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← Hitchens Debates Rabbi Wolpe on God

Pete H's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by Pete H

If the summary of the Rabbi Wolpe’s points is accurate, then the real issues seem to be:

1. Social control - who does the condemning of immoral behaviour?
2. Confusion about basic economics and morality – particularly over the value other humans represent to each other, regardless of whether they are closely or distantly related, strangers or acquaintances.

That is: who is in a position to actually condemn, not just express moral outrage, but to do something about it – either to restore justice or to at least estimate the cause and the harm and to attempt to prevent further harm.
As Hitchen’s points out – societies which don’t do this don’t tend to get very far.

Aside from the psychological drivers of irrational belief, the intellectual need and rationalisation for the concept of a supernatural arbiter might be based on people’s unwillingness to trust themselves or their neighbours or any human authority’s competence and extent of knowledge and capability to learn the true situation. This might stem from a fundamental incomprehension of the nature of science and the evolutionary mechanisms of error correction and knowledge growth over time.

Rabbi Wolpe on the economic and moral issues:

“If there is in fact nothing other than our accidental appearance here, and it favors my group that your group be destroyed, what possible countervailing principle would persuade me otherwise?” Rabbi Wolpe asked.

This is a particularly revealing question which implies religion as the solution to a nonexistent problem. Aside from the intractable problem of defining the referent group, it also begs the question as to exactly how it might favour anyone or any group that some other person or group be destroyed?
If other people are criminal attackers then the issue is the process of social control and justice. If not then it leads to logical contradictions like the secret oriental art of self-defence as outlined by Mad magazine’s feature on Kung-Fu movies of the 1970’s: Incredible fighting abilities are a form of worship of the pursuit of excellence in self defence. Attack is the best form of defence, and surprise is the best form of attack. The most excellent form of surprise is to attack someone before it even occurs to them that they represent any kind of threat. The more innocent and unsuspecting the victim, the more surprised they will be.

Hitchen’s version of the best argument against his own position (presumably that humans evolved just like other animals):

“Mr. Hitchens began his response by saying, “I have a great difficulty with most people I meet in even believing that they’re intelligent primates.”


This line will become a future classic, if it isn’t already:

Shepherds don’t look after sheep because they love them — although I do think some shepherds like their sheep too much. They look after their sheep so they can, first, fleece them and second, turn them into meat. That’s much more like the priesthood as I know it.

Wed, 05 Nov 2008 13:57:00 UTC | #265364