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A few words for “atheist” Curtis White, from Christopher Hitchens

June 29, 2013

The previous post dealt with “atheist” Curtis White’s disgraceful, unsupported and frivolous accusations against Christopher Hitchens; and White’s unintentional but brilliantly executed demolition of his own case. Here I want to look briefly at another common misconception that White appears eager to queue up for: the accusation that the “New Atheism” has dogmatic “faith” in science.

Seeing as White attacked Hitchens so viciously on this point, I thought I’d simply transcribe a statement from Hitchens and ask the reader if this sounds like the kind of “science delusion” White accuses him of.

hitchens

Hitchens is answering questions from readers of reddit, and is asked the following:

Has there ever been a question asked of you in a debate, for which you had no good answer…?

Hitchens’ response:

In principle, the number of such questions should be going up, because Socrates tells that the only definition of being educated, let alone learned, is to begin to understand how little you know. And it’s only when you have grazed on the lower slopes of your own ignorance and begun to understand the great vistas of non-knowledge that you have, that you can claim to have been educated at all.

So it ought to be the case that I am repeatedly confronted with questions like that. But in fact, the one that is most often asked is How can I say I know there’s no god? This is from people who don’t understand the ABC of the atheist argument, which is that we don’t say, and can’t prove that there’s no god; but we will say that there’s no good evidence and there’s never yet been evolved a good argument for saying that there is. That’s why we’re more modest than we perhaps look sometimes. Whereas those who say there is, don’t only say there is. They claim the authority of that god to tell other people what to do.

So they make a very extraordinary claim, with only very ordinary evidence, at best. Obviously sometimes with fantastic evidence, with fabricated evidence, and they make very very large claims for themselves. They say, well now I know what god wants, so you have to do what I want. We repudiate that. And we say there are a couple of easier, simpler questions that you haven’t answered yet. Like the difference between being a deist and a theist, for example.

So I think at least while I’m debating with people of that kind, they’re not going to come up with a question that I haven’t heard before. But on every other subject, whether it was paleontology, biology, political economy, anthropology, I would expect that there would be an infinite number of questions to which I wouldn’t even begin to have an answer to because I simply wouldn’t know.

That’s really the principle difference. If there is something where there is doubt, don’t claim you’re certain. It’s amazing how relaxing it is not to claim you know more than you do. I’m surprised that those who claim to speak in the name of god don’t take more advantage of this relief.

I see nothing there that warrants Curtis White’s accusation of a “science delusion”. And to be honest, I don’t see anything there that anyone else can complain about either. The only other option is to claim knowledge from revelation. Fine with me, but please take the time to convince all the other purveyors of revealed knowledge that yours is the right version before you approach me with it.

Posted by Yakaru

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4 comments

  1. Another good post! I never tire of reading Hitchens’ rational responses to somewhat silly questions.


  2. In fairness to the questioner, I left out the the bit where they shared they sometimes get stumped by questions when they’re participating in a debate. But yeh, Htich seemed to think in complete paragraphs rather than sentences when he was speaking.

    And I don’t think I’ve seen anyone with such a phenomenal factual recall. He had 20th Century political history in incredible detail readily available for instant recall, and an extremely deep grasp of biblical history. I’m shocked that anyone could read God is Not Great or watch any debate with him in it and NOT be impressed by his learning and sincerity, even if they don’t agree.

    …I almost wrote “sobriety” instead of sincerity…! But going by his output alone, his sobriety while drunk was also astounding.


  3. It is a life well lived if you are able to respond from the grave to the great corpus of nonsense out there.

    Then again there was nothing new about Curtis White’s argument. AND he stole his title “The Science Delusion” from another hack, Rupert Sheldrake. The book won’t even rate a footnote in the history of piffle, as Hitch phrased it once about another.


  4. Given the recurring failure of religious apologists to come up with any new ideas, I expect Hitch will be replying from the grave for a very long time to come.

    And I understand it was Sheldrake’s US publishers who came up with the name The Science Delusion, purely for sensationalist purposes. Sheldrake said he didn’t like it.So that gives an indication of where Curtis White is on the personal integrity spectrum.



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