Saturday, April 12, 2008

Episode 13

In addition to sharing DNA, both Christopher and Peter Hitches posses a passion for ideas, eloquence of speech and razor-sharp wit. But this is where the similarities end. Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is an outspoken Atheist and defender of the Iraq War. His brother Peter is a devout Anglican Christian and anti-war journalist. After a recent reconciliation the two met for their first (and possibly last) public debate in nearly a decade. The result was a fantastic debate on God and war that left a bewildered audience wondering who to cheer for. Thanks to the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies & Center For Inquiry Michigan, Reasonable Doubts was able to seize a rare opportunity to interview both Hitchens brothers together in the peaceful moments just before the debate.

To download this or any previous Reasonable Doubts episodes click here.


Dale said...

Hey guys, I love the podcast, and I just got around to listening to Hitchens v. Hitchens.

I shared your frustration over Christopher's failure to answer Peter's tu quoque argument (that atheists must answer for Stalinism and the terrors of the French Revolution).

The answer to this is simple: it's the books, stupid!

The Bible (and Koran) are replete with passages advocating violence, repression, inequality, slavery, and every sort of barbarity. In some cases the books give precepts -- Lev. 20:13 is an unambiguous sanction of anti-gay hatred -- while at other times the books give examples -- god instructs the killing of every member of a non-favored tribes (see Amelikites, Canaanites).

Over time, those who believe these books have put their precepts and examples to practice.

At other times, of course, believers have proceeded as though the books are nothing but love and harmony.

But the terrible precepts and examples didn't go away. They're still there, as canonical as ever. They're still there, resting on all the same authority as ever.

They are, we are told, THE WORD OF GOD. These aren't just books one can take or leave, believe or not -- these are the dictations of GOD himself. God is the ultimate authority -- indeed an unchallengable authority, a source of infinite wisdom and perfect justice.

Whatever we might say of Stalin or Robespierre, or the books they read or wrote, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thought they were, or represented, perfect authority. Spinoza, Locke, Diderot, Voltaire, Tom Paine, Jefferson, and all the rest had some good arguments, but they were not gods. They didn't claim to be gods and no one confused them for gods. They wrote books and dictionaries and pamphlets and letters, not scriptures or angelic dictations.

Moreover, they didn't write the kinds of barbarities that are so common in the holy texts. Where does one go in the writings of Voltaire to excuse mass killings? And even if you find a passage that seems to sanction it, aren't you taking Voltaire a little more seriously than he himself would recommend?

The tu quoque fails utterly. It fails because the texts are different. The texts differ in subject matter; the texts differ in degree and kind of authority.

Yes, people have done terrible things in the name of 'reason.' (Reason tells us so, as do some passages of god's supposed words.) When they have done so, it has been easy to see it, notice it, and impeach the quality of the sanction given for it. It has been easy because there is no claim of godly sanction (never mind a credible one).

The famous Stephen Weinberg quote is apposite here (paraphrasing): good people will do good things and evil people will do evil things. For good people to do evil things, that requires religion.

Case closed.

Apologies for the long comment.

Thanks again for the podcast.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

This episode -- searching for Hitchens on iTunes -- was how I found your show, and I'm now enjoying catching up on the rest of the episodes!

Great depth, humour, and intelligence :)

One of two skeptical/rational podcasts I listen to -- the other being the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, which I've listened to since I was 15 (2 years ago).

Keep up the good work!

~Chris, UK

Anonymous said...

Are we calling Hitler atheist now? I seem to recall him being quoted as saying "I was born a Catholic. I am a Catholic. I will die a Catholic."