Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hitchens vs. D'Souza Debate

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.

D: OK.

H: Next!

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.


B said...

Thanks for the shorthand of the debate. Based on your notes, I agree with your assement that Hitchens wasn't in top form. I feel he could have done a much better job responding to D'Souza's arguments. I feel he could have done a better job responding to the Stalin/Marx comment, and stated that Stalin attempted to replace religion with the worship of the state/communism. Oh and maybe mentioned something about his under-inflated body count of Christianity- what about all the religious problems the rest of Europe (30 years war, Bloody Mary followed by Elizabeth I, St. Bartholomew's Day Massacare, the whole Missionary system in Spanish-owned american.... the list goes on)

William Hawthorne said...

I'm rather unsurprised that Hitchens seems to have lost this debate. He's not a careful thinker to begin with, and his case for atheism depends on rhetorical spins and soundbites instead of sound argumentation. Thanks for the notes, as incomplete as they were.

BTW: As is obvious to anybody who's studied some history of science, Galileo was, in fact, a thoroughgoing Christian theist.

J Myers said...

Galileo was, in fact, a thoroughgoing Christian theist.

One of their own... and yet, they treated him so... charitably.

I'm with you on Hitchens; I commented elsewhere that I figured he would demolish D'Souza, but that expectation was based largely on the general inanity of D'Souza's writing. If D'Souza could manage some intelligible remarks before a friendly audience, he could fare quite well against Hitchens (and it sounds as though he did).

Dennis said...

I attempted a neutral position and felt D'Souza got the better of him. It's off topic to discuss Gods existence since the debate question is clearly based on the idea of the human "institution" of christianity. I must admit I was guilty of wondering from the topic with my schizophrentic ramblings on existence.


that atheist guy said...

Galileo may have been a Christian, but I find it odd to use him as an example of Christianity advancing science.

Dennis, you are right and I often could not tell what the topic was supposed to be during the debate. Maybe that was the moderator's fault? Anyway, sorry to describe what you said as schizophrenic ramblings. You are braver than I to get up to the mic, and I doubt I could squeak out an intelligent question in front of that crowd. Feel free to describe what you wanted to say here, or post a link to it.

I added a link to the post to a more thorough report at another blog.

Dennis said...


I got a good laugh from that comment. In retrospect I should have gone with another line of questioning. Nice job on this web site!


KenK said...

Hey Jacob, I am glad that you have an open mind and are "on the fence." You asked, "It seems obvious that religion doesn't cause morality, and we probably don't need it for morality." This is quite a declaration and you probably need to explain this more. If "religion" is not necessary for morality, what are you grounding morality in? Human nature? Hitler had a very well developed moral principle, "Jews are evil" and he sought act on his moral view. If morality evolved, was Hitler's moral view incorrect? If so, who are you to say that it is?

that atheist guy said...

I don't know if Jacob will be back, but I'll chime in with my answer:

Yes morality, or an ethical system, is grounded in a combination of human nature and our social contract. Hitler was probably a psychopath so his morals shouldn't be trusted.

Check out this article:

I like this idea Pinker writes about (He's talking about our reasons for moral choices):

"This throws us back to wondering where those reasons could come from, if they are more than just figments of our brains. They certainly aren’t in the physical world like wavelength or mass. The only other option is that moral truths exist in some abstract Platonic realm, there for us to discover, perhaps in the same way that mathematical truths (according to most mathematicians) are there for us to discover. On this analogy, we are born with a rudimentary concept of number, but as soon as we build on it with formal mathematical reasoning, the nature of mathematical reality forces us to discover some truths and not others. (No one who understands the concept of two, the concept of four and the concept of addition can come to any conclusion but that 2 + 2 = 4.) Perhaps we are born with a rudimentary moral sense, and as soon as we build on it with moral reasoning, the nature of moral reality forces us to some conclusions but not others."

So I know murder is wrong like I know 2 + 2 =4. Do we need religion to know 2 + 2 = 4?

Anonymous said...

2+2=4 will always be true. Morality is a constant shift. I know to treat a woman as my equal in order for us to edify each other properly, this didn't come from natural progression, where man's behavior inclines to domination. D'Souza tries making this point, but its not addressed very clearly. He argues that Christianity made the shift of principles that we cherish and take advantage of today. Equality to women, loving your enemy, caring for others is better than caring for yourself, being humble, and sacrificing yourself for purposes that hold no benefit. There is no 2 + 2 in these principals.

Anonymous said...

no visable or personal benefit, that is

that atheist guy said...

I'm not sure Anonymous, maybe.

that atheist guy said...

The original author (Jacob) of the following comment asked me to remove his personal information. I will repost it here so KenK's comment (posted above at February 7, 2008 1:29 PM) stays in context.

I agree that Hitchens lost that debate, but I also agree that it was mostly because De Souza got the last word in every single exchange. It was really annoying to me how much ad hominem he used, and not only that, but how much of it was obviously prepared to be said in response to whatever Hitchens said (mosquito at a nudist colony).

The only issue I'm still completely on the fence about is whether atheism or religion is more harmful when misused. Obviously, atheism has killed more in pure population, but that's not really fair, since I don't think the measure of harmfulness of an idea is how many people it killed. Hitler, Stalin, etc. were simply more powerful, they weren't more unethical.

But I think if De Souza made any good points, it was that Christians should not have to apologize for atheist atrocities.

Like I said, I'm on the fence. It seems obvious that religion doesn't cause morality, and we probably don't need it for morality. But does it cause immorality, as Hitchens insists? Or is that just human nature?

December 16, 2007 4:49 PM

Mike D said...

As a note to your observation of the young Christians in the front row: I find your observation more revelatory about your character than theirs. It is the smelly side of atheists, in my opinion, that they judge Christians as morons who are more likely not to understand than to understand but not agree. It makes it harder for me to appreciate the intelligence of atheists (not all are as smart as we hoped.) That said, how do you make such judgments about "what they were thinking" when they were shaking their heads?

I shake my head as well, not because I don't understand, but because Chris doesn't seem to attack what Christians believe with that statement. Christians believe that God will throw the earth away and make a new one, so we do not object with the "dying earth" observation, or the dying universe for that matter. Yes, it is dying because God made it that way. So, Hitchens seems to attack a belief that theists do not hold, which is poor debating. I also shake my head at that. In debate, I want to be attacked for what I believe. Don't you? It's a disappointment more than anything to have one's stance misrepresented in debate.

Secondly, whether you are an atheist or not, calling a woman a "bitch" just because she wears the garb of religion as she gives her life to serve the poor and oppressed is detestable to the point of freaking out. He detests Mother Theresa for who cares what reason? I hope you're open minded enough to see that. Please don't tell me that atheists have cornered the market on intelligence and hence have authority to deride people who serve the poor and indigent just because they have theist beliefs. That is a very primitive stance which makes atheism unattractive in the very least. Does he call Angelina Jolie a bitch for her work with the poor and oppressed? No. And why? Because her reasons are perhaps different.