Monday, January 26, 2009

Hitchens vs. D'Souza in Boulder, CO

Links to debate: video, mp3

D’Souza cedes ground early on by narrowing the playing field to arguments “rooted in reason, and skepticism, and history, and philosophy, in other words, Christopher Hitchens and I are debating…on the same ground.” It wasn’t a particularly good idea for him to play to his opponent’s strengths up front. A professional debater such as William Lane Craig would never make such a mistake against such a learned opponent.

As he did in against Barker, D’Souza leads with a list of secular virtues:

  • Individuality
  • Dignity of women
  • Abolition of slavery
  • Compassion as a social virtue

Once again, his opponent does take the trouble to point out that these virtues have been retarded by religious faith at least at much as they’ve been advanced thereby. One need only look at the official position of the Church of England on (1) the individualist manifestoes of the Enlightenment era, (2) the suffragette movement, (3) the abolition of slavery in England, and (4) radical life-saving advances in medicine. In each case, England’s faith-based bastion of transcendental moral virtue lagged behind the English-speaking culture at large, which definitely undercuts D’Souza’s claim that it was the Christian faith which drove things forward.

Hitchens’ main argument (like Hitchens himself) was interesting if a bit sarcastic, “Life was nasty, brutish, and short. For the first 98,000 years of [human history] heaven watches with indifference. Who cares? Doesn’t look terrific, but they’re inching along, I guess. Let’s see how it goes. Two thousand years ago, it is decided, actually now we have to intervene - but only in illiterate parts of the Middle East. To reveal Our Face to the species and tell them how to behave - that should do it.” Hitchens claims that if you can believe this, you can believe pretty much anything about theology and ethics.

Eventually, they got around to cross-examining each other to great effect. While Hitch gets in more barbs, D'Souza manages to seem composed and even a bit amused.

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