Christopher Hitchens (2008) at Grand Valley State University


I don't think it's gonna take ten minutes to disprove the existence of God.
The atheist proposition is the following:
most of the time, it may not be said, that there is no god.
It may be said that there is no reason to think that there is one.
That was the situation after Lucretius and Democritus and the original antitheistic thinkers began their critique of religion,
and I would just ask you all, ladies and gentlemen, to bear in mind a mild distinction while we go on.
You may wish to be a deist, as my heroes Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were.
And you may not wish to abandon the idea that there must be some sort of first or proximate cause,
or prime mover of the known and observable world and universe.
But even if you can get yourself to that position, which we unbelievers maintain is always
subject to better, and more perfect, and more elegant explanations,
even if you *can* get yourself to that position, all your work is still ahead of you.
To go from being a deist to a theist, in other words from someone who says: "God cares about you,
knows who you are,
minds what you do,
answers your prayers,
cares which bits of your penis or clitoris you saw away or have sawn away for you,
minds who you go to bed with and in what way,
minds what holy days you observe,
minds what you eat,
minds what positions you use for pleasure...
All your work is still ahead of you, and lots of luck.
Because there is nobody -even Aquinas had to give it up- there's no-one who can move from the first position to the second.
So I could, and I'm actually strongly tempted to, I can leave it right there.
But then it's not in my nature to uhm... let off a captive audience so easily.
So I'll add a couple of things.
The reasons why I'm glad that this is not true, would I suppose be the gravamen of my case.
Some people I know, who are atheists, will say the wish they could believe it.
Some people I know who are former believers say they wish they could have their old faith back.
They miss it.
I don't understand this at all.
I think it is an excellent thing there is no reason to believe in the absurd propositions I just...
admittedly rather briefly rehearsed to you.
The main reason for this I think is that it is a totalitarian belief.
It is the wish to be a slave.
It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority,
who can convict you of thoughtcrime, while you are asleep.
Who can subject you -who must indeed subject you- to a total suirveillance, around the clock,
every waking and sleeping minute of your life, - I say: *of your life* -
before you were born, and even worse, and where the real fun begins:
after you're dead.
A celestial North Korea.
Who wants this to be true?!
Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate?
I've *been* to North Korea.
It has a dead man as its president.
Kim Jong-il is only head of the party, and head of the army; he's not head of the government or the state.
That office belongs to his deceased father, Kim Il-sung.
It's a necrocracy.
A thanatocracy. It's one short of a trinity, I might add.
The son is the reincarnation of the father.
It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved,
but at least, you can fucking die and leave North Korea.
Does the Quran... does the Quran or the Bible offer you that liberty? No!
No! The tyranny, the misery, the utter ownership of your entire personality,
the smashing of your individuality, only begins at the point of death.
This is evil. This is a wicked preachment.
So. That's the first thing.
Second: it attacks us in our deepest... in our deepest most essential integrity.
It's an insult to us, in other words.
It says that we -you and I- could not, individually or collectively, decide on a right action or right thing,
without celestial, divine permission.
We would not know right from wrong, if we did not have Heaven's permission to do so.
Where else, how else could we know? Our human solidarity, our innate knowledge of right and wrong,
our acute awareness of what is fair and what is unfair, what is just... are worthless to us.
These come to us also, as gifts from the great, unassailable dictator enthroned.
What could abolish our integrity, what could abolish our honesty, our decency, our dignity more than that?
The second... -third!- a little more pragmatic.
Religion is our first -that's why I'm so fascinated with it- it is our first version of the truth.
It is our first attempt as a species.
It's what we tried when we didn't know anything.
We didn't know that we lived on a spherical planet, we didn't know our planet revolved around the Sun.
We didn't know there were micro-organisms that explain disease.
We thought that diseases came from curses or witches, or ill-wishing, or devils, "dust devils".
We didn't know anything from the childish, terrified, ignorant origins of our animal, primate species with cumbersome religion.
It was also our attempt at philosophy, our first attempt at morality, our first attempt in health care actually but,
because it was our first it is our worst. We now have better explanations for all these dreads.
And we have cleared up all of these mysteries, yet we still dwell, and in some countries,
and some societies not just dwell, but live under totalitarian regime that forbids us
to think about the progress that has been made or denies us the knowledge that these advances have in fact occurred.
So it has become, where once it probably was in aid to us, the Bible,
a really great peril to our continued ability to live as a civilized species.
Thus it seems to me that in point of its proposing of a totalitarian solution to what is after all a real problem,
to its ghastly reliance upon the supernatural, rather than the much more miraculous, much more beautiful,
much more elegant, much more numinous, much more harmonious natural explanations...
Think how much lovelier Einstein and Darwin are.
Think how much more elegant and persuasive they are than the idea of the burning bush,
or the demand that without circumcision there could be no redemption.
Just picture it.
And then I'll give you one final thought experiment.
This is what you have to believe now, if you're monotheist, because we now know things we didn't use to know:
we know that the human species... could be as much as 200,000 years ago, that it becomes separate
from Cro-Magnons and the primal pre-human species.
Could be as little as a hundred. Richard Dawkins thinks 200 thousand, Francis Collins, who did the Human Genome Project
-who by the way is a C.S. Lewis kind of Christian- thinks a 100 thousand.
Alright, i'll take a hundred.
I'll take a hundred.
Here's what you have to believe:
For a 100,000 years, humans are born as a primate species.
Expectation of life: what, 25 years? For the first few ten's of thousands years?
Infant mortality: rife.
Micro-organism disease: terrifying.
Earthquakes, volcanoes: extraordinary.
And fights over land, over territory, over food, over women, over tribalism: frightening too.
For 95, 96 thousand years Heaven watches this... Will full denounce. With indifference. With coldness.
And then around three to four thousand years ago, but only in really barbaric, illiterate parts of the Middle East...
-not in China! Not in China or where people can read, or think, or do science. No no no!- barbaric illiterate backward parts of the Middle East is decided: "We can't let this go on, we better intervene."
"And what better way than by human sacrifices and plagues, and mass murder?"
"And if THAT doesn't make them behave morally? ...we just don't know what does."
If there is a single person in this room who can bring themselves to believe anything remotely like that,
they convict themselves of being first: very stupid. And second: very immoral.
And thus it seems to me that the case for divine intervention of the divine supernatural falls,
and that we should be glad that it is falling! And thank you.

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Neil Rieck (rationalist, humanist, deist)
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.