[Introduction by moderator and Notre Dame Professor of Philosophy Michael Rea]
HITCHENS: Thank you professor, very generous introduction. Thank you ladies and gentlemen. My first duty, which is also a pleasure, is to thank the University of Notre Dame for inviting me onto its terrain. And Mr. O'Duffey, in particular, in an institution that's also identified, I believe, with the great history and people of Ireland, for taking the revenge of arranging for English weather to greet me. Now, I could—I've been given fifteen minutes, which isn't that much, but I could do it, in a way, in two, like this, as a proposition: When Getrude Stein was dying—some of you will know this story—she asked, as her last hour approached: "Well, what is the answer?" And when no one around her bed spoke she rephrased and said, "Well in that case, what is the question?" And I'm speaking tonight—we are speaking tonight—we've met tonight at an institution of higher learning, and the greatest obligation that you have is to keep an open mind and to realize that, in our present state, human society, we're more and more overborn by how little we know, and how little we know about more and more, or, if you like, how much more we know, but how much less we know as we find out how much more and more there is to know. In these circumstances, which I believe to be undeniable, the only respectable intellectual position is one of doubt, skepticism, reservation and free—and I'd stress free and unfettered inquiry, in that lies, as it has always lain, our only hope. So you should beware always of those who say that these questions have already been decided. In particular, to those who'll tell you that they've been decided by reservation—excuse me, by revelation, that there are a handed-down commandments and precepts that predate, in a sense, ourselves and that the answers are already available if only we could see them and that the obligation upon ourselves to debate ethical and moral and historical and other questions is thereby dissolved. It seems to me that is the one position—it's what I call the faith position—that has to be discarded first. So, thank you for your attention and I'm done, except that it seems that I have a reputation for demagogy to live up to. When I come to a place like this I read the local paper (the Campus Observer, in this case) and I was sorry to see that Dinesh and I are not considered up to the standards of Father Richard McBrien, whose exacting standards, I dare say, are out of our reach. And I was also sorry to see myself and others represented in other papers, and in particular by a distinguished cleric in St. Peters on Good Friday, who made a speech through which His Holiness the Pope sat in silence, Father Cantalamessa, saying that people like myself are part of a pogrom, a persecution comparable only to that of the Jews with the church in mind. This is the first I've ever been accused of being part of a pogrom or a persecution, but as long as it's going on I'll also add that it's the only pogrom that I've ever heard of that's led by small, deaf and dumb children whose cries for justice have been ignored and while that is the definition of the pogrom I'll continue to support it because I think it demonstrates very clearly the moral superiority of the secular concept of justice and law over Canon Law and religious law, with its sickly emphasis on self-exculpation in the guise of forgiveness and redemption. That's not the only reason why religion is a problem: it's a problem principally because it is man-made. Because, to an extent, it is true as the church used to preach when it had more confidence, that we are, in some sense, originally sinful and guilty. If you want to prove that, you only have to look at the many religions that people have constructed to see that they are indeed the product of an imperfectly-evolved primate species, about half a chromosome away from a chimpanzee, with a prefrontal lobe that's too small, an adrenaline gland that's too big and various other evolutionary deformities about which we're finding out ever more; a species that is predatory, a man is a wolf to man, Homo-homini lupus, as has well been said, a species that's very fearful of itself and others and of the natural order and, above all, very, very willing, despite its protestations of religious modesty, to be convinced that the operations of the cosmos and the universe are all operating with us in mind. Make up your mind whether you want to be modest or not, but don't say that you were made out of dust, or if you're a woman out of a bit of rib, or if you're a Muslim out of a clot of blood and you're an abject sinner, born into guilt but add, "Nonetheless, let's cheer up: the whole universe it still designed with you in mind." This is not modesty or humility, it's a man-made false consolation, in my judgment, and it does great moral damage. It warps—it begins by warping what we might call our moral sense of proportion. I wish that was all that could be said, though I think that's the most important thing. I ought to say why I think it ought to be credited and I ought to add that my colleagues Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have been very generous in this respect. This debate would be uninteresting if religion was one-dimensional. Religion was our first attempt to make sense of our surroundings. It was our first attempt and cosmology, for example, to make sense of what goes on in the heavens. It was our first attempt and what I care about the most, the study of literature and literary criticism. It gave us texts to deliberate and even to debate about even if some of those texts were held to be the word of God and beyond review and beyond criticism, nonetheless the idea is introduced and it had never been introduced before. It's our first attempt at health care, in one way. If you go to the shaman or the witchdoctor or you make the right propitiations, the right sacrifices and you really believe in it you do have a better chance of recovery. Everybody knows it's a medical fact: morale is an ingredient in health and it was our first attempt at that, too. It was our first very bad attempt at human solidarity because it was tribe-based but nonetheless it taught that there were virtues in sticking together. And it was our first attempt, I would say, also—this is not an exhaustive list—at psychiatric care and dealing with the terrible loneliness of the human condition, at what happens when the individual spirit looks out, shivering, into the enormous void of the cosmos and contemplates its own extinction and deals with the awful fear of death. This was the first attempt to apply any balm to that awful question. But, as Charles Darwin says of our own evident kinship with lower mammals and lower forms of life, "We bear," as he puts it in the Origins of Species, "We bear always the ineffaceable stamp of our lowly origin." I'll repeat it, "the ineffaceable stamp of our lowly origin." Religion does the same thing. It quite clearly shows that it's the first, the most primitive, the most crude, and the most deluded attempt to make sense. It is the worst attempt, but partly because it was the first. So the credit can be divided in that way. And the worst thing it did for us was to offer us certainty, to say, "These are truths that are unalterable; they're handed down from on high; we only have to learn God's will and how to obey it in order to free ourselves from these dilemmas." That's probably the worst advice of all. Heinrich Heine says that if you're in a dark wood on a dark night and you don't know where you are and that you've never been through this territory before you may be well advised to hire as a guide the local mad, blind old man who can feel his way through the forest because he can do something you can't. But when the dawn breaks and the light comes, you would be silly if you continued to operate with this guide, this blind, mad old man, who was doing his best with the first attempt. To give you just two very contemporary examples: to have a germ theory of disease relieves you of the idea that plagues are punishments. That's what the church used to preach, that plagues come because the Jews have poisoned the wells, as the church very often preached, or that the Jews even exist and are themselves a plague, as the church used to preach when it felt strong enough and also was morally weak enough and had such little evidence. You can free yourself from the idea that diseases are punishments or visitations. If you study plate tectonics you won't do what the Archbishop of Haiti did the other day speaking to his sorrowing people after his predecessor had been buried in the ruins of the cathedral at Port-au-Prince along with a quarter of a million other unfortunate Haitians whose lives were miserable enough as it was, and to say, with the Cardinal Archbishop of New York standing right next to him that God had something to say to Haiti and this is the way he chose to say it. If you study plate tectonics and a few other things you will free yourself of this appalling burden from our superstitious, fearful, primate past. And I suggest, again, to an institution of higher learning, that's a responsibility we all have to take on. If we reflect—some people say the great Stephen Jay Gould, who I admired very much, from whom we all learned a great deal about evolutionary biology, used to say, rather leniently I think, that, "Well, these are non-overlapping magisteria, the material world, the scientific world and the faith world." I think "non-overlapping" is too soft. I think it's more a question, increasingly, of it being a matter of incompatibility, or perhaps better to say, irreconcilability. Just if you reflect on a few things I'll have time, I hope, to mention. My timer, by the way, isn't running so I'm under your discipline, Professor. You'll give me...
MODERATOR: Four and a half minutes.
HITCHENS: Very good. When we reflect that the rate of the expansion of our universe is increasing—it was thought until Hubble that we knew it was expanding but that surely Newton would teach us that the rate would diminish. No, the rate is increasing, the Big Bang is speeding up. We can see the end of it coming increasingly clearly. And while we wait for that we can see the galaxy of Andromeda moving nearer towards the collision that's coming with us, you can see it in the night sky. This is the object of a design, you think? What kind of designer, in that case? To say that this must have an origin and now we know how it's going to end, why ask why there's something rather than nothing when you can see the nothingness coming only replaces the question. Faith is of no use in deciding it. And that's on the macro level. From the macro to the micro: 99.8% of all species ever created, if you insist, on the face of this planet have already become extinct, leaving no descendants. I might add that of that number, three of four branches of our own family, Homo sapiens—branches of it, the Cromagnans, the Neanderthals, who were living with us until about 50,000 years ago, who had tools, who made art, who decorated graves, who clearly had a religion, who must have had a god, who must have abandoned them, who must have let them go, they're no longer with us, we don't know what their last cries were like. And our own species was down to about 10,000 in Africa before we finally got out of there, unforsaken this time or so far. To move from the macro, in other words, to the micro: our own solar system is only half way through it allotted span before it blows up and as Sir Martin Ryle, the great Astronomer Royal and Professor of Cosmology at Cambridge, and incidentally a believing Anglican says, "By the time there are creatures on the earth who look as the sun expires they will not be human. It will not be humans who see this happen if our planet lives that long. The creatures that watch it happen will be as far different from us as we are from amoebae and bacteria." Faced with these amazing, overarching, titanic, I would say awe-inspiring facts—like the fact that ever since the Big Bang every single second a star the size of ours has blown up. While I've been talking, once every second a star the size of our sun has gone out—faced with these amazing, indisputable facts, can you be brought to believe that the main events in human history, the crucial ones, happened 3,000 to 2,000 years ago in illiterate, desert Arabia and Palestine? And that it was at that moment only that the heavens decided it was time to intervene and that by those interventions we can ask for salvation? Can you be brought to believe this? I stand before as someone who quite simply cannot and who refuses, furthermore, to be told that if I don't believe it that I wouldn't have any source for ethics or morality. Please don't pile the insulting onto the irrational and tell me that if I don't accept these sacrifices in the desert, I have no reason to tell right from wrong.
MODERATOR: One minute.
HITCHENS: One minute, good. Then I'll have to prune and you'll be the losers, but I'll have a—there's a rebuttal coming. Alright, look at the contemporary religious scene. I return to religion as well as faith and belief: Israeli settlers are stealing other people's land in the hope of bringing on the Messiah and a terrible war. On the alternative side, as it thinks of itself, the Islamic jihadists are preparing a war without end, a faith-based war based on the repulsive tactic of suicide murder and all of these people that they have a divine warrant, a holy book, and the direct word of God on there side. We used to worry when I was young, what will happen when a maniac gets hold of a nuclear weapon? We're about to discover what happens when that happens: the Islamic republic of Iran is about to get a nuclear weapon and by illegal means that flout every possible international law and treaty. Meanwhile in Russia, the authoritarian, chauvinistic, expansionist regime of Vladimir Putin is increasingly decked in clerical garb by the Russian orthodox church, with its traditional allegiance to czarism, serfdom and the rest of it and Dinesh would have to argue—I'll close on this—Dinesh would have to argue that surely that's better than there be a mass outbreak of secularism in Russia and Iran and Israel and Saudi Arabia and I would call that a reductio ad absurdum and I'll leave you with it and I'll be back. Thanks.
REA: And now Dinesh D’Souza.
D'SOUZA: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here. It's—wow, this is a beautiful auditorium, quite an event. I understand that tickets were very—I almost didn’t get in myself. I have been listening with some interest to Christopher Hitchens. Listening to him I feel a little bit like Winston Churchill during the Boer War. He said, “It is always exhilarating to be shot at without result.” And I say this because even if everything that Christopher Hitchens says is true, he has hardly demonstrated religion to be a very serious problem at all. He seems to say religion is built into human nature; it’s an evolutionary development; that man has been searching for explanations since he has set foot on the planet; religion supplied functional explanations; now, perhaps, we have better ones. Even if all this were true—I’m going to dispute and show it’s not true—but even if it were true, this would hardly be a damning indictment of religion. Science itself has developed in the same way: it’s been an explanation, it’s gotten better over time. But what I want to do is meet Christopher on his own ground. He says we should be doubters, and I’m going to be a doubter. He says we should be skeptics and I endorse that completely. In this debate at no time will I make any arguments that appeal to Revelation, Scripture, or Authority. I’ll make arguments based on reason alone. And I want to engage the argument on Hitchens’ own ground by—not by making the easy argument for the utility of religion (it’s good for us, it makes practical sense, it’s consoling, that’s all true) I’m going to actually make an argument for the truth of religion. And the argument I’m going to make—well, I call it the presuppositional argument but it’s an argument that requires a little bit of explanation. Imagine if you’re a detective and you approach a crime scene and all the evidence points to a suspect but it turns out he couldn’t have done it. Why? Because the body was dumped in one location and he was in a completely different location. And then it hits you as a detective, “Wait a minute, perhaps the guy had an accomplice.” Now, you don’t know that he did. But the assumption that he did suddenly makes sense of all the other facts that were previously mysterious. Suddenly you see how the crime was committed to its very detail. If this seems like a little bit of an unusual way to argue, I want to emphasize that this is precisely the way in which scientists argue when faced with new phenomena. For example, scientists looking at galaxies out there have noticed that the galaxies hang together and yet when you measure the amount of matter in them there’s not enough gravity to hold the galaxies together, they should be flying apart. And so scientists presuppose that there is some other form of matter (they call it dark matter) that must be there exercising a gravitational force so even though we can’t see the dark matter (it’s detectable by no instrument) it explains what we do see. The presupposition of dark matter clarifies the matter that is in front of us. Now what I’m going to try to do is adduce some puzzling facts about life and then ask whether the presupposition of God explains those facts—explains those facts better than any rival explanation. Christopher Hitchens has spent a lot of time telling us about evolution, and evolution as an effort to explain the presence of life on the planet. But of course evolution does not explain the presence of life on the planet. Darwin knew that. Evolution merely explains the transition between one life form and another. That’s very different from accounting for life itself. Consider, for example, the primordial cell. If you read Franklin Harold’s book The Way of the Cell (this is a biologist at University of Colorado in Boulder) he describes the cell as a kind of supercomputer. It is of a level of complexity—even Richard Dawkins, in his work, describes the cell as a kind of digital computer. Now the cell can't have evolved because evolution presupposes the cell. Evolution requires a cell that already has the built-in capacity to reproduce itself. So how did we get a cell? The very idea that random molecules in a warm pond through a bolt of lightning assembled a cell would be akin to saying a bolt of lightning in a warm pond could assemble an automobile or a skyscraper. It’s preposterous. Richard Dawkins knows it’s preposterous and, therefore, when asked, “How did we get life originally?” he said, “Well, maybe Aliens brought it from another planet.” It’s ridiculous, but it’s, in a way, the best explanation he could come up with other than Intelligent Design. So there we go, we have the mystery of the cell. But evolution raises further puzzles because evolution depends upon a universe structured in a certain way. Evolution depends on a sun that’s eight light-minutes away. Evolution depends on the constants of nature. If I were to pick up a pen and drop it, it would fall at a known acceleration to the ground, gravity. The universe has a whole bunch of these constants, hundreds of them. Scientists have asked what if these constants, on which evolution depends, what if these constants were changed just a little bit? What if the speed of light were a little slower or a little faster? This question is addressed by Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time. He says that if you change these constants of nature at all (and he’s talking about the rate of expansion of the universe) he says if you change that, not 10% or 1%, but one part in a hundred thousandth millionth million, we would have no universe, we would have no life, not just Homo sapiens, no complex life would have evolved anywhere. In other words our very existence here is dependent upon the fine-tuning of a set of constants in nature. We’re not talking about just on earth, but the entire universe. This argument, that is sometimes called the anthropic principle of the fine-tuned universe, this has put modern atheism completely on the defensive. Why should the universe be structured in precisely this way and no other way? What is the best explanation? Is there an atheist explanation? I’d like to hear it. Let’s move on in thinking about evolution because evolution cannot explain the depth of human evil. What I mean by this is simply this: evolution presumes cruelty, evolution presumes harshness but it is a harshness tempered by necessity. Think of a lion: it wants to eat the antelope because it’s hungry. But have you ever heard of a lion that wants to wipe every antelope off of the face of the earth? No. So how do you explain this human evil that far outruns necessity and reaches depths that seem almost unfathomable. Evolution cannot account for rationality because evolution says we are programmed in the world to survive and reproduce. Our minds are organs of survival. They are not organs of truth. So if we believe in rationality we require something outside of evolution to account for that. Evolution can’t even account for morality. And this requires a little bit of explanation. So think of a couple of morals facts. And I’m not talking about heroic deeds of greatness, think of simple things: getting up to give your seat to an old lady in a bus; donating blood; there’s a famine in Haiti, you volunteer your time or you write a check. Now, if we are evolved primates who are programmed to survive and reproduce, why would we do these things? There’s a whole literature on this and basically, it comes down to this: the advocates of evolution say, “Well, evolution is a form of extended selfishness. If a mother jumps into a burning car to save her two children, that’s because she and her children have the same genes.” So what seems like an altruistic and noble deed is actually merely a cunning strategy on the part of the mom to make sure her genes make it into the next generation. (We’re not talking about her Levi’s, we’re talking about her genetic inheritance.) Or, evolution appeals to what can be called reciprocal advantage. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. A business man may be nice to a customer, not because he thinks he’s a great guy, but because he wants him to come into the store again. But these two common evolutionary strategies to explain morality don’t explain the three examples I gave at all. I’m in a bus, the old lady hobbles in. She’s not a relative, she isn’t grandma, so genetic kinship doesn’t come into it and neither does reciprocal advantage. I don’t say, “Well, you know, I think I’ll give her my seat because next week I want her seat.” No, you give up your seat because you’re a nice guy. You give up blood because you want to do a good thing. You donate your time to help strangers who are genetically unrelated to you and can’t reciprocate your favors. These are the simple facts of morality in the world and what is the evolutionary explanation for them? There is none, or if there is one, I would like to hear it. So in debating these issues very often it’s very easy to knock the burden of proof onto the theist and say, “You explain everything.” But no, in the world we’re not in a position where there’s only one explanation contending, there are rival explanations. There is a theist explanation (the God explanation) and there is a non-theist, or atheist explanation. We have to weigh the two against each other. My contention is that the atheist explanation flounders when confronted with all these facts: the complexity of the cell, the fine-tuning of the universe, the fact of morality, the depth of human evil, the reality of morality in the world. What about the God explanation? Seems obvious to me it does one heck of a lot better. Why do we have a cell that shows the structure of complexity? Because the cell has been intelligently design perhaps by an intelligent designer. Why does the universe show complexity and rationality? Well, those are the characteristics of the creator who made it that way. Why are there depths of human evil? Because our lives are a cosmic drama in which good and evil are in constant struggle (the Christian story). Why is there morality in the world? Why do we all feel, even when it works against our advantage, a moral law within us? Well that’s because there is a moral lawgiver who gave it to us. So when we put it all together, the presupposition of God—God is invisible, I concede that, we can’t see Him. But if we posit Him, all these mysterious facts—suddenly the lights come on. It provides an explanation—now, again, with any presuppositional argument there may be a better alternative explanation and so I put the ball into Christopher Hitchens’ court to say if you can explain these facts better than I can, I will happily, as a skeptic, concede to your point of view. GIve me a better explanation for these facts. I leave you with this thought: ultimately, we know that belief is good for us. If it was a primitive explanation of 3,000 years ago, why would it be the case that religion hasn’t disappeared 3,000 years ago? Why is it the case that we’re actually seeing religious revivals around the world? Why is the fact of religious experience—it’s almost as if you go to a village and 95% of those people in the village say, “We know this guy named Bill. Why? Because we interact with him, we relate to him, we have experience of him.” Five guys say, “We’ve never met Bill,” and three of them say, “There is no Bill. The other 95% are making him up.” Now, which is more likely? Is it likely that the 3% are right and the 95% are lying or hallucinating? Or, is it more likely that the 95% are right and the other 3% just don’t know the guy. When you look at the fact of religious experience in the world today, to simply write it off as a primitive explanation of why ancient man couldn’t explain the thunder seems idiotically unrelated to the fact that religion serves current needs and current wants. So religion is not the problem. God is not the problem. God is, in fact, the answer to the problem. Thank you.
HITCHENS: I never hear Dinesh doing that without thinking what a wonderful Muslim he would make. You try telling a hundred people in Saudi Arabia that you don’t think the Prophet Mohammed really heard those voices. You’re going to be really outvoted. And yes, Dinesh, I have noticed there are religious revivals going on, pay a lot of attention to them. I don’t find them as welcome, perhaps, as you do. And on your detective hypothesis, don’t you think there’s something to be said for considering unfalsifiability when constructing a hypothesis? For example, Albert Einstein staked his reputation. He said, “If I’m wrong about this, then there will not be an eclipse at a certain time of day and month and year off the west coast of Africa and I will look a fool. But if I’m right there will be one," and people [inaudible] gathered thinking, “He can’t be that smart,” and he was. Professor J. B. S. Haldane used to be asked, “Well, what would shake your faith in evolution?” This was when it was much more controversial than it is now and I’m impressed to find that Dinesh believes in Intelligent Design which really does require, I would think, a leap of faith, but there it is. Haldane said, “Well, show me rabbits’ bone in the Jurassic layer and I’ll give up.” Now can you think of any religious spokesman you’ve ever heard who would tell you in advance what would disprove their hypothesis? Of course you can’t, because it’s unfalsifiable. And we were all taught, weren’t we, by Professor Karl Popper, that unfalsifiability in a theory is a test not of its strength, but of its weakness. You can’t beat it. The Church used to say, “No, God didn’t allow evolution. Instead He hid the bones in the rocks to test our faith.” That didn’t work out too well. So now they say, “Ah, now they know about it, it proves how incredibly clever He was all along.” It’s an infinitely elastic airbag. And there’s no argument that I can bring or that anyone can bring against it, and that’s what should make you suspicious. Then a question for Dinesh (I know I’m supposed to be answering them as well as asking them, but it does intrigue me when I debate with religious people) he announced, I have his words, he was going to talk without reference to Revelation, Scripture, or Scriptural Authority. Now, why ask yourselves then—I'll ask you, why is that? Why do I never come up against someone who says, “I’ll tell you why I’m religious: because I think that Jesus of Nazareth is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except by Him and if you’ll believe on this you’ll be given eternal life.” I’d be impressed if people would sometimes say that. Why do the religious people so often feel they must say, “No we don’t—well that’s all sort of metaphorical.” In what sense are they then religious? You’ll notice that Dinesh talked about the operations of the divine and the creator only in the observable natural order. That’s what used to be called the deist position. It was the position held by skeptics like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson by the end of the eighteenth century. It was as far as anyone could see before Darwin and before Einstein. There appeared to be evidence of design in the universe. But there was no evidence of divine intervention in it, very important point. The deist may say, and I would have to say, it cannot be disproved that there was a first cause and it was godly. That cannot be disproved, it can only be argued that there’s no evidence for it. But the deist, having established that position, if they have, has all their work still ahead of them to show there is a god who cares about us, even knows we exist, takes sides in our little tribal wars, cares who we sleep with and in what position, cares what we eat and on what day of the week, arbitrates matters of this kind. That’s the conceited, that’s the endless human wish to believe that we have parents who want to look out for us and help us not to grow up or get out of the way. And so it surprises me that there are no professions of real religious faith ever made on these occasions. Now, I suppose I should then say what my own method in this is, since I was challenged on that point. Take the two figures of Jesus of Nazareth and Socrates. I believe Jesus of Nazareth operates on the fringe of mythology and prehistory. I don’t think it’s absolutely certainly established there is such a person or that He made those pronouncements or that He was the son of God or the son of a virgin or any of these things. And I would likewise have to concede that we only know of the work of Socrates through secondhand sources, in the same way, second or thirdhand. Quite impressive ones in some cases, from Plato’s Apology, but it can't be demonstrated to me that Socrates ever walked the streets of Athens.
REA: That’s five minutes.
HITCHENS: How many?
REA. That’s five minutes.
HITCHENS: That’s five. Just quickly then: if it could shown to a believing Christian the grave of Jesus opened and the body of him found and the resurrection disproved—if that could be archaeologically done for the sake of argument—it would presumably be a disaster for you. You’d have to think, “Then we’re alone. Then how are we going to know right from wrong? What can we do?” I maintain with Socrates that on the contrary, the moral problems and ethical problems and other dilemmas that we have would be exactly the same as they are: what are our duties to each other? How can we build the just city? How should we think? How can we face the possibility of our loneliness? How can we do right? These questions would remain exactly as they are and as they do. And so all that is necessary is to transcend the superstitious, transcend the mythical, and accept the responsibility, take it on ourselves that no one can do this for us. And I would hope that in a great university, that thought might carry the day. Thank you.
D’SOUZA: Somewhat like the mosquito in the nudist colony I’m trying to decide where to begin. I might begin by noting that in my opening statement I offered a bit of a challenge to Christopher Hitchens. I mentioned anomalous features of the world as it is and of the evolutionary explanation and offered to him the chance to offer a rival theories that might do better than the God explanation. I just want to note that he has offered none. Instead, what he has offered is the idea that science is based on verifiability but religion not. This I think is, in fact, not true and he said no one’s ever given him an example of it and I’m about to give him two: the ancient Hebrews asserted (uniquely by the way, of all religions) that God made the universe out of nothing. Now, incidentally, the idea that God or gods made the universe is a very old idea, but in every other religion God or gods fashioned the universe out of some other stuff. God is a kind of carpenter, he took the stuff of the universe and He made life and He made man. But the Hebrews said, “No, there was nothing and then there was a universe.” And I want to suggest that modern science has proved this to be 100% correct. If you go to an introductory physics class at Notre Dame you will learn that, as a direct consequence of the Big Bang, not only did the universe have a beginning, not only did all the matter have a beginning, but space and time also has a beginning. In other words, first there was nothing, no space, no time, and then there was a universe with space and time. Suddenly the Christian concept of eternity, of a god being outside of space and time, which for centuries was scientifically unintelligible is now not only coherent, but riding along side the most cutting-edge discoveries in modern physics and modern astronomy. The ancient Hebrews in the Old Testament predicts the people of Israel, after being dispersed, would return; there would be, if you will, a reuniting of the state of Israel. Until the 1940s this was a possibility historically so preposterous that if someone had actually suggested it, they would meet with derisive laughter. And yet it has, in fact, happened, just as the Bible said it would. Now, these are not scientific theories. If you talk to the ancient Hebrews and say, “How do you know that there was nothing and there was a universe?” They didn’t do any scientific experiments. They basically said, “God told me.” But I’m saying that if you look at that as a prophecy or as a factual claim about the world, we now know 2,000 years later that it is, in its essence, correct. The reason that I can’t go on like this is because religion addresses different types of question than scientific questions. Here are three. Here we are, flung into the world. One question we have is, “What’s the purpose of our life?” or “Why are we here?” or “Where are we going? What happens to us after we die?” Here are the scientific answers to those three questions: “Don’t have a clue,” “Don’t have a clue,” and “Don’t have a clue.” We are no closer to answering those questions scientifically than we were since the time of the Babylonians. So what is wrong in looking to religion to supply explanations in a domain where science is utterly inert, inarticulate, and, in fact, mute? You can’t just say that if you understand the ballistics of plate tectonics, you understand purpose. It would be as if my dad took me on his knee and gave me a spanking and Christopher Hitchens goes, “Don’t think he’s angry with you only if you understood the ballistics of the cane, you would have a full explanation of what’s going on.” Or on the other hand if I put of pot of tea on the kettle and began to boil it, Hitchens can’t say that, “Well if I tell you about the”—if you say, “What’s going on here?” Well, the scientific explanation is that water, when heated, the molecules expand, the temperature rises. But there’s another explanation: Dinesh wants to have a cup of tea. So explanations work at more than one level. And finally Christopher asks, “Why argue this way?” Well we know about presenting the case the other way. In fact, you get it in church or you get it in synagogue or you get it every Sunday, the argument from the Bible, the argument from authority. I know it’s a useless argument to use in a secular setting especially when debating with an atheist. If I say I believe in Jesus because the Book of Matthew says this or the Gospel of Luke says that, he’s going to say, “Well, who cares what the Gospel of Luke says? I don’t accept the authority of the Bible to adjudicate the matter.” So we are at a state of culture….
REA: That’s five minutes.
D’SOUZA: …in which we have to use rational arguments if we are trying to communicate in secular venues. So here we are at a university. What could be more appropriate than to address these arguments in the vocabulary of reason? Christopher wants me to fling the Bible at him so that he can then claim the high ground of science and reason. What flummoxes him is when I use science and reason itself to torpedo his arguments. That’s when you get him going down on his knees and praying for some more quotations from Scripture. Thank you very much.
REA [After explaining how they will take audience questions and after warning the audience to keep their questions pithy]: As I understand it, the basic argument that Christopher Hitchens is giving—I haven’t seen the text—but as I understand it the argument can be summed up roughly like this: religion gives explanations, science gives better explanations, our job is to go with the best explanations, so we ought to go in for science all the time and set religion aside as superstition. D’ Souza wants to address this on Hitchens’ turf, so I’m going to start by asking a question of D’Souza. It looked like your goal was to show that theistic explanations are in fact better than scientific explanations. As I saw it, what you in fact said showed that scientific explanations are often problematic, incomplete, and gappy, but I don’t think you showed that theistic explanations are better and just to pick a couple of examples: so, for example, you talked about the fine tuning argument, so here’s a case where maybe belief in God explains certain features of the universe better than atheistic theories would but of course one wonders if the world is superintended by a perfectly good god, whence the Holocaust, whence all manner of horrendous evil and suffering so all of the sudden it looks like the appeal to God to explain features of the universe, it’s not clear that theism’s winning. Take morality too, right? On the one hand, sure we maybe can understand where moral laws come from if there’s a divine lawgiver. On the other hand, Christianity has a doctrine of original sin, Christianity has other things that confound our moral intuitions, right? So, again, it’s not clear that theism wins.
D’SOUZA: Wow, that’s a lot to chew on. Look, the standards that I’m appealing to are, in a way, very intuitive. We have currently a major scientific project to look for life on other planets. Now, truth of it is, if we were to get information that on, let’s say, the moon Europa, we found hieroglyphics, some interesting architectural structures, some apparent roving vehicles, this would settle the argument. Right away we would conclude (as long as we didn’t put them there) that there must be some other forms of life that have done that. If someone came along and said, “Molecules of sand assembled themselves into all this,” this would be an explanation, but a stupid one compared to the inference to intelligent design. So, in fact, the scientists say that even if we get radio signals in Morse Code that they would be adequate to predict intelligent life elsewhere. So, my point is let’s supply the reasonable standard. If we see a fine-tuned universe, what’s more likely, someone fine-tuned it, or it fine-tuned itself? Could the universe have created itself out of nothing? Is there some alternative explanation for the data at hand? No. So I’m simply saying let’s go with the best explanation. By the way my argument isn’t eternal. If twenty years from now you had a scientific explanation that was better, that said, “Hey, we figured it all out,” I would go with that. I would have to drop this argument. I’m saying that in the current mode of knowledge and thinking this is a successful explanation. You can’t change the subject and say, “Well, now explain the Holocaust.” That requires a different set of rebuttals. I would say the Holocaust is the product of free will. God didn’t do the Holocaust, Hitler did, the Nazis did. To try to deflect blame to God for human action voluntarily undertaken is to minimize the human capacity for evil. But whether or not that argument works, it has nothing to do with the design argument. And, finally, morality, very briefly: again, if evolution could adequately account for morality—let’s remember that the atheist premise is that we are evolved creatures in the world and that’s it. So evolution has to do a lot of work. It has to explain the human desire to give blood to strangers. If it can’t do that, then it fails as an adequate explanation for a very important form of human behavior, morality, that is seen in every culture known to man. It requires explanation. I have an alternative explanation: that in human beings there are two parts. We are evolutionary creatures in the world (that explains why we desire sex and we desire food to survive, to reproduce) but then I have this other thing inside of me, what Adam Smith calls the impartial spectator, and that’s another voice. And it’s in me but it’s not of me. In fact, it’s often stopping me from doing what I want to do. It’s blocking my self-interest. Where does that come from? How does evolution account for that? So I’m saying that the God hypothesis casts more light on that subject, the hypothesis of a moral lawgiver. In fact, even the hypothesis of a life to come, you may say a final court, in which our moral deeds will be adjudicated, explains why we act the way we do now. Otherwise, our own behavior is incomprehensible to us. That’s the strength of the presuppositional argument.
REA: Do you want to comment on this or just take my question for you?
HITCHENS: I think—well, both. I’ll stand up for your question and see if I can do both. But I know people are impatient to get to the next segment. Bring it on.
REA: My question for you is very quick. Your argument seems to rest on the idea that religion is an explanatory enterprise and that the warrant for believing the doctrines of a particular religion comes from their explanatory value. Why would you think that?
HITCHENS: Well, because of religion’s own very large claims. And because—something I didn’t have time to go into—because not all these religions can be simultaneously true. I mean, there are enormous numbers of competing religions, it’s another reason that it’s obvious to me that they’re man-made. It’s what you would expect if it was man-made: there’d be lots of religions with incompatible claims and theologies and that this would lead to further quarrelling. Either one of them is completely true, as the Roman Church used to say, it was the one true church, some of its members still do, or all of them are false, or all of them are true, which, of course, can’t be true. Now to Dinesh and the matter of anomalies and the question of ex nihilo: half the time when I debate it’s people saying nothing can come from nothing, you can’t get something from nothing, so since there is something, someone must have wanted there to be something (not I think a very impressive syllogism). I can’t do it all this evening, but it’s very easy for anyone to go and see Professor Lawrence Krauss deliver his brilliant lecture online called “A Whole Universe From Nothing” which explains to you how indeed you can get very large numbers of things from nothing with the proper understanding of quantum theory and then tonight Dinesh says, “Really there was nothing and the Hebrews were so clever that they knew that and therefore they must have been right about God as well.” This is ridiculous. The ancient Hebrews also thought that God made man and women out of nothing, or out of dust and clay, whereas we have an exact knowledge, or an increasingly exact knowledge of precisely the genetic materials in common with other creatures from which we were assembled. And then not content with that, he says biblical prophecy is true in respect to Palestine. This is an extraordinary thing and you were right to mention the Holocaust. If it’s true that God wanted the Jews to get back to Palestine, then it must have been true that he wanted their exile to be ended (the Galut as it’s known to Zionism, the exile, the wandering) and we know how that wandering was ended: by Christian Europe throwing living Jewish babies into furnaces. Well that must be part of the plan then, musn’t it? And some rabbis used to claim that, by the way. They used to claim that the Holocaust was punishment for exile. And then people started to desert the synagogue, so they shut up about it until the ’67 war. And then when the Israeli army got the Wailing Wall back they said, “Ah, we shouldn’t have spoken so quickly. Actually, this was what God always had in mind: the conquest by Jews of Palestinians.” Well you see how brilliantly that’s worked out. I don’t think it’s wise or moral or decent to try and detect the finger of God in human quarrels. I think the enterprise is futile and it incidentally shows the absurdity of all arguments from design. Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Thank you both for coming tonight. I’m wondering if either or both of you can acknowledge—or rather I’d like to hear your feelings on the possibility of your thoughts and your theories on religion, or lack of a god being simply a product of your environment. Or to phrase another way: if you were born to a different family, in a different place, perhaps with a different skin color, Christopher, would you still be an atheist and Dinesh, would you still be (I’m assuming) Christian, a believer in religion, or could the roles be completely reversed and are your theories and thoughts based strictly on your upbringing?
HITCHENS: Well, was it to me first? Well in that case I can start with a compliment to Dinesh because in one of his books he tells the story of asking his father in India, “Daddy, everyone around here seems to be Hindu, with quite a few Muslims. Why are we Christians?” And his father said, “Because, Dinesh, my lad, the Portuguese inquisition got to this part of India first,” which is, in fact, the full and complete explanation for that.
HITCHENS: So, you can tell Dinesh is well brought up in this respect and he’s made the most of it. Obviously in my case, this does not apply because—I mean, obviously if you ask someone in Buffalo, “Why’d you go to the Roman Catholic church?” he’ll say, “Because my parents were from [Posnac].” It’s the overwhelmingly probable explanation. “Why’d you go to a Greek Orthodox church?” “My parents were born in Thessaloniki.” Of course this is true. But there are a lot of people who convert. In fact, quite a large number of Muslims on their way out of Islam embrace Christianity, which is a very risky thing to do. It must be something they care a lot about and I think one should take seriously. And there was relatively easy for me, being born in England and emigrating to America, to leave the Church of England behind. That, believe me, is no sweat. Our great religious poet—our great Christian poet George Herbert refers to the “sweet mediocrity of our native church.“ What do you get if you cross an Anglican with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who comes to door and bothers you for no particular reason. So, enough from me.
D’SOUZA: Well, I think we have an environmental explanation for Christopher’s skepticism: he was raised in a religion that was based on the family values of Henry VIII. Enough said.
HITCHENS: That’s right.
D’SOUZA: Now, with regard to the Indian explanation, his explanation is true but incomplete. And here’s the point: my grandfather did say that to me and I began to read Indian history, and I realized that a handful of Portuguese missionaries, inquisitorial or not, would have a pretty hard time converting hundreds of thousands of people. And Indian historians who look at it have a better explanation: it’s called the caste system. See, if you were born into the Hindu caste system, and you were one of the guys on the lower rungs of the ladder, to put it somewhat bluntly, you were screwed. It didn’t matter what merit you had, you couldn’t rise up and neither could your children. So along come these greedy missionaries and maybe they had swords, but the truth of it is a lot of Indians were very eager to get out of the caste system. They didn’t need the swords. They rushed into the arms of the missionaries because they promised something that the Hindus couldn’t: universal brotherhood. It wasn’t always practiced, but even the idea of it, the principle of it was hugely appealing and that’s why there were mass conversions, not only to Christianity, but also to Islam, which makes a similar promise. So this is the historical landscape. A final point about this is that we’re committing here what could be called a genetic fallacy. We do it with religion, we can always can see the fallacy if we apply it to any other area. For example, it is very probable there are more people who believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution who come from Oxford, England than who come from Oxford, Mississippi. It’s probably equally true that there are more people who believe in Einstein’s theory of relativity who come from New York than who come from New Guinea. What does this say about whether Einstein’s theory is correct or no? Nothing. The origins of your ideas have no bearing on whether they’re true or not. So, wherever Christopher and I got our ideologies or our religious convictions, you should weigh our arguments on the merits. Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Mr. D’Souza, you mentioned that you would only speak basically in secular terms, in terms of defending your faith without appealing to Revelation or anything of that sort. Do you feel that there is an advantage for the world population at large for religious people to be required to defend their faith in such a venue or do you feel that we would be better off if you had the luxury of only defending your faith within congregations of the faithful and without counterpart skeptics to demand that sort of intellectual line?
D’SOUZA: I’ve argued that I think Christians need to learn to be bilingual. And by that I mean to speak, perhaps, two languages: a Christian language at home, or in church, and a more secular language in the public square. Not because we want to wear two faces, but because we want to make our arguments accessible to people who may not share our assumptions. And so, a lot of times if someone says, you know, “What do you think about gay marriage?” the Christian opens up to the Book of Leviticus not recognizing that the person he’s talking to does not recognize the authority of Leviticus to decide the matter. So it becomes a futile enterprise, two ships in the night. The only way to have debate is to meet on some common ground and in that sense, I think, in a democratic society the common ground of reason is a perfectly appropriate language for democratic discourse. So what we’re doing here is a secular, intellectual enterprise. If was speaking, as I sometimes do, in a megachurch or at a Catholic event, I might speak in a little different language but that’s because I’m speaking to an audience with different assumptions.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I’m Ian…
REA: [Cutting off the next audience member to offer Hitchens a chance to respond] I’m sorry…
HITCHENS: No, no, it was for Dinesh.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: I’m Ian from the Michiana Skeptics. My question is for Dinesh. (Christopher, you kind of addressed this already.) It’s on the issue of spontaneous generation. Dinesh, you used the analogy with the jet being spontaneously put together by a thunderstorm, you know, in a junkyard of sorts. I was wondering how you defend the argument that it’s more likely a creator did this when even though it’s unlikely that, say, you know, something would’ve randomly created a cell or a molecule over time. But still in the infinite expanse of things, in the vast amount of time that the universe has existed some miniscule probability that this could’ve all come about versus this blatant argument that it must have been this because it’s improbably and there is no real backing for the reverse argument. How do you, you know, how do you counteract this? And also, if you had have anything to add to this, Christopher?
D’SOUZA: It is true that one can always, by rerigging the assumptions, create new probabilities. So for example, there are many physicists who have computed that if you look at all the particles of matter in the entire universe, the chance of them randomly assembling to a produce a cell is essentially zero. However, you can increase that probability by adding universes and there are many cosmologists who say, “Well, what if there are a thousand universes? Or an infinity of universes? Then, in the infinity of time”—that’s a problematic statement in itself—”but with an infinity of universes, an infinity of transactions, even improbable events do occur.” The problem with that is, you can call it not only a scandalous violation of Ockham’s razor, it’s essentially syllogistic promiscuity. Because what is the evidence that there is even one other universe other than our own? Empirically, none. You’re essentially making up universes to account for the anomalies of the universe we have. So, which is more likely? It’s almost as if the atheist who’s tried to abolish one invisible god has to fabricate an infinity of invisible universes. I mean, I’d like to believe that but frankly I don’t have that much faith.
HITCHENS: The person violating the principle of William of Ockham here, I think though, Dinesh, is you. I mean, everyone remembers what Laplace said to Napoleon when he produced his—he was the greatest scientist of his day—his orrery, the solar system as viewed from the outside, never been done before in model form and the Emperor said, “Well, there doesn’t seem to be any God in this apparatus,” and Laplace said, “Well, Your Majesty, it happens to operate perfectly well without that assumption.” So it does. Dinesh asked earlier and I should have taken him up on it, isn’t it the case that the three questions where are we from? where are we going? and why are we here? there are three “nopes” from our side. That’s not true at all. It was incredible that he alleged it. To the question of where are we from, both in the macro and the micro term, where did we come from, the cosmological, the Big Bang and the micro, the unraveling of the human string of DNA and our kinship with other animals and indeed other forms of non-animal life. We are enormously to a greater extent well-informed about our origins and what we don’t know we don’t claim to know—very important. My admitting that I don’t know exactly how it began is not at all the same as Dinesh’s admission that he doesn’t know either because he feels he has to know, because if it’s not a matter of faith and not a matter of God he can’t say he believes in it a little bit, it must be a real belief to be genuine, and it must have some explanatory value. And he doesn’t hold it very strongly and it doesn’t explain anything for which we have better explanations. Likewise about where we’re going: we have a very good idea now of the time and the place, if you like—the time anyway when our universe and sun and indeed the cosmos will come to an end. Dinesh might say, “Well then if you look at the Bible it proves right all those who said the end of the world is at hand. There’s biblical authority, it just proves me right all along.” Yes, except that they said that by repenting you could prevent this outcome, which you cannot, ladies and gentlemen, ok? As to why are we here, good question, to which there’s so far no good answer and I suggest you keep the argument about that open and sharpen the questions and consider the infinite possible variety of answers and train your mind that way. Don’t say you already know why you’re here, that someone wants you to be here, that you’re fathered, that you’re protected, that it’s all part of a divine plan. You can’t know that and you shouldn’t say it. There.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: I want to get back to the basics of this debate and Professor D’Souza, you touched on this a little bit using the free will argument. I want to know ho you can reconcile your statement that belief is a good thing when so many lives have been lost due to the differing opinions of religious views.
D’SOUZA: That is a—that is true, although historically greatly overstated. The Inquisition: when I was a student at Dartmouth, if you had asked me how many people were killed in the Inquisition, I would’ve said hundreds of thousands, maybe millions; horrible blot on Western history. Truth of it is, these things are carefully studied. Henry Kamen has a multi-volume study of the Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition was the worst and over 350 years the number of people killed in the Inquisition was fewer than 2,000. Now, 2,000 people, 350 years, it works out to about five guys a year, not normally considered a world historical crime. Now, is that 2,000 too many? Yes. But my point is that while the atheists are often crying crocodile tears over the crimes of religion—crimes that, by the way, often occurred 500 or 1,000 years ago—what about the vastly greater crimes of atheist regimes committed in our own lifetime in the last century and they’re still going on. If you take Hitler, Stalin, and Mao alone, the three of them, collectively in the space of a few decades killed close to 100 million people. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. What about Ceausescu, Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot? Pol Pot, he’s a junior-league atheist. Normally you don’t even name the guy, but his Khmer Rouge regime in Indochina following the Vietnam War kills about two million in about three years. Two million. Even Bin Laden in his wildest dreams doesn’t even come close. So I’m all for looking at the historical record, but let’s look at it fairly and not blame religion for crimes when there are vastly greater and more recent crimes committed by atheist regimes. Let’s look at all sides of the ledger.
HITCHENS: There’s a factual and a theoretical comment to be made on that. First, I think you’re flat our wrong on the Inquisition, not that the numbers game is crucial, but the Inquisition in the Americas caused Father Bartolomeo de las Casas to convene a great meeting at the University of Salamanca to consider whether the Christian world should ever have gone as conquistadors because the genocidal price paid by the people of old Columbia, pre-Columbia, was so high. Slavery, burning, torture—no one knows the numbers are but they’re horrifying. Second, the Thirty Years War has to be considered a war of religion and we don’t know how many were killed there either but the retarding of civilization was absolutely gigantic as well as the appalling harvest of innocent population. Third, at the beginning of the First World War (a clash of empires) all the leaders were, in a sense, theocrats. The Ottoman Empire was a theocracy by definition; Kaiser Wilhelm II was the head of the Protestant Church in Germany; the czar of Russia was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia; the King Emperor of Britain, George V, was the head of the Church of England, as you say, rightly founded on the family values of Henry VIII. Civilization has not recovered from the retarding process of that war either. In fact, we never will get over what happened in that war, and those are wars of religion. Just to stay with the point of fact and on the secular, the allegation that the other killers are secular: of the first one you mentioned, Adolph Hitler, it has to be said that—I can almost give you the page reference of Mein Kampf, where he says that his desire to slaughter the Jews is because of his fealty to the work of the Lord. He regards it as a holy cause, that’s in Mein Kampf. Maybe he doesn’t have the authority to say that, but you can’t call him secular. On the belt buckle of every Nazi soldier it read, “Gott mit Uns”. Every single one of them, “God on our side” just as the confederacy had Deo Vindice as its official motto in the Civil War for slavery. It’s been calculated by the Catholic historian Paul Johnson that up to one-third of the SS were confessing Catholics. If you change the word “fascism” —if you take it out of the history of the 1930s, just remove it, pretend it doesn’t exist, call it a propaganda word, insert instead “extreme Christian right wing”, you don’t have to alter a thing about the spread of fascism from Portugal through Spain across to Croatia, to Slovakia where the head of the Nazi puppet regime was a priest in Holy Orders, Father Tiso. Vishy, Austria, you know the story, or if you don’t you should or anyone here who considers themselves a Catholic should know that. This is not, I’m sorry to say ladies and gentlemen, secularism. Of the others, I would actually say Pol Pot had a very extreme idea of the restoration of the old Buddhist authority known as the Angkor, but let me not quarrel too much. What was wrong with these heroic mass murderers? That they all thought they could bring about an ultimate history. They all thought that, with them, history would be consummated; history would, in fact, come to an end. They were Messianic. The whole problem to begin with is the idea that human beings can be perfected by force or by faith, or by conquest, or by inquisition. That can take an explicitly religious form or just another messianic form but it reinforces the point I began with: take nothing for certain, don’t believe in any absolutism, don’t believe in any totalitarianism, don’t ask for any supreme leader in the sky, or on earth for that way lies madness and torture and murder and always will.
D’SOUZA: May I answer briefly, just given the nature of the topic? Let me say very briefly, first of all, las Casas was not protesting the work of the Inquisition, he was protesting the work of the conquistadors. There’s a big difference between the Spaniards who came for greed and gold and to take slaves and the church, which sent missionaries. The missionaries were on the side of the Indians and convened the debate at Salamanca at which the Pope decided that the Indians have souls and that the conquest should be stopped. Never in human history, by the way, has a ruler ordered a conquest stopped for moral reasons and it was the missionaries who made that argument. So, factually it is not true that the deaths of the Indians, most of which, by the way, were through malaria and other diseases to which they had no immunities, but it had nothing to do with the missionaries. It was driven by the greed of the conquistadors. The Thirty Years War: look at the history of the Thirty Years War and you’ll see—look at the alliances: if they broke down neatly in Catholic versus Protestant, you could say that it was a religious war, but they didn’t. Catholic France began to ally with the Protestants the moment that the Protestants began to lose. Right away you see the territorial wars over power and land are now being presented as wars of religion. Was World War I a religious war? That would make every war a religious war. World War II was a religious war. In other words, just because France is Catholic and England is Protestant doesn’t make it a religious war if they’re fighting over territory. Hitler: now here we have to be a little careful because in Mein Kampf…
HITCHENS: Yes, we do.
D’SOUZA: …Hitler has a long section on propaganda in which he say do not be afraid to lie to make your case. There is a book edited by the distinguished historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called Hitler’s Table Talk. It gives detailed accounts assembled by Martin Bormann himself of Hitler’s views on a wide range of subjects. Hitler hated Christianity. He was not a religious believer. He might have been some sort of a teutonic pagan. He might have believed a weird form of ancient polytheism, but no recognizable form of monotheism and he detested Christianity.
HITCHENS: Not so.
D’SOUZA: And “doing the Lord’s work” was tactical: he wanted the support of the Bavarian Catholics and the Lutheran Protestants and so he invented what he called the Aryan Christ, the Christ who comes back to avenge himself on the Jews. The churches didn’t go for it, so this is a complex history, I’ve written about it myself. The bottom line of it is, my point isn’t that Hitler was an atheist…
D’SOUZA: …but that the twentieth century saw secular regimes which tried to get rid of traditional religion and morality and establish a new man and a new utopia, the secular paradise and look what it brought us: an ocean of blood, a mountain of bodies. So for this reason I’m concluding that it is this effort to enforce secular utopia, and not religion, that is responsible for the mass murders of history.
REA [To Hitchens]: You can reply quickly if you like and then we’ll go back to.
HITCHENS: I’ll be very quick.
REA: I’m going to let the questions go about eight minutes over time…
HITCHENS: Oh good.
REA: …because we started late and then we’ll wrap up.
HITCHENS: No, I should be quick. In that case, Dinesh, you gracefully withdraw the allegation that National Socialism and fascism were secular or atheistic and I’m grateful for your generosity. Second, that people change sides in religious wars for opportunist reasons doesn’t particularly surprise me. You can spend a lot of time telling a Protestant in Northern Ireland, who has a picture of King William painted on the side of his house, that when King William fought the Battle of the Boyne, his ally was the Pope. The Protestant sort of knows this—the Ulster Protestant—but he doesn’t really believe it’s true; happens to be true. Of course it’s opportunistic. Why is it opportunistic? Because religion is man-made, as I began by saying. It’s what you would expect if religion was the creation of aggressive, fearful primates. It’s exactly what you would expect and the same would be true of its non-religious attempts to create paradise. Because it’s asking too much of people and it leads to fanaticism and torture and murder and war, so all you’ve succeeded in doing is replacing the question. No, there’s no teleology; no, there’s no eschatology; no, there’s no ultimate history; no, there’s no redemption; no, there are no supreme leaders here or anywhere else. Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: Thank you both for the though-provoking ideas you’ve presented. I have questions about the scientific things that you mentioned. One was sort of raised earlier. You mentioned the cell as this complex thing as if it is theorized that it arose spontaneously, and I may be out-of-date, but I remember reading theories at some points about more chemical molecules that began reproducing much before any actual cells and wouldn’t that be an explanation of earlier life? And the second one has to do with the perfectly tuned universe and whether the logic of saying that life exists that fits this perfectly tuned universe is an indication of that somehow divinely created fits with the idea that there’s evolution and that if the universe is tuned in a certain way that the only possibility of life with that tuning is life as it exists now and perhaps it would be presumptuous of us to say that if it were tuned differently there wouldn’t be some other way that different forms of life would have arisen.
D’SOUZA: Let me address those points in sequence. With regard to the cell, Darwin speculated that it might have come about in a warm pond. In the 1950s there were some experiments that generated some amino acids and there was a lot of excitement thinking that there might be a way to recreate in the laboratory the ingredients of life. Those experiments haven’t gone anywhere but more importantly that in the real world wasn’t a laboratory. If you could recreate the ingredients in a laboratory using all the laboratory apparatus it doesn’t mean it happened. You have to show that it happened that way in nature. So, the point I’m simply saying is that based on current knowledge—and all arguments have to be based on what we know now. We’re all open to new ideas in the future. There is currently no good explanation. And all I’m saying is that in any other sphere of life—if I was walking down and I looked in an alley and I see a head rolling around, I conclude that somebody committed suicide or somebody killed someone. It’s a reasonable inference from the data. You could say, “Well, that’s a rather presumptuous conclusion. There might have been natural ways in which the head detached itself from&mdash there could be, but what’s the most plausible under the circumstances? Normally, when we see intelligent activity&mdash what is science but an effort to excavate intelligence out of nature? The reason we need Newton and Einstein is because intelligence is hidden in nature. E=mc2 doesn’t jump out at you. You got to test nature and pull it out. So if nature is an embodiment, a network of intelligent systems, isn’t the most reasonable explanation that intelligence put it there? If we need intelligence to get it out, how’d it get there in the first place? This seems to me nothing more than to be a direct inference from the facts. Now, I want to then say a word about Larry Krauss, who was mentioned earlier (the physicist, the universe coming out of nothing). There’s a lot of verbal jugglery that’s going into all of this. Imagine if I were to try to show the following: money comes out of nothing. Proof? All assets will be counted as “plus”; all liabilities will be counted as “minus”; the pluses and minus cancel out. We have money, but there’s a zero on the balance sheet. Money comes out of nothing. You would say this is a little bit slight-of-hand. Basically what’s going on today is what physicists like Krauss do is they identify all energy as positive but all gravitational energy as negative. They presume that the total amount of positive and negative energy cancels out and therefore the universe came out of nothing. It didn’t really come out of nothing, there’s a whole lot of energy there, but by defining one kind of energy as plus and another kind of energy as minus, presto, they cancel out and you’ve got&mdash so what I’m getting at here is that I want to show the acrobatics to which modern atheism has to go. This, by the way, is not science. Krauss is trying to make an atheist argument in an atheist venue drawing on science. But I’m saying look at the lengths to which the guy has to go to try to defy the normal operations of reason to tell us not only a molecule but an entire universe&mdash wow&mdash popped out of absolutely nothing. You can believe if it you want to, but it sure does take a lot of credulity.
HITCHENS: I’ll try and be terse but&mdash First, I earnestly entreat you, ladies and gentlemen, to watch Professor Krauss’ lecture for yourself and not accept that [perdoded] version of it. On the nothing question as it touches on ourselves: as it happens, it’s rather more marvelous than almost anything in any holy book. All the elements from which we and our surroundings are made are from exploded stars, from the stars that blow up and die at the rate of one every second and have been doing that since the Big Bang. Isn’t it rather magical to think we’re all made out of stardust. “Never mind,” as Professor Krauss said, “never mind the martyrs, stars had to die so that we could live.” This is a very essential reflection to be having and it dwarfs the religious explanations. You didn’t notice Dinesh that the gentlemen asked at the end, “Couldn’t it have turned out another way?” which I think was possibly the crux of his question. I’d recommend another study to you. Professor Stephen Jay Gould, who I mentioned flaterringly earlier, despite my disagreement with him about the non-overlapping magisteria, did a marvelous paleontological book called The Burgess Shale. This is a half of mountain that has fallen away in the Canadian Rockies, revealing the whole interior core of a great mountain. So you—and you can read of, as if on a screen the—it’s more like a bush, actually, than a tree—all the little tendrils of evolution of reptiles, birds, plants and so on, as they sprout up, branch up, and so on. And many of stop, nothing happened to them. They were quite promising but they went nowhere. And it doesn’t go up like a tree, it goes all over the place like a bush. “Well,” says Professor Gould, “it’s one of the most unsettling vertiginous thoughts I’ve ever heard from a paleontologist. Suppose that we could—which, in a way we can, rewind this, as if onto a tape—get the Burgess Shale, get the outlines, rewind it, play it again. There’s absolutely no certainty it would come out the same way, that all those branches would go off and diverge and die out or flourish in the way in the way that they do—as they did. It’s completely governed by uncertainty.
REA: Christopher, we…
HITCHENS: Any number of conceivable outcomes up with which evolution could have come, it’s another version of our selfishness, our self-regard, I might say, our solipsism, that we cannot uneasily convince ourselves that all of this happened so that the Pope could condemn masturbation, say.
D’SOUZA: A brief—if I could a very brief rebuttal: we’re now plumbing into the depths here a little bit. I do want to point out that Gould’s thesis (rewind the tape of life and it would come out differently) which is by now a few decades old, is challenged by the world’s leading expert on the Burgess Shale, Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist in England and also by Christian de Duve, a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, and their argument is no, thath essentially Gould had it wrong. Gould was guessing that every evolutionary pathway would cut very differently but the latest evidence is that that’s not so. Consider the evolution of the eye. For a long time, in a sense, 6,000-year creationists would say, “How could the eye evolve?” Turns out that the eye has evolved multiple times and it’s evolved in similar ways. That is telling us that evolution is not this random thicket, it tends to converge to solutions that are similar, even when faced with different kinds of organisms and different kinds of problems. So, I recommend to you not only Conway Morris and de Duve, but also a book called Rare Earth by a paleontologist Brownlee which basically looks at why we haven’t found life on other planets, Rare Earth. And the conclusion is that conditions for life to exist are so particular that it’s actually reasonable to expect that life exists only here, only on this planet. It seems almost incredible, but when you think about it it actually makes sense. Consider this: our life is completely dependent on the sun. The sun is eight…
REA: This is more than brief.
D’SOUZA: Oh, you’re right. I’m being carried away. So I’ll stop here and we’ll go to the next question.
REA [to Hitchens]: Do you have a very brief reply?
HITCHENS: It’s so nice that—and how much we’ve progressed. No one now argues against the evolution of the eye. Now the argument of the evolution of the eye is completely conceded, and then it’s used against Stephen Jay Gould. The thing to read there is Richard Dawkins’ chapter on the multiple evolutions of the eye including the fish who have four is to be found in Climbing to Mount Improbable to which I also recommend you. As for—I agree that it’s overwhelmingly likely that our planet is the only one that supports life. Certainly we know in our own little suburb of the solar system that all the other planets don’t support life. They’re either much too hot or much too cold as are large tracks of our planet and we have every reason to know now that we live on a climatic knife edge and in the meantime, our sun is preparing to blow up and become a red dwarf. I ask you, whose design is that?
REA: We will take one more question. I’m going to ask each of our speakers to let their reply to this question also double as their closing remarks.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Now I feel bad, it better be a good one.
HITCHENS: Choose well.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Ok…
HITCHENS: Tread softly for you tread on our dreams.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: My question is for Mr. Dinesh: You talked before about the improbability of a lot of things and given the improbability, the necessary meaning of certain things, so because it’s so—because of the improbability of life in some circumstances, because of the uniqueness of life here that this implies something. How would you respond to the thought that maybe there doesn’t have to be any meaning, that, say, as existentialists would say, there’s no inherent meaning, but we can create our own meaning, so, I guess my question is why must some inherent purpose or some trajectory? Why can’t things have just happened, albeit it very improbably?
D’SOUZA: I think that you misunderstand my argument if it is an inference to meaning. I’m not saying, “We have improbable events, we’ve got to figure out some kind of meaning.” No, I’m making inference to a cause. David Hume, the great skeptic, said, “There is no event that occurs without a cause.” Now true, in the weird world of the quantum we can find exceptions to that rule but quantum effects cancel out when you come to macroscopic objects and whenever you hear someone say, “Consciousness? I really don’t know what that is but perhaps it’s a quantum thing,” he’s basically saying he doesn’t know. The quantum is invoked to explain things that are unexplained. Here’s my point, here’s the argument tightened up: everything that has a beginning, all material objects that have a beginning have a cause. The universe is a material object that has a beginning. The universe has a cause. The cause could be natural or supernatural. The cause cannot be natural, because nature can’t cause itself (unless Professor Krauss is right). Since the cause can’t be natural, it’s more believable that a supernatural being and moreover a supernatural being with a lot of power and a lot of knowledge, and a lot of concern for us because life is the outcome of this process. These are reasonable inferences to a cause. I mentioned earlier the three big questions. Christopher said science had provided answers and he restated all my three questions, so none of them were my original questions. So for example, when I said, “Where are we going?” my point was, what happens after we die? Is there life after death? We don’t know. The atheist doesn’t know, the believer doesn’t know. The atheist who says there isn’t, just like the believer who says there is, is making a leap of faith. Christopher avoided the question by changing it to “Will the universe come to an end? Will the sun blow up?” That wasn’t my point. My point is what comes—what happens to us after we die? That is unknown. Science has no insight on that question. And here’s a final thought: very often we use evolution as a catch-all explanation, but we don’t subject evolution to the critical scrutiny that we subject religion. For example, Christopher invoked earlier, and it’s been repeatedly invoked, Freud’s idea that we invent the afterlife because we want to live forever. We’re upset with life, we have suffering, we have death, we imagine another world that’s better, no suffering, no death: heaven. Now, the only problem with this is, first of all, is that religions not only posit heaven, they also posit hell. And if you’re going to make up another world to compensate for the difficulties of this one it’s very odd you would make up hell. Hell’s a lot worse than diabetes, or even death, because death is just turning off the computer. But there’s an evolutionary argument against this that has now discredited the Freudian explanation and what is that? Evolution says that we are creatures programmed to survive and reproduce. It is very costly for us to invent schemes that are not true and to invest costly resources, especially for primitive man, to give money to priests to build cathedrals and pyramids, to invest in the next life. Evolution ruthlessly punishes that kind of extravagance. And that’s why this Freudian theory, which was very fashionable 60 years ago has fallen into disrepute among scholars. It makes no evolutionary sense. So the bottom line I’m getting at here is, in a debate like this—I’ve been very pleased with this debate, I think it has been actually at a higher level than a lot of debates on this kind of a topic and even some of our debates. I think we’ve been able to raise it to another level. Ultimately I think I want to show that the believer’s position, no less than the atheist’s, is an attempt to grapple with the facts, to make sense of the data, to illuminate rationally the world that we live in. Faith is not a substitute for reason. Faith only kicks in when reason comes to an end. When there are explanations and they stop. I date my wife for three years, I then want to decide if I should propose. I put in reason, I try to see where it goes. But then I say, “What is life going to be with her for the next 50 years?” And there’s no way to know. I can say, “Well, I’m going to be an agnostic. I’m going to wait for the data to come in.” Well, if I do that, she’ll marry someone else so we’ll both be dead. The data will never be in. At some point, rational knowledge has to give way to practical action and faith is the bridge between limited, always limited human knowledge, and the inevitability and necessity of human action. That, ultimately, is something that knowledge can teach us. Thank you very much.
HITCHENS: Well, if I’m not mistaken that was a “meaning of life” question though, wasn’t it? Whence forth meaning? Good, a good way of winding up, if you like.
AUDIENCE MEMBER [From the back of the hall]: Forty-two!
REA: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
HITCHENS: I missed something there. It went passed my bat. And slightly put me off my stroke as well, just a second. Where was I? Yes, meaning. But before I go to that, just a two things on Dinesh in his last remarks. I don’t think it can fairly be said in front of an audience like this that the refusal to take a faith-based position which has no evidence—in other words, a belief that there is an afterlife or a belief that there is a supreme being—if I say, “I don’t believe it because there’s no evidence for it,” it isn’t even casuistry to say that that is, on my part, a faith-based statement. It’s instead a refusal of faith and a refusal to use it as a method of reasoning. So, it’s not comparing like with like at all. Second, not just completely to defend Sigmund Freud, Dinesh is right in criticizing Freud’s Future of an Illusion to the extent that when people are subject to wish thinking, we might expect them to be purely hedonistic, only to want the best, to say, “Let’s imagine a comforting future while we are about it, is something that will cheer us all up.” As a matter of fact we’re not as nice as all that. We don’t want everyone going to hell—excuse me, we don’t want everyone going to heaven. As the old English sect used to say, “We are the pure and chosen few and all the rest are damned. There’s room enough in hell for you, we don’t want heaven crammed.” And the great existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said that hell is other people, but actually what many people mean is hell is for other people and they have just a strong a wish thought that other people suffer eternally as they have the thought and the wish for themselves that they should be in paradise. You can see it very explicitly when you see other versions of the paradise myth like the Muslim one, or early Christian versions where part of the pleasure of being in heaven was knowing that other people were burning forever. And that’s what you’d expect from a predatory, fearful, partly-evolved, primate species that was making up a religious story about itself. It sounds exactly as you would expect it to do. Alright, well believing in none of that, in fact thinking it’s an evil and futile belief, people have the nerve to ask me, “Well, if you don’t believe in heaven or hell, what gives you life meaning?” Do you not detect a slight insult as well as a slight irrationality to that question? You mean I’d have much more meaning in my life if I thought that I would die and I’d be given one chance, or would have been given, while I was alive, one chance, that if I’d make a mistake, I’d be condemned eternally, that that was the kind of judge I’d be facing. And in the mean time, it would advisable to live my life in propitiation of this supernatural dictator. That would lend more meaning to my life, than my view counter to Pascal, contre Pascal, that if there’s any such church, I’ll be able to say, “At least I never faked belief in you in order to win your approbation, sir,” (or ma’am, as the case may be) and if you are as reported, you have detected my thoughts, and at least I wasn’t a hypocrite. Pascal says, “No, at least pretend you believe, it’s win-win.” This is corrupt reasoning. It’s the reasoning of the huckster and it lends no meaning to life at all. Still, why do I care? For example, why do I care? Why do I care about Rwanda? Why do care about my Iranian friends fighting theocracy? Why do I give up my own time to them? Well I’ll tell you why, and I say it, I suppose, at the risk of embarrassment: it gives me great pleasure to do so. I like to that I’m—since we only have one life to live that I can help people make it free as best I can and assist them in their real struggle for liberty, which in its most essential form is the struggle against theocracy, which is the original form that dictatorship and violation of human rights actually takes. I enjoy doing it and I enjoy the sort of people it makes me come in contact with. And I like giving blood. (Passively, I mean.) I don’t like spilling it but I don’t mind having it run off me in a pint because, strangely enough, it’s a pleasurable sensation. And you know that someone else is getting a pint of blood and you aren’t losing one because with a strong cup of tea or bloody Mary, you’ll get it back—or both, you’ll get it back. So it used to appeal to me in my old socialist days, it’s the perfect model for human solidarity. It’s in your interest to do it. Someone else benefits, you don’t lose and if like me you have a rare blood group, you hope that other people do the same thing so there’s enough blood when your own turn comes. And it’s an all-around agreeable experience and it’s not like being fearful of judgment. It’s much more meaningful than that. I think it’s often believed of people like myself there’s something joyless in our view. Where is the role in the atheist world, the unbelieving world, for the numinous or the ecstatic or the transcendent? Well, come on, those of us who can appreciate poetry and music and love and friendship and solidarity are not to be treated as if we have no imagination, as if we have no moral or emotional pulse, as if we don’t feel things at nightfall when music plays and friends are around, as if we don’t get great pleasure. When we meet, we don’t meet to repeat incantations we’ve had dinned into us since childhood. We don’t feel so insecure that we must incant and recite and go through routine and ritual. We meet to discuss our differences and to discuss the challenges to our world view…
REA: Coming to a close.
HITCHENS: ...from people like Dinesh. We try and use the method of the Socratic dialogue even when its conclusions are unwelcome to ourselves and though, therefore I can’t recommend atheism as morally superior, I can say that at least it faces the consequences of its belief with a certain stoicism. We might wish for eternal life but we’re not going to award it to ourselves as a prize for work we haven’t yet done. So my closing recommendation is: why not try the stoical and Socratic life for yourself? Why not examine more close the tradition, the great tradition that we have, from Lucretius and Democritus that goes through Galileo, Spinoza, Voltaire, Einstein, Russell, and many others. A tradition, I think, much greater than the fearful and the propitiatory and the ritualistic. I’ve been enormously grateful for your kindness for having me here. I want to thank you again. Good night.
REA: Thank you all for coming.