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The Contender
Pro (for)

Was Hitchens' "Challenge" Actually a Valid Argument?

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/11/2016 Category: Religion
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 633 times Debate No: 97826
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (8)
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Question : Was Hitchens' "Challenge" Actually a Valid Argument?

Challenge: "Name one moral act that a religious person can do that an atheist cannot".
Assumed Implication : If one cannot be named, then the pursuit of morality can be pursued separate from belief in God.

Rules, (or Subject to Moderator Reset):

1. Scope:
Debate does not extend to answering the actual challenge - but whether or not the challenge is reasonably framed in the first place - and whether a valid answer can actually be presented.
2. Well-Informed, Substantiated Arguments : Pro will be well-informed of logical fallacies, able to identify fallacies, and defend syllogistic form.
3. Numbered Arguments: For reference. (e.g., R1.C.1 = Round 1, Con, Argument 1; etc).
4. Burden of Proof : Pro - to defend the syllogistic validity of the challenge. Con - to point out the rhetorical fallacies within the challenge.
5. Definition - "Religious Person" : In context, a Theist / believer in God - as it is juxtaposed with "Atheist".
6. Implication :
If Hitchens explicitly stated what the implication is, then argument would consider this.

R1.Con : Round 1 - Con: Hitchen's Challenge is not Valid :

R1.Con.1 -

R1.Con.1.1 - Leading Question : The question indirectly seeks confirmation that theism asserts that there actually are moral actions that a believer can do, that an unbeliever cannot.
R1.Con.1.2 - Strawman Argument : Neither Jewish or Christian Scriptures assert belief in God is required to act morally.
R1.Con.1.3 - Hasty Generalization : If it is assumed that all Christians and Jews believe that "belief in God is necessary to act morally".

R1.Con.2 -

R1.Con.2.1 - Argument from Silence / Ignorance : Even if the question is not answered - now - it does not mean it has never been, cannot be, or never will be; any conclusions that might follow would be unreliable - being based on arguments from silence / ignorance.
R1.Con.2.2 - Non-Sequitor : Even if there are no moral actions exclusive to believers, it does not prove whether or not a belief in God was necessary at some point in the pursuit of morality : either in humanity's infancy; or belief in God is necessary for some people now; or even necessary in the future to pursue greater morality.
R1.Con.2.3 - Red-Herring : Whether or not unbelievers have the potential to act morally, in every way as believers - is completely different than actual actions. Ability to act, is not the same as actually pursuing an action, (the "potential" to stand, does not necessarily mean that one "will certainly" stand - without being taught). Regardless if potential is shared - what would be more meaningful is to know what are the actual acts that believers do, that unbelievers do not - and especially the opposite of that, "What moral actions do unbelievers actually do - that believers do not? " .

R1.Con.3 -

R1.Con.3.1 - Equivocation/ Absurdity : How specific must the "Moral Action" be? "Name a moral action that a believer can do, that unbeliever cannot [in at least some way]" ??? As long as there is ambiguity, and equivocation, the challenge cannot be reasonably replied to. It renders it meaningless. If it is conceded that a Moral God exists, then "Trusting in that God" - could be a moral action that an unbeliever could not do, that a believer could. But - when equivocated - an unbeliever can trust in another person. But - name a moral action that a human can do, that a dog cannot do [in some way] ...
R1.Con.3.2 - Begging the Question, (Assuming Equivocation in #5) : If specific moral actions are excluded - then the challenge presupposes that all simple actions are either: moral, immoral, or possibly amoral; rather than simply amoral - until seen in a specific moral context. (The question subsists whether "trusting" has a moral distinction or "trusting in" or "trusting in a person" or "trusting in God".

R1.Con.4 - Proposed Conclusion :

R1.Con.4.1 - Because the challenge itself seems to be littered with so many fallacies, it is impossible to reasonably frame a response.

R1.Con 4.2 - Perhaps, a more valid challenge could be : Name moral actions that would not have been understood or enacted outside of our theistic, non-technologically advanced society.



I will rebuke Con's arguments before I explain why the claim by Hitchens both makes perfect sense and why it indeed leads to the 'assumed implication' (it is actually not assumed, it is concluded).

I will number my rebuttals as follows: R1_P_Rb1 = rebuttal 1 in round 1 by Pro and R1_P_1 = argument 1

R1_P_Rb1.1 - The statement in no way implies that religion itself states that you need it to be moral. Instead it counters certain Theists themselves who seem to think you need religion to be morally 'good',
R1_P_Rb1.2 - This is irrelevant as the statement doesn't state the religions themselves claim it to be so, only (misguided) followers.
R1_P_Rb1.3 - This is not assumed for all and also it is not specific to any 1 or 2 religion(s). This is about Theists who, despite most religions not eplicitly asserting this in scripture, believing that you need religion in order to make moral decisions.

R1_P_Rb2.1 - To the contrary, if the answer cannot be answered now, it is actually correct to assert that it never will be. Accordingly, it is up to any future answerer to disprove the theory that there is no moral(ly correct) act that one can do without religion that one cannot do without. This is very similar to the theory of innocent until proven guilty, which is a basic/fundamental tenet of US law [] and is also what most countries go by.
R1_P_Rb2.2 - The burden of proof is entirely on the one claiming that this is due to previous belief in god, it is not at all correct to say that doubting that God needed to be believed in for an atheist nowadays to do a moral act is wrong.
R1_P_Rb2.3 - Just because there is a 'better' question to be asked for the conclusion to be drawn does not mean that the one Hitchensused is insufficient, it only would mean that there happened to be a better angle to have taken than the one that already worked.

R1_P_Rb3.1 - 'in some way' was never used by Hitchens, Con has added this to suit his/her needs. Strawman fallacy, I shall discusthis no further.
R1_P_Rb3.2 - All religions assume that not all actions are amoral, Hitchens is using their outlook against them, he designed that question to be asked only to an arrogant Theist in order to point out a flaw in their assertions. If he asked this to someone who may well have no clear definition of 'moral act', their answer would still be 'none' since if we use backwards reasoning, the Theis tin the first place couldn't commit a moral act thus the answer is still 'none'.

R1_P_Rb4.1 - This is a fallacy-fallacy: The idea that due to having logical fallacy the actual premise or 'side' which one represents it itself flawed to begin with.
R1_P_Rb4.2 - Please refer to R1_P_Rb2.3.

R1_P_1 - The question highlights that there is absolutely no Theism required for any action that could be seen as morally correct since there is simply no reply that can be given, at least not to me or anyone who has been faced with that question thus far.

- There is an extremely subtle implication of the question, which is that while the answer to this question is none, the answer to reverse question could include saving the lives of those of other faiths, supporting the funding of a church that is going bankrupt while being irreligious so on and so forth. Then again, this is not the direct angle of the question but it opens ones eyes up to the fact that there is more flecibility to an atheist's actions than a Theists as the very nature of choosing one religion over others makes one hav ea tendency to act moral primarily towards those of the same faith.
Debate Round No. 1


Again - I am requesting that my opponent focus their responses to the subject - analysis of Rhetorical Fallacies ... First, to : suppose that IF my characterization of Hitchens' challenge is reasonable - then, is Hitchens' challenge form-ally valid? Second, then - IF formally valid - is the characterization of his challenge, (the premises) valid?

I do not believe the Hitchens' challenge is "Form-ally" valid; even-so, I will respond to the significant, unsubstantiated premises my opponent has made regarding the characterization of Hitchens' challenge :

Although I think anyone who has ever listened to Hitchens' (for any length of time) - will know - I will counter my opponent's unsubstantiated claims - to show that I have reasonably characterized Hitchens' challenge - as being against "religion" - in general; and, I will use Hitchens' own commentary to do so, (Christopher Hitchens & William Lane Craig; April 4, 2009; Biola University; ). (A Transcription : .

R2.Con.1 - Hitchens' Challenge was Issued Generally : against Religion in Generally, (especially Christianity and Judaism) - not to a Specific Group of "Misguided Followers" ...

These statements are all factually wrong - and directly contradict what Hitchens' has repeatedly stated, publicly, many times :

In Re.R1_P_Rb1.1 - "... The statement in no way implies that religion itself states that you need it to be moral. Instead it counters certain Theists themselves who seem to think you need religion to be morally 'good' ..."
In Re.R1_P_Rb1.2 - "... This is irrelevant as the statement doesn't state the religions themselves claim it to be so, only (misguided) followers."
In Re. R1_P_Rb1.3 - "... This is not assumed for all and also it is not specific to any 1 or 2 religion(s). This is about Theists who"

It is absurd to suggest that Hitchens was only addressing a small subset of followers :

C-Span Reporting Hitchens' "General" - "Public" challenge :
Hitchens' Challenge to All Christians and Jews - Generally :

That "Religions" make this claim - is the entire presupposition of Hitchens' entire challenge - not merely "misguided followers" :

"But the problem with morality is this, in respect of religion: You can't prove that anyone behaves any better if they refer to this problem upward to a supreme dictator of a celestial kind. There are two questions that I've asked in public and I'll try them again because I try them on every audience. They're very simple ones: First, you have to name for me—challenges, let's say, rather than questions ..." Christopher Hitchens; April 4, 2009; Biola University.

Hitchens, in context - has always countered religions, generally, as "toxic" ... To my knowledge - he has never indicated that any one was "tolerable" - with the exception of a "few misguided followers". If there was one - then we would be talking about that religion!

R2.Con.2 - Therefore - the issue remains with Hitchens' "Strawman / Hasty Generalization Fallacy" - still remains - as Hitchens' (nor anyone else) can provide basis to assert - generally - that Theism - especially Christian or Jewish Scripture - asserts that revelation from a Trascendant God is necessary for people to act morally.

On the otherhand - suppose the Hitchens truly did address the challenge just to "some misguided followers" - then the challenge is absolutely meaningless, as any specifically drawn conclusion would say nothing of the whole - (in this context).

R2.Con.3 - If Not an Equivocation - How is a Proper Reply Determined ?

In Re. R1_P_Rb3.1 - "...'in some way' was never used by Hitchens, Con has added this to suit his/her needs. Strawman fallacy, I shall discus this no further."

[Brackets] is an indication of Hitchens' implication - not a literal statement. But - just to be clear, yes - there is are [qualifications] injected in his challenge:

"Yes, it's true that Doug Wilson said that tithing was something I couldn't do, but then not just—I'm not moving the goal posts hereI don't think I'd regard giving all my money to the New Saint Andrews church as a moral act."

The topic of THIS debate - is "Why isn't this considered a Fallacy - of Equivocation?" And yes - even though he denies it - "moving the goal posts" is exactly what it looks like Hitchens is doing :

Technically, any act by a believer - that requires belief in God - would necessarily exclude unbelievers.

"BUT! ... " - the equivocation rises: "... I am not sure that action is moral [in some way]?"

For the moment - Suppose "tithing" doesn't have a moral value; And, let's go with an action that Hitchens' acknowledges IS moral :

"The only challenge that I've had so far that I really couldn't get out of—I should share it with you—was I was told well you couldn't do this: You couldn't say, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." No, but nor could you as people of faith, you wouldn't dare."

Hitchens' is certainly wrong - Christians are actually commanded to do this : (Matt. 16:19; 18:18, etc) - and it isn't remotely blasphemy, ("A false testimony, representation, or accusation", Mark 3:29). In fact - this is the entire point of Christianity: "The ministry of reconciliation", (2 Cor. 5:18) - because Jesus isn't here to do it himself.

But - set aside even that reply ...

Then - What about every other act that requires belief in God - why don't they qualify? Advocating on behalf of others before God; Advocating on behalf OF God before others; etc, etc; But especially - Imitating the standard of unconditional forgiveness displayed on a cross - Jesus even advocating for those torturing him, ("Father forgive them") - how in the world can that possibly be considered blasphemy? - That advocating for one-another, in love, supersedes any condemnation under the law - is THE one single pillar of the Christian faith - if it is In-imitatable - or remotely invalid - then the entire religion is meaningless;

But, Maybe that action is not Moral!
In view of Eternity - what human could possibly show this conclusively - without appealing to some transcendent value, (such as : "life")??? (Neither Judaism or Christianity asserts that God ever revealed morality in view of eternity; this is why the entire challenge is a HUGE misrepresentation of Judeo-Christian theology, and meaningless).

That God withheld that knowledge, and instead required humanity to appeal to mercy / mutual-advocacy is a prima-facie fact; The entire point of the Garden story where God withheld "knowledge", where Eve prevailed, by advocated for Adam's life, on his behalf; the entire book of Job, where God ignored moral argument, and mutual advocacy prevailed; nearly ever narrative in Scripture - including Jesus' death - was to show - and prove - that God had always set the standard of "Mutual Advocacy" over any standard of "Morality"; "Advocacy / Mercy" always triumphed over judgment, (James 2:13).

For a Christian, the "Judicial Weight" of advocacy not only demonstrates morality - but the nature of wisdom.

Wilson posited, (perhaps in jest), "tithing" - the Scriptural mandate to give 10% of flocks and harvests to the "House of God" - so that people could properly represent the true nature of God - who did not desire anyone to go hungry, "in his house".
How could an unbeliever faithfully represent God, by tithing in this way? Under what grounds is "tithing" NOT moral?

Why don't these qualities apply?

1. Actions that require belief in God, necessarily exclude unbelievers;
2. Actions that can be rationally, (even if not conclusively), argued to be moral, (actions that are "just", demonstrating an appeal to "equanimity" : such as the precept of "Advocacy in view of God", (e.g., "prayer")).

R2.Con.4 - Could A Hypothetical Analogy Could Prove/Disprove the Merit of Hitchens' Challenge?

To prove the validity of the challenge - propose some analogy - with a measure that can actually identify correct answers, and identify ones that cannot, (provide a clear measure for falsification).

Is this sufficient ? : Name a "mature action" that a child with a parenting could do - that a child without parenting could not.
"Pay Bills" - Demonstrates Maturity, but not exclusivity.
"Parent" - Demonstrates Maturity, and perhaps exclusivity.
"Honor their Father and Mother" - (perhaps by naming children after them, etc.)" - Demonstrates maturity, and certainly exclusivity.

If this is valid - then why isn't "Advocating for others, before God" or even "Advocating for God, before others" - similarly valid?

Again - this is NOT a supposed attempt to answer the challenge - but an inquiry into the challenge's validity - in view of rhetorical validity.
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Debate Round No. 2
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Debate Round No. 5
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by GrimlyF 2 years ago
I can give you your answer but why add the gobbledygook as well?.
Posted by elikakohen 2 years ago
Hmm. I am not sure that asserting, "Hey, Atheists are people too!" is a valid-counter argument. Kinda begs the question, right? j/k !!!
Posted by TheRealSpassky101 2 years ago
An atheist is a human being too; there is no logic in saying that atheists cannot have the same morals.
Posted by Chris330 2 years ago
I am interested in seeing some one try to validate this circular argument. Nice topic and good luck
Posted by Jonbonbon 2 years ago
Yeah the Bible invalidates that argument. If the Bible is true then God's law is written on everyone's heart (because everyone is made in the image of God), which means atheists can perform morally good acts. So, Paul already accounted for this argument thousands of years before Hitchens made it. Besides, that's just getting caught up too much in what the rights and wrongs are.
Posted by fred70 2 years ago
I meant you're trying to have a hitchens so you can be a wilson. It came out totally snotty, I apologize for that.
I seem to recall in one of their debates Hitchens quoted a pastor who answered his question. I can't remember the answer, but it was in a debate with Douglas.
I always liked the hitchens/wilson debates. They talked to each other, rather then at each other. They seemed to have empathy for each other's views.
Posted by elikakohen 2 years ago
Do you have a reference? Are you referring to the Westminster debate?
Posted by fred70 2 years ago
Douglas wilson already answered Christopher on this.
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