Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hitchens Challenge

Christopher Hitchens’ challenge:  ““Name me an ethical (moral) statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”

Answer:  A non-believer can neither make an ethical statement nor perform any ethical action.

Rational:  First let’s try to get our heads around some working definitions.  Since Christopher is secular, then we will go with secular sources for the key definitions.  We will take ethical to mean - of or relating to moral (concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character) principles.
Now, let’s suppose that non-believer Chris wants to do something ethical.  The first thing he needs to do is determine some wrong or bad behavior.  Let’s suppose that Chris decides that in general lying is wrong or bad.  Chris then states: “Lying is wrong or bad.”  Chris goes for 100 days and states only the truth.  On the 101st day a situation comes up that Chris did not think about before where he determines that lying in this case is the right thing to do.  Chris modifies his ethics and now lies only in the cases where he determines lying is not bad.  This will quickly become confusing for Chris and others to follow but let’s say we can all live with this as ethical behavior; Chris’s set of principles are just complicated but he manages to live by them for another 200 days.  On the 301st day a situation comes up where Chris is tempted to lie, let’s say for personal gain or convenience.  Now, Chris knows this is wrong.  He has had someone lie to him before because it was convenient for them and Chris did not like that one little bit; yes, it is wrong by Chris’s standards and Chris is fully aware of it.  However, there is so much personal gain or convenience at stake for Chris that he does it; he lies.  Most would say, yeah ok, Chris messed up but he is still ethical, or, more to Christopher’s point, Chris has stated and done ethical things in the past.
Wait just a minute.  This one act erodes all of the efforts Chris has made in the past and all of the efforts Chris will make in the future with respect to telling the truth.  It uncovers the true basis of his schema.  Chris does not tell the truth because lying is wrong or bad; Chris tells the truth when it is convenient and lies when it is convenient.  That is all Chris has ever done that is all he, by himself, will ever do.  Chris has not lived the past 300 days by his ethic of lying is bad.  Lying, to Chris, is only bad in theory.  In practice, it can be very convenient.

You might be now ready to beg that Chris does have an ethic:  Inconvenience is bad.  I caution you.  For if so, you have come to the description of human character summed up in Romans 3.  You might be comforted at this point by the fact that believers, of their own strength and will can neither make an ethical statement nor perform an ethical action.  We all have the same problem.  The solution?  There is one; Jesus.  John 15: 5 – 8.  So, the believer can make ethical statements and perform ethical acts by the power of the Holy Spirit in him or her.  The non-believer, at best, can only do what is convenient.

4 comments:

Jim Hendricks said...

Not sure I agree. What if the moral issue was murder?

Based on this answer, it also would seem then that non-believers cannot do any good whatsoever and yet we see acts of good all the time from non-believers.

By God's standards, 1 misdeed turns all our righteousness into filthy rags. Acts of good do happen from non-believers and by human standards that would be an act of ethics. And that is because human standards which are also broken before God weighs the good -vs- the bad and only when there is more bad than good is one considered immoral or unethical.

Don't get me wrong, before God, there is no good coming from man. God has His spirit upon all men otherwise there would be total chaos as the hearts of man is positioned to do evil. So the good we see from non-believers may be the work of the Spirit, but it is still a work of good coming from a non-believer.

Melvin_H_Fox said...

Let me clarify, even from man's standard, in fact, even from the individual's standard, he can't keep the ethic, whatever it is. Ok, murder it is. If Chris lives 80 years and never murders, and then murders the guy who cuts him off in traffic, this shows his ethic (no murder) to have been nothing more than (no murder when convenient) which is no ethic at all. Ethics, even from man's perspective, are about behavior. Chris can't logically disconnect himself from his behavior. Chris is a murderer and has been from the start. He may have aspired to be no murder but ethics are not about aspirations; they are about behavior. As the definition clearly states. Wanting to be ethical and being ethical are totally different things. Man is unethical on his own even by his standards.

Melvin_H_Fox said...

So what if Chris did not murder someone his whole life? Did he keep the ethic? Not at all. Unless that was his only ethic I suppose you could make a case. But as soon as Chris breaks one ethic, he has broken them all be revealing his allegiance is to convenience. I will have to give some thought to the apparition of a man who only has one ethic to which he aspires.

Melvin_H_Fox said...

So if someone finds a someone that does keep their entire list of ethics for their entire lifetime, then we will talk (other than Jesus cause he is God). Until then, my answer stands.