Can We Trust the Gospels?

Recent Posts

Past Posts Archived by Date

Search this site


Search this site


« Introduction | Home | Hitchens Mistaken About a Date, a Name, and the Gospels »

Is Hitchens a Reliable Source of “Facts”?

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, June 7, 2007

Part 2 of series: god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens: A Response
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

Few books will divide the house more than god is not Great. Atheists will happily devour it; religious folks will find it most distasteful. My guess is that few books are more polarizing than this particular volume.

Yet I think I can say something about god is not Great that everyone can agree with: It is filled with purported statements of fact. Those who like Hitchens may be unhappy with “purported,” but surely they must understand that by using this word I’m not necessarily denying the truthfulness of Hitchens’s claims. I’m simply noting that god is not Great is filled with thousands of statements that appear to be factual.

The is worth mentioning because many books on religion and philosophy contain endless arguments and ideas, but not many so-called facts. Books like these are valuable, of course, but they are often hard to assess. Arguments and ideas cannot be easily tested as to their truthfulness. Claims of fact often can be check out rather quicly (but not always, of course. It’s a little hard to verify the fact of the Big Bang or the existence of quarks.).

For example, if I were to say that god is not Great offers several arguments that are valid and many that are invalid, which I do in fact believe, this thesis would take quite a bit of effort to demonstrate. That’s the main point of this extended blog series on god is not Great. But if I were to say that the cover of god is not Great is blue, this could be easily checked out. You could quickly disprove my purported statement of fact by comparing it with the data. And this comparison would not bode well for me, since the cover of god is not Great is quite clearly yellow. One might call it mustard or ocher or “bananaish” or some other variety of yellow, but blue simply won’t work.

The obvious fact that god is not Great contains many apparent facts, therefore, gives us an advantage in trying to evaluate its overall truthfulness. If Hitchens tends to get his facts right, then we would do well to pay close attention to his claims, even those that are not factual per se. He will have shown himself to be a reliable witness and a careful thinker. If, on the contrary, he gets many of his facts wrong, then we would rightly be inclined to doubt what he writes about many things and chalk it up to sloppy thinking.

This fact-checking approach seems to provide a fair and rational way forward in our effort to evaluate god is not Great. In fact, it keeps us within the realm of the rational and scientific, a realm that Hitchens almost seems to regard as the kingdom of God. Yet the plethora of purported facts in this book also makes such evaluation difficult. Why? Because this book contains so many different alleged facts concerning so many different subjects. Yes, religion is in the center of Hitchens’s target, but he tends to shoot with buckshot rather than a silver bullet. god is not Great contains page after page of ostensible facts having to do with history, culture, literature, philosophy, theology, and current events, in addition to religion. Thus it would be difficult for the average person to evaluate Hitchens’s claims without doing a whole lot of research for a whole long time.

Christopher Hitchens knows more about many things than I do. Right or wrong, his grasp of history exceeds mine, as does his knowledge of current events and even certain religions, mainly Islam. But there are a few topics in which I have greater expertise than Hitchens. Given his apparently naïve and curiously modernist view of human knowing, (”Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith.” p. 5), I may know epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) better than he. Likewise with philosophical ethics. I am quite sure that I have much more knowledge of what it’s like actually to be a Christian than Christopher (whose name in Greek means “Christ-bearer” by the way). I’m sure he’d quite happily grant me this advantage over him. And I’m positive that I know the New Testament and the field of New Testament studies better than Hitchens. This isn’t a matter of boasting. One would hope that somebody with a Ph.D. in New Testament actually had a bit of expertise in the field. While Christopher Hitchens was traveling the world as a journalist, I was burrowed into the library at Harvard, studying ancient languages and documents, and reading more New Testament scholarship than anyone other than a scholar would find valuable.

Therefore, as I read god is not Great, wading through Hitchens’s rhetorically-charged version of many purported facts, I was especially attentive to his statements about the New Testament and related scholarship. Would he get these “facts” right? Would he say things that most honest scholars, no matter their theological persuasion, would affirm? If Hitchens scored relatively high in his truth score when it came to the New Testament, then I’d be inclined to believe him about other things as well. He would have shown himself to be a careful thinker, researcher, and writer. If, however, Hitchens scored low in his New Testament truth score, if he made obvious errors and biased misstatements, then I would tend to question his reliability about other statements of fact as well.

The bad news for Christopher Hitchens is that he gets a low mark for accuracy when it comes to his statements about the New Testament and New Testament scholarship. In fact, I found fifteen factual errors in this material. I also identified sixteen statements that show what I consider to be a substantial misunderstanding or distortion of the evidence, even though a few scholars might agree with Hitchens. That’s why I distinguish between factual errors and misunderstandings/distortions, in an effort to be clear and fair.

If my evaluation is anywhere near correct, this does not reflect well upon god is not Great, since the New Testament material comprises only about 6% of the whole book. How many other errors fill the pages of this book? I’ll let suitable experts answer this question. But the obvious implication of what I discovered is that Christopher Hitchens is not a reliable reporter of facts, probably because has not done his homework adequately. He is, after all, a brilliant man with an inquisitive and well-tuned mind. Given my evaluation of his errors in the field I know best, however, I’m inclined to question his statements of “fact” concerning many other things. And my disbelief is not a belief. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on the facts of Hitchens’s numerous mistakes and misstatements.

Of course for this conclusion to be valid, I need to show specifically where Hitchens makes errors in his treatment of the New Testament and New Testament scholarship. I won’t be able to do this responsibly in this post, since I’ve already put up more words today than most readers prefer in a single blog entry. I’ll begin to examine Hitchens’s mistakes tomorrow.

In the meanwhile, if you own a copy of god is not Great, why don’t you see if you can spot any errors. Most of them can be found in pages 110 through 120.

Topics: Hitchens: god is not Great |

71 Responses to “Is Hitchens a Reliable Source of “Facts”?”

  1. Stephen Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 6:30 am

    First, I want to thank you for undertaking the task of examining the book; but I would challenge you on one fact already. I think the data regarding the number of words the average blog reader is willing to read may not apply for you, at least on this topic. I would venture to say the profile of your blog readers on this topic, would devour many, many more words then the flutter-by readers (who probably won’t stop to help pollinate the story anyway); I think what you are covering up is that you probably don’t have enough time to do lengthier entries.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks, I have already found your blog to be genuinely helpful. THANKS.

  2. Greg Kane Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 8:00 am

    Dear Mark,

    The most humiliating part of the debate must have been the last ten minutes. At the very end Hitchens finally comes out swinging, punch after punch landing against no real defense. Not only has he been pushing you around all afternoon, now we see you haven’t even made him sweat. “Here,” he says, thump, thump “is what I can do when I try.” I was squealing.

    You are right Hitchens is way articulate, but he beat you with ideas. Over and over you simply had no answers. Basic questions left you stammering “I can’t explain. It’s God’s mystery,” or such. By the middle rounds attorney Hewitt was feeding you lines, trying to keep it going.

    And here’s the thing: Hitchens is basically a Village Atheist. A crafty, personable, articulate one sure. But all his stuff is old stuff. Stuff any serious religious thinker would have worked through years ago. You had not. Hitchens had. He has reasoned these ideas through to their logical end. You have not. He asked basic questions you were unprepared for. He made points (I have in mind his comments about the pope in 1967, there were others) that you not only could not answer, but whose rationale you clearly failed even to understand. Hitchens has reasoned these ideas through. You have not.

    Here’s the question that defines the event: “How is it a village atheist magazine columnist can leave a Harvard PhD theologian flat footed?”

    The answer is a sad one. Conservative Christianity has given up. Rational scholarship asks questions that lead to answers you do not like and can not convince people are wrong. So you quit. You go off by yourselves, and form your own little circle of “scholarship,” a clique that starts with its result and argues backward to find its reasons. Your analysis does not require, and cannot tolerate, rigor. I mean rigor of the sort that can convince reasonable people outside your clique. Because you can not tolerate rigor, you end up tolerating ideas that are flabby and indefensible. You say silly things about Pliny and Plutarch being evidence for Jesus. You write trivial pep rally boosterism about the trustworthiness of the gospels – books read by and convincing only the already converted.

    Hitchens beat you because he lives in the world of competitive ideas. You lost because you do not.

  3. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 8:18 am

    Stephen: Thanks.

    Greg: Well, that’s one way to look at it. I hope you’ll continue to read this blog series and see if you still feel the same way at the end.

  4. Winston Dodson Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Dr Roberts - I do not a will not be a regular reader of this blog because, despite you and HH claims otherwise, you are not a “serious scholar” nor a serious thinker.

    Ex 1) In the debate, when challenged to support the numerous resurrections claimed in the book of Mathew you said (paraphrasing but, if you were serious, I would take the time to go the transcripts and provide the actual quote but it would be a waist of time. All of your ‘arguments’ are less than precise so you would simply dodge this one as well) “As a historian I can’t defend it but as a person of faith, I do believe it happened”. Then you go on to site the historical accuracy of the very text that you declined to support as a historian! This is not an example of serious scholarship nor of serious thinking. If we take this entire series further we could talk about the other miracles claimed in Mathew and the other Gospels - Eclipses, other resurrections etc, etc , and I anticipate that you would simply repeat what you said above. But what your argument leaves is a series of texts filled with “holes” where only your faith can fill them. So, you admit, without saying so explicitly, that faith is required to fill in the un-credible holes in the Gospels and by inference, the entire NT. This is not serious scholarship this is Apologetics.

    At another point, when asked to defend why God chose this point (the last 3,000 years or so) of the 150,000 years or so of the history of the species to “divulge” his greatness to us, you simply replied (paraphrasing again) “It’s one of God’s mysteries”. Again, not serious scholarship

  5. Dan G Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 8:58 am

    What are the 15 errors and other misunderstandings?

    Don’t announce it . . . provide the details.

    BTW, I was equally frustrated at your frequent lack of substantive responses to CH. “Why do you put yourself through this?” was one of his main points. I never heard a convincing response.

    Honestly, I was hoping for a classic case study in effective apologetics. Sadly, your performance fell far short. Lee Strobel should be the next guy at bat with Hitchens. My guess he will do much better.

  6. Winston Dodson Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:04 am

    nor serious thinking - Apologetics.

    And, while discussing Einstein, you and HH both agree that even though Einstein actively, clearly and explicitly denied a personal God and religion / miracles but at the end of that statement allowed for some “mysteries” that he was leaving room for God. Clearly he was, but just as clearly not the God of you and HH. HH once excoriated Sullivan for trying to argue that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian vice a Deist, the latter is correct. Although we can’t hold you to be consistent with HH earlier arguments it would be nice if he was and even better if he admitted that when it suits him he is precise in his understanding of the definitions of the differences in religious beliefs and at other times (when defending you) he is less precise.

    At another point you laud Steven Jay Gould for his statement separating Science and Religion and leaving room for each. But, the entire breadth of the way that you choose to support your beliefs with your ’scholarship’ belies that same statement. Every miracle in the Bible are Non-scientific and claiming otherwise is Anti-Scientific. Science is based on reason and claiming that the Gospels are not self contradictory is Un-reasonable and claiming that the study of them as a fact is Anti-reason.

    St Augustine’s denunciations of Christians who try and interpret Genesis literally as “idiots” and thus bringing disrespect to Christian beliefs is widely known. And even though he did espouse a belief that other portions of the Bible were the inspired word of God he pushed the entire realm of Christian Scholarship over the slippery slope

  7. Winston Dodson Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Of Apologetics and no amount of attempts to scramble back up the slope by a current Harvard trained Apologist can get it back to the top.

  8. Al Lazzerman Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:08 am

    I agree with Greg Kane that CH “won” the debate hands down. I grew up catholic and went to catholic schools (Notre Dame). However, after reading Pagels, King and Bart E. it is clear that the four gospels were chosen by man not divine.

    I never heard of MR and frankly being on a right-wing radio program hurts his cred. I thought he had strange answers to direct questions and lied about Bart religious beliefs. There is a HUGE difference-Agnostics still have hope and view things from a different- perhaps-honest perspective.

  9. Bryan Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:13 am


    I, for one, applaud your willingness to take on such an endeavor. I have learned one thing so far concerning apologetics and that is we need not be afraid of the skeptic, the critic, or even the inquisitive. I believe that God’s word, if studied carefully, will defend itself and prove true…without man’s “assistance”.

    That being said I was very taken aback by Mr Hitchens vitriol throughout the exchange. His extensive use of condemning and sarcastic language (for example his continuous use of the word dictatorship when referencing God) whether in rebuttal of a point of yours or an assertion of his, to me, demonstrated a lack of respect for the subject matter. He came across quite frankly as someone very embittered, angry, and arrogant instead of someone who, in the course of study, had come to certain conclusions.

    I completely agree with your observation of his scattershot strategy. He often threw out 4-5 challengable statements which, as you rightly observed, left you with no choice but to pick and choose your arguments due to time. I am no professional debater or scholar with biblical seminary training but it was fairly easy for me to see where his strategy was most successfully employed. If you had 5 minutes with him and he only asserted that the gospels contradicted each other “on every important point” then he would have truly served you up a home run so to speak…most knowledgable layman could defend that. Instead he makes that statement with sincerity and finality then before a rebuttal is permitted he throws out several more matters which need addressing.

    I applaud you for venturing out to meet with him in Greg’s post he has one salient point on which I would concur “Christianity has given up”. However, only in that apologetics as a field of pursuit is not emphasized and Exegesis and expository preaching from the pulpit is largely abandoned in these latter days. Had this not been the state of Christianity today Mr Hitchens might possibly be observed as more of a misinformed curiosity than a serious challenge to one’s faith.



  10. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Well, you’ve attracted a friendly crowd, Mark :) I look forward to reading your continued review of Mr. Hitchens’ book.

    Greg: One debate between two ideas does not a “world of competitive ideas” make. Mr. Hitchens won the debate—I would grant that. But given the tone of your post, I feel certain that if Hitchens had an off day, and Mark had prevailed, you would not be any more convinced of Mark’s position.

    I find Mr. Hitchens to be quite enjoyable when he and I are on the same side of an issue. And wow does he make me squirm in areas where we differ. He’s good. But his skill in rhetoric alone doesn’t validate his ideas. Just ask the many who are opposed to the Iraq war about that. And if he is wrong in the objectve facts that buttress his arguments, well, all of the flourish in the world can’t save it.

    I would second Mark’s request to read the rest of his review of Hitchens’ book; and perhaps check out a few of the other recommended resources.

    Dan G., I’m sorry to hear you were disappointed in Mark’s performance too, but I have to be honest with you: I don’t think Lee Stroebel would have fared much better. I’ve read his works, seen him speak live and on video, and I just don’t think he has the rhetorical skill to withstand a Mr. Hitchens barrage.

  11. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:24 am

    edit above: two ideas –> two people

  12. Al Lazzerman Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:26 am

    Guys- Look it is clear. Mark says he went to Harvard but his debate was the old Bill O’Reilly Harvard thing- graduate degree not undergrad and make it out to be more than it is. Harvard grad is not Harvard undergrad.

    I was pulling for Mark but he fell flat and he himself lied and I dont just throw out lie like it is no big deal. He lied which is something republicans who ‘use’ Christ do- see Bush.

  13. Winston Dodson Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Bryan, I’ve got a hint for you, trying to claim ’scholarship’ and being an Apologists are contradictory - unless you are a Muslim or are living in the middle ages.

    So, I am sure that MR is not comforted by supporting his arguments as Apologetics.

  14. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Dear Greg,

    Thanks for the honesty, but you can keep your self-aggrandizing critique of a brother who clearly outclasses you. You accuse Mark of tolerating flabby and indefensible arguments, then claim that a 90 minute conversation can be summed up with a punch-line that begs the question. Reality, you see, is much more difficult to critique than the straw man you just dispatched. And since you seem more interested in substance than style, you have compromised your ability to speak about “rational scholarship”.

    To your point, however, that Hitchens beat Roberts with ideas. This is a large question (considering the length of the debate and abundance of topics discussed) but still worth talking about. You did not defend your claim with any single specific instances, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are simply referring to Mark’s distracting habit of saying uhm, and stammering. Mr. Hitchens gets one point for speaking forcefully - but no points for good ideas.

    Now, to dispute your claim that Hitchens won with ideas… The debate began with Hugh posing the question that Atheists do not have any foundation for their belief in the goodness of morality. Hitchens responded with “that is slightly insulting”, something about not accepting a “celestial dictatorship”, and his final coup de grâce - it is “very satisfying”. Roberts responds with three points:

    1. Fair enough, there are some virtuous aetheists.
    2. They aren’t the problem however, the problem comes when two aetheists disagree about something that matters - they haven’t any grounds for moral arbitration.
    3. Here is an example, what happens when two aetheists disagree about whether they should kill an innocent person?

    Hitchens response was:

    1. Exactly, I am moral and would tell them - don’t do it, it will offend your conscience.
    2. Consciences, by the way, are not from God because they are present in animals.
    3. This question is insulting, because it rests on an idea that people who subsribe to a belief in a celestial dictatorship will behave well - in spite of strong evidence to the contrary.

    Hugh then steers the conversation to the topic of a particular immoral act and asks for clarification. But that basically establishes their relative positions on this issue. Now, it is clear from this one example that HItchens did not win with ideas. He won with sleight of hand. Roberts main point was that two aetheists, claiming equal moral conviction, would be unable to decide who was acting correctly. Hitchens, in essence, just said -yes we would, and then steered the conversation towards something he felt more comfortable with - a list of bad things religions have done. He completely dodged the more difficult question of “Mr. Hitchens, who’s to say you’re right and the folks doing _____ (bad thing) are wrong”. Now, this may be “old stuff” but, in that case, Mr. Hitchens should have answered this foundational epistemological question with something snappy and fun. But he didn’t. Instead he retreated to his comfort zone, until Hugh (having known Hitchens for years) changes the subject to avoid letting Mr. Hitchens filibuster until the next break.

    This has gone on way too long, so let me stop beating a dead horse. Your last point, that conservative Christians have abandoned the world of competitive ideas and, therefore, have lost the cultural battle is just plain silly. Silly, like, “you’ve gotta be kiddin’ me” kind of silly. This little backwater group called “Conservative Christianity” is taking over the world. In China, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, the explosive growth of conservative Christianity dwarfs anything even remotely close to aetheism.

    Finally, scientific, analytic, historical rigor based on an understanding of God’s revelation to humanity is what gave us modern physics, botany, and sociology, not to mention the United States, conservationism (John Muir) the mapping of the human genome, and (low estimate) over 60% of all hospitals around the world (yes even in the Middle East). This little clique who “cannot tolerate rigor” has given the modern world most of the things it loves. The burden of proof lies at the feet of aetheism. What has it contributed?

    The most I will admit is that Mark Roberts might have lost the debate because of his stammering, rambling, or even an excessive amount of humility. But he didn’t lose it because of his ideas. They were hardly even discussed.

  15. Dave O Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:49 am

    Dr. Roberts,

    I agree with Stephen in that this post serves only to whet one’s curiosity toward your next post. Thank you for taking up the challenge presented by Mr. Hitchens, and for maintaining in your written language the tone and temperament necessary to follow the debate.

    I look forward to your next post.

  16. Julie Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 9:50 am


    You do need to say you are sorry to Bart Ehrman for trying to downplay his serious work by making up his religious ideals. Not Cool.

    There is a reason why you have never been considered in the King/Pagels/Ehrman world. After the debate with Hitchens I see why.

  17. Dianne Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:23 am

    I only heard a small portion of this particular “debate”, but I have heard Christopher Hitchens many times before. In his mind, supercilious-ness makes right and he is SO good at expressing disdain. It’s his main weapon and he wields it extremely well.

    Here’s the difficulty - he doesn’t, in fact, care about actually debating ideas. CH did not enter this discussion with any idea of hearing MR out and weighing his arguments carefully. And CH doesn’t even care to be polite about that. MR made the “mistake” of treating CH the way he would have liked to be treated - with sincerity and politeness. Hmmm, can anyone say Golden Rule?

    It seems to me that, more than not being able to compete in the marketplace of ideas, some Christians (including MR) choose not to compete in today’s “draw blood at any cost” style discourse. Obviously, not everyone here has made that choice themselves. I admired Dr. Roberts for his persistent good humor - and I wanted to slap CH for him. (So my Christian walk still needs more work, obviously.)

    I really don’t think we need to abandon faith in our God, Creator of the universe, simply because one of our brethern has faced a very badly behaved atheist and did not sink to that same level. That seems to me to be reason to celebrate our brother.

  18. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:26 am


    I am an atheist and listened intently to your debate with Hitchens. I must first congratulate you for your civil and gracious tone which you maintained throughout the debate. It was refreshing to hear a Christian approach a debate with an athiest with such an attitude. On that criteria I will concede that you bested Mr Hitchens, even though that wasn’t a very high hurdle to clear. I look forward to reading your analyses and rebuttals of Hitchens arguments.

    Christof Meyer says: “2. They aren’t the problem however, the problem comes when two aetheists disagree about something that matters - they haven’t any grounds for moral arbitration.”

    To borrow a phrase, this is a typical “village theist” kind of argument. I can’t believe anyone sees this as a serious impediment to the atheist worldview. The truth is that the same problem afflicts two Christians who disagree about something that matters. Like slavery. Two Christian groups using the same scriptures used those scriptures to justify two diametrically opposing moral positions. So the “common ground” between them, which you imagine would serve as a foundation for mediation, is unavailable because it is the source of their moral differences to begin with.

    Or is it? If two people can use the same source to derive two diametrically opposite moral positions, then the foundation of their positions obviously isn’t the source, it’s tin their personal moral reasoning. Christians don’t so much derive their morality from scriptures as they use scriptures to justify moral positions already decided upon. In that they are no different than atheists. Moral reasoning is not an exercise in objective analysis as it is a subjective exercise involving conscience and experience. The only common ground that we all have for mediating moral differences is our common human nature.

  19. Truth v. The Machine » Archives » Thoughts on the GGD Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:34 am

    […] that Roberts is one better suited to the written word than to verbal parlays because at his blog he lands some blows on Hitch ex post […]

  20. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:34 am


    Good! Finally an argument. I’ll be thinking about your post… more after lunch.


  21. Michael Smith Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:43 am

    I wonder how long it will take people to realize that faith is the enemy — not the prerequisite — of morality. For once faith is accepted as a legitimate grounds for a belief system, anyone may claim to believe anything based on faith — and who’s to say they are wrong? If faith is valid, you certainly cannot appeal to reason to argue against someone else’s faith.

    The 19 hijackers who murdered 3,000 people on 9/11 were acting on faith — they had total faith that they were serving Allah’s will. I ask the Christians of the world, who believe faith to be valid, how do you know those hijackers were NOT doing God’s will?

    Such is the manner in which faith is the enemy of morality: accepting the validity of faith gives anyone, anywhere a blank check to behave as they wish and claim it was based on faith. So Protestants can kill Catholics and Catholics can kill protestants and Muslims can kill both and all three can kill Jews — all of it has happened over and over in history and all of it was based on faith. When will you learn?

  22. David M. Smith Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I would be interested to know how a fence sitter viewed the debate. While not at all on the fence, I heard a very gracious and intelligent Christian Pastor defend and represent the best of Christianity without resorting to arguable statements.

    Perhaps those of you who heard something different are more interested in fights than in representing Christianity.

  23. Julie Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 10:52 am

    Michael Smith- leave 9/11 out of this. Bush continues to use Christ in order to fool the masses with fear tactics. Dont do the same- this is not FoxNews here. Shame on you.

  24. Sue Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Michael Smith:

    We have been learning for over 4 million years. It may take another 4 million if we make it.

  25. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Al Lazzerman: “I was pulling for Mark but he fell flat and he himself lied and I dont just throw out lie like it is no big deal.”

    Sir, given that you leveled this accusation without a shred of supporting evidence, I would say you DO throw out “lie” like it is no big deal.a

  26. Michael Smith Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 11:36 am


    I know that you would dearly love to “leave 9/11 out of it” because that event perfectly illustrates the fundamental problem of basing a belief system on faith. You cannot wish that inconvenient event out of existence by somehow claiming that Bush and Fox New’s “fear mongering” — if such exists — puts 9/11 off-limits or makes it irrelevant to the issue. That is an utter non-sequitur.

    The inescapable fact is that faith is arbitrary and once it is accepted as a basis for one belief, there are no grounds for rejecting it as a basis for any other belief. Thus, with faith, anything goes, anything can be justified and morality is out the window.

    Let me give you a quotation from a man who knew how to use faith:

    “Faith must be unconditional. I have followed the Catholic Church in giving our party program the character of unalterable finality, like the Creed. The Church has never allowed the Creed to interfered with. It is fifteen hundred years since it was formulated, but every suggestion for its amendment, every logical criticism or attack has been rejected. The Church has realized that anything and everything can be built up on a document of that sort, no matter how contradictory or irreconcilable with it. The faithful will swallow it whole, so long as logical reasoning is never allowed to be brought to bear on it.”

    You know who said that? Adolph Hitler.

  27. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:01 pm


    According to Lazzerman “I was Harvard educated” = a lie if you didn’t go to Harvard Undergrad.

    (parenthetically, I would add, that Al Laz’s argument is a non-argument and, therefore, “no big deal”)

  28. Julie Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    Michael- I bend down before Mark Roberts- Grant.

    Dude- wake up. Mark was losing a debate and said Bart Ehrman was an atheist. That was a lie and Mark needs to come clean.

    You of course think of “come clean” in a different way you sicko. Think for yourself. Damn you right-wing nuts have issues.

  29. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Wow. That was what he refers to as a lie? Wow. Incredible. Audacious. And utterly wrong. Did he by any chance read Mark’s bio? (You should too, Christof.)

    Mr. Lazzerman: I believe you owe Mr. Roberts an apology.

  30. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Julie: I must say, it has truly become pathological tendency among some, particularly on the left, to confuse an error with a lie. Did you bother to read the correction he included here in this very post?

  31. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Oops, to clear up confusion: post 28 is in response to Christof’s post 26.

  32. Michael Grant Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Julie: Mark’s correction is in not in this post, but rather the previous one. I made a mistake. (Or did I lie?)

  33. Dr. Edward Beutiel Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    Julie, I think you are cleaning up these intellectual lightweights with ease. I got a good chuckle at your responses and their rather sophmoric attempts to strike back. I agree, republican now means “dumb ass”.

    Good stuff.

  34. Bill Walsh Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    It never ceases to amaze how the committed leftist can poison the atmosphere. Thus Julie calling an error (corrected yesterday) a lie.

    I listened to the debate the other night and strongly disagree with those who contend that Mark Roberts lost it. That he is not a glib (albeit a bright and prepared one) journalist absolutely adept in the talk show format does not mean he did not hold his own. But Hitchens’s ability to bob and weave and to toss out multiple charges in short order made it difficult for Roberts to adequately address all of them. I commend him for doing as well as he did under the circumstances.

  35. Duane Stupple Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    Apparently they didn’t teach you irony at doctor school.

  36. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Julie and Dr Beutiel
    We’re trying to have a religious argument here. Take your politics outside.

  37. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Robert Duquette, I realize Christof is contemplating a response to your postulations, but I couldn’t resist tossing in my own 2-cents regarding your statement: “Christians don’t so much derive their morality from scriptures as they use scriptures to justify moral positions already decided upon.” It is a sad fact that Christians have indeed wielded scripture carelessly, thus giving fodder to your position. However, similar to many things in life, many people wear the nametag “Christian” without fully understanding the organization they represent. Scripture is clear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, thus lending to a viewpoint that slavery is contrary to the Christian lifestyle. But Christ and Old Testament writers lived in the world over 2 millennia ago, where slavery was culturally and economically accepted as valid. Christ was not here to overhaul our governments… he was here to overhaul our hearts. And it worked (in western “Christian” nations) where slavery is concerned… it just took a while. As a Christian, I can say that moral dictates such as “love your neighbor as yourself” are not natural and do not come easily. This is not a moral position I decided upon and use scripture to authenticate. It is a moral position I try to adhere to based upon my personal relationship with God and my desire to be obedient to His commandments as outlined in scripture.

    Michael Smith, regarding your statement “The 19 hijackers who murdered 3,000 people on 9/11 were acting on faith — they had total faith that they were serving Allah’s will. I ask the Christians of the world, who believe faith to be valid, how do you know those hijackers were NOT doing God’s will?”… any Christian worth their salt can point out that God’s character is revealed over and over again throughout the Old and New Testaments. So knowing what is aligned with God’s will and what is obviously an act of man’s own will are not too hard to discern. God is a covenant-maker and a covenant-keeper, and what many secularists fail to realize is that the New Testament is a record of God’s New Covenant with mankind. No longer is God solely using Israel as His voice in the world – He’s using all of mankind. Therefore, He doesn’t war with the nations to protect His people as He once did. In fact, He calls us to share the “good news” joyfully and personally, not with forced coercion and violence because God knows (as do we all) that truth can’t be forced; it must be freely accepted. Secondly, true believers in Christianity and Islam alike agree that Allah and God are not the same being. So the hijackers were doing “Allah’s” will, not God’s.

    Mark Roberts, I am so glad you joined Hugh Hewitt and Christopher Hitchens on the air in defense of faith. I appreciate your open and gentle approach to Hitchens because it reflects your heart’s desire to show him the truth and welcome him into a life of forgiveness and joy. I am sad that Hitchens was in an antagonistic frame of mind because he that didn’t allow you to make some extremely valid points. I agree with Dianne who said, “Here’s the difficulty – [CH} doesn’t, in fact, care about actually debating ideas. CH did not enter this discussion with any idea of hearing MR out and weighing his arguments carefully. And CH doesn’t even care to be polite about that. MR made the “mistake” of treating CH the way he would have liked to be treated - with sincerity and politeness.” Knowing this about Christopher Hitchens, I do hope that he is paired with the likes of Ravi Zacharias or someone of similar apologetic ilk in the future. But keep writing Dr. Roberts! I think you communicate in written word brilliantly.

  38. Evan Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    I listened with interest to Hitchens and Roberts, but I would shy away from the notion that this was a “debate.” Commercial breaks and other format constraints prevented some responses that require depth or nuance. I would also posit that Hitchens is simply better in a knife fight than Roberts or even attorney Hewitt; in an exchange of sound-bites, Hitchens comes off very well, whereas in a more drawn-out and reflective format, his underlying ideas might not fare as well when discussed in detail. So the format was not conducive to any detailed analysis of some issues that that call for such analysis.

    An example: Hitchens posits that being “commanded to love” is, in essence, a silly proposition. That is a very pithy sound-bite, and answering it first must address the underlying assumption by Hitchens that humans will naturally “love” one another as they love themselves, which is a dubious proposition, before one ever gets to the merits of how silly it may or may not be to have God “command” us to love. That did not happen.

    Another related example: Hitchens notes that Jesus said He came not to bring peace, but a sword. Hewitt, surprisingly, concedes the point and simply says, “Touche.” Roberts correctly points out that the context of what Jesus was referring to clarifies the problem that Hitchens was presenting, but then does not go on to explain the context! (Briefly, that members of families will split over Jesus, and that one cannot love one’s family members more than Him. Matt 10:34-39)Hitchens comes off as having made a brilliant point only because the response was not presented completely, and while that may show Hitchens to be more skillful at that moment as a “debater,” his point is quite disingenuous. You cannot find any place in the New Testament where Jesus instructs His followers to kill in his name or even to harm others in His name. He says to love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you. Even here, the door is thus opened to an in-depth discussion of Jesus’ teachings and how it may or may not be getting followed, but that did not happen.

    Certainly in a sound-bite contest it would have been better for Hewitt to have responded, “Now, Christopher, you KNOW He was speaking metaphorically, because He also said ‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword,’” than as he did, but the underlying point needs far more analysis than that; a snappy reply “comes off” better but misses the exploration of the point, which really should be the overarching purpose.

    The merit of an event like this would be a reasoned discussion, I should think, not who can quip the best. Indeed, Hewitt and Roberts seemed to be going out of their way to be civil and friendly, and would not even return chides by Hitchens in kind. But that goes more to the sound-bite contest aspect of things, not the merits, which really did not get examined very much at all. Dr. Roberts’ blogging here will provide the needed detailed discussion that Hitchens’ challenges rightfully entail. Hitchens is a very intelligent and charismatic fellow, and it is unfortunate that a blogging conversation could not take place, but Oh Well.

    The event was interesting, but it really could not be dispositive of anything. If anything, I think of it more as the Overture to the blogging Dr. Roberts has now commenced.

  39. Dr. Edward Beutiel Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:07 pm


    Bush has used religion to fool simple minded minions like yourself. The adults are in charge now son.

    Sit down and take notes.

  40. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Here’s another “village theist” argument from yesterday’s debate. Hugh asked Hitchens the question “ if there’s no God, then where does morality come from?”. Now I think that Hitchens did a fine job explaining morality through evolutionary mechanisms, but the problem is that the question is irrelevant to the whole debate. Both theists and atheists agree that humans need a common morality in order to survive as social creatures. And Mark Roberts acknowledged that the moral sense is an inherent aspect of human nature. The question of where that sense derives from does not need to be answered in order for people to act on that moral sense. We ask the question of where it originates because we are curious, inquisitive beings, but it is strictly academic.

    Let me illustrate with an analogy. People can learn to drive a car without needing to know anything about the scientific principles that make the car go. People learn to drive through the experience of driving, not through the academic exercise of understanding the physics underlying the internal combustion engine, or the coefficient of friction of tires, or how mechanical energy is transferred from the engine to the driveshaft via the transmission. Someone can understand the mechanics of driving perfectly and be a terrible driver, and someone can be an excellent driver and not understand anything about the mechanics.

    So it is with developing one’s moral sense. It is developed through experience, not through metaphysical philosophizing.

  41. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    But who designed the car, Robert?

  42. Duane Stupple Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Atheists indeed can be moral and it may derive from an inherent evolutionary basis but I contend that unless there is a self serving reason to be moral, it is illogical to be so.

    For example ,there is no logical reason an atheist should return a lost wallet full of money. Any negative effects that society may feel as a result of the butterfly effect is far outweighed with the positive effects the individual may garner with this found money. Hitchens speaks of conscience in the animal world. Well as far as I know, in the animal world its ‘finders keepers’.

  43. Jim C Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Michael Smith,

    I would submit that the bible informs our faith… that’s how we know we are correct and that the terrorists on 9-11 were not.


    Your sick sophomoric attempt at humor with the sexual reference was uncalled for. Please take that nonsense elsewhere.

    Dr. Roberts,

    I didn’t get a chance to listen to the whole debate. Although, based on the part that I did hear, CH was rude and obviously already had his mind made up. I found it really frustrating that he seemed more interested in running down people of faith that debating ideas. I was truly NOT impressed with his arguments.

    Jim C

  44. Dr. Edward Beutiel Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Robert. Your car story was stupid and points to the fact that there is no God because why would you be created in the first place? You simply produce CO2 and human waste- both not in demand in 2007.

  45. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    People are not logical. They may use logic to determine the best way to act on their moral sense, but the sense is not based on a logical deduction. It is either there or it isn’t. Logic can only work with propositions as givens, and can be used to derive correct deductions from those propositions, but it cannot validate the presuppositions themselves.

    If there is a self-serving aspect to morality, it is in the fact that the internal conscience plays a role in creating one’s self image. People want to think well of themselves. That is the self-interest part. A guilty conscience will not allow a person to think well of himself in the face of an immoral act. Hitchens gave a good answer to the question of what incents an athiest to act morally when noone (God) is looking. His answer was that there is always someone looking, namely oneself.

  46. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Short answer - I don’t know. But as with where does morality come from, it is strictly an acedemic question. That’s the whole point of the metaphor.

  47. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Dr. Beutiel, Robert’s analogy is a legitimate attempt to illustrate a point. In fact, I think your vitriol is misdirected because Robert actually agrees with you that there is no God.

  48. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Whoa! It is my general preference never to delete comments unless they use foul language or are otherwise way out of line. I am willing to leave up any reasonably fair criticisms of my ideas. In fact, I would invite them. I would ask that you try to keep to the subject, and that you avoid personal attacks (like calling something “stupid”). I reserve the right (not exercised yet) to delete comments that are more rude than relevant.

    For the record, I did indeed graduate from Harvard College. I’m not sure that is such a big deal. Harvard was a fine school and I learned a great deal there. But there are also many, many other fine schools.

    Also for the record, Hitchens went to Oxford, which Harvard men and women sometimes admit is the one school they bow before with awe.

  49. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Robert, I guess I don’t posit academic questions for the sake of academic questions. I know people who do this and I quickly grow bored with their “philosophizing”. I am, however, interested in academic questions that attempt to uncover Truth… You seem to be a truth-seeker; I hope you continue to ask questions for the sake of finding answers.

  50. Duane Stupple Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Whether people can think logically or not does not diminish the fact that actions by self professed moral atheists are illogical.

    I’ll move from moral acts to altruism. Giving up your life to save another does not make the one giving up their life feel better. There is no guilt conscience to worry about after you are dead for an atheist. Atheists can be altuistic but again, it is illogical. By the way, I assume that Hitchens believes himself to be logical.

  51. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    I’m interested in them as well. I just like to separate the academic questions of cosmology from the more important questions of morals and ethics. I wouldn’t spend so much time debating theists if I wasn’t interested in finding answers.

  52. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    Like I said, people aren’t logical.

  53. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    To Robert (comment 18)

    Wow, just had lunch and behold! A mighty stream of consciousness! At the risk of doing something stupid and actually trying to hold down a serious conversation here (cultural suicide in these parts) let me just take two small points in an effort to avoid being “the long post guy”.

    (By the way, this conversation might need to move somewhere else soon as folks will probably get tired of people having a sustained conversation in the comment section. And to Doctor B. - Wikipedia “bush derangement syndrome”).

    Robert Duquette Said:

    “…Two Christian groups using the same scriptures used those scriptures to justify two diametrically opposing moral positions. So the “common ground” between them, which you imagine would serve as a foundation for mediation, is unavailable because it is the source of their moral differences to begin with.”

    “Moral reasoning is not an exercise in objective analysis as it is a subjective exercise involving conscience and experience. The only common ground that we all have for mediating moral differences is our common human nature.”

    Your first observation is an epistemological problem and runs far deeper than it’s Christian/Aetheist context belies. However in this context, at the risk of sounding dismissive (which I don’t mean to be), aren’t you diagnosing the epistemological problem without taking into consideration all possible sources of arbitration? In this case, there seem to be three things in play (not your two) Bible, Logic, and X Issue. So your two Christians do have an arbitor. To jump to the end… my claim is that the two Christians debating slavery ARE standing on a common human logic faculty, but are directing their faculties towards the Bible in an effort to learn what it actually says. In the case of slavery, the conversation was long but, ultimately fruitful because there is now (almost) universal consensus within Christianity that slavery is antithetical to the teachings of the Bible.

    Lastly, a challenge. I have never really encountered a satisfactory rebuttal to the charge that aetheist’s “let your conscience be your guide” morality is as good as useless in practical affairs. CH says it’s great. I understand. But the, very few, truly atheist countries in the world have all been very, well… terrible – from a moral perspective. What do you do to avoid the fairly obvious implications of this ?

  54. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    On the positive side, I get excited when the discussion is about ideas and shows a willingness to engage in open, respectful, challenging conversation.

  55. Duane Stupple Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    I should have prefaced my comment with my disagreement with the notion that people have an inherent morality thus are not able perform any deductive process beyond that inherent morality foundation.

  56. Michael Smith Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Wendi, are you really so blind as not to realize that when you claim to be able to discern God’s will from the Bible, you have just granted every Muslim an equally valid claim to have discerned Allah’s will from the Koran? And having discerned that it was Allah’s will that we be attacked on 9/11, their actions are just as “justified” as any you may care to commit in the name of your faith.

  57. jule Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Michael. I already warned you on using 9/11 for your own gains. Next mention of 9/11 and you will be removed from posting here. This is not a board for your political views.

  58. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Michael (53)

    Two thoughts:

    1. Claiming that one can learn things about God from books is not revolutionary.

    2. It does, therefore, follow that I have to believe the Muslims should destroy America.

    3. Why in the world do you assume knowledge of God is dangerous? It’s like, we’re back in the garden of eden, and you don’t want to eat the apple…

    Which is really weird considering the context.

  59. Christof Meyer Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    That should have been directed to Michael (56)

  60. Ed Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    I think a word should be said about Hitchens query as to how one can be “commanded” to love. This does seem to pose a problem especially if one thinks of love as a kind of emotion or as dependent on affection. Then, it would seem hard to “command” such a thing.

    A Christian who loves his neighbor, whomever his neighbor may be, does necessarily “like” his neighbor. The idea of loving someone for the sake of his/her soul does not imply affection. Affection may or may not be present but it is not of the essence. We don’t know whether or not the Good Samaritan personally liked the man on the side of the road. That is irrelevant.

    If love is an act of the will then surely one can be commanded to love. Clearly such a command is useful, there being so many instances when man has fallen short in love.

    Hitchens point is also useful to consider as love, of it’s nature would seem to have to be free and therfore how could it be commanded? Of course the willingness to follow the command has to be present. But Hitchens’ question seemed suggest that a command from God might be akin to that given to a pet dog or a command that runs a computer program. The commandments of God are directed to men who have the ability to follow them freely (not neglecting the necessity of grace, of course). A Christian who follows the commands of God is not following in a servile way but in love and perfecting himself in fulfilling the will of his Creator.

  61. Stephen Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    Hoi polloi
    My mother taught me, better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then open my mouth and remove all doubt. Posting twice now in the comment section of a single entry on a blog I think demonstrates the accuracy of my mother’s proverbial wisdom.

    But the atmosphere in this comments section seemed so inviting for a fool such as me; given this school yard is full of posturing bullies and proselytizing freaks I could not resist.

    This juvenile display of arrogance, elitism, and self-righteousness punctuated by a few alphabet letters after last names is reminiscent of recess in my sixth grade school yard. Too immature to cope with the real potent ional afforded by our technology the blogosphere comment section has succumbed to school yard tactics by those seeking revenge from childhood wounds; alas now I too am guilty of my own indictment.

  62. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    From my viewpoint, the origin of the earth is interwoven with morality, i.e. God is our Creator AND our Designer. It wouldn’t occur to me to separate the two. In fact, have you considered that morality as outlined the New Testament is extremely unnatural? Just think of it… when someone deliberately pushes me down, my natural reaction is confusion, then anger, then the desire to push them back even harder. Yet scripture tells me to turn the other cheek and offer my cloak to my offender. What?!!! That is the exact opposite of what I WANT to do! So I’m unclear how anyone can be guided by their internal “moral code” because our internal drives are extremely reactionary. In fact, I would even go as far as saying that any morality of love, compassion and altruism practiced by secularists is derived from their existence in a country based on Christian principles and is also derived from the fact that they coexist with people practicing Christian principles. The drive to practice love at all times is not internal. It is an external morality. So you have to ask, “Where does this external morality come from?” and “Why on earth should I obey it?”

  63. Barry King Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    Dr. Roberts,

    Thank you for your work and thanks to HH for directing me to your blog. I have downloaded the “Great God Debate” off the TH podcast option and I look forward to listening to it. I will be shocked if Mr. Hitchens DIDN’T win in a debate with a pastor and scholar. The WORST I’ve ever seen from Hitchens is being held to a draw. He is a gifted debater… too bad he doesn’t believe in the God Who created him with such gifts.

    Hitchens is an intelligent man. I believe the model for convincing “an intelligent man” is found in Acts 13 when Paul DEMONSTRATED the power of God. Sadly, apologetics in the 20th and 21st century seems to have replaced the power of God in ministering to unbelievers. I’m curious if you believe that miracle power is still available to believers as we obey the Great Commission.

    I’m not familiar with all the “blog” protocols. It appears that people respond, not only to Dr. Roberts’ writing but to each others’ writing as well. I hope I haven’t ruined the “flow”. Thank you, Dr. Roberts, for your efforts.

  64. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Michael Smith, the terrorists’ actions ARE justified by their faith. So the question becomes, “Is that a faith I want to participate in?” My answer is, heck no. I think they’re practicing an untruth.

  65. Wendi B. Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    When discussing why one should choose Christianity as their “faith”, someone inevitably points out that the Crusades caused irrevocable harm, therefore Christianity is violent and hurtful. And just remember all the bad things done in the name of “Christ”, they’ll say.

    The simplest response is this: study the New Testament for yourself. Don’t just read it, STUDY it. And then take on the Old Testament if you want. Use concordances & dictionaries & videos. Once you have a grasp on scripture, judge for yourself whether those historical atrocities were committed by practicing Christians. Or, were those injustices committed by men standing on God’s name but acting in their own will?

  66. George Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Mark D. Roberts:
    “Hitchens went to Oxford, which Harvard men
    and women sometimes admit is the
    one school they bow before with awe.”

    Before the war Oxford’s boys resolved that they would in no circumstances fight for king and country. Hitler, one reads, took heart. Shortly, Texas A&M’s Corp of Cadets sent more of its young men to fight for country, as officers, in Hitler’s war than all our service academies combined.

    When you bow, Reverend Dr., bow to A&M and the Aggie boys who put down their plows, and kissed their mothers, and went to war to give pompous twits the chance to mention, three times an hour, that they are Harvard men.

  67. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 7th, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    Christof Meyer says:my claim is that the two Christians debating slavery ARE standing on a common human logic faculty, but are directing their faculties towards the Bible in an effort to learn what it actually says. In the case of slavery, the conversation was long but, ultimately fruitful because there is now (almost) universal consensus within Christianity that slavery is antithetical to the teachings of the Bible.

    Slavery wasn’t abolished in America when Northern and Southern Christians acheived consensus through interdenominational dialogue. Slavery was ended at the point of a gun. Many, many guns. You can’t ignore the persuasive impact of that calamity, and the intervening 100 years of struggle for equal rights for blacks, as a decisive factor in bringing about that consensus. It was much easier for the grandchildren and great-granchildren of the slaveholders to join in that consensus view after the option of becoming slaveholders was totally denied them, and the judgment of history made on it.

    My point is that noone derives moral precepts from the Bible or any other authoritative religious source that are in opposition to their conscience. Do you imagine that there were slaveholders whose conscience cried out against slavery but who held onto their slaves out of obedience to a reading of Scriptures that seemed to justify it? Or can you imagine that there were abolitionists who felt in their conscience that slavery was a just and good institution but who committed themselves to the cause out of obedience to a reading of Scriptures that forbade it? For me to believe that Christians subordinate their subjective instincts of what is right and wrong to what is written in Scriptures, I would have to see such cases of contrary conscience and moral views. This doesn’t happen because that is a prescription for madness. As Lincoln observed about the country, a house divided against itself cannot stand. That holds true for the human psyche as well.

    Lastly, a challenge. I have never really encountered a satisfactory rebuttal to the charge that aetheist’s “let your conscience be your guide” morality is as good as useless in practical affairs. CH says it’s great. I understand. But the, very few, truly atheist countries in the world have all been very, well… terrible – from a moral perspective. What do you do to avoid the fairly obvious implications of this ?

    I’ll not defend atheists that instigated or collaborated with the moral horrors of the Communist regimes in Russia or China. But neither is it proper to spin the atrocities of the Nazi regime as a result of the atheist worldview. I’m not satisfied with the defense that Communism is just another religion in order to absolve athiesm from crimes committed in its name. My philosophy is different than Hitchens. I’m not trying to show that religion poisons everything, because I know better. Neither am I trying to prove that athiesm can solve the world’s problems, because it can’t. Athiesm isn’t a values system, it’s a philosophical judgment on theism. I don’t derive my values from atheism. If you want to know what name I give to my values system, it is Americanism.

    I’ve been both a serious Catholic and an athiest in the same lifetime, and that experience has shown me that values don’t come from philosophical systems, they are the result of a lifetime of daily moral choices. Dennis Prager was once asked to judge Islam, and Prager’s answer was that he doesn’t judge religions, he judges people. It is too easy to attribute every thing you hold good about yourself to your faith, and every thing you hold bad about others to their faith, or lack thereof. Athiests like Hitchens and Dawkins are guilty of this, but many Christians are equally as guilty. It is very easy for Christians to make a judgment that the horrors of the 20th century are all to be laid at the feet of atheism. But believers have gotten their hands bloody as well. I think Hitchens criticism of how the Catholic clergy and lay people of Germany largely supported Hitler’s regime is a fair one. There were Catholics in America, like Father Charles Coughlin, who wholeheartedly supported the Nazis.

    I don’t know how that meets your challenge.

  68. Jim C Says:
    June 8th, 2007 at 12:37 pm


    Huh? What on earth are you talking about? Do you have anything to add to the debate?

  69. Jim C Says:
    June 8th, 2007 at 1:18 pm


    I am nowhere near as educated as Dr. Roberts. But, I can say with confidence that I do believe that miracles do happen.

    Four years ago I came down with Guillain Barre Syndrome as well as several other medical problems. The doctors didn’t think that I would survive. For example; I had adult respiratory distress syndrome, neurological deficits that left me unable to breathe on my own, or even hold my head up… much less sit or stand on my own, severe pneumonia in both lungs, MRSA — which is a lung infection that is resistant to antibiotics… just to name a few. As a result of that I ended up on life support for about four months. The doctors have said that there’s no reason for me to have survived, much less to have done as well as I have as far as recovery. In fact, I remember a doctor telling me shortly after they had taken me off of the sedation that I would probably “get off of” life support, I might eventually be able to get out of bed, but he didn’t believe that I would ever get out of a wheelchair. I have had to go back into the hospital several other times since then, and four of those times have also landed me on life support. All four of those times the situation was basically the same; they didn’t know if I would survive.

    As far as recovery; yes it is true that most Guillain Barre patients recover most of their function. However, many still have some neurological deficits years later. Because of the delay in my diagnosis, I am one of those patients who still struggle with neurological deficits.

    I say all of this as a matter of background information. As far as recovery; I am able to breathe on my own now (I have a tracheostomy — a hole cut through my neck into my windpipe — which helps me with my breathing), I am able to walk on my own for short distances — oh, say to the end of the block and back, I am able to pick up, hold, and play with my nephews, I am able to get out and do some yard work (although, it REALLY tires me out), and my lung function continues to improve. My doctor recently said that my lungs — on xray — looked better now than they have in almost four years.

    The ONLY way I can explain the fact that I have not only survived, but completely surpassed my doctor’s expectations as far as my recovery, is to say that God worked a miracle. There simply is no other way to explain it. The doctors can’t explain it scientifically. So, I know now that all of those believers who prayed for my survival and recovery — people I didn’t even know, but who were praying for me none the less — made a huge difference. I believe that God heard their prayers and worked a medical miracle.

    I know there will be skeptics who simply do not believe what I am saying. That’s really too bad. But, I cannot change their minds. All I can do is testify to what God has done in my life, and plant the seed. It’s up to Him to do the rest.


    Jim C

  70. *Ken Says:
    June 14th, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Dr. Roberts,

    I’ll stay to commenting on your post and not the other replies. I’ll point out I was brought up christian and left the church as a teen (mainly because my minister was a gleeful bigot re other demoninations) , returned and then left again. I would characterize myself as agnostic and only because I accept there is something beyond science but it is not god, leave me close to Einstien in this sense ( but both you and Hugh trying to twist Einstiens thoughts into proof he was a believer is pretty shabby, he was explicit in this regard).

    I have to point out that when you say a comment like “the realm of the rational and scientific, a realm that Hitchens almost seems to regard as the kingdom of God”, you are missing the point entirely … for HH there is no kingdom of god, or were you beong sarcastic or trying to make a joke.

    Similarly, your factual error accustation is a bit odd. There are no provable facts in the new testament only old stories and circumstantial evidence. No proof, sorry. So what you actually have is differences of opinion and since none of us was there they are all valid opinions. The internal comtradictions of the bible are a much bigger problem, again, extraordinary claims require extraodinary proof.

    As for your own expertise, does your scholarship allow for the possibliity that it is all false or is your scholarship based firstly on belief. If so, you lack objectivity. You wear faith based blinders. (you comments on the debate regarding the multiple resurrections illustrate this).

    Lastly, to the previous poster who credits god with your recovery, fine, but did you blame god for your illness? I hope you were cursing gods cruelty as well as praising his grace.


  71. *Ken Says:
    June 14th, 2007 at 7:54 pm

    hey …. what about my post …. explanation from moderator


Thanks for your willingness to make a comment. Note: I do not moderate comments before they are posted, though they are automatically screened for profanities, spam, etc., and sometimes the screening program holds comments for moderation even though they're not offensive. I encourage open dialogue and serious disagreement, and am always willing to learn from my mistakes. I will not delete comments unless they are extraordinarily rude or irrelevant to the topic at hand. You do need to login in order to make a comment, because this cuts down on spam. You are free to use a nickname if you wish. Finally, I will eventually read all comments, but I don't have the time to respond to them on a consistent basis because I've got a few other demands on my time, like my "day job," my family, sleep, etc.

You must be logged in to post a comment.