Christopher Hitchens’ rancorous attack against religion, "God is Not Great," is the number-one book in America. Three years ago he and I debated religion in New York City (the debate is available at my Website, www.shmuley.com). I looked forward to the debate because I had always admired Hitchens’ brilliant and iconoclastic mind and barbed and clever pen. In our debate, he did not disappoint. He began with a typically acerbic attack against religion, saying that Stephen Hawking had more wisdom in his tiny little finger than all the pages of the Bible combined.
When my turn came, I responded that the great wheelchair-bound physicist was fortunate that religion influenced British morality rather than evolution. I had hosted Hawking at Oxford for a lecture a few years earlier and had found him to be a man who loved babies. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born, and Hawking insisted on holding her in his withered arms by having his wife wrap them around the infant. He is a very incapacitated man, and many evolutionary biologists maintain that a life like his should never have been preserved in the first place. Whereas the Bible establishes the infinite value and indeterminable sanctity of every human life, whether healthy or diseased, no less an authority than Francis Crick, the Nobel-prize-winning co-discoverer of DNA, suggested that babies should be considered to be alive only two days after parturition, during which time they could be examined for defects. If such defects could be found to be sufficiently deleterious, the infant could presumably be eliminated with impunity because it had not yet become alive. Similarly, Crick proposed redefining death as occurring at a predetermined age, such as 80 or 85, at which time the person automatically would be declared dead and all of his property would pass on to his heirs.
Thankfully, for Prof. Hawking, the society he lived in embraced biblical morality and rejected the evolutionary idea of the survival of the fittest. Prof. Hawking is not the fittest, but that does not mean that he should not have been given the medical care by which he survives and continues to enrich humanity with his genius.
And for all his own brilliance, this is where Hitchens goes seriously astray. Without the Bible, how would we even know what good and evil are? Through science? Like the idea of Prof. Bentley Glass, who suggested a more natural definition of "good" and "evil" whereby they would be completely divorced from their moral connotations and would be redefined as what is good or bad for the development of a species? Would we then justify the elimination of carriers of disease or the mentally defective, the interbreeding of which might be "bad" for the health of the species?
Hitler used this very argument as the rationale for his program of euthanasia for the mentally infirm, saying, "In nature there is no pity for the lesser creatures when they are destroyed so that the fittest may survive. Going against nature brings ruin to man … and is a sin against the will of the eternal Creator. It is only Jewish impudence to demand that we overcome nature."
In his book, Hitchens mocks the Ten Commandments. Didn’t the ancient Israelites already know that thievery and murder were wrong? Quite right. Mankind would have easily legislated much of the morality contained in the Bible even without God. But then the whole point of the Ten Commandments is the establishment of absolute, divine morality. These are not laws legislated by man and subject, therefore, to human tampering. They are the absolute rules that dare never be changed — at any time, at any place, under any circumstances.
Hitler also believed in "Do not murder." But it was his law that had been legislated, and it was therefore he who determined to whom it applied and to whom it did not. Indeed, Hitchens overlooks the fact that the world’s foremost genocides have all been committed by secular, atheistic regimes that maintained the right to determine which lives were worth preserving and which worth discarding. Hitler murdered at least 1′ million. Stalin, another 30 million. Mao, perhaps 40 million. And Pol Pot killed one-third of all Cambodians in the mid 1970s. Indeed, the number of people killed by the secular atheist regimes of the ‘0th century dwarfs by far all the people killed in the name of religion from the beginning of recorded history until the present.
With its famous pronouncement that all humans are created in the image of God, the Bible establishes the absolute equality of all humankind, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. Charles Darwin, however, thought differently: "The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world."
According to Sir Arthur Keith, Britain’s leading evolutionary scientist of the mid-‘0th century, Hitler’s ideas of a master race were the direct product of evolutionary thinking. Keith wrote, "To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 194’. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produced the only real basis for a national policy…. The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and people were organized slaughter…. The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice of Germany conform to the theory of evolution…. [W]ar is the necessary outcome of Darwin’s theory."
Thomas Huxley, the man most responsible for the widespread acceptance of evolution, remarked, "No rational man cognizant of the facts believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man." In fact, after evolution was birthed in 1859, questions of whether blacks were even of the same species as whites changed to questions of whether or not Africans could survive competition against Europeans. The momentous answer was a resounding no. The African was the inferior because he represented the "missing link" between ape and man.
So before Hitchens claims, as he does in his subtitle, that "Religion Poisons Everything," he might stop to consider that the only basis for a belief that all human life is both equal and of infinite value is the Bible on which he treads with such glee.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author, most recently, of "Shalom in the Home," is also the author of "Moses of Oxford," which contains lengthy discussions of his debates on evolution with Prof. Richard Dawkins at Oxford.