This dialogue wasn’t so much a debate as a quasi-Socratic Q & A, but conservative scholar and author Heather Mac Donald would surely be a formidable debater in favor of freethought. She asks clear, insightful, and incredibly pointed questions, but somehow manages to sound engaged and conversational rather than enraged and confrontational. Basically, she is the anti-Hitchens.
Heather Mac Donald and Michael Novak have a bit of history online, such as here and here. They met together in person to discuss Novak’s new book, but soon reverted to their longstanding and ongoing debate. Mac Donald presses on the arguments from evil and unbelief, and Novak comes back with the idea that it would somehow be unfair for God to prevent tragedy. Given the “Heavenly Father” metaphor, it is difficult to see how this might be so. No one would fault a father for preventing his daughter from drowning in a flash-flood, and surely no one would say that he is thereby forcing his loving care upon his otherwise free-spirited little girl.
Possibly the highlight of this reel is about 16 minutes into the recording, when Mac Donald presses Novak about raising children with “respect for honesty” and “respect for others.” He asserts that “You do need a culture which instills those [values] and not all cultures do,” to which she replies, “Really?” in such a sweet voice that one has to wonder how she can manage to be so simultaneously incredulous and polite. At this point, I actually started laughing out loud.
She went on to elaborate on various other issues, confounding Novak at almost every turn. After watching a few too many W.L. Craig debates, it was a nice change of pace to see a freethinker who is confident and smooth, rather than befuddled and confused.