Hitchens and Wilson: Answering a fool according to his folly

If you haven’t heard, Douglas Wilson (a Christian) and Christopher Hitchens (an atheist) are debating the question “Is Christianity Good for the World?“. I’d be grossly under-exaggerating if I didn’t say that Wilson is destroying his opponent. Over the last several exchanges, Wilson has been asking Hitchens to explain what warrants his authoritative use of the words “good” and “evil”. Unsurprisingly, Hitchens doesn’t seem to know how or where to start.

In what may be the final segment, Wilson replies to Hitchen’s reference of LaPlacian thinking with the following:

But it is interesting that the same thing happens to you when you have to give some warrant for trusting in “reason.”. I noted your citation of LaPlace in your book and am glad you brought him up here. LaPlace believed he was not in need of the God hypothesis, just like you, but you should also know he held this position as a firm believer in celestial and terrestrial mechanics. He was a causal determinist, meaning that he believed that every element of the universe in the present was “the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”

So if LaPlace is why you think belief in God is now “optional,” this appeal of yours actually turns into quite a fun business. This doctrine means (although LaPlace admittedly got distracted before these implications caught up with him) that you, Christopher Hitchens, are not thinking your thoughts and writing them down because they are true, but rather because the position and velocity of all the atoms in the universe one hundred years ago necessitated it. And I am not sitting here thinking my Christian thoughts because they are the truth of God, but rather because that is what these assembled chemicals in my head always do in this condition and at this temperature. “LaPlace’s demon” could have calculated and predicted your arguments (and word count) a century ago in just the same way that he could have calculated the water levels of the puddles in my driveway — and could have done so using the same formulae. This means that your arguments and my puddles are actually the same kind of thing. They are on the same level, so to speak.

If you were to take a bottle of Mountain Dew and another of Dr. Pepper, shake them vigorously, and put them on a table, it would not occur to anyone to ask which one is “winning the debate.” They aren’t debating; they are just fizzing. You refer to “language in which to write this argument,” and you do so as though you believed in a universe where argument was a meaningful concept. Argument? Argument? I have no need for your “argument hypothesis.” Just matter in motion, man. [full text of this exchange, here]

A response like this is delightful to read, not because it is sure to silence Hitchens, nor because it is a panaceic answer to all issues that an atheist might raise. Instead, it is delightful because it reminds us that there is not one spoken answer to all questions, but rather that the way you answer a fool is according to the nature of his folly. Paul does this on Mars’ Hill by pointing out the hypocrisy of worshipping a god who dwells in a temple made by man or who can be worshipped by the hands of men (as if he needs something of man to exist). We see also that Stephen does this very same thing when he tells the Pharisees that they have not kept the law, just like their father’s before them who put to death God’s prophets. It is something that we see throughout Scripture, and it is something that we should do when we find ourselves with the chance to speak to those who (knowingly or unknowingly) mock the name of God (being quite careful not to fall into the trap that we are adjacently warned of: answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him)

Getting back to Hitchens and Wilson, I heartily recommend that you read through their five-part exchange. In fact, the only criticism I have of Wilson’s replies to Hitchen’s is regarding his recent choice of a particular Tombstone reference. While there was nothing wrong with the one he used, I was hoping he’d go with a (slightly altered) line by Doc Holliday: Why Hitchens, perhaps thinking just isn’t your game… I know, let’s have us a spelling contest.

More Questions for Atheists

If the universe is composed entirely of matter and there is nothing that is not matter, then what matter makes up the laws of logic?

Follow up: If your answer to the previous question is that logic is a construct of the mind, made up by man, and is an arbitrary set of mutually accepted ideas, then please tell me this: If we use logic and reasoning to determine truth/knowledge, then by what means did we determine that logic and reasoning are true/useful ?

Turtles all the way down: a question for atheists

Perhaps you’ve read or heard the following anecdote:

A well-known scientist (some say it was the philosopher Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the Earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?”
“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

Atheists often use this story to mock the Christian belief, but I have a question for them. If everything that we know about the universe is gained through our senses, and those senses are essentially chemical reactions in the brain, then how did we find out about chemical reactions in the brain? Is it chemicals all the way down?

Just curious.