Monday night I went to a debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder. It was sponsored by the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, which is part of the Catholic campus ministry. The debate was titled, “What’s so Great About God?” and it was a debate between renowned atheist, Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything; and Dinesh D'Souza, author of What's So Great About Christianity.
The moderator was Dan Caplis, a local attorney, radio personality and conservative Catholic.
Overall, I found the debate fascinating, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Hitchens speak, though I thought he dodged answering several questions, either by design, or because he really didn’t understand the question. Hitchens' reputation exceeds the reality of himself, I'm sorry to say. He has evidently made quite a career out of being an atheist, though he derided the term, saying, "I don't believe in the tooth fairy either, but I don't use a special word for it." The real-life Hitchens would pose for the audience, say a pithy line or two, wait for applause, then get a smug look on his face which seemed to indicate, "Everyone agrees with me because I'm brilliant." I had the distinct impression he must spend many hours standing in front of the mirror practicing his one-liners, trying to imitate Richard Burton.
Hitchens' opening arguments against the existence of God, and specifically, God incarnate by the name of Jesus the Nazarene, consisted of these propositions:
1. Biblical characters such as Jesus and Moses and others are merely myths and are not historical figures and they have absolutely no bearing on the way we act today.
As "proof," he cited an obscure WWI-era best seller by Guy Thorne, called When it was Dark, which tells the story of what happened when the world was told that Jesus's resurrection was a hoax. Lawlessness was the rule of the day and there were suddenly mass murders and marauding bands of men raping women. When it was revealed that the resurrection hoax was itself a hoax, the world returned to normalcy. Hitchens reasoned that it was highly improbable we would turn into barbarians overnight, should the world find out the resurrection never happened. Therefore, the resurrection story must be a hoax.
2. Vicarious expiation of sins is in itself an "immoral" act which no self-respecting God would condone. Not only is the taking on of another's sin immoral, but allowing humanity to simply hand over their sins to another was shockingly immoral. Hitchens argued that it disavowed all personal responsibility and was therefore obviously invented by men who wanted to shirk the responsibility for their own actions. For these reasons, Hitchens believes Jesus's crucifixion and especially, his taking on the sins of the world, must be a hoax.
3. Most historians agree that mankind has walked the earth for at least 100,000 years. If God's intervention in human history has only been for the past 2,000 years, then he must be a very sloppy, lazy and ignorant God indeed.
D’Souza answered these propositions thus:
1. He asked Hitchens if he believed that Aristotle and Socrates were historic figures. Hitchens said, "yes," he believed Aristotle existed, but wasn't sure if Socrates was a mythical creation or historic. He therefore admitted, despite overwhelming historical evidence, that he did not accept as historical evidence ancient documents that have been accepted by historians as authentic since the dawn of history. D'Souza pointed out that there are many sources outside scripture that point to the existence of many Biblical figures.
2. To explain the second point, D'Souza pointed out that all people see there are basically two standards for living. One is the way in which we live, or the way in which the world is. The second standard is the way we ought to live, or the way we ought to be. D'Souza called these two ways of living the earthly way and the spiritual way. The spiritual way is the way we ought to live. All religions try to bridge this gap through the way they practice their religion. With Islam, there are rules regarding times to pray, dietary rules and ways to dress. Judaism also has strict dietary rules. Although Christianity also has rules of behavior, the main difference between Christianity and Islam and Judaism is that the gap between God and man is bridged by God, rather than by man. No other religion has a God condescending to bridge the gap between God and man to unite the two. Christians believe there is no way that mankind could ever bridge the gap, therefore we rely on God to do this. This is the crux of the Christian faith.
3. As to the intervention of God on humanity, D'Souza suggested that perhaps the 98,000 years of humanity doing absolutely nothing had something to do with humanity not yet receiving the breath of life, or the immortal soul infused from God, but that once that soul was breathed into mankind, that's when things started happening.
D'Souza then went on to make some compelling arguments for why reason alone requires the existence of God. He proposed that modern science is rooted in Christianity and that modern science is based on three faith-based propositions:
1. We live in a rational universe.
2. We live in a lawful universe, that is, our universe follows the physical laws of nature.
3. The rationality of the world around us is mirrored in the rationality of the human mind.
These three propositions flow naturally from Christian (and religious) thought. Likewise, these propositions developed in western, Christian cultures. To a Christian, these propositions are not a challenge to believe, because we believe in a rational, omnipotent, omniscient God, who created us in His own image, thus, we mirror the rationality of Him who created us.
The atheist must take these propositions on faith alone, as there is no logical explanation why random chance of colliding molecules should result in so reasonable a universe. In fact, although D'Souza didn't mention it, the second law of thermodynamics states that a closed system will increase in entropy, or disorder, over time, which argues against randomly occuring order. Therefore, it is quite a leap of faith for the atheist to say that order in the universe is there simply by chance.
D'Souza also pointed out that the God who made us, programmed us to be moral beings. The problem of morality for the atheist is a great hurdle to overcome. Where did this idea of morality come from?
To Hitchens, it evolved naturally as mankind evolved. He said it comes from the idea of the strong conquering the weak, and the natural instincts of survival. Hitchens makes the claim in his book that religion “poisons everything,” and described that it was religion (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) that first proposed enslaving other humans because of some greater humanity possessed by the enslavers than that which was possessed by the enslaved. He believes this is poison, but the sheer act of conquering and enslaving another human was “natural” and therefore, not poison.
Many of Hitchens’ examples of “poison” of religion were the worst of religion, compared with the best of secular humanity. He compared the radical Islamic suicide bomber with the rational, compassionate atheist he presents himself to be, and he challenged the audience that if they believed it would be better to be born atheist like him, than to a radical Islamic terrorist family, then they must cast off all religion as being false, since there are some “bad apples” in the bunch.
D'Souza countered this argument, noting that he could ask the same question, comparing an atheist of the likes of the murderous Stalin and a Christian like himself.
D’Souza had the difficult task of arguing for all religions, as he made the case for God, whereas, Hitchens would simply point out any falsehoods in any religious person or institution throughout history as proof that God must not be real. And this he did frequently and with a great deal of self-satisfaction.
There were several other interesting points the two debated, such as the evolutionary idea that Christians were more prone to survive than non-Christians. Hitchens said it was due to "wishful thinking," but D'Souza pointed out that the survival of one who is willing to die for faith runs counter to the idea of "survival of the fittest."
One surprising note of the evening was the revelation that Christopher Hitchens is actually pro-life! He reasons that an unborn child possesses "individuality" from the mother, and is neither an appendage of the mother nor a "blob of tissue," nor even "potential life," as some pro-abortion types would tell us. He stated that the unborn child should be recognized as human life and given equal rights.
Hitchens noted that it was because of an article he had written for Nation magazine that he and D'Souza first met. D'Souza read his article and called him and the two of them met for lunch. They have since debated the issue of God on numerous occasions, but on the issue of life they evidently agree.
D'Souza commended Hitchens for his "courageous statement, especially in a place such as [the University of Colorado at Boulder]."
Keep an eye on the Thomas Center website. They plan to release a full video of the debate.