The Razor of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens, the eclectic and rhetorical sword of the New Atheist movement, passed away almost 7 years ago. Hitchens was an interesting character who was not entirely predictable, since he held political opinions that made him too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals. And many Christians have an appreciation for him, despite his anti-theism, because of his wit and generosity, and I suspect, because of the fact that he wasn’t afraid to denounce some leftist pieties. However, the man was not without his flaws and one of his most prominent, I believe, was of course, his anti-theism, the fairly malicious way in which he attacked his opponents ( by getting personal and calling them names) and his attacks on the Jesus ethic ( loving your enemies). And his legacy now includes the many fans whom he has encouraged to behave likewise. Nevertheless, what concerns me here is what is often now lionized as “Hitchens’ Razor.” This is based on a quote from God is not Great which says “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” This is a different way to state the presumption of atheism, but more fundamentally, it maintains a position of hard rationalism – the idea that rationality should be our ultimate guide to matters of truth and goodness.

Now, whenever you run into principles like this, the best thing to do, and the thing to do first, is to see whether the claim can meet it’s own principle. Can Hitchens’ razor be asserted with evidence? What could be the evidence for the claim that you must have evidence for your claim? Nothing could be evidence for this claim, because to justify the claim would be to offer evidence for the claim (which is circular). In other words, it is circular to give evidence for the truth-claim that all truth-claims must have evidence, because you must assume the principle in order to think that giving evidence for it makes it true. So, does Hitchens’ Razor have evidence? No. So if Hitchens’ razor is true, then it must be dismissed. Since Hitchens’ Razor is asserted without evidence it can be dismissed without evidence. In other words, Hitchens’ Razor is self-refuting.

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