Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Some Time With Christopher Hitchins

Hitchins is the author of a bestseller, God Is Not Great, and a contributor to Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and Slate.

Here are some ideas I’ve gleaned from his book and a talk he gave this week in Portland:

Hitchins’s essential premise in his book is that God is simply a human construct, and not based on either logic or fact. Religious scripture is an expression of wishful thinking, magic, folklore, and myth, and, especially, flawed logic and reason.

• Occam’s Razor: Don’t rely on unnecessary assumptions in pursuit of truth. You can understand created ideas without any reference to the creator of the idea. Ockam was a 14th century logician. When competing hypotheses are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selection of the hypothesis that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities while still sufficiently answering the question. It is in this sense that Occam's razor is usually understood. To quote Isaac Newton, "We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes."
In science, Occam’s razor is used as a heuristic (rule of thumb) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models.

Occam, in expressing a belief in God, had to fall back on the position that the existence of God can only be demonstrated by faith.

• Religion is the original sin. Religion presents a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous. Creation stories are simply ancient myths. The major religions of the world are based on the false assumptions of blood sacrifice, atonement, eternal reward and/or punishment, and the imposition of impossible tasks and rules.

• How moral is the story that because of a human sacrifice two thousand years ago, my own manifold sins are forgiven me and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life?

• Socrates taught that consciousness is innate. Dogmatic faithfulness can always be outpointed and satirized by one who pretends to take their preachings at face value. Facing the death penalty for his logical arguments, he told his accusers that while he did not know for certain about death and the gods, neither did his accusers.

• The true value of a human is not determined by their possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by the person’s sincere exertion to get at the truth. Possession only makes one passive, indolent, and proud.

• Religion minimizes, trivializes, relativizes the human experience.

• No religious person makes the argument that without religion, you wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong. In reality, there is no “true north” for morals and values.

• Who is making evil relative? Relative to what?

• Without God, all things are possible.

• Religion is man-made relativism.

• No one argues that without God, evil would be worse

• Religion and its values should be self-evident, and not have to be taught, or preached, or “found”

• The murder-suicide community, the genital mutilation community, the child abuse community is faith based.

• Religion advocates moral relativism

• The Church never excommunicated a Holocaust perpetrator.

• The power of religion is to buy into absolutes, and access supernatural information.

• Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

Web sources:

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