Last Saturday night, April 4th, Biola University sponsored a debate between prominent atheist writer Christopher Hitchens and Biola’s own Dr. William Lane Craig, one of the world’s foremost philosophers of religion. Not only were the Biola gym, three overflow sites on-campus, and an overflow site off-campus filled, but a live feed of the debate was also sent to another thirty states and four countries across the globe.
Needless to say, there’s still enough wiggle room in the question at hand to draw a [surprisingly avid] crowd. That’s not to say that most of the attendees weren’t assured in their respective points of view, (shout out to the visiting atheist clubs), but more to point out that the question still requires addressing, perhaps simply by merit of the fact that 1) everyone seems positive in their view and 2) they don’t agree.
Debate over a question that is considered objectively settled, and you’ll have an agonizingly boring debate.
To illustrate, possible titles of debates you’d never want to attend:
- “Do People Enjoy Paying Taxes?”
- “Are Traffic Lights A Good Idea?”
- “Does Exercise and Diet Discipline Improve Health?”
…et cetera ad infinitum.
Nevertheless, in the “Does God Exist?” debate, the logical proofs that Craig presented for the existence of God (God being a ‘supernatural,’ omnipotent designer) were never truly approached by Hitchens. As if the rationale behind their worldviews was of little or no significance, Hitchens instead emphasized the emotional and sociological arguments against deism, as well as asserting his right, as the one negating the concept of God, to defer all burden of proof onto Craig.
Essentially, what Hitchens seems to assert by doing this was not that there is ‘wiggle room’ in the inquiry, but no room, no house, no place in which to move in the first place. In order to appeal to any concept of absolutes, that is, a standard by which he can even claim to have credibility in condemning “religious atrocities,” Hitchens was forced to fall back on his evolutionary standards. What does not promote solidarity of society is, by merit of that alone, ‘immoral.’ [Who, then, gets to decide what a ‘good’ society looks like? The most people alive? The strongest people alive?] By setting man as the standard by which to judge the universe and refusing to consider the possibility of God as such, Hitchens polarized the debate.
I admire Mr. Hitchens’ passion for truth, and agree with him that society’s preservation often does align with morality. But can it provide a satisfactory standard, or must we appeal to that which transcends mankind? A key objection that Hitchens made was that Dr. Craig’s argument for God worked from the unspoken assumption “God.” However, the objection was unfounded: Craig made careful cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God that Hitchens never directly addressed. If either of the debaters was working off assumptions, it was Hitchens, who assumed “No God” to the extent that he was unwilling to assume Craig’s worldview long enough to refute it.
My conclusion on the debate was that Hitchens adequately represented the ingrained doubt that we all feel regarding God’s existence. I rarely, if ever, ‘feel’ God’s existence or have religious experiences, and Hitchens voiced that he does not/cannot relate to those experiences either. In order to cope with this situation, though, he has resorted to creating what I consider to be illusory experience of hubristic liberty. Does he ‘feel’ any more as an atheist than he might as a deist?
Ironic, too, that the question would come down to that: the arguments are not capable of resolving the debate, and thus, ‘faith in God’ or ‘faith in personal experience’ becomes the determinate. I have chosen faith in something–Someone–that transcends myself, for not only do the logical arguments indicate the existence of God, but also, Christianity gives (among other things) life a meaningful syntax that my personal, narrow experience of life does not. Hitchens wants me to live for some thing called “society,” but why should I? Hitchens wants to seek some thing called “liberty,” but what right has he to say what it is or why it is valuable?
Hitchens wants to default onto an assumption of ‘no God’, but I can’t help but think that to do so very well may be the most terrifying, unreasonable prospect possible, and a cynical delving into the depths of our own human psyches that offers little hope of re-surfacing. If one must assume–and it seems they must if they wish to make sense of life–then I will assume that there is ‘something rather than nothing’ for a reason beyond the perpetuation of the ‘something’ itself.