered in response and the universe continued emotionless for neither conglomeration had any meaning that could affect the whole.

This individual to universal switch was typical of Hitchens' writing. He would rant against the moral evils of the world with the best of them saying we should change. But when pressed he would admit that is atheism left no moral grounding for such moves. They were solely the moral reasoning of him as an individual and had no bearing on humanity as a whole.

This comes from his movie Collision, where he admits as much. Imagine four people. A crabby Christian, a loving atheist, a crabby atheist and a loving atheist. Now ask yourself which one is acting against their worldview? Hitchens states that atheism doesn't say either way, and so it's only the crabby Christian. Yet Hitchens was never satisfied with what he knew to be true from his perspective, and so he constantly rested upon the inherited Christian values and morality of his society and called people to live by them.

Tim Lambert said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIviufQ4APo

Hitchens view on the passing of Falwell.

TimLambert said...

Shelley, Shelley, Shelley...

"The point is it's absolutely incorrect for you Christian theists to say "the universe is uncaring and unaware."

We're just restating what Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennett have said over and over.
Of course a theist doesn't think the universe is uncaring at some level. But, for the atheist, that's exactly what it is.


"We have consciousness, we care, we are aware, and we are part of the universe. And really, what else matters?"

What matters is that your cares are in direct conflict with what your metaphysical view entails.
Don't blame me for that.

Shelley said...

Of course a theist doesn't think the universe is uncaring at some level. But, for the atheist, that's exactly what it is.

Breaking news:

Whether Christianity or atheism is true, the pencil on my desk isn't going to care about or be aware of me, neither is my mailbox, the trees, the moon, or the stars.

In both an atheistic physical universe and a Christian physical universe, the only physical things that will care about anything are human beings.

So how is this "universe is uncaring and unaware" shtick supposedly a boon for the theistic side and a bane for the atheistic side?

???

Anonymous said...

His brother Peter Hitchens:
"I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.”

h/t Bonald 'Throne and Altar http://bonald.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/the-dispicable-christopher-hitchens/

Tim Lambert said...

Shelley,
I really have no idea why you even mentioned the concern of your pencil...
but,

"So how is this "universe is uncaring and unaware" shtick supposedly a boon for the theistic side and a bane for the atheistic side?"

It's obviously not a boon for the theistic side since the theistic side doesn't entail that sentiment.
Whether or not it's a bane for the atheistic side, it's exactly what you were railing against initially - assuming it was a theistic assumption before I corrected you and stated it was a sentiment echoed by atheists.

What's your point?

Karyn said...

Hitchens intrigued me as much as he annoyed me. Something about him was terribly attractive, even to me and my "born again" mentality, and whenever I saw him in an interview I would stop what I was doing to give him a listen.

One thing to remember is that only God knows the human heart, especially that heart that is at the "jumping off" stage. He could have asked God to forgive him and accepted Jesus as his savior right before he lost consciousness. Although I'm pretty sure he would only do so to hedge his bets that there might really be a hereafter...figuring to himself: "What have I got to lose?"

God bless Mr. Hitchens and his family in their time of grief.

Matteo said...

Gnus act like jerks toward believers then act surprised when it is returned in kind.

Gnus have every psychological reason to act like jerks, given that by their own philosophy, they ultimately have absolutely nothing positive to look forward to if they're right and absolutely nothing positive to look forward to if they're wrong. Such a depressing, guaranteed-loser philosophy would be enough to turn anyone into a sourpuss.

Poor things.

TimLambert said...

Thank God for purgatory....
If I'm lucky, I'll be meeting ol' Hitch there sometime down the line.

Josh said...

My hope is that believers can show grace at work in their thoughts on Hitchens' departure. Continue to repudiate his legacy with gravity, for sure. But Father Zosima's words from The Brothers Karamazov should always carry some weight with someone like Hitchens:

"For no one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he will be able to be a judge...If, after your kiss, [the criminal] goes away untouched, mocking at you, do not let that be a stumbling-block to you. It shows his time has not yet come, but it will come in due course...Believe that if they were not saved, they will be saved hereafter."

Anonymous said...

The Expatriate:
"Still nothing compared to what your church has done, bro."

Church helped me get out of Communism peacefully bro and millions of others like me. Helped us during WW2 bro.
Helped us before WW2 bro too.
For me, they'd have to do really bad things to equal what YOU and the rest of the West did for us, which was sell us out to the Soviets, bro and us us a staging area for a mini nuclear war, bro.
So forgive me if I calm my emotions, bro and don't live in hate bro over what various people and organisations did to us, bro.
Peace.

Anonymous said...

What do readers here think about Bill Vallicella's commentary?

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2011/12/on-hitchens-and-death.html

man with a computer said...

What do readers here think about Bill Vallicella's commentary?

It's excellent, like most of what he writes.

Dr. Vallicella might not be orthodox in matters theological, but he's an honest intellectual. I really, really enjoy his blog.

BeingItself said...

Why is TOF not banned?

Concerning Vallicella, most of that post was just superstitious preaching. Hitchens lived authentically. But it is clear that authenticity is not something Vallicella values. His argument seems to be that if Hitch adopted a childish belief in an afterlife, and if that belief offered him some comfort, then what's the harm?

The harm is in-authenticity. It is a lie.

For Hitchens and other skeptically minded folk, we cannot "choose" what we believe. We just come by our beliefs by evidence, reason, and argument (allegedly). The comfort value is not part of the equation (allegedly).

I could no more choose to believe in an afterlife than I could choose to be 10 feet tall. I suspect Hitchens was also of that personality type.

Anonymous said...

BeingItself: "I could no more choose to believe in an afterlife than I could choose to be 10 feet tall. I suspect Hitchens was also of that personality type."

That does not compute. You can tell you are not 10 feet tall, but you can't tell that God does not exist. You decide that on the basis of some subjective judgement. Height is not like that.

The authenticity of beliefs is also a subjective value judgement, any way you spin it. Sorry I'm not convinced, call me a skeptic.

Anonymous said...

BeingItself: "Why is TOF not banned?"

Well as you know, Ed allows anonymous comments. TOf posts anonymously. But hey, maybe Hitchens' death will lead to TOf seeking medical help, you never know. Some good could come from this.

The Expatriate said...

A series of responses-I have been off line for 24 hours so I have some catching up to do.

@BenYachov Are you mentally ill or just being deliberately obtuse?

I hardly think that the NYT not covering the arrests of minor figures most people have never heard of, which seems to be the main issue of the blog post you cite, is in any way equivalent to deliberately protecting child abusers from criminal prosecution.

BTW,I never said that I thought Church dogma caused child abuse. I said that the Church covered it up. Big difference, buddy.

@TheDeuce We have examples of this happening in country after country under Church auspices. United States, Ireland, Germany, France... That seems a bigger problem than what is happening in one industry.

It's pathetic how people will deliberately blind themselves to the flaws of an institution they admire. No amount of good or accomplishments can excuse covering up child abuse, whether you're a Catholic prelate, an Orthodox rabbi, or Joe Paterno.

BeingItself said...

Anon @December 17, 2011 9:25 AM,

You did not read my comment carefully.

I did not say that the existence of an afterlife and being 10 feet tall are both empirical matters.

I simply said I could not choose to believe in an afterlife. I need some kind or compelling argument or evidence that such a thing is real.

So far, such an argument or evidence is not available. If you believe in an afterlife, then make an argument or give me some evidence.

The Expatriate said...

I find it amusing that the normal frequenters of this blog are surprised that a post about a prominent humanist, combined with unflattering comments about said humanist in the comments, would draw secular humanist commenters.

Edward Feser said...

Guys,

Come on. The "Don't feed the trolls" policy applies double to psychotic 10-year-old vegan trolls whose comments (and your responses to them) will all be deleted anyway.

Anonymous said...

The Expatriate: "It's pathetic how people will deliberately blind themselves to the flaws of an institution they admire. No amount of good or accomplishments can excuse covering up child abuse, whether you're a Catholic prelate, an Orthodox rabbi, or Joe Paterno."

The Church is multifaceted, some elements in it perpetrated and covered up abuse, while others did many great things, greater you can imagine. I don't think it's fair and honest to harp on the one and ignore the other, any way you look at it.

Anonymous said...

The Expatriate: "I find it amusing that the normal frequenters of this blog are surprised that a post about a prominent humanist, combined with unflattering comments about said humanist in the comments, would draw secular humanist commenters."

You amuse easily. :)

Anonymous said...

BeingItself: Ok I realised I misread, thanks. Well, as long as you keep an open mind, I can't fault you.

BenYachov said...

@The Expatriate
>BenYachov Are you mentally ill or just being deliberately obtuse?

Your posts are unoriginal(attacking the Church on clerical abuse? Get a new act!) and have no distinction from the blather put forth here by other Gnu trolls.

So I had some satirical fun with them at your expense? That you have taken it seriously seems to me to be the very definition of the term "obtuse".

>It's pathetic how people will deliberately blind themselves to the flaws of an institution they admire.

The Church, Hollywood, Public Schools, Anglicans, Orthodox Jews etc...all have had problems with child sex abuse and have all covered it up and protected abusers.

So what was your point again? The Catholic Church is filled with grave sinners? Guilty as charged.

Let's call a spade a spade. This thread is about Hitchens. Your child sex abuse snark is a tedious tangent from out of left field.

What? The classics (ie. bringing up Galileo and or the Inquisition) aren't good enough for you?

BenYachov said...

>No amount of good or accomplishments can excuse covering up child abuse, whether you're a Catholic prelate, an Orthodox rabbi, or Joe Paterno."

So are you for abolishing Public Schools then? Good luck getting that one past the Teachers Unions. Watch your back if you are serious.

Trust me. I'm in a public sector union.

>: "I find it amusing that the normal frequenters of this blog are surprised that a post about a prominent humanist, combined with unflattering comments about said humanist in the comments, would draw secular humanist commenters."

I like Secular Humanists. They often have interesting things to say. It's the Gnus who are tedious. They are simply Chick Comics Fundies without god-belief.

Bye.

BenYachov said...

>So far, such an argument or evidence is not available. If you believe in an afterlife, then make an argument or give me some evidence.

The above is a mature sentiment. I hope it stays that way.

We shall see.

Neil Parille said...

Ben,

This is a little off topic, but the policy of the church (or at least lots of bishops) of shuffling pedophiles around is worse than just the run of the mill coverup. And people like Bernard Law were not removed from office for this offense.

TimLambert said...

Neil,

Was that a policy of the church to shuffle pedo's around?

M. McCue said...

Adolph Hitler had a wonderful command of the language and could also please a crowd. He was a man who would not back down on his convictions.

Hitch?

An obnoxious,odious human... sorry, but that is my evaluation.

these two "H"s may be communicating, unless "The Great Divorce" theory is true.. yea, I know we can't judge..but...

Anonymous said...

The best line I have read on Hitchens death comes from Alexander Cockburn, a former colleague (and fellow Oxonian Brit) who had a falling out with Hitchens:

"He [Hitchens] courted the label “contrarian”, but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair. Attacking God? The big battles on that issue were fought one, two, even five hundred years ago when they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiore. A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being."

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/16/farewell-to-c-h/

BenYachov said...

@Neil
>This is a little off topic, but the policy of the church (or at least lots of bishops) of shuffling pedophiles around is worse than just the run of the mill coverup.

The other entities I mentioned also shuffled pedophiles or did you not know that?

The NYC public schools for example where notorious for transferring problem teachers to other schools so they could strike again.

Thanks Unions.

Anti-Catholics are simply in denial. They have constructed an elaborate fantasy that only the Church behaved badly in this manner and that crimes done by her misguided sons(i.e. Pedophiles and Bishops who enabled them) in Her name are the worst offenders and the sole offenders. That is simply not true.

Her misguided & in some cases wicked and clueless sons are one set Villains among many.

Indeed here in NY anti-religious types have been trying to repeal the Statue of Limitations on this crime to target Churches and Temples for crippling lawsuits but they exempt public schools & public school teacher offenders!

Indeed one ex-Priest who was a pedophile & thrown out of the priesthood got a job in the public school. When he offended there he got shuffled around too by school officials.

I guess only Catholic and religious children should be protected by the Law? Godless Public schools can rape at will.

>And people like Bernard Law were not removed from office for this offense.

He was banished to obscurity running a museum like Church on the outskirts of Rome.

Sorry you are living in a dream world. I know more then anybody the Church if full of villains.

But I can't abide hypocrites who try to sell me on the idea only the Church is filled with idiots.

BenYachov said...

@Neil

While I am at it CS Lewis documented his personal knowledge of homosexuality & pederasty in the English boarding schools of his day.

Do we hear the political Gnu Atheists like Dawkins or Hitchens complain and condemn this phenomena? No we hear Dawkins say he doesn't want the teacher who touched him as a child "persecuted" but when Pope Benedict visits England then all of a sudden Atheists find they hate pedophilia and want to put the Pope on trial. Of course the Pope is then guilty till proven innocent & even then he is still pronounced guilty.

Doesn't that make the Gnu's hypocrites?

I think so.

Martin said...

«OT»

Hitchens devoted a book to Mother Teresa, anyone know a reasoned online reply?

Thanks

Anonymous said...

@BenYachov. I just assumed noone took the gnus seriously. Put them down to tedious run of the mill spiritual neuroses.

Anonymous said...

Child abuse, elder abuse, youth abuse, vulnerable patient abuse, etc is very rampant everywhere. A physician colleague of mine told me how numerous staff--from nurses to senior physicians--at his institution had been found guilty in internal investigations of misbehaviours from rape to genital fondling of staff and patients of various ages in their care. This sort of thing is not reported in the press for some reason most of the time. It's all over the place in the secular world though especially in psychiatric and general hospitals looking after vulnerable patients.

John said...

Never really found him all that likable. Amusing, rhetorically entertaning...yeah [certainly enough to wow those young, pop-atheist hipsters who frequent youtube]. But for those who are more seriously philosophically inclind, it was obvious how intellectually dishonest (whether deliberately or no) he was when it came to religion.

Anyway, may God grant him mercy.

Anonymous said...

It's also interesting how in the 70s in Holland left wing parties were happy to allow official child pornography sales on the basis that the child porn was produced outside of Holland and existing laws already covered sex with minors. Funnily enough Christian parties were after a ban on child porn.
http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume4/j4_2_1.htm

Anonymous said...

John: "But for those who are more seriously philosophically inclind, it was obvious how intellectually dishonest (whether deliberately or no) he was when it came to religion."

Did he not at some stage condone the Khmer Rouge too or was that someone else?

Eric said...

I had no idea that Collision, the documentary Hitchens made with Doug Wilson, was available online. Enjoy.

RH said...

From the perspective of this atheist:

Hitchens has always been entertaining and awe-inspiring in his erudition and way with language (if not always in the rigour of his arguments). Given no one played harder ball with theism than Hitchens, it's been fascinating that a fairly general theme among many Christians is a certain amount of respect and fondness for Hitchens (even when they think he's an idiot in terms of arguments against religion).

Now that tributes are pouring in we are also seeing from theists who debated him why they remained so friendly with Hitch: differences aside, he really did seem to like making friends and we find out he spent a surprising amount of social time with his theistic opponents outside of the debates.

As for his arguments, when he was on few people delivered an argument in such a powerful way, adducing the amount of historical information, anecdote, and verbal force. But (by his own admission) he never really had the depth and rigour of a good philosopher. So while I would find myself agreeing with Hitchens on many points in his debates, no other "Horseman" left me shaking my head, groaning "why did he have to say that?" as Hitchens did.

That's one reason I had little optimism about Hitchens debate with William L. Craig, who is well known as a master debater and who studies his opponent's weaknesses beforehand. Right off the bat in the debate Craig made all the right moves: trying to steer the issue away from the bad-done-in-the-name-of-religion (and hence taking away Hitchens' formidable armoury of historical claims), and instead made it clear he wanted the debate to be concerned with Philosophical Argument. Bang. I knew he had Hitchens there. He was going to drag Hitchens into deep water. (Not to say Hitchens had no good moments).

All that said, even though Hitchens didn't support every argument, he did in my view provide excellent support for his main thesis: Religion Poisons Everything. (It was a claim that was typically misunderstood by both his opponents and even some of his supporters).

RH

M.Mc said...

Insert Hitchens everywhere you see the name of "the other guy"

Adolph Hitler had a great command of the language.. He could really interest an audience and convince many people.

Hitchens has gone to his reward (whatever that is.)

awatkins69 said...

rofl This is the basic argument I pick up from some of the dolts above.
1. Some Catholics are pedophiles/assist pedophiles.
.'. 2. Catholicism is false.
Unfortunately the Atheists are getting worse at teaching their sheeple about validity.

RH said...

Uhm...

------

awatkins69 said...
rofl This is the basic argument I pick up from some of the dolts above.
1. Some Catholics are pedophiles/assist pedophiles.
.'. 2. Catholicism is false.
Unfortunately the Atheists are getting worse at teaching their sheeple about validity.

----------

If that's what you picked up from reading replies in this thread, it speaks poorly of your reading comprehension. No one made that argument in the replies here. Yes some have accused the Church as being complicit in such affairs, but no one made the argument you claim "therefore Catholicism is false."

No one.

(And if you can point to a post making that explicit argument, I'll gratefully retract that claim).

By presenting strawman versions of arguments, let alone insults along with those strawmen, you do not present yourself as someone who should be lecturing anyone else on the "validity" of arguments.

RH

RH said...

Eric,

Thank you for that link to the Hitchens/Wilson documentary!

I'd heard their full debate(s) before, had seen bits but not all of the documentary.

I know that Wilson is described as an evangelical, but since you brought him into this thread:

Just quickly perusing it reminded me of Wilson's absolutely terrible argument, the essence of which is repeated with unfortunate regularity by Christian debaters, that if "all we are is matter in motion" then there's no reason to distinguish humans debating from pop bottles "fizzing" at each other. You know..because we humans are matter in motion, and pop is matter in motion...so on a physicalist/materialist account it follows there's ultimately no good reason to attribute any significant difference between human discourse and fizzing pop bottles. (Hence, no reason to think our thoughts could be true, or that morality applies etc).

I wonder if even the members of this thread agree - perhaps those who choose to watch the debate - that Wilson's argument is weak.

RH

Anonymous said...

RH: "formidable armoury of historical claims"

More bad was done in the name of non-Catholic ideologies. Most bad was done in the name of atheist ideologies. Bad just happens anyway.

Anonymous said...

A master of argument by outrage.

DNW said...

Anonymous said...

RH: "formidable armoury of historical claims"

More bad was done in the name of non-Catholic ideologies. Most bad was done in the name of atheist ideologies. Bad just happens anyway.

December 19, 2011 3:27 AM"


It's strange how people sometimes claim that the predicates of atheism and materialism [though this second aspect has been argued against more cleverly through a sidestepping procedure] was not central to Marxism or "scientific socialism", and its revolutionary program and method.

They must never have read through the "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts". It constitutes the very core of it all.

Of course whether socialists think that deliberately harrowing "reactionary element" peasant farmers and destroying their lives is bad, or not, is another matter.

RH said...

There was a reason why I carefully used the word historical "claims" rather than "facts."

;-)

RH

Anonymous said...

In commenting on Hitchens's passing, the Christian philosopher, Dr. William Vallicela (who Dr. Feser links on this site) called him "brilliant."
He was one of the great essayists of our time. He was a modern-day Thomas Paine, though far more prolific.

He had a well-deserved reputation for his caustic and acerbic wit, yet he could be quite kind and gracious to complete strangers. About 15 years ago, I wrote him a letter about something he had written in "Vanity Fair" about English kings, and he replied to me in a lengthy, signed, typewritten letter.

His phone number and address were listed in the DC phonebook, and he readily responded to anyone who contacted him. He corresponded by email with many American servicemen and women stationed in Irag. Few, if any public intellectuals of his caliber make themselves that available to the public. Like the atheist Nat Hentoff, he was ardently pro-life.

Wm. F. Buckley's son, Christopher, wrote a tribute to Hitch in "The New Yorker." It's available free online and makes for excellent reading.

As for where his immortal soul may be now, I will include two passages from "The Catechism of the Catholic Church."

Hitchens was an atheist, but as the Catechism notes, "The imputability of this offense can be significantlt diminished in virtue of the intentions and circumstances." (2125)

Hitchens did not commit suicide, but in commenting on those who
take their lives, the Catechism says, "By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. (2283)

I like to think that God provided him that opportunity, and in that last moment, his soul and will assented.

Brian said...

"
Just quickly perusing it reminded me of Wilson's absolutely terrible argument, the essence of which is repeated with unfortunate regularity by Christian debaters, that if "all we are is matter in motion" then there's no reason to distinguish humans debating from pop bottles "fizzing" at each other. You know..because we humans are matter in motion, and pop is matter in motion...so on a physicalist/materialist account it follows there's ultimately no good reason to attribute any significant difference between human discourse and fizzing pop bottles. (Hence, no reason to think our thoughts could be true, or that morality applies etc).

I wonder if even the members of this thread agree - perhaps those who choose to watch the debate - that Wilson's argument is weak."

It's not weak at all. It's the absurd (self-refuting) reality of materialism/atheism.



For a Catholic take on Hitchens/Wilison:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/05/wilson-vs-hitchens-a-catholic-perspective/

RH said...

Hi Brian,

‪Brian‬ said…,

It's not weak at all. It's the absurd (self-refuting) reality of materialism/atheism.


Nah, it's a truly awful argument, particularly as presented by Wilson in their debate. What Wilson is doing is pretending to take some materialist precepts and then he reasons very, very poorly about them, and presents the results of his poor reasoning as if they actually represented a defect in materialism.

Take the illustration he always uses of pop bottles vs humans debating. Wilson says: "IF the universe is "simply" matter in motion, then everything I think, feel, respond to is also matter in motion." From this he reasons that would put human beings at parity with any other instance of "matter in motion."
And he uses the illustration of two pop bottles, shaken, fizzing to imply that on the materialist account, there's no reason to see any difference between the pop bottles fizzing and Wilson and Hitchens "debating." After all, ultimately on materialism, both can be expressed as "simply matter in motion."

This is an astoundingly bad argument. Wilson's illustration is meant to sound absurd because he thinks he has demonstrated that, on materialism, one ends in this absurd conclusion. But it IS absurd precisely because no materialist makes the ridiculous leaps of ignorance Wilson uses to reach this absurdity.

A materialist would point out that Wilson is missing the obvious: matter/energy clearly takes on different characteristics DEPENDING on the particular entity one is looking at. Put matter/energy in certain formations and you get steel, in others you get a Big Mac, in others you get a tree, in other formations a car, a cat, a person, water, fire, air…
And that the different forms matter/energy can take clearly produces different characteristics - very consequential differences. The materialist would point out, as if this weren't obvious to most people to begin with, it is well ratified at this point scientifically. Most educated people understand that cars, plants, tables, beer…etc…are larger expressions of underlying physical particles.

Brian said...

I do not understand how you think you have even responded. When matter is all there is, nothing matters. "You" have not done anything to show to that's not "true." "You"... do not *really* understand why it's the case, methinks. Have you read Feser's book Philosophy of Mind? Or his book The Last Superstition?

RH said...

(Cont'd reply to Brian)

Imagine "Ted" saying to "Brad":"Let's drive to work on this" and he's holding a banana. Bad points out "But, Ted, that's a banana, not a car." And Ted replies: "But aren't they both made of underlying physical particles and energy?" Brad says "Of course." Ted continues: "Well, then if they are both ultimately JUST MATTER IN MOTION...why discriminate between a banana and a car? If I can point out they are both MATTER IN MOTION then that's an argument that there is no difference of any real consequence between them."

Now, everyone (at least those not in religious apologetics mode) understand Ted isn't being enlightening: he's being a fool. Everyone, atheist or religious, would recognize Ted is being an idiot because he is speaking in a way that blindly ignores the obvious: That just because you can describe some shared underlying characteristic between a banana and a car, that they consist of "matter in motion" it's incredibly stupid to miss the fact that matter in the form of a car exhibits important, extremely consequentially different characteristics than matter in the form of a banana. Things like…having wheels, a combustion engine, a propellant, seats etc.

Yet Wilson effectively puts on this dunce cap, says inane things that just skip over the obvious important details any materialist would point out…and he pretends he's acting like an atheist while wearing this dunce cap. No. He's just making a fool of himself. He's using a very typical apologist trick: using deflationary language as if it were an argument. So long as you can cite some shared characteristics and say "both A and B share the characteristics of JUST being C" and if the description C does not illustrate the differences, then…hey…it means there is no significant difference between A and B.

This cheap deflationary language tactic can be used to "reduce" the significance of anything. Why in the world should anyone consider the Bible to be significantly different from Winnie The Pooh? Don't you know that at bottom both can be described as "simply" "words on paper?" Or that both are "simply made up of chemicals?" Or both are simply "made of physical particles which themselves display no literature or meaning content?"

We'd immediately recognize anyone using this "gotcha" as being disingenuous (or astonishingly ignorant) about the fact that, at the level of physics human beings experience as "books/literature," there are huge differences in significance between the two books. The fact they both can be described as sharing an underlying physics is no threat to these relevant facts whatsoever.

It's clearly a tenet of any materialist/physicalist account that we observe how matter and energy in one form (e.g. a human being), takes on and exhibits extremely different characteristics than matter/energy in another form (e.g. a rock). And that to ignore the significance and consequences of these differences is an absurd move apparently best left to theists trying to reason as atheists.
Wilson at a slightly later point says someone may raise the fallacy of division against him (which is not exactly what I've just done, btw). But all he does is say "I don't think I'm making that fallacy," and all he does is start off asserting his ridiculous reasoning, unvarnished.

So…yes..it's a really, really bad "argument" (in fact, not even an argument…the way Wilson goes about it, it's a non-sequitur). I honestly think would not want to be associated with such bad arguments. But I'm ever amazed to see otherwise intelligent Christians assent to these arguments.

Cheers,

RH

RH said...

Brian,

Remember, I was dealing with Wilson's argument specifically.

I do not understand how you think you have even responded. When matter is all there is, nothing matters.

Please read the second half of my reply.

What you are doing there is producing a non-sequitur similar to Wilson's (which, I guess, helps explain why you would accept Wilson as making sense).

You've simply made an assertion, a non-sequitur that is not an argument.

I pointed out that matter/energy takes on significantly different characteristics depending on what form it takes. You agree with this every time you discriminate between any physical object (or decide which physical objects will suite which purposes). And this is the case despite that we know physical objects share the underlying characteristics of being matter/energy.

Therefore to appeal to the underlying fact that all is matter/energy is no argument against the acknowledge reality that objects made of matter/energy will exhibit differing characteristics of consequence.

It's special pleading. Wilson does no better than this. Your non-sequitur implies a similar fallacy up ahead.

But, again, I asked if anyone thought WILSON's argument was a good one. You thought it was. But
you haven't shown why my analysis of Wilson's fallacy is wrong.

RH

Gene Callahan said...

Ed, Hitchens support for the Iraq War was just a continuation of his Bolshevism: more blood-thirsty, messianic war-mongering.

Brian said...

I just do not understand how what you have written engages Wilson's argument at all. What you are saying is that "that matter/energy takes on significantly different characteristics depending on what form it takes." Ok. I am not sure how that is relevant to our critique of materialism, which makes me think you do not understand the critique. See Feser's latest posts on Rosernberg's "Atheist Guide to Reality," for example.

RH said...

‪Brian‬ wrote: I just do not understand how what you have written engages Wilson's argument at all.

I know. You've already expressed that sentiment. But repeating "I don't understand…" is unenlightening. What I'm waiting for is for you to actually explain how my critique doesn't engage Wilson's argument. Again, in a nutshell, Wilson "argues" from the premise that "If the universe is simply matter in motion" hence everything in it including humans and pop bottles are "simply matter in motion," then there seems no reason to impute any difference of consequence between pop bottles fizzing and human beings trying to reason with one another. (This is part and parcel with his non-sequitur claim moving from "If we are matter in motion..if our bodies consist of chemical reactions…then we have no reason to believe our thoughts to be true).

These are utterly unsubstantiated non-sequiturs for the reasons I have given.
As I've pointed out, Wilson's line of "reasoning" depends on simply ignoring an obvious fact of central importance: that matter and energy takes on varying forms with various characteristics and consequences - a fact virtually no sane person denies. Hence it's ludicrous to pretend that merely pointing out that physical object A (pop bottle) SHARES the property of being the result of underlying physics with physical object B (humans) that therefore it obviates any difference of consequence between object A and B.

A pillow and a Great White Shark are both understood to be manifestations of underlying physics, but you'd be a damned fool to not recognize they have substantially different characteristics, and that these characteristics at the "macro level" are incredibly consequential…which will be graphically illustrated should you try treating a Great White Shark the same as your sleeping pillow, just because "Hey, they're both just matter in motion, yo?"

The argument AS PRESENTED by Wilson, especially in appealing to the pop bottle/human reason analogy, relies on pretending to be utterly ignorant of these massively obvious facts. The obvious stance from a materialist/physicalist concerning the difference between a pop bottle and a human being is that, yes, both are manifestations of underlying physics, but they are significantly different manifestations - different entities. Pop bottles don't have a complex nervous system, a brain, can't speak, understand speech, use reason, logic, reflect on experience, produce models and theories, communicate with other people etc. Human beings can. Citing the fact that both humans and pop bottles and the rest of the universe consists of matter and energy, as if it would obviate these massively significant differences, is just plain stupid.

Now, I'm well aware of various critiques of materialism/physicalism and I know what Wilson is getting at and what he wants to say. I'm saying he does a truly pitiful job of ACTUALLY producing a good argument that gets him there. (Not that I've ever seen any good argument for the conclusion he and you want, btw).

Now, you say:
I am not sure how that is relevant to our critique of materialism,

Remember, I've been clear from the beginning that this concerned Wilson's presentation, his argument, in the debate. (And I've seen Wilson's type of poorly formed argument repeated by many Christians…which is not to say ALL Christians).
If you disagree with my critique, then please show me where it goes wrong, and point to where Wilson actually gave a strong argument that it follows from everything being "matter in motion" to "we'd have no reason to believe our thoughts could be true."
If you have your own argument - please present it. But first, since you seem to be trying to defend Wilson's argument against my critique of it, I'd appreciate if you actually do so with some substance.
Thanks,
RH.

Anonymous said...

(Not that I've ever seen any good argument for the conclusion he and you want, btw).

Have you read Philosophy of Mind? The Last Superstition? Feser's posts on Rosenberg's book?

suomynonA said...

I would also be interested to see a reply to RH's critique of the argument.
Has he summarised it correctly? Is his objection valid? If not *why not*?

RH:
"This is part and parcel with his non-sequitur claim moving from "If we are matter in motion..if our bodies consist of chemical reactions…then we have no reason to believe our thoughts to be true"

That does not appear to be a non-sequitur (regardless of the truth of the rest of the argument).
In fact, I would say not only is it not a non-sequitur it's also correct.
We have no reason to believe our thoughts to be true*, nor are they.

Humans are notoriously fallible to cognitive biases, fantasies, and particularly completely off-base intuitions and understandings about our own internal workings and motivations.

If it's an argument it's one that favours a naturalist universe.
But it's not a non-sequitur.

*If the reply is "natural selection" or anything else then it's incorrect - evolution selects for *that which survives* not *that which is true* - where truth coincides with survival we will develop the ability to have true beliefs, where truth inhibits survival we will not.
e.g. 'Knowledge that falling kills and falling further kills more' - obviously selected for vs 'believing we are continuous individuals who have their own bodies' - also selected for - rather than the truth that we are non-continuous chemical reactions inhabiting a limited physical space that we call our body, even though it is not really truthfully 'seperate' in any way from the rest of the universe, except by our belief and convention.

grodrigues said...

@suomynonA:

"I would also be interested to see a reply to RH's critique of the argument."

RH says the following about the materialist / physicalist stance:

"The obvious stance from a materialist/physicalist concerning the difference between a pop bottle and a human being is that, yes, both are manifestations of underlying physics, but they are significantly different manifestations - different entities. Pop bottles don't have a complex nervous system, a brain, can't speak, understand speech, use reason, logic, reflect on experience, produce models and theories, communicate with other people etc. Human beings can. Citing the fact that both humans and pop bottles and the rest of the universe consists of matter and energy, as if it would obviate these massively significant differences, is just plain stupid."

I do not know how Wilson presents the argument (and am not really interested), but if RH thinks that nakedly asserting that some specific arrangements of matter like a nervous system or a brain are different in kind and not just in degree and in the relevant sense from other specific arrangements of matter or pointing out the tautological fact that different arrangements of matter are different constitutes any sort of response to the objections against (eliminative) materialism, then the only appropriate answer is to direct him to Prof. Feser's books and posts -- "Philosophy of the Mind" or the recent posts on Rosenberg's book are particularly relevant here. He misses the target completely and does not understand what he is replying to.

RH said...

‪suomynonA,

First, thanks for your reply.

RH:
"This is part and parcel with his non-sequitur claim moving from "If we are matter in motion..if our bodies consist of chemical reactions…then we have no reason to believe our thoughts to be true"

suomynonA: That does not appear to be a non-sequitur

Sure it is. One statement does not follow from the other, and there is no connective argument whatsoever given to show that it does. There is a massive unexplained gulf between the two statements. And it's a gulf that needs formidable evidence and argument, because it is starting off against all the evidence. In a nutshell: if you investigate a human being you will find he is physical. And there is no good evidence we are anything other than physical entities (hence, matter/energy). Add to this we observe that humans think, feel, reason about the world and make statements many of us hold as "true," and you have at least prima facie evidence for the proposition that purely physical (made of matter/energy) beings can think, feel and reason to truths about the world. (Actually, I think it goes well beyond prima facie…I know of NO reliably established evidence of a human being operating non-physically).

Someone denying this will have to have damned strong arguments and evidence denying those claims: e.g. evidence that humans are not purely physical entities (good luck with that) and deny that we can have true thoughts (for instance, I think Australia is situated below the equator. Does someone want to deny this is true? If they don't deny it, then I have a true thought. Do they then want to say "well, you can have a true thought…but you aren't purely physical!" Then it's up to them to show how I am not a physical entity (or that my mental life is non-physical or whatever).

As to an the reliability of our cognition, you seem to gesture towards Plantinga's EAAN. Do you really think his EAAN is a good argument and that it shows the combination of naturalism and belief in evolution to be self-defeating? If so, I would be happy to explain why I find Plantinga's argument fails to offer plausible defeaters to the naturalistic account ;-)

RH

(Of course Plantinga's EAAN, even if it were successful, doesn't argue per se that human mentality must be non-physical).

RH said...

‪grodrigues‬ ,

I do not know how Wilson presents the argument (and am not really interested),

Then I'm not sure why you'd respond to a subject in which you are not interested.

then the only appropriate answer is to direct him to Prof. Feser's books and posts -- "Philosophy of the Mind" or the recent posts on Rosenberg's book are particularly relevant here. He misses the target completely and does not understand what he is replying to.

I have been explicit that my target here is Wilson's argument in particular, not Feser's at this point.
That's been my stated target. I KNOW that people here have their arguments against materialism, but given Brian posted a link to Hitchens' debate with Wilson, in which Wilson's central theme was the argument against a materialist account of the mind, beauty etc, it seemed apropos to ask if anyone here thought WILSON's argument was any good. I'd have hoped that some here might at least agree it was quite poor.

If you think I've missed the target of Wilson's argument, show me how. If not, it's hardly fair to set up some other completely different target elsewhere and claim "He's missing the target."

Cheers,

RH

Anonymous said...

I think you are stereotyping most of the left in precisely the way most of us lefties stereotype you on the right. Sure, some far lefties are in love with theories about "the working class" and socialist utopias, but others donate time or money to groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch--often they opposed the Iraq War which Hitchens supported because they expected it to become the bloodbath. They were right and Hitchens was wrong. There's no great honor in supporting a political cause that is likely to turn into a catastrophe. When Hitchens stopped being a Marxist he still carried that old habit with him.

Which is not to say that Hitchens was wrong about everything political. He was complicated. But the problem with him is that he was nearly always unfair to his opponents when he felt passionately about something, whether it was God or the Iraq War.


Donald

E.H. Munro said...

I think your problem may be with Rosenberg, not Wilson. What Wilson is making reference to, in a Hitchensesque fashion (which is to say that it's more amusing than strictly true, though he's far closer to accurately characterizing eliminative materialism than Hitchens ever was with his one liners), is the precept that all materialism is necessarily eliminative. But that's a position advanced by eliminative materialists, and there's a very good argument to be made there (i.e. if materialism is true then this is the philosophical result).

You may not like the way that Wilson characterizes the argument, but you would first need to engage people like Rosenberg to disprove eliminative materialism. And that's one reason that you're speaking at cross-purposes with the posters here. (Oh, and the verification word is grater, is there a more appropriate captcha for a bloody, war-mongering socialist?)

grodrigues said...

@RH:

"If you think I've missed the target of Wilson's argument, show me how. If not, it's hardly fair to set up some other completely different target elsewhere and claim "He's missing the target.""

I was fairly specific (or at least I thought I was) to what I was objecting -- not to your direct response to Wilson's presentation of the argument, which I am ignorant of, but to what is implied in your argument. Missing the target? Here is more evidence. From your post December 20, 2011 9:31 AM in response to suomynonA:

"In a nutshell: if you investigate a human being you will find he is physical. And there is no good evidence we are anything other than physical entities (hence, matter/energy). Add to this we observe that humans think, feel, reason about the world and make statements many of us hold as "true," and you have at least prima facie evidence for the proposition that purely physical (made of matter/energy) beings can think, feel and reason to truths about the world. (Actually, I think it goes well beyond prima facie…I know of NO reliably established evidence of a human being operating non-physically)."

I would say there is plenty of evidence, so I repeat my, and Brian's, reading suggestion.

And btw, no one is denying that we have "true thoughts"; the claim is rather a reductio that (eliminative) materialism destroys rationality itself.

The Flying Sqrl said...

Don't pray for his soul. Don't do him this diservice. You dishonour a man vehemently opposed to the totalitarian dictatorhip of God. Respect the memory of the dead.

E.H. Munro said...

If they really wanted to "honor his memory" they would obviously be killing Muslims in the name of "reason". However, I think I prefer their decidedly less homicidal actions. Hitchens was the Josef Goebbels of neoconservatism, so the prayers are probably more than he merits.

RH said...

‪E.H. Munro‬ and ‪grodrigues‬,

As I said, I'm aware of purported challenges to a materialist account of the mind.

I was simply using the fact that Brian posted the debate documentary featuring Wilson against Hitchens, to point to a Christian "doing it wrong."

In other words: As an atheist I agree with other atheists that we haven't met a good reason for believing in God (and that there are good reasons to think the highly specific Gods of human religions are man-made). However, I would be happy to identify when an atheist is giving a poor line of argument to get to these conclusions.

Similarly, I know Feser and his audience share Wilson's belief that a materialist account of the mind does not work (and is self-defeating), but I at least thought you might want to admit that Wilson's presentation of the argument just doesn't get him there. (For some of the reasons I've pointed out).

That's all. I know you have other, more densely reasoned arguments waiting in the wings.

RH

RH said...

As for arguments from Prof. Feser and his T-Aristotelian approach in general, yes of course there is value in reading someone's entire argument if you want to grapple with the argument. However, typically when I read extended treatise by theists I find myself in immediate disagreement with some of the assumptions and leaps of logic being made, and it only compounds and compounds from there into a baroque fortress of disputable and (in my view) unjustified premises and conclusions.

So another avenue for checking the claims is to engage the other side on smaller portions of an argument. The type of thing that happens in comment sections like these.

A problem with interacting with a book is that the author of the book gets to state which questions must be answered, and then he'll go on to
say how his theory answers the questions. But I find theists in their treatise are often not answering the actual questions I would be asking - the ones that I think are most likely to elicit problems in their argument.

The nice thing about immediate dialogue is that I can be immediately corrected if I've misunderstood an aspect of your argument, and I can also be in the position to say "hold on, let's examine your first claim before moving on…"

I've already seen Prof. Feser's reasoning on some of these subjects in action, for instance concerning ends, final causes, necessity of teleology etc. And I have found just the type of unjustified assertions and leaps-of-logic that I would have suspected. I also engaged Prof. Feser in a bit of back and forth on this issue (on Eric Macdonald's blog) and, again, noticed his answers were problematic in just the way I expected: He was trying to justify inference to objective "facts" about ends, final causes and "oughts," and yet there was no actual justification in his moves, all of them evincing subjectivity and arbitrariness on his part. He'd also beg the question saying "Everyone knows…X" when that was precisely what I pointed out was in dispute.

Further, as I suspected, Prof. Feser's explication of "ends" and "final cause" and "good" run into trouble against evolution. Feser explained that the concept of the "good" in his Aristotelian sense entails a type of appeal to norms - but I pointed out that the way evolution works means that it is often (if not always) the individual who deviates from the norm who survives (via natural selection), which is WHY populations survive/evolve over time. Hence it does not appear this notion of "good" being associated with the norm is very cogent in tracking with the reality of the evolutionary process (was the regular population that died off the "good" form, or is it the deviant form that actually allowed for survival when selection pressures changed? If it's the latter, then how would we say the previous population represented the "good" form? If it's the former, then how can the deviant form that survives be "good," and when, if ever does the following population become "good" forms? How is identifying all of this anything but arbitrary on Feser's part? Etc).

All of which is to say, I don't need to have necessarily read a full book by Prof. Feser to note that my original skepticism has only been bolstered by what I HAVE seen from Prof. Feser on the subjects.

I want to repeat what I've said before: I respect Prof. Feser and I understand some of his frustration with New Atheists. Even as someone who mingles with New Atheists (and may in some ways identify as one), I have experienced some annoying traits among them as well. I don't think all Prof. Feser's criticisms hit the mark, but some do, and I am happy to have intelligent folks like Prof. Feser aiming his analysis on any gaffs made by atheists.

I guess it's over 'n out for now.

Cheers,

RH

E.H. Munro said...

Similarly, I know Feser and his audience share Wilson's belief that a materialist account of the mind does not work (and is self-defeating), but I at least thought you might want to admit that Wilson's presentation of the argument just doesn't get him there. (For some of the reasons I've pointed out).

The point that you're continuing to miss is that the argument isn't Wilson's. It's the argument made by materialists that Wilson is merely accepting and highlighting the absurdity of. I did say that he was doing it in a Hitchensesque fashion, so I'm not sure what else I was supposed to say about it.

But at the end of the day your argument isn't with Wilson, it's with materialists like Rosenberg.

grodrigues said...

@RH:

"Further, as I suspected, Prof. Feser's explication of "ends" and "final cause" and "good" run into trouble against evolution. Feser explained that the concept of the "good" in his Aristotelian sense entails a type of appeal to norms - but I pointed out that the way evolution works means that it is often (if not always) the individual who deviates from the norm who survives (via natural selection), which is WHY populations survive/evolve over time. Hence it does not appear this notion of "good" being associated with the norm is very cogent in tracking with the reality of the evolutionary process (was the regular population that died off the "good" form, or is it the deviant form that actually allowed for survival when selection pressures changed? If it's the latter, then how would we say the previous population represented the "good" form? If it's the former, then how can the deviant form that survives be "good," and when, if ever does the following population become "good" forms? How is identifying all of this anything but arbitrary on Feser's part? Etc)."

First, there is no problem with evolution. If anything, Evolution theory even slightly boosts the AT teleological account. A good book to read is Etienne Gilson's "From Aristotle to Darwin and back again: a journey in final causality, species and evolution". Second, I cannot make heads or tails of what you mean by good -- it certainly bears no resemblance to how it is understood in the AT framework, so I am not even sure what you imagine you are refuting.

"All of which is to say, I don't need to have necessarily read a full book by Prof. Feser to note that my original skepticism has only been bolstered by what I HAVE seen from Prof. Feser on the subjects."

From what I have seen from your responses, you would really profit from a little reading (that most dangerous of activities).

George R. said...

grod:
"If anything, Evolution theory even slightly boosts the AT teleological account."

How so?

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

Anon 12:12

It's safe to say that Hitchens is now getting precisely what he wanted while he was alive: A reality completely devoid of God.

I don’t think there is reality completely devoid of God, as there is no existence which is not sustained by God.

And is there hope for redemption after death, a la C.S. Lewis' Great Divorce?

I understand you mean this question on the assumption that the dogma of hell is right. Well, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition there is the belief that the power of prayer is unbounded, and thus has the power to pull souls out of hell. If this is so then at some time in the future hell will be empty, for people in heaven will pray for the salvation of those in hell.

It seems evident to me that only when all humanity is united with God will all be well, God’s desire will be fulfilled, and creation will be perfected.

BenYachov said...

@Flying

>Don't pray for his soul. Don't do him this diservice. You dishonour a man vehemently opposed to the totalitarian dictatorhip of God. Respect the memory of the dead.

Since there is no God then there is no Hitchens. Not anymore since the collection of atoms once called "Hitchens" by other collections of Atoms has dispersed.
Thus if other collections of atoms think or plead mercies to the non-existent "god" for the non-existent "soul" of the now non-existent Hitchens how is he being harmed?

OTOH If you say his "memory" is being harmed I fail to see how a bunch of nerve impulses in the brains of a bunch of collections of Atoms are harmed by this useless activity?

So your demand is not rational but it is amusing.

BenYachov said...

@Dianelos Georgoudis,

Most western Theologians teach Hell is the spiritual starvation the soul feels from being deprived of the Vision of God.

I remember reading Archbishop Timothy Ware talking about how Hell is the pain from receiving God's when you can do nothing but hate him.

Imagine how icky that feels then multiply it by infinity?

Personally I don't think either of these views are mutually exclusive.

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Barron had an interesting video on what he thought of Christopher Hitchens...its pretty interesting. http://battleforthecoreoftheworld.blogspot.com/2011/12/i-found-this-to-be-valid-point-about.html