Anti-theist and Christian debate religion
Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 8, 2010
Anti-theist Christopher Hitchens and Christian Dinesh D’Souza may initially appear to have nothing in common.
Hitchens argues the merits of evolution, while D’Souza argues for the existence of a supernatural power. In the absence of evidence, Hitchens doubts, while D’Souza defers to faith.
But despite their opposing views, both figures had one thing in common — they approached religion from a purely logical, factual perspective when speaking to a sold-out audience in Wednesday’s debate at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Hitchens said religion is merely a man-made attempt to make sense of the world.
“Religion was our first attempt to make sense of our surroundings. It was our first attempt at health care, in a way,” Hitchens said. “It was our first attempt at psychiatric care, at dealing with terrible loneliness of the human condition.
“It is the worst attempt, but partly because it was the first.”
Hitchens said evolution and the big bang theory should be used to explain the world and human existence. Meanwhile, D’Souza pointed out flaws in evolutionary theory and said religion is the best explanation for essential human questions.
“Evolution doesn’t explain the presence of life on the planet,” D’Souza said. “Evolution merely explains the transition between one life form and the other.”
D’Souza said evolution also fails to explain human evil, rationality and in particular, morality.
“Think of a couple of moral facts. Think of simple things. Getting up to give your seat to an old lady in the bus. Giving blood,” he said. “Now if we are evolved primates who are programmed to survive and reproduce, why would we do these things?”
Hitchens said humans do good deeds because they wish to.
“I’ll tell you why. It gives me great pleasure to do so,” he said. “I enjoy the sort of people it makes me come in contact with. And I like giving blood.”
But D’Souza said these moral characteristics exist because humans were made in the likeness of God.
“Those are the characteristics of the creator who made it that way,” he said.
D’Souza also said he favored religion simply because it was the more likely explanation.
“If we see a fine tuned universe, what’s more likely? Someone fine tuned it or it fine tuned itself?” he said. “Let’s go with the best explanation,” D’Souza said. “If you go to a village and 95 percent of the people in the village say we know this guy named Bill. Five of them say, ‘We’ve never met Bill.’ And three of them say, ‘There is no Bill.’
“Is it more likely that the 95 percent are right and the other three percent just don’t know the guy?”
But Hitchens said the position of faith “has to be discarded first.”
“The only respectable intellectual position is one of doubt,” he said. “[Atheism] is a refusal of faith and a refusal to use it as a method of reasoning. What we don’t know, we don’t claim to know.”
But D’Souza said the atheists and believers actually have more in common than one might think.
“The believers position, no less than the atheist, is an attempt to grapple with the facts to make sense of the data,” he said. “Faith is not a substitute for reason. Faith only comes in when reason stops.”
The difference, D’Souza said, is in how believers and nonbelievers choose to apply their faith.
“The atheist who says there isn’t, just like the believer who says there is, is making a leap of faith,” he said.
But Hitchens said he is more comfortable not making assumptions.
“If there is any such judge [in the afterlife,] I will be able to say at least I never faked belief,” Hitchens said. “At least I wasn’t a hypocrite.”