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Hitchens' flat world - Comments

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 1 by Oromasdes1978

Ever since De Souza wrote that disgusting article about the Virginia College attacks I really don't see how he can criticise Hitchens in any way, shape or form

Wed, 16 May 2007 03:54:00 UTC | #38687

pastafarian82's Avatar Comment 2 by pastafarian82


"Ever since De Souza wrote that disgusting article about the Virginia College attacks I really don't see how he can criticise Hitchens in any way, shape or form"

That was a different De Souza. Dinesh De Souza wrote that article about VTech, not Raymond De Souza.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:00:00 UTC | #38691

Logicel's Avatar Comment 3 by Logicel

God has no place in the world Hitchens wants, but nobody else has ever lived there either.

Atheists are pegged as being 10% of the world's population (I think). Therefore that percentage of the world does live without a god. These guys make silly arguments. Consistently.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:08:00 UTC | #38698

bokonon's Avatar Comment 4 by bokonon

he is blind to the world in which men actually live

This De Souza is blind to the fact that women occupy this world too it would seem...

And as for Hitchens attacks being ad hominem... When religious arguments for the continued use and veracity of religion are based upon the ethical merits of religion, there is only one way to argue against this, and that is by attacking the ethical stance of religion...

"Stupid people write supid things, clever people write clever things, but for clever people to write stupid things, that takes religion." (Michael Stirrat)

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:15:00 UTC | #38702

chrisrkline's Avatar Comment 5 by chrisrkline

Before everyone jumps in with the "De Souza is an idiot posts", let me add something.

De Souza is wrong in many places and unfair, but we should hardly be surprised he would argue the way he does. He feels that Hitchens has unfairly represented him. While I don't see the point in dealing with every bizarre theological argument for why there is evil in the world, it is understandable that De Souza wants us to. There are many liberal moderates (De Souza may not be himself, I don't know) who are equally troubled by Hitchens. Now, I like Hitchens, and I do think that what he writes is important, but I know it does not move my liberal Methodist wife at all. She still likes the social aspects of church, the singing, the working in soup kitchens, the meditative aspects of prayer, etc. Pointing out to her the absurdities of some of her positions is unhelpful. As an argument, I am moved by the fact that God does not answer the prayers of amputees, but needless to say she is not--she is disgusted that people claim that God answered their prayers anyway.

In the end, Hitchens' book may well be a necessary high colonic for religion, but we just should not be too bothered if some fight back.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:17:00 UTC | #38703

GodlessHeathen's Avatar Comment 6 by GodlessHeathen

Hitchens inhabits a flat world, devoid of the spirit even broadly understood, and thinks that he can see farther, not realizing that he has razed all the interesting features of the landscape.
What the [expletive] does that mean? The only interesting features of the landscape are those which stem from our imaginations? Is this becollared writer serious, or am I feeling a tug at my leg?

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:20:00 UTC | #38704

secularireland's Avatar Comment 7 by secularireland

"Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing?"

I know De Souza uses the adjective "unimportant" ironically, but the real irony is that these are actually unimportant questions. The real questions we should, of course, be asking are HOW are we here? HOW is there something instead of nothing. I think there's more chance of finding the answers with an eye to a telescope than with a finger on scripture.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:25:00 UTC | #38708

ferfuracious's Avatar Comment 8 by ferfuracious

"He opts for scientific materialism, the banality of which he tries to hide behind such -- dare we say it? -- "pious" invocations about the sense of wonder induced by photographs taken by the Hubble Telescope. It's like saying that the ultimate questions of life and death that religion grapples with can be set aside by watching the sunset."

Anyone who can conclude that science is banal must surely be scientifically illiterate. Would De Souza have found religion so appealing if he had had the opportunity to experience the sense of wonder Hitchens describes?

If many people's only contact with science is in high school, then creationists are absolutely spot on when they target schools. This also underlines the importance of Dawkins' ability to communicate that sense of awe in his writing.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:28:00 UTC | #38709

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 9 by Steve Zara

Father De Sousa needs to get his history right. I am sure Hitchens very deliberately and ironically used the word 'emancipator' in comparing Lincoln and Darwin.

Abraham Lincoln is usually thought of as the great slave-freer; the great emancipator. However, his position was ambiguous. In his inaugural speech he said that he had no intention "to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.". His personal views were different, but he was prepared to compromise them for politics, at least for a while.

On the other hand, Darwin was unambiguous on this matter. From Voyage of the Beagle: "I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country [...] It makes one's blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty."

Christopher Hitchens is clever. Very clever. De Sousa has fallen into the trap, and makes himself look foolish.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:30:00 UTC | #38710

NMcC's Avatar Comment 10 by NMcC

"Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence?"

Blimey, he ran out of deep, meaningful questions very quickly, didn't he?

To which the only response can be:

1) Because our parents copulated.
2) Why should there be nothing rather than something? After all, how many ways are there for there to be nothing? One, I'd have thought. How many ways are there for there to be something? Limitless billions? More than that?
3) Why should there be a 'purpose'?

All in all, what do you expect from a pig but a grunt.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:40:00 UTC | #38713

phasmagigas's Avatar Comment 11 by phasmagigas

just what is it that religious people have or do that atheists dont?

Being new to the states ive made a few general observations that may be totally biased or incorrect. If 9 of 10 people are religious then statistical chance suggests (well at least in this area) that they also live in a house way bigger than they need, use more water than they need (partly to maintain a nice lawn), eat more food than they need, buy (lots of) stuff that they dont need, spray insecticide all over the place, watch poor quality TV productions (on a HUGE tv) and then maybe go to church on sunday. We are all guilty of some of the above but I see honest to goodness gluttony and misuse of resources at large, it makes me wonder what lessons religion has taught them. Im not sure that being religious is anything more than having this simple thought in your head saying 'i believe in god' and thats it and its no more unique or widereaching than knowing that 'i eat sugary cereal for breakfast' or 'I cut the lawn when the grass is too long' or 'I believe what oprah says' or 'we carve pumpkins in october'.

Of course for some people the religious beliefs push further with consequences but for the majority of people im not sure it does anything atall.

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:41:00 UTC | #38714

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 12 by Peacebeuponme

"Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing?"

I know De Souza uses the adjective "unimportant" ironically, but the real irony is that these are actually unimportant questions.

secularireland, thank you for saving me the trouble of writing that. Theologians love to pass materialists off as cold rationalists not facing the deeper questions. The fact is that their lack of understanding is embarrassingly evident by even asking such uninteresting and invalid questions. "How did something come to be?" is interesting and scientists are working on the answer as much as they are able. "Why are we here?" unless asking about the physical processes involved (i.e why=how)is either a non-question or has a different answer for each person based on the interests they have in life (Why de Souza is here seems to be to write drivel in as many newspapers as possible).

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:50:00 UTC | #38717

CJ22's Avatar Comment 13 by CJ22

>Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence?

A classic example of inventing questions for the sake of providing answers to them. "Why are we here?" assumes there has to be a reason. "Why is there something instead of nothing?" is easily dismissed by the anthropic principle. "What is the purpose of human existance?" assumes there is some overarching purpose. Make up your own purpose, if it makes you happy, but don't invent a magic sky-buddy to blame it on.

The man may not be an idiot, but these questions are the sort a "first year student in a seminary school would wince at".

Wed, 16 May 2007 04:55:00 UTC | #38721

BaronOchs's Avatar Comment 14 by BaronOchs

I would ask him to read a book like Roger Penrose's "The Road to Reality" and say whether he still thinks "Scientific Materialism" is banal.

Hitchens places a lot of importance on Literature -and the Arts in general- no discussion of that at all here.

Hence, I declare it a straw-man attack.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:07:00 UTC | #38729

rodviking's Avatar Comment 15 by rodviking

Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing?

Well, what's the problem on saying "I have no idea"? Why should an invented answer be better than recognizing our ignorance?

The author's attempt to characterize Hitchens as some desconstrutivist materialist also reminds me a quote from the unforgettable Richard Feynman:

I have a friend who's an artist and he's some times taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say, "look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree, I think. And he says, "you see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist, oh, take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing." And I think he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me, too, I believe, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is. But I can appreciate the beauty of a flower.

At the same time, I see much more about the flower that he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty. I mean, it's not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter: there is also beauty at a smaller dimension, the inner structure…also the processes.

The fact that the colors in the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting – it means that insects can see the color.

It adds a question – does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that are…why is it aesthetic, all kinds of interesting questions which a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower.

It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:11:00 UTC | #38730

KRKBAB's Avatar Comment 16 by KRKBAB

Oh, phasmagigas- you make my blood boil- because you're RIGHT about American's bad habits- all of which I painfully witness every day (I'm an American). The irony of being an American is we mindlessly keep shouting the mantra:"Freedom, Freedom, Freedom...", yet most of us are like brainwashed robots all excercising the same bad habits. Of course the connection of this rant with the R.D. website is it seems to me to be the exact same way about American's over the top religiousness. A learned, un-questioned stamp on our logic centers! Why can we (Americans) so EASILY think out of the box on inventions yet not FAITH?!?!? Real Freedom to me means freedom of thinking, not freedom of gluttony!

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:17:00 UTC | #38733

PrimeNumbers's Avatar Comment 17 by PrimeNumbers

They forget that nature itself, the boundless infinities of mathematics, the beauty of the universe, are more then enough to inspire us, and make our lives full of wonder. They forget the babies and children and helping others are more than enough to give us meaning in this world. They forget that truth is more powerful than the lie, and that lies don't really comfort, don't reall bring hope, don't really ease suffering. And perhaps neither does truth, but we'll all admit we'd prefer the truth in the end.

And that's what's wrong with the objections. Just because they've been living with the sweetest stickiest most rotting sugar in their coffee all their lives, they can't imagine taking coffee without a sweetener and actually how wonderful it tastes once your mouth adjusts to it's bitter nuances.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:34:00 UTC | #38740

cassdenata's Avatar Comment 18 by cassdenata

I have begun to realize that many of these religious apologists see religion, not as a belief in a personal god, or an afterlife but a manifestation of our culture and our shared mythology. To them, humanity needs some sort of central story to rally around to provide meaning in a blank slate world. To the apologists, without creating a religion, it is simply impossible to answer the deeper questions of life. Religion, though an arbitrary construct, provides the answers, and something better fill the void. I imagine many of the apologists would agree that the current forms of religion are quite imperfect and some may accept that improved replacements are possible. But until that is replaced with something they approve of, the liberal religious apologists will fight any intrusions. This is one aspect that none of recent authors as far as I can tell have tackled in great detail. At least an acknowledgement of this facet would be useful. In listening to Sam Harris' discussion with Oliver McTerney, Oliver kept on telling Sam that he didn't wan't to discuss the fundamentalist set because that was not true christianity. Sam was unable to get out of the mindset of criticizing this set of religious people. What he should have done was turned the tables and asked Oliver, if you have the 'true' conception of god, then what is your perception of god and religion.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:41:00 UTC | #38744

mmurray's Avatar Comment 19 by mmurray

Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence?"



Wed, 16 May 2007 05:43:00 UTC | #38747

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 20 by Russell Blackford

Another total idiot. I just don't seem to have the patience to put up with it today. The guy doesn't even deserve a limerick.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:47:00 UTC | #38749

phasmagigas's Avatar Comment 21 by phasmagigas

KRKBAB. I know 'feelings' are subjective but when I drive (I do try to walk when its practical and i am seen as very odd when i walk somewhere!)past one of those huge cookie cutter home complexes with swathes of herbicide and fertiliser drenched lawns and an almost total lack of wildlife (and god forbid a dandelion!!) I get this very empty lost feeling in my stomach (mind). Now religion has nothing to do with it but its amazing how we have come to accept what is the supposed ultimate mode of existence. Its almost like being in the twilight zone, you are lucky to hear a cricket sing in August in such an environment. I just wonder how much prozac is swallowed behind those seasonal plastic wreath adorned doors?.

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:49:00 UTC | #38751

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 22 by Oromasdes1978

pastafarian82 I think I ought to explain something to you, I am an idiot! hehehehehe Oh bloody hell, how many times can one arse things up and not LEARN anything!

One day, I promise, I will get it right!

Wed, 16 May 2007 05:59:00 UTC | #38754

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 23 by Peacebeuponme

rodviking - I think Bertrand Russell made the same point, that his appreciation of beauty is enhanced by the deeper understanding of the make-up/workings of a particular thing.

Dawkins' description of various creatures throughout The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor's Tale make hagfish, bats, nematode worms and Manatees more beautiful than an artist could in my opinion.

Wed, 16 May 2007 06:00:00 UTC | #38755

edge100's Avatar Comment 24 by edge100

The National Post is generally pretty bad anyway, but this article is right up there with some of the worst. Lines like,

Hitchens writes as though he has read deeply in the history of religious thought, but if so he managed to do it without engaging what he has found there. He breezily dismisses the long examination of the great questions of divine power and human freedom, divine foreknowledge and human uncertainty, divine inspiration and human agency, human nature and the natural law, as insuperable problems that must either be ignored or shielded from the penetrating reason of clever people like Christopher Hitchens.

...I find to be terribly amusing. Whether or not CH is fluent in, for example, the "long examination of the great questions of divine power and human freedom", is irrelvant. God doesn't exist, and it makes absolutely no difference what anyone has said about "divine power". This article is, amongst other things, yet another example of the criticism of RD/SH/CH/others based on their supposed ignorance of theology. But what difference does theology make if God doesn't exist? It becomes scatterbrained philosophy, at best.

I also liked,

Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence? Hitchens is so fascinated with what he can see in the skies or in the laboratory that he is blind to the world in which men actually live. Perhaps he thinks that without religion there would be more peace, wisdom and beauty in a world dominated by politics, science, entertainment and industry. There is no evidence for that claim whatsoever, and good reason to believe that such a flat world would be more brutal to live in.

I'm reminded of Sam Harris' musings about not wanting to live in a world in which he was not 6 feet tall (I'm 6'2", so I must be one of the 'chosen ones'.

Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? These are surely relevant questions, but we must admit the possibility that we simply "are", for no good reason at all. And besides, these are questions that can be examined without deference to a non-existant god.

Whether god exists or not makes no difference to us; if he exists (ahh, but in what form?), then we are here because god wants us to be; if he does not exist, the fact still remains that we are here, perhaps for no good reason. Either way, I love the way the air smells after a rain storm; why must I invent a god to help "explain" why this should be so?

I would add, however, that one of the faults I find with CH's book is that he spends too much time focused on the evil-doings of religion, and doesn't deal sufficiently (as RD and SH have done) with the fact that there is no evidence for god. Someone needs to point all of this out, to be sure, but it seems CH has chosen to look at the "morality" of religion vs. the fact that none of it is actually true. Both valid points, but I find the latter to be the far superior argument. Until such time that evidence is proffered in support of god's existence, there is no good reason to practice any particular religion, no matter how good it makes one feel.

Wed, 16 May 2007 06:11:00 UTC | #38763

PeterK's Avatar Comment 25 by PeterK

De Souza is simply yet another theologian writer squirming awkwardly attempting to defend his vested interest. Of course, to an atheist reader the poorly-defended appeals are easily found as fallacious arguments, but will no doubt appease his followers--and that's who he's writing to. However, after reading so many poorly-defended critiques of these attacks on religion, one must think that eventually their followers tank of support will simply run out of fuel. We must be persistent, and we must be patient. What is real will eventually be recognized.

Wed, 16 May 2007 06:20:00 UTC | #38770

phasmagigas's Avatar Comment 26 by phasmagigas

re the flat world. Appreciating nature with an acceptance of evolution is far more rewarding than that without (that doesnt occlude god of course, its a rejection of evolution not an acceptance of god that I find most disturbing).

Walking through a flower meadow in May the creationist can admire all the pretty flowers and butterflies (they may even see the newly hatched grasshoppers if they look carefully enough) but they will miss the opportunity to imagine the generational changes that have preceeded each and every individual phenotype in front of them, the mental tree of life that you can imagine connecting those grasshoppers to the butterflies and then to meadow plants themselves, the development of each and every strategy and behaviour presented before yourself in that incredible 'tangled bank' just meters from your home (if you are lucky enough). A creationist would reject all those thoughts or more likely not have thought about them atall but then the most common question people pose to me when i admire an insect is 'what use are wasps?'. I love that question.

Wed, 16 May 2007 06:27:00 UTC | #38774

severalspeciesof's Avatar Comment 27 by severalspeciesof

"if God were real and omnipotent, and consequently Hitchens so wrong, then God should have arranged things so as to prevent him from writing his book. But the book exists! So God couldn't stop it. And why couldn't he stop it? The simplest answer is that he does not exist!"

When I read that, my first thought was, "Isn't that kind of like what the theists do, but only in reverse?" Sort of: "We exist, therefore a god exists!"
And doesn't De Souza's trite argument against Hitchens become not-so-trite but actually closer to the truth than De Souza imagines?

1. De Souza's God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good.

2. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good, then God could have created the best possible world, knew how to create the best possible world, and chose to create the best possible world.

3. If God could have created the best possible world, knew how to create the best possible world, and chose to create the best possible world, then God did create the best possible world.

4. If God did create the best possible world, then this is the best possible world.

5. This is not the best possible world, since mankind needs redeeming.

6. Therefore, God did not chose to create the best possible world, and therefore God is not great.

"What God Wants, God Gets God Help Us All" -R. Rogers

Wed, 16 May 2007 06:49:00 UTC | #38784

Didaktylos's Avatar Comment 28 by Didaktylos

Mr Stork - if you don't wish to be treated as a crane, don't flock with the cranes !!!

Wed, 16 May 2007 07:55:00 UTC | #38814

konquererz's Avatar Comment 29 by konquererz

Wow, I believe this is called a boiling point. First Harris, then Dennett, then Dawkins, and now Hitchens, and its hit the boiling point. Now they are mad, frustrated, because their faith has been sucessfully challenged in main stream. They started by ignoring, then ridicule, then discussion, now they just yell and claim its all wrong wrong wrong! Its totally laughable in my opinion. I love watching this reaction become more and more vitrolic as the fundys claim is atheists being rude and violent and angry. Its actually funny, I expected Dawkins book to create this reaction, not Hitchens. I expected Hitchens release to be more of a piggy backer, but instead, its created its on maelstrom from the religious community to the point where they now say things like "the book was redundant and boring and nonsensicle and played out" yet they continue to argue and rail against his book. That is a sign that its really hitting a cord in the fundy community. And being a former fundy myself, I can tell you I know some fundys that aren't taking these books lightly. Talking with a few online, they believe that their faith is under attack, that these people seek to dismantle and eliminate religion from the face of the earth. You know what I tell them? DAMN RIGHT!

Wed, 16 May 2007 08:33:00 UTC | #38825

edge100's Avatar Comment 30 by edge100

konquererz, I agree. This is clearly a movement that has been noticed by many religious people. I've never seen so many media reports about atheism and challenging faith. This is truly fantastic.

I disagree that Hitchens is more than a piggy-backer here, however. I find Hitchens book to be a significantly weaker attack on religion than either TGD or Harris' two books. CH does point out some important issues, and everything he's saying is true. But I feel that RD and SH have hit the central theme with more force; namely, that there is no good reason to believe in god, and not simply that belief in god is bad for us, which seems to be, in the main, CH's tact.

Wed, 16 May 2007 08:40:00 UTC | #38828