Last night I went to the debate between Christopher Hitchens and Dinseh S'Souza. Hitchens wasn't in top form, and D'Souza probably won the debate in terms of audience support. But the audience was stacked against Hitchens with 80 to 90% being Christian in my estimate.
D'Souza threw out numerous mischaracterizations of atheists, and statements such as atheism and belief in scientific laws requiring a leap of faith just like Christianity, which Hitchens never properly attacked.The final audience question period favored D'Souza as well, since most questions went to Hitchens, D'Souza got the last word in almost every time. Hitchens often made arguments that seemed to go over the heads of the audience. Once he made the point that the so-called designer didn't do a very good job since most of the solar system and universe is uninhabitable. However he made this argument with too much literary flair since I saw the young Christians sitting in front of me shaking their heads in confusion, not because they disagreed, but because they plainly did not understand what Hitchens was saying.
When Dinesh mentioned Hitchens book on Mother Theresa "The Missionary Position" the young Christians in front of me freaked out. Their eyes were bugging out and their jaws were hitting the floor! After all the things Hitchens had said so far, I couldn't believe that book title getting the biggest reaction.
Here are my crappy notes:
The format was 10 minutes each, then 5 minutes each, then cross examination from either side, and finally audience questions. D'Souza went first. (I'll use "D" and "H" from now on.)I'll put my biased remarks in square brackets.
D (10 min.):
- Militant atheism is on the rise.
- Why do atheists care? You don't see me writing books on how I don't believe in unicorns. [There haven't been any unicorn suicide bombers yet, or people pushing for unicorn lessons in public schools.]
- I will focus on reason and evidence during the debate.
- The values atheists promote are the result of Christianity.
- It is the Western Christian nations that help others in time of need. (tsunamis, etc.)
- Atheists say there democratic values are based on ancient Greek civilization. No, ancient civilizations were based on slavery.
- Christianity provided the moral engine to eventually end slavery, and the foundation for democracy. (all men created equal under God...)
- Many scientists in history have been Christian. (Galileo, Newton, Mendel...) [Galileo?!?]
- There is no conflict btwn. science and religion because modern science is based on three assumptions. (1) Universe as a whole is rational. (2) Universe obeys laws which can be described with mathematics. (3) Laws of nature mirrored in our brain. These assumptions are rooted in Christianity.
- Christianity hasn't killed so many people. Only 18 at Salem, and 2000 from Inquisition. Compare to the millions of atheists Stalin and Mao. [The inquisition didn't have modern death technology, nor the dense populations to work on...]
H (10 min):
- The problem is faith, and the belief that faith is a virtue.
- People didn't know right and wrong before Mt. Sinai? Silly idea.
- Vicarious redemption by applauding a human sacrifice is nasty.
- Compulsory love is immoral.
- Despite many atrocities in the Old Testament, there was no everlasting punishment of the dead until Jesus meek and mild came in the New Testament.
- What moral act can be done by a believer that can't be done by a non-believer? (And vice versa, what immoral acts can only be done by believers?)
- Humans have been around for at least 100,000 years. So God waited through 98,000 years of suffering and death before we got a filthy human sacrifice in one part of the middle east.
D (5 min):
- "I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony, that is I don't know where to begin." (Big laughs!)
- Hitchens has presumed many things. He presumes there is no God, so the crucifixion is a dirty human sacrifice. But the Christian presumes there is a God, and Christianity is not about the crucifixion, but the resurrection? [Why use a cross symbol then? Why not a rising Christ symbol?]
- Science can't prove anything. Millions of tests won't tell us for sure the speed of light won't change tomorrow.
- Hitchens is taking a leap of faith believing in the laws of science.- Loving God is not a compulsion, it's a free offering to us. People aren't sent to Hell, they choose to go there by rejecting God.
- Hitchens hates Jesus.
H (5 min):
- You still haven't proven God exists.
- Religions want the end of the world to happen soon.
- Islam is bad. [Sorry my notes aren't so good here.]
Cross examination... [rough notes]
D: Name a law of science that can't change. [i.e.. implying that is Hitchen's faith.]
H: Einstein was a deist. [They argue about that for a bit.]
D: Why does the universe have perfect life inducing parameters?
H: Most of the solar system and universe is uninhabitable. Some designer!
H: Fascism grew out of the Catholic church. (Celebrating Hitler's birthday, etc.)
D: Stalin and Marx were atheists. Hitler actually hated Christianity and just used it for his own ends. Hitler surrounded himself with atheists.
H: Stalin was making use of population of believers. You can't give example of atheist society falling into chaos and decay.
D: Hitchens blames Christians for all their crimes, but also blames the crimes of the atheists on religion too.
Audience question time...
Q: To D, elaborate on laws of nature mirrored in our minds please.
D: blah blah blah.
H: No miracles.
Q: To H, Why do you say morality has =merely= evolved?
H: Evolution, blah blah.
D: Evolution can't explain origin of life, consciousness or morality.
H: I gave blood!
D: That's because you were raised in a Christian society.
Q: [Schizophrenic ramblings about existence]
H: Lets take that as a statement.
Q: To H, Before Xianity came to Fiji, we were eating each other. What do you have to offer us?
H: Well, why did Xianity take so long to get there?
D: Indian untouchables embracing Xianity because of teaching of equality. I'm thankful for the inquisitors who brought Xianity to my ancestors, even though my ancestors might not have liked it at the time. [!]
Q: To H, if people are evolving and religion is bad, why haven't' we gotten rid of it after all this time?
H: Religion says your a worm, nothing, dirty, but God loves you! [George Carlin?]
D: Hitches is crazy with his exaggeration that religion poisons everything.
Q: [Something about faith]
H. [don't remember]
D: We are both agnostics. I don't know, but I believe. Chris chooses to have faith that God doesn't exist. We are both making leaps of faith.
H: Saying I disagree with you is not a leap of faith. [I wish he made this point clearer...]
D: Kepler is awesome.
Sorry my note taking wasn't going so well there at the end. I was getting tired, and the cheering of the Christians around me whenever Dinesh made some stupid remark was giving me a headache. Hitchens needed some coffee, or maybe a shot of methamphetamine at the end. He let too much slide by.
It's possible that D'Souza has a point in that Christianity has had some positive influence on human society. But just because a religious social system is doing some good doesn't make its claims true. I'm interested in what is true, and how we can verify that to the best of our abilities.
UPDATE: It looks like the video will be available here.
UPDATE 2: There's a much better report of the debate here at Hitchens Watch.