Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Donald Hank: Not Up to the Hitchens Challenge

In a recent posting at Renew America, Donald Hank attempts to respond to a challenge from Christopher Hitchens: to point out an ethical act done by a religious person that could not also have been done by a nonreligious person.

You would think that a person who sets himself this task would wait until he has an answer before he writes an article; not Hank. If he thought of a response, he didn't include it here - in point of fact he addressed the question not at all. I'd love to see this cretin get demolished directly by Darth Hitchens himself, but of course (as Dan Dennett once put it) a Hitchens response to Hank would look better on Hank's resume than the other way around. It's probably more appropriate that Hank is taken to task by a mere blogger such as myself.

I was actually hopeful that Hank would go beyond the old saw that it is impossible to be moral without being religious. He does so by taking issue with the word "ethical" (as opposed to "good" - apparently Hank thinks it's possible to do something ethical that's bad).

Unhelpfully, he begins by making the very assertion under question, then mentions Hitler halfway through (I was surprised it took even that long) and in the end comes back to his initial assertion to say it's been proven. QED indeed! You could write a computer program that churns out prose structured thusly; we've certainly seen enough examples by now to notice the pattern. Not only does Hank's argument just spin its wheels, it also fails the Christian polemic Turing test.

Where Hank does show insight - though he doesn't say so explicitly - is in his recognition that virtuous atheists are far more dangerous to religious dogma than than the nihilist or libertine or butcher atheists that Hank insists without evidence are the rule. For some reason Hank would be more comfortable if Hitchens were to re-open Buchenwald instead of continuing to deepen his adopted country's appreciation of its founding fathers, as he has done with works on Jefferson and Paine. That would be more consistent with Hank's preoccupation that morality must be based on mythology, rather than evidence. Mr. Hank, there are 45 million non-religious Americans, and we founded the country. You'd better explain yourself more clearly than this.

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