Hitchens' address to American Atheists

April 23, 2011

via PZ Myers / Pharyngula

"Christopher Hitchens was scheduled to appear at the American Atheist convention, but had to cancel because of his illness. He sent this letter instead.

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on."

Read More http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/hitchens_address_to_american_a.php


Drosophilaris said...

Dear Christopher: I'm but filled with inconceivable sadness over your deteriorating health. I hope that you will get better soon. I can not imaging our world losing it's most fierce proponent for enlightenment and one of the last remaining righteous journalists and authors. In my earlier years of childhood i never felt awe in the shadow of religion, but it was only with your writings that i experienced awe.
I'm from Syria, Damascus originally and I hope to hear or read what you'd have to say about what's happening now once the dust has settled.
I'm an atheist a secular humanists, a Hitchensian a dawkinsian and a free moral human.

Drosophilaris said...

Dear Christopher: I'm filled with inconceivable sadness over your deteriorating health. I hope that you get better because it's hard for me to imagine our world losing a fierce proponent for enlightenment and one of the last remaining righteous and fearful journalists. I never new awe in religion but i got to experience it with your writings.
I'm originally from Syria, Damascus i would love to read what you will have to say about what's happening after all the dust has settled.

1stLt.L.Diablo said...

You are being obtuse. We can explain (or in your terms: we "know" about) many natural phenomena that were once occulted from us. We even know how inanimate chemicals can serve as precursor to animate life.

My point, one more time, is that none of this matters because none of you twits ever do anything except fall back on PERSONAL REVELATION as some kind of stupid 'proof' of god's existence.

But please, continue to insist that it's the mysterious natural phenomena on the universe that keeps you believing in god as prime mover-- all this does is make you twice as foolish. Why? Because science is explaining more and more shit every day, so your god gets smaller and smaller; and as you well know, god is no explanation at all! It merely adds 'filler' to the equation that explains absolutely nothing. Ha! What a genius you are (and even if god's was 'proved' by this nonsense,it would only be a deist kind of god not a christian or muslim one... but you people forget all that huh?)

Lastly, having you call me ignorant and juvenile is like George W. Bush calling me a low-brow redneck with an impoverished facility with our language. I'll smile sardonically and move the fuck on...

Cmooredrama said...

Dear Christopher-I just wanted to take a moment to say how much I look forward to your articles, arguments, and debates. Not to sound too childish, but you are my hero. I think you are brilliant, intelligent and witty. I also love your debating style. Please get well-we need you.

Citron said...

So you continue with the inane moon-cheese analogy.

We KNOW what the moon is made of. We don't know the origins of the universe, only processes. If I have to explain such a distinction to you, and if you cannot comprehend my straightforward comment, I'll be generous and assume it's because you are an adolescent and haven't fully developed your higher faculties (which would also explain your amusing combination of arrogance and ignorance, one of the cutest traits of a vital and rebellious young person newly discovering concepts like "atheism").

1stLt.L.Diablo said...

"... because we already know it's not" - Citron

Lol. Exactly, and how do we know the moon is not made of cheese? We've investigated it and found no fucking evidence for it (it is made of other things). We are lacking a similar amount of evidence for anything supernatural (we have other explanations for natural phenomena). So, "we already know" there is no god... by this syllogism of yours, unless and until there is evidence that one exists (just like we'd have to amend our knowledge of our grey satellite if evidence was produced that the moon is made of Pepper Fucking Jack!).

The burden is on you to prove god exists, not on us to prove he doesn't; and bro you have not done it. It always comes down to fatuous personal revelation as 'proof' which is the apotheosis of the illiterate, non-scientific, methodology that has no place in the 21st century. Your personal revelation is meaningless. Do you even know how susceptible our brains are to both hallucination (e.g., I saw the virgin mary in a cloud!) and causal-mistakes (e.g., I saw it rain before I had a headache, therefore rain causes headaches)?

Lastly, your writing is almost unintelligible. You need to slow down and learn how to think and write so it makes some sense to your reader. It isn't merely the non sequiturs (which are bad enough), it's the fact that many of even your most anodyne sentences have no discernible point (this is a function of poor construction borne of - I suspect - the fuzzyheaded manner in which you ruminate on these subjects).

I cannot play chess with a player of checkers ("Citron, the 'horsey piece' cannot move like that!"). Good day...

Citron said...


Moon-cheese analogy fails because we already know it is not, and second, there is no particular logic behind believing the moon is made of cheese.

While faith is based in faith and not logic, there is logic behind faith that is supported, which is why so many men more intelligent and courageous than anyone at this forum, including men of science such as the one currently treating Hitch, are also devout believers.

As for being glad there is no evidence, I would argue your premise. Believers have more evidence for belief than nonbelievers for nonbelief. Furthermore, not only is Dawkins not 100% sure there is no god or that it is not the Judeo-Christian god or any other -- he is ZERO percent certain of that. Not to be confused with "feeling" almost 100% certain.

We "twits" are not certain there is a god, although we feel fairly certain and there are as many basis for this as there are believers. Some base it on what they believe are miracles of nature or art or other human achievement. Others base it on hope, and others base it on a combination of those. A typical Christian believes that he has been exposed to the Christian faith as a gesture of salvation, accepts the rationale behind various Christian tenets, respects Christian institutions, and believes as Kant did that even if there were no supernatural dimension to Christianity, its net influence is necessary for humans to coexist.

Atheism is an impoverished dead end that brings to mind clanking grey dystopia in which man and his reason (as well as his inherent drive to kill other men) are the only thing we should concern ourselves with, and we are no greater or bigger than our sorry natures. They are dead to possibility, which is the only thing that makes the human race worthwhile considering its performance throughout its entire history.

We are at our base nature designed to kill other humans in order to preserve our survival and enhance our quality of life. There is nothing irrational about doing just that, only immoral. These drives are stronger than our better angels and I don't need to provide evidence of this. The absence of a greater reason than self interest to turn from these inclinations represents the atheist ideal and this "ideal" is lacking in comparison to belief by any (reasoned, rational) standard.

Most atheists are atheists for one of two reasons. They want everyone to believe they are of superior intelligence and nobody's fool (the biggest fools are the certain or near-certain), or they resent certain moral codes imposed by some religions and never get beyond that resentment to weigh likelihoods and possibilities in a meaningful way.

Jacksfat said...

I don't know of any Atheist who would say that they are 100% certain there is no god, that's not a claim that anyone can ever make.

C. Hitchens has said as much many times, stating that being an Atheist is a life devoted to UN-certainty and skepticism. NEVER thinking you know enough and certainly never presuming that issues of the cosmos are all sewn up! I know my ignorance very well, and I'm constantly trying to push back those boundaries.

The Atheist position is that there may well be a god or prime-mover, but no one has yet discovered him/it. We may say that the persuits of science seem, so far, to be turning up more promising information, and should, as such, be followed to their conclusion. (If there ever is one).

That to me seems to chime with your position very nicely and I can't see a conflict at all. You say Atheists are ignorant, I happily agree I am, but definitely not blinkered.

1stLt.L.Diablo said...

Citron you need a little educating here. To wit:

We atheists are merely saying there is no evidence for god. So we do not believe in that for which there is no evidence. Just as there is no evidence that the moon is made of cheese. Is one an 'arrogant' and/or 'foolish' man for not being "open-minded" (i.e., believing there is a 50/50 chance either way) about the lunar fromage phenomenon?! Or are you merely saying, look until there is evidence that the moon is made of cheese I confidently say it is not. Prove me wrong and I'll submit. Even Dawkins has said he is not 100% sure there is no god. So quit being obtuse on this point.

Second, we antitheists are glad there is no evidence for god because we are hostile to the very idea of an invigilating and panoptic god with totalitarian powers-- and if it were true (if god existed) we'd be horrified by such a prospect. This we're certain of because it's a matter of principle. But it still doesn't make us impervious to evidence-- in contrast, no believer can ever be convinced by logic or evidence because their stupid personal revelation renders that evidence impotent.

So you have it exactly backwards. Atheists are not nearly as sure as believers, we are merely waiting on evidence (that --as antitheists--we hope never comes). You twits are CERTAIN there is a god, even thought there is no evidence for such a conceit.

Check mate.

Kyle423 said...

Thanks. I think I've really misunderstood the meaning of "atheism".

Kyle343 said...

Thank you, very helpful since recently I've been in a mix of people who seem to have all of the above beliefs, and more.

Tomh said...

Pardon the ugly typo marring that sentence. Hopefully you all got the meaning:
"To respond to Citron is to pretend he actually said something worth responding to."

Tomh said...

What Rich said, with the caveat that these words don't really have precise & universally accepted meanings. So don't be confused if you see published works that, for example, use "atheist" for someone who actively believes there are no gods, and "agnostic" for someone who has no beliefs in gods but is more or less open to being convinced. (Rich would describe the latter as an atheist as well).

I favor the definitions offered by Rich as the clearest and most useful, though, and I would encourage you to adopt those.

1984 said...

If you're not even slightly bitter to the condition of the world then you're not paying close enough attention.

This question is almost too big to answer in a few lines. All the way from distortion of education (opposition to evolutionary biology, false views of the nature and origins of the universe, corruption of science &etc) to oppressive moralities (think of teenagers fearfully struggling with 'sinful feelings' because of their burgeoning sexuality) to policies on contraception, AIDS prevention, abortion and stem cell research, to persecution of gays, to murderous interreligious conflicts in many countries (Christians versus Muslims versus Hindus - and Protestants versus Catholics, and Sunnis versus Shias, attacking each other in Nigeria, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Ireland, Croatia...) to religious leaders (e.g. mullahs) inciting hatred, terrorism and mass murder - where are the aspects of our lives that are not in some way affected by the toxin of religion? A.C Grayling

TomDH said...

Many thanks.

Rich Wilson said...

Let's start by agreeing on what the words mean.
Atheism means lack of belief in gods.
Agnosticism means thinking the god question cannot be proved.
So, agnostic atheist = someone who has no belief in god, but does not assert that there are no gods, since such a proof is impossible.
Gnostic atheist = someone who is certain there are no gods.
And for completeness, gnostic theist is someone certain there is/are god(s) and agnostic theist is one who thinks there is/are god(s), but thinks it can't be proven.
Does that answer it? Or are you asking why someone picks one of those labels? I suspect most atheists are pretty sure there are no gods, but do accept that it's impossible to prove. I think people who describe themselves as agnostic are generally more open to the possibility of gods.
On the other hand, a lot of atheists think a lot of agnostics are actually atheists, but just don't understand the distinction. That was me. I called myself agnostic for a long time, and switched to atheist after reading Dawkins describe what the two words really mean.

Kyle324 said...

Please, nobody pounce on me but I have a sincere question.
What makes people atheists verses agnostics?

LuckeeC said...

New Guardian article...Martin Amis on Hitch:


Citron said...

Diablo, if you have the capacity to recognize the distinctions between longing for a human king and accepting either the possibility or likelihood of anintelligent higher power then you will see the flaws in your analogy if you take the time to consider those distinctions. If not, it would make no sense to reveal them to you.

Citron said...

Yes I realize my iPad autocomplete inserts a contraction in place of the correct word but I know the difference. Sorry to deprive you from one of the only intellectual victories you would experience as an atheist. Atheists are irrational because they presume to know what is not known and their belief system is nothing more than a "best guess" that is logically LESS defensible than agnosticism or even most mainstream faiths. It usually can be traced to disgruntlement over the idea of a connection between sex and morality as C. Hitchen's smarter brother observed.

Jacksfat, I've no problem with skepticism but think atheists are ignorant and their certainty makes me embarrassed for them.

Gareth Lennox said...

How the hell can it be irrational to say that the case for the existence of any god is not made? Only those without the ability to understand what atheism means or those who purposefully misrepresent its intellectual foundations can assert its irrationality. For Citron's benefit, atheism is the assertion that all theisms are false. By any existential standard, not only is this claim rational, it is also complete. The irrationality lies with those who say, in the absence of any material or logical evidence, that they know of the existence of their invisible sky daddy and, moreover, know the inner machinations of its mind. Capish?

Hitchens' letter is as eloquent as ever. If fear the day looms large when the intellectual light that illuminates our world will grow a little dimmer.

Tomh said...

Just ignore the trolls, guys. To respond to him Citron to pretend he actually said something worth responding to.

Rutiwot said...

I hope to have a tenth of Hitch's courage when it comes time for me to check out.

"To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry."

By the way Citron - he's talking about you. Enjoy your mindless adulation, rituals and incantations.

1stLt.L.Diablo said...

BTW-- It is "its" not "it's" in the context of your (stupid) sentence. To wit: "...find myself caught in it's (sic) clutches," should read as, "...find myself caught in its clutches".


1stLt.L.Diablo said...

Citron, your fatuous comment reminds me of what King George said to then ambassador John Adams several years after Americans had won their independence, "I hope America doesn't suffer from want of a monarchy".

Said, in all earnestness I suspect by the previously tyrannical and then rendered irrelevant king; lacking any awareness of the irony of the ass-backwardness of his statement. Citron, you share the same defect as that king...

Jacksfat said...

Being skeptical of things until they are shown to be true is not irrational. In fact, I'd say that's the perfect definition of rational.

Citron said...

If atheism makes one that bitter I know I never want to find myself caught in it's (rather irrational) clutches

Stephen M. said...

I've always liked Christopher Hitchens and pray(!) that his health improves. But the slogan at the top of the page "what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof" can just as easily be turned against Hitchens as he uses it against religious belief. Hitchens and probably everybody reading this objects to religious belief because it cannot be "proved" (though it is related more to personal empirical experience than scientific belief is, as most people accept almost everything scientific on the basis of belief - as John Henry Newman famously pointed out, every English person "knows" England is an island without ever circumnavigating it as you would have to to really know it is an island). But the positivitistic doctrine that something has to be proved to be true cannot be demonstrated empirically. So it is a belief as much as any other belief and no more "intellectual" or "rigourous" than religious belief is - in fact theologians like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc. make more sense than atheist positivists.

Stephen M. said...

 If one can accept the possible existence of a creator, then why can't one accept the notion that this creator might be loving enough to try and reveal "its" nature and concerns to its creation - seems highly likely. So to dismiss religion means dismissing the possibility of a creator which is ludicrous. This seems more like closing off inquiry than following it.

Stephen M. said...

I have made a couple comments here before I read several previously posted comments. I doubt anyone appreciated my posts, but I won't checking back to see because I found that anyone who questions atheism is personally attacked - so much for (purposed) objectivity. There are credible reasons for religious faith, but involve falling in love unconditionally (but not blindly) more than it does proof. Since in faith as in many human relationships, love precedes further detailed knowledge, you would have to prove to me that the "object" of this love is not worth loving for me not to believe in God. It seems many atheists have taken this route.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir