Atheist Debate War Stories

I am currently in Atlanta for the ACCS conference — and what a great time that is — but it turns out that John Lennox was also in town for another conference just a stone’s throw away, and through a fortuitous set of circumstances, we wound up seated next to each other at dinner last night.
Keith and Kristyn Getty were also here for the ACCS conference, and were also at the dinner, and Kristyn happens to be John Lennox’s niece. Nate was seated across the table, and he was one of the producers of Collision, and Louis Markos was also across the way. As you might imagine, the discussion was lively. The talk turned naturally to Christopher Hitchens, and “atheists what we have debated.”Taunton Hitch

We also spent some time talking about Larry Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, which (you may have heard) has received a barrage of criticism from astute non-readers of it. As Oscar Wilde once put it, “I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so.” This would be the kind of review that claimed that Taunton claimed a deathbed conversion for Hitch, when he did nothing of the kind. In any case, when it came out I reviewed Taunton’s book for Books & Culture, which, if you missed it, you can find here.

But there is more than one way to be unfair to a book. There were other reviews, like David Frum’s in The Atlantic, where his take on Taunton was simply snarky and uncharitable, as though he were nothing more than a social climber, using the bodies of deceased atheists.

But Lennox debated Hitchens, as have I, as did Larry Taunton. We all debated the same man, the man described in Taunton’s book.

In any case, last night we spent a good bit of time talking about a bunch of atheist debates, and our discussion was merry. There are incompetent atheists, who are scarcely worth the powder. There are humorless atheists like Dawkins who maintain that man has no soul and tries to conduct himself as living proof of that proposition. And there are lively and clever atheists — like Hitch — who were quite formidable in debate.

But being formidable in debate is not the same thing as having solid arguments. Hitchens was clever and very quick, and you had to keep your eye on him every minute. He was the master of the non sequitur, but not the kind of non sequitur that made audiences go, “Whoa, he’s evading the topic under discussion.” It would be the kind of non sequitur which, when delivered in that accent of his, makes audiences look at you like you were, kind of rumpled, just taken out of the doofus locker. He was also a master of supercilious browbeating and bluster.

He was also clever enough to know what he was doing. Frum took Taunton to task for noticing things that anyone not actively a Hitch-idolater should and would have noticed about him. Frum represented Taunton as casting Hitchens as some kind of a coward, when we in the Approved Circles all know he was a Man of Courage. This is nothing but hagiography for atheists. This is just the Eulogistic Lie Royale.

Now Hitch was a courageous contrarian, depending on the enemy. But when your adversary is the Hound of Heaven, courage does not really enter into it. Defiant courage in the face of the Ancient of Days, the one before whom Heaven and earth flee away, does not deserve the name courage.

And Hitch was, as I have mentioned, very clever, which means that he was not prepared to go to the wall for something he had not thought through. Taunton describes Hitch, not as converting on his death bed, but rather as simply carving out a space for himself to think about the subject without having to deal with the howls of outraged fans. He makes no claims about the ultimate decision Hitch made, but simply maintains that in private Hitchens did not give the subject the back of his hand. That is quite true — Taunton is exactly right.

For those not disposed to take my word for it, or Lennox’s, or Taunton’s, let me appeal to the public record.

Non-believers go through three reluctant stages as they are thinking about the prospect or possibility of converting to Christianity. The first stage is, “You are wasting your time on me. I’ll never convert.” That tells you that they have at least thought about it. The idea has crossed their mind.

The second stage is, “If I converted, . . .” The sentence could be completed with any number of things — “would I have to give up beer?” or “I wouldn’t be that kind of Christian,” or “I would want to be a missionary.”

The third stage is, “When I become a Christian . . .”

In his public discussions of this subject, after his diagnosis of cancer, Hitch was manifestly a bit past stage 2. He said in various ways, on different occasions, that if he cried out on his death bed, this would mean the cancer had got to his brain, or the medications had really messed him up. The Christopher Hitchens everyone knew would already be dead.

Notice that he did not say that if he converted on his death bed, “you can be assured that some pious evangelical nurse is telling lies about me.” On this subject, Hitchens did not resort to an ad hominem. He spoke the way he did because he was clearly nervous about letting his team down. He thought it was a distinct possibility that he might do something like that, and so he was giving his atheist supporters an accounting of it beforehand.

I indicated this in my review of Taunton’s book, and it has been implicit here. But let me finish by making it explicit. Taunton’s book is an honest accounting of an atheist’s struggle with himself, and it is an account written by an honest and insightful man. He fudges no answers on behalf of Christian sensibilities, but being — like Hitch — a man of courage, he fudges no questions on behalf of atheist sensibilities either.

If you haven’t yet, I urge you to get and read the book.

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jigawatt
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jigawatt

He thought it was a distinct possibility that he might do something like that, and so he was giving his atheist supporters an accounting of it beforehand.

Self-Poisoning the Well?

PerfectHold
Guest
PerfectHold

Funny how it gets thrown around by Christians that they have to hear about some kind of believable confession before they’ll allow a guy out of hell.

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

PerfectHold says:

Funny how it gets thrown around by Christians that they have to hear about some kind of believable confession before they’ll allow a guy out of hell.

Believe me, if I had the authority to keep people in or allow people out of Hell, we’d all be in bad trouble.

adad0
Member

I wonder what people would say to you, if they got mad at you?????????

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

I wonder what people would say to you, if they got mad at you?????????

It’d be something like this:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Good_Life_(The_Twilight_Zone)

Pooh Bear
Guest
Pooh Bear

“Wish him into the cornfield?”

Or

“You’re a very bad man?”

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

“The cornfield with the lot of ya” is what I’d eventually say. And condemn myself in the process.

Pooh Bear
Guest
Pooh Bear

I hear ya. I’ve often thought the same thing. At first our friends and the folks that make us happy would stay, but eventually we’d cast them all away, until the only one left is us, due to our inherent selfishness. That’s why it’s ultimately better, as you’ve said, that God picks and not us.

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

“Oh A-Dad,” I would say sadly, letting my blue eyes fill with gentle tears.

John
Guest
John

Interesting video on the moral problems with the 10 Commandments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=577ckT2xQEE

John
Guest
John

Interesting piece on the moral problems with the 10 Commandments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=577ckT2xQEE

Rob Steele
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Rob Steele

I formed the impression in the CT debate that he was an intellectual thug–beyond snarky and just downright mean. I guess he knew his arguments were weak and preferred to keep the attention elsewhere. Glad to hear he wasn’t all bad.

RandMan
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RandMan

You clearly haven’t watched a single debate. There is not one where he did not wipe the floor with Wilson or anyone else. It’s not really a hard debate.

Christopher
Member

He didn’t wipe the floor with John Lennox.

Evan
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Evan

Or Wilson. But Randman knows that. :)

bethyada
Member

Having seen him talk at various times it seems apparent that he was, despite his caustic bombast, a likeable guy. Fun times at the pub. Likewise Jillette Penn. Unlike Dawkins who comes across as a narcissistic bore.

I concede though, that public personas and media bites do not always give an accurate portrayal.

jsm
Guest
jsm

“There are humorless atheists like Dawkins who maintain that man has no soul and tries to conduct himself as living proof of that proposition” Yes

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

And of course, “tries” is the operative word there.

Caleb Wallace
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Caleb Wallace

Pastor Wilson,

Will you join Sye Ten Bruggencate to debate Lawrence Krauss and Penn Jillette? Jeff Durbin and Apologia Church said they are more than willing to host the event.

Thanks for your work.

jared
Member

I might pay money to see a Wilson/Jillette debate…

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

And if Sye Ten Bruggencate can’t make it, Uncle Si Robertson would be a fun replacement.

Jane
Member

Just make sure there’s lots of tea.

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
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40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

I’d pay to see Andrew Sullivan debate gay marriage with this preacher. I doubt if Sullivan and his husband would be inviting him over to a bbq.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTeWotpM5tI

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

I would love to have been a fly at your table, Douglas! What a discussion that must have been – thank you for relating this story and your analysis.

RandMan
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RandMan

Carving out the space? Ridiculous. As if Hitchens needed to do such a think in order to think about something so simple. With his remarks about death-bed conversions, Hitchens was pre-empting the very subject of this column: A certain strain of wish-fufilling, dishonest christian who would take advantage of any opening to run their agenda post-mortem. As an aside- as someone who spent a portion of his life struggling with narcotics, the notion to worry about or wonder what you may say under the influence is pretty obvious. lord know what came out of my mouth. And I didn’t even… Read more »

bethyada
Member

I think it unlikely that Darwin converted on his deathbed. I don’t see evidence that Christopher Hitchens became a Christian.

Nevertheless, we don’t desire the death of our opponents, we desire their repentance. In the public arena Peter took the side of God and Christopher took the side of the atheists; even so, it would be a delight to discover in heaven that Christopher did in fact call out to God and that God heard him and extended grace to him.

jigawatt
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jigawatt

to report unverifiable conversations

Did Taunton claim that Hitchens converted?

RandMan
Guest
RandMan

No, he misrepresented Hitchens using his phrase ‘two sets of books’. Implying that Hitch may have been using a ‘fraudulent bookkeeping method’. Spiritual (in the christian sense) behind closed doors. Wish-fulfillment at best. More likely dishonest apologism.

Christopher
Member

Why is it implausable for Hitchens to have not been as polemicly anti-God in private as he was in public?

holmegm
Guest
holmegm

Because RandMan dearly wants it to be implausible. Nobody could be conflicted about something he holds so dear, obviously.

RandMan
Guest
RandMan

Because there is no evidence for that and it goes against everything Hitchens ever said or wrote. The idea being to imply that he (Hitchens) was a man of two minds regarding faith-based thinking. Nothing shows otherwise. No evidence. Just dishonest conjecture. Christian wish-fulfillment.

Christopher
Member

While ‘two sets of books’ might not be the best way to discribe Hithchens thinking about God and faith, Wilson Lennox and Taunton arriving at the same opinion of Hitchens is evidence of more than wish fulfillment.

RandMan
Guest
RandMan

They may or may not have ‘the same opinion’ of Hitchens for whatever that may mean. They certainly share a worldview that is challenged by what Hitchens advocated. To be fair, Hitchens had the reason, fact and evidence cards to play. Hardly an even match-up.

bethyada
Member

There are incompetent atheists,…. There are humorless atheists like Dawkins

But you repeat yourself.

Reading The God Delusion makes one come to the conclusion that honestly, I am not retarded enough to be an atheist.

Doug Wright
Guest
Doug Wright

Any real believer sees through a talmudist whether he feigns religion or the opposite same. Those taken in are taken in in similar planes, the world view seems reasonable to those on the same geography. They can’t explain the tectonic shift these fakers made from hippyfied democrats to war Hawks at the Iraq of no offense. The shift overwhelms with angular momentum those in a two dimensional left/right world. Talmudist left/right are there own grasping fists. They may be strangers killing an Arab but they are absolutely not tourists. You can not welcome them to the inn of theism innocently.… Read more »

JamesBradshaw
Guest

Christians should at least appreciate that Hitchens’ objections to religion were often moral ones (as opposed to religion’s lack of usefulness or its imposition on the personal will). He never railed against religion for insisting that people can’t always do what they wanted to do. Rather, he rejected it because he felt it empowered and enabled the most wicked to do anything they wanted to do, whether it was priests molesting children or clerics calling for violent jihad. Good people would be good anyhow, with or without religion, but bad people can use religion as a means of convincing others… Read more »

holmegm
Guest
holmegm

“Good people would be good anyhow, with or without religion”

That itself is a religious belief, something that Doug often calls out and exposes.

Josh Wallace
Guest
Josh Wallace

Good stuff. Haven’t heard Lennox debate Hitchens. Will search on youtube.
Somewhat related…Can we discuss Peter Enns great work on evolution? It’s greatness in apologetics…

Josh Wallace
Guest
Josh Wallace

Favorite memory of the many great memories of Hitchens vs. God’s mouthpiece

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mLr3bOG8zQ

Josh Wallace
Guest
Josh Wallace

To say, I don’t know which religion is true is an act of humility. To say, none of the religions have truth, no one can be sure there’s a god is actually to assume you have the kind of knowledge, you just said no other person, no other religion has. How dare you? See, it’s a kind of arrogant thing to say nobody can know the truth because it’s a universal truth claim. To say, ‘Nobody can make universal truth claims.’ That is a universal truth claim. ‘Nobody can see the whole truth.’ You couldn’t know that unless you think… Read more »

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
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40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

As many people on here are aware, I’ve devoted my life to fighting racism. A big part of winning the battle to end racism is understanding where it comes from. Of course, when it comes to white people, racism isn’t a mystery at all – as we all know, white people are filled with hate and it informs their every thought and action (except for me and my friends, of course). But what about the harder cases? It’s no secret that there’s a lot of bad blood between Asians and blacks. But why should that be? Asians never held blacks… Read more »

ashv
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ashv

You didn’t even mention “roof Koreans”…

40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN
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40 ACRES & A KARDASHIAN

It was Yoko they ought’ve crucified!

Facts4eu
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Facts4eu

Hi and greetings from England. Thanks for your interesting article. I’m writing because I need your help / advice. You may know that Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron resigned a couple of weeks ago, after losing the UK’s Referendum on membership of the European Union. We’ve now entered a 2-month election campaign for a new Prime Minister. And finally there’s a serious Christian Conservative candidate on the slate! It really would be great if we can get her elected in September. I thought that maybe we could get some help from the Christian Conservative community in the States, but… Read more »