D’Souza’s E-Letter on the Existence of God

I am not even close to being a Dinesh D’Souza fan. I wrote briefly about him after reading a few sections of his book The End of Racism. I have actually put him on my watch list for a few reasons I will write about later. I like this piece he wrote below to members of his e-mail letter. Being the economic conservative that he is, he commits a serious academic mistake below by conflating socialism with atheism, which is an egregious error at best. D’Souza writes a niece piece here.

Christopher Hitchens has issued an open invitation to pastors to debate him on the merits of his latest book God Is Not Great. A few have taken him up, but not many. Most pastors are probably reluctant to debate Hitchens, and I can see why. The man is a mongrel! I do not say this as an insult but as a tribute to how tough this guy is.

I know Hitchens and have always liked him. We have debated twice in the past, once on socialism a very long time ago, when Hitchens used to be a socialist. Fortunately Hitchens has seen the error of his ways, although it would have been nice for the epiphany to have come to him during our debate. It would have been nice to have Hitchens turn to me in his closing statement to say, “You know, you have completely convinced me. You are right and I am wrong.” Still, Hitchens did eventually repent of his position on socialism.

Our second debate, a few years ago, was on political correctness. I found it amusing to see Hitchens defend political correctness, because he is not politically correct. Today that’s obvious, as Hitchens is an outspoken defender of Bush’s war in Iraq. But it was becoming clear even then, as Hitchens was challenging his colleagues on the far left on issues like abortion. Remarkably Hitchens is pro-life. This may seem odd, given his atheist convictions, but Hitchens’ view is that since we have only one life to live, we have to place a very high value on it and protect it. In any case, this debate was not so much a gladiatorial contest as a lively discussion on a range of issues from affirmative action to multiculturalism to campus speech codes.

I’m surprised at the vehemence and nastiness of Hitchens’ atheism. I didn’t know he harbored these deep resentments. Yes, I know that atheists present their ideas as the pure result of reason and evolution and so on, but I cannot believe that Hitchens regards the idea that we are descended from the apes with anything other than bemused irony. I suspect that Hitchens likes Darwin mainly because Darwin gives him a cudgel with which to beat pastors.

As he admitted in a recent interview, Hitchens calls himself an “anti-theist” rather than an “atheist.” Most atheists say that based on the evidence, they believe God does not exist. Hitchens’ position is somewhat different: he doesn’t want God to exist. He hates the idea of God’s existence because he thinks of God as a tyrant who supervises his moral life. Even the tyranny of Stalin or Kim Jong Il, Hitchens says, ends when you die. But this God, he wants obedience and praise and worship even in the afterlife! To Hitchens that’s a form of unceasing subservience and slavery.

In a way I can understand why pastors would be reluctant to get into the combat zone with Hitchens. Pastors are supposed to be models of Christian charity. This means that Hitchens can call them names but they cannot call him names. Pastors are required to turn the other cheek, while Hitchens gets ready to kick them in the rear end. Moreover, pastors are not used to fending off attacks from people who deny the validity of the gospels and, in Hitchens’ case, even cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus Christ. How can you quote Scripture to a man who denies the authority of Scripture to adjudicate anything?

So Hitchens has a good game going, because he gets to make outrageous claims and they are going mostly unchallenged. Consider Hitchens’ discussion of one of the classic Christian proofs for the existence of God. Hitchens takes up Anselm’s so-called ontological argument, and he makes short work of it. Basically Anselm argues that God is, by definition, a being than which no greater can be conceived. But if God is such a being, he must exist. Why? Because if it didn’t, then he would be a being than which a greater could be conceived.

Anselm’s argument seems like a theological rabbit pulled from a rhetorical top hat. Yet when you ponder the logic. it is surprisingly strong. Philosophers of the caliber of Descartes and Leibniz have accepted the validity of Anselm’s ontological argument and given their own versions of it. Others, such as Aquinas and Kant, have considered the argument defective. But not one of them takes Hitchens’ line, which is to accuse Anselm of arguing that everything that can be conceived must exist.

This is emphatically not what Anselm is saying. He is not so foolish as to claim that if you can imagine a unicorn, therefore a unicorn must exist. Anselm’s argument only applies to one special case. God is defined, even by atheists, as a being of the highest conceivable perfection. Now such a being can exist only in the mind, or in the mind and in reality as well. Anselm argues that it is greater or more perfect to exist both in the mind and in reality, than to exist in the mind alone. Therefore God must exist, because otherwise he would not be a being of the highest conceivable perfection.

As centuries of commentary on Anselm confirms, this is an argument that seems hard to accept, and yet it is not very easy to refute. Hitchens certainly doesn’t do it. I have a mixed view of Hitchens’ arguments, but his real strength is in launching witty and pungent barbs at Christianity. Having shared the podium with him in the past, I know he’s an agile debater. I’d like to step into the arena and cross swords with him again in the fall, when my book What’s So Great About Christianity comes out. Perhaps one good thing that can come out of all these atheist books is that they bring God back into the mainstream of American cultural debate. It’s long overdue.

Advertisements

17 thoughts on “D’Souza’s E-Letter on the Existence of God

  1. Christopher Hitchens has a liberal brother named Peter who wrote an article defending religion. Here’s an interesting snippet:

    [begin quote]

    Christopher is an atheist. I am a believer. He once said in public: “The real difference between Peter and myself is the belief in the supernatural.

    “I’m a materialist and he attributes his presence here to a divine plan. I can’t stand anyone who believes in God, who invokes the divinity or who is a person of faith.”

    I don’t feel the same way. I like atheists and enjoy their company, because they agree with me that religion is important.

    I liked and enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anybody who is interested in the subject. Like everything Christopher writes, it is often elegant, frequently witty and never stupid or boring.

    I also think it is wrong, mostly in the way that it blames faith for so many bad things and gives it no credit for any of the good it may have done.

    I think it misunderstands religious people and their aims and desires. And I think it asserts a number of things as true and obvious that are nothing of the sort.

    [end quote]

    I have seen Christopher Hitchens on television promoting this book, and he comes off as a man with an axe to grind. The issue is almost “personal” with him, despite no immediate indication as to why he loathes religion so. It perplexes me.

  2. I would have to look deeper into Anselm’s ontological argument to be able to really comment intelligently, but as he describes it here, proof of God’s existence does seem to hang on the perception of the viewer. That, to me, seems to be no proof at all, and at first glance, I would have to agree with Hitchens on the validity of this argument. In other words “God must exist, because otherwise he would not be a being of the highest conceivable perfection” makes his existence necessary only to prove a concept invented by man. Sort of circular logic, if you ask me. (Again, see disclaimer above, as I am only relying on D’Souza’s explanation of the argument to form my opinion. I have heard the name Anselm, but admit that this is the first I have heard the concept explained.)

  3. dutro – I have read a great deal on this debate. You hit the point. My issue is this, they debate does not address whose god or how one defines that god, and the corruption of god according to how man has defined him. It seems that every society has a god and his story or stories are pretty close. But in each society the existence of god was a way to generate social controls when laws were not enough. Also, this social control often jutified who was in power. I like to think back to those early Mesopotamian societies.

  4. I like philosophy, but it usually makes my brain bleed out through my ears and turns my hair white. Too much of it sounds like, “I know you know what I know is the same thing as he knows, you know?”

    I have to agree with dutro: the Anselm argument seems rather circular. I see where Anselm is trying to go, but I cannot get there myself. I think he may prove the possibility of a supreme being, but calling it an absolute just because you can conceptualize it seems a stretch.
    ___

    Here is what Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter, had to say about his sibling’s book:

    “I liked and enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anybody who is interested in the subject. Like everything Christopher writes, it is often elegant, frequently witty and never stupid or boring.

    I also think it is wrong, mostly in the way that it blames faith for so many bad things and gives it no credit for any of the good it may have done.

    I think it misunderstands religious people and their aims and desires. And I think it asserts a number of things as true and obvious that are nothing of the sort.”
    ___

    I have seen Christopher Hitchens on televison promoting his new work, and I must say I agree with D’Souza on one point: “I’m surprised at the vehemence and nastiness of Hitchens’ atheism. I didn’t know he harbored these deep resentments.” The guy is passionately anti-religion. Even his brother seems a bit surprised by this full court press without any discernible trigger.

  5. I find it very pertinent to members of the Christian faith that D’souza points out a common flaw in arguing for Christ: using Scripture to prove God and faith. That simply doesn’t work. You can’t convince someone to believe in the Bible by using the Bible. That’s like using a word in its own definition. I find it unfortunate that D’souza believes one has to repent from socialism, but at least he draws attention to our typical Christian arguing tactics.

  6. Matt S,

    Your comment on his brother Peter is interesting. If my brother said that about one of my works, well…we will leave it at that. This article did what it was supposed to do; it got me to go out and buy it. I too agree with dutro, I need to read the book and draw a better conclusion. I do like what the scienceman had to say, though true about society, I disagree.

    Kristi, your point is funny. If one does not believe, how will scripture help. Although, it is the number one tool used by Christians to do such a thing. I think it is a 50/50 deal.

  7. What Hitchens, D’Souza and many others like them are missing is that belief in God is primarily a faith issue. One cannot simply think God logically into existence. He can be seen in all things around us and is evident to all (Romans 1:18-23) and therefore no one has an excuse. However, one cannot simply approach God and faith as they would a scientific experiment in the laboratory. I would join the many pastors who have chosen not to debate Mr. Hitchens for one reason. Mr. Hitchens is completely unwilling to think of God in terms of faith. Without a heart open to unseen things one cannot grasp God in the fullest of terms. I find this refusal to see “unseen things” amusing since so much of what science identifies as “factual” are not seen and will never be seen with the human eye. Anyway, I will not debate him but I will most definitely pray for him and that his heart might be opened to truths that travel well beyond our feeble minds.

  8. Great point, David. The more I think about why God did not make it more obvious as to when and how he created the universe, the more I believe He wants it to be a matter of faith. Matters of faith are not in the realm of science, so there is a conflict there. I would say that Anselm’s attempt to prove God through rational suppositions is a little different than trying to prove God through a scientific method. I don’t think Anselm accomplished it, but there is some fascinating debate to be had on whether man has a spirit based on his ability to think and rationalize about things beyond himself.

    NOTE: Sorry for the double post earlier. My first comments never posted after I submitted them, so I waited a day and tried again. A day after that the first comments finally showed up. 🙂

  9. Matt said “but there is some fascinating debate to be had on whether a man has a spirit based on his ability to think and rationalize about things beyond himself.”

    Sounds like Descartes chiming in. “I wonder, therefore, I have a spirit.”

  10. I’m not too convinced by Anselm’s argument as presented here, Carson. I have always been impressed by the argument that the mind of God is so vast and deep that it is incomprehensible to the minds of human beings. I just got a couple of little books at the used book store which are digests of medieval philosophers so I’ll look into that.

    I’m glad you posted regarding Christopher Hitchens, though. He gets a lot of press and I’d like to learn more about him and why he’s made such an about face in his political thinking.

  11. “I’m surprised at the vehemence and nastiness of Hitchen’s atheism. I didn’t know he harbored these deep resentments.”

    But is this what he really believes? My observation of Hitchens (from articles in the online Slate magazine) is that he is primarily a writer who operates in the manner of an opportunist and provocateur. If the conventional position is “X”, then he will take the position of “not X” and then make any argument he can to support it. Almost no issue can be rendered as purely black or white, but is instead some shade of gray; yet he will pick one absolute position and defend it. Clearly this is the case with his statement: “religion poisons everything”, which is obviously a gross exaggeration, otherwise religion would have fallen out of favor long ago. That he could be so wrong and change his mind about the topic of atheism and socialism indicates that he is not a deep thinker, but instead a clever exploiter of popular culture’s willingness to accept the mistaken notion that “Everything you thought you knew is a lie”.

  12. what aretard!….i mean ha has been achristian before right?…then y he going against it now?!!!!!!he needs some professional help

  13. he does bring up some good points but his oppopnents do too. Dont be so quick to judge on what is right or not until you have thoroughly examined both sides.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s