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Christopher Hitchens vs. Dinesh D'Souza

I finally got around to watching an episode of BookTV that I recorded off of CSPAN2 a couple weeks ago. I made some notes about the ridiculous claims that D'Souza makes in the debate with Hitchens. Listening to Hitchens on religion is always fun, so I don't really have anything else to say about him, but D'Souza made listening to the whole thing really painful.

First he starts by talking about how atheism is a "militant phenomenon". C'mon, Dinesh. We are arguing here, but what have we bombed recently? Then he goes on, in his opening statement, to talk about how he is going to try to use the tools of "reason and skepticism" to prove him case. Yes, I practically fell off my chair laughing.

He makes a number of plainly insane claims. He says that atheist values that he pulled from reading a number of New Atheist books are all sourced from Christianity... things like freedom from tyranny. He also repeats a claim I'm sure I've heard him make before about how since it was Western democracies that helped tsunami victims, we must have done it because we are Christian... not because we are democratic or wealthy. (Oh, no. That had nothing to do with it, I'm sure. But there are a lot of poor Christian countries, so where was their help?)

He makes a false comparison between Christian values and Classical virtues. He says that Christianity opposes slavery and it was erradicated because of Christianity, all the while ignoring Christian support FOR slavery.

He claims that Christianity is the basis of democracy. (Yeah, that's why democracy was invented hundreds of years before Jesus!)

He claims that leading scientists in the last 500 years were all Christians. (First of all, that's plainly false.) Even if we allow that most were Christians, in the 500 years before that they were mostly Muslim. And the 500 years before that mostly pagan. So what? He even goes so far as to say that modern science is actually based in Christianity. He claims that science makes the following claims: that the universe is rational, that it obeys laws which we understand via mathematics, and that physical laws mirror what goes on in our heads because of the "spark of the divine". His claims in this regard there was far too much for me to take notes on all of the lunacy. It shows such a bald-faced misunderstanding of reality as to be comical. Mathematical models are not "laws of the universe" for instance, or even the language of them. The universe does what it does. The mathematics attempts to model, in some useful way, what we are seeing, in the hopes of making reasonable predictions. At best, they reveal approximations of the way the universe works, and over time, we make better approximations of what we see. We can only approximate the "laws of nature". Based on all this nonsense, he then goes on to assert that science is "faith-based".

The last point of his intro is to claim that atheism is equivalent to advocating mass-murder.

In the rebuttal to Hitchens' opening statement, Dinesh begins by complaining that Hitchens made a moral argument against religion and didn't accept his premise of an argument based on 'reason'. He complains that Hitchens has no evidence to support his moral argument.

Then he returns to the topic of science... Dinesh, a word of advice. Don't talk about what you don't know. He asks: How do we know that light travels the same speed everywhere and at all times? The claim that we have no evidence to the contrary is a statement of faith, he says. In fact, he seems to be suggesting that we have no evidence to suppose that the old comic book trick of saying that different galaxies have their own physical laws isn't actually, literally true. Except that if it was, the universe looks strangely like it does behave according to all the same laws.

He also makes the curious claim that scientific assumptions are equivalent to faith. Except that assumptions are made and supported with evidence and can be changed in the light of new evidence or a lack of it. Faith doesn't really obey those rules does it? Scientific assumptions are maintained because they work pretty damn well.

He also makes some interesting claims about religion. He can't seem to define antitheist correctly. He claims Hitchens not only hates religion, he 'hates' god. He confuses the teachings of Jesus with the teachings of Jesus' followers. Admittedly, people do this all the time. They assume that because Jesus said some nice things, if they invoke the name of Jesus, those 'nice' qualities rub off on them, regardless of what they actually do.

He also made the interesting claim that Hitchens is sending himself to hell, and god has no moral responsibility for Hitchens' choices.

Then they got into the debate, with Q&A, so these other 'points' are a little less organized.

He claims that Einstein was a theist. He confuses science with nature. He makes the tired argument about the 'fine-tuning' of natural laws. (Although, of course, we really wouldn't be here to ask the question in a universe that didn't allow for life, now would we?)

He claims that Marx' atheism leads directly to men like Mao and Stalin, as if Marx' atheism was the most important claim in any and all of his writings. He says that communism killed more people specifically because it was atheistic. (It didn't have anything to do with better record-keeping or bloated populations, apparently, as compared to the 1300's.) And then he went so far as to explicitly compare Hitchens to 'atheist' mass-murderers.

Nice guy!

He said that public schools inculcate atheistic values. (Remember, these values are inherently rooted in Christianity!)

He doesn't seem to understand why the brain obeys the laws of nature... as if it was somehow beyond nature.

Then he makes the tired old claims about evolution which have nothing to do with anything. He says it can't account for abiogenesis (too big a word for him, though), the origin of consciousness, and altruism. All of which have been dealt with elsewhere.

He also made the outrageous claim that Christ invented compassion and universal rights. Which completely ignores a number of philosophers that preceded Jesus, as if Aristotle is the only Greek philosopher, or that Eastern philosophers never even existed. And universal rights... what part of Christianity is that from, exactly? I'm pretty sure that was an Enlightenment thing.

He insists that since good things are done--either accidentally or deliberately--in the name of religion/Christianity, that therefore bad things can be ignored, and indeed, the ends even justifies the means. He's even prepared to claim that Portuguese missionaries that created an Inquisition in India in order to force people to convert to Christianity or die was a good thing because it brought people closer to Christ. Just think about someone making that claim about the American Indians and see how that turns an moral person's stomach. Of course, he thinks he can get away with a double standard here, because Hitchens' subtitle is that 'religion poisons everything'. And as long as it's not 'everything' religion is better than atheism.

He dismissed without consideration the claims that there are 'advantages' in evolutionary terms to religion. He then claimed that religion was not 'in the domain of verification'.

He said that there is 'intelligence embodied in nature', which he attributes to Kepler. Of course, let's ignore for the fact that Kepler also thought that the planetary orbits were embedded in Platonic solids before he hit on ellipses. I'm not sure I understand what 'intelligence' he pretends to see in nature, though. I don't see any.

He also makes two last cuts directly at atheism. He says that atheists are chafing under the rules of Christianity. (This may be true, because some of their rules are stupid, but I'm not getting his point here.) He also says that atheism is a moral, not a rational, revolt. (And again, I fail to see why, if this is true, why it supports his claims that Christianity is the better choice. People revolting against oppressive regimes don't give up the moral high-ground just because they are revolting.)

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