It’s all myth, you see

This is a gleaming example of bad thinking. Alex Stein on Hitchens on God. He quotes the very passage on the guy who believes the story about the graves opening in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, and the occupants walking the streets, that I commented on last month – and then he gets it completely wrong.

“He replies that as a Christian he does believe it, though as a historian he has his doubts. I realise that I am limited here: I can usually think myself into an opponent’s position, but this is something I can’t imagine myself saying let alone thinking.” This inability to imagine fatally flaws much of Hitchens’ thesis. The argument presented by the reverend may seem incoherent. But it doesn’t take much effort to understand that he is presenting a perfectly reasonable way of looking at the world…The reverend accepts that it is almost impossible to prove the historicity of the story Hitchens refers to. To be less kind, it simply didn’t happen. But he doesn’t need to shape his moral universe according to what did or didn’t happen. Instead, he does this as a mythologian, in this case, as a purveyor of Christian myths. For him, the accuracy of the events recorded is insignificant when compared with the contribution the myth makes to the Christian view of the world.

The only problem with that is that it’s not what the reverend said. The reverend could have said that, but he didn’t. He said something genuinely different, and it doesn’t just seem incoherent, it is incoherent, and it is certainly not a perfectly reasonable way of looking at the world. Why does Alex Stein – apparently not a believer himself – feel compelled to translate what the reverend said into something less contradictory and absurd? It is not reasonable to believe something as a Christian while having doubts as a historian. If the historian’s doubts are rational and reasonable (as they of course are, since there’s a notable lack of genuine evidence that dead people have ever walked any streets), they should apply across the board; to have different epistemic rules ‘as a Christian’ is not reasonable, it’s the opposite of reasonable, and Alex Stein is being unreasonable in pretending otherwise.

[I]s the reverend’s position really so far from Hitchens’ own? However much he might protest to the contrary, it would be a mistake to define Hitchens as an ultra-rationalist. For Hitchens has frequently and vigorously promoted the idea that religion has been replaced, not by science, but by literature…Literature is as antithetical to science as is religion.

No it isn’t. Literature is literature, it is avowedly an invention, a fiction. Religion makes truth claims about the world that we are expected (often commanded) to believe. Literature is not in the least antithetical to science, because it genuinely doesn’t make competing (and absurd) claims; religion does, even though some of its defenders pretend it doesn’t as long as the spotlight of skeptical inquiry is on it.

Is the Guardian running a contest for who can write the silliest article defending religion and attacking atheism? If so, what for? What’s its point? That clarity of thought is dangerous while confusion and muddle are like vitamins?

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