Friday, December 16, 2016

Remembering Hitch Part 2: One Of His Strongest Arguments Against Theism

As I sit home on this blustery frigid night remembering Christopher Hitchens on this, the five year anniversary of his death, I'm reminded of how important his point of view was on the issues. Although many younger people learned of Hitchens from his involvement in the New Atheism movement, he had spent over 30 years as a journalist covering international affairs, economics, and social policies. He always had an interesting angle on the current events of the day that you might not have considered even if you typically agreed with him and he always knew how to explain it in brilliant prose. And it was from this that he was best known.

What would Hitchens have to say about the current state of affairs in US politics? Of Trump's election? Of ISIS and the war in Syria? Of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and safe spaces all over college campuses? Of PC culture and the rise of the Alt-Right? If Hitch was still writing for Vanity Fair would he and Trump get into a Twitter war? (Assuming Hitch would eventually make a Twitter account.) These are questions I've been asking myself over and over again these past few years. I know where Hitch would fall on most of them but I'd have no idea exactly what he'd write and I'm sure there'd be plenty of surprises if he were here speaking and writing about them.

We'll never know.

We do however, know Hitchens's views on religion pretty well. And on numerous occasions he made the following argument about the futility of reconciling the prolonged nastiness of the evolutionary process with the basic claims required of Abrahamic theism in light of it:

The argument takes the conservative estimate of how long our species has existed for. It may be over 300,000 years by some estimates, which would strengthen Hitchens's point considerably, but he opts for the low end to show it's enough to make his point. Is Hitchens correct in his assessment? And is this a good argument?

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Hitchens made a version of this argument and Craig countered that 2000 years ago was the perfect time for god to intervene via Jesus, saying:

Well, what's really crucial here is not the time involved rather it's the population of the world. The population reference bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever lived on this planet is about 105 billion people. Only 2% of them were born prior to the advent of Christ. Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research says, "God's timing couldn't have been more perfect. Christ showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world's population." The Bible says in the fullness of time God sent forth His son and when Christ came the nation of Israel had been prepared; the Roman peace dominated the Mediterranean world; it was an age of literacy and learning; the stage was set for the advent of God's son into the world and think that in God's providential plan for human history we see the wisdom of God in orchestrating the development of human life and then in bringing Christ into the world in the fullness of time. So I don't see that there are any good grounds here for thinking that this provides reason for atheism.

Craig makes several points here, one being that the world's population grew exponentially after 0 CE. But that's just false. The population of world grew exponentially only after the industrial revolution starting around 1800. It grew from one billion in 1800 to 1.6 billion in 1900, and then to 2.5 billion in 1950 and then to 6 billion in 2000. From 0 CE to about 1000 CE there is very slow growth. And even from then until the 1500s it quickens just a bit. So this is just wrong.

Second, until 1500 Christianity's influence was confined almost entirely to Europe and small parts of the Mediterranean. The rise of Islamic caliphates had conquered most of the lands in the Middle East and North Africa for Islam, which had been mostly Christian up until the 700s. It was only really after 1500 that Christianity had any presence outside of Europe and the Mediterranean due to it being spread by European colonization, which spread the faith sometimes at the tip of a sword, and sometimes by conquering indigenous peoples and enslaving them. So this is some "wisdom" isn't it?

What about the claim that only 2% of people lived before the year 0? Well 2% of 105 billion is 2.1 billion. That's well over the entire present day populations of North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Oceania combined. Can you imagine all those places never having heard god's message when god's whole purpose for this world is for us to hear his message so that we can either accept it or deny it? And even if you disagree that this is god's purpose, what alternative purpose makes this make sense? I argue none. And even if it was less than 2 billion, why would god have any people living in such horrible conditions as part of his plan, indifferent to their suffering or intent upon it?

Keep in mind that we're talking about an omnipotent being here that can do anything logically possible. Why use evolution at all to make people if you know it's going to involve millions of years of suffering and death to finally get what you want? Why not just create people like the method used in Genesis? It's misguided to focus on the idea god has to be sufficient in his actions the way an engineer has to be. It's popular among some apologists, like Craig, to claim god might be an artist who likes to "splash his canvas with extravagant colors and forms". God can take as much time as he wants. What matters is the suffering of the people (and animals) involved used as tools for his plan that's a problem.

And let's not forget that Hitchens mentioned China's superior civilization at the time in the quote above (although he didn't in his debate with Craig). That means that God had an opportunity to send his message to a more advanced part of the world but instead chose the relatively illiterate Middle East.

Since in almost every version of the Christian god, god knows everything, god's master plan from the get-go was a slow multi-billion year evolution to get humans, and then for at least 100,000 years let them struggle for survival in a hostile world while he prepares a deliberate human sacrifice of himself, to himself, the save all of humanity from himself. And at least 2 billion people had to endure this struggle for survival in the darkness about god's true purpose before receiving that message (much more if you consider most of the world was ignorant to the message of Christ before 1500 when Europeans began spreading it via colonization).

Hitchens was right: it can't be believed by a thinking person.

I've argued in the past that evolution makes it very difficult to accept the traditional notion of a theistic god that is infinitely good. But whereas that argument focuses on the suffering of life before human evolution, this argument focuses on the suffering of human life after it evolved. Thus this argument acts as a nice extension to my argument along that angle of natural evil making them both potent enough such that at the very least, they make any Abrahamic religion highly improbable.

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