Hitchens vs D’Souza

I got around to watching the debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Cristopher Hitchens and, while I would agree with some who suggest that Hitchens could have put his case better, he certainly didn’t drop the ball completely. Here’s a short summary of what D’Souza had to offer:

  • The fine tuning argument
  • ‘Scientists haven’t explained (insert incomplete area of human knowledge here), ergo God’
  • ‘There’s no conflict between religion and science because many great scientists were/are religious’
  • ‘Hitchens doesn’t disbelieve in God, he HATES God’
  • ‘Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler were atheists’
  • ‘Jesus said some nice stuff’

It’s all pretty weak, standard religious apologetics.

D’Souza’s handling of the Stalin issue was quite disgraceful. Hitchens spent a portion of his time illustrating how Hitler, while certainly not a run of the mill Christian, was not a theist, and (after being hassled by D’Souza to hurry up) closed by saying if he had more time he’d discuss Stalin and the others. How does D’Souza proceed? ‘Hey everyone – notice how he didn’t say anything about Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot…?’ Seriously, how childish. The ‘Why don’t you explain the actions of Stalin?’ question is constantly thrown at Hitchens, Dawkins and others, to which they usually respond: “Read my book.” Hitchens explains his thoughts on Stalin in his book, but rather than respond to what Hitchens has to say on the matter, D’Souza asserts that Hitchens is avoiding the issue, and nothing could be further from the truth.

D’Souza also avoided this question: “What moral action could not be performed, or what moral statement could not be made, by an atheist that could be made by a theist?”

On his blog D’Souza writes:

Some of the most lively moments in the debate came when Hitchens and I discussed whether religion or atheism is responsible for the mass murders of history. I pointed out that even the Spanish Inquisition–a favorite atheist bugaboo — killed 2,000 people over 350 years. By contrast, atheist tyrants like Mao and Stalin and Pol Pot killed tens of millions within the space of a few decades. Hitchens sought to argue that Communism retained many of the features of autocratic religious states. I countered by saying that if we hold religious regimes responsible for the crimes done in God’s name, we should hold atheist regimes responsible for the crimes done in the name of creating an atheist utopia. Let’s not blame religion not only for its own offenses but also for the offenses done by atheists on behalf of an atheist ideology.

Hold regimes responsible for their crimes? Yes. Hold atheists responsible for their crimes? Yes. Hold atheism responsible for these crimes? No. Why? Because atheism is the disbelief in deities, nothing more. Atheism has no content – it doesn’t tell you how to live or what you should do. The ideology of those totalitarian regimes , irrational to the extreme, came from somewhere else, not from atheism.

I think part of the reason Hitchens didn’t appear to be at his best was the Q&A format at the end of the debate. Most of the questions from the audience were directed at Hitchens who would answer, followed by a retort from D’Souza, allowing him to have the last word on things. It would have been better to have the targeting of questions split 50/50.

Though D’Souza may have pleased rusted-on theists with his efforts I seriously doubt any non=believers would have been swayed by his god-of-the-gaps arguments and similar rhetoric.


~ by Sammy Jankis on November 10, 2007.

2 Responses to “Hitchens vs D’Souza”

  1. I think the format was bad, especially as D’Souza did not follow proper procedure and the moderator didn’t control it. Also, it was a religious audience and perhaps the confrontational (in terms of ideas) approach Hitchens uses may not be the most effective for such an audience.

  2. I think what we should remember is that the fallacies and distortions spouted by theists such as D’Souza remain fallacious regardless of how well Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. perform in a public debate.

    No matter much he crows about it, D’Souza’s “victory” over Hitchens is as hollow and rhetorical as any of creationist Kent Hovind’s “victories.” The stupidity of his arguments is there for all to see.

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