Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Great God Debate 2: the Aftermath

Hugh Hewitt has posted a transcript of the three hour debate here. Audio podcasts are here, here and here.

Overall I had to say that Hitchens had the better of the debate, mainly because Roberts was not up to the task, and basically played "rope a dope". I wasn't totally thrilled with Hitchens performance, but he made many sound arguments that Roberts just did not have the rhetorical skills to counter. Hitch was good handling the following objections to atheism:
* Where does morality come from
* How can someone live a meaningful life without a belief in a transcendent
* How do you answer to the terrible legacy of 20th century secularism

He wasn't on his best game when arguing against the historical veracity of scriptures. He embarassingly oversold a case that he couldn't defend. He first made the statement that there is no rational reason to even believe that Jesus ever existed. Roberts quickly pointed out that outside of the Gospels there were other historical accounts attesting to his existence and crucifixion, specifically Josephus. Hitchens backtracked and admitted that he did believe that Jesus probably existed.

He also made the oversold claim that the four gospel accounts contradict each other on practically every point, and when pressed to name some of these points he fumbled for an answer, and made the excuse that the hotel from where he was calling unfortunately was one of the few that didn't carry Gideon's Bibles.

All in all it was a worthwhile debate, and well worth a listen or read.

10 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

More civil than the typical Dawkins dust-up, but nothing much new. These radical atheists are starting to remind me of feminists attacking marriage. Just as the womyn start off by simply defending the respectability of co-habitation, so Hitch and the boys start off by attacking traditional religious cosmologies and natural histories to show historical impossibilities and conflicts with science. But then, just as the feminists get upset when someone says: "Interesting. I understand. That's your take, but here's my wedding invitation", and start hauling out the detritus of failed marriages to prove marriage is ipso facto slavery and should be abolished, so the atheists go into furious Harry-mode whenever a believer says: "Yup--that's a problem we're grappling with in church." and start their long and tedious intellectual campaigns to prove religion is ipso facto oppressive and directly responsible for all the world's ills. It seems to take an awful lot of educating to get most folks to that point.

But then, just as the feminists suddenly blow their case by joining their parents to celebrate their fiftieth anniverseries, so guys like Hitch suddenly give the game away when they call John Paul 11 "an extraordinary individual".

June 07, 2007 6:05 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, Roberts stole a lot of Hitchens thunder by actually agreeing with him here and there. I don't know if you listened to the end, but in the last five minutes Hitch just lost all fire control discipline and deluged Roberts with rhetorical grenades. It wasn't pretty.

Roberts gets high remarks for graciousness and courtesy, but the religious viewers who tuned in expecting a smackdown of Hitchens were furious with him. Check out some of the comments on Robert's blog.

June 07, 2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

So, where's your evidence that religion isn't ipso facto oppressive?

Besides, that's never been my whole point.

Any system can be made oppressive. We know for a fact that religion creates types of oppression that could not exist in the absence of religion.

The counterargument is that religion somehow suppresses other, irreligious oppressions for a net gain in failure to oppress.

I don't know how to measure that, but the anecdotal evidence in its favor is unimpressive.

Not just Christianity. For a long time, ever since college in fact, I've been fascinated by the inability of Melanesians to procure a pork chop without killing a human to propitiate religion. I am reading Mason's 'Beyond the Coral Sea,' which has many amusing instances.

However that may be, the practical issue is not whether it is intellectually permissible to believe in some god, but which particular god your neighbor
believes in. That makes a difference.

I do not know, for example, which god the Baha'is believe in, but whichever it is, it is less threatening to me than Allah. Believing in their god is, however, extremely threatening to them, unless they are lucky enough to live in Illinois, where secular laws prevent religion from working its will on the Baha'is.

As for religion 'grappling' with the problem, when may we expect to see some desirable results? I cannot wait another 5,000 years

June 07, 2007 7:52 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Hmm. We've been at this game for several years now and we really should be more aware of the potential tedium in simply repeating ourselves ad nauseaum. This debate might have been based on cribbed notes from The Daily Duck. C'mon, gents, gotta move forward.

I'm surprised you Duckians aren't picking up that the real target of the Hitchens/Dawkins/Dennetts is not religion per se, but Christianity, and specifically American Christianity. Giving the anthropic principle a three-second nod while spending a third of the show arguing the historical accuracy of the Gospel of Matthew gives that game away. Sure, we are freaked out by today's Islam, but we also harbour (naive in my view) Oro-like convictions it is on its last legs anyway and is about to collapse into Western cultural arms faster than the average Canadian couch potato. But what is going on with those Christians? Didn't hear much from them for decades and now we can't dislodge that fool Bush or have a sane science class on Evolution for them. They are sweeping through Africa and messing up all our safe-sex programmes. Where is all this going?

Dawkins and Dennett wear their anti-Americanism on their sleeves. Hitch finally found his patriotism (after twenty years!), but it still smacks of the kind of leftist patriotism that proclaims America would be the greatest country in the world if only we could do something about all those wacky Americans. Look at their targets. There are lots of Christian countries, but only one has creationist theme parks and semi-sane renegade preachers on the morning news or gets its constitutional knickers in a knot over prayer breakfasts at the White House. Easy pickings for Brights, whose scornful ripostes are so witty everyone forgets to ask them why they think it is all happening and whether they themselves just might have something to do with it all.

Also, I'm beginning to suspect these folks are only marginally disturbed by religion. What they hate more than anything is history. Believing in the fable that the Church used to be the totalitarian theocracy they claim is now right around the corner, they manage a clever legerdemain. They have no patience with the overwhelming evidence that there would have been no anti-slavery movements, abolition of torture, womens' honour and legal protections, challenges to anti-Semitism, aboriginal rights, yada, yada without the Church. Rather they rend their garments over the fact that the Pope didn't just waive his arms in 1000 AD, abolish feudalism and proclaim the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration of Independence in one fell swoop. Listen to David.

I'm also struck by how modern anti-religious secularists will knash their teeth over historical injustices (the older the more outrageous)and blithely accept or do nothing about many modern ones unless Bono schedules a concert. Hitch and Harry and most moderns are livid about a slavery no one alive today ever experienced, but if you point to the burgeoning sex trade and consequent enslavement of thousands and thousands of women and children from Asia and Eastern Europe, you may very well get a lecture on freedom of contract and assurances about how much women enjoy sex.

June 09, 2007 4:03 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Dr. Roberts in particular probably still doesn't understand what happened to him; and thiests, in general, simply don't understand Hitchens' argument, despite its nearly unsurpassed clarity.

Hitchen's was continuously on point, and internally coherent. On the other hand, despite being tossed some high hanging curveballs, Dr. Roberts, where he didn't miss the point entirely, either agreed with Hitchens, or contradicted himself.

Peter:

These radical atheists are starting to remind me of feminists attacking marriage. ... "Yup--that's a problem we're grappling with in church." and start their long and tedious intellectual campaigns to prove religion is ipso facto oppressive and directly responsible for all the world's ills. It seems to take an awful lot of educating to get most folks to that point.
First, it is important that you acknowledge two things:

1. Mr Hitchens is an atheist, but his book is anti-theistic. It is the latter that is under discussion, but the distinction seems to take special pains to avoid nearly all theists.

2. Based upon that, Mr. Hitchens is only one jot more of a radical anti-theist than is any Pope, preacher, or Imam.

Unfortunately, taking refuge in the travails of faith -- that's a problem we are grappling with in church -- ignores that defense of religion as being nothing more than a self-licking ice cream cone. A great many, if not all, of these problems have either been perpetuated, or created then perpetuated, by religion.

It is impossible to get to the chronic cancer of the Middle East without religion, nor can ever spot even a glimmer of the unsurpassed immorality of anti-Judaism without the problem unique to religion: supersession.

Theists grappling with the problems created by theism is hardly a selling point.

...guys like Hitch suddenly give the game away when they call John Paul 11 "an extraordinary individual".

No, they don't. However, saying so indicates you have missed by a mile one of Hitchen's central points: religion does not make people extraordinary; JPII would have been extraordinary in any event. However, religion does demean such people's achievements by cheapening the motivation behind them. Which is more admirable, a mere humanist motivation, or the desire to gain His favor?

Check out some of the comments on Robert's blog. I did, and was astonished by the title of the post: Is Hitchen's a Reliable Source of Facts?

Dr. Roberts says emphatically "no", but utterly neglected to point out even one specific instance where Hitchens was wrong on a point of fact. Maybe the man is busy; after all, he is an author, a pastor, and famous enough to be invited to radio shows.

But, making that accusation without substantiation is, at the very least, negligent.

This debate might have been based on cribbed notes from The Daily Duck. C'mon, gents, gotta move forward.

It would be nice, wouldn't it?

However, to do so would neglect jut how much 9/11 has changed things. Modern technology has put the means of mass slaughter within reach of true believers whose motivation is very firmly grounded in their "faith tradition."

Unfortunately, theists disarm themselves in the fight against Islam, because there is no way to attack Islam without suffering grievous self inflicted wounds. Islam is not a religious sui generis.

Anti-theists have no need to defer to such crippling restraint. In a recent debate with some guy named Hedges (no time for links this morning) Hitch had this to say about Islam:

It is to excuse the vicious, filthy forces of Islamic jihad to offer any other explanation but that it is their own evil preaching, their own vile religion, their own racism, their own apocalyptic ideology that makes them think they have the right to kill everyone in this room, and go to paradise as a reward.

No theist can make that point without committing devotional suicide.

So if one is to question why this sudden spate of anti-theist tracts, 9/11 is the answer. Before than, I could scarcely have cared about religion, absent the occasional disgusting rants of religionists who can't escape their own blinkered nonsense, nor understand how thoroughly immoral and anti-American is the entire concept of collective guilt.

So, no, Hitchens' et al target is not Christianity. It is very much the entire enterprise of fantasist totalitarianism, of which Christianity happens to be the most familiar example, if now so anodyne as to not, alone, merit the effort.

Except that, in their view, the gauntlet needs picking up in order to attack Islam's vile beliefs.

Hitch and Harry and most moderns are livid about a slavery no one alive today ever experienced, but if you point to the burgeoning sex trade and consequent enslavement of thousands and thousands of women and children from Asia and Eastern Europe, you may very well get a lecture on freedom of contract and assurances about how much women enjoy sex.

That is an excellent catenating logical fallacies: a straw ad hominem.

What's worse, you cannot possibly substantiate that assertion, based as it is upon the canard that religion is required for people to act morally.
Either that is completely wrong, or Cape Buffaloes have a lot more going on upstairs than we thought.

Apologies for the haste, but it is going to be that kind of week.

June 09, 2007 7:38 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

This debate might have been based on cribbed notes from The Daily Duck. C'mon, gents, gotta move forward.

The debate was set up by Hugh Hewitt, and the questions selected by him with the help of his Christian listeners. Though it was titled the Great God Debate, it really should have been titled the Great Christ Debate. For Christians the two titles are synonymous.

Peter, the rhetorical climate up in Canada must be as cold as the weather, but down here no one has moved on from the clash of Christianity and the evil that is Secular Humanism. What is there to move on to? The future of Western civilization is dependent on the outcome of this titanic struggle. As a Judd alumnus you surely can't have forgotten that so quickly.

More later. I gotta get work done on the house, no more dallying.

June 09, 2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I think you'll have to go pretty far to find any statements from me defending prostitution as defensible under freedom of contract.

I don't think I've ever posted anything about my views about sex slavery/voluntary prostitution; but since you are imputing some to me, here they are:

To the considerable extent that prostitution is not induced by terrorism but chosen, it must usually be chosen as preferable to whatever alternatives are on offer (like cleaning bedpans), and that is a terrible indictment of the society, economy, culture and religion of whatever place the girl or boy grew up in.

If America, then of America.

Somewhere, I forget where, I read about old women in London who 'made a respectable living' by gathering dogshit from the streets to sell to the tanners.

That was during the great period when the churches were allegedly stopping slavery, uplifting society etc.

I question the accuracy of that report. I doubt the market price of dogshit was high enough to feed a woman long enough for her to get old.

June 09, 2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Actually Harry, it was Skipper who gave us the freedom of contract lecture. But it was you and Oro who educated me on all those exciting female fantasies.

So, Skipper, JP 11 was an extraordinary individual who was completely deluded as to why he was extraordinary? Sounds more like an extraordinary boobie to me. You've been reading too many secular "Jesus was a great teacher" tracts.

June 10, 2007 3:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... it was Skipper who gave us the freedom of contract lecture.

Perhaps you could discuss which parts of it have even the most glancing relevance to the ... consequent enslavement of thousands and thousands of women and children from Asia and Eastern Europe.

Since you have raised the issue as a point against Hitchens, Harry and most moderns, perhaps you should go into more detail, because I think your accusation is completely baseless -- it is an empty ad hominem.

So, Skipper, JP 11 was an extraordinary individual who was completely deluded as to why he was extraordinary?

JP II would have been an extraordinary individual in any event; his qualities do not require religion for their existence or justification, so why do so?

After all, no one undertakes that effort for Einstein.

However, all of this is to avoid the more important discussion.

If Islam is inherently a vile religion -- I agree with Hitchens that it is -- then how do other theists counter Islam, or even attempt to force some sort of reformation, without doing great violence to their own belief system?

In this regard, theists are faced with an insoluble problem that is the incompleteness theorem on steroids.

That is, a true theological statement is, within the bounds of theology, completely indistinguishable from a false theological statement.

Yet theological statements insist upon being assessed solely within the realm of theology. The reprehensible assertions of Islam (or of the Old Testament, or all those leveling the charge of deicide against the Jews) are indistinguishable, in terms of their theological truth value, from, say, "love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Where the distinction become possible is only outside the theological realm, which is to say, the material world.

Yet on what special pleading does, say, Christianity apply that test to another religion, but not itself?

Those that claim religion is required for morality at this point descend straight into moral relativism.

June 10, 2007 5:23 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'That is, a true theological statement is, within the bounds of theology, completely indistinguishable from a false theological statement.'

What I've been trying to say for years but not so pithily.

As for my views on the lasciviousness of women, that is perhaps the last opinion I share with my religious instructors. Peter certainly didn't need me to clue him in. Augustine, Aquinas, any of those guys did it better than me.

June 10, 2007 12:13 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home