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Atheist and Catholic to debate religion

Sam Stryker | Thursday, March 18, 2010

The original version of this article misidentified Joseph Stanfiel as the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. He is the assistant dean. The Observer regrets this error.

Notre Dame will host a public debate on April 7 between famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and Catholic apologetic Dinesh D’Souza.

More than 10 departments on campus, including the College of Arts and Letters and the Student Union Board, will sponsor the event, “Is Religion the Problem?” It will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

Students should expect a heated debate, as D’Souza has described atheism as “the opiate of the morally corrupt” and Hitchens has cited Christianity as “a wicked cult.”

According to a press release, the conversation will focus on the arguments for and against organized religion and its impact on past and future generations.

Sophomore Malcolm Phelan, one of the event organizers along with fellow sophomore Daniel O’Duffy, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Joseph Stanfiel and Professor Micheal Rea from the Center for the Philosophy of Religion, said one of the main reasons for putting the event together was to challenge current students beliefs.

“We are trying to get students to think about things that they take for granted for most of their lives,” he said. “These questions lead to thought and conversation within a community, challenging positions and enriching beliefs.”

Professor Rea said he also feels a strong feature of the event is its present day value.
“[The event is about] serious questions about the rationality of belief in God and about the role religion plays in contributing to the evils in this world,” Rea said.

Phelan said what makes the event truly special is the quality of the participants in the conversation and debate.

“Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza are amongst the foremost public intellectuals in the world, and are two of the best known spokespersons for their respective positions,” he said. “They have both authored numerous books and have debated multiple times on these topics, drawing crowds of over 6,000 to similar events.”

Phelan said the group of organizers drew inspiration from similar events, but the prestige of the participants was what helped convince them to put the debate together.

“Daniel and I had always wanted to see one of these debates, and we thought ‘Why not have one here?'” Phelan said. “We’ve had discussions of this type ourselves, but it was another thing entirely to have two of the world’s best debaters battle it out on a public stage.”

Stanfiel said Hitchens in particular could prove to be a polarizing figure on the Notre Dame campus.

“People might object to Hitchens, a self-proclaimed anti-theist being given a platform, but these are issues that are being debated in the larger culture,” he said. “What better venue than Notre Dame is there for the honest presentation of both sides of this controversy?”

Tickets for the event will be available to students at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center ticket office beginning March 24. The event is free for Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students.