Jewish Journal


September 10, 2008

Answering Hitchens on moral superiority



By now, everyone knows the name Christopher Hitchens. That’s an impressive feat for a print journalist not named Woodward or Bernstein or at least Hersh. But Hitchens notoriety—and to the God-fearing it is notoriety—stems from his membership in the corps of New Atheists. One of Hitchens main arguments is that man doesn’t need God to be moral. He has made that claim many times, including here, often invites his critics to prove him wrong.

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

How about worshiping God?

I wish I could say that was my response; it’s a good one. But I can’t claim credit. That goes to Amy Hall of the Stand To Reason Blog, who in responding to Hitchens points out that he doesn’t really want a response because there is no response he would accept:

By the definition of the answer required, we must come up with something that is moral, but that atheists do not recognize as being moral.  But if atheists do not recognize it as moral, Hitchens won’t recognize it as moral.  Therefore, any true example (if it exists) of a moral good that meets the criterion of not being recognized by atheists will, by definition, necessarily be rejected by Hitchens, and any answer that fails to meet the criterion will be easily refuted by him.  It is unanswerable.

Since it is logically impossible to give an answer that will satisfy Hitchens, he may as well ask us to draw him a square circle and then declare himself the winner when we fail.  In the end, his challenge is nothing but a rhetorical trick, and it should be exposed and dismissed as such.  Hitchens should never get away with even asking it, let alone demanding we give him an “acceptable” answer in order to defend theism.

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.  Only an invalid question could lead to a paradox like this.

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