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Thinkers quarrel over Christopher Hitchens’ legacy

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Hitchens (1949–2011) was one of the four New Atheist horsemen.  From Larry Alex Taunton at First Things:

In December 15, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer. Some remember him as a man of the left who, after 9/11, converted to a kind of neoconservatism; others remember him as an atheist provocateur and serial blasphemer. For me, Christopher Hitchens was much more than either of these things. He was, as he put it, my “debate partner” and friend.

And the subject of Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist.

The book received ample praise, with Booklist calling it “loving” and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews hailing it as “beautiful.” The Gospel Coalition declared it “an instant classic” and recently named it a 2016 Book of the Year winner. At the same time, however, the book evoked fierce denunciations by a number of the so-called New Atheists. They seized upon the title as proof that I claim Hitchens made some sort of last-minute conversion. As any reader of the book can tell you, this is not so. I say as much in the opening paragraph. But just in case the reader missed it, in the final chapter I emphasize that it is unlikely that Hitchens became a Christian. The subtitle makes it clear that I believe that Christopher was, in fact, an atheist, albeit a restless one. More.

Friends suggest that Taunton might have been gilding the lily a bit, but here he is, in his own defence.

See also: PZ Myers misrepresenting Christopher Hitchens?

and

Christopher Hitchens (1949–2011) as hero to scientists—especially Larry Krauss

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21 Replies to “Thinkers quarrel over Christopher Hitchens’ legacy

  1. 1
    EvilSnack says:

    In December 15, 2011, Christopher Hitchens died of esophageal cancer.

    Correction: The assemblage of atoms to which we have assigned the name “Christopher Hitchens” began to assemble in a different way on December 15, 2011. That is all that happened.

  2. 2

    I think the subtitle phrase “Restless Soul” sums it up very well.

  3. 3
    Darwins_downfall says:

    I agreed with many of Hitchens’ points, but I disagreed with the way he presented it.

    For example, I try not to blaspheme or ridicule religion. Not because I am a theist, but because I prefer not to say things that upset other people unless there is a valid purpose. There is no purpose, other than cruelty, in ridiculing religion. Religion is very important to many people, and I have no problem with that. It is just not important to me.

    The only time I get involved with any aspect of religion is when I think that someone is going beyond the societaly agreed laws (eg., not killing, stealing, etc.) to force specific religiously proscribed actions on others. Especially if they try to use the false colour of law to do so.

  4. 4
    AnimatedDust says:

    @DD

    Let me see if I follow you correctly. The random collocation of chemicals in the bag labeled Darwins Downfall, living in a random accidental universe assigns “purpose” to this or that.

    No one actually lives as if evo/mat atheism is true, but doesn’t the inconsistency bother you, at least a little?

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Ad, on evo mat there is no you there with a non delusional mind or conscience to be bothered. It is THAT bad. KF

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    I wish Hitchens were still alive and I had the opportunity to question him in a live, audience ‘question and answer’ session.

    “Living on a handful of rice a day, and sleeping 4 hours a night on a wooden table…! I wonder what scam she was finagling.., eh, Chris ? What was her game, eh, the wicked old mare ?

    Making a pile with Padre Pio, so they could both swan off on their Harley-Davidsons, to live it up on the French Riviera, I shouldn’t wonder. What a pair, eh ? And what an example to their novices ! Do you think maybe they are a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde ?”

    “To vice, innocence must always seem only a superior kind of chicanery.” – Victorian novelist, Ouida

  7. 7
    john_a_designer says:

    When it comes to the big questions, atheistic naturalism/materialism offers absolutely no basis for any kind of truth in the area of knowledge, meaning or values. Rather all you have are mindless opinions based on personal prejudice and herd like group think… That is what the knee jerk reactions of Hitchens’ shallow minded groupies that the First Things article illustrates.

    Here is one example from Taunton’s article:

    University of Chicago biologist and professional atheist Jerry Coyne published a review on his whyevolutionistrue.com website titled “A vulture spreads the false rumor that Hitchens accepted God at the end.” The false rumor comes from Coyne himself, since my book says nothing of the kind. When those who had actually read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens accused Coyne of not reading it, he posted this update: “Because people have suggested that I wrote this entire piece without having read any of Taunton’s book, I read the six pages about Hitchens given on the [New York] Times site, and, after writing it, have read substantial sections of the book that someone sent to me.” Six pages? So much for the scientific method.

    It is either blatant dishonesty or a total lack of reading comprehension skills for Coyne to make the claim that Taunton’s book claimed that “Hitchens accepted God at the end.” This is why I have pretty much given up trying to interact with atheists on the internet. They won’t admit they are factually wrong even when it is self-evidently true that they are factually wrong.

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    Science can, has been and is done by both believers and non-believers. That is not in dispute. The only advantage the atheist or agnostic has over the believer is that they have no prior commitment to the existence of a deity and the tenets of a faith to which the findings of science must conform. If the findings of science fail to support a Biblical claim, such as a story about a worldwide Great Flood, then it is science at fault not Christianity.

    And, once again, I will point out that a claim such as human beings are just bags of water and chemicals or just collections of fermions and bosons or quantum fields commits the fallacy of the single cause. Yes, at whatever level of description you choose, a human being is one of those. In fact a human being is all of those but they are not all that a human being is and, as far as I’m aware, no one seriously claims that.

  9. 9
    Darwins_downfall says:

    AD:

    Let me see if I follow you correctly.

    Given the responses to my comments so far, probably not. But I must admit that this may be with my inability to accurately articulate my thoughts.

    The random collocation of chemicals in the bag labeled Darwins Downfall, living in a random accidental universe assigns “purpose” to this or that.

    Since nobody has claimed that any organism is a random collection of chemicals, I don’t see what your point is. Unless it is to erect a strawman to knock over.

    No one actually lives as if evo/mat atheism is true, but doesn’t the inconsistency bother you, at least a little?

    Since many of us do, I again fail to see the point you are trying to make. Maybe you can provide some examples.

  10. 10

    The only advantage the atheist or agnostic has over the believer is that they have no prior commitment …

    good grief, the self-absorbed stupidity on display

    …we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism…moreover, materialism is absolute”

    If in reality, materialism is not “absolute” (i.e. that the origin of life is an actual product of design), but yet the prodigious empirical evidence of design (currently being ignored) is never acknowledged due to the enforcement of metaphysical materialism on science, then how does science correct itself?

    Given that materialists never have to acknowledge the evidence of design, and indeed, have stated they have no intention whatsoever of ever doing so, then why would anyone believe they ever will? So what happens to the self-correcting mechanism in science? It’s destroyed by the metaphysical commitment of materialists, is it not?

    EDIT:

    But since the origin of life cannot be conclusively “proven” either way, this all comes down to sociopolitical power — which is why ideologues who visit here and elsewhere do what they do. Materialists strive to strangle the opposition because they must avoid at all costs the circumstance where the general public sees their evidence for a natural origin of life naked and unprotected alongside the evidence of design.

  11. 11
    Origenes says:

    Seversky: And, once again, I will point out that a claim such as human beings are just bags of water and chemicals or just collections of fermions and bosons or quantum fields commits the fallacy of the single cause.

    The fallacy of the single cause is inherent to materialism.

    Seversky: Yes, at whatever level of description you choose, a human being is one of those.

    When one holds that all is matter, then one should choose the level of description accordingly. Stop pretending that you can pick and choose from a wide collection of causal actors.

  12. 12
    Dick says:

    I’ve read Taunton’s book and it mystifies me how anyone could think that anywhere in it he claims, or even implies, that Hitchens ever converted from atheism.

  13. 13
    john_a_designer says:

    Dick,

    As I said above @ 7 it is because of “either… dishonesty or a… lack of reading comprehension skills.” But thinking about it a little bit more there is no doubt that there is some kind of deep underlying anti-religious prejudice which is motivated by hatred or fear or both.

  14. 14
    Seversky says:

    Upright BiPed @ 10

    …we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism…moreover, materialism is absolute.

    Sorry, but Lewontin’s words are not gospel. He doesn’t speak for all materialists/naturalists nor, as far as I know, has he ever claimed to.

    But since the origin of life cannot be conclusively “proven” either way, this all comes down to sociopolitical power — which is why ideologues who visit here and elsewhere do what they do. Materialists strive to strangle the opposition because they must avoid at all costs the circumstance where the general public sees their evidence for a natural origin of life naked and unprotected alongside the evidence of design.

    You want to put up your evidence of design, go right ahead, although I don’t think anyone has really improved on William Paley’s original work. Nobody’s trying to “strangle” anything. ID theorists have been publishing articles, papers, books and videos about design for at least as long as I’ve been paying attention to it. In other words, the response to claims about evidence for non-human design is always the same,”Bring it on!”

  15. 15
    rvb8 says:

    To any one who even remotely believes in a kind of ‘Lady Hope’, moment for Hitchens, you are seriously misinformed. And considering that moment was also a lie, it seems an apt comparison.

    When this thing was first published it was Hitchen’s son Alexander, and daughter Sophia that said, even the slightest suggestion that Hitchens had a soul, let alone a spiritual existance is either mad, or a straight out lie.

    I hope LA Taunton is mad, because I have heard, though there is ample evidence to the contrary, that Christians have a thing about misrepresentations, or what we atheists call, lying.

    Hitchens died an atheist and this lamentable book, which does not deny this, implies he had spiritual inclinations; he did not, not in the tiniest sense was he an embracer of the ‘beyond nature’, supernatural.

    To publish this book when the man is not here to tear down this pile of rant, is an act of a coward, an imposter, and just a general lick spittal twit.

    All his family, all of his friends, all of his ‘serious’ acquiantances, all of his comments, all of his writngs, all of his interviews, and all of his public appearances point to a man who believed in nothing beyond nature; get it!?

    A pure atheist, who loved his family, nature, art, music, science, and creation, if you will. Also, much to the chargrin of his Christian detractors, he was a life long lover of the KJB, as am I; he could always out quote his rligious opponents.

    That’s all I, he, and fellow atheists need. Not only that, but if we are wrong and God is watching, I want exactly no part of S/He It. Neither do my fellow atheists; you can have Him.

  16. 16

    Sorry, but Lewontin’s words are not gospel.

    His words reflect the modern culture of science. Saying that his words are “not gospel” is little more than saying something when you have nothing else to say. It’s completely meaningless.

    The remainder of your post is just as silly. Your attempt to beat your chest does nothing to answer the question. If metaphysical materialism is not true, how does science correct itself when it allows no alternatives? The answer is it can’t.

  17. 17
    Seversky says:

    Origenes @ 11

    The fallacy of the single cause is inherent to materialism.

    No, there is nothing in materialism that denies that there are many possible levels of complexity in the way matter is organized.

    When one holds that all is matter, then one should choose the level of description accordingly. Stop pretending that you can pick and choose from a wide collection of causal actors.

    We could put a human being in one box, the same amount of water and chemicals in another box and the same number of fermions and bosons in a third box. At one level of description, what is in all three boxes is exactly the same. Yet anyone looking at them would see they are very different as well. The big mystery is in the nature of those differences and the origin of that nature.

  18. 18
    Origenes says:

    Seversky:

    Origenes: The fallacy of the single cause is inherent to materialism.

    No, there is nothing in materialism that denies that there are many possible levels of complexity in the way matter is organized.

    Materialism is the claim that true unitary existence is only to be found at the micro-level. Materialism is the claim that all of reality consists of impersonal indivisible fundamental elements —fermions and bosons— which are the source of all true causation.
    Therefor materialism wants to inform us that a thing at the macro-level which presents itself as one indivisible thing in fact is not. ‘All oneness at the macro-level is an illusion’ is the ‘great insight’ of materialism.

    For instance, at macro-level a rock may present itself to us as one indivisible thing, however materialism informs us that its oneness is an illusion; in fact it is nothing over and beyond the microscopic fundamental indivisible elements, which truly exists as single things. These fundamental elements that make the rock don’t have the rock in mind. They don’t care if they are part of a rock or any other conglomerate.

    According to materialism there are no exceptions to this rule of reduction.

    Similarly a robot, made from Lego blocks, which cleans the porch, may present itself to us as one indivisible thing which wants a clean porch, but in fact there is nothing over and beyond Lego blocks which care about neither robots nor porches. The illusion of a sympathetic personal robot is produced by unhelpful impersonal Lego blocks. To be clear, there is no person and there is no sympathy.

    Similarly a human being, made from fermions and bosons, may present itself to us as one indivisible thing with its own intentions, but in fact there is nothing over and beyond fermions and bosons which care about neither human beings nor their intentions. The illusion of an intentional personal human being is produced by unintentional impersonal fermions and bosons. To be clear, there is no person and there are no intentions.

    The three pillars of materialism:

    1. Oneness (indivisibility) equals true eternal existence — “atom” means “uncuttable” and “indivisible”.
    2. This oneness is only to be found at the micro-level — fermions and bosons (F&B).
    3. At this level of true existence there is no personhood, no intentionality, no reason and no consciousness.

    Materialism is an attempt to unmask the world we are familiar with. It informs us that things are not what they seem to be, that is, there is no intrinsic unity — and as such no reality — at the macro-level of things we know from daily life.

  19. 19
    john_a_designer says:

    The following is an in depth Socrates in the City interview with Larry Taunton about his recent book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pf9mTP3QCLw

    If you read the on-line reactions of atheists about Taunton’s book which is about his many friendly, mutually agreed upon encounters with Hitchens (meetings at restaurants… frequent phone calls… two long road trips… an overnight stay at Taunton’s house etc.) you would think that Taunton had committed a crime against humanity.

    Taunton never claims he is writing a biography of Hitchens. He is clearly writing from his own personal perspective. Is there something morally wrong with that?

    For his part Hitchens pulled no punches in writing what amounts to be hit pieces against famous public figures. For example, see the following article about Mother Teresa:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/.....arest.html

    Hitchens went on to write a full “bio” of MT, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (2012)

    Was Hitchens authorized to write this about MT? Does a writer need authorization to write an expose about influential political or religious individuals? Isn’t it hypocritical for atheists to hold Taunton to this kind of standard?

    However, it is even worse than that. Unlike Hitchens’ take-down of Mother Teresa, Taunton’s personal memoir is not at all negative. Indeed, it is very positive. So why the outrage?

    Ironically, in the interview Taunton tells us that he had done a chapter about Hitchens, while he was still alive, in an earlier book and had sent Hitchens a copy of a draft before publication. Hitchens returned the draft with only one correction– Taunton had gotten the kind of Scotch he enjoyed drinking wrong.

    Would Hitchens have approved of what Taunton of had written about him if he were still alive? I think there is evidence that he would have.

  20. 20
    rvb8 says:

    My angst j_a_d,

    is that people who new Hitchens far more closely than Taunton, were angered by the mere implication of a nascent spirituality, in the old Bantum Rooster.

    A man who has dabbled in many belief systems evolves into the staunch atheist we all knew him to be. He didn’t come to this position lightly, but after much research, and conversation with family, friends, priests, pastors, Imams, and Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu practitioners; His, was not a light conversion.

    I have not heard of Hitchens reviewing the text of Taunton, I would like more evidence of that, as Hitchens was famous for smelling out duplicitous prose.

    He did expose Mother Teresa, and so successfully attacked Henry Kissinger, that Kissinger withdrew his defamation suit against Hitchen’s book on him.

    Implying that a staunch atheist, had spiritual leanings, when that staunch atheist is no longer around to deny the slander, is cowardly, full stop!

  21. 21
    john_a_designer says:

    rvb8,

    Unless you knew Hitchens personally, read Taunton’s book or watched the free interview I linked to above your opinion is utterly groundless and baseless. IOW it would be a waste of my time to engage you further. (I am saying that as politely as I can.)

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