63 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2008
Hitchens' reputation as an intellectual giant precedes him and shines throughout this intense yet civil exchange. Wilson, a lesser known intellectual of a different vein, hangs tough and arguably pokes a significant hole in Hitchens' logic.
Indeed, what struck me most about this book was the degree of civility that both Hitchens and Wilson demonstrate in an age old debate that has otherwise been outright divisive. A must read for this reason alone...SOOOOO REFRESHING!!!
Atheists and Christians alike (and everyone in between) will undoubtedly appreciate this most entertaining, short (61-page) exchange between Hitchens and Wilson. I plan on buying many more copies for family and friends to continue the debate!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I like this book because it is a short presentation of two clashing viewpoints. It is a very good place to start for anyone who is reaching for what is true. There are plenty of books out there which are one viewpoint or the other. Since the book is brief, and the positions sincerely presented, I give it five stars.
Douglas Wilson is committed to an approach in apologetics known as presuppositionalism. Rather than debate individual points of evidence, he would seek to look at what his opponent is presupposing in order to come to his conclusions. Wilson thinks that Hitchens, as an atheist, has no ground of certitude for making any moral claims, or any claims of knowledge. Wilson would argue that an atheist is borrowing the presuppositions of Christianity in order to make his or her point.
Hitchens argues more directly, challenging Wilson by the use of evidence. For example, science has shown that humans have evolved. Therefore, humans have been around for at least 100,000 years. For most of those years, humankind suffered tremendously while God did nothing to alleviate that suffering. Hitchens is very fond of Ockham's razor as a way to explain things. Why not look at the most immediate and plausible explanation as to why things happen? Don't invent fanciful supernatural explanations, which are no explanations at all. Similarly, don't invent fanciful theological/philosophical systems like presuppositionalism, which it can be argued is a concession that Christianity can't meet the challenge of evidence. Rather than argue the issue on the basis of evidence, the presuppositionalist insists on presupposing the supernatural religious motifs of scripture, namely, the self-sufficient God, the creation of the universe, the fall of humankind, etc. Again, Hitchens would argue, these are religious assertions, not evidence.
In conclusion, this is a nice short introduction to the debate between atheism and theism.
71 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2008
This book reproduces an insightful and spirited recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson over what Dostoevsky called the Eternal Questions: What is the real nature of the universe in which we find ourselves? What are the ultimate bases of reason and ethics? Are there any ultimate sanctions governing human behavior? Though Hitchens is always worth reading for his quick wit and frequently surprising arguments, unfortunately in this debate he does not come off at his best. While graciously conceding that Hitchens has clean hands, Wilson wielding a very fine knife shows that Hitchens, sad to say, doesn't have any hands to begin with.
Hitchens is of the view that the universe is the accidental consequence of swirling particles, claiming that his reason has led him to this conclusion. Wilson, in the style of C.S.Lewis, points out that if the world outside Hitchen's head is given over wholly to such irrational chemical processes, the world inside Hitchens' head can be no differently composed, and that what Hitchens refers to as "rational argument" has been "arbitrarily dubbed" so.
Similarly, if there are no ultimate, objective standards in ethics, then despite Hitchens rhetorical maneuverings, what follows is what Dostoevsky's Ivan pointed out long ago: there is no "good" or "bad for "everything's permitted." Hitchens' "fulminations" against assorted zealots are, as a result, also merely arbitrary.
To dispute the necessity of a God behind the Big Bang, Hitchens, with unusual complacency, rests his case on the principle called Ockham's Razor, the argument that it's bad logic to multiply entities. The problem here is that Ockham's Razor is at best a rule of thumb, never a guarantee of a royal road to truth in any particular case.
On the other side, the weakest part of Wilson's case, in my view, is his failure to address the idea that the necessity for ultimate sanctions does not lead to the existence of a particular God, much less the God of Christianity. His arguments in the present debate end, in fact, at a considerable distance from either conclusion, though Wilson seems unaware of this shortcoming.
Both men agree that it's possible in behavior for a person to be a righteous, ethical atheist. What is missing in their presentation here, however, is what can be found in Shakespeare's addition to the ending of the pagan story of King Lear. It will be remembered that the character of Cordelia is so ethically fine that Elizabethans would have dubbed her a "natural Christian." She is murdered, almost gratuitously, at play's end, and her distraught father cradles her broken body in his arms, a pieta whose meaning has yet to make any sense in the world of brutal men. The play's argument, I'd claim, supports Hitchens in his view that one can be a fine person without a Redeemer God yet on the scene. It also supports Wilson in his sense that ethics are not enough to make life bearable, since very often "the virtuous miscarry and the wicked prosper." If there is no Redeemer - though ways can be found to hedge on this - ultimately there is no Justice, and in Paul's words "we are the most miserable of creatures." Human life becomes mere history, filled with bad luck but lacking any meaningful, tragic dimension. How much interest one has in the need of a Redeemer rests finally on how much poignancy one senses in existence.
24 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2008
This small book is a "must get". What you will read are two complete opposite world-views that are clashing. The format is limited, but I think you will get what both Hitchens and Wilson are saying easily enough...then again I, personally, don't think Mr. Hitchens got what Rev. Wilson was saying. Like most atheists he (Hitchens) can not answer the "why" of his morality or how to move across the bridge from "is" to "ought". Then again, you will have to read this great book and decide for yourself who you think is right. I, un-apologetically (pun intended), believe that Rev. Wilson is a very good apologist for the Christian faith and that he reveals "why" he does not have to apologize for his beliefs or faith (not that Mr Hitchens believes he has to either).
After reading this book if you are frustrated that neither went far enough I suggest you read their other books - especially Wilson's more detailed answer to Hitchens' book ("God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything") in his small book entitled "God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything" That, too, is must reading!
62 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
That this (or any other book debating religion, for that matter) is going to change people's minds. The audience for this book will be one of two groups: the Hitchophiles (which includes myself) who will read a toothpaste ad if Hitchens wrote it, and the Christians who want to see the "First Cause" and "Watchmaker" arguments in print yet again. As a devoted fan of Hitch I have to say that I was underwhelmed by this debate. As others have mentioned, Hitch was not his usual cutting edge eviscerating self and the question in the title of the book ("Is Christianity Good For the World") is never properly answered by either party. Instead, the debate came down to a discussion on where do morals come from and whether anything can be considered good or evil by secular standards.
To save you some time (and perhaps money), here's how it went: Hitchens argued that our sense of right and wrong is innate and is evolving as our species and societies have evolved. To which Wilson presents his (inane) philosophy which goes far beyond Dostoevsky's "Without God, all things are permissible" to his own childish "Without God, all things are equal". In other words, if you don't buy the tale that a son of a Jewish virgin and the Creator of the Universe died for your sins and all those who do not accept him will be tortured for eternity, then feeding a hungry child and beating that same child to death should be morally the same to you. Disgusting, feeble, and stupid argument, if I may say so. I wish Hitch would had called him out on this and several other points. He should had said "Of course morality has evolved! Just a century ago, child labour was a part of the lives of all but the elite. Now, thankfully, in the Western world our children are not seen as slave labour. But why is this so? Where in the Bible does it condemn forcing your child into work or physically abusing him if he refuses? Indeed, the Bible defends the right of the parent to beat his children, sell them into slavery (including prostitution),and to even kill them for disobedience. Ask the opinion of any CYS official if this is good parenting and see if our sense of morality has evolved".
Also, we come to the "meaning of life". In Wilson's view, anyone not trying to grovel his way out of hell might as well just stay in bed or end it now, his life has no meaning. How dare he! It is up to every person, religious and secular alike, to devise his own raison d'etre. For those of us who are parents that meaning is often our children; for others it might be their jobs, music, or travels, but that meaning is important to the individual and not for others to condemn. No one meaning is for everyone. Even something as important as Doctors Without Borders cannot be the life's goal of every individual, so why should religion (and specifically Christianity) be offered as the only thing which can give life any meaning or depth?
The fact is, and Wilson continued to evade, the Bible is full of outright abuses against humanity which demand us to push aside our innate sense of morality and embrace a totalitarian system of rewards and punishments based on a myth which has as much evidence to support it as the deities of the Norsemen or the Greeks. Hitchens was far too civil with this gent who was not fit to polish his shoes and for those of us who salivate over every word from Hitch this debate will come as a disappointment. For a true, full bodied taste of Hitch, check out "god is not Great" for the argument which he should had presented. For an even deeper rational for atheism, read Bertrand Russell's "Why I am not a Christian". Skip this unless (like me) you need to read everything Hitchens.
23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2008
When America's most influential conservative thinker (and Catholic) William F. Buckley died early this year (2/27/08) my sense of loss centered on this one thought: When Bill Buckley's "Firing Line" disappeared from television (almost a decade ago) we lost perhaps the greatest `give-and-take' (liberal/conservative debates) ever to grace our TV screens.
Buckley's record-setting program ("longest-running TV show with just one host,") treated us to the very best in debates. (How could it not, with a guest list that ranged from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, to Clare Boothe Luce and Henry Kissinger, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Carter, William Kuntsler, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Louis Auchincloss, Tom Wolfe and Allen Ginsburg (and a host of other 'bright lights').
Most of Bill's shows were `political' . . . but my all-time favorite featured a former atheistic journalist (turned Catholic) Malcolm Muggeridge -- a program that, (like this book) is at the heart of the perennial subject most worth debating . . . the "existence of God."
When I mentioned this book this morning at breakfast, my wife said: "Christopher Hitchens IS an intelligent man, isn't he?" And I thought (to myself, but didn't say out loud) that, "I've heard better, historical `apologetics for atheism' than those advanced in this book!"
What I said (out loud) though, was: "Yes, he IS (smart) and - for that reason -- you'll really enjoy the `point/counterpoint' from the "Christian apologist" here, Douglas Wilson. [I'm certain Bill Buckley would have enjoyed 'hosting' this one!]
Anyway, it would take a better mind than mine to recapitulate in fewer words, Mr. Wilson (who writes with a C.S. Lewis 'economy-of-style') in his brilliant reflections on Mr. Hitchens' best arguments. May I share a couple of favorites: See if they don't `speak' to your heart and mind (and life experience):
"Your first point (is) that the Christian faith cannot credit itself for all that `Love your neighbor' stuff -- not to mention the Golden Rule, and that the reason for this is that such moral precepts have been self-evident to everybody throughout history who wanted to have a stable society.
"You then move on to the second point, which contains the idea that the teachings of Christianity are `incredibly immoral.' Apparently, basic morality is NOT all that self-evident. So my first question is: Which way do you want to argue this? Do all human societies have a grasp of basic morality, or has religion `poisoned EVERYTHING'?"
"The second thing to observe in this regard is that Christians actually do not claim that the gospel has made the world better by bringing us turbo-charged ethical information. There have been ethical advances that are due to the propagation of the faith . . . but that is not `where the action is.' Christians believe - as C. S. Lewis argued in THE ABOLITION OF MAN - that non-believers do understand the basics of morality.
"Paul the apostle refers to the Gentiles, who did not have the law but who nevertheless knew by nature some of the tenets of the law (Rom. 2:14). But the world is not made better because people can understand the ways in which they are being bad . . .
"It has to be made better by `Good News' - we must receive the gift of forgiveness, and the resultant ability to live more in conformity to a standard we already knew (but were necessarily failing to meet.
"The gospel makes the world better through (that) Good News, not through guilt trips or good advice."
[And in a final point made by Douglas Wilson to Christopher Hitchens]
"You make a great deal out of your individualism and your right to be left alone: 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'? If there is a distinction, could you show how the premises (starting assumptions) of your atheism might produce such a distinction?
I'm delighted that our Canadian edition (published by our largest publishing house, McClelland & Stewart) includes an astute, fun-to-read 'Forward' by Jonah Goldberg --- my favorite alumnus of Billy Buckley's "National Review" magazine (too young, alas, ever to have appeared on "Firing Line").
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I found this debate to be somewhat disappointing ... both men spoke at their own strawmen instead of listening to each other and responding meaningfully ... a lot of wasted polemic and a bit of vitriol on both sides and in the end Wilson could do no better than to turn his last exchange into a classic altar call. I have to say that Hitch let me down. I really feel that had I had the opportunity to participate I would have been able to direct a much more effective argument to answer and counterpoint Wilson ... that is the benefit of having been on both sides of the fence and also because I listened to what Wilson was saying. But I did learn something or rather, something I realized for quite a while became especially real: People believe what they want to - what they need to.
Like Dale McGowan said in his wonderful book: Parenting Beyond Belief - "Too many nonbelievers shake their heads contemptuously at the very idea of religious belief, failing to recognize religion for what it is - an understandable response to the human condition... If the religious impulse seems completely incomprehensible to you ... you don't fully grasp the human condition". At the same time too many believers, convinced of their own standing, close their ears to true and valid criticism and deprive themselves of an opportunity to grow and in many cases, grow up
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2009
I had a dog once and as delightful and loyal as he was I dare say he wasn't the brightest canine I'd ever known. He'd get excited when I picked up a ball, wait with an intense and almost vicious focus until I threw it and then run after it as though nothing else mattered so much as stopping that ball. When he got to the ball he would posture, stare at it as if he could will it to throw itself again. Stupidly, he would wait for the game to continue by itself. No amount of hand-waving, yelling, training, hypnosis, dog-treats, or rational explanation could get him to understand that all he had to do was bring the ball back home and the game would restart with ease. I lost so many tennis balls that eventually I gave up and began throwing rocks. They had exactly the same effect but cost me considerably less. The dog had effectively redefined the game and though it made no sense to anyone except him, he enjoyed himself. I, on the other hand, did not. I use this analogy to illustrate both the dynamics of "Is Christianity Good for the World" (the game which makes no sense) and the debate style of Douglas Wilson (the dog who redefines it). Christopher Hitchens, plays the role of the ball thrower, though in this case it becomes all to obvious that he's paid to be there. The only difference between my analogy and those used by Wilson in his arguments is that I tried to make my analogy somewhat intelligible.
Arguing with Christopher Hitchens, who is called "one of the top 100 intellectual writers", is a difficult task. He's a heavy-weight who wields an uncanny wit, intellect and unrelenting candidness. Douglas Wilson is a lesser known Christian intellectual. Presumably Christianity Today had reason to think they'd found a formidable opponent in Wilson. I believe if they spent some time scanning YouTube and watching Hitchens tear through the majority of his former religious opponents with an almost embarrassing ease, they may have thought otherwise. Nevertheless, Hitchens sells books, and so on with the show. But is this really a sporting and honest debate or an ill-informed and futile attempt to place Hitchens on the alter of religious sacrifice? Whatever the intent, Hitchens is obviously game for it. It's what he does best.
While the religious debater must argue from faith, which is to say in something for which there is no evidence or tenable foundation, the atheist has a mountain of reason, science and hundreds of years of human inquiry to stand on. The challenge for the atheist debater is to state the facts so as to prevent the opponent from clouding them in the sort of spiritual rhetoric which (understandably) appeals to many audience members. The truth hurts and religion, for many, is a salve which means that this debate will always be passionately argued, if not intelligently.
Hitchens doesn't even bother to bring out the scientific guns (and as he's often admitted himself, that wouldn't be his strongest area). Instead he approaches Wilson with straight-forward reason and placing upon Wilson an impossible burden of proof. As a result, the rebuttals from Wilson are so unusual and obfuscated that Hitchens second retort stands out as little more than a couple of paragraphs which basically say, "I'm sorry, could you please respond again when you've got something meaningful to say".
The only thing that kept me going was the curiosity about how Hitchens would respond to the increasingly nonsensical arguments presented by Wilson. When dropping fresh meat into a shark cage you'd think the results would be predictable - but sadly, they're not. Hitchens doesn't take the bait and instead remains polite, clear but disappointingly pussy-footed. He does his best to restrain the obvious 'crowd pleaser' points - an apparently altruistic act for which he takes credit in his final argument. Both men show an exemplary civility but it could be said that Hitchens is little more than patronizing. The result is two parallel diatribes which never really challenge each other. A very dull debate which adds nothing of significance to the bookshelves.
Though I could have gleaned this by reading the jacket more carefully this debate was hosted by 'Christianity Today'. From the first page of the introduction, Jonah Goldberg makes no secret of his own leanings and oddly presents his bias as though it were somehow relevant to the reader's interest in the debate. There's a clue there. This eyebrow-raising opener serves as the shallow Forward which is an unfortunate harbinger for what's to come.
Christopher Hithens launches into his usual routine - nothing we haven't heard before but clearly and articulately stated with a dash of acerbic wit. Wilson responds from the pulpit in retorts which could only really gain acceptance from an audience of true believers. Many of his points seem to be so deliberately confused as to goad the reader into 'assuming' he must have said something meaningful. I'll be honest - I often found it difficult to tell. Among academics I can only imagine it would inspire awkward glances at watches, and an uncomfortable and palpable dumbfoundedness.
Whether you are Christian, atheist or undecided, this book doesn't really offer anything to anyone. Hitchens book 'God is not Great' is a better and more entertaining read for the Atheist and though I haven't read any, I would guess that Douglas Wilson would be more appealing to the Christian. If you appreciate a sporting debate, as I do, you won't find it here. Wilson is obviously and annoyingly outmatched. Bringing the two together under the guise of 'debate' was an ill-conceived plan not because their opinions are so different but because any intelligent debate must begin with intellectual honesty, a common ground of well-stated argument. There are far more intelligent and inspiring debates between Christians and Atheists in print and on the Internet. Don't waste your money on this one.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2010
Maybe, I misunderstood Wilson. But it seems that Wilson said that morality doesn't exist anywhere except with Christianity. That Confuicious, Buddism, philosophers, etc. have no morality. Man is an animal without Christianity.
I was born in the USA going to Christian camp. I never thought outside of the box until now. By God's ultimatum. By fear and blackmail. That by only converting and accepting him can one avoid hell. Doesn't matter if you live a good life and/or out of reach of Christianity's message. All the people who are out of reach of Christianity's message are condemned and immoral(a bit cruel). And discounts everyone else's effort to respect a higher power regardless if the religions coincide. If one is born in the right country, one is gifted and elite. And obligated to convert others which reminds me of Howard Zinn's point of Christianity and foreign policy in third world countries.
God forgives those who convert. Everyone is a sinner. But one can have immunity. So the end justify the means. Which may tend to promiscuity and cruelty even among fellow Christians. We get a free pass to do what we want. It lowers our expectation level. God is unforgiving by condemning people who are too far away, but then he forgives just about any other sin which seems contradictory. If we are forgiven, what is judgement day about? Wasn't Hitler a Christian all his life including most Germans at the time. I think I remember where I got that, from John Stockwell.
Being the most educated religious culture, we would be the first to examine if our view of God is correct or not? Is it good or not? Religious wars are going on now in the name of God. I don't know why George Bush used the word "crusade" considering it's historical meaning. Are the soldiers of Blackwater predominantly Christian? Some Christians do recognize that the Bible profiles certain curent races. Many will argue that without religion, the world would be better off. I wonder. Al Sharpton said that his life experiences has reinforced his belief in God. My life experiences makes me believe that many unbelievers continue being Christians out of tradition and incentives. I've witnessed fellow Christians misrepresent God to manipulate, con and seperate people. But this is all okay, since God has already forgiven those who have converted to Christianity. When presented with the inconsistencies of the bible, Al Sharpton seemed to confess that he is agnostic.
I used to read Proverbs. It said to honor your father and mother. What about the son who abandoned his father and came back to reap the rewards. What if one's father is performing incest? Is the child supposed to keep it a secret? To some the bible would be a sick joke. The KKK is using bible verses as their basis to segregate. I've witnessed a devout use the bible to seperate two strangers.
I personally still don't know if religion is ultimately good or bad. For myself, I believe that my personal altruistic philosophy and fear of the law makes me a good citizen.
Hitchen reminds me of the scientific method and objectivity. Wilson reminds me of devoutness and faithfulness.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Good, good, good, so good.
Wilson is top-notch and has the upper hand to give the response.
Hitchens is spot-on typical atheist:
1. Remove God from the equation
2. Plug-in Evolution as the new source
In this, the main hard-hitting topic was Morals and Ethics or the source of Morals and Ethics.
Wilson's explanation needs none here. Hitchens' explanation is that there is no source but rather, our morals have evolved.
Classic Romans 1:18-32.
The book is super-short and an awesome introduction to the end-of-an-era Modern Enlightened Atheist and what the Bible has said otherwise. (I must emphasized Modern Enlightened because I don't know what a post-modern atheist looks like or is that label even possible under post-modernism. But I digress.)
Can't recommend this highly enough. Bravo, Wilson. Bravo, Hitchens. (I wish you were still here with us.)