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Ch. 6: Arguments from Design 
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Post Ch. 6: Arguments from Design
God is Not Great

Ch. 6: Arguments from Design

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Mon Mar 02, 2009 6:08 pm
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Hitchens' personality infuses his book, and for me this makes the book that much more interesting. For example, in this chapter he begins by using himself as an example of a glaring flaw in human design--that of solipsism, or our propensity to think that the cosmos is for some reason arranged for our benefit. Thus we have astrology and horoscopes, and even Hitchens felt, he tells us, a thrill when he glanced at a horoscope that predicted his success with a woman. Our innate solipsism gives superstition a "natural advantage."

He attributes the same solipsism to our love of ascribing fortunate events to divine intervention. God, of course, has such a rooting interest in our own welfare that he would intervene to assure our safety--except when bad things do happen to us, and then we manage to write off his lack of attentiveness.

In summary, "Given this overwhelming tendency to stupidity and selfishness in myself and among our species, it is somewhat surprising to find the light of reason penetrating at all." (p. 77)


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Sat Apr 04, 2009 7:22 am
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Arguments from design might seem pretty easy to dispose of, and in the form of intelligent design, aka creationism, they are. Hitchens doesn't need to argue against creationists; he just dismisses them as "yokels." There. But in the chapter he shows some of the sneakier ways that the argument from design gets in. The so-called mainline Christian denominations have reconciled themselves with science, meaning with evolutionary biology. They say that faith and evolution don't exclude each other. I'm very glad they do this, because otherwise we would have a long history of creationism being taught in our schools. However, you will notice that religion actually then ignores evolution, and when asked directly about it will say that God uses evolution as a tool. This is the so-called theistic evolution. There is in fact no way that evolution and theism can co-exist, something that Hitchens illustrates well for us.

If evolution reveals God at work, Hitchens says, what an incompetent he is as a designer. We ourselves are made of a bunch of used spare parts, some of which are not designed particularly intelligently at all. They just happen to work well enough to get us by. And the millions of species that have ended up on the scrap heap don't say much for the capabilities of an all-knowing God, either. Nevertheless, all this is redeemed by our arrival. We are the proof of the purpose in all this creative destruction. Or so might say the moderates.

Only Hitchens won't let us gloat even a little bit. He cites Stephen Jay Gould's analysis of the Burgess Shale to argue for the pure contingency of our existence. If a certain proto vertebrate had happened not to make it, as happened to thousands of other species in a brief time, then poof! we don't exist. Or at least there is a good chance that evolution would never have taken up that track again.

Hitchens follows this sobering point with his speculation that we may be still evolving physically as a species. Is this his way of offering a consolation prize? I asked about this previously in a thread, and most people seemed to think we could still be evolving. But I still don't see how natural selection could be operating on us, since we have so effectively taken the environment out of play. Variations, whatever they might be, don't therefore seem to have survival value.

"Thoughtful believers" will continue to see some divine purpose in evolution. Hitchens isn't too hard on them. They're not causing the harm that rabid belief has caused in the past.

"The faithful stand acquitted on that charge: we no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do, now that their faith is optional and private and irrelevant, is a matter for them. We should not care, as long as they make no further attempt to inculcate religion by any form of coercion." (p. 96)


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Last edited by DWill on Wed Apr 08, 2009 7:35 am, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Apr 07, 2009 8:57 pm
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Hitchens: "Given this overwhelming tendency to stupidity and selfishness in myself and among our species, it is somewhat surprising to find the light of reason penetrating at all." (p. 77)

This brings to mind a quotation by Nietzsche,
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"Speaking in a parable.--A Jesus Christ was possible only in a Jewish landscape--I mean one over which the gloomy and sublime thunder cloud of the wrathful Yahweh was brooding continually. Only here was the rare and sudden piercing of the gruesome and perpetual general day-night by a single ray of the sun experienced as if it were a miracle of "love" and the ray of unmerited "grace." Only here could Jesus dream of his rainbow and his ladder to heaven on which God descended to man. Everywhere else good weather and sunshine were considered the rule and everyday occurrences."from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s.137, Walter Kaufmann trans.


I'm not exactly clear how the two quotations relate, but I remember after reading Hitchens' statement about the rare light of reason in an irrational world...I knew I had to find this 'parable' by Nietzsche.

I think Hitchens' admission to the stupid, brutal, banal and irrational side of life...not only its presence, but its prominence...as well as his somewhat euphemistic "somewhat surprising" discovery of the rare light of reason...sheds important light on the role of faith for those who claim reason as their guide.



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Dissident Heart wrote:
I think Hitchens' admission to the stupid, brutal, banal and irrational side of life...not only its presence, but its prominence...as well as his somewhat euphemistic "somewhat surprising" discovery of the rare light of reason...sheds important light on the role of faith for those who claim reason as their guide.

I think that what he's saying is that, given the challenges presented by our make-up, reason has a hard time getting anything like an upper hand. But his admission about the irrational in our nature does not imply that one must look to faith in God. Reason itself is not insufficient; it just tends to be in short supply in us. It is, after all, the failure of reason that causes the religious impulse to get out of hand.

I think it's again important to pay attention to the distinction he makes between the poisoning relgion and the "tame and sequestered" religion that he can be at peace with. True, he has nothing very good to say even about this tamed religion, but that is not the purpose of his book anyway. He will allow that faith in God can be acceptable as a personal choice as long as reason accompanies it. I suspect, for example, that he wouldn't object to parents praying for their child's recovery as the child lies in a hospital bed. Prayer can be good psychologically for the parents and for the child who knows he's being prayed for. But he wouldn't find acceptable--nor would I--the parents who withhold hospital treatment from their child out of belief that their prayers will be sufficient to heal him. That is not an acceptable personal choice.


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Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:08 pm
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DWill: I think that what he's saying is that, given the challenges presented by our make-up, reason has a hard time getting anything like an upper hand.....Reason itself is not insufficient; it just tends to be in short supply in us.

I think you share, in this instance, his reliance upon euphemism: not only does reason not have the "upper hand" in human affairs...it is woefully absent. Humans are an absurd lot of suicidal brutes, fueled to catastrophic extremes and daily disasters by way of ignorance, mendacity, prejudice and lies...human history is a story of terror and deceit: abuse, murder, torture, war, genocide...and the perpetual threat of nuclear annihilation and ecological devastation...as well as the daily barrage of misinformation, propaganda, manipulation, and purposeful assault upon the truth that pervades every facet of mass, and not so mass, media. Humans are a stupid species that fouls its nest and willfully ingests poisons...ravaging its environment towards its own extinction and the extinction of other species.


DWill: But his admission about the irrational in our nature does not imply that one must look to faith in God.

No, but it does show that humans are irrational to rely upon reason...but that makes sense, and is consistent with the rest of our irrational nature. And I do not think that faith in God is always irrational, nor is it always rational...it involves much more. Just as the pursuit of whatever it is we deem worthy of our life's sacrifice and hope is hardly reducible to the irrational dichotomy of rational vs irrational. Anyway, does Hitchens ever take the time to clearly define what he means by reason?

DWill: It is, after all, the failure of reason that causes the religious impulse to get out of hand.

I think it is more an absence of love that causes the derailing.



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Clifford Geertz


Last edited by DWill on Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:25 am, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:07 am
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Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.

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Last edited by DWill on Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:26 am, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:13 am
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Dissident Heart wrote:
I think you share, in this instance, his reliance upon euphemism: not only does reason not have the "upper hand" in human affairs...it is woefully absent. Humans are an absurd lot of suicidal brutes, fueled to catastrophic extremes and daily disasters by way of ignorance, mendacity, prejudice and lies...human history is a story of terror and deceit: abuse, murder, torture, war, genocide...and the perpetual threat of nuclear annihilation and ecological devastation...as well as the daily barrage of misinformation, propaganda, manipulation, and purposeful assault upon the truth that pervades every facet of mass, and not so mass, media. Humans are a stupid species that fouls its nest and willfully ingests poisons...ravaging its environment towards its own extinction and the extinction of other species.

I'd have to point out that this evaluation cannot reflect the animal created in God's image to be a little lower than the gods themselves. It doesn't seem biblical in that regard.
Quote:
humans are irrational to rely upon reason...but that makes sense, and is consistent with the rest of our irrational nature. And I do not think that faith in God is always irrational, nor is it always rational...it involves much more. Just as the pursuit of whatever it is we deem worthy of our life's sacrifice and hope is hardly reducible to the irrational dichotomy of rational vs irrational.

I don't say that faith in God is irrational, either, only that if reason doesn't accompany this belief, bad things can happen to the balance we need to maintain in our mental faculties. How do you account for your own maintenance of balance within your religious faith? Isn't your reason pretty much in concert with your faith in God? As for relying on reason, this can sound as though one goes around denying emotions and being oblivious to a sense of the numinous (even Hitchens uses this word). I think that reliance on reason applies in a restricted sense to those matters to which reasoned investigation seems to be the best method to use.
Quote:
Anyway, does Hitchens ever take the time to clearly define what he means by reason?

Not that I can think of. But I might be using that word more than he does himself.
DWill wrote:
: It is, after all, the failure of reason that causes the religious impulse to get out of hand.

Quote:
I think it is more an absence of love that causes the derailing.

It would have to be a feeling of universal love, I think. Love of "our people" is still very possible while hating the others who deserve destruction. I could be wrong, but universal love, that for fellow humans, seems to be a development of Christianity. It's arguable, again, but this may be a case of a religious principle passing into the general ethical heritage of humankind. I'd be interested to hear from others on this possibility.


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Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:15 am
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DWill: I'd have to point out that this evaluation cannot reflect the animal created in God's image to be a little lower than the gods themselves. It doesn't seem biblical in that regard.

The Bible portrays a complex portrait of a complicated humanity: malicious, brutal, murderous and genocidal...as well as tender, kind, just and loving: there are few capacities of intellect or emotion that are missed in the Biblical narratives. The shadow regions of self-destructiveness and injustice are not hidden or whitewashed: they are encountered althruout the text: in major and minor characters, the powerful and the oppressed....even God participates in deeds and thinking that result in horrific consequences: and exhibits a passion for justice and peace. The same contradictions and confusions that cloud our lives today- cloud the Bible as well: nor can we escape our contemporary delusions when examining that ancient text. It may very well be this shared light and dark dimension between the text and our today that allow for a contemporary pertinence and value. It is precisely in its ugliness that we get a mirror of our own hatred of beauty: and, in its passion for justice that we get encouragement to remember our desire for human rights and dignity.



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DH: "It may very well be this shared light and dark dimension between the text and our today that allow for a contemporary pertinence and value."

I disagree. I think that the bible has the good and the bad is because it was written by man. There is no need to paint a portait of the negatives of humanity. Why would there be? To remind us that we're all 'sinners'? If the bible were a truly divine book, it would omit the bad and remind us to repress it.



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Dissident Heart wrote:
The Bible portrays a complex portrait of a complicated humanity: malicious, brutal, murderous and genocidal...as well as tender, kind, just and loving: there are few capacities of intellect or emotion that are missed in the Biblical narratives. The shadow regions of self-destructiveness and injustice are not hidden or whitewashed: they are encountered althruout the text: in major and minor characters, the powerful and the oppressed....even God participates in deeds and thinking that result in horrific consequences: and exhibits a passion for justice and peace. The same contradictions and confusions that cloud our lives today- cloud the Bible as well: nor can we escape our contemporary delusions when examining that ancient text. It may very well be this shared light and dark dimension between the text and our today that allow for a contemporary pertinence and value. It is precisely in its ugliness that we get a mirror of our own hatred of beauty: and, in its passion for justice that we get encouragement to remember our desire for human rights and dignity.

Well, yes, but how then does or can the bible serve as scripture, as something to be devoted to if it has no moral center, if even its "author" acts immorally? It is, at nearly every step of the way, a book that exhorts us to act by its example. It seems impossible to me to view it as somehow instructive through all of its failings.

Let's go over to the threads on chapters 7 and 8 on the OT and NT if we're going to start a discussion on the bible.


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Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:43 am
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DWill: Well, yes, but how then does or can the bible serve as scripture, as something to be devoted to if it has no moral center, if even its "author" acts immorally?

Interbane: If the bible were a truly divine book, it would omit the bad and remind us to repress it.

I think both of your responses are interesting insights into your own theologies and how they influence your theories of divine design. Both, it seems, expect a particular kind of God who can only behave a particular kind of way. Your kind of God could not have created a world such as this, nor produced a scripture like the one we're discussing.

Likewise, both of you have a particular idea of the purpose of scripture and how it should be understood and applied: a real, genuine, authentic scripture would not look like the one we're discussing.



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Actually, I subscribe to no theory of divine design, or any ultimate design, or even any ultimate beginning. The question is open to me, and I'm sure it will remain open until I die. The collective knowledge of our species is not great enough to answer such questions. When I speak of the bible as a divine book, I speak within its fictional framework. If it truly had any divine influence, why does no part of it fall outside the explanation that it was written by man? There is nothing that I see that is impressive. There is no incredible wisdom that scholars at the time couldn't have come up with on their own. So when you mention authentic scripture, if you mean that this entails divine influence, we have no need of that hypothesis! :P

If the scripture appears plausibly and likely all to be written by man, why would you think there is a god involved? Because the men who wrote it said there was?!? They lived thousands of years ago in the time of fairytales and magic, you should do better justice to your skepticism. :neutral:



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