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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hitchens vs. D'Souza: An Interesting Debate

I just got back from a debate at the University of Florida between Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D'Souza on the truth of the existence of God. Truly an interesting, if not downright amusing, experience.

Some quick thoughts from me:
--Hitchens absolutely won the debate. It wasn't because he made the best arguments one could possibly make on the "no" side of the issue (I think others have made better ones), but because D'Souza really phoned it in tonight on both the logic fronts and the common courtesy fronts (ad hominem was the order of the day from the "yes" camp).

--I find it rather interesting that, in this particular debate, the "yes" side (D'Souza) attempted to use material-world analogies in order to explain metaphysical-world realities, without noting the irony in their being irreconcilable. The fun thing about these analogies is that as soon as you apply the realistic framework of the world all of us agree exists (with the exception, perhaps, to those philosophers who try to argue that maybe we don't exist, or know if we exist, and so on) to D'Souza's arguments, they fall apart entirely. It's like saying "I'll talk about this apple as though it were God" without realizing that your audience can see the apple, but cannot see God.

--There were a few crazies during the audience Q&A. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, but I thought it was great that Hitchens (and D'Souza, sort of) took the attacks launched at him in stride. He's been at this long enough, obviously (not just with religion, but with a host of other controversial topics), so he knew exactly how to deal with such things.

--Hitchens and D'Souza are both quite good at making jokes about their respective opinions and the other side, and in good taste. I was happy about this fact because I think if they had been more mean-spirited it could have turned out nasty for either side (during the debate and from the audience). The audience responded fairly favorably on both sides of the issue, actually.

--People who get into the line for book signings should have a book to sign. Hitchens got a little upset with this couple who tried to hand him a card instead of a book...I did too, because I wanted to thank Hitchens and D'Souza for the talk, but apparently Mr. "I can't be bothered to show up on time to get a copy of the book" had to ruin that moment.

Overall, I think the debate went rather well, despite the fact that D'Souza seemed very much out of his element. His arguments seemed sound if you didn't think deeper about them, but the second you took that extra step (as anyone, religious or otherwise, should), most of the arguments fell apart or could be directly refuted by historical or scientific evidence (D'Souza did get a few facts wrong, unfortunately, which did not win him any favors from Hitchens or some members of the audience, religious and otherwise).

Now all I can hope for is a debate between Dawkins and the guy who runs the Discovery Institute. That would make my year!

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  1. Well, it is a debate that is impossible for the "GOD" side to win. At best they can give Carl Sagan's Dragon in my garage argument, that is you can't disprove that a dragon lives in my garage...

    But most of the time the "god" folks use intellectual dishonesty or have to step away from a Theist position and grasp a Deist position. As in something made the universe from nothing. Therefore "god" exists. Which is quite a stupid argument.

    These debates are more of a money grab now days. They have debated alot of times before, and both sides have heard every possible argument. They still are good to further atheism or at least non theism. It is almost a bad thing D'Souza is doing for his cause. He has to know that he loses the debates everytime and makes Christianity look ridiculous. But like I said, it's all about the benjamins... just like most (not all) of the other Christians in the biz...

  2. Anonymous6:35 AM

    General comment unrelated to this post - please review how long it takes your blog to load. You're the one site I check in my morning routine that makes me wait - a good 10-30 seconds, usually.
    I get the top and left banner quickly, then a long wait before te content, right banner, and bottom. I wonder if you have so many links that it takes a while to populate? Maybe you could load the content before the right side?

  3. gbooster: That's probably true. D'Souza did make some gutsy claims, though, particularly about Islam. I was impressed that he had the balls to say such things. But, I get the impression that he loses his debates quite a lot...I've not seen all of them, but the folks I was with seemed to indicate that that was so...

    Anon: I will look into it. I've noticed the same thing, but some folks said there wasn't a delay, and now you're saying there is...I need to figure out why. I might fiddle. Thanks for the note!

  4. That sounds like it would've been quite a lot of fun to attend. I have debates like that with a philosophy major buddy of mine. I love to hear different takes on both sides of the argument, and yes, the "No" side usually does win. Doesn't change my position any, but it's still quite an enjoyable experience.

  5. Adam: Well, if the "yes" side could come up with better arguments that don't resort to ad hominem or obvious logical fallacies, they'd win more often...but they can't seem to do that.

  6. I think it depends on which side of the debate you live on that determines who you think wins the argument most of the time. It's kind of irrelevant because I think we all cycle through different beliefs over the course of our lives. I getting old enough to know that now. But I've always like Hitchens. No matter what you believe you want a guy like that on your side. Someone with erudition and humor wins the day every time.

  7. SQT: I don't think it's a "depends on your side" issue in this case. If one is intelligent, it doesn't matter what you can see who is making the most ridiculous, faulty arguments, and who isn't. Hitchens made few bad arguments. All of his points were based on historical or written reference, while D'Souza's were often analogies that, when put to the intelligence test, fall apart. Even his whole "atheists don't give to charity" argument turned out to be bunk (atheists donated about $3 million for relief in Haiti).

    So, yeah.

  8. Shaun-- Yeah, you gotta back up your arguments with logic and verifiable facts (like the donations to charity), no doubt about it, no matter what side you represent.