Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hitchens vs. D'Souza in South Bend, IN

The motion for this one was "Religion is the Problem," which somehow seems to me a bit overbroad. Doesn't really matter, though, because the interlocutors weren't too concerned with staying on topic.

Main Arguments
As one might expect, Hitchens leads with the abuses of the Catholic Church, by way of rebutting remarks made in Rome comparing the publication of atheist books to the waging of a pogrom. He notes that pogroms are not usually lead by deaf and dumb children, a somewhat unsubtle reference to the worst sexual abuses ever covered up by a major world religion. I wonder how long it took Hitch to come up with the most offensive subject he could think to bring up at a bastion of Catholic learning. Hitch goes on to run his usual arguments about the primitive origins of religion and the seemingly haphazard and chaotic nature of the universe (e.g. galaxies colliding, stars collapsing, species going extinct, etc.) and calls into question the idea that everything is created for our benefit.

D'Souza notes upfront that Hitchens' arguments don't directly address the central topic of the debate, whether religion does more good than harm. This is true, and a bit disappointing, because Hitch spent a decent portion of God is Not Great making a detailed case about how religion causes harm to societies and individuals. He then goes on to attack evolutionary biology for not yet understanding how life arose on Earth, and runs his usual knob-twiddling universal fine-tuning argument. He also runs an argument that individual acts of altruism (towards non-kin) cannot possibly have evolved, thereby implicitly assuming that every human action is genetically determined and that altruism towards non-kin cannot possibly be adaptive, and throws in the moral lawgiver argument and an appeal to popular consensus (which sounds a bit like a nod to reformed epistemology) to boot. At this point, he is pretty much Gish-galloping, raising as many arguments as possible in just a few minutes.

Rebuttal (5-mins each)
Hitchens leads with the problem of falsifiability, and hammers on that topic for a bit. D'Souza retorts that the Hebrew theory of creation was indeed falsifiable, but later scientifically verified, and that the Hebrew prophecy of a reconstituted Jewish nation-state was also fulfilled.

Overall, this was a fairly weak debate on both sides. Hitch rambles too much and D'Souza was too busy galloping to really make any detailed arguments worthy of explication and analysis. I'd skip this one and listen to other events featuring either or both of these speakers.

  • Unbeliever rating: 2.5 stars
  • Believer rating: 2.0 stars
  • Overall rating: 2.5 stars

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