Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hitchens vs. Wilson, The King's College

  • Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson: Is Christianity Good For the World?
  • October 29, 2008, The King's College

    [Moderator Dr. Marvin Olasky introduces Hitchens and Wilson]

    OLASKY: Doug, let's start with you [indecipherable]. In two minutes, tell us why Christianity is good for the world.

    WILSON: There are two levels where that question can be addressed. One would be the level that I would, as a Christian minister, address it: It's good for the world because it's the truth of the Gospel for the world. Now, there are many who would answer it on another level, sort of a more pragmatic approach where they would say, "Religion, generally, is good for the world as a form of social control and it gives people comfort and consolation and keeps them from doing terrible, bad things to one another." The problem with that, as Christopher will hasten to inform you is that it often is the occasion for wars and conflicts between differing religions. So I want to defend not religion as a generic good for the world as a social control, but rather that the Christian faith, because Jesus is the Christ of God, is good for the world. The Christian Gospel is nothing if not the message that Jesus Christ is the last Adam—the word "Adam" means "mankind" in Hebrew. So when we're told—when the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus is the last Adam, he's saying Jesus is the ultimate mankind, the final mankind. We have the option of growing up into—mature as human beings in Christ and there's no other option, there's no other way. Now if that truth claim, if that claim is true—objectively true, then it has to be good for the world by definition; it's the salvation of the world. Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. How would that not be good? Of course, if the claim is false, if Jesus was delusional or a charlatan, then, of course, Christianity is no more good for the world than any other widely-circulated lie.

    OLASKY: Ok. Chris, why is Christianity bad for the world?

    HITCHENS: First, because it's based on a fantastic illusion. Let's say that the consensus is that our species, we being the higher primates, Homo sapiens, has been on the planet for at least 100,000 years, maybe more. Francis Collins says it may be 100,000; Richard Dawkins thinks maybe quarter of a million. I'll take 100,000. In order to be Christian you have to believe that for 98,000 years our species suffered and died, most of its children dying in childbirth, most other people having a life expectancy of about 25, dying of their teeth, famine, struggle, indigenous war, suffering, misery, all of that. For 98,000 heaven watches it with complete indifference and then 2,000 years ago thinks, "That's enough of that, we should—it's time to intervene. The best way to do this would be by condemning someone to a human sacrifice somewhere in the less literate parts of the Middle East. Not—don't let's appear to the Chinese, for example, where people can read and study evidence and have a civilization, let's go the desert and have another revelation there." This is nonsense. It can't be believed by a thinking person. Why am glad this is the case? (To get to the point of—the wrongness in the other sense of Christianity) Because I think the teachings of Christianity are immoral. The central one is the most immoral of all, that is the one of vicarious redemption: You can throw your sins onto somebody else, vulgarly known as scapegoating. In fact, originating as scapegoating in the same area, the same desert. I can pay our debt if I love you; I can serve your term in prison if I love you very much, I can volunteer to do that. I can't take your sins away because I can't abolish your responsibility and I shouldn't offer to do so. Your responsibility has to stay with you. There's no vicarious redemption. There very probably, in fact, is no redemption at all. It's just a part of wish thinking and I don't think wish thinking is good for people either. It even manages to pollute the central question, the word I just employed, the most important of all, the word "love." By making love compulsory, by saying you must love. You must love your neighbor as yourself, something you can't actually do. We'll always fall short so you can always be found guilty. By saying you must love someone who you also must fear, that is to say a supreme being, an eternal father. Someone of whom you must be afraid but who you must love him too. If you fail in this duty, you're, again, a wretched sinner. This is not mentally or morally or intellectually healthy and that brings me to the final objection and I'll condense it, Dr. Olasky, which is this is a totalitarian system. If there was a god who could do these things and demand these things of us and who was eternal and unchanging, we would be living under a dictatorship from which there was no appeal and one that could never change and one that knows our thoughts and can convict us of thought crime and condemn us to eternal punishment for actions that we are condemned in advance to be taking. All this in the round—and I could say more—it's an excellent thing that there's absolutely no reason to believe any of it to be true.

    OLASKY: Ok Doug, are you a thinking person or are you left speechless by Chris' assault?

    WILSON: I give up.

    HITCHENS: [To Olasky] Christopher. Would you mind calling me Christopher? I'm sorry, it's only because it's my name.

    WILSON: Alright.

    HITCHENS: Thank you.

    WILSON: Here, I think, is the central difficulty of Christopher's critique of the Christian faith: You notice that he is not critiquing the Christian faith by appealing to a standard that overarches all human beings and that is obligatory for all of us. When he says things like, "Substitutionary atonement is immoral," well, by what standard? Who says? What do you mean "immoral"? What world view considers it to be immoral and why is that world view in charge of the Christian world view? All ultimate truth claims are, to use post-modern jargon, "totalized": You can't talk about everything without talking about everything and what Christopher has to do, in order to critique the Christian faith, is he has to borrow ethical standards from the Christian faith and run a reductio where he says, "According to the standards that you adopt as Christians, here, let me climb into that— let me climb into the Christian car and see if I can drive it into a tree." That's what he's doing. But he doesn't have any car to drive of his own. Why—substitutionary atonement is immoral. How come? Who says?

    HITCHENS: Very well.

    OLASKY: Chris, yes, are you a car thief?

    HITCHENS: Now, here we are. I haven't known Douglas Wilson for very long, but he does strike me as a very sweet and decent and generous and humane person and thus he obviously doesn't know how insulting, how rude he's just been. Not just to me...

    WILSON: Oh, I think I do.

    HITCHENS: Not just to me—not just to your humble servant the carjacker, but to you also, ladies and gentlemen. I think it's a fantastically rude thing to say that if it wasn't for Christianity, I and you wouldn't know right from wrong. It's an extraordinary thing to say. The awareness of the difference between right and wrong is innate in human beings and it can be found and noticed, being observed and enforced and upheld in societies where Christianity has never yet penetrated. To say that no one—let me give an example from the Old Testament: (The story, as you know, the wandering in the Sinai and the wandering in the desert is all made up, it's a Jewish foundational myth but) the Ten Commandments, four or five of which do actually contain moral injunctions, some of them are nonsensical, some of them are theocratic, some of them are self-contradictory, but the ones that say, on the whole, "Avoid murder, theft, and perjury," are, I would consider, sound and I would dare say every in this room would without necessarily having to be told. Are we to assume that my mother's ancestors, the ancient Jewish people, got all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder, theft, and perjury were all ok? And only when told from on high, "Stop with that!" suddenly thought maybe they are such bad ideas after all. Of course not. There couldn't have been a Jewish society or enough Jewish solidarity to get them that far if they, for one thing, if they thought these things were fine until God says that they are. This is not how morality is formed at all. To the contrary, as far as I can tell, religion gets its morality from humans. It's a feedback loop and then it says—tells them to think of things that aren't sins as if they were. For example, coveting your neighbor's goods, a perfectly healthy thing to do. The ambition of jealousy and emulation is a necessary spur to innovation and to progress. Then described, quite ludicrously, as a sin and you're made to feel guilty about it when you shouldn't. That's the irrational superimposition on ordinary human solidarity and morality that is attempted by all religion, not just Christianity.

    WILSON: There's two things. One: Notice that the core of what Christopher acknowledged, that the ancient Jews had a quite healthy and robust respect for certain decencies that are pervasive in all societies, particularly religious societies, means that it must be the case that religion does not poison everything, contrary to the thesis of your recent book. Now, you want to go on...

    HITCHENS: To the contrary. I said they had those things without being told by God.

    WILSON: Right, but then having had them, and when religion came along, religion needs to have poisoned it, if religion poisons everything. But the point is that if they already had them because they're human, not because they were religious and religion screws everything up, then why didn't it screw up "Do not murder," "Do not lie," "Do not perjure"? Why didn't it mess that up? Now here's the thing that I want to—have point something out. I'm quite willing to be direct with Christopher if I think it calls for it, but I don't want to be unintentionally rude to him. (Oscar Wilde defined a gentleman as someone who never insults someone else accidentally.) Notice that Christopher said that morality is innate but notice that that's coming from an evolutionist where everything's up for grabs. In an evolutionary world view, everything's on the table. All kinds of things are innate. These used to be innate in our makeup, back before we were human beings, when we were another kind of critter, there were innate things that disappeared. So, why can't our innate morality evolve right along with the rest of us? The other thing is, and this is very important to note, I did not say that Christopher does not know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. If you read his book—read his book on god is Not Great, or if you read virtually anything else he writes, it's very, very clear that he has an acute sense of right and wrong, up and down, righteousness, unrighteous. He would have made a very good puritan in...(You're welcome.) And to wrap it up, there's a difference between knowing the difference between good and evil and being able to give an accounting of it. My challenge is not that he doesn't know right and wrong, he does, but how can you account for it, given an evolutionary time and chance universe?

    HITCHENS: Just to go back to that episode in Sinai: I say that the knowledge that murder, theft, and perjury should be avoided was already present in Jewish and every other known society before the injunctions come from heaven and these injunctions, these are the religious ones, the ones that only God could tell you: Well, you've got to circumcise your children, you have to mutilate your children's genitals; you have to avoid eating pigs; you have to be prepared—in fact you are enjoined to slay the Amalekites down to the last child and only keep a few young women alive for purposes better imagined than described, and do the same to the Mideonites and others—genocide is made a holy obligation. That's the added bit, that's what religion adds to morality. It negates it, in other words. The Golden Rule, so called, the one that any--most children don't have to be taught (in other words, don't treat other people as you wouldn't want to be treated yourself, or more positively, treat others as you would wish them to treat you) certainly appears in The Analects of Confucius, a very long time ago. Most people would not say Confucionism was really a religion. It also appears—it's been beautifully expressed by Rabbi Hillel, a Babylonian rabbi. Christianity adds absolutely nothing, in other words, to our awareness of the difference between good and evil but does shift a lot of good things into the evil side and a lot of evil things into the good side and ends up in a universe of howling moral confusion.

    WILSON: Let me seize this opportunity to agree with Christopher on something, and that is if you take C. S. Lewis' book The Abolition of Man, in the appendix, or in the back of the book, he has a compilation of ethical injunctions from around the world, different religions, different periods of history, which he calls the Tao. And he's doing this to illustrate—to make Christopher's point which is that you—the Christian faith does not bring fundamentally into the world a new consciousness of right and wrong. What comes into the world is gospel, not good advice, but good news. So the problem is not that didn't know the difference between right and wrong. We did, and constantly do, we speak to others in terms of it. The problem is that we don't live up to the standards that we affirm, whatever religion it is, if it's The Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism or whatever way you have. Men and women are sinners and they fail to obtain that standard and what Christ offers and what Christianity offers is forgiveness of sin, which is what Christopher began by saying is an impossibility.

    HITCHENS: Well let me rush to seize the outstretched paw there. And, while we're on the subject of Lewis—one of my least favorite authors—Lewis does make a very, very important observation, I would call it a concession as a matter of fact, where he says there's one tone of voice he can't stand hearing, and you hear it a lot, it was very much present in the work of a great hero of mine, his biographer I am, Thomas Jefferson, say Christianity may not be theologically true but Jesus was a wonderful, morally exemplary human being with extremely lovely preachments that deserve attention whether you believe in the Gospel or not. C. S. Lewis quite rightly says that's absolutely ridiculous. That's the one thing you cannot say, because if this man was not the son of God then the things that He was saying were absolutely immoral, some of them wicked or mad. They make no sense or they make sense only as injunctions to do evil. As for example: Take no thought for the morrow, care not to clothe or to eat, don't worry about your family, leave your family, who cares about your children, don't invest, don't grow, don't sew, there's no point. It's all coming to an end very soon. The kingdom of God is coming, which he thought would be in the lifetime of his disciples. Then it does make sense, of course. Who cares then? But otherwise it would be an immoral preachment. So I think we've already made quite a lot of progress in that I think in front of most audiences, this one's probably more qualified on the matter—in front of most audiences, morality is talked about as if it was what innate and what was common to us and religion is judged by whether it is moral or not where as, as Doug Wilson points out, that's not true.

    OLASKY: In several minutes we'll begin taking questions from the floor so you can line up in the aisles as things occur to you—thoughts and questions occur to you. Doug?

    WILSON: We're back to our disagreement because C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers and I believe he had a talent for going right to the nub of the matter and at least one this one, we agree: Jesus was either the son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth or He was a nutcase or He was an evil, evil man. Let's not have any nonsense about Him being a great moral prophet. He was out of His head if He—if He didn't have the authority to say the things that He said then He had no right or business saying them.

    HITCHENS: That works for me. No, let's bring it on.

    OLASKY: Bring it on, yes. So, questioners can begin lining up as they choose to do so. But let me ask Christopher a question here: Are there any good things that Christians have done?

    HITCHENS: That Christians have done? I'm sure. Yes, I know people who I regard as nicer than myself who do what they do, it seems to me, because they are Christian. I like to think they would do it—they'd be that way if there had never been any Christianity and I think there's every possibility that that is so. I can't deny that they give me the impression and they say to themselves that this is because of their faith.

    OLASKY: Doug, are there bad things that Christians have done, that Christianity is in some way responsible for?

    WILSON: I don't believe that there are things you can say Christianity is responsible for except in the sense that your math class is responsible for the wrong answers that you got on the test. You wouldn't be getting those wrong answers if you had been enrolled in the class. So in that case, the math class is responsible for your failing the math class. But the math instructor, the math curriculum, the laws of mathematics are not responsible for you getting it wrong. Those are errors or deviances from the norm. But, on a practical level, as a pastor—I've been a pastor for over thirty years and I can tell you that there are all sorts of unique, interesting religious pathologies that show up in people in a religious context that don't show up elsewhere. In a secular world you're get secular pathologies and in a religious you're going to get religious pathologies and that's what pastors and people who are charged with the care of souls, have to deal with all the time. So yes, there's a unique kind of Christian screwed-up-ness that can occur but that has to do with us not obeying what the Bible says to do, not following God the way we ought to follow Him.

    HITCHENS: That, I have to say I think there's a slight element of casuistry there in that, you say if an immoral thing was done by a Christian that would mean—because the person was a Christian—that would mean because it was immoral it couldn't have been Christian by definition. So, that's a little too convenient, isn't it?

    WILSON: It's very convenient.

    HITCHENS: For example, the injunction to spread the news of Christianity, to prosthelytize, has in the hands of, perhaps not of your church but, shall I say the Roman Catholic Church, led to appalling crimes being committed which the Church itself is said to have apologized for.

    WILSON: Yes, there are many things for which...

    HITCHENS: They can't say they didn't do this for Jesus or in the name of God.

    WILSON: Correct. But they can say that, because they bear His name, in the baptism and by profession and they did wicked acts in His name, they have an obligation to repent, to turn away from it. So, the issue is if the question is simply can an atheist do good things and can a Christian do bad things the answer is certainly of course. That's absolutely the case. What I'm saying is that the Christian who does evil things and wants to tenaciously cling to it can't justify his rebellion and sin in terms of Scripture. He can't justify what he's doing from the foundational assumptions of his faith and vice versa. I don't believe the atheist can give an accounting of morality.

    HITCHENS: Well, you see, this is the difficulty that I'll have to bring up now. You, I think, are not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but if you were one you would believe his Holiness the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth and is chosen by God for that job so and order given by the Pope does rather commit a Catholic to say that, "I'm doing this for Christianity." So when they say that all Jews are collectively responsible for the murder of Christ, as they did until 1964, that's in the name of God as far as anyone can tell. Now if, as I suspect, you don't believe that, what I want to know is how do you know that you're a better Christian than the Pope? The Pope, by the way, thinks you're going straight to hell because there's only one true faith and you're not part of it. So this is all part—one of the worst things about Christianity, it seems to me, is how much its adherents love each other. There's not the least of the wickedness that's imposed on the world is religious warfare between Christians about interpretations of essentially uninterpretable because nonsensical and irrational and contradictory Scriptures.

    WILSON: You just climbed into the Christian car again and drove it into a tree.

    HITCHENS: No, I don't think so. I found it in the ditch and decided to leave it right there where it belongs.

    OLASKY: Ok, let's get out of the ditch by going to a question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: I guess for Mr. Hitchens: One of the distinctives of the Abrahamic theistic faiths surely is the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, which is probably stated most simply by Aristotle (who's certainly no theist in the sense that the Christian would speak of it in this argument) from the impossibility of an infinite chain of causation that the chain of material causation we experience as becoming has to terminate somewhere in an immovable mover, an uncaused causing that is the fount of all being. So you don't have that option, it seems, so how do you account for being as such, what is your ontology?

    HITCHENS: Well, isn't the danger of what you just proposed that of an infinite regression in that who's going to cause this cause, where does this being come from? Who created this creator? I've never known anyone who can get past the infinite regression objection to that. And in any case if you were to advance that theory successfully—if you were to say to me, or if you were to get me to say, "I can't answer that. I can't disprove it. It could be true." All you would've done was establish the possibility that deism was a reasonable position to hold. Which, I would say that until Darwin and Einstein it probably was. It was the sort of thing that an intelligent person might have to end up believing because the orders and rhythms of the nature and the cosmos don't seem very likely to be accidental. But if you've established deism you've got all your work still ahead of you to be a theist. You have to show that this god, this person who went to all this trouble with physics, cares who you sleep with or how or whether you should eat a pig or not or what day you should observe as holy. Now, I don't see how you get from your uncaused cause to that, to the idea that we are divinely created, supervised by someone who cares for us. That's something for which there can never be made any evidence. You either have to believe that or not. And as I'm sure Pastor Wilson will confirm you have to have faith in order to believe it to begin with, so...

    WILSON: And it's not that you can never have...

    HITCHENS: And some of us, I'm afraid, there's no help for this. As Pascal described us: We are so made, we are so constituted that we cannot believe.

    WILSON: Yes...

    HITCHENS: We can't. A lot of humans are created that way.

    WILSON: Some can't, some...

    HITCHENS: And we presume we're also in the image of God.

    WILSON: Some can't and some won't. When you say that there's this infinite regress going back, either you have an endless chain of material of causality, which has struck many thinking theologians and philosophers as absurd, as something untenable because you've got each element in the contingent chain is dependent on the previous contingent thing, and so it seems reasonable and it seemed reasonable to many to postulate a necessary being that is not part of that chain. And I don't think that's a compelling argument for God's existence but having accepted God's existence on other grounds, it's not that I believe that the cosmological argument proves God's existence but I do believe that God's existence proves the cosmological argument. I think it's true.


    OLASKY: Let's go to another question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: This question's for Mr. Wilson: Mr. Hitchens pointed out a interesting surface flaw of Christianity and that is that we believe that, even with the most conservative estimates there's at least 4,000 years of human history before Christ [Hitchens laughs] and if you believe that—notice I say at least, but—if you believe that Christ is the redeemer than all those people, by necessity, went to hell. How can you assert that a religion who says that that many people went to hell for seemingly no reason, even though they might have been good or bad, is good for the world?

    WILSON: Here's the structure of the argument first: If you assume, or quietly assume that mankind is basically good, basically innocent, basically minding their own business, not doing anything wrong and we don't know about Jesus because God withheld that information from us and then God comes in many thousands of years later and says, "Ha ha! You didn't know about Jesus. I'm going to throw you into hell for your ignorance which I placed upon you," then yes, the objection is a very strong one. But that's not the way it works. The human race is in rebellion against God; the human race is fallen into sin. So if I develop a cure for cancer and I go and offer it to a bunch of people in a cancer ward and half of them take it and half of them don't and those who take it are cured, those who died don't die of not taking medicine, they died of cancer, alright? The cancer's the thing that killed them not not knowing about the medicine, not not taking the medicine, the thing that kills them is the cancer. The thing that kills people, the thing that caused the death and suffering before the advent of Christ was the existence of sin, rebellion, self-centeredness, me-first-ism, that's what causes the problem. Christ is the solution; Christ is not the problem. Christ is the savior; Christ is not the disease. Sin is the disease. Self-absorption is the disease.

    HITCHENS: Can I have a comment? Your question has also occurred with considerable force to early Christian thinkers who don't try and explain it away as Pastor Wilson has just done (or just, rather failed to do). But you said, "No, there has to be an answer to that." Also, what about the people who live now in Borneo, say, who've never met a Christian, never heard of the Bible, don't know the Jesus story? What about them, are they condemned by their ignorance? There is indeed a term invented by, I think Ignatius of Loyola called "invincible ignorance" to cover this. (It's a form of innocence.) It means it's not your fault, you couldn't have heard the Good News. In the Apostle's Creed it is said of Jesus that after suffering under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, he descended into hell, you'll remember that. Well I've heard it argued by some Christians that He went to hell in order to retrospectively recruit all those who had been boiling there awaiting His arrival. Seems to me this is a fantastically cruel way of explaining things but at least it does square the circle that otherwise cannot be squared, believe you me.

    WILSON: Just a quick item: The Greek for that word in the Apostle's Creed is "Hades" not "hell" so when people think of hell they usually think of Final Judgment, lake of fire. "Hades" is the Greek word for the Hebrew "Sheol," the place of the dead not necessarily torment, so that's just a quick...

    HITCHENS: Sure, but I'm only saying that these people—it's a place of confinement I think we might add. Certainly is [indecipherable] in that—no, indeed, I mean, there is no hell; it's a detail worth pointing out. There is no hell in the Old Testament. [Audience laughter] There's no hell in the Old Testament. There's no mention of it. Once God is finished with you, once all the Amalekite children have been killed, that's the end of them. There's no punishment of the dead. It's only with gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who says, "If you don't listen to my meek and mild message you can be—depart into everlasting fire. You've always got that option if you don't like my meek and mild stuff." So yes, I think it's very—it's not a matter of pedantry at all. The difference between hell, Hades, infinite, eternal punishment and not is very important. One of Christianity's specifically horrible contributions to human mythology and delusion is the idea, the terrifying idea that you could be tortured forever.

    WILSON: Horrible by what standard?

    HITCHENS: Horrible by—well, good question.

    WILSON: Yeah, I know.

    HITCHENS: No. Horrible, well—shall I say—let me ask anyone here who doesn't think it's a horrible idea to put up their hand. So it doesn't seem to require much explanation, does it, as a horrible idea?

    WILSON: Well...

    HITCHENS: Do you feel you need a standard to keep your hand down at the moment? Or did I just say something that was so morally self-evident?

    WILSON: No, there's a difference between an emotional reaction to something—every person...

    HITCHENS: Oh, I think they're using their heads, Douglas.

    WILSON: No, t here's a difference between an emotional reaction, which all of us have, everybody with natural affection thinks it's a terrible idea to think of people perishing eternally. That's not the issue. The issue is: How do you give an accounting of what is good and what is bad? When you say—if the universe is, on your accounting, time and chance acting on matter, if all the universe is is matter in motion, what do you mean "horrible"? What do you mean by "horrible idea"? Who cares?

    HITCHENS: Why do we care? Very good point. (Or, a very good question.) I ask myself a lot why that is. I think it is because I am one of the higher primates.

    WILSON: But that's not a rallying cry.

    HITCHENS: No, it appears to be—no, it's not much of a rallying cry but it has the merit of being true. It appears to be part of the equipment, intellectual and moral equivalent, of our primate species that it does have the need to help its fellow creatures as well as to torture, kill, rape, enslave, and exploit them. It does have a feeling, a quite strong one, that there's a human need to help and that you might need help yourself someday so be nice to your neighbor so why not?

    WILSON: does it sort out?

    HITCHENS: Not everyone has this. There are quite a lot of people, also presumably made in the image of God, I think a superfluous assumption to be making, but, also made in the image of God, according to you, who were born sociopathic; they don't care about other people; they can't be made to; they just won't and don't. They're a problem for the rest of us. And then there are people who are born psychopathic who positively need to see others suffer...

    WILSON: If our species...

    HITCHENS: And have a bad time.

    WILSON: If our species has within it these seeds of a gregarious, lend-a-helping-hand-and-we-have-a-herd instinct and we want to help out, we have that instinct and we also have the instinct to go to war and fight and do all these terrible things that we do, I've got instinct A and instinct B: What is it that tells you which one is right?

    HITCHENS: Same as you, I would say.

    WILSON: God?

    HITCHENS: No. No, you knew all that before you'd ever read the Bible.

    WILSON: Well, I knew all that but how...

    HITCHENS: You knew that well before anyone ever introduced you to Christianity. Don't tell me you didn't or I'll have to be seriously alarmed about what you were like as a little boy.

    WILSON: Well that would be good to do, to see us...

    HITCHENS: No, come on.

    WILSON: Here's the issue: Of course, I can feel a certain way before I can give an accounting of it, but what I'm asking for is, given your premises, given your assumptions, given what you say the universe is, given all that, how do you give an accounting of which way you go? Now I know—I've read enough of your stuff and seen enough to know that you and I would agree on any number of things. If we're going around New York and we see someone in trouble, we would have the same instinct, we'd would want to help; we'd want to step in and do that. I know that that's true of you. What I can't get from you is a reason for that choice, given your assumptions.

    HITCHENS: Well, I just don't think that the idea that there's a creator who supervises you and watches over you and intervenes in your life is a good or sufficient explanation of any of this, that's all.

    WILSON: I know that you...

    HITCHENS: It's a burdensome assumption that makes—well, in that case, where are all the psychopaths and sociopaths coming from? They're all made in the image of God as well.

    WILSON: Sure, I know what assumption you don't think works...

    HITCHENS: Why would God want to do that—make someone innately wicked and a menace to their neighbors from the moment they were born, because of the way they are?

    WILSON: I know that you don't think works. What I'm trying to get is what you think does work. What does account for this instinct A, instinct B...

    HITCHENS: Well, it's observable in other species, as you know. We're not the only primates who have families and solidarity and look out for each other and so on. There are other species as well.

    WILSON: And other species go to war; other species' mothers eat their young...

    HITCHENS: Yes, that's right.

    WILSON: Other species—how do I sort this out?

    HITCHENS: Well, random mutation and natural selection produce quite a lot of discrepant results. There are no results that cannot be explained by random mutation combined with natural selection. Whereas, if you add a supernatural dimension, you explain everything and nothing. Something that explains everything doesn't explain very much. That's the notorious disadvantage of it. I like to give blood, for example. I positively enjoy doing it. When Dr. Olasky and I both used to be Marxists and one of the great things about the socialist instinct, I used to think, was people have a human need to help (there's a great book about blood donation called The Gift Relationship). The British National Health Service is not allowed to pay for blood. You can't buy it or sell it but it never runs out of it. There are always enough people to give. I positively enjoy it and also have a very rare blood group (AB negative). I might need a blood donation myself one day. It's in my interest that the blood donor habit is kept up and I don't lose a pint when I give blood; I get it back after about an hour after a nice strong cup of tea. So I've given someone a pint of blood and I haven't lost one. Very nice—it gives me pleasure. Do I have to explain why that's so? No. If I said it gives me pleasure because it puts me in well with my Lord and supreme celestial dictator, I think you might think less of me, perhaps than you—I was about to say than you already do—than you would if I had just left it where I had just left it. Now do you see?

    WILSON: The problem is, Christopher gets pleasure from giving blood. Other people in the world get pleasure from taking it.

    OLAKSY: My wife and I, when we give blood, do it in seats right next to each other and we have a race, so we get great pleasure out of that. So let's...

    HITCHENS: And I take and place bets on that and I get great pleasure out of that too.

    OLASKY: Next question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: This is for Mr. Hitchens but I'd love for Mr. Wilson to respond as well: You stated earlier that Christianity perverted the notion of love by making it compulsory. My question, I guess, is: As a Christian, my Trinitarianism instinct is to understand the Father's love for the Son and the Son's love for the Spirit, etc., etc., as the model for the world and as something that—as love as an act of transcendence. Obviously, in your account that's not there, that's absent. So what is the place for love in your account? Is it simply a biochemical reaction? Is it something we just do? Is it one of those random genetic mutations that we talked about? How do we account for love? What is it? Is it important and is it something that really defines us as humans or is it something that's accidental?

    HITCHENS: No, it's central to the self-definition of the human. People who can't feel that emotion, I think, we are entitled to describe in some way less than human. There are three ways in which I think Christianity gets this wrong: One is by making an injunction that's much too strenuous. You're not just to be good to neighbor and treat them as you would wish them to treat you, you must love them as yourself. In other words, you must be self-abnegating. I think that's unhealthy. You are not, in fact, ever going to succeed in doing that. You might find one person you love as much as yourself or even more in your life and you're very lucky if you do, there's a wonderful feeling, but it can't be enforced on you. We can't be told that's what you must do, that spoils the point of it. And it has another disadvantage which is because it's too strenuous and it can't be lived up to. In fact, you're always guilty; you've always fallen short. So organized masochism, another unpleasant feature, it seems to me, of Christianity: contempt for one's own self-respect and integrity is enjoined. Then there's the compulsory love: You must love someone, the Supreme Father, who you must also fear—you're also told you ought to fear. Actually, that is many people's relationship to their fathers. But that means that the divine doesn't improve on what the human mammalian family has already discovered for itself. And then the third, perhaps the most immoral of all, is the injunction to love your enemies. That I will not do. I know who my enemies are. At the moment the most deadly ones are Islamist theocrats with a homicidal and genocidal agenda. I'm not going to love them. You go love them if you want; don't love them on my behalf. I'll get on with killing them and destroying them, erasing them and you can love them. But the idea that you ought to love them is not a moral idea at all. It's a wicked idea and I hope it doesn't take hold, especially on any of you seemingly serious, decent, young people. What a disgusting order to love those people.

    WILSON: Here's the...

    HITCHENS: Destroy them.

    WILSON: A couple of responses here: One is on the compulsory nature of love commanded, God commanding us to love: (I saw a great t-shirt once that said, "Gravity: It's not just a good idea, it's the law." Well, gravity is just the way things are, and this was implied in the question.) God the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and the Spirit and the Father and Son love one another eternally. It's simply the way God is. So when we are told—commanded to love God (the first Commandment is to Love God with all our hearts, sould, mind, and strength and the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves), what God is doing is requiring us to conform ourselves to the nature of ultimate reality. He's inviting us to cease rebelling against that reality, which is what self-centeredness does. Now, of course Christopher's quite right that we can't do this apart from God's grace, apart from His enabling and if we try on our own it's simply going to be perpetual condemnation because we're never going to be good enough. That's why we need to be forgiven. On the second point, having to do with loving our enemies, I want to say that loving your enemies is not inconsistent with fighting them and it is not inconsistent with doing what is necessary to love your own family, love your own people and protect and defend them. I will say that peace is going to come to the Middle East, I believe, sooner as a result of Christian missionaries going there, preaching the Gospel, loving people who are their enemies. God destroys his enemies two ways—you said destroy them, these people are out to do vile things you said to destroy them—I can echo that I can say, "Amen," but God destroys enemies two ways: God destroys enemies by taking them out the traditional way and God also destroys enemies by transforming them into friends. That destroys an enemy too.

    HITCHENS: The Irish foreign minister was making a speech to the United Nations during the debate on the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and urged them to settle their dispute in a Christian fashion. I'll never forget it. Now, just—that's an observation. I have a question for you: I've only known you today and I've heard you now, maybe seven or eight times just in the last ten minutes, say what God wants us to do about quite a lot of things, quite important ones. Here's my question for you: How do you know that God wants us to do them? See, I wouldn't be able to begin a sentence by saying, "I know what God wants." I wouldn't. And to you it seems to be second nature. I insist on knowing: How do you make a claim that I couldn't make? How do you know something that as far I know nobody could know: the mind of God? I need an answer to this question.

    WILSON: You shall have it shortly.

    HITCHENS: Very good.

    WILSON: Here's the thing: You don't know what God wants us to do but you do apparently know what the blind evolutionary process wants us to do.

    HITCHENS: No I don't.

    WILSON: Well, you want us to love—higher primates to love one another and not do awful things and live up to our...

    HITCHENS: I'm not ordering them to do so.

    WILSON: So it's not bad if they don't?

    HITCHENS: I didn't say that.

    WILSON: Ok, so you are saying it is bad.

    HITCHENS: By what standard by the way?

    WILSON: Well, that was a good question that I didn't get an answer for earlier. Now the reason...

    HITCHENS: That's why it's a good question because to me the answer isn't as obvious as it is to you.

    WILSON: Now let me answer the question you posed to me.

    HITCHENS: Yes, why not?

    WILSON: I believe, as a Christian minister, I get up week after week on the Lord's day to preach and I'll read from Scripture and I'll say before I read, "These are the words of God," and give you God's word. I'll read the text and then exposit the text so I have no business or authority going, as the Apostle Paul says in Corinthians, "We're to learn how not to go beyond what is written." So God is there, as Francis Schaeffer put it in his book title, He is There and He is Not Silent. So, the Christian faith believes in a God who reveals Himself. God reveals Himself in Creation, He reveals Himself in the incarnation of the word of God, Jesus, and He reveals Himself in His inscripturated word. So, I need to stick close to what God has revealed to us in Scripture and that's how I—so if I say, "God wants us to do thus and such," and you say, "How do you know that?" what I would do is I'd give you a chapter and verse. I'd say, "Well, here's where He told us to do that."

    HITCHENS: Must be very handy; you can just assume what you have to prove.

    WILSON: It is very handy. And you're assuming—assuming what you need to prove on ultimate questions is inescapable. So, if you say you depend on reason as your ultimate court of appeal and I can say, "Oh? Give me a reason for that." Well, you're assuming—when you give me reason for that, you're assuming what you need to prove. If I asked for a reason for your trust in reason, you wouldn't say, "Oh, thank you, I will have a jelly doughnut." You're going to appeal to reason and that's just like me opening my Bible and pointing to a scriptural text.

    HITCHENS: Not just like.

    WILSON: We're finite beings and so every finite being has to have an axiomatic starting point. You have one, I have one.

    HITCHENS: Right.

    WILSON: As an unbeliever, your axiomatic starting point is one of unbelief; mine is one of faith.

    HITCHENS: But if this scripture was the Koran, does everything you say still hold?

    WILSON: No.

    HITCHENS: Why not? How do you know they've got the wrong god?

    WILSON: That's a great question and it's what Greg Bahnsen referred to as "the impossibility of the contrary." Basically there are about five world views available. Most variants are denominational differences between, you know, within those world views. You've got Trinitarianism and Unitarianism and Pantheism and Naturalism and Dualism. And everything that you can shake out will fit under one of those categories. So if someone said, "I belong to a Unitarian faith like Islam, and there's one God and Muhammed is his prophet," does this work? Well, among those five world views, what you have is a demolition derby, a last-man-standing approach where, ok, if each faith—if each one of these faiths has A, B, C, that's their fundamental assertion then you reason downstream, given those premises, reason downstream from those. If one column says, "I assert B," and then you get to a logical consequence of that which is not B, C, not C, D, not D, and the only one that doesn't do that is the Christian faith, which is, I'm convinced, is the case then that's the last man standing; that's the demolition derby, or as Dr. Greg Bahnson said, "the impossibility of the contrary." You can't just say, "I have my presuppositions and I can do as a Muslim what you did as a Christian, or I can do as a Naturalist what you did as a Christian," you can't really do that.

    HITCHENS: If you were born in Saudi Arabia, then, would you be better off being an atheist than a Muslim?

    WILSON: Say that again.

    HITCHENS: If a soul, a person, is born in Saudi Arabia, would that person, in your judgment, be wiser to be an atheist than to become a Muslim?

    WILSON: You know, that's a hard question to answer. But I would honestly say that it would be better for that person to be an atheist in that setting. Not because atheism is the truth, but because that means that he's at least on a pilgrimage. He's at least stepped away from that which is the dominant, controlling form of thought, which is erroneous. And if he wants his moving he might keep moving until he finds Christ.

    OLASKY: Next question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Uh, yes this question is for Mr. Hitchens but also, I guess, for Mr. Wilson as well. I'm a big fan of your columns on Slate and I definitely read them every hour as my—as soon as they come out—as some of my roommates and professors can attest...

    HITCHENS: Thank you.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: And, we've kind of touched on this, I guess, in the periphery of this argument but (and I know I'm simplifying things), but one of the reasons that you often argue that Saddam Hussein needed to be taken out, for a lack of a better word, is the "crimes" he perpetrated against, you know, the Kurds, and against his own people. Another cause you're very passionate about is—and I'm going to mispronounce her name—Ms. Hirsaan that...?

    HITCHENS: Yes.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Right. I guess what I'm asking is: Those crimes that were perpetrated by Saddam Hussein and towards Ms. Ali, couldn't it be argued that Saddam had, through evolutionary means, gotten to a position of power where he was stronger and is up to him to survive—I guess what I'm saying is you often refer to moral arguments for the Iraq war. Couldn't it be argued that if survival of the fittest holds true that there really wasn't a moral argument for the Iraq war, we could maybe take him out because we're a stronger entity, the US, but, I guess—this is basically what we've been talking about the last 20 minutes or so, but...

    HITCHENS: Well, if I have understood you correctly, what you're really asking me is would I think it made sense to describe to the Saddam Hussein regime as evil? Well, I wrote a long essay and it's in a little book of mine called The Long Short War: A Postponed Liberation of Iraq, about that very question. How would one derive such a term as "evil"? I personally believe I've witnessed the operations of radical evil in the world, in fact in northern Iran. It's something to do with the smell that's given off by genocide but also by torture. In other words, by being crueler than you need to be to stay in power, by being cruel for its own sake. This sort of surplus value of dictatorship and torture and genocide. The exorbitant bit, the evil part, the part that isn't necessary for the job to be done. It's purely a celebration of horror for its own sake. That's the nearest—that surplus value element to it is the nearest I've been able to get and I can promise you that if you were a person of ordinary morality as we all are, you would know it too when you saw it. By what standard, I'm about to be asked? You would know that too. You'd know what standard you were using when you had that reaction, believe me. Did we only take out Saddam Hussein because we could? No, because there's no regime we couldn't take out if we wanted to. And there are many regimes we wish we could. In Burma, for example, or Zimbabwe (a Buddhist dictatorship in Burma, a Catholic dictatorship in Zimbabwe)—never mind, just teasing. But we don't because there are actually certain norms of secular international law that have to be breached—at least one of four have to be breached before a state can be said to have sacrificed its sovereignty and laid itself open to intervention.

    OLASKY: We're not going to get deep into the questions of the Iraq war today, but certainly the question of evil. [To Wilson] Do you want...?

    WILSON: Yes. One of the things that I would say quickly in response to it is this: I agree with Christopher that we would react in similar ways, if not identical ways, to many things that manifest themselves around the globe. When I've read Christopher, I really appreciate it, for example his review for example of Pat Buchanan's book in Newsweek some months ago, and what I appreciated was that he wasn't just blowing smoke in the general direction in these international situations. He knew something about them. And when he assess this being done to this group to that group, has the stench of death about it, it's evil and it's wrong, I'm not arguing that. We agree. When you—the stench of genocide, the stench of torture, those sorts of things—that's bad business. Here's the problem: Suppose Christopher, in one of his journalistic jaunts, goes to interview a dictator on his deathbed, alright? The dictator has got a vast trail of injustice behind him and, if Christopher is right, no justice in front of him, right? He's lived to be 85 years old, he's going to die and he's going to go into oblivion just like every other bit of protoplasm, alright? Identical. And this dictator, who did all these things that Christopher rightly disapproves of, chuckles to himself and says, "You know, I'm like Frank Sinatra: I did it my way and got away with it too, you know? I kept myself in power, the US never came and took me out, I lived to a ripe old age, I got away with it," and laughs quietly to himself. Now what can Christopher say to him that would refute him, that would answer him? Now he did get away with it. There's vast injustice behind him and no justice in front of him. And how do you maintain your own sense of personal indignation at these evils when you believe that's the way the universe is? Christopher thinks that the universe doesn't care about this stuff. Genocide is just like so much foam on the sea, that's all it is. John Lennon said, "Imagine: Above Auschwitz only sky. Imagine there's no heaven above us, no hell below." Above Buchenwald, only sky. Above every horror that Christopher's ever written about, only sky.

    HITCHENS: Yes, that's sad but true. The universe doesn't care—doesn't know, as a matter or fact, this is going on. The heavens don't notice it. They're not even indifferent.

    WILSON: And if the universe doesn't care, why do you?

    HITCHENS: They're not even indifferent, they're unaware. I can't make them be aware. I might, like you, wished that they were aware, and that God would punish or prevent these things, but He doesn't and I can't make myself believe something because it might be nice to believe it (a big difference between us). Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Spanish Falange Fascist Party, very active chap in his life, was asked of by the priests who, of course, always surround dictators on their deathbeds, holding up crosses and offering them absolution, if they'll say—everything you've ever done will be forgiven if you will just now say that you'll accept Jesus as your personal savior (how about that for an immoral action, by the way?). Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera was asked to forgive all of his enemies. And as he was slipping away he said, "I have no enemies; I killed them all."

    OLASKY: So...

    HITCHENS: That's why I'm in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein when he's in his prime. That's the short answer to your question.

    OLASkY: So do you wish Christianity were true?

    HITCHENS: No, I don't. I don't think that the problems and miseries and strugglings and sufferings of humanity can be resolved by referring them to a supernatural totalitarian, unanswerable, unchallengeable authority. I don't think there's a totalitarian solution to our many, many woes and sufferings. I just don't and I'm glad to think there is such a solution available.

    WILSON: And I cannot see...

    HITCHENS: No, and I do not think that stars move in their courses and can be moved to pity by the sufferings of my fellow creatures. They don't know we're here; evolution doesn't know we're here.

    WILSON: And I cannot...

    HITCHENS: It won't notice when we've gone.

    WILSON: And I cannot see why, if ultimately reality does not and cannot know or care, why any subset of reality should know or care.

    HITCHENS: Well, we've seen one of the tortures that's inflicted on us by existence is that we are, most of us, condemned to care.

    WILSON: That's just...

    HITCHENS: We do feel the sufferings of others...

    WILSON: That's just a chemical...

    HITCHENS: well as our own.

    WILSON: That's a chemical reaction. That's all it is is a chemical reaction.

    HITCHENS: It still hurts.

    WILSON: Hurts you.

    HITCHENS: It does.

    WILSON: Why should we care about...

    HITCHENS: Then insult is added to injury: You're told that these sufferings are sent by God, that they can be ennobling to us, that they're sent as a test.


    WILSON: I know you denounce things, you praise things and I agree with you in many of the instances where you do. I'm just pointing out you don't have a foundation under that very nice house of yours.

    HITCHENS: You talk as if—you really do talk as if I advocate for evolution, that I say I wish evolution was true, that it's not an opinion of mine or a conclusion of mine, it's a desire or a piece of propaganda on my part. Convinced as I am that all the evidence suggests that the cosmos began with a big bang, the universe is expanding very fast, and that the rate of expansion is increasing, and that the galaxy Andromeda is headed on a direct collision course with our own so that we know now—we know, we can watch it in the sky, we can watch it through a telescope, that the something we have now will very soon be nothing. I know that to be true. You say, "Well then, where does your morality come from?" and I say, "Wait a minute: First of all, is this true or is it not?" What about the evidence? Now, just about the origin of our own tiny species, never mind the cosmos, all the evidence—absolutely all of it says that we are here because of the operations of random mutation and natural selection. There is no other satisfactory explanation for our presence here. You say, "Well, that just means we're animals." Well, what if it's true? What if it's true? What if all the evidence is in its favor? Then it's not my opinion, it's not my propaganda. I can't make myself believe something that's in direct contradiction to all the known facts.

    WILSON: Then you should embrace the consequences of what you affirm.

    HITCHENS: Well, do I not seem to do so?

    WILSON: No. No, because you can't account for morality.

    HITCHENS: [Exasperated sigh]

    WILSON: Given what you just described, you can't account for it and you persist in hanging on to it.

    HITCHENS: The need for our species of solidarity and for survival is a perfectly good explanation.

    WILSON: No, killing other races off is another way to survive.

    HITCHENS: Sure, well that's often enjoined, as you know, is enjoined in the Bible. The destruction of other races is necessary for the children of Israel to get to the stolen property that they've been awarded in Sinai.

    WILSON: So what problem do you have with that?

    HITCHENS: I object to being told that it's a moral preachment, that's all.

    WILSON: Basically...

    HITCHENS: I don't like being told it's God's will. I can see why one tribe of Bronze Age bandits might want to kill and take the property and the young ladies of another tribe, I can see that. But to invent a story that says God gave them permission to do it, I think is wicked.

    WILSON: So you...

    HITCHENS: And stupid too, actually.

    WILSON: So...

    HITCHENS: And aesthetically, somehow, not pleasing. Let me add—now, where do aesthetics come from if we're just primates? I don't know, exactly. But there is—we have enough surplus in our cortexes to allow for art and music and indeed love. Just as well, I often think. But I don't regard it as a divine gift. And there's absolutely no evidence that it is.

    OLASKY: This back and forth has been very instructive. We have a lot of people wanting to ask questions. So, questions now and then we'll just have one answer, one answer...

    HITCHENS: Oh, sorry.

    OLASKY: And then move on to the next question, but this has been very good. Emily?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: My question is similar to what Mr. Wilson was just asking. It's for you, Mr. Hitchens. Assuming, as you said, that evolution has created everything that is, and that random mutation and natural selection produce mixed results, you know, competing instincts towards generosity and love as well as toward genocide and war and domination, and if you, as you say, you don't know where aesthetics come from, you don't appear to want to be pinned down on where objective morality comes from...

    HITCHENS: No, objective morality is from human solidarity, the need for survival. We couldn't be having this conversation if we were not moral animals. We wouldn't have gotten this far. We wouldn't have evolved language.


    HITCHENS: Or civilization. So...I know I've said this before.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: Ok, competing—given the fact of competing human solidarities (definitions of morality), why should anyone listen when you say, "Such-and-such an action is wrong; a nation should follow such-and-such a course." What is your justification for persuading people to believe certain things?

    HITCHENS: Only slightly better than my saying they should listen to me because I'm doing God's will. Slightly, but measurably superior to that. And less arrogant. Considerably less arrogant.

    WILSON: I want to point out...

    HITCHENS: And aesthetically more pleasing.

    WILSON: I want to point out very quickly and hit it and run away, and that is: The evolutionary advantage is not conferred simply by human solidarity. Evolutionary advantage is also conferred by destroying your enemies, ok?

    HITCHENS: Absolutely.

    WILSON: Now, you can't have—just emphasize the one. So, genetic propagation (preserving your little corner of the gene pool) is a tribal thing. You can't just assume that enemies will only be martians or aliens. So, this means that evolution means conflict within the human species.

    HITCHENS: Yes. Where does that come from, by the way? That's God's will as well. Evil is God's will too.

    WILSON: We're sinners.

    HITCHENS: Well that's—isn't that a little trite or tautologist?

    WILSON: Very true.

    HITCHENS: Of course it would have to be the case because we're all sinners.

    WILSON: Yes.

    HITCHENS: Because that's how we've been made by God. This isn't very much nutrition, I don't think. It's not very satisfying; doesn't tell you very much. I mean, I know the Devil was once in heaven as a co-ruler and there was a falling out but I've never thought that was a terrifically good explanation of the Problem of Evil either.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Anyway, my question is for Mr. Hitchens: (First of all, I'd like to thank both of you for showing up and doing this for us. I don't think anyone else has thanked you for that yet, so...I'll be the first to do so.)

    HITCHENS: Oh, please it's my pleasure, but thank you.

    WILSON: You're welcome.

    HITCHENS: No, very decent of you.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: My question is: If your view of morality is that it is innate within humans and is simply a natural process, a natural accumulation of events, then isn't your statement that genocide is wrong in the Old Testament and evil and utterly despicable and yet you just told us that you'd like to kill those who wish to kill you. You wish to, you know—radical Muslims, radical Christians, whatever. My question is: Couldn't morality—if morality is evolving, would you agree to that, morality is evolving, that it is—since humans are evolving and morality is found within humans, then by essence morality would be evolving. Would you agree with that statement?

    HITCHENS: It's the slightly—it's what Macaulay called the Whig Interpretation of history, that there is an improvement over time in our compassion, that we include more and more people and award more and more rights. But yes, I find I can't say I don't believe that.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: My question, then, is:

    HITCHENS: There are some terrible backslidings. I mean, Fascism is worse, much worse than anything that went before it. And many, many huge improvements occurred before that colossal reaction set in. So it's unwise to just accept the Whig Interpretation, that it's a—evolution is a fairly straight line.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Well, yes, of course. I mean, evolution you obviously have some backsliding with it, it's pretty obvious from scientific...

    HITCHENS: Our brains are in fact getting bigger, but very slowly.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: But, I guess my question is then: Would you support eugenics in order to continue the good health and prosperity of the human race, a thing that is generally looked down upon in today's society but for the good of mankind, I mean, you know, there's a reason Down Syndrome babies—babies with Down Syndrome has declined precipitously and that is because people don't want to have to take care of them. So, would it be acceptable to say, "Well look, for the good of mankind, in order to survive, why don't we kill off X amount of people?"

    HITCHENS: Well, fortunately, nature does most of that for us. I mean, most abortions take place spontaneously in the womb. Nature knows this one isn't going to work out. It's called miscarriage, it happens all the time. If we're adapted, as you know, our bodies are adapted to life on the African Savanna, adapted to an environment that we fled from, but if there had been humans with two or three lolling-headed, disabled babies on that Savanna, to take care of, they wouldn't have survived. Everyone would've been killed by the predators. So on the whole, nature takes care of this for us. I'm not in favor of exterminating the unfit, no. I hope I didn't say anything that would lead you to the contrary impression. And if you ask me, "Isn't that just because of some compassion that I couldn't explain the origin of?" The answer is actually "No," or "Not entirely." There would be a utilitarian explanation as well. As when we encounter a terrifying new disease like AIDS, you learn a great deal from combating it. You improve your game in medicine and in research. If you treat every human being, however disabled, mentally or physically they are, as if they're worth the full value, you gain experiences that are well worth having for the betterment of the species in general.

    WILSON: If I could just tack one thing on, just a general observation: The atheistic process of evolution means that terms like "backsliding" is incoherent. Progress is incoherent, there's no such thing as progress, there's no such thing as backsliding. All you have is change. If there is no judgment, is no God, is no standard, is no righteousness, then my perennial question is, "By what standard?"

    HITCHENS: Only on the fantastic assumption that you can't have morality without religion. A case you haven't even advanced one argument for yet.

    WILSON: Morality is subject to evolution just like everything else is.

    OLASKY: We're going to evolve to the next question.

    HITCHENS: Well that's certainly true. Religion is subject to evolution as well. Most religions no longer believe half of what they used to preach. I would actually say that was progress.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: Alright, my question is for both gentlemen (and this is because I'm noting an area of ambiguity). So, Mr. Wilson first. My question is: What is sin and how are sin and God—how are they related in a metaphysical sense? And Mr. Hitchens, I'd love to hear you comment on this as well.

    WILSON: Well, the Apostle John tells us that sin is lawlessness; the Westminster catechism says that sin is any lack of conformity to the law of God. The law of God, in its turn, is simply an inscripturated summary of God's character, what God is like. So ultimately, I would say that sin is being unlike God in certain character—love, holiness, those sorts of things. So sin is lawlessness or not being like God or Christ.

    HITCHENS: Because I don't avoid all terms of that value judgment doesn't mean that I embrace all of them either. I think sin is probably one you can do without. Wrongdoing I can understand; evil, I've told you, I think is important because it's the surplus value, the cruelty and horror for its own sake, self-endangering, self-destructive, suicidal as well as horrible, in other words. Crime, of course, can be understood and to call something a crime is a pretty severe condemnation. The word "sin," as you've just heard, is completely incoherent because it's failing to do God's will which means you must know what God's will is which, by definition, no primate can. And, I'm afraid, Douglas has yet again failed to inform us of how he knows something that we don't. By what right—quo warranto—by what right, he says, he knows what God's mind is. I'm going to have to repeat this question and I can tell you that at the end of this session the question will still be an open one.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: I would also like to thank both of you gentlemen for coming. This has been wonderful.

    HITCHENS: It's a pleasure.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: My question is for you, Mr. Hitchens. I was wondering—it's on a much less scholarly level, I guess, but—in your personal life and in the people that you've come across, and I'm sure you've debated some interesting people and just, you know, in passing we all—we meet different people and get to understand different life experiences: What would your opinion be on someone who, or on a lot of people maybe who have grown up and maybe not believed in any God or have been devout, you know, non-believers, if that makes sense, or believers in a different religion, and have come across the Bible or have, in some fashion that is not necessarily being prosthelytized, as you talked about, or not necessarily growing up in a Christian home, they have decided to convert to Christianity, and in doing so have put themselves in a position where maybe their potential wealth gain or potential influence in society would be diminished but they feel that the returns for that are greater on a higher level? I guess, how do you feel about that and what would you do if a supernatural experience occurred to you, if you had said, "You know what, God, if you would show up right now and do this and you did it," I mean, how would you react to that? Would you commit yourself to an asylum? Or would you just ask more questions?

    HITCHENS: Ok. To the hypothetical person or persons you mentioned, my answer would be I wish them all the best of luck. And if it works for them I'm very happy for them. I just don't want them trying to teach that Bible in the school attended by my daughter or to try and legislate from that book in the common law of the United States or to try and have a supernatural intervention taught in science class. I won't have any of that. Aside from that, we can coexist. (I make that demand of all religions, by the way.) And incidentally you'd have to grant it to all religions of you thought that someone's life could be improved by reading a holy book, and that they'd then be less materialistic and a nicer person and so on. Well then—you know, it's said, and I believe it may well be true that Louis Farrakhan's racist, crack-pot, cult organization gets young black men off drugs and jail—maybe it does—by handing them the Wahabi Quran. Well, what have you proved there? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all. But as long as they don't try to hurt me with it, I'm fine. Now as to the likelihood that I'd have a revelation (I keep being told that that's what I'm secretly looking for, that I couldn't be like this if I wasn't some kind of a seeker. It's very irritating. That's like being told you may not believe in Jesus but He believes in you. A fantastically annoying thing to have said.)

    WILSON: I can assure you that He doesn't.

    [Audience gasp]

    HITCHENS: David Hume—I suppose you've all read David Hume on miracles. If you haven't, you must. It's the most elegant philosophizing on the question of miraculous apparition that has yet been. He says if something appears to have happened that is not consistent with the laws of nature (the laws of nature have been suspended), there are two contingencies: Either that the laws of nature have been suspended (in your favor) or that you're under a misapprehension. Which is the likeliest? It's always likeliest that you're always under a misapprehension. And if you're hearing about this from someone who claims to have seen it and you were though getting it second hand the odds that it's a misapprehension that's being spread are exponential increased. So if I heard voices telling me to do something and that this was on behalf of a deity, I would check myself in, of course, and I hope that you would, if you saw someone in the street raving and saying—let's not say raving, that would be to prejudice it—but if someone came up to you and said, "You know, I'm on a mission from God today and I've got various things I've got to do and I hope you'll help me do them because God's will has to be done through me," why is it you edge away from people like that rather than towards them, if they're on the same bus as you? What saving instinct makes you say, "I'm going to move to another seat now," rather than say, "Ooh, I wish you'd share!" Why is that? You know very well why it is.

    WILSON: I'd like to tack on...

    HITCHENS: People who say they are doing God's work are to be distrusted.

    WILSON: I'd like to tack on a quick agreement: I agree with Christopher that I don't believe that creationism has any place in public schools; I don't believe that prayer has any place in public schools; I don't believe that the teaching of one religion over another has any place in the public schools but, of course, that's because I don't believe that kids ought to be in public schools. I don't believe—[Audience laughter]—I don't think lockers ought to be, I don't believe that textbooks ought to be...[video cuts out]

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 9: This question is for Mr. Hitchens: Again and again, throughout this debate you've said that morality is innate to mankind and Pastor Wilson, I feel you've argued on his terms on that particular point. How would you respond to the argument that this innate morality is actually evidence of God because throughout no society have we really seen a lack of morality destroy the society. Every single person throughout our history has had this morality. How would you respond to that, that this is an obvious evidence that God created this morality with an emphasis—not Christianity that has taught us these ethics, it's that when God created you, yourself, he built in this moral code, so that's how you would be?

    HITCHENS: Well, to that hypothesis I would say that it was unfalsifiable and those of you should know if a proposition can be described as unfalsifiable it falls as by definition weak, or unsustainable. I couldn't possibly disprove that, in other words. There would be no way of proving that that wasn't so, which means it's a hopeless proposition. It would also leave—but suppose it to be true, then you'd have to ask, "Well, which other authority is instilling us with the temptation, in some cases the need, to rape, steal, perjure, kill, and so forth. Is that coming from the same great imprinter or another one? Is there, in fact, spiritual warfare going on between demons and angels going on all around us that we can't quite see?" That's also an unfalsifiable proposition. It could be true, there's just no evidence for it and I must say, old-fashioned, call me if you will, that when there's no evidence for a proposition, my inclination is to doubt it. There, I've said it.

    OLASKY: Next.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 10: This is a question for Mr. Wilson. Allow me to read a passage from the text. This is on page 17 of your introduction. You say, "The issue of thanksgiving is really central to the whole debate about the existence of God. On the one hand, if there is no God, there is no need to thank anyone. We're here as a result of a long chain of impersonal processes grinding their way down to a brief moment in time. If there is a God, then every breath, every movement, every sight and sound is sheer, unadulterated gift. And as our mothers taught us when you give presents like this, the only appropriate response is to thank them." I am not thankful and I think that you want to be thankful and so you're inventing God as wish fulfillment (I'm taking here Mr. Hitchens' argument). Please respond to how your feeling thankful necessitates God. I think that you can very easily say that you're inventing a god because you want to feel thankful.

    WILSON: Yes. The counterargument to this would be that it's simply a particular manifestation of wish fulfillment so that you would like there to be someone to thank and so you do. The difficulty with that is when you look at the vast array of cool stuff that exists around us, there seems to me to be, as one scientist put it, "It looks as though the universe is a put-up job." Everywhere you go there's something really fantastic going on and it's not as though there's just one or two things where, if I find an object, a brightly colored rock in the forest, if I'm an unbeliever and I'm walking along and I find a rock and I don't know if I should thank anyone for that one rock. But suppose it's 17 trillion beautiful things, glorious things? It begins to look like a divine conspiracy and at a certain point, a refusal to give thanks looks like willful stubbornness. So I want to argue that in Romans I, Paul says the fundamental problem that men have is they refuse to honor God as God and refuse to give Him thanks. So I believe that thanksgiving is at the heart of our difficulty in seeing.

    OLASKY: Let's move—another question.

    HITCHENS: Can I just say something on this question, because it goes very strongly to my point about the totalitarian character of religion: What sort of person wants His subjects, who He created, He made, to reward Him by incessantly—and remember it says everlastingly, evermore praising God and saying, "Holy, holy, holy." And then always thanking and never stopping. It seems a rather capricious and tyrannical demand, doesn't it to you? Doesn't it to me? I've actually been—I used to wonder when I was a kid, they say well—I could work out what hell might be like very easily, everyone can. Convincing accounts of heaven are harder to come by unless you look in the Quran, but the Christian one seem to offer everlasting praise and I remember thinking, "What would that be like?" I mean, after the first week of saying, "Thank you," at the top of my voice wouldn't things start to seem a little subject to diminishing returns, possibly even for the person listening to them, as well? We'd never want to hear anything from you but that? That's all that's demanded of me. I've been to North Korea, I've seen a state where that's what people have to do. They have to worship and thank all day, all the time. Everything they get is from the infinite love and generosity of the Dear Leader and the Great Leader who, by the way, are a father and son reincarnation which would make North Korea just one short of trinity, in case that detail interests you at all. You know, there is one reason I'd have in my own life to wish sometimes to say, "Thank God," and, in a sense, to wish I could mean it, and the word for it is "apotropaic." An apotropaic is the gesture you make to avoid hubris, in other words, so that if your book is a best-seller you don't just say, "Hey, I must be a better write than I thought!" You want to be able to say, "It's nice to think that not everything is done by hand." And so, the idea of thanking is a good way of indulging the apotropaic. But don't go taking it too literally, or condemning yourself to a life of groveling, an infinity of groveling because that would be caving into the sado-masochistic, totalitarian core of religious faith.

    WILSON: North Korea is an atheistic state, by the way.

    HITCHENS: No, it isn't, it's the most religious state on the planet.

    WILSON: Yeah. That's what I said.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 11: Mr. Hitchens, I don't mean to be rude but you seem to have this wide-eyed...

    HITCHENS: I have a very thick skin.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 11: Alright, excellent. You seem to have this wide-eyed, mystical view of human metasolidarity as moral absolute and I dare say the [indecipherable] would be proud, but why should this human metasolidarity as moral absolute, why shouldn't I believe that there are A) competing solidarities, why can't I believe that? and B) why can't I believe that what you're doing is basically just a power play upon all of us and that, really, morality is simply your preference that you are commanding of all of us?

    HITCHENS: I have to say you're not—it's not rude at all as phrased, but it was rude of you not to be paying attention earlier. (And you didn't do yourself any favors, either.) I didn't say, "Look at how superbly moral we primates are." I said the morality we do have is innate in us and it's a necessary condition for survival as a species, I didn't saying how wonderful it was. Nor do I say how wonderful it is that we're also programmed to rape, steal, cheat, and lie, and I don't blame any celestial deity for that either because it's because we are animals, not sinners, animals, poorly evolved primate species that these things are innate in us. It doesn't need to look for a supernatural explanation. How could I prove this all wasn't a power play on my part? I couldn't. What was your other question? There was a closing one.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 11: Well the other question was on competing solidarities. You've talked about the solidarity we have with each other. Why don't we just have competing solidarities?

    HITCHENS: Well, we do.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 11: I mean, there's brotherhood amongst—solidarity amongst thieves.

    HITCHENS: Surely, and among Fascists, very much so. And in particular among Communists. It's what they actually call it: brotherhood. I don't see how that represents any kind of challenge to anything I've said. Our species is divided into sub-groups and tribes. I don't think we are subdivided by race; I think we're all the same race, but there are different ethnicities and tribalisms and certainly a very large number of solidarities. The attempt made by the Bible to define these is the most laughable one.

    WILSON: It's a challenge to your position. It's a challenge...

    HITCHENS: The Sons of Ham and the Sons of Noah and all the rest that were in there and the belief held by many Christians for a very long time, and by some of the Mormon persuasion to this very day, that black people are a special creation not quite human and condemned to be that color before they were born. None of this, as you'll see, means that religion can shed any light on this stuff at all.

    WILSON: It's a challenge...

    HITCHENS: All of these things can be discussed as if there was no supernatural dimension and as problems they remain exactly the way they would be if there was no supernatural dimension.

    WILSON: It's a challenge to your position because if our values and our decisions and our code arises from our solidarity, if there are competing solidarities, you don't know what to do.

    OLASKY: Last quick question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: Professor Hitchens...

    HITCHENS: It doesn't undermine my position at all if there's no instruction to what to do there. When human interests and human rights—interpretations of right—collide, that doesn't condemn my position at all. It's what you would expect of an evolved, primate species. It's Hegel's definition of tragedy as a conflict between two rights. These things will occur. You can't resolve them by referring them upward to a celestial totalitarianism. You will get no help from that quarter.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: Professor Hitchens...

    HITCHENS: Sir.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: If I can step into your car for a moment. Would not extinction be a great mercy for the human race as it would be an end to these meaningless chemical reactions that are as likely to cause pain as pleasure, that apparently aren't leading toward any great conclusion or justice or redemption? Why should I not undertake a campaign to exterminate the human race and call myself a liberator of the human race from the pain and suffering that has marked its progress through history?

    HITCHENS: Well you're asking, excuse me, you're addressing your question to the wrong person. It's not I who looks forward to the end of the world and to the apocalypse and to the last days. It's not I who says that my belief can't wait for that to happen, that that'll be the happy day when the trumpet shall sound and we shall be changed. I don't look forward to that at all.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: But why not?

    HITCHENS: Ask someone who believes any of this.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: But I'm asking, "Why not?" since your world is without hope and without...

    HITCHENS: Because with the short life that I have been given by evolution and natural selection, I'm not going to be pushed around by theocrats in the short time I do have.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 12: So are you thankful to evolution and natural selection for the short time you've been given?

    HITCHENS: Yeah. I have been—here I am. There's no getting around it. I don't attribute my presence here, as some so arrogantly do, to a divine plan. I don't think I'm the object of a divine plan. Do I look to you as I'm the object of a divine plan?

    WILSON: Absolutely.

    HITCHENS: Thought not. Whereas—but the explanation that I'm here because of the laws of operation, the laws of biology is perfectly satisfying to me and it doesn't leave anything unexplained. It doesn't mean everything is explained, however, that would be reductionist. But I don't look forward—no, I don't look forward to the destruction of the world. I don't look forward to the end of the world at all. It's those who believe in divine creation and divine dispensation who look forward to that. You should be asking them, and perhaps yourself, why that is. I do think religion does conceal a death wish, not very carefully either.

    WILSON: At the very least, the end of the world on Christopher's terms would be the cessation of all pain and there is something you could look forward to in that.

    HITCHENS: Yeah, but when Buddhists and other say, you know, if only I would join their—I'd cease to suffer from pain and struggle and anxiety and so on and I say, "I don't believe you can give that to me, I don't." But if you could, I wouldn't think it was worth the having. I like conflict; I like anxiety; I like struggle; I like combat; I like all these things; they make life worth living for me. I don't want there to be permanent peace and tranquility and banality. I don't want it at all, ok?

    WILSON: But that's what you're going to get.

    HITCHENS: By the way, what does the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?

    OLASKY: What?

    HITCHENS: Make me one with everything.

    WILSON: What does the Buddhist say to the Christian?

    HITCHENS: No, wait...

    WILSON: I'm going to get in my karma and run over your dogma.

    HITCHENS: Wait, sir. The other shoe has to fall. So the hot dog vendor gives him his slathered dog with everything and the Buddhist hands over 20 bucks, starts to munch, waits for a bit, ketchup on his saffron robes, and nothing happens. And he says to the hot dog vendor, "What about my change?" And the vendor says, "Change comes only from within."

    OLASKY: On that enlightening note, we must cease this struggle. Please join me in thanking both of our [indecipherable].

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