Friday, April 25, 2008

Singer vs. D'Souza in Los Angeles, CA

In this debate, both Peter Singer and Dinesh D'Souza lead with the argument that the other guy's ideology suffers from a problem of evil.  D'Souza argues that the godless communist regimes were quite horrifically murderous, while Singer's argument is basically that a Heavenly Father would never allow such atrocities to happen.  Neither of these interlocutors manages to quite directly rebut the arguments of the other, possibly because they were still making new arguments during their rebuttal segments.  Singer does manage a stinging reply noting that theistic ethics justified genocide and rape in the Old Testament, issues which D'Souza pretty much ignores.  They also go back and forth a bit on cosmology and fine-tuning, but not to any great effect from either side.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars

1 comment:

T said...

While this debate (like most) didn't really score many convincing points by either side, and it's hard to say either side won, I do think it pinpointed more than many debates a fundamental divergence in perspective between some theist and atheist positions.

When Singer takes the argument of suffering beyond human suffering to animal suffering (unusual in these sorts of debates), he suggests the best defense for that was Decartes (supposedly) viewing animals as complicated mechanisms that don't really matter. D'Souza effectively (even if not explicitly) affirms this when he later asserts in a few places that if the theist goal is eternal salvation, so that the theist perspective on suffering is different. This is also implicit in his references to Job.

There is just no getting around this. The irony from the Singer's perspective it seems implicit that a flaw in Judeo-Christian theism is in fact lack of a sufficiently compassionate/empathetic view of all life, while Dinesh argues that the compassion expressed by our society is largely due to fundamental ingrained historical Christian principles.

It seemed oddly telling when one of the questioners at the end brought up the concept of reincarnation as a potential answer to animal suffering. Singer basically dismisses this as ridiculous, or rather incomprehensible (and lacking evidence). D'Souza replies that while he also doesn't believe it, but it does speak to the concept of cosmic justice which he does agree with, so he can understand it on that level. Both answers aren't really answers, and yet both make sense from the non-theist and theist perspectives.

I'm eager to see Singer go up against a more circumspect and scholarly theist (Hare? I will check that one next). Likewise I'd like to see D'Souza up against a more explosive, extreme and nit-picking opponent like perhaps Robert Price. (Someday?)