I love this guy. He really engages me. He's like a post-modern William F. Buckley. Or a reborn Oscar Wilde.
Read this latest exchange over at the Washington Post.. More of the same from Hitchens - though he remains, as ever, entertaining in his dead-end polemics!
I listened to a debate between Hitchens and Mark Roberts (NT scholar) some time ago (see previous post), in which Hitchens asks his question ("what ethical statement could an theist pronounce that couldn't also be pronounced by an atheist?") and Roberts gave an answer ("praying for my children"). Hitchens was clearly suprised by Roberts' clear, concise and undeniable response to the question - apparently Hitchens hadn't asked it very often of thinking folks. Shocked by getting a reasonable reply, Hitchens attempted to divert the issue by claiming "how insulting that you would say I don't love my children because I don't pray for them!" clearly and feebly trying to sidestep the fact that this ethical claim directly answers Hitchens' question. Hitchens could always say that the prayer is ineffective (as it would be if there were no God), but he can no longer claim (honestly) that a person of faith hasn't directly and objectively answered the question - though he does (sans honesty) in the article below.
He also misses the point re:morality and theism. The theist isn't claiming that atheists cannot behave morally or hold moral opinions. The theist is claiming that all of us - theist and atheist alike - have no basis for morality at all if there are not absolute, real and truthful ideas of right and wrong . Hitchens' might reply that all ideas of right and wrong can be derived from evolutionary theory (what protects my genes; what propogates my genes; what creates/preserves/propogates a society in which my genes are protected) and he would cover a lot of ground. But he would also invoke a lot of problems for his own atheism - such as a lot of prima facie immoral practices.
In the end, Hitchens' entirely anecdotal arguments are neither novel nor compelling, just more rants from, admittedly, one of the best ranters since Oscar Wilde.
Having said that, Hitchens does confront the religious community - especially the evangelical Christian one - with some questions we need to be honest about. Literalists need to grapple with what clearly appears to be rampant immorality endorsed by or even commanded by God in the Old Testament. Literalists also need to deal with the anti-scientific positions they often hold based on literal readings of ancient texts. No less challenging, non-literalists need to have a robust answer to how to handle sacred texts and their own religious history in an accessible, systematic way to avoid charges of cherry-picking and selectivism.