Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ali vs. Husain in Westminster, UK

This debate is worth hearing at least twice, because it deals with issues rarely addressed in debates between believers and unbelievers, or for that matter, in any context.  Essentially, this is a debate over whether Islam should be revived, reformed, or refused.  Ed Husain says, “I’m not here to defend Muslims, I’m here to defend Islam,” while Ayaan Hirsi Ali counters with “I am not here to defend Islam, I am here to defend Muslims.”  This is to say that Husain is a liberal believer and former fundamentalist who claims that his faith may yet undergo an ideological renaissance with serves to elevate the thinking of Muslims throughout the world, while Ali is a humanist and former believer who would prefer individuals who identify as Muslims to elevate themselves by choosing reason over faith.

It seems obvious enough to me that both Ali and Husain are correct on most of the vital issues they discuss, such as civil rights and secular law, and they disagree only on whether faith itself is worth having and maintaining.  I consider this an open question, although it seems clear enough to me that secular democratic societies cannot liberalize unless the religious faiths of the citizens do so as well.  The foreign policy question for us westerners must be how best to encourage majority Muslim nations to allow for both liberal faith and religious infidelity, in other words, how to create free and open civil societies rooted in the cultural context of Islam.  I do not know how to address this quandary, though I am fairly certain that bombing people into the Stone Age (a common enough sentiment here in the Bible Belt) is not the answer. 

Interestingly, Husain and Ali seem to agree that there is a narrow path which might allow for Muslims to create their own free, open, civil societies, by focusing on earlier textual traditions within Islam.



Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blackmore vs. McGrath in Bristol, UK

In this debate Susan Blackmore sketches out the basic concepts and implication of memetic theory, and points out that religious ideas have evolved to closely emulate a set of ideas as efficient self-replicators.  She also sketches out a bit how the memetic imperatives may make humans act even more violently than they ordinarily would in the competition for scarce resources. 


Alister McGrath, meanwhile, makes the claim that the Christian worldview allowed him to make sense of the world whereas he found his previous life as a freethinker unsatisfying.  He defends faith-based religious ideology against Blackmore’s arguments by invoking the favorite tu quoque of theistic apologists, that is, the faith-based irreligious ideology of Marxism.  This mouldy old trope gets more mileage than my 1978 300D (which to my knowledge is low-riding around Albuquerque to this very day).


The rebuttal periods are all too brief.  Just as each speaker revs up to really lay the boots into the other’s arguments, someone’s Timex goes off with a most annoying series of beeps.  Alas!  Altogether, this debate has the feel of a friendly back and forth over tea and scones, which is a nice change of pace from Hitchens’ relentless abuse or Craig’s incessant calling out drops. 


Overall rating: 3.5 stars






Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harris vs. Wolpe in Los Angeles, CA

This event was not so much a debate as a lightly-moderated relatively rapid back and forth between the rabbi and the skeptic, which makes for a nice change of pace.  They argue for quite a bit over which sorts of knowledge may be validated or falsified, and at one point Wolpe makes the fascinating and revealing claim that Agnesë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu could not have been nearly quite so morally exemplary without her (presumably false) belief in Jesus Christ.  I say ‘presumably’ here since the fact that Jesus was not the Messiah has to be on the short list of socially relevant propositions which one might reasonably expect a Jewish rabbi and a religious skeptic to agree without any contestation.  I know, right? 

It should also be noted that Rabbi Wolpe never quite made an argument for the existence of any god, although he staunchly defends the idea that certain metaphysical claims should be respected in the absence of evidence.  These guys go back and forth on ethics and metaphysics for about an hour until the Q & A, at which point the audience starts lobbing rotten fruit on the stage.  This isn’t the very most insightful dialogue ever  recorded, but it was entertaining in about the same way as a welterweight bout.  Enjoy!