Peter Hitchens tries (and fails) to respond to me about evolution

Peter Hitchens has been promising for a while to respond to my criticism of his views on evolution. His main beef is, to wit, that he considers evolution possible but not strongly supported. To use his words:

I am perfectly prepared to accept the possibility, dispiriting though it would be, that evolution by natural selection might explain the current state of the realm of nature. It is a plausible and elegant possible explanation. I just think the theory lacks any conclusive proof, is open to serious question on scientific grounds, from which it is only protected by a stifling orthodoxy. (This is always expressed by such expressions as ‘overwhelming majority’, as if scientific questions could be settled by a vote or a fashion parade).

(Of course no scientist purports to provide “conclusive proof” about anything, and so Hitchens reveals his profound ignorance of how science works. Evolution is so strongly supported that it would be perverse to reject it, and in that sense it’s a scientific fact.)

In another article, Hitchens said this:

First, what do these two gentlemen think my position is on the theory of evolution by natural selection? I will re-state it, yet again. It is that I am quite prepared to accept that it may be true, though I should personally be sorry if it turned out to be so as, it its implication is plainly atheistical, and if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved. I believe that is its purpose, and that it is silly to pretend otherwise.

Finally, he’s shown considerable sympathy for Intelligent Design (even claiming that it’s not religiously based and subject to unwarranted censorship by both scientists and bookshops):

What I have noticed about the whole Intelligent Design debate – and the thing which first interested me about it – was the way in which it was headed off here before it even got going. Its supporters were generally crudely misrepresented in the British media. What is clear from Expelled [JAC: the movie] is that many of the dissenters from Darwinian orthodoxy are themselves scientists, which conflicts with the idea widely accepted among British observers that ID is embraced mainly by bearded hillbilly patriarchs with bushy beards, shotguns and wild eyes, accompanied by about nine obedient wives dressed in identical ankle-length gingham frocks.

Something that is also missed here is the fact that ID is not identical with Biblical literalism, as is generally claimed by evolution enthusiasts. In fact it doesn’t really set out a coherent theory of the origin of species, or if it has I’ve never seen it. It suggests that there are reasons to believe that some sort of design is, or may be involved in the natural world. It doesn’t specify who or what the designer is.

On three occasions I’ve tried at length, using evidence and quotations, to correct P. Hitchens’s gross ignorance of and misconceptions about evolution, and three times I’ve failed (here, here, and here). Now, after promising one of his commenters, a Mr. Platt, that he’d finally answer me about evolution, P. Hitchens has done so. His reponse is in a new column called “It’s all gone a bit Platt.”  The relevant bit is below: Mr. Platt’s comments are in plain type, while P. Hitchens’s responses are in bold.

Note once again Hitchens’s obsession with bodily fluids, which reminds me a bit of Commander Jack D. Ripper in the movie,”Dr. Strangelove”:

Mr Platt then gets to his real red meat.

I am asked for examples of points he has failed to respond to. Very recently Professor Jerry Coyne rebutted all the nonsense Mr. Hitchens had been posting about evolution, answering in detail all of his concerns about evidence, observations, the ability of the theory to make testable predictions, and so on. This *demands* a response!’

I must repeat here that my alleged ‘nonsense’ consists of saying that the theory of evolution by natural selection may be right. Professor Coyne, so far as I know, never came here to make his points. I tried, once or twice, to engage with him and his little society of admirers at his blog (which, unlike this one, appears to attract an entirely unanimous audience)  . But I received nothing but huffy abuse, and decided not to continue.  As I have said before, I think a basic generosity to opponents is essential in any serious debate.  I felt there was no such generosity there. No moral or other rule obliges me to tangle in discussion with people who despise me. Others have also drawn attention to Professor Coyne’s remarks about me and my late brother.  I have no duty to engage with people who behave in this way.

Mr Platt then shows that his apparent concern for courtesy is in fact nothing of the kind.

He declares : ‘Anyone having their life’s work in science contemptuously dismissed as a mere “cult” is fully entitled to be discourteous ‘.

This is actually wholly ridiculous. Professor Coyne does not personally own the theory of evolution by natural selection (about which I remain agnostic) , nor does he personally own the snide, dismissive, arrogant know-all cult of aggressive modern atheism which has adopted evolution by natural selection as its dogma and subjects any dissenters to heresy hunts .  Both these phenomena have many adherents and many leaders.  Even if he were their very embodiment, there is nothing personally abusive in attacking the ideas expressed by someone else. I have no knowledge of, and have never made any reference to,  Professor Coyne’s personal character nor to his family.  I assume that he is an intelligent, informed person.  I do not seek a quarrel of any kind with him.  I believe that he genuinely believes the theory he espouses to be true. I concede that he may be right.  But I do not think he (or anyone else) has established with certainty that it is demonstrably so.

What on earth is one to do about a person who goes out of his way to seek an argument with someone he has never met, and who has never voluntarily sought any contact with him, who concedes that he may be right? And how is one to respond if this mysterious uninvited , unprovoked assailant conducts his attack with bad-tempered scorn dripping from his every phrase?  In my case, it is as if an angry person,  of whom I know nothing , plants himself in the street in front of me and commences to lecture me crossly on my (undoubted) faults, saliva flying in all directions.  Here is what I do. I turn away.  I cross the street, and hope he does not follow me.

I would say that I did try, to begin with, to respond reasonably and peaceably, to what was being shouted at me. But the shouting simply intensified ( as it always does, whenever I discuss this subject, which is why I no longer do so, ever, and will not again) . So, as I say, I crossed the street.

How can I respond to such a non-response?

What characterizes P. Hitchens’s piece, beyond the usual poor writing, is its complete failure to engage the substantive arguments I made about evolution: the evidence for it, the proof that Intelligent Design has religious roots and is simply creationism in disguise, the dismissal of his example of Piltdown Man as showing the perfidies of science, the notion of scientific “truth” versus “proof”, and so on. Rather, the man rambles on about bodily fluids, his brother, and continues to claim (disingenously, so I think) that he’s perfeclty willing to consider evolution as true—though he apparently hasn’t seen convincing evidence.

Peter Hitchens has been singing the “I’m-willing-to-be-convinced” song for three years, and hasn’t yet bothered to acquaint himself with the evidence. Given that, he has no right to be offended by my tone. I suggest that he read my book, and then if he still finds himself unconvinced, he needs to tell us why. The fact is that the man simply doesn’t want to do his homework, probably because of his fear that he would find, as his brother well knew, that evolution is a solidly established scientific fact.

This is a man who is willfully ignorant. He fears that evolution will dispel his faith, and so he doesn’t want to go near Darwin. Evolution, after all, is plainly “atheistical.”

As for why I engaged him on my website when I’d never met him, it’s simple: he made statements, in a public forum, that were not only unscientific but antiscientific. He showed unwarranted favor toward the discredited idea of Intelligent Design, made fun of scientists for the Piltdown Man episode (a hoax uncovered by scientists), and claimed again and again that he saw no convincing evidence for evolution. In short, his willful ignorance, disseminated through the disreputable but widely read Daily Mail, is harmful to the public understanding of science.  There’s no reason for me to meet him, or to engage him on his blog, to call him out for his ignorance.

When a man has no substantive arguments, he harps on tone. That’s exactly what you see in the “response” above.

Do me a favor, Mr. Hitchens, and read my book. It’s time for you to stop saying that you’re prepared to accept evolution and actually learn something about it. Although you clearly dislike being compared to your brother, at least he had the genes for trying to learn.

h/t: Tom

133 Comments

  1. Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    “Do me a favor, Mr. Hitchens, and read my book. It’s time for you to stop saying that you’re prepared to accept evolution and actually learn something about it. Although you clearly dislike being compared to your brother, at least he had the genes for trying to learn.”

    I’ll offer to purchase the book for him…

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      For me, one of life’s most valuable pleasures is learning and understanding more about reality.I hope Peter Hitchens is open minded enough to read it- for his own sake.
      Trouble is, he may not interpret what he reads correctly. Even if he did, he may likely continue to deny that ID is creationism. He is a poor man’s Thomas Nagel… at best mislead by faith and unwilling to recognize he is ignorant of current scientific knowledge… and I’m not limiting that to biology and evolution.

      • Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        Sorry. I meant to say he is aspiring to be a poor man’s Thomas Nagel. He will never achieve that at his rate.

        • lanceleuven
          Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

          “I hope Peter Hitchens is open minded enough to read it- for his own sake.”

          To be honest I imagine that if he was open-minded enough to read it then he wouldn’t need to. He would have already used his open-mindedness to investigate the subject. And he would therefore have recognised its obvious truth. The fact that he is still here maintaining such untenable positions suggests that his mind was closed a long time ago.

          What was it that House said? “If you could reason with religious people then there would be no religious people.” Something like that…

          • Roux Brownwell
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

            There is probably a standing head somewhere of the following form:
            “Scientists today announced [blah blah blah]”
            “[Blah blah blah]: Further proof of the existence of a benevolent creator!”

  2. Alexandra M
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    …the snide, dismissive, arrogant know-all cult of aggressive modern atheism which has adopted the heliocentric theory as its dogma and subjects any dissenters to heresy hunts…

    How come they never talk about that?

  3. Sunny
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I think it is time to ignore the man.

  4. Kevin
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Hey, Peter. Do you know who says that humans evolved from ape ancestors? Guess. Go on. Guess.

    Michael Behe.

    Yes, the star expert witness for “intelligent design” at the Dover trial in the US.

    For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world.

    And

    For example, both humans and chimps have a broken copy of a gene that in other mammals helps make vitamin C. … It’s hard to imagine how there could be stronger evidence for common ancestry of chimps and humans. … Despite some remaining puzzles, there’s no reason to doubt that Darwin had this point right, that all creatures on earth are biological relatives.

    and

    …it’s understandable that some people find the idea of common descent so astonishing that they look no further. Yet in a very strong sense the explanation of common descent is also trivial.

    Michael freaking Behe says you’re wrong, Peter.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      The point being, you can read “Darwin’s Black Box” and learn about evolutionary theory.

      Let’s be clear, though. Behe’s contention that there are “irreducibly complex” things is a pantload. In fact, the evolutionary heritage of the bacterial flagellum was deduced before Behe got his PhD. So, in a very real sense, Behe was wrong even before he started.

      But don’t let that little problem deter you from learning something from a devout Catholic.

      Or you could try Kenneth Miller. Who was Behe’s counterpart expert witness at the Dover trial for the plaintiffs.

      Miller wrote a book called “Finding Darwin’s God”. Now, there are problems with Miller’s work as well…he thinks evolution worked by some sort of godly tweaking to arrive at humans. That little bit is a load of nonsense.

      But you won’t catch Ken Miller denying common descent.

      Both Behe and Miller are devout Catholics.

      In fact, read “Darwin’s Black Box” first, and then Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” and then “Why Evolution is True”.

      And then try to maintain any credibility whatsoever in doubting evolution.

  5. Tulse
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I should personally be sorry if it turned out to be so as, it its implication is plainly atheistical, and if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved

    That’s quite a concession, and seemingly deadly for his theism given that evolution is, in fact, true. His position seems no different than that of fundamentalists.

    • jimroberts
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Your quote from PHitchens reminds me of the reputed quote from the wife of the Bishop of Worcester: “My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but if it is,
      let us pray that it will not become generally known.”

  6. Yiam Cross
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    What else is there to do when faced with an all emotional outburst of what can only be described as untruth except perform a massive face palm?

    Saddest of all is how this bigoted ignoramus who is almost defined by a complete lack of writing talent or journalistic ability can be published for no other reason than his name is Hitchens. Talk about riding on the coat tails of the great, what a sad indictment of our press and society that he continues to get away with it.

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      It is ridiculous and insulting to insinuate that Peter Hitchens has somehow achieved his position by ‘riding on the coat tails’ of his elder brother. The fact that many readers under 30 (myself included) only became aware of Peter because of Christopher does not mean Peter only shot to success because of Christopher.

      Peter had a long and successful career long before his brother became Atheism’s poster boy.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Long, maybe …

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        It is ridiculous and insulting…
        .
        Ridiculous? I don’t think so. The man’s lack of talent is amply evidenced.
        Insulting? Yes. Sometimes insults are deserved.

  7. Chuck O'Connor
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The most annoying thing about his response, now that he is grilled to engage in the substance of his argument, is his pretense to timidity, after his arrogance in dismissing evolutionary theory.

    It is the common passive ploy after a religionist’s aggressiveness has been pointed out as ignorant over-reach.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Please give a name to this strategy so we can refer to it in the future.

      • Chuck O'Connor
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        The persecuted passive-aggressive two-step.

        • Greg Esres
          Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          PPATS, got it.

          • Chuck O'Connor
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Euphemistically, it can be considered “The Pissy Pants Defense”.

  8. Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The “it would simply ruin my day” argument does not count as a form of disruptive selection, but it may lead directly to geographic isolation when it comes to intellectual riposte.

    Poor Peter.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      I think this is an excellent excuse. Think of all the things we could be extra-skeptical of because it would ruin our day. We may have just solved all the worlds problems.

  9. Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I agree with you JC.

    1. We see the burden shifting fallacy “conclusive proof”

    Frankly, we don’t have ‘conclusive proof’ cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, just high highly correlative numbers. But I bet he doesn’t dispute that as it doesn’t offend is religious beliefs.

    That’s the thing with evolution deniers, they demand a different/unattainable logic standard for ONLY this ‘theory’.

    2. Then we have the classic understatement/damning-with-faint-praise..
    “evolution might be true’.
    Inferring he’s reasonable but EVIDENCE for evolution is overwhelming.

    The most common piece of disingenuity by creationists is demanding proof Instead of accepting evidence.
    Overwhelminmg Evidence.

    Sciam: “15 answers to creationist nonsense”
    John Rennie, June 2002.

    1. 1. Evolution is ‘only’ a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

    “…No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution — or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter — they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

    In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the Fact of evolution.”…”

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      …they demand a different/unattainable logic standard for ONLY this ‘theory’.

      Oh yeah, most evolution deniers in the US happily accept people being given lethal injections on the basis of far poorer evidence.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      For biological life, we can as well declare it a law – it is the generic process (with many mechanisms) that all life, extinct or extant, can be observed participate in – akin to cellular metabolism.

      And given its properties, differential reproduction, it is a huge likelihood life elsewhere participate in it too. Static populations wouldn’t stand a chance from a changing environment, including coevolution of competitors.

      So it is Darwin’s Theory, Darwin’s Law, Darwin’s process, Darwin’s Observation, Darwin’s Fact, Darwin’s Constraint, and on and on.

  10. Greg Esres
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “This is a man who is willfully ignorant.”

    I like the term “Invincible Ignorance”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invincible_ignorance_fallacy

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      A new logic fallacy to me, and a great one to know about. How delicious that the term comes from Catholic theology!

  11. Jim Jones
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    “Never argue with an idiot. He’ll drag you down to his level and beat you with his vast experience”.

  12. Alex Shuffell
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    How to argue like a theist:

    1)Express a willingness to learn and ask some questions (mostly rhetorical).

    2)Ignore answers received, while focusing only on perceived insults. At this point you may want to claim persecution, any questioning of faith is persecution.

    3)You may be asked some questions, but you don’t have to answer these, you know you are correct. You can distract your opponent by repeating step 2.

    4)Ask the same questions as before, you may want to rephrase. You can ignore the previous answers given because they disagree with what you know, or are too complicated.

    5)Repeat.

  13. Markus Koebler
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Is he ever lucky to carry the Hitchens name! Under every other name he would remain in his well-deserved obscurity.

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Sad to say this is a product of sloppy thinking on your part. Conduct even cursory research and you will realize that Peter Hitchens has had a fairy long and distinguished career independent of his brother.

      The reality is that the two brothers speak to pretty different constituencies with relatively little cross over.

      I’m a big fan of both but I think I am most likely in a tiny minority – I enjoyed Christopher’s writing before he published ‘God is Not Great’ – that book actually pushed me from atheism to Christianity at which point I cam across Peter whose writing I very much enjoy.

      The writing of both is clear, unsparing and leaves no hypocrisy unpunished.

      • DV
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Really?? God is not Great pushed you from atheism to Christianity? Let me get this straight – having read a clear exposition on the vacuousness and illogic and danger of religion, you decided it’s time to stop disbelieving the unbelievable and actually delude yourself in a particular direction – that among all the possible Gods, Jesus is it?

        • Chuck O'Connor
          Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          I want to hear the process he experienced in reading God is not Great and accepting Christianity. I can’t imagine how one would.

        • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          I think pushed me from Atheism to Christianity was a bit strong in that it suggests God is Not Great effected the whole transformation. It would be more accurate to state that God is Not Great initiated the change.

          In reading God Is Not Great and later the God Delusion I was presented with a vision of Christianity and religious practice that in no way tied to my own encounters with Christianity and Christians in the past. I went back to the Bible in the first instance to try and confirm the version of Christianity I was seeing presented both in the works of new Atheists and on sites such as the Richard Dawkins Foundation. That exploration of Christianity eventually led me to faith.

          I credit Hitchens and Dawkins with my conversion because in all honesty if they had never published their books I probably never would have questioned my own views about Christianity.

          • Chuck O'Connor
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

            What Christianity did you choose? Did you have a denominational commitment prior to reading the Bible to aid your interpretation of it?

            • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

              I am English but live in America and I am now attending an Episcopalian (Anglican) church.

              Prior to converting I had had some exposure to c of e. We attended for about 3 months when I was a kid and we had moved to the village I grew up in but my mum didn’t take to it and my father is an atheist.

              I would say however that I was culturally protestant as I believe anyone reasonably broadly educated in England must be – by this I mean that I had certainly been soaked in the protestant literature, political and social theory from an early age.

              I had never previously been attracted by faith because I had always seen it presented as ‘beardy man in the sky created world and told of beardy men what to tell us to do’. This did not appeal to me in the slightest.

              When I looked into Christianity as an adult however I was presented with a different proposition.

              Christ lived
              Christ was crucified
              Christ was resurrected

              The evidence for these three propositions is provided by the testimony of the gospel writers and is also evidenced by the history of the early church.

              The evidence is certainly not water tight, ultimately this is a question of faith but as I looked into the issue I became convinced.

              I would say that my choice of Anglicanism is undoubtedly influenced strongly by my nationality, I honestly don’t think that this had much impact on my choice to become a Christian though. Nearly all of my friends and family are atheist, that is definitely the default position for my circle.

              Apologies for the long reply, perhaps too much information.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                The evidence for these three propositions is provided by the testimony of the gospel writers and is also evidenced by the history of the early church.

                So on the basis of second-hand accounts written decades after the events they describe supposedly took place, you believe a decomposing three-day-old human corpse came back to life and “ascended into Heaven.” Sorry, but your “evidence” is laughable.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                I would acknowledge that there is no ‘water tight evidence’ however if it appears laughable to you it has rather more to do with my poor presentation of the evidence than with the evidence itself.

                In addition to the gospels though we have the history of the early church to consider. Specifically Its rapid growth amongst a people that were present and bore witness. As well as the willingness of those early church leaders including Jesus’ own brother James to suffer death for proclaiming the gospel.

                My lunch break just finished so I wont be able to respond as quickly to any subsequent messages.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

                “Christ was resurrected”

                So on ancient testimony alone, you accept this fantastically improbable claim. That means that your bar for accepting the validity of claims is not just low, it’s subterranean. Virtually any religious claim based on testimony then should meet with your approval.

                If that is your criterion for acceptance, then the better question is what WOULDN’T you accept as true. I fail to see why you wouldn’t believe that Muhammad rode a winged horse to heaven, for instance.

                “Then he [Gabriel] brought the Buraq, handsome-faced and bridled, a tall, white beast, bigger than the donkey but smaller than the mule. He could place his hooves at the farthest boundary of his gaze. He had long ears. Whenever he faced a mountain his hind legs would extend, and whenever he went downhill his front legs would extend. He had two wings on his thighs which lent strength to his legs. He bucked when Muhammad came to mount him. The angel Jibril (Gabriel) put his hand on his mane and said: “Are you not ashamed, O Buraq? By Allah, no-one has ridden you in all creation more dear to Allah than he is.” Hearing this he was so ashamed that he sweated until he became soaked, and he stood still so that the Prophet mounted him.”

                It is ancient, it is testimony, it is written down in holy books, and it is believed by millions of faithful people. Clearly it meets all of your criteria for acceptance as true.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Unlike Mohammed Jesus lived and died in accordance with preexisting prophesy.

              • Kevin
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                BZZZT. Wrong.

                The PROPHET Mohammed lived and died according to prophecy.

                Get it? PROPHET.

                Man, you’re dense.

                And of all the religions available, you chose Church of England? The one started by Henry VIII? Six wives Henry VIII? That’s the “One True Religion”?

                HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                Being a prophet means you give prophesies. It does not mean that your life has been prophesised.

                I would describe myself as a protestant – this is a form of Christianity that predates Henry VIII. To be completely honest though denominations disagree about the implications of Christs death and resurrection not the core fact of his death and resurrection.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

                Prophecies could either be written after the fact, or “biographies” of people can be mutilated after the fact to fit with the prophecy. Did that no cross your mind? Aren’t those the more likely explanations?

                Also, Islam has plenty of claims that Muhammad fulfilled prophecy. As do many other religions. Why don’t you take those seriously?

                Finally, fulfillment of prophecies sort of puts a wrench in the whole free will idea, does it not? By your lights, history could not have unfolded any other way – it would have been impossible for the prophecies not to be fulfilled once they are uttered.

                Sorry, you just sound like someone who has always been hamstrung with a particular faith tradition (among many) and doesn’t have a critical thinking bone in his/her body. Your claims that you were an atheist seem disingenuous.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                Hi Blitz

                I’ve attempted to be pretty open and honest in my comments and open about my background. I’m therefore disappointed that our discussion has descended so quickly to the level of ad hominem.

                There is not really anything I can do to prove to you my atheist credentials. I brought up my conversion experience purely to demonstrate that it is possible to appreciate the writing of both Christopher and Peter Hitchens. OK, if I’m honest I was also being a little mischievous and testing the waters to see if this site was as rabidly anti-theism as Peter Hitchens makes out.

                In terms of prophesy being re-written. In the case of Christ it is hard to understand how Christians could have re-written the Torah without the Jewish people noticing.

              • Reginald Selkirk
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                Unlike Mohammed Jesus lived and died in accordance with preexisting prophesy.
                .
                I am not prepared to comment on the existence of Mohammed, but the evidence that Jesus H. Christ actually lived is surprisingly slim, to the point of nonexistence.
                As for the pre-existing prophesy bit, I recommend to you “The Age of Reason: Examination of the Prophecies” by Thomas Paine. ISBN-13: 978-0910309707. Writing over 200 years ago, Paine explored the alleged Old Testament prophecies allegedly fulfilled in the New Testament. He found them severely wanting.
                BTW, which genealogy for Jesus’ foster father Joseph do you accept, that in Matthew 1:1-17, or that in Luke 3:23-38? Does it not occur to you that perhaps the writers completely fabricated the genealogies in order to claim fulfillment of an alleged prophecy that the Messiah would come from the House of David?

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                I hadnt read the Paine book, I’ll download it now many thanks for the recommendation.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                I would acknowledge that there is no ‘water tight evidence’ however if it appears laughable to you it has rather more to do with my poor presentation of the evidence than with the evidence itself.

                I’m not sure what presentation you think could possibly make your claimed evidence anything more than laughable. The resurrection of a 3-day-old human corpse violates numerous scientific laws and principles, and there has never been a single authenticated case. And yet you assert that belief in such a wildly implausible claim is justified on the basis of second-hand, decades-old accounts from 2,000 years ago.

                In addition to the gospels though we have the history of the early church to consider. Specifically Its rapid growth amongst a people that were present and bore witness. As well as the willingness of those early church leaders including Jesus’ own brother James to suffer death for proclaiming the gospel.

                How is the rapid early growth of a religion evidence that its claims are true, especially claims that violate scientific knowledge and common sense? Numerous religions have grown very rapidly. More recent examples of rapidly-growing religions are Mormonism and Scientology. Do you seriously think this growth is persuasive evidence that the claims of these religions are true?

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                The growth of mormonism I think presents a more serious challenge because there is certainly a cost associated with becoming mormon and in the past mormons have faced persecution almost as severe as the early Christians.

                Scientology is not really relevant. It is actually a tiny faith and much of its popularity derives from factors outside of its faith claims – which are hidden from members. It has more in common with ancient mystery cults in which members expect to derive benefits from joining.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                As for the question of whether I regard rapid growth as evidence of a religions validity.

                On its own? No.

                However I do think the rapid growth of Christianity in and around Jerusalem in the years following Jesus’ death is evidence well worth considering in support of the notion that something significant happened.

                The early converts were in a position of having had first or second hand contact with Jesus and would have been unlikely to put themselves through such severe persecution if he was a completely made up figure, if he had not been crucified, if the tomb had not been empty.

              • Chuck O'Connor
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for the answer. I wish you well on your journey but hope you continue to interrogate the claims you assert as true. I’d suggest, if you interested in putting your religious conviction to the test, reading the work of Bart Ehrman. You will possibly find that the simple facts of Christianity are more complicated due to the religion’s history. Or at least, I hope you choose a version of Christianity that doesn’t keep you from succeeding in the real world.

                Lastly, how do you know that consubstantiation is more valid than transubstantiation and why?

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Which Bart Ehrman book would you recommend as a starting point?

                Vis a Vis Transubstantiation vs Consubstantiation – I don’t hold a firm position on this issue. I consider myself culturally protestant and hence have chosen an Anglican church. My current view is that denomination has more to do with the implications of Christs resurrection than the fact of it.

                At this stage I am more interested in testing the foundations of faith than in diving into issues of doctrine.

                This is absolutely a cop out answer.

              • Gary W
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                Timothy,

                Again, your claim here simply is not remotely plausible. On the basis of evidence that would be laughed out of a courtroom or scientific journal, you believe a rotting human corpse came back to life, in clear violation of science and reason.

                Why isn’t it far more likely that the supposed eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were simply lying or mistaken about what they saw, or claimed to have seen? Or that the people who wrote the gospels were lying or mistaken?

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

                The whole new testament could be an elaborate hoax, however it is difficult to understand exactly what the NT writers and early church fathers would stand to gain from this hoax.

                I agree once again that the evidence is not water tight, ultimately it is a question of faith and it falls on each of us to weigh the evidence for ourselves.

              • Reginald Selkirk
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                A more modern perspective:
                Prophecies for dummies
                by Allan Glenn (aka WinAce)(Praise to his memory)

                “This guide, Prophecy for Dummies, is a simple, concise and effective resource for jump-starting your religion, gaining or adding to your mythical reputation, obtaining additional followers, and many other worthwhile goals. It lists all of the major ways that preternatural knowledge of future events can be obtained in a detailed and easily understood fashion. No longer will you need a lengthy and exhausting initiation into a mystery religion or years of apprenticeship under a veteran Prophet. Many have found going out on their own a liberating and rewarding experience; with thorough knowledge of the ways of the Prophet, and hopefully a bit of luck, so will you…”

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

                “Unlike Mohammed Jesus lived and died in accordance with preexisting prophesy.”

                Which is Reason # 244,788 why the idea that he is not purely a myth is preposterous.

                Unless, of course, you believe that the Jews who wrote the Ascension of Isaiah were divinely inspired as well? The miracles – they just keep piling up!

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

                Gary W said:

                So on the basis of second-hand accounts written decades after the events they describe supposedly took place, you believe a decomposing three-day-old human corpse came back to life and “ascended into Heaven.” Sorry, but your “evidence” is laughable.

                Well said. I wonder how Mr Salle differentiates between his favorite mythology and the zillions of others floating around. After all, each of them has exactly the same amount of evidence.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

                “I am not prepared to comment on the existence of Mohammed”.

                I’ve made a cursory study (eg Wikipedia), and no religious founder before the Enlightenment seems to be a certified historical person. (And afterwards, likely because the printing presses makes the historicity easy, they are first known as scam artists before they become religious scam artists.) The first written evidence always surface generations after and many travel months away.

                “Muhammad” happens to be the easiest to reveal of these hoaxes: the area was illiterate at the time. There are travelers that claim to have heard of militant prophets a generation or so after and write about it after meeting people traveling the core area, but none can be conclusively tied to a “Muhammad” even if islamists so wants. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrina_Jacobi_nuper_baptizati ; non-named “prophet”, not agreeing with tradition.]

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:00 am | Permalink

                “it is difficult to understand exactly what the NT writers and early church fathers would stand to gain from this hoax.”

                [facepalm] They would gain a religion, especially as it is shored up by “facts”.

                Or are you especially motivated to not see their motivation? (Note: rhetorical question.)

                In any case, historical persons need historical evidence, eg collaborating texts or other artifacts that are tied to a person in a neutral (i.e. not self-gratifying) fashion.

          • DV
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            So before all this, you were an atheist? Why were you an atheist – why did you disbelieve in the Gods of religions at that point?

            And after this, you believe that Jesus is God? What exactly is it about the Bible that is convincing? And have you tried reading the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita or any other text of other religions?

            • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              I was an atheist because I saw no evidence for the existence of a God or Gods. At the time I also viewed the established Church as a force for repression.

              What about the Bible is convincing?

              Jesus. His life, death and resurrection in fulfillment of prophesy.

              I had looked at the Koran and also Buddhism. I also spent a fair amount of time looking at ancient myths and religious beliefs.

              What distinguishes Christianity?

              1) The new testament is an earnest attempt to provide accurate testimony as to the events surrounding Jesus – going to great length to be specific in terms of timing, location and the people involved

              2) Jesus’ sacrifice was not only predicted by him and others in his circle but fulfilled old testament prophesy

              3) The growth of the early church and the conviction of the early church leaders

              • Kevin
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                You do realize that those “predictions” were written down decades after the fact. Perhaps as long as a century after, right?

                You can insert whatever details you want into a fictional account. Especially when no one is alive to contradict your story.

                This is absolutely true: Emperor Hirohito predicted the A bomb would land on Hiroshima at the precise day and time that it did. He saw a “blinding light” in a dream and woke up extremely frightened.

                Disprove that.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                The point about prophesies being added is an interesting one however the old testament prophesies concerning Jesus predate his life and have been maintained not only in the Christian tradition but also in the Jewish tradition. I don’t see why Jews would choose to edit prophesy after the fact to make the case for Christ more compelling.

              • Reginald Selkirk
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                What Thomas Paine found, in the aforementioned book: Many of the alleged prophesies were not really prophesies about Jesus at all.
                .
                Consider the virgin birth, allegedly prophesied in Isaiah 7. Dawkins has covered this material in TGD, so I know you’ve seen it before. There is a prediction that a young woman will bear a child, and he shall be called Immanuel.

                1) This was mistranslated into Greek as a “virgin” in the Septaguint.

                2) Jesus of Nazareth was never called
                “Immanuel.” Beyond the repetition of the alleged prophecy in Matt 1:23, the name “Emmanuel” never appears again in the NT.

                3) The prediction was set not for a future time, but is fulfilled in Isaiah, where the child is supposed to bring about a military victory.

                4) The victory predicted in Isaiah 7 failed to materialise.

                Paine goes through the alleged predictions one by one. He reads the text of the OT to find out what, if anything, was actually predicted.

                In a few cases, there is actually no OT prediction to match what is claimed in the NT.

                This link has some of the text of Examination of the Prophecies, including the virgin birth ‘prophesy’ summarised above.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                Okay, timothy, that’s enough religious posting for now. You are dominating this thread with over a dozen comments, and I think that’s enough on this post. And your evidence for Jesus is completely unconvincing, as it’s all from one source–the Bible–which contains many other thing known not to be true.

              • Reginald Selkirk
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                Another example from Thomas Paine:

                “John makes Jesus to say (v, 46), “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me.” The book of the Acts, in speaking of Jesus, says (iii, 22), “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord, your God, raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.”

                This passage is in Deuteronomy, xviii, 15. They apply it as a prophecy of Jesus. What imposition! The person spoken of in Deuteronomy, and also in Numbers, where the same person is spoken of, is Joshua, the minister of Moses, and his immediate successor, and just such another Robespierrean character as Moses is represented to have been. The case, as related in those books, is as follows:…”

              • Reginald Selkirk
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                Yet another example from Thomas Paine:

                “Mark begins his book by a passage which he puts in the shape of a prophecy. Mark i, 1,2. – “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: As it is written in the prophets, Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” (Malachi iii,1)

                The passage in the original is in the first person. Mark makes this passage to be a prophecy of John the Baptist, said by the Church to be a forerunner of Jesus Christ. But if we attend to the verses that follow this expression, as it stands in Malachi, and to the first and fifth verses of the next chapter, we shall see that this application of it is erroneous and false.

                “Behold,” says he, (iv, 1), “the day cometh that shall burn like an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day cometh that shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Verse 5: “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” By what right, or by what imposition or ignorance Mark has made Elijah into John the Baptist, and Malachi’s description of the day of judgment into the birthday of Christ, I leave to the Bishop [of Llandaff] to settle.”

                Paine goes on like this, methodically, example by example. I shan’t reproduce the entire document here.

              • Sines
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                Oh, come on Jerry, let him be. He’s being polite, and bringing some back and forth debate here.

                The arguments are nothing we’ve heard before, and are hardly compelling, but the most harm he’s doing is getting some other people to post not-completely-civil responses.

                If people don’t like it, they can easily ignore it. More so than your posts about boots, which make the front page 😀

              • Tulse
                Posted April 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

                The new testament is an earnest attempt to provide accurate testimony as to the events surrounding Jesus – going to great length to be specific in terms of timing, location and the people involved

                The gospels may be “earnest”, but they don’t at all agree on “timing, location, and people involved”. Just look at the accounts of the alleged resurrection of Jesus, which differ in terms of the “people involved” across the gospels.

              • DV
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

                Claims of miracles and prophecies are a dime a dozen. I would say your bar for evidence is very low, but it doesn’t even occur to you that it is very low only for a particular religion. The myths around Mohammed and Gautama and Kim Jung-il and Joseph Smith have just as much evidence as Jesus’ (which is to say, zero).

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                To claim we have no evidence for any religion is clearly false and betrays a lack of real research or serious consideration of the issue.

                You might reasonably claim that there is not sufficient evidence in your judgement.

                As for why Christianity – I found the combination of prophetic fulfillment, gospel testimony and subsequent history of the early church to be compelling. No other religion I’ve come across is able to demonstrate the same range of evidence.

              • Chuck O'Connor
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Timothy,

                Evidence by itself is not the judge of a things probable veridicality. It is the quality of that evidence. Your claims to prophetic actualization have been challenged here yet you haven’t answered them. You simply assert your feelings. You are allowed your subjective experience but that isn’t enough to make a case. Also, you admitted to me that issues of doctrine don’t matter to you. You instead are looking to enjoy an existential experience within the Church of England. If you are not willing to place the historical assertions you claim within a systematic theology then why do you assume that we should take your claims to Christianity’s historicity as anything other than wishful thinking? You also cited NT Wright as a source for your historicity thesis but even Wright admits that the person of Christ is confused within the New Testament between the Pauline spirit self and the bodily flesh described in Luke and Matthew. Your own source calls into question the hygiene of your primary data set but you continue to make claims to its perfection.

                Read the Ehrman I recommended before posting on the certainty of your claims or at least have the guts to live out the implications of those claims by getting to know, and have an opinion, on the theology you claim to be true.

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                Thanks for your detailed comments.

                I am not attempting to offer a detailed apologia for my faith.

                The point I was initially trying to make was simply that it is possible for the same person to enjoy the works of both Christopher and Peter Hitchens. By way of explanation I mentioned the fact that though a long standing fan of Christopher, God Is Not Great prompted me to question some of the assumptions I held about Christianity and started me on a path that led to my conversion.

                In a spirit of honest and open discussion I then responded to some questions about that conversion…namely what factors convinced me.

                I explained that I was convinced by a combination of 3 factors.

                1) The prophecies concerning the messiah in the OT

                2) The evidence of the gospels which appear to be an earnest attempt at documenting events

                3) The history of the early church

                I do not believe this evidence is water tight or necessarily compelling but this evidence has been sufficient for me.

                I am aware of and actively exploring issues surrounding this evidence and would not consider myself qualified to offer a detailed defense in the face of these issues. Nor do I think this thread is necessarily the venue for such a discussion.

                I appreciate the reading recommendations particularly the Paine work and the Ehrman piece. I have started in on the Ehrman although I must admit I am so far a little concerned he seems to be addressing people who believe the bible to be literal and infallible.

                I have been a little disappointed by the hostile and aggressive tone some people seem to take – being called a liar, dishonest, idiot etc is far from pleasant and I don’t think any of my conduct on the site has justified such treatment.

              • Tulse
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                The evidence of the gospels which appear to be an earnest attempt at documenting events

                What benefit is “earnest” evidence if it is a) hearsay and b) internally contradictory?

          • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

            How did you get around the fact that faith and revelation are not valid forms obtaining facts about reality? At best, they might be accidentally correct.

            I can’t see how you would not only accept faith as a valid way of getting data, but also pick a particular faith out of many.

          • Gary W
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            That exploration of Christianity eventually led me to faith.

            So what is it exactly that you discovered in your exploration that caused you to become a Christian?

          • Kevin
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            Ah. A liar for Jesus has appeared on the scene. This should be entertaining.

            • Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

              The Gospel account is clearly twisted in the then-current Rabbinical tradition. The virgin birth to (one disputed translation of) Isaiah, the Massacre of the Innocents (if true, there surely would be other records of it) to “Rachel weeping for her children”, and the manger story to a literal meaning imposed on “The ox knows its master, and ass its master’s crib”, which is obviously poetic in its context in Isaiah.

            • Chuck O'Connor
              Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

              He does seem to be less than honest and, by his own admission, says he has been “mischievous” (whatever that means).

              The thing that he doesn’t get is how unexamined and common his conclusions are. I held the same positions due to the emotional benefit they provided via acceptance in a church but, when I pressure tested them with a touch of rigor, they fell apart.

              He acts as if he has never once considered the arguments against his (rather thin) assertions to the historicity of the Gospel. Any atheist honestly struggling with the question of religious truth would.

              • Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                And I thought we were getting a long so well.

                I am eager to challenge my own views as to the historicity of the bible and read more decent work on the topic, what I want to avoid is falsely giving the impression I am an expert on the topic, I’m not – I am currently earnestly engaging in my own study of the topic.

                NT Wright was the author and speaker I found compelling on this topic and I’d recommend him as a starting point for more information on the historicity of Jesus.

              • DV
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                Historicity is one thing. Divinity is another. Mohammed, Kim Jung-il, and Joseph Smith are much much more historical than Jesus. Doesn’t mean any of these men are Gods or God-sent.

                As a “former” atheist you must surely be familiar with these:
                Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Keep an open mind but don’t let your brain fall out.

          • Chuck O'Connor
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:44 am | Permalink

            Why are you disappointed with Ehrman’s thesis? It is the same as yours. You claim to three historical facts that can only be found if one considers the bible as journalistic. The basis of your faith is derived from a literalist reading of the bible.

            If you don’t take the bible as literal then what data set are you using to summarize the three realities you claim have hold on your faith commitment? No historical contemporary documents exist to verify any of the New Testament points of view. Honest scholarship sees the text to be post-hoc in the extreme and more of “just so” stories, rather than anything that admits the standards of historicity you give it.

            You are making a positive truth claim in identifying as a Christian. If you feel offended by pointed criticism of this claim then you need to do more thinking on the claim you are making. Many people here have had to suffer ignorant public policy derived from the certainty of those calling themselves Christian. We don’t see the title as something good. We see it as a threat to honest scholarship and intellectual rigor. Your admission that your argument is weak yet your confidence in claiming your Christian identity is the kind of epistemic softness that is a social threat. If you admit that your case is not “water-tight” then why claim Christianity as the ultimate truth? Why not remain agnostic until you can be more honestly certain. You are accepting an ideology that is totalizing but admit that you do so on something other than a case you find intellectually convincing. What other area of your life would you adopt a personal identity with similar doubts to the truth of the ideology framing that identity?

      • Chuck O'Connor
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Timothy read Misquoting Jesus and Interrupting Jesus by Ehrman. I hope they will challenge your implied premises of the wholeness of scripture and the harmony of early Christianity.

        • Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          I’ve just picked up the Kindle edition and look forward to reading it.

          This is certainly a powerful line of attack, much stronger imho than almost any other point of criticism.

          • Chuck O'Connor
            Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            I am not offering any line of attack. I don’t play that apologist or debate team game. The works I suggest are good and honest scholarship. If you are serious about understanding the truth claims you’ve asserted then you should find them worthwhile.

  14. Fastlane
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Although you clearly dislike being compared to your brother, at least he had the genes for trying to learn.

    If I were such a poor shadow of my brother, I would hate being reminded of it repeatedly too. Doesn’t make the comparisons less accurate, though.

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      When comparing Christopher and Peter, it’s as if someone was baking two cakes from mostly the same ingredients. One turned out near perfect – the other not so much.

  15. Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Please retrieve Clarence Wiley, Jr.’s sonnet, “Paradox”- the first line …. “Not truth nor certainty” …. in science, we only seek the best aleatoric approximations of the actualities that surround us and eventually, in the space-time-matter-energy continuum, ease us into eternity-oblivion. We do not attempt to “prove” anything /// merely quest to create coherent narratives based on common sense and common sensing. I deem this quest to be the most democratic and humane activity we can be involved with/in. D. Reid Wisemen

  16. TJR
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Priceless PHitch line from the second bear article:

    “In both cases a rather ossified faith come up against an enquiring mind, and the enquiring mind was compelled to conform, by ossified faith. Which side are you on in such conflicts? I am always on the same one.”

    Dammit, we need military grade, hardened irony meters.

  17. John Harshman
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think there’s a problem in your argument with Hitchens(quite aside from the fact that it’s a non-argument when one of the participants has his fingers wedged in his ears). Hitchens says “evolution by natural selection” and you say “evolution” as if those are the same thing. I don’t know what Hitchens’ views on evolution are; do you? He might well be in complete agreement with Michael Behe, that common descent with modification explains the diversity of life but that selection is inadequate to account for a great deal of the modification. And that requires a completely different argument. I suspect he may not himself be clear on the difference. He may not quite know what he means by “the theory of evolution by natural selection may be right.” I certainly don’t, and I doubt you do either. But a first step might be to ask him what he thinks he’s talking about.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      He’s made it quite clear that he’s a common creationist — fish with fins, birds with feathers, instant creation creationist.

      Micro- but not macro- creationist. Man didn’t come from no monkey creationist.

      You know … a moron.

      • John Harshman
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        That wasn’t apparent from the stuff Jerry quoted. Can you link to a clear example?

        And if that’s the case, that he rejects common descent entirely, why the qualifier “…by natural selection”?

  18. Kurt Helf
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Am I reading the second quoted paragraph correctly? That is, P. Hitchens believes the purpose of the theory of evolution by natural selection is “atheistical”? Does he even know the developers of the original theory were religious?

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, “if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved. I believe that is its purpose, and that it is silly to pretend otherwise.”

      PH is clearly unaware that Darwin was in turn Christian, deist (while writing Orinin od Species), and wavering between deist and agnostic, while Wallace seems to accept a deity, and indeed rejects creationism, in comparison with evolution, as underestimating the Creator (“Natural selection and beyond”, Smith & Beccaloni eds,, pp 370-372.)

      But what is worst, is that he considers that the PURPOSE of scientists working on evolution is to promote atheism. It does not seem to have crossed his mind that it might actually be to understand reality.

      • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        The man is a bit dim, let’s face it.

  19. Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Respectfully, Mr. Hitchen’s comment on evolution is weak, inaccurate, and unprofessional. First of all, in response to his thoughts on creationism and how the original form of humans was created is basically off topic, and any person who has studied basic evolution would know that because evolution does not discuss abiogenesis! Aside from all this, logically and scientifically, due to the single cell theory, fossil records, and natural selection, evolution is an undebatable argument which basically makes it a fact supported by plentiful evidence. The single cell theory, which is an extension to the common ancestor, is a very strong point, and up till now, i have not found any response that denies it in a logical way. Fossils have been found dating back to 6 million years showing the simpler form of humans, known as the Homo Erectus. So were fossils dating back to a more recent timing showing a more complex form of humans, which is also known as the Homo Neanderthal. This proves that over time all organisms develop and become more complex in order to suit, adapt, and best fit the environment in which they are living. This process is known as natural selection. This argument could go on and on for years, even though it has been considered a concluded issue. That is due to uninformed people who mistake evolution with things regarding the big-bang, and creationism, while it actually discusses a normal process that has been proved correct by thousands of professional scientists, and factual evidence represented in fossil record proving the “theory”. Without involving religion, abiogenesis, or such topics, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is the most logical explanation to clarify the presence of humans on the current form.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      “over time all organisms develop and become more complex”

      Not always. They can become “simpler” (e.g. whales losing thier hind limbs). What they all do is change in response to reproductive and survival pressures that they happen to find in their environment. (All of this done without consciousness or plan or design.)

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      The single cell theory, which is an extension to the common ancestor, is a very strong point, and up till now, i have not found any response that denies it in a logical way.
      .
      Could you be a little more explicit about what you mean by “single cell theory”? I know of biologists who think the LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor) was probably a population, rather than a single cell.
      How Ancient Life May Have Come About

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:17 am | Permalink

        This is tested by phylogenies of protein fold families, which confirms that early folds show little diversification (pervasive distribution). It is likely a consequence of a diverse communal world that saw selective sweeps but little of lineage isolation.

        Sometime after the advent of the DNA LUCA lineage sorting (I guess a biologist could say) started to be accomplished. [ “The evolutionary history of protein fold families …”, Kim et al, BMC Evol. Biol. 2012]

  20. Brygida Berse
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    The most striking aspect of Hitchens’s statements is not even his ignorance about science, but rather his monumental arrogance. He is perfectly prepared to accept the theory of evolution once there is more proof? How generous. The man doesn’t know the first thing about biology and he doesn’t understand how science works. What does he think gives him the authority to speak on scientific subjects? Does he have an opinion on quantum mechanics as well?

    • Kevin
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes. He’s against it.

      There you go. He’s perfectly willing to accept mechanics, but that quantum stuff is just out.

      • Sines
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        So he accepts macro-mechanics, but not micro-mechanics?

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted April 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

          +1

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:21 am | Permalink

          What a classical, one could say classy, description!

          I like it.

  21. Don Chezik
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I think it curious that no one ever questions quantum mechanics with as much vigor as they question evolution. Why? Particles being in limbo until you look at them? Electrons light-years apart with no physical connection being entangled? A particle becoming a wave and interfering with itself when it goes through a slit? (If you don’t look at it!) Not being able to say whether something is a wave or a particle unless you say if you’re observing it? Gosh! These things seem to me much arguable than evolution! Is it that evolution has theistic overtones? No one has ever said quantum mechanics is from the pits of hell as one Republican (of course!) candidate said about evolution. Why doesn’t some fundamental minister get up in his pulpit and declare that quantum mechanics is from the Devil?

    Just askin’ !

    • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Also, why are Special and General Relativity not targets? No absolute measure of time, no absolute state of rest, no time without space, instantaneous transfers of information that would seem to be required by prayer are ruled out, travel back in time is ruled out…seems to be a lot here that would contradict or at least seriously undermine many of God’s attributes and religious dogma.

      • Tulse
        Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        In some religious and wackaloon conservative circles they are indeed attacked, for precisely the reason that they undermine the notion of the absolute.

        • Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          So we can be expecting teach the controversy movements to include the aether theory back in physics class?

          That would actually be a great way to punk the whole ID movement.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          One of my favourites: look up Gerardus Bouw, advocate for geocentricity with degrees in astronomy and astrophysics.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:37 am | Permalink

      “A particle becoming a wave and interfering with itself when it goes through a slit? (If you don’t look at it!) Not being able to say whether something is a wave or a particle unless you say if you’re observing it?”

      These aspects are a bit ‘simpler’ to handle in more modern quantum field theory, where particles are ripples in interacting quantum fields:

      “Another example involves the photon itself. It is not merely a ripple in the electromagnetic field, but spends some of its time as an electron field disturbance, such that the combination remains a massless particle. The language here is to say that a photon can turn into a virtual electron and a virtual positron, and back again; but again, what this really means is that the electron field is disturbed by the photon.” [The accompanying figures are easier to interpret. And then follows a description why the anti-particle fields are not involved; http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/particle-physics-basics/virtual-particles-what-are-they/ ]

      So it is the field that is the basic entity and has complicated behavior (whether we observe it or not). Or even more generic, it is the vacuum which incorporates all the interacting fields that is the entity. No funny dualism as in naive (Copenhagen) interpretations of naive quantum mechanics.

  22. JBlilie
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    PHitchens: “snide, dismissive, arrogant”

    Me: Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

  23. lanceleuven
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I have to say, that is one excellent response. Fair play.

  24. kelskye
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    “It is that I am quite prepared to accept that it may be true, though I should personally be sorry if it turned out to be so as, it its implication is plainly atheistical, and if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved.”
    I’d like two know two things about this:
    1. what standard of proof would it take Peter Hitchens to accept it? After all, the biologists who study it seem overwhelmingly convinced that the evidence points to evolution. Indeed, the people best qualified to make that call already overwhelmingly do make that call. Does Hitchens know something they do not?

    2. How is it “plainly atheistical”? I could see how evolution might justify an atheistic view (empirical refutation of the design argument), but I’m not sure it’s so obvious. After all, there are plenty of theists who accept evolution and a creator. “Plainly” just doesn’t say much about why.

    • kelskye
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      One more point of curiosity I have is whether Peter Hichens feels like he’s making an appeal to consequences in rejecting the overwhelming scientific consensus on the reality of evolution. That of its true then his belief would be in error, thus he finds it convenient to rejecy the scoence on the matter. He’s rejecting evolution nor because the science is still out (it isn’t) but that he needs the science to be out to maintain his belief.

  25. Kent
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Evasive rascal that Peter.

  26. hankstar
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I am quite prepared to accept that [evolution] may be true, though I should personally be sorry if it turned out to be so as, it its implication is plainly atheistical, and if its truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved. I believe that is its purpose, and that it is silly to pretend otherwise.

    What’s “silly”, Mr Hitchens, is you conflating evolution and atheism to the point where you believe that proving the latter is the purpose of the former. If you were prepared to do the unthinkable and actually read about evolution, you’d discover nothing of the sort – but then that may force you to admit error, which appears as though it’s your personal Kryptonite.

    That aside, this statement is very revealing – it is in fact nothing more than the shameful admission of the brittle & insecure nature of P. Hitchens’ faith and the ignorance he prefers to retain in order to protect it.

    If it were me in Prof Coyne’s shoes I’d have no more interaction with this person, based entirely on his own revealed attitudes. Peter Hitchens has no more an honest interest in the evidence for evolution than Ken Ham or your average Youtube creationist.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted April 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      That aside, this statement is very revealing – it is in fact nothing more than the shameful admission of the brittle & insecure nature of P. Hitchens’ faith and the ignorance he prefers to retain in order to protect it.

      Exactly right.

  27. neil
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    “…if its (evolution’s) truth could be proved, then the truth of atheism could be proved.”

    An interesting statement. I do not believe I would say that, and I am an atheist. It suggests that Peter might be closer to being an atheist than he or any of us realizes. To him, atheism can be proved.

    I would like to know what Peter would consider “proof of evolution”?

    • Alex
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:16 am | Permalink

      I don’t know whether that means that he’s closer to being an atheist. It sure means that he’s very close to entirely clueless about science and philosophy of science 101.

  28. hankstar
    Posted April 24, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Prof Coyne, after careful consideration I’ve decided you could’ve just entitled this post:

    Peter Hitchens fails.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Well said!
    I especially liked this:
    “Of course no scientist purports to provide “conclusive proof” about anything, and so Hitchens reveals his profound ignorance of how science works. Evolution is so strongly supported that it would be perverse to reject it, and in that sense it’s a scientific fact.”
    As for PHitchens, it is the usual mirroring of facts of course.

    – Science didn’t start out with an “atheistical” purpose. If anything there was a long medieval lacuna of natural philosophers that wanted to confirm the presence of gods in nature and its patterns.

    It was a long process of re-recognizing the fundamental absence of magic of nature, first expressed in atomism and then first observed in basic thermodynamics with its need to establish and study closed systems.

    – “Intelligent Design” is unintelligently designed theology. It purports to be non-testable, say as Dembski’s “logos”, but fails from time to time.

    The interlocking complexity of “irreducible complexity” predicted from evolution by Muller in the 30’s; the bayesian learning of “frontloaded” evolutionary models of genomic populations, software and/or actual wetware, measured as Shannon information.

    If anything is conclusive, I still find Theobald’s test of the existence of an UCA population, with the likelihood of ~10^2000 against multiple ancestry/creationism of every species, the most conclusive fact of all of science.

  30. Ade
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    “Although you clearly dislike being compared to your brother, at least he had the genes for trying to learn.” – Ah, it was all going so well, until the gratuitous insult at the end. You let yourself down, Sir.

  31. pangoliadogg15
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Well, as least Peter Hitchens in honest that he doesn’t like evolutionary theory and would be disappointed if someone could prove it to be “true” to him.

    I don’t see anything wrong with his saying that there are a lot of Evolutionists who aren’t scientists that go on “Heresy Hunt”, haha! It’s actually quite amusing since I see the “Heresy Hunts” on FaceBook.

    I also don’t understand why Evolutionary Theory (which is what it’s called) is somehow The Fact of Evolution, which a lot of you seem to be fond of repeating to each other.

    Oh, and Intelligent Design isn’t Science anyway (it a Philosophy), but it depends entirely on looking at a Flower and inferring that the Flower looks so good that it must have been designed. So, no. I’m in a Different Enemy Camp (’cause you people position me there) than the Creationists.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY: DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY BREAD???

    ~ajr

    • Faustus
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      “Well, as least Peter Hitchens in honest that he doesn’t like evolutionary theory and would be disappointed if someone could prove it to be “true” to him.”

      Being honest about a failing doesn’t alter the fact it is a failing.

      “I don’t see anything wrong with his saying that there are a lot of Evolutionists who aren’t scientists that go on “Heresy Hunt”, haha! It’s actually quite amusing since I see the “Heresy Hunts” on FaceBook.”

      Try posting that you think the Sun goes around the Earth, you can then complain that the nasty people (some of whom weren’t even scientists!) were mean to you. OMG! There’s a conspiracy to prevent the truth of geocentrism from being known!

      “I also don’t understand why Evolutionary Theory (which is what it’s called) is somehow The Fact of Evolution, which a lot of you seem to be fond of repeating to each other.”

      There is the evolutionary theory, including such ideas as universal common ancestry etc., and then there is the fact that we see a change in allele frequencies in populations over time.

      “Oh, and Intelligent Design isn’t Science anyway (it a Philosophy), but it depends entirely on looking at a Flower and inferring that the Flower looks so good that it must have been designed. So, no. I’m in a Different Enemy Camp (’cause you people position me there) than the Creationists.”

      For something that is not science, the leaders of the movement seem to put a lot of effort into trying to get it taught as science. This assertion has to be wrong anyway, for it is necessary to show, scientifically, the the flaws in evolution before you can go on to give your “philosophical” argument.

    • Hankstar
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      I also don’t understand why Evolutionary Theory (which is what it’s called) is somehow The Fact of Evolution, which a lot of you seem to be fond of repeating to each other.

      In science, theories (such as “objects with mass exert attraction”) explain observed facts (“if you let go of stuff, it falls down” and “planets tend to orbit stars; moons tend to orbit planets, etc”).

      The fact of evolution (“populations of organisms change over time”) is explained by the Theory of Evolution (“observed changes in populations of organisms are effected via numerous means which include but are not limited to natural selection, sexual selection, geographic isolation and genetic drift”).

      In science, “theory” doesn’t mean “hunch”; it means “well-supported explanation of an observation.” Unless of course you think gravitational theory is just a hunch (if so, it leaves a gap for research into the fledgling field of Intelligent Sucking).

      The definitions of “fact” and “theory” are well-konwn. If you don’t want to be “camped” with creationists, try not to resemble one.

      PS thank you for confirming that ID isn’t science. Please try and pass that little nugget on to the Discovery Institute.

  32. Andrew Platt
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Fame at last! I am humbled to see my words playing such a part in this debate.

    To save WEIT readers the bother of visiting PH’s blog I reproduce here the text of my reply to PH.

    Mr. Hitchens has rightly identified that my criticisms of his high-handedness do not constitute the real meat of my argument. Let us get to the meat.

    As blog owner it is for Mr. Hitchens to decide which critics he responds to and which he does not. He must realise that his choices do not go unobserved and that readers will form an opinion of him based on those choices. Doubtless he is unconcerned by that. Might his choices, though, result in him breaking rules that he berates others for breaking? Let me explain.

    Quite often a contributor will bring up a point that has already been amply dealt with. The classic example is “what about alcohol, eh?” during a debate on drugs. New contributors can perhaps be excused, though Mr. Hitchens will say they should have checked the index before posting. It is very different, though, if the original contributor transgresses in this way. They are entitled to defend their position but if they choose not to and simply restate their original point as though it had not been discredited, that is not cricket. They may well have broken the rules of civilised debate. I wonder if Mr. Hitchens agrees.

    But is this not precisely what he has done?

    His opposition to evolution is based on the following: the theory has not been proved; it is based on the distant past; it has never been observed; it makes no testable predictions; there is no strong evidence; it is a tautology. Every single one of these pillars has been comprehensively swept aside by Professor Coyne. Mr. Hitchens is quite entitled to refuse to engage with the professor if he wishes. What he is *not* entitled to do is to restate all the same points as though they still had currency. They have been utterly demolished, and if he wishes to continue to rely upon them he is duty bound to defend them.

    If he thinks otherwise then perhaps he can explain what he considers the rules of civilised debate to be, and why he gets quite so cross when others do this to him.

    In passing I must make three further points.

    In a separate reply Mr. Hitchens “reminds” us of his ancient debate on landfill with Bert with the words: “A nation waits.” Bert did not respond to the substance of Mr. Hitchens’s rebuttal, you see – in much the same way Mr. Hitchens has not responded to Professor Coyne. Oh, the irony!

    Mr. HItchens accuses me of suggesting that “the drinking of coffee is to be compared with the use of mind-altering drugs”. I have made no such comparison. I fully agree that cannabis is far more dangerous than coffee, but the argument is about the *morality* of obtaining an unearned chemical stimulus, not about harm. Observant readers will note that he is still moving the goalposts to avoid answering the question.

    He also accuses me of twisting his declaration of faith in God, which I have not done. He objected to my interpretation of his original comment so I challenged him to provide an alternative. He has failed to do so, responding with nothing more than empty, indignant bluster. We are left to wonder why.

    • Chuck O'Connor
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Mr. Platt,

      Your intellectual honesty in challenging Mr. Hitchens is a trait I witnessed as a consistent choice within the atheist community and one lacking within my religious community. I think the philosophers call what religious do “special pleading”. My observation of the intellectual courage of metaphysical naturalists consistent with your behavior above rattled the certainty that my religious preference afforded sound moral direction (seeing that the same virtue was nearly non-existent in my religion – too often difficult truths were ignored for the defense of dogma). I am grateful to men of character like you.

  33. eric
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    How can I respond to such a non-response?

    Extremely simply, so there is absolutely no wiggle room and he can’t cherry pick what part of your letters to respond to:

    “Peter, describe what you think is the best scientific explantion for the origin of humans. Say why.”

    • Hankstar
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Good luck if you’re expecting Hitchens, P. for an unequivocal answer to a direct question.

      For an professional (in that he gets paid) amateur (in that he’s mediocre) apologist like Peter Hitchens – as much as for any fully-fledged and tenured theologian – “wiggle room” spontaneously appears when and if it is required.

      As wiggle room is always required when defending or apologising for faith (or justifying active and purposeful ignorance), it either always appears or is always there.

      If wiggle room always appears when required, there must be a Wiggler.

      If wiggle room is always there, it must be required to be there. Requirements require a Requirer.

      Either way = GOD.

      Check MATE, atheists.

      • Hankstar
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Confounded lack of comment preview/proofreading skills.

        First sentence: “for” = “to give”.

      • Hankstar
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        Also “an professional” = “a professional.”

        I’ll not read my comment again in case I find more errors; like Mr Hitchens, I’m averse to reading anything that might dispell my notions of how correct I am.

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

          LOL!


%d bloggers like this: