peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Gadianton
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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Gadianton »

The "man of one book" bit is psychologically fascinating. The real quote "beware of the man of one book" is attributed to Aquinas in so many venues (per google) that a serious student of Aquinas would certainly have heard about it. And if Socrates who knew more than anybody could claim to know nothing, then certainly Aquinas who read more books than anybody could plausibly commit to know just one. As Billy shows, the meaning of the quote is contra the reviewers interpretation, and aligns better with the meaning Hitchens' misquote implied.

Clearly Hitchens meant to be provocative with the quote, given its context with the other quotes that paint historic religionists as fanatics. However, right there in the introductory paragraph (I'm looking on Goggle books), Hitchens praises Aquinas as a first class thinker, and so clearly he didn't mean to show that he was an idiot (as Billy explains). The fact this praise occurs in paragraph one implies the trilemma Billy proposes should be taken seriously.

Now, this review came out in 2007 I believe, and so it is very possible that this mistake was discovered independently by the reviewer himself. However, this mistake is a Hitchens staple from several Christian apologetics websites, and so it's also possible that the setup: struck by a curious quote so out of place to those who read original historical manuscripts and then left to wonder about its plausibility based ones own vast understanding of intellectual history, could be an after-the-fact construction, having first encountered the criticism elsewhere.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Here is an example that definitively proves that Dr. Peterson either didn’t understand or was deliberately misrepresenting the book he was reviewing.

Dr. Peterson said: "All religions", [Hitchens] says, "have staunchly resisted any attempt to translate their sacred texts into languages understood of the people." Now what are the facts? According to The United Bible Societies, the Bible is being translated into 2167 languages with another 320 in process. And this is by no means merely a modern phenomenon, the Bible was the most widely translated book in the ancient world. It was translated into Greek, the Septuagint, in the second century BC; Aramaic by the first century BC; Old Latin by the second century AD; and the Syriac, ____, in the third century AD; Coptic, Egyptian, fourth century AD, Old German or Gothic in the fourth century AD, Jerome's Latin Vulgate, that’s been talked about here was done in the late fourth century; Armenian, early fifth century; Ethiopic fifth century; Georgian fifth century; Old Nubian by the eighth century, Old Slavonic by the ninth, Christian Arabic and Saadia Gaon's JewishArabic version by the tenth. Do you get the idea here? There has been a lot of translation efforts that’s gone into this.

The history of the translation of the Buddhist scriptures is precisely the same. This statement that he is making draws on one thing, he is trying to universalize a very isolated phenomenon connected with a specific religious controversy and that is the one regarding the translation of scripture during the Protestant Reformation.


Hitchens's claim that “all religions have staunchly resisted any attempt to translate their sacred texts into languages understood by the people” is obviously hyperbole. And he certainly isn’t claiming that there have never been any translation efforts at all, which is the straw man Dr. Peterson is battling.

So what is Hitchens’s point? His point is that in general, religions resist new translations of their sacred texts and that when they do translate them, it tends to backfire because when people understand what the holy books say, they tend to lose their mystique. Hitchens gives multiple examples of this. The Catholic Church has never recovered from its abandonment of the mystifying Latin ritual, and the Protestant mainstream has suffered hugely from rendering its own Bibles into more everyday speech. Some mystical Jewish sects still insist on Hebrew and play Kabbalistic word games even with the spaces between letters, but among most Jews, too, the supposedly unchangeable rituals of antiquity have been abandoned. The spell of the clerical class has been broken.

In fact, the main point here isn't even about the Bible--it isn't about the reformation or about Latin mass or translations into Modern English or about Jews still insisting on reading the scriptures in Hebrew. It isn't even about how the Mormons won't provide an updated translation of the Book of Mormon, much less of the Book of Abraham. What's the main point? The first clue is the chapter this quote was taken from. It was taken from chapter nine, entitled, The Koran Is Borrowed from Both Jewish and Christian Myths. Hitchens's actual point has to do with the Koran. Immediately before the lines Dr. Peterson quoted about the translation of the Bible into English, Hitchens quotes from the book Introducing Muhammad which says, "the Koran is the Koran only in the original revealed text. A translation can never be the Koran, that inimitable symphony, ‘the very sound of which moves men and women to tears.’ A translation can only be an attempt to give the barest suggestion of the meaning of words contained in the Koran. This is why all Muslims, whatever their mother tongue, always recite the Koran in its original Arabic.”

In this chapter, Hitchens is generalizing about Muslim weirdness regarding the Koran being translated. How could a competent reader possibly think "he is trying to universalize a very isolated phenomenon connected with a specific religious controversy and that is the one regarding the translation of scripture during the Protestant Reformation?"

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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One more quick note on that topic. Peterson says, Hitchens laments – and I love this one, that devout men like Wycliffe, Coverdale, and Tyndale were burned alive for even attempting early translations of the Bible into vernacular literature. This is another example of the care with which he approaches his research. Far from being burned at the stake, John Wycliffe died while hearing Catholic mass in his parish church. Miles Coverdale died, unburned, in 1569 at the age of eightyone. Of the three translators mentioned by Hitchens, only William Tyndale, ironically also known as Hitchens, was burned at the stake.

While it is true that Wycliffe and Coverdale weren't literally burnt at the stake, their escape of that fate was only by the skin of their teeth. Wycliffe died of natural causes while he was being investigated by the Vatican. According to Wikipedia, "The Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic on 4 May 1415, and banned his writings, effectively both excommunicating him retroactively and making him an early forerunner of Protestantism. The Council decreed that Wycliffe's wors should be burned and his bodily remains removed from consecrated ground. This order, confirmed by Pope Martin V, was carried out in 1428. Wycliffe's corpse was exhumed and burned and the ashes cast into the River Swift, which flows through Lutterworth." [Gotta love Christian morality!]

Coverdale wasn't burned at the stake either, but his two mentors, Robert Barnes and William Tyndale, both were. Coverdale somehow dodged this fate, but did live most of his life in exile.

This sentence that Hitchens made in passing was technically inaccurate on how two of the three heretics died. However they weren't "far from being burned at the stake," as Peterson asserts. They were very, very, close to being burned at the stake.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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It's predictable that Hitchens was impressed by Ockham above all else, and it's too bad he merely gives Aquinas a pass. It's too bad Hitchens, with his popularity, didn't make some atheist friends from elsewhere -- maybe David K. Lewis could have filled in some blanks for him regarding metaphysics. Anyway, Aquinas figured out way back then that the idea of a hand-in-glove spirit version of you that animates your body is rubbish. If DCP took Aquinas seriously, he might get past some of his low-brow hobbies, like NDE research. Imagine that: Aquinas figured out way back then that NDE research is junk science, and here are Mormons and the apologists with access to more education and information any intellectual from history could ever dream of, and they just shrug it off and chase after pixies and elves. If Thomas Aquinas were he alive to day, he wouldn't give five of his minutes to the tales of the apologists.

These criticisms of Hitchens by the Reviewer are par for the course for that reviewer. He makes it sounds like oversights or sloppiness undercut the seriousness of the charge, such as in the case of burning heretics at the stake. These responses are much like his responses to the "rainy day" fund: "Oh, yesterday it was a hundred million and now its a hundred and thirty million? Please do let us know when you get your story straight!" The fund doesn't exist as a logical possibility for him until critics can nail down the charges to the third decimal place.

Burning heretics was a serious enough matter for the reformers that Tyndale and Wycliffe alluded to the practice in the stories they spun from the contents of Moroni's gold plates, while preparing the contents of the Book of Mormon for the seer stone from the spirit world.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Hi Gadianton,

That is a fascinating insight; I didn't know Aquinas was not a dualist. That just adds to the irony; is there anything that Aquinas believed or thought that Dr. Peterson actually agrees with? It's one thing to admire Aquinas as a formidable intellect as Hitchens does. It is something else entirely to take issue with Hitchens's actual point--that through no fault of his own, Aquinas was in fact basically clueless about the nature of reality.

I get the impression that on this point, Dr. Peterson actually agrees with Hitchens, and that is what forces Dr. Peterson to construct this strawman and pretend that Hitchens was arguing that "all serious Christian thinkers are idiots."

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Billy,

Check out this thread: http://mormondiscussions.com/viewtopic. ... &view=next

Interestingly, you get dragged into the topic.

Maybe another time I'll come back to Aquinas and the soul, and the topic of dualism. Well, Mormonism is fundamentally materialist itself, and a material spirit clothed in a material body (and material intelligence within or as building blocks of spirit) but Coach rails against materialism constantly. And an NDE with an etheral body exiting a physical body says nothing one way or another about dualism.

Mormonism is so thoroughly entrenched with modernism that there's really no connection to the world of theology. Aquinas basically takes Aristotle and dresses him up for church. I can't think of any connections to Coach's beliefs; maybe I've missed something. You're right though, Hitchens and DCP basically have the same view of Aquinas: formidable for his day but not especially relevant to anything worth thinking about today.

...assuming you're taking a break and planning to finish this. It would be great to have a full peer-review of this paper.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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That other thread is fascinating Gadianton; thanks for brining it to my attention and for the stroll down memory lane.

Regarding the main point of this thread, there are two more chapters I have in mind before I'm ready to put it to rest, but it will be a few days before I can get to them. I'm always open to peer review and correction.

But since you brought up peer review, I'd like to make a correction to something I said earlier. I said there were nine errors regarding Mormonism, but I just found a tenth. Probably the most important and formidable chapter of Hitchens's book is chapter 13: "Does Religion Make People Behave Better?" The chapter begins by referring to Joseph Smith with one fair swipe and one unfair swipe:

A little more than a century after Joseph Smith fell victim to the violence and mania that he had helped to unleash, another prophetic voice was raised in the United States. A young black pastor named Dr. Martin Luther King began to preach that his people—the descendants of the very slavery that Joseph Smith and all other Christian churches had so warmly approved—should be free.

Of course it is false to imply that "all Christian churches" warmly approved of slavery, but this type of wit is supposed to be obvious exaggeration and if somebody takes it literally, it just shows that they just don't understand the style.

If Hitchens was aiming for clinical accuracy rather than sardonicism, he should have said something to the effect that in the days of Joseph Smith, Christian Churches fell into three broad categories: ones that supported the abolitionists and opposed slavery, ones that did in fact warmly approve of it, and ones that were more or less neutral on the subject, either because they were internally conflicted on the issue or didn't think getting involved was worth the cost. (Isn't it great they had Christianity to provide the morals to navigate such quandaries?)

But even accounting for the wit, it falls flat to single out Joseph Smith and Mormonism as representative of churches that "warmly approved" of slavery. Joseph Smith and the Mormons clearly fell into the third category. What buries the needle on the irony meter is that just as they accused "the negro" of sitting on the fence in the war in heaven, the Mormons sat on the fence in the 19th Century war for freedom.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Tl;dr
Last edited by Analytics on Fri May 01, 2020 6:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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The flagrance with which Dr. Peterson misrepresents what Hitchens says is jaw-dropping. He doesn’t misrepresent him on occasion. You don’t need to cherry-pick to find examples. His misrepresentation is consistent and systematic. Let’s look at an example. I’ll quote Dr. Peterson in context so you can see the picture he paints (emphasis added):

…religious people can’t ever do anything good. On the other hand everything that’s bad is done by religious people. For example, religious people put an end to science, try to stomp it out wherever they could. And of course he gets into the old standard warfare of science versus religion stuff….

One of my favorite cases is Sir Fred Hoyle, probably one of the greatest, most brilliant physicists of the twentieth century. He was a British agnostic, but in Hitchens' book he shows up as a creationist. Some may remember if you grew up about the time I did, there were two viable alternatives for the origin of the universe: the Big Bang and the steadystate theory. Fred Hoyle was the founder of the steady-state theory and Hitchens portrays him as being opposed to the big bang because the Big Bang threatened his theism. But Hoyle was an agnostic or an atheist. He’s done completely turn around. In many cases, Hitchens is 180 degrees wrong. He is so far wrong that if he moved at all, he would be coming back toward right, but he does this constantly.

And in the case of Hoyle, it is amusing. Hoyle was probably having doubts about his atheism towards the end. He is the one (and Hitchens just goes ballistic at this), who said that looking at the theory of evolution it reminded him of the idea that that a storm hits a junkyard, and when it's done, a Boeing 747 has emerged. But he was by no means an ardent Christian. The irony I might say about this is that although Hitchens sees the Big Bang as the enemy of religion, guess who was one of the earliest people to just love the Big Bang? He went so far, that his advisers criticized him for it and asked him to restrain himself. It was Pope Pius XII, you know the pro-Nazi….


Let’s count how many lies Dr. Peterson made in these two paragraphs about Hoyle:
1- Does Hoyle show up as a creationist in Hitchens’s book? No.That is a lie. Hitchens refers to Hoyle as an ex-agnostic, not as a creationist.
2- Does Hitchens portray Hoyle as being opposed to the big bang because it threatens his theism? No. That is a lie. Hitchens only brings up Hoyle as an example to support one of his claims. He doesn’t say anything about why Hoyle didn’t believe in the Big Bang.
3- Did Hichens say or imply that “religious people put an end to science” and try to “stomp it out wherever they could?” No, that is a lie. Hitchens brings up Hoyle to support the opposite point. In Hitchens’s own words: It is true that scientists have sometimes been religious, or at any rate superstitious. He then lists Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Fred Hoyle as two examples of scientists who have been religious and/or superstitions.
4- Does Hitchens go ballistic at Hoyle for having doubts about his atheism? No. Another lie.
5- Does Hitchens see the Big Bang as the enemy of religion? No. That is a lie. All Hitchens says about the Big Bang is it’s the accepted theory of the origins of the universe.

From my perspective, it is clear that when Hoyle came to the conclusion that “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics” (that is according to Wikipedia), he was no longer an agnostic. He was, at the very least, an ex-agnostic.

Dr. Peterson spends more words talking about Hoyle than Hitchens does. In context, here is everything Hitchens says about Hoyle.

It is true that scientists have sometimes been religious, or at any rate superstitious. Sir Isaac Newton, for example, was a spiritualist and alchemist of a particularly laughable kind. Fred Hoyle, an ex-agnostic who became infatuated with the idea of “design,” was the Cambridge astronomer who coined the term “big bang.” (He came up with that silly phrase, incidentally, as an attempt to discredit what is now the accepted theory of the origins of the universe. This was one of those lampoons that, so to speak, backfired, since like “Tory” and “impressionist” and “suffragette” it became adopted by those at whom it was directed.)

Again, that is everything said about Hoyle. No creationism. No weird accusations about Hoyle rejecting the big bang because it threatened his theism. No going ballistic about anything. No claims that the big bang is the enemy of religion. And Hitchens says religious people can in fact be scientists, not the opposite.

When Peterson said, “Hitchens is 180 degrees wrong. He is so far wrong that if he moved at all, he would be coming back toward right, but he does this constantly,” he was projecting.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Unless there is an overwhelming demand for me to keep going, I’m going to tentatively say I hope I’ve made my point. To put a bow on this, Dr. Peterson repeatedly accuses Hitchens of saying these utterly false and black-and-white things such as “anything that’s good is secular, anything that’s bad is a believer, a faithful person.” “No mention of [religious people who fought to end slavery. Curiously, none of them were Mormons] because religious people can’t ever do anything good. On the other hand everything that’s bad is done by religious people,” “he is trying to show that religion is evil in all its effects.” This is all flat out false and a complete misrepresentation of what Hitchens actually says.

Dr. Peterson is also under the impression that “religion poisons everything” is meant to imply the black-and-white lies stated above. Hitchens clarifies this point in chapter fifteen: “Religion as an Original Sin.”

He says:

There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behavior of its adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts. These include:

• Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
• The doctrine of blood sacrifice
• The doctrine of atonement
• The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment


But does religion make people behave better?

Hitchens says:

The first thing to be said is that virtuous behavior by a believer is no proof at all of—indeed is not even an argument for—the truth of his belief. I might, just for the sake of argument, act more charitably if I believed that Lord Buddha was born from a slit in his mother’s side. But would not this make my charitable impulse dependent upon something rather tenuous?

Those are the main ways that “religion poisons everything.” That phrase doesn’t mean believers can’t be good (Hitchens repeatedly says they can be), and it doesn’t mean many of them aren’t good (the book is brimming with examples of religious adherents whose virtue he admires). And it also doesn't mean that atheism by itself is a guarantee of virtue and prosperity. The point is that even if you disregard all of the cases of bad religion that does obvious, explicit harm, the best you can hope for is religion that causes people to either believe false things or otherwise stop thinking critically. Christopher Hitchens was optimistic enough to believe that if somebody lives a good, healthy, productive, moral life while embracing false beliefs, they could have an even better, healthier, more productive, and more moral life if they discarded the false beliefs.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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These are stunning revelations, Billy. Amazing so much was extracted from that Hoyle comment.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Billy Shears wrote:
Thu Apr 30, 2020 7:23 pm
Unless there is an overwhelming demand for me to keep going, I’m going to tentatively say I hope I’ve made my point. To put a bow on this, Dr. Peterson repeatedly accuses Hitchens of saying these utterly false and black-and-white things such as “anything that’s good is secular, anything that’s bad is a believer, a faithful person.” “No mention of [religious people who fought to end slavery. Curiously, none of them were Mormons] because religious people can’t ever do anything good. On the other hand everything that’s bad is done by religious people,” “he is trying to show that religion is evil in all its effects.” This is all flat out false and a complete misrepresentation of what Hitchens actually says.

Dr. Peterson is also under the impression that “religion poisons everything” is meant to imply the black-and-white lies stated above. Hitchens clarifies this point in chapter fifteen: “Religion as an Original Sin.”

He says:

There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behavior of its adherents (which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts. These include:

• Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous
• The doctrine of blood sacrifice
• The doctrine of atonement
• The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment


But does religion make people behave better?

Hitchens says:

The first thing to be said is that virtuous behavior by a believer is no proof at all of—indeed is not even an argument for—the truth of his belief. I might, just for the sake of argument, act more charitably if I believed that Lord Buddha was born from a slit in his mother’s side. But would not this make my charitable impulse dependent upon something rather tenuous?

Those are the main ways that “religion poisons everything.” That phrase doesn’t mean believers can’t be good (Hitchens repeatedly says they can be), and it doesn’t mean many of them aren’t good (the book is brimming with examples of religious adherents whose virtue he admires). And it also doesn't mean that atheism by itself is a guarantee of virtue and prosperity. The point is that even if you disregard all of the cases of bad religion that does obvious, explicit harm, the best you can hope for is religion that causes people to either believe false things or otherwise stop thinking critically. Christopher Hitchens was optimistic enough to believe that if somebody lives a good, healthy, productive, moral life while embracing false beliefs, they could have an even better, healthier, more productive, and more moral life if they discarded the false beliefs.
Fascinating Billy! As usual, Dr. Peterson appears utterly determined to put spin on an argument of a supposed enemy in order to merely score points. Your analysis is superb, and is, I think, another reason Peterson refuses to post here, since he just can't win careful and valid arguments with any kind of professional analysis and evidence. All he ever does with atheists is polemicize.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Billy:

You ask if we want you to continue. As far as my thinking, I'm interested in continuing to read what you have to say about this subject until you don't want to do it any longer. So, keep going, if you like.

I find it interesting how Coach is so obsessed with creating his straw men, putting false words into any supposed enemy's mouth so he can then discount the false words. This is his MO. That he and his apologist buddies resort to these tactics over and over again shows how weak their positions are. It only drives people away.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Billy Shears »

Thank you for the kind words, Dr. Exiled, Philo Sofee, and Gadianton.

I decided to review Dr. Peterson’s speech from the beginning and see how comprehensively I addressed his criticisms. Here is the first one I haven't discussed.

Dr. Peterson says, Here is an example of biblical interpretation, as he does it, the akedah, the near sacrifice of Abraham's son; Hitchens' polemics fail completely to put this into context. In his discussion of the akedah or Abraham’s binding or near sacrifice of his son Isaac, Hitchens describes it as “mad and gloomy, a frightful and vile delusion.” And he says, “there is no softening the plain meaning of this frightful story that God would require humans to sacrifice their children.” But this is not the message the ancient audience would have gotten from that story. The message they would have gotten is that God does not require the sacrifice of their children, instead he allows a substitutionary sacrifice instead of human sacrifice.

A few comments on this. First, Hitchens does put it into context. He accurately tells the story, in context. The fact that believers somehow put a positive spin on it doesn’t change the fact that Hitchens tells the story in context.

Second, the message an “ancient audience” would have received from this seems much less important than the message that a modern audience would receive from it. The idea that a substitutionary sacrifice would suffice for a human sacrifice implies that a human sacrifice really was required in the first place, thus requiring the substitutionary one. Can Dr. Peterson really not see how messed up that is? Perhaps he does, which is why he throws around fancy words like “akedah” and focuses on the message that an ancient audience would hear rather than the plain implications of the story.

Third, the main way the story is interpreted by believers is to praise Abraham for his obedience. For example, in the Mormon children’s book Old Testament Stories, the take away is: “God was happy Abraham had obeyed him. God said he would bless Abraham’s family. Abraham and Isaac went home. Abraham had obeyed God. He was willing to let his son die.” It goes on to say, “What Abraham did was like what Heavenly Father did. Heavenly Father was willing to let his son, Jesus Christ, die for us. Heavenly Father and Abraham loved their sons. Jesus and Isaac loved their fathers and obeyed them.” (see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/man ... c?lang=eng)

That is the main takeaway from the story—at least as taught to Mormon children.

Finally, Hitchens does accurately represent how believers interpret the story, including the idea that it is merciful to allow a substitutionary sacrifice rather than a human one. It Hitchens's words:

All three monotheisms, just to take the most salient example, praise Abraham for being willing to hear voices and then to take his son Isaac for a long and rather mad and gloomy walk. And then the caprice by which his murderous hand is finally stayed is written down as divine mercy….

The work of rereading the Old Testament is sometimes tiring but always necessary, because as one proceeds there begin to occur some sinister premonitions. Abraham—another ancestor of all monotheism—is ready to make a human sacrifice of his own firstborn. And a rumor comes that “a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.”


Peterson thinks that an “ancient audience” ascribed to human blood sacrifices and found the idea of a substitutionary blood sacrifice to be wonderful. "Divine mercy," in Hitchens's words. Whatever. That doesn’t address Hitchens’s argument that it is in fact mad, frightful, and vile to tie your child up on an alter and raise a knife to sacrifice him because a voice in your head tells you to.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Excellent Billy! Dr Peterson will never grasp that his own bias and perspective is not the singular only and true logical one. He is brainwashed into believing that, but that doesn't make it so. He will never grasp anyone seeing it in any other light than his and Christianity's assumed views of reality. They fail to grasp that others in the world are not particularly beholden to their own pet assumptions. They will always mock Molock, and praise Abraham, and they are peas in a pod. To Mormons, child sacrifice, if done right, is good wholesome and righteous. If done wrong is evil. The ancient Mayans were heinous for human sacrifice, the Jews Celestially righteous and good. When they sacrifice it's wrong, when we do, God be praised, it is all for righteousness' sake.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Hi Philo,

The following example totally illustrates the point you just made; Dr. Peterson does not grasp the existence of his own bias and perspective and is not willing to consider the possibility of other ones.

I’ll first quote Dr. Peterson, then quote Hitchens, then offer my analysis.

Dr. Peterson said, There are other biblical problems that he points to. According to Hitchens, "the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology, the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located." Well first of all, the sun's standing still has nothing to do with astrology which developed centuries later. The other thing is that Gibeon, the site where the battle occurred, can be located in any biblical atlas; it’s an easily found site.

It shouldn’t surprise the reader that this doesn’t address Hitchens’s actual point. In context, Hitchens said: Just as the script of the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology (the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located), so the Christian bible is full of star-predictions (notably the one over Bethlehem) and witch doctors and sorcerers.

In context, his point is about the New Testament being the superstitious writings of ignorant people in the same way the Old one is. The comment about the sun standing still that Dr. Peterson latches onto is literally parenthetical. But is Dr. Peterson even being accurate in his criticism here? No. I’ll address his points in a Q&A format.

Q: Does the sun standing still have anything to do with astrology?

A: On the surface, yes. Astrology means looking to the relative position of heavenly bodies for signs. The sun standing still not only provides the practical light needed to complete a massacre, it also provides a sign that God wants you to complete the massacre. That sure seems like astrology to me.

Q: But was astrology developed centuries later?

A: No. According to Wikipedia, Western astrology “can trace its roots to 19th-17th century BCE Mesopotamia.” The Book of Joshua “holds little historical value” and was written during the Babylonian exile in the center of Mesopotamia. The story about the sun standing still was made up in the same time and place that the following was written, “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47:13).

Q: Do we know where the battle where the sun stood still actually occurred?

A: Do we know where Santa builds his toys? The North Pole can easily be identified on any globe. But that doesn’t mean we’ve literally identified where the mythical toy building takes place.

Dr. Peterson’s criticisms here only make sense if you take a literalist perspective of the Bible, i.e. We know exactly where the battle took place when the sun stopped moving, and God actually, literally, stopping the sun and moon from crossing the sky has nothing to do with superstitious people looking at the position of heavenly bodies for a sign.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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Billy Shears wrote:
Tue May 05, 2020 10:08 am
Hi Philo,

The following example totally illustrates the point you just made; Dr. Peterson does not grasp the existence of his own bias and perspective and is not willing to consider the possibility of other ones.

I’ll first quote Dr. Peterson, then quote Hitchens, then offer my analysis.

Dr. Peterson said, There are other biblical problems that he points to. According to Hitchens, "the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology, the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located." Well first of all, the sun's standing still has nothing to do with astrology which developed centuries later. The other thing is that Gibeon, the site where the battle occurred, can be located in any biblical atlas; it’s an easily found site.

It shouldn’t surprise the reader that this doesn’t address Hitchens’s actual point. In context, Hitchens said: Just as the script of the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology (the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located), so the Christian bible is full of star-predictions (notably the one over Bethlehem) and witch doctors and sorcerers.

In context, his point is about the New Testament being the superstitious writings of ignorant people in the same way the Old one is. The comment about the sun standing still that Dr. Peterson latches onto is literally parenthetical. But is Dr. Peterson even being accurate in his criticism here? No. I’ll address his points in a Q&A format.

Q: Does the sun standing still have anything to do with astrology?

A: On the surface, yes. Astrology means looking to the relative position of heavenly bodies for signs. The sun standing still not only provides the practical light needed to complete a massacre, it also provides a sign that God wants you to complete the massacre. That sure seems like astrology to me.

Q: But was astrology developed centuries later?

A: No. According to Wikipedia, Western astrology “can trace its roots to 19th-17th century BCE Mesopotamia.” The Book of Joshua “holds little historical value” and was written during the Babylonian exile in the center of Mesopotamia. The story about the sun standing still was made up in the same time and place that the following was written, “Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47:13).

Q: Do we know where the battle where the sun stood still actually occurred?

A: Do we know where Santa builds his toys? The North Pole can easily be identified on any globe. But that doesn’t mean we’ve literally identified where the mythical toy building takes place.

Dr. Peterson’s criticisms here only make sense if you take a literalist perspective of the Bible, i.e. We know exactly where the battle took place when the sun stopped moving, and God actually, literally, stopping the sun and moon from crossing the sky has nothing to do with superstitious people looking at the position of heavenly bodies for a sign.
This reminds me of the time honored tradition of apologists' objecting to sentence structure and/or spelling. It shows how empty their responses are in the face of a mountain of evidence against their positions. Coach P cannot face the arguments head on so he resorts to tangential arguments about nothing important in hopes of gaining some misleading victory. He is the fighter who gets repeatedly knocked down and eventually out and then wants to focus attention on how he got that one punch to the body that momentarily paused the slaughter. He is the defense counsel who, after seeing his client commit the robbery on video, argues about how the police may have not followed proper procedure or tries to focus attention away from the video by trying to create a story about how the store owner might be racist.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Billy Shears »

This post is rather long and addresses one of the better (or more accurately less terrible) points that Dr. Peterson makes. I debated whether or not I should include it here, because its inclusion could distract from some of the other more poignant observations and make it look like I am nitpicking. But since I'm trying to be comprehensive, I'll share this too.

Dr. Peterson said, Like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament is for Hitchens merely a “crude forgery.” [sic] So any Evangelical anti-Mormons who take pleasure in his description of the Book of Mormon as a crude forgery will have the smiles erased from their faces pretty soon when he gets to the Bible; he feels the same about that. It was "hammered together long after its purported events.[sic] The notion that the Gospels would be based on eyewitness accounts is patently fraudulent claim [sic]. It’s an error to assume that the four Gospels were in any sense a historical record [sic].”

Now there happens to be on the question of eyewitness testimony in the New Testament, a fascinating new book by Richard Bauckham called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, which argues meticulously I think that the case is that the New Testament Gospels are in fact based on eyewitness accounts - that they have access to eyewitness testimony. Whether they were written by the eyewitnesses or simply on the basis of eyewitness testimony is a matter of irrelevance to him. The fact is that they go back apparently to very specific eyewitness testimony, and he is very careful in laying this out. Of course, Hitchens pays no attention to these sorts of things. His research is as I say is limited largely to Google and a handful of endnotes. The most outrageous assertions are made and you look in the back for any justification for them, nothing. You’ll go twenty, thirty pages without any kind of documentation whatsoever.


This one is interesting because Dr. Peterson parses together phrases from multiple sentences to misrepresent the subtleties of Hitchens’s position, ignores the arguments that Peterson makes in the text to support his position, pretends that no such arguments even exists, and then repeats the lie that Hitchens’s relies upon Google.

Here are the points that Hitchens made in the snips Peterson sewed together to form his misrepresentation. In context.

If it should seem odd that an action should be deliberately performed in order that a foretelling be vindicated, that is because it is odd. And it is necessarily odd because, just like the Old Testament, the “New” one is also a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of improvised attempts to make things come out right. For concision, I shall again defer to a finer writer than myself and quote what H. L. Mencken irrefutably says in his Treatise on the Gods:

The simple fact is that the New Testament, as we know it, is a helter-skelter accumulation of more or less discordant documents, some of them probably of respectable origin but others palpably apocryphal, and that most of them, the good along with the bad, show unmistakable signs of having been tampered with.

Both Paine and Mencken, who put themselves for different reasons to an honest effort to read the texts, have been borne out by later biblical scholarship, much of it first embarked upon to show that the texts were still relevant. But this argument takes place over the heads of those to whom the “Good Book” is all that is required.


Dr. Peterson doesn’t even acknowledge that these arguments even exist, much less refute them. Instead, he plucks out seven words that he knows his audience will find offensive, and builds a strawman around that.

The phrase “patently fraudulently claim,” comes from this passage: The Passion of the Christ was opportunistically employed by many “mainstream” churches as a box-office recruiting tool. At one of the ecumenical prepublicity events which he sponsored, Mr. Gibson defended his filmic farrago—which is also an exercise in sadomasochistic homoeroticism starring a talentless lead actor who was apparently born in Iceland or Minnesota—as being based on the reports of “eyewitnesses.” At the time, I thought it extraordinary that a multimillion-dollar hit could be openly based on such a patently fraudulent claim, but nobody seemed to turn a hair.

Dr. Peterson paints Hitchens as somebody who denies Jesus existing at all. That isn’t his point here. Hitchens actual position is that Jesus did exist historically, but that for the most part, the gospel narratives are not based on eyewitness testimony; most of it is made up. Hitchens never cites google for his opinion on this. Rather, he cites Bart Ehrman, ahem, he cites the Distinguished Professor Bart Ehrman on this. But again, we never hear anything about Hitchens’s actual position or arguments.

The phrase about it being an error to assume it is a historical record comes from this:

And the truth is that the Jews used to claim credit for the Crucifixion. Maimonides described the punishment of the detestable Nazarene heretic as one of the greatest achievements of the Jewish elders, insisted that the name Jesus never be mentioned except when accompanied by a curse, and announced that his punishment was to be boiled in excrement for all eternity. What a good Catholic Maimonides would have made! However, he fell into the same error as do the Christians, in assuming that the four Gospels were in any sense a historical record. Their multiple authors—none of whom published anything until many decades after the Crucifixion—cannot agree on anything of importance. Matthew and Luke cannot concur on the Virgin Birth or the genealogy of Jesus. They flatly contradict each other on the “Flight into Egypt,” Matthew saying that Joseph was “warned in a dream” to make an immediate escape and Luke saying that all three stayed in Bethlehem until Mary’s “purification according to the laws of Moses,” which would make it forty days, and then went back to Nazareth via Jerusalem. (Incidentally, if the dash to Egypt to conceal a child from Herod’s infanticide campaign has any truth to it, then Hollywood and many, many Christian iconographers have been deceiving us. It would have been very difficult to take a blond, blue-eyed baby to the Nile delta without attracting rather than avoiding attention.)

The Gospel according to Luke states that the miraculous birth occurred in a year when the Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census for the purpose of taxation, and that this happened at a time when Herod reigned in Judaea and Quirinius was governor of Syria. That is the closest to a triangulation of historical dating that any biblical writer even attempts. But Herod died four years “BC,” and during his rulership the governor of Syria was not Quirinius. There is no mention of any Augustan census by any Roman historian, but the Jewish chronicler Josephus mentions one that did occur—without the onerous requirement for people to return to their places of birth, and six years after the birth of Jesus is supposed to have taken place….


Notice that Hitchens goes on and on and on about the internal inconsistencies and absurdities that support his position. And notice that Peterson doesn’t address any of these actual arguments. Rather, he stitches together snippets that will shock his audience, and then spreads this lie that Hitchens makes no justification for what he says.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

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I don't know about either Hitchens's book or Peterson's review, but precisely because the gospels were composed decades after the times they describe, it's unreasonable to discredit their historicity completely just by discrediting their birth narratives. The birth narratives obviously describe a time that was a few decades earlier still than the rest of the stories, a time from which there were still fewer witnesses and in which Jesus could have done much less that was memorable.

Most of what we have about the early youth of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington is dubious legend, but the history of their later careers is more solid. In the same way, the conflicting birth narratives of the gospels certainly discredit the naïve view that the gospels are some kind of perfect historical record, but beyond that I don't see that they undermine the later accounts very much. The gospels aren't monolithic texts.

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by honorentheos »

Physics Guy wrote:
Wed May 06, 2020 3:54 pm
I don't know about either Hitchens's book or Peterson's review, but precisely because the gospels were composed decades after the times they describe, it's unreasonable to discredit their historicity completely just by discrediting their birth narratives. The birth narratives obviously describe a time that was a few decades earlier still than the rest of the stories, a time from which there were still fewer witnesses and in which Jesus could have done much less that was memorable.

Most of what we have about the early youth of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington is dubious legend, but the history of their later careers is more solid. In the same way, the conflicting birth narratives of the gospels certainly discredit the naïve view that the gospels are some kind of perfect historical record, but beyond that I don't see that they undermine the later accounts very much. The gospels aren't monolithic texts.
I disagree narrowly on this point. The reason being where the Gospels of Matthew and Luke diverge wildly are at points where Mark was silent. They were making it up. One can even see their narrative biases come through in how they chose to fill in those gaps. It happens again after the Marcan Appendix so it isn't due to the records filling in gaps from Jesus' youth but instead filling in gaps in their shared source, the Gospel of Mark. We have, at best, one partial late history.

ETA: here's a thread on this topic.
http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/vie ... p?p=970920

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Re: peterson's Review of Hitchens Is Not Great

Post by Physics Guy »

I'm not an expert on New Testament by any means, but my understanding is that there are enough points on which Matthew and Luke agree, yet which are absent from Mark, that the existence of a lost written source "Q" has been inferred. So it's not true that wherever Mark was silent Matthew and Luke made things up independently. That sure does seem to have been what they did for the birth narratives but that's not what they did the whole time.

My point is that the gospels are hodgepodges and the two birth narratives are by far the hodgiest parts. To make out that their wild divergence is typical of the whole Jesus story is seriously misleading. The whole story isn't nearly that bad, and there are obvious reasons why the birth narratives would be expected to be much less reliable than the rest.

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