One frequently quoted challenge to religious belief is the oft cited ‘Hitchens’ Challenge”, taken from Christopher Hitchens’ book The Portable Atheist. Hitchens frames the provocation as follows:
“Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”
He claims no one has yet has provided an example. I haven’t looked around enough to see how hard anyone else has tried, but a little thought immediately brought this example to my mind; human equality.
I would assert there is in fact no atheistic basis for claiming humans are equal, or should necessarily be treated as equals. There is certainly no such basis in biology – no two humans are biologically ‘equal’, in any sense of the word. We are certainly not intellectually equal (in fact atheists themselves consider believers to be deluded and generally less intelligent than non-believers). There is no historical obligation to treat people as equals, and even if there were, atheists don’t base mandates in mere history.
And yet Western Society holds up equality before the law and in terms of human worth to be an essential value – and many (if not most) atheists share that value. And yet, there is no reason as atheists to do so in any logically inherently consistent way; it is by neccesity the product of mere personal preference.
It appears the only rational and inherently consistent basis to assert human equality is the basis the Founders utilized – that we were created equal by a transcendent Creator. While we might have no physical or natural basis for equality, they thought it to be self-evident that we had an equality rooted in our eternal souls and that we were imbued with inherent worth by the one who originated our souls. Only by a scale that transcends a temporal and material world could the worth of a human life be measured and found equivalent to the worth of another human life, and thus we were compelled to recognize this equality and incorporate it in law. While the Founders and those that followed weren’t perfect in their implementation of this value, it is this value that constantly called us to progress as a society.
So I don’t find ‘Hitchens’ Challenge’ to be all that challenging – the greater challenge I would think is to realize how unbelief undermines the essential values of the Western world.