Debating an Atheist

by May 8, 2007

The latest atheist manifesto (following Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation) is Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Christianity Today invited Hitchens to debate theology professor Douglas Wilson on the topic, “Is Christianity Good for the World?

Hitchens comes out swinging on topics like the God-sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament, the use of the Bible to justify slavery, and the tendency of Christians to impose their morality on others:

Since religion drew its first breath when the species lived in utter ignorance and considerable fear, I hope I may be forgiven for declining to believe that another human being can tell me what to do, in the most intimate details of my life and mind, and to further dictate these terms as if acting as proxy for a supernatural entity. This tyrannical idea is very much older than Christianity, of course, but I do sometimes think that Christians have less excuse for believing, let alone wishing, that such a horrible thing could be true.

Wilson responds by asking how Hitchens can find any basis for moral judgments from his atheist convictions, and why anyone should respect him and his individual rights in the first place:

You make a great deal out of your individualism and your right to be left alone with the “most intimate details of [your] life and mind.” Given your atheism, what account are you able to give that would require us to respect the individual? How does this individualism of yours flow from the premises of atheism? Why should anyone in the outside world respect the details of your thought life any more than they respect the internal churnings of any other given chemical reaction? That’s all our thoughts are, isn’t that right?