God is Not Great - an Appraisal  - Chapter 18


This is the Chapter 18  Page for the appraisal of the contents

of Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great.

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Chapter 18: A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of

the Rational




Page Contents






Chapter Content


Use the links and drop down to the comments if you would like to see each comment applying to each paragraph here.


P.253,254 The Fool says there is no God    Link below


P.254,255 Odds favour atheistic sceptics   Link below


P.255-258 Socrates & other early philosophers   Link below


P.258-260 The Atomists   Link below


P.260-272 Ongoing Conflicts of Reason and Revelation   Link below


P.272-275 The Jews   Link below





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General Comment


I would like to characterise this chapter as follows, and I believe this is a realistic characterisation. Supposing you went into school of learning and found that there were two departments. One of them comprised theologians who spent their lives studying the background and reasons for historical Christianity. The other was a department comprising of intellectual, rationalistic atheists with little or no knowledge of the background and reasons for historical Christianity.

This chapter is made up of visiting that latter department. It is the standard atheists ploy of quoting lots of knowledgeable atheists from history. It's like going into the Labour Party headquarters in London and saying, “Tell me why Conservatives are wrong,” or going into the Democrats' headquarters in Washington (is that where it is?) and saying, “Tell me why the Republicans are wrong.” All you get is a totally one-sided picture which is going to be far from the truth. It's a chapter that looks, at first sight, so full of intellectual wisdom but which, on further consideration is just a compilation of references to those who had made up their minds without ever really taking the trouble to examine that which they denied.




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Specific Comments


Again we look at the specific points we have observed in the ‘Content' part above


P.253,254 The Fool says there is no God. Opening the foray with references to the Psalms the author reveals once again, sadly, his complete lack of knowledge and understanding about Old Testament times. Rather derisorily he suggests that it would have been a fool who did not keep such a thought to himself in such a climate, so why even say it. What he obviously doesn't know is that Israel slipped into apostasy again and again. It was never such a cast-iron belief nation as he supposes.


P.254,255 Odds favour atheistic sceptics. Letting his mind wander on he wonders if there are as many fools who believe as who don't, and suggests that with all the questions about evil that so often arise, it's probably odds on that there are more atheists. Two points need picking up here.


Israel's experience: One of the reasons that the psalmist would write off his fellow countrymen as fools is that they had such a history of experience of God that to not believe almost has to be an act of will, a refusal to believe the accounts passed down through the generations.


Worshipping Tendency: The second point is that in the previous chapter he acknowledged that there seems an almost universal tendency to want to worship, one might almost say it seems more rational to worship, when you consider the world-wide tendency.


Ruthless suppression: Along the way the author speaks of those unbelievers in history who have suffered ruthless suppression. I have thought about this point before but have not yet commented upon it. I believe he has a very wrong view of ‘society' if that is what you can call it over the past two thousand years. I don't doubt that there have been times of intolerance and indeed the record of martyrs testifies to this, but as I read I am convinced that his view of our societies being strongholds of religious belief in the past is completely wrong.

Yes many people did go to church but also many did not. Of those who went to church, even as today, there would have been true believers and those who were not. In local hamlets or villages, even as today, there would have been a variety of beliefs or lack of belief, but for the most part much belief was poorly taught (with an uneducated clergy) and indeed superstitious, with the Bible being little understood. It is clear that there were some well known individuals who were persecuted by the church powers but I suspect that the truth really was that there were many who were not. In both the USA and UK today there is more derision and opposition against religious people than is likely in the past against non-religious people, for we are a far more media dominated people than they were.


P.255-258 Socrates & other early philosophers: A little more ignorance pours out with: “The records of his life and his words are second hand, almost but not quite as much as are the books of the Jewish and Christian Bible”. As I have commented elsewhere in response to Richard Dawkins' similar apparent folly, today even the simplest of attendees of an Alpha Course will know how untrue this is. To see the integrity of Biblical writings, please go to our Apologetics pages. CLICK HERE


Religion versus Reason: However, not to be sidetracked, I believe the point he seeks to make referring to Socrates, is that his reason conflicted with the religion of the day, which resulted in his death. His comment “philosophy begins where religion ends” possibly misunderstands religion, or at least Christianity, let's say. The Christian religion declares that God has come to us and has revealed to us the way He has designed the world to work, and us in it. Further He has come to us in the form of His Son to deliver us from our constant failures. Religion thus claims to be revelation from God. Philosophy tends to be man's thinking and reasoning in the absence of God.


I am not sure why the author writes about Socrates beyond making the point about religion versus reason. However the reason that he highlights in respect of Socrates we might almost call agnosticism because he was highlighting what he didn't know and couldn't be sure about. To compare the pagan religion of Greece with modern-day Christianity reveals a gross lack of knowledge about both. We are talking about chalk and cheese here!


To cite these early philosophers' struggles against the religion of the day, as if that makes it at all meaningful in the light of say modern-day Christianity, is almost meaningless because, as we've just noted above, the religions he talks about are so utterly unlike Christianity.


P.258-260 The Atomists. The author lauds the early “atomist” school as brilliant, which they were but only in as far as they conceived the concepts of life being made up of atoms, yet failing because that is all they could see.


John Blanchard in Does God Believe in Atheists can speak for us here. Speaking of these atomists he notes that, “Their philosophy was a basic form of naturalism, a view that places it firmly in the atheistic camp because it totally excludes the supernatural or spiritual.” He continues that is says, “that our universe is a closed system in which everything has a ‘natural' explanation,” which is what our author has been suggesting as he has spoken of Socrates.


Continuing to point out a flaw in the naturalistic philosophy Blanchard continues,

“As the naturalist cannot allow the possibility of a theistic world, the existence of God is ruled out a priori and any discussion about his being, nature or behaviour is futile; in other words, the naturalist pronounces the answer before he asks the question.


Although we have noted similar things in our Apologetics pages, we will continue with Blanchard here, who puts it well:

“the questions raised by the atomists and their ilk come not as a trickle but in a torrent. If man is part of nature, where, as human beings, can we find any personal significance for our existence? What is the meaning of ‘purpose', or the purpose of ‘meaning'? What basis is there for corporate or individual morality? What reference-point is there to distinguish good from evil? How can there be any rational sense of obligation to do or to be anything? If even our thoughts are predetermined, what is the sense of speaking about choice, opinion, values, responsibility, self-awareness, convictions, or even aesthetic appreciation? If human beings are no more than sophisticated machines, what sense is there in trying to construct and defend a concept of personal freedom?”


In a chapter like this one devoted to extolling reason, this logic should be brought out. In a sense the outcome of this logic keeps appearing again and again as the author refers to individuals as ‘mammals'. In doing this he lowers us from humanity and puts us as the level of all other animals – yet he still seeks to write intelligently, reasonably and rationally, and this separates himself off from the rest of the animal kingdom. In his writing he conveys a sense of moral indignation, again separating himself off from all other mammals!


P.260-272 Ongoing Conflicts of Reason and Revelation. The author seeks to portray a picture of religion opposing science and refers again to Andalusia, the home of Maimonides, the Jewish philosopher who he has referred to before, and to other ongoing conflicts between institutional religion and scientific philosophers. Without doubt this happened as each group struggled to make sense of their beliefs.


A slight inaccuracy needs picking up, the reference to “terror imposed by religion on science and scholarship throughout the early Christian centuries.” First, in the ‘early Christian centuries' (which the author does not define) the persecution is all on the church – please see our Apologetics page 11 on Persecutions [CLICK HERE]. Second, many of the early scientists were also Christians and it was only the Christian concept of an orderly world created by God that enabled the scientific process to proceed.


Spinoza & Pantheism: The author refers to Spinoza's conflict with the Jewish authorities because, although being a Portuguese Jew, he held ideas running contrary to Jewish belief and then mixed with those who held Arian beliefs, previously established as heretical. It was no wonder he upset the religious authorities of his day. What was sad was that they did not have the intellectual capabilities or learning to properly refute errors as far as they attended the faith. The author approves him, of course, because he flowed in the naturalistic river that we have previously referred to. This naturally defined “a religious god out of existence” but, as we've previously noted, prejudges the situation. The wrong of those past centuries was not that institutional religion objected to bad thinking but that they used the institutional power to deal with it. We have already commented on the weaknesses of institutional religion.


China ignored? The author cries out, “If God has revealed Himself, how is it that he has allowed so many centuries to elapse before informing the Chinese?” The author's ignorance is understandable because it is not widely known. Writers Nelson, Broadberry and Chock in a book entitled God's Promise to the Chinese, observe that

“the name ShangDi literally means the ‘God above,' or the Most High God. From the beginning of their history the ancient Chinese worshipped ShangDi as the Creator.”


“For more than 4,000 years the Chinese emperors annually sacrificed a bull to ShangDi. This ceremony pointed to a coming Saviour.”

What is more,

“the inventor of the original Chinese characters, inscribed on tortoise shells and bones, knew and believed in an identical account of creation and earth's beginnings as found in the Hebrew sacred Scriptures.”

Perhaps God did not leave out the Chinese!


Reliance on Sceptics: The author uses and defends sceptics as if such men actually had the truth. seeking to suggest that such men kept quiet because of religious intolerance, may have been true but it doesn't mean that such men were right, merely that they agree with him. The fact that religious institutions abused their power doesn't mean that the foundations of Christianity are wrong. Both approaches are poor in terms of research and conclusions.


Balye misunderstanding David: The above point is well illustrated by the author's use of Pierre Bayle who “examined the deeds of David and the supposed ‘psalmist' and showed them to be the carer of an unscrupulous bandit. He also pointed out that it was absurd to believe that religious faith caused people to conduct themselves better, or that unbelief made them behave worse.”

Let's put aside the fact that modern Western societies are falling apart precisely because they have lost belief, and let's focus on David as the one being criticised. What we have here is a complete lack of understanding by the author and his hero, Bayle. Rather than go into a long examination of David's life, I would simply suggest that the author actually reads his Bible carefully and studies David properly so that he can realise what a foolish and superficial comment he has made which is so far from the truth as to be laughable. You will find much detail about David elsewhere in this site.


The Ontological Argument: For a few lines the author walks the ground that Dawkins unwisely trod – and for that I'll ask you to go and read our appraisal of his misunderstandings (it's easy to do on the Internet within this one site). To summarise, the ontological argument was never meant to be a ‘proof', merely a suggestion that it is consistent with Christian belief. While referring to Kant, he uses that often used silly argument that because men in past history had silly ideas that debunks the historical Christian faith. It is weak and shallow and foolish arguing.


The Enlightenment: Referring to the Enlightenment he casts around for a variety of figures who supported his view. The whole point about the Enlightenment was that it was a period that was strong on rational intellect but staggeringly weak on men of scholarship in Biblical or theological matters. Thus it was a period of one-sided arguing. Today is a very different day!


An Impotent God? The height of this desperate searching around among the ignorant (of Faith) sceptics comes with the famous quote from Epicurus: “Is he willing to prevent but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil.”


I must confess that I get wearied by those, like this ancient philosopher who cannot reason through what the Bible clearly shows. Yes, God has given us free will and that does mean we can choose to be good or bad. It only requires a very shallow investigation of human history and human experience to see that so often we choose bad, whether it be thought, word or deed. THAT is evil.

Now what do you want God to do about this? Stop murderers acting? Stop YOU acting as you do? Stop you having bad thoughts about other people? Stop you saying destructive things to or about other people? Stop you from doing anything which, in the cold light of day, you would agree was less than good? You thus want God to turn us into robots – which of course He could do! But if you do that, you remove love, imagination, invention, creative ability, all of which depend utterly on free will, freedom to think and act as we will – and thus we will cease to be human beings. You want that? Epicurus might be excused because he was obviously ignorant of what was happening to the Hebrews, but meanwhile there were Greeks who individually sensed there was a God, just as the Chinese already knew it. It is actually self-centred pride that blinds men, then and now, to the Divine.


Darwin: One might almost be saddened if an atheist didn't bring up Darwin, so here it is at last. The author shows how Darwin seems to have moved further and further from faith, the more he investigated and wrote. You'll find a lot more about so-called ‘theory of evolution' on our Dawkins appraisal pages, but perhaps in this context, one of two additional comments may be warranted.

First, Darwin raised a number of questions which he himself never resolved. Second, many scientists since have said those questions have not been answered and there are massive holes in the theory. Third, Darwin is an example of a scientist who moved further and further into the realm of scientific investigation, without a clear world-view in which to see it all.

World views can be rationalised to those that believe there is a God and those that don't. The latter group tend to be made up of those who start from that premise (for a variety of psychological and emotional reasons) and therefore see everything through that reference grid. A large number of those who hold the first world view didn't start there, but arrived there, often by careful thought. Darwin simply didn't see his research in the light of a world view carefully constructed outside the limitations of his research, and therefore became, apparently, more and more unclear of the logical outcomes. For comments on Einstein, also quoted after Dawkins' style, please go to the Dawkins appraisal.


P.272-275 The Jews: Citing Disraeli's answer to Queen Victoria gives the author opportunity to defame rabbis while making the strange point that freedom from the ghettos released a wealth of wisdom etc. on the world. He doesn't ever examine the Old Testament history of Israel which, I suspect, is what Disraeli meant. Instead he uses it an an opportunity to drop further acid on religion; little drops here and there mount up in the minds of the ignorant and gullible. One little example of this acid dropping is his reference to the ghettos imposed upon Jews by “ignorant and bigotted Christian authorities.”

I would simply wish to point out that there have never been ‘Christian' authorities, which is a description that implies that the authorities in question comprised traditional, Biblical Christians. The quality of Christian experience in the time he refers to was often shallow and token. Ethics were sometimes equated with Christianity, but rarely did they come out of a living, vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Just as there are ‘nominal Christians' today who go to church to perform certain rituals, but for whom Biblical Christianity has no other meaning, so it has often been in history.


Hannukah: For some reason this leads the author on to despise Hannukah but for the life of me I cannot see how this impinges on God's integrity. Just in case you've forgotten this book is supposed to be why God is not great, but all it does is confirm the Biblical teaching that all men are bound by sin and get it wrong. In the most strange comment of all, after having derided the Maccabees' (inter-testament history if you are not familiar with this), he declares that this “was eventually to lead to Christianity”.

Actually the Maccabean revolt or the goings on in that four hundred year period of history between the re-establishing of Jerusalem and the coming of the Christ, had nothing whatsoever to do with the coming of Christianity beyond the fact that the continuing nation of Israel was the nation chosen by God into which He would bring His Son. But then, as we've commented before, why spoil a good theory with the truth? The chapter continues with more vitriol using a nationalistic Jew to whom he attaches ‘faith', missing the point completely that the nationalist uses ‘faith' for his own nationalistic purposes.




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On this page we have:

  •  highlighted some of the key points he makes,
  •  observed that this chapter is a more remarkably one-sided compilation of references by all the sceptics, it seems, that the author can drag up.
  •  responded, point by point, to the points he makes.


This chapter seems a combination of misunderstandings and skeptical characters from history mixed, (and we have to be honest) with a large smattering of examples of the institutional church's abuse of power:


  •  misunderstandings about the psalms early on and later in the chapter – reveals his own ignorance of them and their background
  •  misunderstandings of the position and strength of Christianity in the West in earlier days, ascribing political and social activities as religious ones, quite wrongly I believe.
  •  lack of knowledge as to the historical documents that make use the Bible
  •  lacks understanding of the differences between philosophy and theological revelation
  •  uses one-sided naturalist historical philosophy to bolster his own naturalistic tendencies
  •  is biased on his understanding of history, ignoring Christian persecution and scientists who were Christians
  •  appeals to sceptics in history to bolster his one-sided understanding of history
  •  lacks knowledge of the wider world revelation of God
  •  misunderstands the use of the Ontological argument
  •  lacks understanding of the Enlightenment
  •  doesn't understand the biblical explanation of evil
  •  doesn't understand Darwin 's position
  •  uses the Jews to make derogatory points about religion.


Now, I have put emphasis above on the word ‘seems' because every now and then there seem to be glimmers of light in this chapter but they are few and far between and covered up by the things that I've listed above which seem to show the author in such a poor light. Yet this is a man who is well read – in limited areas to be sure – and of whom we might expect more. The appearance conveyed in this chapter, as in a number of others, is of a man who is upset by the limited knowledge he has, and who hasn't, it seems, ever taken the time and effort to carefully investigate the real evidences that actually declare that God IS great, and that is a shame!





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