God is Great After All Mr. Hitchens

I have been reading Christopher Hitchens’ new book: God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Twelve, 2007). Hitchens skillfully builds a wall of rhetoric around his firmly entrenched atheism. He walls himself off from Christianity with subtile and effective insult. Unlike Richard Dawkin’s recent book, it is more difficult to pin down an actual argument against the Christian faith in God is not Great, but I would like to answer a few points.

... there would be no ... churches in the first place if humanity had not been afraid of the weather, that dark, the plague, the eclipse, and all manner of other things now easily explicable. And also if humanity had not been compelled, on pain of extremely agonizing consequences, to pay the exorbitant tithes and taxes that raised the imposing edifices of religion. (p. 65)

In this short passage, he refers to two ad hominem arguments. Men like Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach developed the first in the past. It has been called by some “wish fulfillment.” The idea is that our fear of things beyond our control makes us posit a god who is in control of those things. We then develop systems of religion to appease this god or gods, really to control him, and in so doing bring the things we fear back under our control.

I’ve never understood how an explanation of my religious beliefs could be expected to prove or disprove them. This is usually not what the explanation is intended to do. It’s really aimed at making religious beliefs seem childish, and Hitchens uses ad hominem often (see pages 74, 77, and others).

The notion of “wish-fulfillment” is easily turned around. To put it in a slightly expanded West Tennessee colloquialism, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” As R. C. Sproul points out, “... those like Freud who reject God do so in order to escape the helplessness that one feels in the face of the holy and “superior power” of the God who really exists” (Defending Your Faith: an Introduction to Apologetics, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003, p. 159). The Apostle Paul addressed this psychology behind atheism in Romans 1:18-32. Sproul also addresses this psychology in an earlier book.

The second argument is the implication that religion could not be successful without the threat of violence from the state to enforce its demands. I’d like to point to a book recently written by James Patrick Holding called The Impossible Faith. The book comes from an article here. Holding, despite a bent to sarcasm that sometimes detracts from his work, does an admirable job of driving home an obvious point: Christianity had no political power or influence during its inception. Christianity arose from under intense persecution it is early years, and the best explanation is the actual historic resurrection of the Divine Son of God. Christians have nothing to fear from an evaluation of history that is free from the biases and assumptions Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 1. That some later perverted the faith Christ delivered should not detract from these facts.

We go back to the old and tired “... the postulate of a designer or creator only raises the unanswerable question of who designed the designer or created the creator” (p. 71). I have labored the point elsewhere that we must have a creator who has always existed to avoid a practically impossible infinite regress of finite causes. That is, if we think back from ourselves to the things that caused us, then back to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, the infinitely long line of causes would not have been traversed to get to us. If you find a line of dominoes, and find an infinite number of them before the last one in the line, you could never go back to the first one in the line to start the process of knocking them all over.

His most interesting argument is against the designer behind the world. He attacks the design itself. On page 85, he tells theists like me that we must “... take credit for his clumsiness, failure, and incompetence.” First, we should ask that if evolution has been going on for “450 million years” (p. 87), and “...All the intermediate stages of this process have been located in other creatures...” (p. 82), why do we still find imperfect creatures in the evolutionary model either? It seems that “natural selection” would have done her proper duty by now.

For further help, I turn to the greatest philosopher the church has created: the Apostle Paul.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22, ESV)

All of the ‘defects’ mentioned by Hitchens can be explained by the fact that all of creation has been disturbed by man’s sin. This explanation is not addressed by Hitchens, but does provide a strong hint at the devastation wrought by Adam’s sin. The Christian faith can explain the defects in nature and the purposes embedded there. The atheist can only point to the defects.

I find an almost startling quote from Hitchens on page 80: “... we are prepared for discoveries in the future that will stagger our faculties even more than the vast advance in knowledge that have come to us since Darwin and Einstein.” It seems that the atheist lives by faith, not by sight. I’ll not address his issues with the Bible and its historicity since others have done a much better job.

I was also encouraged by his frank comment on page 100 that God’s law “... demands the impossible...” Yes, indeed it does. The law is an expression of the glory of a holy God. It is a schoolmaster that drives us to Christ, where God’s mercy and grace are to be enjoyed by all who trust in Him.

We should always remember to pray for Hitchens, and atheists like him, that they would be brought to knowledge of the truth. Only God can change the hard hearts of His creatures, and we were no different before we came to Christ. We should not criticize blind people who bump into trees.

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