D’Souza Vs. Hitchens


I just got around to watching the Hitchens vs D’Souza debate that occurred last week. I had intended to watch it live but then I found out they weren’t going to stream it live and I don’t think it appeared on Youtube until this past weekend. Furthering the proof that I’ve been living in a bubble, I had never heard of D’Souza before last week where I was introduced to this annoying little man via MSNBC which I switched on when I sat down to eat dinner. He’s got a new book and is making the rounds saying things that make the veins in my temples throb. If you’re like me and are wondering “who is this guy?”, I’d advise you to read up on him because aside from being a complete ass, you’ll see in this debate he’s a very good speaker.

Where Hitchens is gruff, loud and nasty, Dinesh comes off as charming, soft spoken and polite. Now this certainly is not a reflection on the content of their speech, but rather the packaging and delivery of it which, like it or not, does influence the audience. I think most of us atheists have delighted at Hitchens’ blunt deliveries and marveling at how someone can be so surgical while seemingly swinging a sledgehammer. Well in this debate Hitchens was less of the “bible belter” as Dawkins calls him and more of a guy sleepwalking through and eagerly looking for the door. I felt he let a lot of Dinesh’s shit go by either completely unchallenged or inadequately challenged and at times was merely giving a book report on his own book that frankly you or I or anyone who has read it could have done better. There has been some talk about him recently giving up smoking and some eyewitness accounts claim he had the shakes. I know nothing of this but if it’s true and this is the reason he was so far off his game I suppose it’s good because it at least implies he’ll eventually snap out of it but being the hard ass that I am, I find it pathetic and embarrassing to be ruled by addiction. Alright, well I encourage you to watch the debate if you haven’t already and afterwards see if you agree with the rest of my assessments…

Dinesh’s opening comments that I felt went unchallenged were:
• christians were the first to oppose slavery and opposition to slavery only came as a result of christianity
• Christianity not only makes science possible but science is based on 3 christian principles:
1) The universe as a whole is rational
2) The universe obeys laws that are comprehensible in the language of mathematics.
3) Laws of nature are understandable within our own minds and reflect what goes on in our own minds (which I have to confess I have no idea what he’s talking about here)
• “Proof” of the latter is the claim that the top scientists of the last 500 years were christian
• Salem witch trials and the Inquisition really weren’t that bad because they only killed 18 and 2000 people respectively.
To flesh out this last point, he used the typical ‘Stalin, Communism, Hitler and other totalitarian regimes of the 20th century were atheistic and therefore atheism has killed way more people’ argument. Hitchens did make efforts to respond to this but postponed his comments until later where he thought he’d have more time but when he did he really blathered on needlessly, wasting time which Dinesh exploited perfectly complaining about the time, asking when he was going to get his turn, when was he going to wrap it up and made a snarky comment once he did get to respond about how this was typical of the atheist agenda to hog the public square. We all know christians can play that wounded, persecuted crap well and against a big bully like Hitchens it’s effectiveness probably gets amplified but Hitchens, I felt, really played into his hands by, as Dinesh said, filibustering. The man was floundering to wrangle his points and frankly came off as pontificating. I mean, this is one of those classics of theist-atheist debate. The points should be at the ready, especially for Hitchens, but they weren’t. Perhaps he needs a refresher read like this article by the Spanish Inquisitor.

There were other things that Dinesh argued that so strain one’s patience I could be enticed to maybe try smoking to see if the alleged calmness that nicotine delivers could help. Despite his 3 christian principles which he says are the basis of science, he said that our trust of the laws of science is merely faith because we don’t know if the speed of light is really constant everywhere because we haven’t been everywhere to test it and despite testing anything where the results are the same every time for a million times, it’s still faith that makes us believe that it will still be the same on test one million and one. Perhaps it’s the absurdity of these charges that prompted Hitchens to pretty much ignore them. Another gem of his was challenging that morality is inherent in people by saying that if that were true, then it wouldn’t have been needed to explain morality in the bible if everyone already was moral. Surprisingly, this came well after Hitchens’ claims of solidarity being the true basis of morality, his ridiculing the idea that the Jews or anyone else thought perjury, murder, adultery or the rest were perfectly ok before they got to Mt. Sinai, and other mocking comments like that god let humanity progress for some 98,000 years before popping in to deliver us morals in one small corner of the world, compulsory love and fear of christianity, and that before Jesus “meek and mild” there was no concept of eternal hell. The one obvious slip up here was Dinesh mentioning the Good Samaritan story to which Hitchens promptly fired back the obvious flaw – that it was the Samaritan, not the religious men who offer assistance, showing both that you don’t need religion for morality and that having religion is no guarantee that you’ll have morals.

So despite the good points Hitchens made, I felt he was really off his game and I came away thinking Dinesh faired much better, to my disgust.

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19 Responses to “D’Souza Vs. Hitchens”

  1. I watched this “debate” last week. What always strikes me as irritating is how, even with my primitive mind, I am able to construct, in a matter of seconds, responses to D’Souza’s claims that would be the equivalent of a logical hydrogen bomb. Of course this is in the comfort of my own home watching from a computer screen- so a bit of Monday Morning Quaterbacking applies here no doubt.

    It is frustrating however, when such feeble arguments are proffered and left unchallenged, let alone not destroyed. Hitchens was off his game, but then again it seems to me most of these “debates” are just that, a game.

    On so many levels it is painfully obvious that arguing for the existence of god is impossible if one allows logic to enter into the discussion. As to the benefits of religion throughout civilization, examples exist both pro and con and it becomes a silly numbers game. This argument misses the point, however what I would like to see “debated” is why we need religion at all TODAY.

  2. Years ago, before the Atheist Bubble started to get bigger, (way back in the 80s and 90s) people like Stephen Jay Gould and other leading atheists, including Dawkins, refused to debate creationists, on the grounds that putting creationism and evolution on the same stage actually gave the appearance that they were somehow equals in the quest for the minds of the audiences, and inadvertently lent credibility to creationism. Creationists knew this, and eagerly sought debates, because it didn’t matter to them whether they were right, only that they got to be on the same stage as real scientists.

    Now that the debates are between atheists and theists, I think sometimes it IS a mistake to debate in front of people who will, by sheer force of demography, be primarily predisposed to theism. OTOH, if we don’t take every opportunity to show those on the edge, those who may be waffling in their beliefs, that there is a logical, reasonable, intellectual reason not to believe, we are missing a good chance.

    With someone like Hitchens, who usually is so overwhelmingly on top of any argument, it’s hard not to cheer and let him debate. But hell, he’s only human, and he’s got to be tired of saying the same old thing over and over to people who just don’t seem to get it. He’s got to have an off day. D’Snooza, as dumb as his arguments are, is a very likable fellow. He comes across as a friendly, charming, maybe even beer-sharing individual. When atheists go up against him, they need to disarm his wit, and pointedly show how shallow he is, and how he’s really dumbing down his spiel for the audience. What he says to me, when I listen to him, is insulting to my intelligence.

    For instance, this:

    • christians were the first to oppose slavery and opposition to slavery only came as a result of christianity

    Well, D’uh! No kidding? So what?

    Exactly how many atheists were there around in the 18th and 19th centuries that could have spoken up and denounced slavery? Anyone who said they were atheists would have been immediately burned at a stake, or ridden out of town on a rail, after being tarred and feathered. Of course it was a small minority of rogue Christians who saw the immorality in a system that had been sanctioned by their religion for 4000 years. These were people who were probably ashamed that their religion had not spoken up sooner. They were possibly even atheist by nature, though they couldn’t admit it openly. The times didn’t allow it. So to claim that it was Christianity that abolished slavery is an insult.

  3. What struck me about Hitchens was how apathetic he appeared. You’re right. He’s lost his passion, at least as evidenced in this particular debate, and that has concerned me. The passion needs to be there. Delivery is important to communicating the content.

  4. Perhaps his passion has gone solely to bombing Iran and the rest of the muslims and arguing with christians now is just a distraction for him. Who knows?

    I’ve since done some background reading on D’Souza, and some very entertaining responses to him on Pharyngula and yes, it doesn’t take much to respond to his weak, distorted comments which made Hitchens’ performance all the more disturbing to me.

    Frankly, I’m torn on whether we should debate them like this or not. It does give them credibility that they don’t deserve, but at the same time, like it or not, they have credibility already by simply being the majority position.

  5. SI said: … it IS a mistake to debate in front of people who will, by sheer force of demography, be primarily predisposed to theism.

    Well, truth be told, this “debate,” was partially sponsored, I believe, by the New York City Ethical Culture Society — hardly a lair of religionists. From the little I could bear to watch, Hitchens seemed tired and uninvolved.

    As SI points out, before atheist-theist debates became big-bucks performance art, many nonbelievers would never have dreamed of bothering to “debate” people like D’Souza. What’s the point? How can either side win? By following the audience around for a few years and measuring the number of converts vs. de-converts?

    However, Philly, it’s unfair, I think, to watch Hitchens and feel that he was “off his game.” Public speaking, as far as I can see, ain’t his game — much as he’d like it to be. I think we’re attributing qualities to the guy — and he’s certainly attributing them to himself — that he doesn’t necessarily have.

    What he does have is the talent to write far better, and much more entertainingly, than any of the other hot atheist authors.

    However, that doesn’t necessarily make him great when he’s speaking off-the-cuff (even when that cuff is notated with prewritten quips and talking points). I think the D’Souza-Hitchens traveling circus is a stunt dreamt up by some good publicists. Hitchens, having been on the lecture circuit hawking his book for a few months longer than D’Souza, is clearly more worn down and bored.

    Wouldn’t you be bored, hearing those same puerile Christian arguments day after day after day? Hitchens should climb off this ridiculous no-win merry-go-round and devote his not insignificant talents to something else.

  6. The only good I can foresee in these types of debates is igniting the flame of rationality and skepticism in someone who has either not thought about it or has never heard any arguments against their particular indoctrination.

    Typically, when theists debate atheists, it is just a trotting out of the same trite and logically lacking arguments that have been offered before. Some debaters are more exciting to listen to than others but, for the most part, the ideas are pretty much the same. In this respect there is little value in having these types of debates. The theists will not renounce their faith en-masse, nor will atheists find religion.

    What I would like to see happen, is some sort of national debate that pitted the best of the atheist “proponents” against the best the theists had offer. If this event were given the kind of coverage on the major networks ala a state of the union address or 24 hour “where is Britney” coverage, then millions of people may be exposed to radically new ways of thinking (actually… “thinking”).

    Alas, I don’t think this will ever happen for many reasons, not least of these is that the theists would never expose their naked emperor to the entire country.

  7. Exterminator, you ignorant slut. You’re wrong and here’s why:
    1) Hitchens has a track record of being a phenomenal speaker and debater. Doubt it? Read through reviews of his appearances on tv, past debates, Dawkins gushing over him like a schoolgirl or hell, go to YouTube and watch some of them yourself. The man is better drunk than most of us sober on a good day.
    2) The man has been on a mission since before the book was published to go on a speaking/debate tour in hostile territory, which would be foolhardy to do if you couldn’t hold up to spontaneous comments and questions. It could potentially jeopardize both the sales of the book as well as his credibility
    3) Having seen that he “has game” as they say, this little show in NY was indicative of a man clearly off said game.

    PS – I hope you can appreciate the nod to the old SNL skit of Point Counter-Point at the beginning of this reply. ;)

  8. PS – I hope you can appreciate the nod to the old SNL skit of Point Counter-Point at the beginning of this reply. ;)

    Given his lack of response, I’d say no. He’s probably in the process of sending a letter bomb to Philadelphia as we write. He’s not call the Exterminator for nothing.

  9. Philly,

    I know that Hitchens has gotten great reviews for his public speaking in the past, etc. Dawkins, I’m afraid, will gush over any atheist who can string two sentences together.

    But I don’t think Hitchens is an innate public speaker in the same way that, say, Dawkins is. Yes, Hitchens does fantastically well on TV interview shows, where he has a pretty good idea of the questions that will be asked. But in debate, I’m not sure. I watched a debate he did in England — can’t remember who started for the other team — but I wasn’t that impressed. He came off as smarmy and bullying.

    I also think Hitchens is mainly comfortable dealing with anger, outrage, or confusion from the other side. But a meek-seeming, intelligent gentleman like D’Souza gives him very little to play off.

    In any case, regardless of Hitchens’s track record, he definitely needs a rest.

  10. Philly:
    SNL? Is that some Protestant sect?
    (Never mind).

    SI said: He’s probably in the process of sending a letter bomb to Philadelphia as we write. He’s not call the Exterminator for nothing.

    Well, SI, it takes more than being called an ignorant slut, with or without a TV reference, to drive me to letter-bombing. You’d have to call me a Baptist to get me that angry.

  11. You’re supposed to respond by calling me a pompous ass.

    “A frequent feature of Update during this time was Point-Counterpoint, in which Curtin and Aykroyd made vicious and humorously inappropriate ad hominem attacks on each other’s positions on a variety of topics, in a parody of the 60 Minutes segment of the same name which pitted conservative James J. Kilpatrick and liberal Shana Alexander during the 1970s. Aykroyd regularly began his reply with “Jane, you ignorant slut,” which became another of the many SNL catch phrases. (Curtin frequently began reply with, “Dan, you pompous ass”.)”

    wikipedia

    Perhaps next time I’ll try, “Exterminator, you ignorant baptist…”

  12. Philly, you said: You’re supposed to respond by calling me a pompous ass….Perhaps next time I’ll try, “Exterminator, you ignorant baptist…”

    Listen, I was watching SNL while you were still crawling around with your pompous ass peeking out from under your visually appealing diapers.

    Anyway, I never cared much for Chevy Chase or Jane Curtin. So I quoted Emily Litella, instead. She was played by the late, great Dildo Radner. (Never mind.)

    And now I call a moratorium on all S&M references. (Never mind)

  13. Didn’t SNL have Father Guido Sarducci?

  14. Akroyd did the Point Counterpoint and yes, SNL had Father Guido Sarducci.

    I was out of diapers by the time SNL came on. I used to love that show and then it started sucking some time after I graduated college, which I later found out was when someone I went to HS with starting writing for them. She was bright, but never very funny when I knew her. Now she’s fucking famous, but still not funny.

  15. Oh, yeah, Aykroyd, not Chevy Chase. Well, I never thought Aykroyd was funny, either — although far preferable to Chevy. Father Guido, on the other hand, always cracked me up.

    Anyway, to get back to our original discussion, I think Hitchens is funnier than all of them. I just can’t understand why he succumbed to the “debate” thing. I don’t know anyone who would call New York City hostile territory for an atheist. And I still think, as I’ve said dozens of times in the Atheosphere, that debating a theist is a waste of time and effort. I can’t imagine a single audience member saying to him- or herself, “Now, I’ll listen to both sides carefully and then I’ll decide whether I believe in god or not.”

  16. I finally had time to watch the debate last night. I didn’t see the 10th video, but the way things were going by then, I probably didn’t miss much.

    Hitchens looked like he was just tired of taking on the task of educating his opponent on the art of critical thinking. I was wondering if that was a glass of scotch with a splash of cola to make it look dark or what, personally I think he would have done a better job if it were straight scotch. His heart just wasn’t in it during that exchange, only the pretense of heart. Thoroughly disappointing.

    These debates must be tiring for non-theists to endure; I mean they have to put up with sweeping generalizations, appeals to authority, false associations, and just plain delusional thinking from everyone they debate. It must be like working in a nut house.

  17. I have to admit I skipped through almost the entire first clip because I couldn’t listen to that bimbo go on about her family reunion. I scrubbed until she wasn’t on screen and that took me to about the 8 minute mark! During her prattling, did she explain the format? I didn’t get the format instructions but it seemed they each had an opening that was just read aloud, rather than Hitchens responding to D’Souza’s first statements, which I felt was where he made the most outrageous claims that went unchallenged later.

    At the end it was said they waved their chance to have closing remarks in exchange for taking more questions and this actually hurt Hitchens because nearly all the questions were given to him, meaning Dinesh could respond to his answers and always get the last word. He really exploited that at the end, where he went on about Mother Theresa hugging lepers to which you could hear Hitchens making gagging noises and at one point saying, “oh gag me with a spoon”.

    These debates may seem like crap and the arguments against them usually involve saying we give them credibility and find it pointless since no one’s going to get converted. I think certainly the latter isn’t true. Even though the person you debate may be entrenched, you never know who is observing the debate. 2nd, we’ve been quiet in the past and where has that gotten us? Their arguments are stupid but because they have the numbers and the media they already have credibility, and we have to take it away from them. There are too many things that have to get dispelled in the minds of people like the US was founded on christianity, Evolution is just a theory, the bible is historically accurate, there’s tons of evidence for Jesus, you can’t have morality with religion, and so on. Sitting amongst ourselves chatting isn’t going to get that done.

  18. Ha! I meant we have to dispel the idea that you can’t have morality WITHOUT religion. Stupid blogger has no edit tool.

  19. I’m a little late to this debate “debate”, but allow a couple of comments…

    “Where Hitchens is gruff, loud and nasty, Dinesh comes off as charming, soft spoken and polite. Now this certainly is not a reflection on the content of their speech, but rather the packaging and delivery of it which, like it or not, does influence the audience.”

    err…. yes. You all know I hate to pat myself on the back, but this is one of the points I’ve always tried to make. Sure it’s fun to lob verbal bombs at Christians when we (the atheist community) has been largely silenced by the for… well, forever. But it’s human nature to like nice people and to give them more of a listen.

    Sam Harris is pretty good at this. He is very unassuming and basically just tries to articulate a clear point without being over-bearing. Neil De Grasse Tyson is extremely good at it. Carl Sagan was probably as good as you get.

    On a more important note, Chevy Chase was actually never a member of the cast of SNL, although most people “remember” that he was. He was a recurring guest host the first few seasons.

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