Is the ‘Hitchen’s Challenge’ that Challenging?

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.

Advertisements

15 Responses to Is the ‘Hitchen’s Challenge’ that Challenging?

  1. Neil says:

    Good points. He can’t even ground the ethics he refers to. He is unwittingly running on the fumes of Christianity. Some cultures consider it ethical to do honor killings, so I suppose an atheist could do those.

    He can’t worship God, which is the first and most important commandment.

    And even if he did the same ethical things as Christians, for example, he wouldn’t be doing them with the right motive — i.e., to honor God.

  2. kenetiks says:

    Christian doctrine is human inequality. Atheism has nothing to say on the subject. Assertion fails.

  3. “human equality.”

    You can’t claim human equality when your religion is centered on in-group and out-group dynamics. Unless you believe everyone is going to heaven.

  4. jackhudson says:

    Well if atheism has nothing to say on the subject, then obviously the assertion that it cannot be a basis for human equality is correct.

    But Christianity certainly regards humans as equal in certain respects, in that they are all:

    – Created by God

    – Share the image of God

    – Have eternal souls

    – Have consciences to make moral judgements

    – Subject to the same moral law and judgment

    – All have fallen short that moral law

    – All are redeemable by Christ’s sacrifice

  5. jackhudson says:

    “human equality.”

    You can’t claim human equality when your religion is centered on in-group and out-group dynamics. Unless you believe everyone is going to heaven.

    One certainly can if being in the in-group is a matter of choice.

  6. Nate says:

    @NotAScientist

    Are those in prison not equal to the rest of us? You are trying to assert that the consequences of decisions made by individuals mean they are not equals.

    That’s not true. When people choose to do something that effects them, it does not mean they cease being equals. They choose to give up their rights when they break the law.

  7. Nate says:

    And quite right Jack, humans are not naturally equals, some are stronger, faster, smarter, etc.

    It is we that say each human has equal value to all the others, not nature.

  8. The Judge says:

    If equality is inherent in Christianity, why did it take 1700 years before Christian nations started getting rid of monarchies and aristocracies?

  9. jackhudson says:

    The better question is why didn’t it happen for thousands of years until Christianity came along?

    I don’t think the existence of a Monarch as an office is inherently antagonistic to equality any more than the existence of a President, a Prime Minister, or even Police Chief is – those offices exist in recognition of a another reality about human nature, namely that we have a sin nature. As Madison said in Federalist #51, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”

    We give certain people authority not because they are necessarily better or have greater worth than the rest of us, but because such authority is needed to maintain order.

    The modern idea of Western Democracy is in fact an attempt to incorporate the equality derived from Christian ideals while dealing with the challenge of corrupt human nature. That it took generations to implement is no surprise, that it exists still is miraculous.

    Either way, this doesn’t counter the assertion that atheism alone isn’t sufficient as a foundation for human equality.

  10. The Judge says:

    The better question is why didn’t it happen for thousands of years until Christianity came along?

    But the advent of egalitarianism didn’t *coincide* with Christianity at all. If there were a linear relation between egalitarianism and Christianity, as you claim, there would be a linear relation in their development through history, as well. Furthermore, democracy predates Christianity by centuries, and numerous Greek philosophers stressed egalitarian principles. Buddhism and Confucianism also predate Christianity, and they too claim that no-one, not even the enlightened, is inherently superior to anyone else.

    Also, Christianity says little or nothing about equality between the sexes, which is one of the great conquests of modern Western egalitarianism.

    The existence of a Monarch, and indeed of any aristocratic class, is of course completely antagonistic to equality. It says that some people have a right to wealth and power, and others don’t, only because of who their parents were, rather than because of their demonstrable, comparative merits.

    As for atheism, I agree that on its own it is not sufficient to sustain an egalitarian ideology, but this is a very different matter from saying that it precludes it.

  11. jackhudson says:

    But the advent of egalitarianism didn’t *coincide* with Christianity at all. If there were a linear relation between egalitarianism and Christianity, as you claim, there would be a linear relation in their development through history, as well. Furthermore, democracy predates Christianity by centuries, and numerous Greek philosophers stressed egalitarian principles. Buddhism and Confucianism also predate Christianity, and they too claim that no-one, not even the enlightened, is inherently superior to anyone else.

    The Democracy of the Greeks and to a lesser extent the Romans wasn’t necessarily predicated on a notion of ‘equality’ – indeed at some points the populations of each was about half-slave, and women weren’t ever allowed to participate as equals. Unlike Western Democracy, the brief experiments those empires had with Democracy decayed into dictatorships. And there is certainly no evidence Buddhist or Confucian societies were particularly egalitarian – previous to Western influence, China and Japan were dominated by class, feudal societies, nobles and warlords, not to mention significant slavery.

    And I have always contended that the effect of Christianity on the Western world was eventual and progressive – they burst onto the scene when the world was dominated by a huge dictatorial Empire, which later broke into a collection of Monarchies. The eventual development of universal equality coincided with the Reformation – a time where the average citizen began to be able to access Scripture for themselves and the idea of the priesthood of all believers was re-affirmed.

    Also, Christianity says little or nothing about equality between the sexes, which is one of the great conquests of modern Western egalitarianism.

    I disagree – both sexes are certainly equal in the ways mentioned previously, and Paul even explicitly says as much in Galatians 3:26 – 29:

    “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    The existence of a Monarch, and indeed of any aristocratic class, is of course completely antagonistic to equality. It says that some people have a right to wealth and power, and others don’t, only because of who their parents were, rather than because of their demonstrable, comparative merits.

    Sure, and I think because that is what a Monarch generally ends up being it is antagonistic to the notion of equality. Interestingly, in the Old Testament God warns the people against Monarchs, and urges them to live as equals under the law. In fact Thomas Paine, arguing in Common Sense for a American Democracy uses that exact argument:

    Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not wonder, that the Almighty ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven.

    Nonetheless, the role of a President or Prime minister is in part modeled in part after the office of Monarch, and acts as a check on the chaos that often comes from a Democratic body.

    As for atheism, I agree that on its own it is not sufficient to sustain an egalitarian ideology, but this is a very different matter from saying that it precludes it.

    Well atheism doesn’t preclude a dictator or a tyrant either, but that is irrelevant because the challenge was to come up with statement or action made by a believer that wouldn’t be made by an atheist – and there is no rational basis for an atheist to argue for human equality.

  12. The Judge says:

    The Democracy of the Greeks and to a lesser extent the Romans wasn’t necessarily predicated on a notion of ‘equality’ – indeed at some points the populations of each was about half-slave, and women weren’t ever allowed to participate as equals. Unlike Western Democracy, the brief experiments those empires had with Democracy decayed into dictatorships. And there is certainly no evidence Buddhist or Confucian societies were particularly egalitarian – previous to Western influence, China and Japan were dominated by class, feudal societies, nobles and warlords, not to mention significant slavery.

    Slavery existed for many decades in American democracy as well, and it took a civil war to bring it to an end. And several Western democracies also decayed into dictatorships. I’m not sure that things would have looked so different if it weren’t that this time the wars were won by the right sides.

    In any case I wasn’t arguing for a better welfare under the Greeks or Buddhists. My point is that egalitarianism as a value wasn’t born with Christianity.

    And I have always contended that the effect of Christianity on the Western world was eventual and progressive – they burst onto the scene when the world was dominated by a huge dictatorial Empire, which later broke into a collection of Monarchies. The eventual development of universal equality coincided with the Reformation – a time where the average citizen began to be able to access Scripture for themselves and the idea of the priesthood of all believers was re-affirmed.

    But ‘eventual and progressive’ also implies linearity, and there is none here discernible. If no direct historical links are required, I could just as well argue that Columbus, urbanization or Islam are responsible for the state of Western egalitarianism. After all, they too had ‘eventual and progressive’ effects.

    The point is that history is not linear. Events so far separated in time cannot be ascribed to cause-and-effect readings.

    And in passing, how was ‘universal equality’ present in any society of the Reformation era?? Unless you mean as a mere value, and then it was already predicated as far back as the Greeks, Buddhists, etc., as I’ve been saying.

    I disagree – both sexes are certainly equal in the ways mentioned previously, and Paul even explicitly says as much in Galatians 3:26 – 29:

    On the other hand, the two sexes are not equal on earth and to each other:

    “7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the aimage and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For aman 1does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but awoman for the man’s sake.” Corinthians, 11:7-9

    There’s numerous other verses which can be quoted on the subject, both for or against. But before we get into this ping pong of citations, my point is that Christianity never articulated a proper discourse for equality between men and women from a social point of view. They may have an abstract equality as ‘souls,’ but there’s nothing in the Bible saying, for instance, that a woman has the right to choose whom she marries or to choose her own clothes.

    Well atheism doesn’t preclude a dictator or a tyrant either, but that is irrelevant because the challenge was to come up with statement or action made by a believer that wouldn’t be made by an atheist – and there is no rational basis for an atheist to argue for human equality.

    But then how do you account for the numerous atheists who have lived and fought in the defence of democracy and freedom, like Sandro Pertini, George Orwell or Albert Camus?

  13. […] As typical of both liberal trolls, they don’t seem to either want to stay on topic or on related sidebars, but go off in a direction that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. I am guilty of getting off on sidebars, but at least you can draw a line between the subject and what I ramble on about. Here is another: Great stuff Judge! […]

  14. jackhudson says:

    I hope Jacks Jesus-brain doesn’t overload trying to rebut your finely articulated responses.

    They are finely articulated responses – perhaps you should try doing the same sometime?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: