KASS Quote of the Day: 'Irreducible Objections to Religious Faith'

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Fri, 2011-12-23 09:38

In light of the death of Christopher Hitchens, and the debate raging about him on other threads, I am re-reading God Is Not Great. Mindful that Colonel Ingersoll's beyond-magnificent A Thanksgiving Day Sermon, demolishing Goblinism in general and Goblianity in particular, overtaxed the precarious attention spans of the pious here, I am hopeful that the following concise indictment of superstition by Hitch at the very beginning of the book might not exhaust their capacity for cerebration, but rather, stimulate it—and stimulate them to cast off the chains of unreason. Greater love hath no man for himself or his neighbour than this, than that he should liberate his own mind from primitivism. In any event, this is worth savouring in its own right:

There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wishful thinking.

This last, of course, is fundamental. See my reprised Salient article below .


Recidivist Regressivism

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I note the Goblians are trotting out the Argument from Design again. The unanswerable objection to their insistence that such an "intricate and complex" universe imply *had* to have a designer was stated long ago: infinite regress. Who designed the (presumably even-more-intricate-and-complex) designer? If, as goblinites supposedly would have it, the designer can be self-sufficient, why can not the universe?

Goblinite Darren further avers:

The notion that human language evolved, in an apparently continuous line, from animal-like grunts, growls, and finger-pointing, is a complete fantasy: it's never been observed in any existing primitive human society

Au contraire, we have the dubious advantage of being able to see both ends of the continuum co-existing in our own "existing human society" ("human" might be a stretch): for "animal-like grunts, growls and finger-pointing" see schoolchildren, flight attendants, television reporters, university students, and the headbanging icons of the Goblian Dr Baade. For their antipode, see Christopher Hitchens.

We are immersed in evidence.

darren's picture

Those who think a goblin did it have yet to offer a shred of evidence for their belief.

We are immersed in evidence.

I concur. It's only by an act of major psychological denial that one could not see design in the following:

1. A system of coded-chemistry as the basis of living organisms. Two sets of chemical entities — nitrogenous bases and amino acids — mapped onto each other by means of a linguistic convention — a code — that is completely arbitrary and cannot be derived by the laws of chemistry themselves. No different from mapping "SOS" to "IMMEDIATE HELP NEEDED", or mapping "*** ——— ***" to "SOS."

2. The precise geometric fit between enzymes and their substrates. Take a look at a key — your car key, for example. The pattern of notches and grooves cut into the key when it was manufactured is called the key's profile. Is there anyone here who really believes that the key's profile is a function of, or derived from, the particular chemical properties of whatever substance the key happens to be made of? If the key is made of brass, for example, is there something in the chemical nature of that alloy that causes that particular profile to appear? Of course not. The profile, like a linguistic code, is completely arbitrary, and could be cut into any material — steel, iron, wood, plastic, etc. — as long as it was rigid enough to maintain it, and rigid enough to be inserted into a lock without breaking. "Rigidity" and "permanance" are the qualitative characteristics needed for the key to function, and not that it necessarily be made of brass. Enzymes and their activation sites -- the geometric notches and grooves in the molecules that allow it to fit into the binding sites of its substrate or substrates -- are the same sort of thing as the profile on a key. Just as the key's profile is not chemically determined by the material it's made of, so an enzyme's "profile" is not determined by its chemistry. Precisely fitting locks and keys are always products and signs of design.

3. Chemical reactions underlying biology are reversible: outside of living organisms, reactants form their products, and those products form their reactants, back and forth, to and fro, until a state of high positive entropy is reached called equilibrium. That end-state can't be prevented forever, but it can be prevented temporarily by means of inserting information into the reaction from outside of it. Living organisms are systems that use information stored in DNA to prevent the final entropic state of chemical equilibrium from occurring, at least temporarily. (Equilibrium and high entropy eventually win, of course, when the entity dies.) Genomic information, stored as coded sequence, obviously has a teleological purpose: its purpose is to prevent the high entropic state from appearing. That it is purposeful should be a definitive sign that it originated from an intelligent cause.

An example:

Take a jigsaw puzzle. It's usually a photograph of some grand view — e.g., the New York City skyline — transferred to something like plywood or stiff cardboard, and the entire thing then cut into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of uniquely shaped parts that, for the moment, fit precisely together to form the whole. The parts are then allowed to fall apart from one another and tossed randomly into a box, the challenge for the puzzle builder being to match parts back together again in order to recreate the original grand view. Now observe:

If we took those thousands of separate puzzle pieces and put them into some laboratory device that shook them up in random directions — up and down, then right to left, etc. — for an infinite amount of time, is there anyone here who believes that eventually, we must obtain the original puzzle, with all pieces fitted together and forming the complete image of the New York City skyline? Many people believe that. But it's quite untrue. We will never obtain the complete puzzle by random physical shaking, even given infinite time. The reason is this: what will happen under the influence of random physical shaking is that two or three of the pieces might eventually discover one another and interlock — so it might seem that a longer "chain" is beginning to form, and that eventually, this long chain will itself grow even longer and finally reassamble the complete puzzle; but it won't happen, because as the chain of interlocking puzzle pieces grows longer, it also necessarily grows more fragile! The very forces of random shaking that encouraged 2 or 3 pieces to interlock, now discourage longer chains from forming! So what we will end up with is a collection of disparate puzzle pieces, with small "clumps", scattered here and there, of 2 or 3 interlocked pieces, that can never grow beyond that. Every chemist would recognize that state as one of equilibrium. That's what you will always get under conditions of randomness and reversibility, even given infinite time.

The only way to get order and structure out of this is to impose it from the outside, i.e., from ouside the shaking container and puzzle pieces, by "gaming the system" and biasing the outcome in favor of some predetermined, or pre-ordained goal. For example, when the puzzle is originally whole, and prior to breaking it apart and tossing the puzzle pieces into the container, you might construct some clever mechanical slot-system, in which each piece, once fitted into its correctly shaped neighbor, is mechanically constrained to stay there and never slide out; once two pieces slide into place with each other, they mechanically become locked so they cannot slide out of place again.

Now under those conditions, I grant that with infinite time, a random shaking machine could indeed reconstruct the whole integrated puzzle, because the mechanical slot-and-lock system that you (the experimenter from outside the system) added was essentially an energy rectifier: i.e., by design, the rectifier allowed energy from the random shaking to do nothing except build up structures by giving it free rein in one direction only, and prevented the energy from random shaking from doing anything that would destroy, or undo, what it had originally built up, by allowing the energy in an undesirable direction to dissipate harmlessly; a direction that would otherwise tear down what it had previously built up. 

In biological entities, the "energy rectifiers" are coded DNA information and enzymes. They bias otherwise reversible chemical reactions toward proceeding along a single specific direction — just like the slot-and-lock mechanism we installed on our jigsaw puzzle pieces — so that the integrated whole doesn't fall apart into a state of equilibrium.

4. Though we haven't broached this subject yet on SOLO, I aver that the very existence of human language is a sign of a designer in nature. The notion that human language evolved, in an apparently continuous line, from animal-like grunts, growls, and finger-pointing, is a complete fantasy: it's never been observed in any existing primitive human society, nor is there any evidence of it in any extinct ones. In fact, all evidence — meaning, evidence we have remaining of early written languages — shows the exact opposite: early languages were extremely figurative, imagistic, metaphorical, and poetic. Comparative grammar also shows early languages to have been chock full of complex case systems (subject case, object case, possessive case, locational case, etc.) which tend to weaken as the language gets older. Case systems utilize all sorts of sophisticated linguistic devices: inflected endings on words; special accents; special positions within the sentence structure, etc. All of this is exactly the opposite of what you would expect if human language had evolved from something simpler, less complex, less sophisticated, and more of a mere "sign", "signifier", or animalistic communication.

"Blank out."

Marcus's picture

Yes, that's what happens when you believe in God.

Lindsay

reed's picture

Those who think a goblin did it have yet to offer a shred of evidence for their belief.

We are immersed in evidence.
Is the evidence what you would expect if there is an intelligent creator?
Is the evidence what you would expect if there were no intelligent creator?

Solipsism logically results from the extreme skepticism that Atheists employ to deny God's existence - i.e. if you do not know that God exists then what can be known? Nothing but your own thoughts.

@ grunster

darren's picture

The neuron imprint was kept hierarchically low purposely and has subsequently been downgraded and finally deleted along with all other fantastical thoughts . . . Bible scholarship is also low on my list. I know I wouldn’t gain anything from that cobbled-together text that would also end up in the trash.

Ah! Good! Then -- like Hitchens -- you enjoy setting fire to straw men! Excellent! Thanks for clearing that up.

The chemical matter exists, enzymes exist, the codes successfully work, the cell exists.

True.

What doesn’t follow is then to say – “hold on” that’s too clever and couldn’t happen by chance.

Has nothing to do with cleverness. Codes are linguistic conventions that are, by nature, completely arbitrary: they are not derived from physical or chemical considerations.

Here's why deterministic forces had nothing to do with anything:

Drop into a box 1,000 A's, 1,000 B's, 1000 C's . . . 1,000 Z's on little pieces of paper. Shake box vigorously. Blindfold yourself and randomly select two pieces of paper. For the sake of example, suppose you randomly selected a "J" and an "A." Do they mean anything? By "mean", in this context, I mean: do those two letters point to some fact of reality beyond themselves? The answer is: it depends where you are and what the linguistic conventions are in that area. For example, if you're in Finland and you ask people who speak and understand Finnish what "JA" means, they will insist it means "and." If you're in Sweden and you ask people who speak and understand Swedish what "JA" means, they will insist it means "yes." And if you're in Britain and ask people who speak and understand English what "JA" means, they will insist it's a nonsense syllable -- hasn't any meaning at all. So there's nothing in the physical or chemical nature of a squiggle of ink in the shape of a "J" on a piece of paper, or the chemical nature of a squiggle of ink in the shape of an "A" on a piece of paper that causes the combination "J" + "A" to mean anything. "JA" has meaning and points to something beyond itself only by agreement among intelligences.

Similarly, the message that screams "HELP!" when a ship is sinking is three letters: "SOS." That message doesn't look like a sinking ship; it means "Help" or "Save Our Ship" only be agreement between sender and receiver -- such agreement being a linguistic convention. Again, the Morse code version of that is: *** ——— ***. The three dots don't resemble an "S" and the three dashes don't look like an "O". They are assigned those meanings, or mapped to those meanings, by agreement, by convention, and it's important to remember that the choice of symbol, or symbols, to represent an "S" could have been anything; nothing in the nature of an "S" -- not its particular curvy shape, or its particular sibilant sound, etc. -- requires its code representation to be ***.

Same in DNA. No fact of physics or chemistry requires the bases GCC (Guanine, Cytosine, Cytosine) to mean the amino acid ALANINE. The base triplet codon doesn't look like alanine; if you mix 1 part guanine with 2 parts cytosine, you might make an interesting nitrogenous cocktail but you won't produce alanine. "GCC" is a code, a linguist convention (which is read and understood by the ribosome), exactly like "SOS" is code for "HELP!" and ***———*** is code for "SOS". It's completely arbitrary, which shows that deterministic laws of physics and chemistry had nothing to do with it. There was no biochemical predestination.

“Codes don't occur by chance.” It’s not by chance. Rules govern how atoms combine.

True. Rules govern how atoms combine. But only arbitrary linguistic conventions govern how one combination of atoms (nitrogenous bases) come to signify another combination of atoms (amino acids). And linguistic conventions are products of goal-directed intelligence, not physics and chemistry.

“Neither do locks and keys that precisely fit together.” That is a false analogy comparing the natural processes of chemical components which can not act contradictory to their identity to the rational activity of a man. And the first lock and key designer succeeded after trials and errors.

The lock-and-key description of enzymes is not only used in almost every textbook on the subject (along with, sometimes, the "hand-in-glove" analogy), but it's not even really an analogy: it's an exact description of what an enzyme is, physically and geometrically. An enzyme physically and geometrically fits into the geometry of other molecules -- in exactly the same way that a key geometrically fits into a lock. Some keys are Master Keys and fit into several locks (just as some enzymes are non-specific and fit into several substrates); some keys are highly specific and can fit into only one kind of lock (just as some enzymes are highly specific and can fit into only one kind of substrate). If you look at any computer animation of how enzymes functions, you'll see that the lock-and-key description is an apt one. In fact, a good definition of a cell might be: a bunch of keys (especially given that a cell has thousands of enzymes required to keep it alive and functioning).

I explained above why determinism had nothing to do with anything biological. Here's why chance had nothing to do with it either:

The chance hypothesis has historically been represented by the monkey-typewriter scenario: given some immortal monkeys, unbreakable typewriters, inexhaustible typewriter ribbons, infinite sheets of paper, and infinite time, the probability that random tapping on the keys by the monkeys will produce the complete works of Shakespeare must be "1." There's no escaping the math in this.

This scenario is then analogized to the physical world: given infinite time, matter will combine under the influence of random forces in various ways, and at least one of those ways will be some viable biological structure: either RNA, or DNA, or amino acids, or a protein, or perhaps even a complete cell.

The problem is this: the monkey-typewriter scenario does not correctly represent biochemical reality, so as an analogy, it's irrelevant.

The monkey-typewriter scenario represents a process that is irreversible: monkey brain fires a synapse; synapse sends a nerve impulse from the brain down the arm to the hand; finger flexes and strikes some random key; key is depressed; inked letter gets imprinted on paper . . . and the letter remains.

Biochemical reality comprises chemical reactions that are reversible: reactants-to-product, then product-back-to-original-reactants; back and forth until a state of equilibrium is reached. That's completely different from what's being represented by the monkey-typewriter example. To show reversible reactions accurately with that scenario would require the following: monkey brain fires synapse; synapse sends nerve impulse from brain down arm to hand; finger flexes and strikes random key; key is depressed; inked letter gets imprinted on paper . . . THEN . . . letter un-types itself, disappearing from the paper completely without a trace, sending inked key back into its slot in typewriter; key on keyboard un-depresses itself; finger un-flexes; the un-flexed finger reverses the chemical nerve impulse in the hand, sending it back up the arm, back into the brain, where the synapse un-fires.

That's what all chemical reactions are like that lie at the foundation of living organisms: they are all reversible.

So while I grant that given infinite time and irreversible typewriters, monkeys must eventually combine letters that replicate the works of Shakespeare, this is dependent on the fact that the typed letters remain on the page: the reaction, from monkey brain to typed letter on page, proceeds in one direction only. But given reversible typewriters and reversible monkeys -- in which letters get un-typed as soon as they are typed -- I would say it's not possible at all that any works of Shakespeare (let alone anyone else) would ever appear, even given infinite time, because the un-typing would prevent the long chains of text from appearing; chains that are necessary for building up longer, more meaningful structures (such as sentences, paragraphs, scenes, acts, plays, etc.).

If you're at the beach, you can't build up a structure like a sand castle if the ocean is reversing all your efforts at the same time -- even given infinite time.

In sum:

Neither determinism nor chance had anything to do with the creation of life. We know that deterministic forces of physics or chemistry had nothing to do with the creation of life because of the arbitrary nature of the genetic code: codon triplets translate into amino acids the same way that "JA" translates into "and" or "yes", or the way "SOS" translates into "Help", or the way "***———***" translates into "SOS": by arbitrary linguistic convention. We know that chance had nothing to do with the creation of life because, when left to itself -- that is, without the supporting machinery of DNA sequential information and enzymes -- the chemistry that underlies biological organisms is reversible: reactants form products and products form their original reactants until the rates of forward and backward reaction become the same and a state of equilibrium is reached. As with a reversible monkey-typewriter process and the impossibility of building up long chains of meaningful text, reversible chemical processes could never build up long chains of biologically meaningful molecules like DNA base sequences or proteins. It's clearly the task of the information stored in DNA and the activity of enzymes in the cell to prevent normal chemical equilibrium from occurring; as far as biology is concerned, a state of chemical equilibrium is reached only when an organism is dead.

Marcus

Richard Goode's picture

How about big bang theory, string theory, evolution through natural selection?

Hardly silent on subject.

What do the big bang theory, string theory, and evolution through natural selection tell us about the origin of life and the cosmos?

Blank out.

Irreducible idiocy

Richard Goode's picture

Just as well I checked this number because when you add the number who did not answer the question in the NZ 2006 census, it rises to 48%.

Most of those who did not answer will probably be people who do not believe in God, because the ones with religion can't keep it to themselves and always want the entire world to know - whereas your typical non-believer dislikes having to bow down to any higher authority and answer a census question.

That means in 2006, 1.8 million, or half of NZ's population did not believe in God.

How's that for wishful thinking?

Dazzler

gregster's picture

religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos

"According to the official version of the story, God created us on the 6th Day, not the 7th. But who's counting?"

Thanks for clearing that up.

Either your memory failed you. The neuron imprint was kept hierarchically low purposely and has subsequently been downgraded and finally deleted along with all other fantastical thoughts.

or you learned your Bible scholarship from Hitchens. Bible scholarship is also low on my list. I know I wouldn’t gain anything from that cobbled-together text that would also end up in the trash.

The explanation makes sense to me. You’re a deviously clever individual but that ability oftentimes appears wasted on this designer topic. What doesn’t make sense, and is logically fallacious, is your (probably correct) identification of ”a negentropy machine like a cell -- not to mention an information storage/retrieval system based on coded sequences of nitrogenous bases like DNA, and a lock-and-key system of thousands of enzymes that neatly fit into their substrates to extract food calories from them

You misplace where the “fantasy” originates. The chemical matter exists, enzymes exist, the codes successfully work, the cell exists.

What doesn’t follow is then to say as you do; “hold on, that’s too clever and couldn’t happen by chance."

Codes don't occur by chance.” It’s not by chance. Rules govern how atoms combine. They can’t form into molecules of one combination one week, and another the next, under the same conditions.

The fantasy is to say “it couldn’t happen.” It has happened. Stop chasing your tail and get over it.

Neither do locks and keys that precisely fit together.” That is a false analogy comparing the natural processes of chemical components - which cannot act contradictorily to their identities - to the rational activity of a man who chose to act. And the first lock and key designer succeeded after trials and errors.

Lindsay

reed's picture

The origins of man and the cosmos are matters for scientific inquiry, a process eschewed by faith-mongers.

The process eschewed by faith-mongers is the idea that scientific inqiry can not be scientific unless it excludes God as a possible explanation.

Atheistic Naturalism doesn't

reed's picture

Atheistic Naturalism doesn't say God is the origin of life or the cosmos. Yet

Atheistic Naturalism can't say God is the origin of life or the cosmos - it would contradict its starting assumption and cease being Atheistic Naturalism.

The usual careful scholarship by the materialists

darren's picture

God created us on the seventh day if my memory serves me correctly, and there was Adam and Eve.
That's the cool inside info!

Either your memory failed you or you learned your Bible scholarship from Hitchens. According to the official version of the story, God created us on the 6th Day, not the 7th. But who's counting?

The explanation makes sense to me. What doesn't make sense is the materialist's fantasy that random processes comprising Matter + Energy + Time can come up with a negentropy machine like a cell -- not to mention an information storage/retrieval system based on coded sequences of nitrogenous bases like DNA, and a lock-and-key system of thousands of enzymes that neatly fit into their substrates to extract food calories from them. Codes don't occur by chance. Neither do locks and keys that precisely fit together.

"34.7 percent indicated that they had no religion..."

Marcus's picture

Just as well I checked this number because when you add the number who did not answer the question in the NZ 2006 census, it rises to 48%.

Most of those who did not answer will probably be people who do not believe in God, because the ones with religion can't keep it to themselves and always want the entire world to know - whereas your typical non-believer dislikes having to bow down to any higher authority and answer a census question.

That means in 2006, 1.8 million, or half of NZ's population did not believe in God.

In 2001 in the UK it was 13.6 million, or 23% of the population. I assume in 2011 it will be even higher.

How's that for KASS?

Reed

Richard Goode's picture

Atheistic Naturalism says God isn't the origin of life or the cosmos.

Atheistic Naturalism doesn't say God is the origin of life or the cosmos.

Yet.

Marcus

Richard Goode's picture

How about big bang theory, string theory, evolution through natural selection?

"The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. ..."

"String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. ... The theory has yet to make novel experimental predictions at accessible energy scales, leading some scientists to claim that it cannot be considered a part of science. ..."

"Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution. ..."

"Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. ... Life on Earth originated and then evolved from a universal common ancestor approximately 3.7 billion years ago. ..."

Life on Earth originated

Nice theory.

Silent?

Marcus's picture

How about big bang theory, string theory, evolution through natural selection?

Hardly silent on subject.

Maybe not enough to fill your otherwise meaningless life with purpose, but not silence.

Richard

reed's picture

Atheistic Naturalism is silent on the origins of life and the cosmos.

No, it's not silent. Atheistic Naturalism says God isn't the origin of life or the cosmos.

Science vs Superstition

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The origins of man and the cosmos are matters for scientific inquiry, a process eschewed by faith-mongers. Those who think a goblin did it have yet to offer a shred of evidence for their belief. In particular, the variety of goblinites known as Goblians have yet to defend their especially bizarre account of events, which I once paraphrased as follows:

Once upon a time there was a goblin. And only a goblin. There was nothing else in the universe. There was no universe. Just the goblin.

One day after an eternity of solitude the goblin got lonely and bored. He said to himself, stuff this, I’m going to make stuff to play with. So he made the universe and he made living creatures. He made men just so they could hang out with him and tell him how cool he was.

But he didn’t want men saying that just because he wanted them to. He gave them the option of calling him uncool, blowing him off and pissing him off generally. He even created a rival for their affections, an anti-goblin, and injected them with a party drug called Original Sin which made them swoon and succumb to the anti-goblin's attentions.

For those who managed to remain staunch and genuflect to him in spite of how hard he made it to do so, the goblin created a place of eternal, blissful reward. For the billions of men he knew in advance would call him uncool, blow him off, piss him off generally, and go with the anti-goblin, he created a place of terrible, everlasting punishment, to which he would condemn them on a day called Judgment Day, or Great Hissy-Fit Day.

In preludes to Great Hissy-Fit Day, the goblin threw an occasional minor tantrum, for practice. One time he banished men from the cool garden he’d made for them. Many years after that he drowned nearly all of them. Later still, seriously bummed out by now, even though he'd known all along how it would play out, he impregnated a virgin with goblin-seed and had himself born as a man whom he then had tortured and killed as a sacrifice to himself on behalf of all other men who, under the influence of the party drug he'd injected, had succumbed to the anti-goblin he’d created. (Kids, don't even try to make sense of this at home.)

Finally the goblin proceeded to damn most men to his place of everlasting torture, just as he always knew he would.

When asked what was he thinking, why had he gone ahead with the exercise in the first place knowing how it would end, the goblin said, for the hell of it.

Some men were heard to say that it might have been better for all concerned had the goblin simply kept himself to himself, and that such an uncool goblin deserved to be lonely anyway.

Reed

Richard Goode's picture

Atheistic Naturalism ... wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos

Atheistic Naturalism is silent on the origins of life and the cosmos.

Lindsay

reed's picture

There still remain four irreducible objections to Atheistic Naturalism: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to undermine morallity, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous and destructive sexual expression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wishful thinking.

Marcus

Richard Goode's picture

Nevertheless everyone knows what Hitchens means.

If, by 'wishful', Hitchens meant 'mendacious', then no one (apart from Hitchens) knows what Hitchens means.

Christopher Hitchens, Scholar of Religion

Neil Parille's picture

In a stunning case of blaming the victim, Hitchens informs us that the Maccabean revolt was an attempt to "forcibly restor[e] Mosaic fundamentalism against the many Jews . . . who had become attracted by Hellenism" (p. 273). In Hitchens's worldview, it seems to be just another case of evil "fundamentalists" (read: Jews who wanted to follow their religious traditions) oppressing benign "true early multiculturalists" (p. 273) (read: Jews who wanted to abandon their religion and become hellenized). Note, also, the anachronistic transposition of the concepts of modern "fundamentalist" and "multiculturalist"—not necessarily antonyms, by the way—onto the ancient world.

Now, it is true that during the first centuries around the time of Christ there was a significant minority of the Jewish elites who hellenized—that is, adopted Greek culture, language, customs, and so on. This hellenization took various forms. Many Jews—like Philo and Paul—believed they could accommodate the best of Hellenistic culture while remaining authentically Jewish. Others, disregarding their Jewish roots, simply became Greeks, abandoning their unique Jewish traditions (1 Maccabees 1:13–15).22 But this alone is clearly not what caused the Maccabean revolt—after all, the Books of the Maccabees, which describe the revolt, survive only in Greek, not Hebrew, and are thus obviously products of the very hellenization that Hitchens claimed the revolt opposed.23 The problem was not, as Hitchens declares, that fundamentalist Jews oppressed a minority of Jews who voluntarily hellenized. Rather, Antiochus IV (reigned 175–164 BC), a king of the Greek Seleucid dynasty that ruled much of the Near East in the second century BC, became the banner-bearer for the policy of enforced hellenization of the Jews. His anti-Jewish policies began with the plundering of the temple treasury in 169 BC (1 Maccabees 1:20–24). Two years later he captured and sacked Jerusalem, killing many Jews and enslaving others, thereafter establishing Hitchens's "true early multiculturalists"—collaborating hellenized Jews—as new puppet rulers of the city (vv. 29–34). Antiochus then ordered, under pain of death (vv. 50, 57), that all Jewish religious practices be abolished and Jewish books burned. Circumcision as a sign of the Jewish covenant with God was forbidden: "they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, along with their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the [circumcised] infants from their mothers' necks" (v. 61)—a policy that might have been applauded by a second-century-BC version of Hitchens, if he is serious in his claims that circumcision is tantamount to child abuse (pp. 223–26). Antiochus also ordered that idols and sacrifices to Greek gods be established in the temple (1 Maccabees 1:41–64). He further demanded that altars to Greek gods be set up in all Jewish towns and the Jews be forced to offer sacrifice there, sending Greek officers to ensure that the orders were carried out (vv. 54–55). "True early multiculturalists" indeed. According to Hitchens, this proto-holocaust—whose intent was clearly to destroy Judaism as an independent religion and culture, an objective that included the genocide of those who resisted—was merely a matter of hellenized Jews "agree[ing] to have a temple of Zeus on the site [of the Temple of Solomon] where smoky and bloody altars used to propitiate the unsmiling deity of yore" (p. 274).

Here is Hitchens's equally bizarre description of the spark that launched the revolt. "When the father of Judah Maccabeus [i.e., Mattathias] saw a Jew about to make a Hellenic offering on the old altar, he lost no time in murdering him" (p. 274). Well, sort of. What really happened was that officers of Antiochus came to Modein, a small village to the west of Jerusalem, built an altar to Zeus, and ordered all the Jews of the village to make sacrifice to Zeus under pain of death (1 Maccabees 2:15–18, 25; 1:50, 57). (Note this was not at the "old altar" of the temple of Jerusalem; Hitchens is confused.) Mattathias, a priest and leader of the village, refused to offer sacrifice under any circumstances (vv. 19–22). A terrified member of the village, however, started to submit to this coercion (v. 23). (Note this was not a multicultural hellenized Jew voluntarily worshipping Zeus. This was a terrified man coerced into abandoning his religion and ethnicity under threat of execution. Hitchens is again confused.) At this point Mattathias killed the renegade Jew and the Seleucid officers (vv. 24–26) and launched the revolt. Once again decontextualizing the ancient text, Hitchens calls this act "murder." Perhaps. But in its ancient historical context, Mattathias, as priest and village leader, was fulfilling Jewish law by executing an apostate (Deuteronomy 13:7–10; 17:2–7). Now, one can argue the relative merits of the law's death penalty for religious apostasy, but from the ancient perspective, this was not an act of "murder" as Hitchens describes it, but the legitimate execution of a traitor.

Transposing this event by analogy into modern times, imagine Nazis coming to a Jewish village in Poland, profaning the synagogue, killing resisters, sending many to camps, and then demanding that surviving Jews salute pictures of Hitler to show their loyalty to the Führer. Would Hitchens similarly condemn Jews who resisted the Nazis or killed Jewish collaborators? Now, we have no desire to be apologists for the Maccabean regime, whose war atrocities, crimes, and incompetence are manifold. But Hitchens's description of the Maccabean revolt is such a blatant caricature that we are again forced to assume that his antitheistic bias so distorts his reading that he is simply incapable of presenting a balanced and accurate summary of biblical events. Since he has already concluded that religion is always "poisonous," he feels perfectly free to rewrite history so that it matches his theory.

For Hitchens all this is not merely some obscure, half-forgotten event in a backwater of the Hellenistic world. He believes that if only the Maccabees had failed, the Jews would have become hellenized and Christianity would never have existed at all. "We could have been spared the whole thing," he laments. "The Jewish people might have been the carriers of philosophy instead of arid monotheism" (p. 274). Or, much more likely, the Jewish people would have simply ceased to exist, since of all the ancient Near Eastern peoples and cultures that fell under the influence of Hellenism, only the Jews and Zoroastrians have survived to the present with their ancient cultural identity intact, and this because of their unwavering devotion to their respective religions. Hitchens seems oblivious to the fact that Judaism is not a philosophy or a genetic ethnicity, but a religion. Hitchens's belief that the world would be a better place without the existence of Judaism as a vibrant, living religion is little short of shocking in light of the horrors of anti-Semitism of the past century. I am not, I must insist, implying that I believe Hitchens to be an anti-Semite; I suggest only that his antitheistic bias so blinds him that he can't seem to see the anti-Semitic implications of his belief—that the world would be a better place without religious Jews.

Review by William Hamblin

Neil Parille's picture

Linz,

This is the best critique of Hitchens.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.ed...

-NP

It was on sixth day actually...

Marcus's picture

...Greg.

He rested on the seventh day because God gets tired, you know?

What with destroying Christchurch, causing the current economic downturn and global warming sometimes he can't even get out of bed in the morning these days.

Dazzler

gregster's picture

It's plain as day. God created us on the seventh day if my memory serves me correctly, and there was Adam and Eve.

That's the cool inside info!

I don't think it is "wishful" thinking...

Marcus's picture

More mendacious thinking.

Nevertheless everyone knows what Hitchens means.

He was KASS!

Origins again . . .

darren's picture

it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos,

Hitchens had inside information as to the correct representation of our origins, did he?

Cool. Let's hear it.

Wishful thinking

Richard Goode's picture

it is ultimately grounded in wishful thinking.

Supposing that to be the case ... what, specifically, is the problem with wishful thinking?

Always remember

(1) It might be true.
(2) Be careful what you wish for.
(3) Wishfully think responsibly.

Nietzsche said "god is dead." for Lindsay

seymourblogger's picture

Nietzsche did not say he did not exist. He said God is dead, thus challenging god to appear if he were not dead. But his ghost will be around for a long time. This is Jean Baudrillard reading the argument through Nietzsche as he very often does. As Rand very often does. Her atheism came for Nietzsche's very careful proof of the genealogy of God. Once you read Nietzsche's genealogy of god, there is nothing more to say. Hitchens was, of course, right, but Hitchens also wasn't soaked in Nietzsche the way Rand and Baudrillard were from a very young age. And therin lies all the difference.

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