Atheism a worldview?

by Brian 31. December 2009 19:13

I just finished watching the April 4th, 2009 debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University. I must say Craig gave Hitchens such a serious beatdown it was truly embarrassing by the end of the DVD (the photo hints at the juxtaposition.) In fact Hitchens ran out things to say and forfeited his time during the concluding remarks. Even though this was not a fair matchup, (Craig is a top-notch philosopher and Hitchens simply isn’t) the debate generated excellent material for discussion. I hope to cover some of it in the coming days. For now I want to focus on the statement: Atheism is a worldview. Craig alluded to this in his rebuttal by stating one should not judge a worldview, Christianity or atheism, by its social impact. Rather one should judge a worldview by whether or not it is true. Hitchens agreed. Yet in the exchange portion of the debate when Craig pressed Hitchens to clarify his position as an atheist, you saw an angered opponent trying to backpedal. Hitchens was clearly trying to have his cake and eat it too and show atheism as a positive assertion (i.e. "there is no god") without the use of sound argumentation. When arguments are lacking, the best one can do is retreat into atheism as a default position (i.e. "you have not convinced me there is a god, therefore we should assume there isn't.") Unfortunately the later leaves a lot to be desired for such a debate.

So which form of nontheism does Hitchens fall under?

1.       A-theist - one who positively asserts the nonexistence of God (i.e. one who claims to know there is no god)

2.       Agnostic – one who has no net belief in the existence or nonexistence of God, in other words, no decisive knowledge on the matter due to balanced-belief or ignorance

3.       Skeptic (new atheist) – one who has no belief or insufficient belief in the existence of God to justify the extraordinary and momentous implications resulting from affirming said belief

Now clearly #1 is a worldview as much as theism is. It makes foundational claims about ultimate reality - such as the material universe being the initial brute fact by which all existence is based. There is no objective morality. There is no ultimate justice. Life ends at the grave, etc. As for #2 and #3, their relation to worldview is unclear. But, I have yet to meet an honest agnostic. Those who claim to be one usually live their lives as #1-atheists and reveal the doubt of #3 far more than honestly required to null out any positive belief. So apart from the truly ignorant, most nontheists are honestly in camp #1 or #3. However, based on my once self-proclaimed skepticism and my experience with others; under the cover of #3 is usually a closet #1-atheist. For the most part, nontheism is a worldview or foundational to one's worldview.

During the debate Hitchens claimed to be in camp #3 – which was not really fitting. After all, the title of the debate was “Does God exist?” Craig's opponent really needed to present a valid argument for the nonexistence of God and rebut the arguments for the existence of God. Craig prepared himself for this approach to only be disappointed. Since Hitchens did not rebut Craig or offer anything resembling an argument (apart from several assumptive ones with appeals to emotion), he showed he was not prepared to answer the question. By using the cover of #3 he exempted himself from having to take on Craig substantively and deal with the real debate - Does God Exist?

If Hitchens claims to be a #3-skeptic, why does he vehemently fight theists? Why did he debate Craig? He said during the debate that he didn't want a bunch of fellow primates telling him what to do in the name of God and basically he is on a mission to free us all from the shackles of religion. Fair enough, I do believe this is his real motivation. But it sure seems to me a genuine worldview clash between Hitchens and theist is key to that motivation, and such a clash only seems reasonable if Hitchens were a #1 atheist with a good degree of certainty about the nonexistence of God. But if he has that sort of certainty, he sure didn't substantiate it at the debate. Interestingly, he said to the audience multiple times during the discourse, “you are perfectly free to believe” as a backhanded way of saying “if you are an idiot, I cannot stop you.” Hitchens would like for you to think he cannot stop the believer because of their dogmatic ignorance, but the truth is; Hitchens is ill-equipped to defend atheism and it is a lot easier to simply bash the believer.

Finally, Hitchens commented on how he does not like to argue with liberal protestants because, in effect, their worldview is so watered down there is not much left to clash with his. I completely relate, but would point out it cuts both ways. Hitchens ought to come out of the closet as a rip-roaring #1 atheist and boldly proclaim what he already believes and not hide behind default #3 atheism. But if he does so, and decides to debate Craig again, he should come prepared. 


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I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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