[Moderator Dr. Neil Gillman outlines the rules of the debate and introduces Hitchens and Boteach]
HITCHENS: Shalom. Thank you very much for coming ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Rabbi, for a very generous introduction. I don't know how I'm going to fill up fifteen minutes. After all, the burden of proof is not with me. But I can probably make a—[audience applause]—that is going to take some time, making the case. But I think I can probably make a fist of it. I prefer to argue, and I do in my book, that the belief in a supreme being or creator is actually a pernicious belief. It does great moral and intellectual damage to our poorly evolved primate species and I'm hoping that we will, in the course of this evening, get to the point about the ill effect of religion but I'm not going to duck the obligation imposed upon me by the motion before us which is to give the reasons why we're so lucky as to be furnished with so little evidence for such a horrible proposition. And falsity, after all, is a subdivision of perniciousness. Religion, however, does stand—having started in that pejorative manner—does, in a way, stand to our credit. We are, after all, imperfectly evolved primate mammals though we are, and aware of our kinship with other such creatures, we do have the gift of pattern seeking in our minds and we will pursue this gift often at our own expense, but at a great hazard and often with great ingenuity. That has a plus side and a minus side. It often means—it very often means, you will have observed it in your own lives and those of others—that we prefer junk explanation to no explanaition at all, or a conspiracy theory to no theory and religion takes its place in our evolution in this precise manner. It's the first and worst explanation we came up with. It's the best we could do when we didn't know we lived on a cooling planet with big fissures in its crust; when we didn't know there were microorganisms that had power over us, we didn't have dominion over them, to the contrary; when we didn't know we lived on a spherical planet; we didn't know we revolved around other spherical bodies. Everything was terrifying, new, mysterious, and often lethal. It was our first attempt at philosophy in that way; first attempt at cosmology; first attempt at geography, biology, all the rest of it; a hopeless attempt belonging to the bawling, fearful, ignorant childhood of our species but very necessary, and it possesses still the advantage of having come first. The terrible advantage over the mind and ever learning that it possesses is its originality and the history of human emancipation is the struggle to get away from this terrifying, foolish, ignorant first try. And I can see we have still some distance to travel but we have made a start. Now, you can argue it because it's still here. We know a little bit, of course. We don't now think that the Aztecs were really on to something. We don't think that all faith-based is better than none. We don't think you need to wrench a living heart out of a chest cavity to make the sun come up every day. We've been through the list of gods, it's in my edited collection, The Portable Atheist, Mencken actually drew up a list of very nearly 10,000 gods who used to be worshipped and aren't any more. As my friend Richard Dawkins says, everyone's an atheist. Nobody believes in the sun god Ra any more; nobody believes in Quetzalcoatl any more; nobody believes in Juno and Venus any more. You're all atheists as far as that's concerned and you look with pity on those who support, or ever did, such cults. All we say is, "Make it consistent. Just go one god more and you're nearly there." Peter Devries puts it—Peter Devries, poor guy, brilliant novelist and great essayist, poor guy was brought up Dutch Reformed in Illinois, says in his wonderful discussion of religion, Slouching Towards Kalamazoo it's called, I recommend it: People used to be polytheistic (they believed in many, many, many gods). Then, for some reason, they decided to narrow it down to one. They're getting nearer to the true figure all the time. This is the struggle I want to invite you to join, ladies and gentlemen. The easiest way I think to clear your mind of such remaining illusions as you may possess or labor under, is the following: The great words of Laplace, the first person to develop what's called the [?], a model of how the cosmos and the universe would look as if it was viewed for the first time from the outside. The circulation of the heavenly bodies and the planets and he showed it to the Emperor Napoleon who wanted to know how this great genius, the only rival to Newton in his time, Laplace, had managed this, and he demonstrated to the Emperor how it worked and the Emperor said, "But there's no God in this machine," and Laplace said, "Well, it works very well, your Highness, without that assumption." Not just science but our own other reflections have told us there is nothing remaining to be explained that could be only be explained by the existence of a supreme being, creator, or first cause. The universe, and our lives too, all operate exactly as you would expect them to if there was no such thing. Why does the delusion persist? Well we might get to that. I think it has a lot to do with wish thinking and not wishing only for desirable things either, such as the survival of death, but also wishing for things that are less desirable such as the triumph of ourselves over others with God on our side, having made a special covenant with, say, just one tribe in Bronze Age Palestine, the most reactionary idea probably ever invented by the religious. But you'll see analogies of it everywhere God is discussed. Or the need for a terrifying, supreme dictator. Nietzsche is said to have said that God is dead; Freud is said to have said God is dad. Others clearly believe that we would be better off, in fact we wouldn't have any ideas of our own, if he couldn't submit to a celestial totalitarianism, a final, unaswerable authority in the heavens. This is wish thinking, but of a very unpleasant kind. It shows, again, how poorly we have evolved ourselves from the fearful primate and mammalian speices that first crawled out of the mire. Now, there are global and cosmic versions of this—I have time I think, a few minutes remaining to deal with them both. Start with the cosmic, why not? There are, I think, it's four thousand billion observable galaxies now? Anyone who claims to know a lot about all of these has sources of information denied to me but we know a little bit about them and a lot more than we used to do. And Edwin Hubble noticed, rather famously, a few decades ago, that they're all moving away from each other rather rapidly (that's what's called the Red Light problem, or observation). Very rapidly indeed, in fact. Now, this has very important implications because it was thought until nine years ago that, because of gravitational factors, that rate of expansion would surely by now be slowing, they'd still be expanding, moving away from each other fast, but less fast all the time. No, the rate is going up, the speed is increasing. Lawrence Krauss has a wonderful piece in the upcoming Scientific American on this absolutely crucial point. It means that within measurable time there will be no signs left in the observable universe that the Big Bang ever occured at all. Everything will have disappeared out of sight, there'll be no markers, nothing to take to take observations from. I mention this because it's often said that, "How can something come out of nothing?" It's the clever, clever question every religious deamgogue and businessman always begins by asking you. Well, we known we've got a bit of something in this universe and we know nothingness is coming. So, some design, huh? Nothingness is not just innate, programmed, it's the next big thing, and we at least had some somethingness. As if, to make assurance doubly sure, the Andromeda galaxy is headed directly—directly in a collision course with our own. Measurably, it's already filling the sky can be seen with the naked eye. In five billion, which is to say fucking soon, ladies and gentlemen, it's on us and if it hasn't happened before then, our sun goes into a red giant, then a red dwarf, we become a crisp. That'll be nothingness programmed instead of somethingness. Some design, huh? Well, let's move then while you ponder that to the tiny suburb in which we actually do know we live, this little corner, just our solar system. Every other rock in our solar system is completely inhospitable to life, either too hot or too cold, as is most of our planet, which as we know—have good cause to know is on a knife edge of climatic survival as we speak. We could become extinct at any moment. In fact, when we still lived on the Savanna of Africa, the environment to which we were adpated and have fled but where we still betray the scars of our lowly origin by the coat of fur we grow in the womb and then shed, by the appendix, by our terrible dentition, and by many other things. Our adrenal glands are too big, our prefrontal lobes are too small; we're not the finest primates that could've evolved. It's estimated by the people who've done the DNA work on this that we were down as a species to less than a few thousand because of climatic events and other nightmares and catastrophes before the decision was made to abandon the Savanna and seek coooler territory. We could very easily have joined the 99.9% of every other speices that has ever been in existence on this tiny planet and become extinct. That close. What are we flattering ourselves about? What's so great about our anthropic principle that we should attribute this to design or designer? Some design, huh? And some designer too. Who but a serf wants it to be true? Who but someone who doesn't like to do their own thinking wants or needs this to be true in the face of all, not just some, but all of the available evidence before us. I've put it like this it's the only hypothesis of my own that I've ever come up with. It's a version of, on this point anyway, it's a version of Joseph Schumpeter's hypoethsis about creative destruction as the energy of capitalism: In order to believe in—not a deistic god, in other words a creator, a first cause, an imponderable starter, which of course only leads you to an infinite regression because how could there be a starter who wasn't himself started or herself begun? Who created the god who made the creator who invented the inventor who designed the designer? Any fool can see the fallacy appearing right over the shoulder of this hypothesis, but suppose it's not just a theistic question—excuse me a deistic question—but a theistic one? A god who answers prayers; a god who intervenes; a god who didn't just start this but cares how it winds up; who cares what you do to your private parts or to those of your children and insists on their being mutilated; who knows what you should eat and what day of the week; who knows with which gender you may or may not recreate yourself or be recreational with, and so forth. The deist has all their work still ahead of them to prove that there is such a being. Here's what you'd have to believe to be a theist (I've already shown the absurdity of deism, I hope). To be a theist you'd have to believe this: How long do you think, ladies and gentlemen—I have three minutes, I shan't—I won't need them all—how long do you think the human species as a distinct Homo sapiens has been on the planet? Any one want to shout a guess? Ok, well Richard Dawkins thinks 250,000 years (a quarter of a million). That's considered to be on the high end. Francis Collins, who's become a friend of mine, a very devout Christian, who, as you will know, sequenced the human genome project and did the final report on the full-out discovery of that unravelment which showed us our kinship with other creatures and indeed with other non creatures, other forms of vegetation and junk that's in our—that undoubtedly proves us to be part of the creational soup, he thinks minimum 100,000. He's not quite sure if it's 250,000. Alright, I only need 100,000. 100,000 years since we dared to separate from, became separate from the Cro-magnons and the Neanderthals as our own species, Homo sapiens. Here's what you'd have to believe to be a theist: For 100,000 years humanity is born, perhaps 25% of it dies in childbirth or very shortly afterwards. Life expectancy, I don't know, 25 for a very long time, infant mortality extraordinary, but after-childbirth deaths I mean, killed by microorganisms we didn't know existed, by earthquakes that we thought were portense, by storms that we didn't know came from our climate system, by other events that arise from our being born onto a cooling planet with deep cracks in its crust—faults in its crust. Then man-made things: turf wars, fights over women, fights over territory, over food, so on. Very, very slow, gradual, exponential upward progress we might like to think. Pretty slow, but at least we can claim out of our own self respect, man-made. And for the first 96,000 years of this experience heaven watches with folded arms, us go through this, with indifference, without pity and then around 4,000 years ago decides, "Gee, it's time to intervene. And the best way of doing that would probably be in Bronze Age Middle East, making appearances to stupified, illiterate peasants, which could later be passed on. The news would get to China after about a thousand years after that." That's what you have to believe. Aren't you glad you can't be made to believe that? Aren't you glad there's no theocracy any more within range of you that can make you believe that? Do you know what it's like living in countries where you can be made to believe it? Do you know what the penalties are for not believing it? They're just exactly congruent with the stupidity of the belief itself. We would be better off, ladies and gentlemen, if we grew out of it. We'd be would better of we'd grown out of it a long time ago. I've only had fifteen minutes to show its falsity. The rest of the evening, I hope, can be devoted to its wickedness, but the falsity is part of the wickedness too and thanks for hearing me out. Thank you.
BOTEACH: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. After hearing that speech, I am so depressed. God almighty, if the Andromeda galaxy doesn't finish me off and Christopher Hitchens doesn't, how many other threats will? Christopher Hitchens' book god is Not Great made a lot of money for him even though atheism is a non-profit organization. (Hope someone caught that.) And I am a fan of Christopher Hitchens' work. This is our second debate. But my friends, I am profoundly disappointed with this work. It is his weakest book yet. In it he is guilty of the same colossal close-mindedness of which he accuses religion. The book is filled with logical inconsistencies, factual inaccuracies, and blatant untruths. In a nutshell, Christopher Hitchens is a secular, fundamentalist fanatic. He falls prey to mankind's most base instinct, namely, hatred. He hates religion. He even hates God, which is difficult since He doesn't exist. And most importantly, he hates hope. Like Richard Dawkins, who I have debated at Oxford University on several occasions, Hitchens is a scientific reductionist, reducing humans to naught but vapid animals, semi-literate primates, half-thinking apes. His book lacks joy, it lacks humor. It is a profoundly depressing tome about the decrepit nature of human existence. The book that I've launched tonight, The Broken American Male—available at fine bookstores everywhere—is the direct result of this shattered vision. Human beings are bereft of any real cosmic purpose. All they can do in life is revert to hunter-gatherers, gathering money during the day so they can hunt women at night. In so doing, they fulfill their genetic role of being naught but sperm donors. Jack Nicholson expressed it best in that great bible of American literature, People magazine of December 21, 2007, he said, "When it comes to love we men have more in common with a male dog than we do with a woman. Ah, this may be male chauvinism, but it's science baby." Hence, my friends, Christopher Hitchens does not believe in any kind of heroes or human greatness. Of Martin Luther King in his book he writes, "He was a mammal like the rest of us, probably plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, had a notorious fondness for booze and for women a good deal younger than his wife." Mahatma Ghandi is someone who would have caused millions of Indians to starve and had we listened to him we'd be worshipping cows. The Dalai Lama makes the claim that he's a hereditary king and dissenting sects within his faith are persecuted. Of course, Mother Teresa bears the greatest brunt of his fury. He says of Mother Teresa, "She was a friend of poverty, a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud." But tell us what you really think, Christopher. My friends, religion has a vastly different vision and a vastly different take. Yes, a man is a creature like any other, but he is born with the spiritual capacity to transcend instinct and to choose goodness; to rise above his animal nature and become godly. What to Hitchens is a failure that humans occasionally succumb to their nature is to us glory. When they choose inspiration over indulgence, they triumph over instinct. Hitchens is right: Human beings, in terms of DNA are 98% exactly like primates, but in that 2%—in that 2% lies human consciousness and therefore human conscience; human transcendence and therefore human choice; human soulfulness and therefore the indomitable human spirit. A watermelon is also 98% water just like a jellyfish is, but they are hardly alike. I'm not eating any jellyfish any time soon. And I cannot accept that we are nothing but thinking primates. To give you an idea of the degree of blindness that you're hearing tonight, I want to just choose a few examples of this loathing of religion that has made a great scholar become positively ignorant. He said that the Torah lacks compassion, on page 99, "The pitiless teachings of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all." Even school children know Leviticus 19:18 with the greatest statement of human solidarity in the history of the world: "You must love your fellow man as yourself." He attacked circumcision a few moments ago. In his book he calls it "religious barbarism." "It is a mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining his future sex life." As an authority on the subject—no not because I have eight children but I wrote Kosher Sex—what a shame that Christopher Hitchens doesn't read The New York Times, he would've discovered, I'm sure you remember, it was a front-page story. December 14th, 2006: "Circumcision appears to reduce a man's risk of contracting AIDS by 50%." In fact, the two largest AIDS charities on the earth "are considering paying for circumcisions in high-risk countries." So these great charities are going to inflict this barbarism in order to save peoples' lives. But this is the really fun part: Because he sees religion as primitive he says that the most annoying and the most unfortunate of all Jewish holiday is Hanukkah. He calls it "an absolutely tragic day in human history." Now this is funny, parenthetically he says—I love this—("The Jews borrowed shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope that celebration that coincides with Christmas.)" Surely he knows that the Macavys lived 300 years before the birth of Jesus but we'll ignore that for a moment. What I love what he says about Hanukkah is, "It's a primitive holidays where Jews reject science and Hellenism for their primitive beliefs." Listen to this: "The Jews felt that the pull exerted by Athens, they chose the superstition mandated by the Torah." Let's see what enlightenment the Jews fought against during Hanukkah. The great Oxford historian, who's a friend of mine, Martin Goodman, says that Antiochus IV, the villain of Hanukkah, was "called a barbarian and a madmen by his own people." If you look up in Wikipedia—just Google it: Antiochus IV put Jerusalem's inhabitants to death in the most cruel way: He insisted on slaughtering a pig in the temple and when Jews refused to eat it "he cut off their hands and feet, burned them on the altar, scalped them," and this is the Greek enlightenment that the Jews should not have resisted. Christopher, you supported the invasion of Iraq because you said that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who didn't deserve to slaughter his people. But you decrey the Jews for standing up against their own brutal oppressors. But my friends, it's really the values of those Greco-Romans the Jews rejected. These great, enlightened values that Christopher Hitchens decries us religious Neanderthals for rejecting, those great values like the people of Sparta, the Greeks, who used to inspect newborn infants and if they were found to be weakly they would cast them from Mount Taygetus. The Romans, of course, would inspect grown adults and if they were mentally infirm they would be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. Don't think I'm being unfair in citing ancient Hellenisitc values against religious ones. No less an authority than Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who mapped the DNA molecule, suggested that birth in our time come two days after parturition so that a baby could be examined for defects and if found to be sufficiently deleterious could be removed with impunities since it had not yet been born. He also suggested that we declared death at the age of 80 when people are no longer useful. Professor Bentley Glass said, "Good and evil should have an scientific evolutionary connotation. They should be divorced from their traditional connotation and they should be—they should connote what is good and bad of the species," so a child with Taysaks would be eliminated. In fact, hitchens himself in something that sounds quite frightening (page 221 of his book): "A very large number of pregnancies are aborted," he's speaking about miscarriages, "because of malformation. Sad though this is, it is probably less miserable an outcome than the vast number of deformed or idiot children who would otherwise have been born or whose brief lives would have been a torment to themselves and others." I therefore challenge my august colleague to explain why then should we not euthanize Down Syndrome children? They are a burden to their parents. They can contribute nothing to this society. They are the idiot children of whom even our own Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said famously, "Three generations of idiots are enough," when so many states here in America used to sterilize the mentally handicapped. What was wrong with that? In fact, let me give you two quotations and I would like you to tell me who you think they are from. Number one: "In nature there is no pity for the lesser creatures when they are destroyed so that the fittest may survive. Going against nature brings ruin to man. It is only Jewish impudence to demand we overcome nature." Listen to this very similar quote: "The more civilized so called Caucasian races, the white people, have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. The white people decimated the dark people. Looking at the world in no very distant dates what an endless number of the lower races will have been limited by the higher civilized races." The first quotation was from a politician, his name was Adolf Hitler. The second quotation was from a scientist, his name was Charles Darwin. Evolutionary theory, as I intend to demonstrate in the second part of this debate, is based on the survival of the fittest. It is not good for the species or for the human race to sustain people who are weaker. Charity is a religious concept, pure and simple. That's why you heard such a depressing presentation; there is no hope, life has no amber, there is nothing that glows. In fact, Sir Arthur Keith, the greatest British evolutionist of the World War II period said, "To see evolutionary measures being applied vigorously, one must turn to Germany of 1942. We see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produces the only real basis for a national policy. The means he adopted was organized slaughter to secure the German race." They needed more space, they needed more food. You kill the weaker ones to protect the stronger ones. "The German führer, as I have consistently maintained," wrote Sir Arthur Keith, "is an evolutionist and seeks to make the practice of Germany conform to evolution." And here you have why Christopher Hitchens attacks the Ten Commandments. You know this is amazing because he says about the Ten Commandments, listen to this, "However little one thinks of the Jewish tradition, it is surely insulting to the people of Moses to imagine they had come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft, and perjury were permissible." But he misses the entire point. God didn't bring the Jews to the foot of Mount Sinai to tell them not to kill. God brought them to the foot of Mount Sinai so that they would understand that "Do not murder" is God's law, not now, not ever. There is no excuse, this is why genocide is perpetrated by nations who have man-made laws. There were laws against murder in Ottoman Turkey; there were laws against murder in Nazi Germany; there were laws against murder in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge. But they were human laws and subject to human tampering. That's why the Ten Commandments have preserved the morality of a nation who, even when they were turned into soap and lampshades during the Holocaust, never blew up a German school bus because we live by that edict "Do not murder." My friends, open your eyes and see what I see. As Rabbi Akiva famously said, "Just as the garment testifies to the weaver, the door to the carpenter, the house to the builder, so to the entire world testifies to God's—to God the creator." In this book, which I published as a result of my debates with Richard Dawkins at Oxford—this is thirteen years old—I have about another minute—and surely science has found far greater wonders since then. If the earth were closer or further from the sun by just a little bit the heat or cold it generated would make life impossible. If the earth were not tilted on its axis 23 degrees, huge mountains of ice would pile up from the water vapor of the oceans. The earth revolves at the speed of 1000 miles per hour. If it were to revolve at just 100 miles per hour, night and day would increase ten times in duration; plants would be scorched in the day, seedlings would be frozen at night. If the moon were a bit closer to the earth, the tide would flood all lands, including the high mountains. If the oceans were deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would be absorbed and no plants could exist. If the atmophere were thinner, millions of meteors, which are burned up in the air, would fall to the earth and cause limitless devastation. While most substances contract when they freeze, water miraculously expands by eleventh of its volume. This makes ice float on the top and it allows the fish to survive. Until today the cause of this expansion perplexes scientists. Two weeks ago The New York Times Magazine wrote, January 13th, 2008, "The moral sense is an innate part of being human. We are born with innate morality, it is not acquired. The list of universals, collected by anthropologist Donald Brown includes moral concepts, including a distinguishing between right and wrong, empathy, fairness, admiration, generosity, shame." These are all character traits which are antithetical to evolution which are about ensuring that your genes survive. Finally my friends, listen to this: That little embryo, that little baby that'll have to grow up in a world of hope, hearing so much about how we're the only forlorn rock without any life surrounding us. It's born with 10,000 taste buds in its mouth. Some twelve trillion nerve endings will form in the baby's nose to help it detect fragrances of odors in the air. More than 100,000 nerve cells will be devoted to react to a Beethoven symphony. The piano has 240 strings but a baby's ear will have 240,000 hearing units. Those 10,000 spokes—by the way the million nerve endings of the optical nerves of the eye, which connect with the brain and somehow grows from two different directions and meets one million nerve endings, is so vast that, if were it mapped, the entire world's telephone cable system would be only a small fraction of it—a small fraction. It has no designer at all, according to Christopher Hitchens. Since I have to end, let me just tell you of course science says this phenomenal complexity came about through genetic mutation and natural selection. When I come back we'll explore whether that is the case or whether such vast complexity—such vast complexity could never have come about spontaneously and whether those who believe it did are guilty of cognitive dissonance, afraid of a truth so great that they're forced to deny it.
HITCHENS: Well, as some of you already know, never buy crackling from a mohel. The Rabbi's in the uplift business. "C'est son metier," as was once said. He thinks it's a point against me that some of the conclusions I draw are not so just to make one happy. I'm unused to arguing in this style. I will simply point out that that's what I'm expected to do in a debate that's organized along these lines against someone who thinks that evolution by means of natural selection, which is a hypothesis, theory, which, if tested, always works; which allows us to sequence the DNA of the influenza virus, so that next time it comes, unlike 1919, it won't kill us all; because we know of its kinship with ourselves; because we know we ourselves evolved from sightless bacteria; because we have the computer models by which the eye was evolved in forty different ways at least among different species so there's nothing left to argue with except with people—or about—except with people like Rabbi Boteach and Governer Huckabee of [inaudible] who, head as he is of a, what I would describe as a non-philo-semitic Christian organization, believes that Adam and Eve were real and indeed quite recent people. In my experience there's nothing to be done with points like this except to underline them. Governer Huckabee in fact doesn't even know what he doesn't believe. When putting up his chubby hand to say he was among those in the room who didn't believe in the theory of evolution he said, "No, I don't believe that I'm descended from a monkey." Well, as you know, the theory of evolution does not demand that you believe anything remotely like that. It points to a common ancestry between other primates and ourselves. If we were descended from monkeys we'd probably look quite a lot like Governer Huckabee. I just have to spend a second on the taunt about being a fundamentalist. To be a fundamentalist is to insist that something can be advanced on faith alone and without evidence. I will submit myself to your fairmindedness, ladies and gentlemen, and ask if anything I said to you or am saying now requires that of you, that you take and act of faith or leap of faith as if it were an ethical thing to do, or that you take one at all for anything I say. Of course I don't. There's nothing in common between me and any other faith-based person of any kind. It's one of the last-ditch arguments that our foes, the foes of science and science education and the theory of evolution by natural selection as the explanation for our presence here, have had to come up with in their desperation. Hatred, yes, I plead guilty to that. One of the many things I don't like about Christianity is that it tells me to love my enemies. I don't do that and I don't want you doing it for me either. Go love your own enemies, don't be loving mine. I'll get on with the business of destroying, isolating, combatting the enemies of civilization. I don't need any—[audience applause]—and I don't need any sickly advice from Nazareth from the man who, after all the Old Testament horrors that we know about, none of them included the punishment of hell, there's no hell in the Old Testament. It's to the credit of the Jewish people, actually. When God and Moses are done with injoining genocide on you which, by the way, they do, according to those books. (I don't know where—which books the Rabbi's been reading.) But he might want to tell you what happened to the Amalekites. Where are the Midianites? What happened to all these people? We know what we were told to do to them. So glad to think that those books are fictional because if they were true we would all be spattered with the blood of others to please a hideous authority. But no punishment: Once he's done with you, once the earth closed over you, that's it, there's no torture of the dead. Not until gentle Jesus, meek and mild, do you get that. My same point about the overrated figures of Dr. King and Mahatma Ghandi. It's a very bad thing, it seems to me, that especially among—in white, liberal society, the plaster saint of Martin Luther King has become iconographic. It's led to two bad consequences that I can think of. One: The great black secularists and socialists and trade union leaders, some of whom spoke at this very podium (Bayard Rustin, A Philip Randolph, and others, the people who actually organized the March on Washington, with their white friends, secular friends like Victor Reuther of the United Automobile Workers, the people who actually put this great movement of liberation onto the streets) are airbrushed from history. White people are given deliberately the impression, "Well black folks sure like their preachers and their pulpitmen." And, as a result, anyone who can claim to be a preacher, a fraud, a demogogue, a crook, like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, is automatically awarded the right to represent black America. This is not progress. Very well? Hope you understand me. That's not—it's not Dr. King's fault, that's not Dr. King's fault. But—as I say in my book—but it is that fault of those who make a cult out of him and who dare to say that without religious permission we wouldn't know how to demand equal rights for our African American brothers and sisters. Well excuse me, we don't need religious permission for that and the case for it had been made by the secular left long before Dr. King started preaching and that's precisely why he was always attacked in his lifetime, for having Communist and Socialist and Marxist friends, which he did, who had done most of the spadework. So, let's again be very clear what we're talking about. I'm sorry I do not believe the Dalai Lama's claim either to be hereditary king or hereditary God and I think anyone who does believe it is a fool. And there hasn't been even the pretense of an election in the Tibetan exile community that he's now been leading for almost half a century in Dharamsala in India. It is still run as an absolute despotism. People who like that sort of thing like that sort of thing. More to the purpose—and you'll let me know Mr. Chairman when I'm coming to the—I have rather a crazy salad of slanders to respond to and I don't want to miss any of them out. If you want to saw off the end of your penis, you're welcome. You're not to do it to a child who hasn't asked for it. Same with the genitals of a little girl. If she thinks later on she'd be better off without them, let her take, or have taken to her, a sharp instrument. If it proves it's good for AIDS, which it might well be, I've heard it's been said it's good for cervical cancer, let it be decided by the grown-up. It is not right, it is not moral, it is in fact wicked to submit children to mutilation of their genitalia, or to anyone, without their consent. Do you understand that this elementary point only needs to be made because of wickedness enjoined by religion? The Rabbi here's a fairly humane guy, he wouldn't, if he didn't think God was involved, ever consider mutilating the genitals of a child. But because it's a covenant with God anything can be done. Now don't you see, you laugh, but you should be crying. I said crying! Ok, suit yourself. Now, I'm not here to defend Zeus or Juno or Aphrodite, I say—I listed them in the list of barbaric and forgotten gods. The Jews who celebrate Hanukkah which, by the way I think you will have to agree, only became promoted in the United States among Jews—it's a relatively minor holiday—because of its nearness to Christmas day. The Jews who particularly care about their holiday are not arguing against the worship of Zeus. They're arguing against, as the Rabbi perfectly well knows, the idea of the Apicurus (what in orthodox Judaism is known as the heretic, the unbeliever). The Apicurus: the follower of Epicurus. Epicurus and Lucretius were the secular Hellenists, the ones who discovered that the world was made of atoms and if the gods, if they do exist, do not concern themselves with human affairs because, among other things, they avoid unnecessary pain. Now there's a discovery that's worth having. And the Jews want you to turn away—the Orthodox Jews want you to turn away from the unbelievable scholarship and originality of Humanism, of Epicurus and Lucretius, to look at a candle, "Hey look, goggle at this, it burned an extra day or two," or is it eight? This is what retards human intelligence and human civilization. Now of course you may—I'll close on this because I don't want to trespass on your time or the Rabbi's—of course you can be an atheist and you can be a genocist; you can be a fascist; you can be a Stalinist; you can be a nihilist; you can be a sadist. Atheism—unbelief, the repudiation of the supernatural, is not a necessary—excuse me—is not a sufficient condition for wisdom or for enlightenment. But it is, and I say it joylessly, humorlessly, gloomily, pessimistically, it is a necessary one. Thanks.
BOTEACH: My objection to the current religious-secular debate is that for so many centuries, Christopher Hitchens is right, religion had a closed mind. Who has the closed mind now? Who uses character assasination to portray anyone who has certain beliefs, that they try to root in logic, as closeminded, unscholarly? The gist of my argument is that Christopher Hitchens, who is one of America's most talented writers, has become so fanatical in his hatred of religion that he just invents things to decry it. For example, he can make fun of the fact that I don't believe in evolution, although I never even said that. I believe in evolutionary development, as the Torah itself says, six days of creation: The mineral was followed by the vegetable then the animal then the intellectual. The question is whether this is guided. The question is whether mathematical possibilities allows for this. But before I get to that, here's an example of just pure invention in order to make religion, Jews, the state of Israel, look bad. Listen to this, he's writing about the greatest scientists of the twentieth century saying don't be impressed that Einstein believed in God because he didn't believe in a god that we believe in, he was a deist and "offered the first presidency of the state of Israel. Einstein declined because of his many qualms about the way that Zionism was tending." That is pure, utter fabrication. First of all, Einstein was offered the second presidency (the first was Chaim Weizmann), he was offered it in 1952. He died three years later. The Princeton Review says he turned it down "because he had neither the desire nor the energy to run a country," he was a scientist. The New York Sun, in an essay about the subject, "He politely and sensibly declined on the grounds that it would interefere with his scientific work." He loved Israel, he was one of the great Zionists of the twentieth century. Anything to portray religion in a negative light. As far as the great complexity...
HITCHENS: [inaudible objection]
BOTEACH: [To Hitchens] Well, you continually invent in your book—I'll get to that in a moment. You'll have to just be patient as I dissect it. My friends, most people today accept evolutionary principles without being knowledgeable about them. I actually studied them and debated some fo the world's greatest evolutionary biologists: Richard Dawkins, four debates; John Maynard Smith, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sussex, the world's greatest—he was the greatest living evolutionist at the time. For evolution to work you need two things: You need genetic mutation and you need natural selection. Now genetic mutation means that when DNA replicates it introduces, through a mistake in copying itself, a new feature that is not existent in the parental type. So for that to happen you need mutation to do two things. Number one: They have to be very common because you have great complexity in the world. Number two: They have to be beneficial. Let's see what the world's greatest scientists say about mutation, because remember, Darwin knew nothing about mutation. Darwin believed in adaptation and he based it on the Lamarckian theory of acquired characteristics that preceded him. Here is what H. J. Muller, the world's foremost expert on mutation, Nobel Prize winner, says, "Mutations are of random nature. Accordingly, the vast majority, certainly well over 99%, are harmful." Nobel Prize winner Ernst Mayr—these are all evolutionists, most of them are atheists—"It is a considerable strain of one's credulity to assume that finely balanced systems, such as certain sense organs, could be improved by random mutation." Will the eye get better if it makes a mistake in it replication? In fact, the author of The Mystery of Heredity concludes, listen to this: "The vast majority of mutants in any organism are so detrimental as to believe that it is impossible for them to lead to complexity." These are people who all believe in evolution. Now Julian Huxley, from the most important of all evolutionary families wrote the following: "We should clearly have to breed," to get a horse, he says, "a million strains (a thousand squared) to get two favorable mutations. Up to a thousand to a millionth power to produce a horse," now listen to this, "a thousand to the millionth power to produce a horse," which isn't even as complex as the human brain, "becomes one with three million zeros written after it. That would take three volumes of five hundred pages just to print. No one would bet on anything so improbable happening and yet," ta-dah! "it has happened," (that's how he ends the quote). Now how could an evolutionist say on one hand mutation is destructive—I mean, if you're born with a third arm you're really not doing that well, I assure you. Even though it seems that you've gone forward you've gone backward. So how could this theory—and again, I'm not denying evolution, I'm saying evolution needs a guiding parent because the numbers are impossible. How could we believe that things—just a horse, one to the three millionth power, fifteen hundred pages to write the number, would this ever happen? So here's how a Harvard professor answers it: "The important point is that since the origin of life belongs in the category of at least once phenomena, time is on its side. However impossible we regard this event, given enough time, it will almost certainly happen at least once. Time in fact is the hero of the plot." I love this part, listen carefully, "Given so much time the impossible becomes possible, the possible probable, the probable virtually certain. One has to only wait because time itself performs miracles." Do you get it? I believe in a three-word entity called "God." Christopher Hitchens believes in a forward entity called "time." The essence of evolutionary theory, which is undeniable, is that you give enough time this is all going to happen. My friends, when I was young—and I'm not a scientist—I remember and you remember, they told us the world was four billion years old; then they said it was eight billion; now it went up to sixteen; soon it'll be twenty, thirty; soon they'll give it a trillion years. Now why? Because the more we discover the complexity of life and the impossibility of any of this stuff evolving the more—the more time we need. Let me tell you something: You can give this forever, forever. Something that mathematically has three hundred million zeros after it is never going to happen. I don't care if you have forever. That's why, as Christopher Hitchens said, it didn't happen on all other planets. If he's right and I'm wrong, why did life happen only here? We have sixteen billion years, there's natural selection there, there genetic mutation there, why did it happen there? One place? Oh he'll tell you that we haven't yet found it. Well we have all of these—he's seen the galaxy Andromeda, it's not there. Let me tell you, I'm not the only person who doesn't believe in evolution without guidance, and let me be clear about that. The greatest scientists, he passed away a few years ago but I met him at Oxford, from Harvard, Stephen Jay Gould, he didn't believe in evolution, he believed in punctuated equilibrium. I saw him debate Richard Dawkins. He destroyed evolution and he's an atheist. He said that the fossil record does not reflect evolution. Sir Fred Hoyle said that because there are trillions of mutations that would have to take place and none of those organisms would have survived, because the possibility of a genetic mutation is 99.9 negative detrimental and lethal to the organism, so Hoyle said you would have to find trillions of destroyed organisms that don't exist. In fact, it was Darwin himself who said that the greatest objection to his theory—because let's remember, The Origins of Species, published in 1863, was not a tome about the origin of life, it was a theory to explain the fossil records but the problem was that there were missing transitional links. So what he said was—I'd like to give you the exact quote—Darwin said that the imperfection of the fossil record come entirely to the fact that we have not dug sufficiently. (In 1863 that would make sense.) But my friends, we've now dug up the whole world. We're looking for oil; we're looking for diamonds; we've dug up everywhere; we've barely found them. So Stephen Jay Gould, as Christopher Hitchens well knows, doesn't believe in evolution, or didn't. He argued for punctuated equilibrium (great, great leaps which explains the dearth of fossils). To still be an evolutionist today you have to have faith. There is no evidence that transitional links barely exist. That's why when I—when Dawkins, again a friend of mine, I debated him—when he debated Stephen Jay Gould, he had nothing to say. What evidence? Where are these trillions and trillions and trillions of transitional links? Remember, you need billions of mutations to go from a single cell amoeba to the eye and yet amazingly—which would give us an untold number of failed transitional steps, and they don't exist. You know what's interesting to me as well? Christopher Hitchens—just give me thirty seconds here—Christopher Hitchens says that the eye's not impressive—everything about him is, "the eye is nothing and there's no complexity and what are you talking about? The organism is so ill-formed." He says that the eye is "the ineptitude of design," page 82, he even says, "The anatomy of the eye, in fact, shows anything but intelligence. It is built upside down and backwards." Well Charles Darwin didn't think so. Well I'm glad you don't like your eyes but...Darwin said, "I became sick when I thought of how the complexity of the eye could have evolved." He then said (Charles Darwin), "To suppose that the eye could have been formed by natural selection seems, I really confess, aburd in the highest possible degree." Then Christopher Hitchens says that—he says, "Why have we agreed so easily to call this exploded old non-theory," the theory of intelligent design, "by it's commonly new disguise of intelligent design? There's nothing intelligent about it." Let me therefore conclude with the words of Isaac Asimov, the great science fiction writer of the twentieth century: "In man there is a three-pound brain which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the universe." I mean, God almighty, all you need to do to prove the existence of God and how intelligent the design of our universe is, is to see how smart Christopher Hitchens is.
GILLMAN: We'll sit for the—we'll sit for the third part.
HITCHENS: Do you wanna sit? Well if I can't be erect I'd at least rather be upstanding. I have to sit for this. He says I gotta sit.
GILLMAN: You—we agreed.
HITCHENS: Alright. There was a terrible moment, I think it was when Lawrence Krauss was talking about the Andromeda galaxy when—and it's heading towards us—when someone got up and said to him, "Doctor, did you say it was going to collide with our galaxy in five billion years or five million?" Lawrence said, "Five billion." The guy said, "That's a huge relief. I thought he said five million there for a second." Now, on the fabrication point I can't sit still, or stand still if I was standing, be accused of that. The argument about Einstein and the state of Israel has nothing to do with religion at all. There may have been a religious element in his opposition to a Jewish state. He was for a state for Jews, but not for a Jewish state, a distinction that a lot of people have forgotten. The same distinction that was made by I. F. Stone, Judah Magnes, and others, often in debates under this roof, as a matter of fact. I don't know how much influence that had on his decision to reject the offer from Ben-Gurion, who at one point said to his cabinet, "What are we going to do if he say yes?" But I would be very surprised if there was nothing to do with it. At any rate it has no bearing whatever on the fact that Einstein believed only in Spinoza's god. In other words not, as Rabbi Shuley would have you believe, in God as an intervening or supervising or caring force but as one Spinoza identified, the pantheistic one. These distinctions are, I think, important and worth stressing. On the claim that Stephen Jay Gould did not believe in evolution, I really do not know where to begin. I think the best thing to do would be to read any chapter of any of his books, and in fact I think the—[audience applause]—I might indeed recommend the one where he has a very famous, very celebrated disagreement with Richard Dawkins on the question not of whether evolution occured, because nobody denies that. That it occured, we know. It's in the record of molecular biology and it's in the fossil record. There's a lot of argument about how and there is a certain amount of argument about the punctuations and a lot of those gaps only just now being filled in, only just now we're discovering intermediate species, partly vertebrate yet amphibian, for example, a very, very important one, recently in northern Canada. It's in Gould's book on the Burgess Shale that the most sobering point is made, a point that even I as a materialist find rather shaking—I don't, by the way, deny things because they don't cheer me up. It's not my attitude to evidence, but, I would like to think too that, you know, I was a little bit more than the primate that I so evidently am. But in Stephen Jay Gould's account of the Burgess Shale, which I think is his best book, is the most beautiful, the most finished, and the most polished of his books, he says there's a Cambrian vertebrate, little creature called Pikaia gracilens, that has the beginnings of a backbone. It could've got washed out in one of the great subsequent dyings outs, it could've done. If it had, human beings would have never appeared. This is the first we can find of a vertebrate. It could very easily have gone but it didn't, and as a result we're here having this conversation. You can say that's miraculous if you like. You can say that only God would have thought of such a thing. But—and that's the way you'd think if that's the way you thought. Because there will always be people who will say, "Oh well, we used not to think about these fossils, we thought that was all nonsense." It was argued until very recently by the godly, "God put the bones in the rocks to test our faith. At least we don't deny they're there, they're just there as a test." Now you have animatronic dinosaurs playing with animatronic children in the creation museum that just opened in Ohio. And there are those who say, "We didn't used to think about that the Big Bang could possibly be true." In fact the Big Bang itself is a term, like Tory, like suffragette, like impressionist and other terms, originally evolved as a term of abuse, as a term of mockery, instead adopted by its exponents. "Big Bang" was what Fred Hoyle used to say to try and dismiss the idea. He'd say, "Some people thought that it began with a big bang." Now we know there was a time when everything was inside something about the size of a baseball that's now four thousand billion galaxies. And what my daughter wants to know is what was outside the baseball. And I don't know. But we know that much. People say, "Oh well, nothing so amazing could've happened without God." So, there's a name for this kind of argument, a very old and important name—also comes largely from work at Oxford university though it's actually attributable largely to Sir Karl Popper—it's called unfalsifiability. It's an argument you can't beat because it isn't an argument. If you say, "Well, no I see how complex everything is. It would have to be God who is responsible," there's no was I can disprove that. There's no way I can falsify it. And unfalsifiability, counter-intuitively, is, quite rightly considered to be a test, not of the strength of an argument, but of its extreme weakness—in fact, of it's non-existence as an argument. Now I left unanswered a point about social Darwinism and—if I could have—ok—it was in fact at the Scopes trial that the contention of William Jennings Brian, not just that evolution had not occurred, but that it shouldn't have occurred because it would mean that only the fittest would survive. Now, we don't want that to be true and we can actually take steps to make sure, as humans, that it isn't absolutely the only rule of existence. When the Rabbi quite misrepresented what I said about abortion, I was talking about how nature aborts so many unborn children, not how humans do or should or might have to, but how nature takes care of it, and I said because when we were on the Savanna and sharing the territory and diminishing in size as a tribe ourselves and having to bear live young in an environment full of predators, probably if we bore eight or nine children, some of them sickly with lolling heads and diarrhea, we wouldn't be able to pick them up and carry them and run away with them fast enough. It's a fact. Because it's a fact and because it's unpleasant and, because as Darwin says, it betrays, has with it, as everything about us does, the lowly stamp of our original origin, doesn't mean it isn't so. So the beginning of wisdom I would say is the recognition of what science has been able to teach us and neither to deny that, as the Rabbi does in one tone of voice, or to claim that it shows how clever God is, with another tone. Make up your mind, you can't have it both ways and actually you're wrong twice. Thanks.
BOTEACH: I don't care how much you dislike religion and I don't care how false you believe the faith in God is, you can't invent facts to sustain your argument. You can't be unscientific when you complain that religion is unscientific. That's the whole problem with this book; it's the problem with everything you've heard tonight; it's the problem with the utter distortions that we continue to hear. You said that your attack about Einstein, which you didn't respond to because you clearly invented out of whole cloth this idea that he didn't want to be president because of Zionism you said it's not about religion. What about this: Speaking about Dr. Baruch Goldstein, Christopher Hitchens writes, "While serving as a physician in the Israeli army, he had announced that he would not treat non-Jewish patients, such as Israeli Arabs, on the Sabbath. As it happens he was obeying Rabbinic law in declining to do this, as many Israeli religious courts have confirmed." I challenge Mr. Hitchens to name a single Jewish court in the entire world that would ever rule that a non-Jew should not be treated on the Sabbath. In fact if he names it I will buy a hundred copies of his book give it to —talking about a mainstream, just a regular Jewish court—I will give a hundred copies of his book to my religious friends. But if he fails I challenge him to buy a hundred copies of my book—or let's make that a thousand. Not only does the Talmud obligate us to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath, in fact, Noah Feldman, my dear friend, Rhodes scholar at Oxford, who debated me on this subject, he famously wrote about the debate in the Talmud how there was a steering within the Talmud that maybe you shouldn't and this is because the non-Jews they were talking about Roman centurions. That's when the Talmud was written. These were horrible troops that persecuted Jews. But even then they said that you have to. It's a law in Judaism. The court would be stripped of its authority in a moment and would be declared racist. In fact, Christopher Hitchens, who prtrays Jews throughout this book as being closeminded, racist. He attacks Israel non-stop based on non-existent evidence. He doesn't even know Judaism, which he should study it before he writes about it. I mean I didn't just get up and talk about evolution, I tried to study the texts. I'm not a great scientist but I debated leading scientists and I prepared for those debates. You should prepare if you're going to write about this. Avos 4:3: "Do not despise any man." The Rabbis declared, "Even a gentile who studies God's law is equal to the high priest," 2000 years ago. (A non-Jew equal to the high priest.) Tosefta Sanhedrin 13: "The righteous of all nations have a share in what is to come." (Non-Jews go to heaven.) Tanna Devei Eliahu Rabba 9: "I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses, any individual, whether gentile of Jew, man or woman, servant or mate can bring the divine presence upon himself in accordance with his deeds." That is a slander against Jews to say that any Jewish court would say that non-Jews should not be treated and the state of Israel treats every single Arab and Palestinian even when terrorists are the ones who are brought to the hospitals. The possibility of the human eye evolving has been equated to monkeys randomly hitting the keys on a typewriter typing Shakespeare Hamlet—you've heard this—not once but four quadrillion times. Now, again, he said that Stephen Jay Gould believed in evolution. He believed in punctuated equilibrium. Evolution means to slowly evolve with great time. He believed in these vast quantum leaps. Read the books, see who's telling the truth. He did not believe in slow evolution. Dawkins is one of the last people who still believes it. Fred Hoyle, one of the smartest British scientists, mathematicians of the twentieth century, famously wrote, "Life cannot have a random beginning. Troops of monkey thundering away at random typewriters could not produce the works of Shakespeare," but listen why, "for the practical reason that the whole observable universe is not large enough to contain the waste paper baskets required for the deposition of the wrong attempts." You just heard Christopher HItchens say, "We're beginning to find the transitional links." God almighty, we're only beginning? Do you realize how many trillions of these links have to exist? Where are they? We have found oil, we have found gold, we have found diamonds. They should be here on the desk. They should be here in my notes. Finally, finally, finally, this whole thing about values: My friends, you remember sadly that, I spoke about Francis Crick before. His partner James Watson who mapped the double helix DNA molecule, you remember that tragically and sadly on October 14, 2007 he told The London Times that he's inherently gloomy about the prospect for Africa because all of our policies are based on the idea that blacks and whites are of equal intelligence, but the evidence says that's not the case. It's just echoing what Thomas Huxley, the famous Darwinian bulldog, greatest progenitor of evolution in history said, "No rational man, cognisant of the facts, believes that the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man." To his dying day Charles Darwin himself still believed that the blacks were the missing link between the white and apes. Now, that doesn't mean that every evolutionist is a racist, God forbid. Christopher Hitchens is at the forefront of defending valuing human life around the world and he is a phenomenal hero, but it does mean that when he goes out to save human life, it's not because of evolutionary ethics, it's because of religion that declared the infinite sanctity of life. My point before, quoting him about miscarriages was not that he would ever argue for euthanizing infants, it's rather the fact that he doesn't argue for that in acknowledging that these Down Syndrome babies are nothing but a burden and can contribute nothing and they're a burden to everyone around them, they will suck out their parents' resources...
GILLMAN: Rabbi Boteach I have to stop you, ok?
BOTEACH: It's because he observes the Ten Commandments that says, "Do not murder." It's our values he's embraced.
GILLMAN: We have—Ladies and gentlemen we have a number of questions from the floor and we have a number of questions that arrived to us from around the country and one of them, from Cincinnati, Ohio was precisely the question that, were I permitted to engage the debaters, would have wanted to ask myself. So I ask our two presenters, I ask Christopher Hitchens first and then Rabbi Boteach second in two or three minutes, sorry, that's about all you have, the question is, "Is it possible to talk about 'does God exist' without asking when you use the word 'god' what do you mean?"
HITCHENS: Very good. But it won't have escaped your attention rabbi or the audience I think that I was asked to answer a direct challenge by the Rabbi a moment ago and I won't have it said that I didn't. On the matter of whether an Israeli court ever ruled that Dr. Baruch Goldstein was right and he couldn't refuse to help on non-Jew on the Shabbat, I refer you to my great mentor in Spinoza studies Dr. Israel Shahak, S-H-A-H-A-K, his book The Jewish Religion and Its Attitude To Non-Jews, he the very brave professor of chemistry at The Hebrew University who brought that case and lost it in the high court in Jerusalem and a very celebrated write-up of the topic in Haaretz. I would of course never make such a suggestion...
BOTEACH: High court's a secular court.
HITCHENS: Excuse me, and the Rabbinical courts also. He lost the whole case, very important. Look it up, the book is easily found, it's published by Pluto Press. Also, if you look up the history as told by him and his colleague, Dr. Norton Mezvinsky of Dr. Baruch Goldstein you will discover things that will make you glad that, as I said in a talk which you can also look up at the Spertus Institute (Jewish University in Chicago) recently, very glad but it seems the Jews have a gene for atheism. The great Jewish contribution has always been to Humanism and to human solidarity and it is that, and not the wailings and bleatings to an empty sky, that distinguish it. Now...
GILLMAN: Gentlemen, can we talk about—can we talk about God, please?
HITCHENS: Yes, and to the topic—well, to the question of—I'm sorry, I could hardly let such a challenge go in all decency—now, I can do the rest very quickly, it's called the ontological argument: It says that if you can name the idea of a god, surely there must be something existent, or real at any rate, that you're talking about. It's not the teapot that Bertrand Russell postulates on orbiting the sun; to talk about is is to postulate it. Well, this of course is a piece of circular reasoning, but I hope I helped to clarify it in my opening statement by saying there's every difference between being a deist and a theist. Science and reason cannot disprove the existence of a first cause or creator. It cannot do that. We can only say that everything works without that assumption and there is no evidence on the other side of the case. This seems to ask to license unbelief. To the theistic argument, of a god who is actually interested in answering prayers, cares who you marry, who you go to bed with, what you eat and whose—which side wins in a war, or so forth, we say that this is human propaganda, self-evidently man-made and the so-called miraculous evidence for it has been repeatedly and conclusively falsified and disproved.
BOTEACH: You know I must be one of those half-thinking primates or half-intelligent primates that Christopher Hitchens speaks of because it strains credulity—did the rest of you just hear a great writer say the Isreali Supreme Court, respected throughout the world—throughout the world for its fairness, judiciousness, ruled that you cannot help save a non-Jewish life on the Sabbath? It's not even a religious court.
HITCHENS: It's a religious...
BOTEACH: It's always attacked for being the most secular court. The religious people don't like that court.
HITCHENS: It's the religious—it's the Rabbinical court.
BOTEACH: You said the high court.
HITCHENS: I said the—yeah, high Rabbinical court.
BOTEACH: No, you said high court. Maybe the Rabbinical court but...
HITCHENS: I did not say—I did not say the Israeli...
BOTEACH: Well, then let me just say if you're wrong, if you're now going back and saying...
HITCHENS: You mentioned...
BOTEACH: Ok fair enough.
HITCHENS: You mentioned character assassination...
BOTEACH: How could you write that?
HITCHENS: You be very careful now.
BOTEACH: Wait, wait, let me finish, let me finish, let me finish, let me finish.
HITCHENS: No, you be very careful, sir.
BOTEACH: You have the book in front of you, even though I bought it it's my book.
HITCHENS: You be very careful, sir.
BOTEACH: Where's the footnote? When you write something in a book that a Jewish court will not treat a non-Jewish life don't you think you ought to cite a footnote?
HITCHENS: I gave you—I gave—I've given...
GILLMAN: Gentlemen, please.
HITCHENS: This is, this is—wait a minute. A second ago you mentioned the term "character assassination." Be careful your character doesn't committed suicide in front of this everyone in this room.
BOTEACH: That's pretty—that's pretty harsh.
HITCHENS: I gave careful chapter, name, author, and book citations knowing that I'm televised, willing to stand up for what I said. Don't you try and misquote me in front of everybody.
BOTEACH: Ok, I want to repeat...
HITCHENS: You'll only succeed in looking even dumber than you do now.
BOTEACH: Ok, I want to repeat...
GILLMAN: Rabbi—Rabbi Boteach...
BOTEACH: Wait, wait, I want to repeat—I'm just...
GILLMAN: Can we talk about God now? Can we talk about God?
BOTEACH: Ok, well, I want to repeat that we heard tonight that a high Rabbinical court said that you cannot save a non-Jewish life on the Sabbath. That is absolutely false and we will look it up—we'll have to look it up after the debate.
HITCHENS: And a hundred books riding on it.
BOTEACH: And that's why he can't cite the court.
HITCHENS: Hundred books.
BOTEACH: He cites a book but I want the court.
HITCHENS: Hundred books riding on it, big boy.
BOTEACH: That's absolutely not true but be that as it may...
GILLMAN: We'll come back to this. Rabbi Boteach...
HITCHENS: I'll be there.
GILLMAN: Is it possible to talk about does God exists without asking, "When you use the word 'god' what do you mean?"
BOTEACH: When I use the word 'god' I use it to connote the sumpreme moral authority. He who said that murder is wrong and that life is of infinite value which is why life to us is so precious; which is why, in this great country, in the United States, we do take care of our elderly; it's the reason why we don't accept the Kevorkians of this world who want to put people to death once they believe that they're life is riddled with too much pain. I have sat with teenagers who wanted to kill themselves, thinking that their life was riddled with so much pain. My job, at that moment, was to be reminded that life is of infinite value. When I speak of 'god', obviously when an evolutionist speaks of god he thinks of a myth, but as I stated earlier, my contention is that evolution, which I accept with a designer watching its slow ascendency, evolution believes that time is 'god,' that if you give anything enough time you will have a miracles. That's just the euphemism. Time becomes a euphamism for 'god.' The average secular evolutionist like Christopher Hitchens believes that given enough time anything can happen. Which, by the way, utterly undermines everything he said earlier about the hopelessness of our situation and galaxies that are going to destroy us because, God willing, time will save us. And no doubt, it will come to our salvation. I should say that the reason why people like Hitler so hated religion, because he always identified religion as his greatest enemy—like from Martin Bormann's Table Talk: "The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was Christianity, we have no sort of use for fairy tales invented by Jews"—is because Hitler did not seek to destroy the Jews. He sought to impose a new value system on the world, a racial value system which is the natural outgrowth of a belief in evolutionary phylums and strata and different races. The Bible establishes that we are all one race, we are all equally created in the image of God, it does not in any way mean that an evolutionist is a racist, God forbid. It means that when he or she is not it's because they accept the validity of the Ten Commandments, as I said earlier. And as many philosophers warn against, you cannot have cut-flower ethics. Hitchens would like to take the beautiful values we get from religion: charity, generosity, goodness, faith, hope, etc., all those things that keep us going, all those things that have made someone like Barack Obama so popular in the United States, and he would like to say that we can have it without religion. It's like taking flowers, cutting from their bed, their fertile soil and believing they're going to last. Put them in a vase and they'll die.
GILLMAN: Rabbi Boteach, can I interrupt you please? I have to—When I speak to my students about God I invariably tell them "If anbody should say to you, 'Do you believe in God?' the only appropriate answer to that question is, 'Tell me what you mean by "God" and I'll tell you if I believe in that god or not.' " So, we are back to this question: Is this a New Yorker cartoon kind of god that sits in the sky and clouds, an old man wrapped in a kalik and a kaftan? Is it a Spinozistic god that we're talking about? Is it a god of the Jewish naturalist Mordecai Kaplan, the power that makes for salvation? Is it a Maimonidean god, knowledge knowing itself? What is your image? What is it...
HITCHENS: You want him to say more about this?
GILLMAN: What—I want him to say more and then I want you to say more.
HITCHENS: I think you're in a minority on that point. I mean, I thought we both answered that question to the best of his ability.
GILLMAN: I did not—sorry, I did not hear an answer. I did not hear an answer, Rabbi Boteach.
BOTEACH: For me God is He who fills the infinite expanse of space; it is He who is the origin of life; it is He who is the absolute moral authority to determine what is right and what is wrong; God is He who hears my prayer when I cry in moments of distress; God is He who looks after the helpless and God is He who I am sometimes very angry at for failing to look after the helpless. The essence of Judaism is the word "Israel" (he who wrestles with God). God is also He with whom I have a relationship. I have a right to challenge God. I...
HITCHENS: Rabbi, you asked for this. You asked for this.
GILLMAN: I asked for this. Fine, if I asked for it I will then interrupt it and...
HITCHENS: You asked for white noise. You asked for white noise and you got it.
GILLMAN: And I will then—I will then address a question to Mr. Hitchens: Though the burden of proof is on the faithful for the existence of God, do you believe there is a discovery that can cause a paradigm shift, maybe advances in neuroscience?
HITCHENS: Well all the evidence so far is the other way. I mean, the heavens get emptier, if you like, all the time. I think the unravelling of the DNA string is probably the most conclusive recent thing to shows us both that racism, of which, I'm aware of, Rabbi Shuley and I at least agree, and creationism are alike, illusions. We are part of the natural order. We're not a specially created species, we have no unique privilege, we are only too aware that Darwin was right on the point of the stamp of our lowly origins. It's best to begin, I think, from that realistic understanding because, bleak though it may be (at least it's realistic), it doesn't mean we have to live without irony; doesn't mean we have to live without humor; doesn't mean we have to live without solidarity or any of the other things that make life A) bearable and B) possible. You may or may not have noticed that Rabbi Boteach has been contradicting himself directly all evening: He began by saying our good qualities, our heroic and noble and gentle and generous qualities, are innate in us. He's quite right in saying that. Yes, they are innate in us, or in most of us, those who are psycho- or sociopathic. That is precisely the point: Religion borrows its morality from us, not we from religion. God is man-made and I can very briefly underline this point and make it not just an assertion on my part by putting it in the form a dialectical question: Name me, if you can, a noble action performed or a noble thought uttered by a believer in God that could not be uttered by a non-believer, alright? I've issued this challenge in innumerable places and spaces now and have not yet had a response. I await one. There's another question that goes with it, a corollary question: Name a wicked action performed or a wicked thing said by someone purely because of their religious faith. You don't even have to blink before you've thought of one. I rest my case. Thank you.
GILLMAN: One final question for Rabbi Boteach: Rabbi, why did God play favorites and make the Jews the chosen people?
BOTEACH: Well, clearly because Christopher Hitchens likes us so much. In fact, this is one of most misunderstood concepts in all of Judaism. It is one that Christopher Hitchens not only misunderstands but destructively misportrays in his book. God never played favorites with the Jews. The word "chosen" [?] ("I made you a light to the nations") is never a noun, it is a verb. It connotes an activity. You are chosen by God to spread the light of God and the laws of God to all the inhabitants of the earth; to tell them how they too are God's children; to tell them how they too matter; how they too are loved by God. That is why Judaism always insists on not converting people to our faith because you do not upgrade when you become a Jew. We're the only nation on earth that exists on the non-copyright to truth held by a religion. Christopher Hitchens actually uses the concept of "choseness" to, sadly, justify anti-semitism. Quote, page 250, "By claiming to be chosen in an exclusive copyright with the Almighty, the Jews invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism." So we're hated because we told the world that we're chosen. Well, my friends, the British sort of think they're chosen. I lived there for eleven years. They sing this song called "Rule Britannia! Britannia Rules the World!" No one hated the British for that.
GILLMAN: I believe it's "the waves."
BOTEACH: Hold on. "Rules" or "waves." Well, they never really took the British and sort of gassed them or anything like that. The Japanese have a rising sun on their flag because they believe they are the land of the rising sun. The sun rises for them, I don't see that there's any particular hatred for the Japanese for that belief. Marcus Garvey—I just filmed a television show in Jamaica with my famiy—Marcus Garvey founded black power in the 1920s with the famous motto "Black is beautiful." I didn't see people segregating blacks because of that belief. On the contrary, they were hated well before it; they were hated for no reason at all. To say that Jews are hated for a claim to chosenness is to justify the most pernicious hatred in the history of the world.
GILLMAN: Ok, but let's go back to the liturgical formulation.
BOTEACH: And as I said, God never chose us and never played favorites. It was not that you are sufficient and now make everybody like you, get everyone to emulate you because your path is the only correct path. Going as far back as 900 years the great Jewish philosopher Mimonedes, considered the greatest Jewish mind of all time, said that Christianity serves a godly purpose as does Islam. He respected and admired Islam. He said that Jews could even pray in Mosques because they don't worship any kind of image, any kind of icon. So, God never chose the Jews as a form of favoritism, He gave us this incredible mission. One might even say that it's a humbling motif rather than one that breeds arrogance. It means that if we ever think for amoment that we're "it," that we are the end, God made us the means to other ends. Be sure that we spread the knowledge of God. I should say that, you know, I believe that we have to keep all these conversations decent and ethical and moral. And one of my major points tonight is—I don't care that Christopher Hitchens is an atheist, he has every right to be and I respect all my atheist friends and most people who know me know that most of my friends are atheists—my problem is when you distort—because I spend my time primarily among secular people—but when you distort and invent and when you make statements like a claim to chosenness breeds antisemitism. No, the Jews should not be blamed for the hatred shown to them. We should never blame a victim. It's not the woman who dresses in a suggestive way that leads her to being raped, God forbid. It is hatred that leads to those things and that's why God said in the Ten Commandments that we cannot kill, we cannot steal, we have to live by a moral code and finally, it's the reason why in the most moral—greatest moral affirmation in the history of the world God says in Genesis II: He created every human being, regardless of religion, creed, color or faith, or non-faith, in His indelable image.
GILLMAN: And as a final note I assume you mean "His" literally.
BOTEACH: I don't mean it literally because God has no gender.
GILLMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Rabbi Boteach, thank you, Mr. Hitchens, thank you all.
HITCHENS: What?! Well, no maybe they've heard enough of us, maybe they've had enough of us. [audience: "No!"] Well then, just—I should hate to leave it like that. Since he's been so generous as to claim so many atheists among his friends I should say that some of my worst enemies are Jews. And certainly those who didn't get the news, again rather discrepently delivered, that either God did or did not make a covenant with the Jewish people. I think, of course you're right in saying that he didn't because there's no such person and the events described in those books never took place. Israeli archaeology has conclusively shown that the books of Moses are false propaganda. It's a jolly good thing because otherwise there would have been a covenant that said you can kill everyone in Canaan and take your property as long as you keep your covenant with me and as long as you mark it in your flesh. Now don't go saying that that was not part of that fictional religion while it was strong. And I ask again, what happened to the Amalekites, what happened to the Midianites if this fiction is all that it is? It was actually Lord Alfred Douglas who, I think, said in a famous, nasty little poem, "How odd of God to choose the Jews" to whom someone in Oxford replied, "Not odd of God / The Goyim annoy'im." But I will say that those who flirt with this kind of specialness—it's true that every naiton—almost every nation—has a feeling of being favored by the divine, not a covenant at Mount Sinai exactly, a location that has yet to be discovered but let's say "Joan of Arc" or indeed "Rule Brittania!" a song, when I lived in England, I refused to sing, precisely because, as most of my friends would decline, precisely because it did express a concept of racial and national superiority and to say that it did earn English and British people dislike, that we're simply victims blaming ourselves and people don't like us for shouting out about our supremacy is absurd and self-pitying.
BOTEACH: How could you compare dislike of the British to antisemitism?
HITCHENS: I didn't, I didn't. You did.
BOTEACH: This is absurd.
HITCHENS: I didn't, big boy, you did.
BOTEACH: This is absurd. This is absurd, how could you compare the British being unpopular to the Haulocost? God almighty.
HITCHENS: Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, who made the comparison?
AUDIENCE: He did.
BOTEACH: No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no. You know...
HITCHENS: Well if the kippour fits why don't you just wear it? Well now if...
BOTEACH: I should be allowed to respond to what you said about the Amalekites and the Hittites.
HITCHENS: Well I have a...
BOTEACH: I should be allowed to respond to this. You know my friends...
HITCHENS: I haven't gotten my trousers off yet.
BOTEACH: I lived in Britain for eleven years and it's a country that I came to love and admire. I had the great honor of being the rabbi at Oxford University. And I befriended people like Richard Dawkins, who became a dear friend, and in England, until today, the statesmen who is most respected is Winston Churchill. I think that's fair to say, stastically, popularity. He ordered the indiscriminate bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, these cities were obliterated three months before the war ended. In Dresden 250,000 died, in Hamburg 330,000 died, there were cyclones created by the fire bombs, winds 200 miles per hour from the fires. Four months later Harry S. Truman, who was voted our second-most popular president of the twentieth century, ordered the indiscriminate nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But this did not mean that these were immoral men. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was voted the most popular, the most effective of twentieth century presidents, he participated in many of those decisions for the indiscriminate slaughter of cilivians including men, women and children. It's just that they found...
GILLMAN: Rabbi Boteach, what does this have to do with God?
BOTEACH: I'm sorry? I'm answering his thing about the Hittites. It's just that they felt that certain war measure sometimes called for very, very extreme measures that, in any other context, would be immoral. Judaism would never today allow the murder of Hittites, Amalekites. In fact, Christopher Hitchens—it was only done in the context of war at the time and God specifically forbade it forever thereafter in the same way that we would never bomb a German city today or use a nuclear bomb against another nation. You know that—[audience disapproval]—well I don't think we would. Maybe the United States would nuke someone, then so be it, I don't believe we would. I should tell you that Christopher Hitchens writes in his book that rabbis debate whether the Palestinians are today the Amalekites and that is why they ought to be—and debate whether they should be expelled. Again, name a single mainstream rabbi—there's always fringes and to the extent to which fringes are kept on the fringe they could never ever define the mainstream—name any mainstream rabbi that would ever say that. In fact, every Orthodox Jew, or anyone who's knowledgeable with the Torah here will know, that we are not—that Amalek is a concept that we have no capacity to identify, according to the Torah itself. We don't know who they are. It's an ethereal concept, so much so that when the Jews of Hevron—[audience laughs at Gillman blowing his nose]—when Baruch Goldstein killed the Palestinians who were at prayer in their mosque, the very next morning, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs—I was living in England—called it an abomination as did virtually every other rabbi. My house was firebombed that night at Oxford. (Until today the police don't know by how.) Thank God a Spanish au pair who lived with us saved our childrens' lives by putting it out. (My wife and I were out it was a Saturday night, it was the night after Purim if you recall.) I still got up—I called a press conference and I said that what Baruch Goldstein did to those Palestinians who are our brothers, who are equally God's children, is the highest disgrace that Judaism, an Orthodox jury, has faced in my lifetime. So let's never say that this is justified and that's why, I mean, with all due respect, in my own opnion, if you're going to write a book—and you're a great scholar, and I love your writing, most of the time—and if you're going to say that "Rabbis say this and this court said that," I really believe there ought to be a footnote or a name. Until today—and you're still not quoting a name, you're quoting a book of something, etc. (There is no such thing as a high Jewish court in Halakha, by the way.)
HITCHENS: You would take, perhaps, the name of Rabbi [?] yourself, the head of The National Religious Party, very much sought-after Israeli politician as well as Rabbi...
GILLMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, good night. Thank you.
HITCHENS: And also the—and I direct you again...
GILLMAN: Thank you Rabbi Boteach, thank you Mr. Hitchens.
HITCHENS: I direct you again to Dr. Isreal Shahak's essay, "The Significance of Baruch Goldstein." From now on, I'm sorry, I can only be polite to someone who has a receipt and a book. Thanks for coming.
BOTEACH: Thank you.
HITCHENS: Hundred books.
BOTEACH: Hundred books.
HITCHENS: Hundred books.