I've been reading Christopher Hitchens and I cannot understand, again, the exact meaning of a particular sentence.

Here is the sentence in context:

Having no reliable or consistent witnesses, in anything like the time period needed to certify such an extraordinary claim, we are finally entitled to say that we have a right, if not an obligation, to respect ourselves enough to disbelieve the whole thing. That is, unless or until superior evidence is presented, which it has not been. And exceptional claims demand exceptional evidence.
- god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, p. 150

There is no way for me to get the meaning of the sentence in bold since I cannot even analyze the syntax.

Any help or suggestion would be appreciated.

  • 2
    That is simply refers to the preceding statement. Which it asserts is [true]. Except if (unless) the following condition applies; superior evidence is presented. The which clause refers back to that condition, pointing out that as at the time of writing "superior evidence" has not in fact been presented. – FumbleFingers Jun 5 '15 at 16:19
  • I'm glad it helped you understand the text, but I'm afraid I'm not the right person to formally analyse it. – FumbleFingers Jun 5 '15 at 19:32

The point of the preceding sentence was "we have a right, if not an obligation...to disbelieve the whole thing." The phrase "That is, until..." establishes a qualification to the preceding statement. Specifically, we have a right to disbelieve until superior evidence is presented. The last phrase states that such superior evidence has not been presented, so we still have the right (and obligation) to disbelieve.

  • Thank you WhatRoughBeast. It is a good and intelligible re-phrasing. Now I get the full meaning. – A.K. Jun 5 '15 at 19:19

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