Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dembski got Hitch slapped...but who am I to judge??

My editorial nonsense and opinions on the "debate" between Dr. William Dembski and Christopher Hitchens from November 18, 2010 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
I don't regularly attend any social functions with atheists. I don't have an overabundance of atheist friends. I don't have t-shirts or bumper stickers that tell everyone what I don't believe in. But...if you're reading this, you know I don't need any of those things to let you know. I don't have a habit of being secretive about being atheist. I do not believe in any god. I do not possess the "gift" of faith. If there was a word like "atheist" that meant without faith (afaithiest?), that's what I would be. I know a lot of people (in fact, most of the people I know) who have this "gift" of faith.
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11: 6(NKJV)   (whoops)
Stop getting antsy. I'm getting to the debate....

I heard that Hitchens was going to be at PBC during Muse in the News on 1310 The Ticket (thanks, Gordo!) the day before the debate. I couldn't believe I didn't already know about it...then I remembered that whole thing about few atheist friends, yada yada yada. I immediately ran to the kitchen, even though we don't allow running in the house, and told Jared. It took 2 seconds to decide we were going.

 Atheism isn't a choice I've made lightly.
Hitchens isn't my favorite author to read, but I do love hearing him speak...something about the British accent. I didn't know who Dr. Dembski was, but as the opposition, I assumed he was a Christian...and being a doctor, he was obviously someone who had been able to hold on to faith, despite his knowledge of science. People like that fascinate me. Being that I found out the day before the debate, I didn't have time to do any research on or read anything written by Dr. Dembski. Of course, I have read God Is Not Great... by Hitchens. Great book.
Heathen reading
And, ironically, the only white book on the heathen shelf.....hmmmmm...

As we entered the sanctuary at PBC, a place I have been only once before to see a Nicole Nordeman concert, we were directed to the top rows...the lower section was completely reserved for students, as well as the first 7 rows of the top-middle section. The sanctuary seats 7,000 people, and by my estimation, it was at about 90% capacity. (If you're interested, if every person in the sanctuary had to buy the $5 ticket, PBC made about $30k off that 3 hours...I'm not sure what they paid the if you wanted to PDF of the laughable debate guide, it was $35.)

As my friend Chris said, "Call me naive, but it never dawned on me that there would be 20 minutes of hymns before the Hitchens debate."  The first hymn was, appropriately, called "Just the way it is." No better way to start a debate on the existance of God/god. The praise team proceeded to sing 2 or 3 more songs, and it became apparent during this time that there were approximately 2 non-belivers in our section, and maybe 40-50 elsewhere in the sanctuary. Four songs, two prayers, an introduction...and finally the speaking began.

Hitchens went first with the opening statement. He was mild, and we began to wonder if he was holding back because he was looking into the faces of THIRTEEN year-olds as he was speaking. He spoke in layman's terms, briefly visited the Big Bang theory and personal experience. I thought his opening was rather weak, compared to the Hitchens we're used to hearing.

 *side note, Hitchens was diagnosed with metastatic esophageal cancer back in June of this year, a fact that the XIAN crowd obviously had not been made aware of, as they laughed when he wiped at and blew his nose during the debate*

Once Hitchens finished his opening, which again, I would say was pretty innocuous, Dembski shuffled his papers and began reading. Yes, reading. I was TRULY disappointed in this. A prepared opening statement. To be read. Verbatim. The kicker to this opening was that Dembski's ENTIRE opening was about Hitchens and what he believes. He also prepared some sciency statements, much of which left me utterly confused as to what he was talking about. While sciency Christians fascinate me, I didn't think there was any need for the sciency-ness, as Hitchens is not a scientist. He's a social commentator and contributing editor for Vanity Fair. He uses science that you can see on Discovery, not science you have to be able to understand the mind of Hawking to get...

I did take some notes, and here is what I have written down from Dembski's opening remarks:

Complexity = Intelligent Design
Theists have more options, atheists MUST believe in evolution - video of cell complexity
Analogy - Murder : Design :: Natural Causes : Non-design
Complex scientific principles (i'm lost here??)
evolution advances the atheist agenda (what is our "agenda"?)
Junk DNA book

I did find Dembski's references to Boethius interesting - he was cited as presenting that the problem of evil may be that of Christianity, but the problem of good belongs to atheism. Boethius was born sometime during the 5th or 6th century, but I'm interested in finding some of his writings.

Here are some other notes I have from Dembski's orations (click to enlarge)

Vaginal mutilations...??
Now, don't go getting upset about that vaginal mutliators bit. I guess it's true...apparently there are more people in communities who practice vaginal mutilation as a form of contraception than there are secular folks in the western hemisphere. Although, I'm not sure what that has to do with anything about God/god. ??

The circular logic of God defining good, therefore he can't be anything but good, and anything bad that happens isn't him being bad, it's just a plan we don't understand...yeah, that whole idea....maybe I'd bite on it if I were sheepish, but I think Dembski thought he was debating to an audience of believers only (see above, vaginal mutilators vs. secular westerners).

Toward the latter part of the debate, Hitchens sparked up (he claimed Starbucks). He was spot on. Game on. Don't mess with the Hitch. He was challenged to define morality without God or the Bible. It's called Humanism. Love your fellow man. Do things that promote the survival of our species. How does this not make sense to Sciency Dembski? We're all humanists...some of us just need divinity to define why we are so.

I'm not saying a lot of what Hitchens said because he mostly described his personal feelings of Christ, Christianity, and morality in response to Dembski. It's difficult to debate a Christian as an atheist, because the matter of God/god isn't really debatable in your mind. Hitchens was trying to prove that morality can exist without God/god, and that there are other explanations for how we got here, and all Dembski did was try to prove Hitch wrong with God as the proof. It was kind of sad.

I am surprised that PBC hosted this event, specifically for their Prestonwood Academy students. Baptists do have a tendency to be a little, shall we say, uppity about their faith. I would love to have the opportunity to talk to the students who sat through the debate. I can't imagine how my life would have been different if I had heard Christopher Hitchens speak when I was 13, going to ho-hum Methodist church. I can imagine he had some impact on the students - if nothing else, enough to get their noses out of the Bible and realize there is a big world out there to explore, and a large number of people who don't agree with their doctrine.

Aside from Hitchens' rant on Mother Teresa, my favorite line from him was what I will leave you with:

"Don't think of that [absolute authority and salvation] as a gift. Think of it as a poison chalice. Push it aside, however tempting it is."

On Monday 11/22/10, you will be able to see the debate online, sponsored by PBC at

Thanks for reading, it's been awhile. :)

**update, debate can be viewed on this youtube channel:


Anonymous said...

"Atheism isn't a choice I've made lightly."

I hate statements like this. It's something I argue about with theists all the time.

Beliefs are *formed*, via the preponderance of evidence collected consciously and unconsciously -- what you've heard, where you heard it, at what age you heard it, what critical examination of you done (if any) -- by your emotional needs, via healthy/unhealthy self-delusion, etc. and many other factors, I'm sure.

But to *decide* to believe something would require deliberate self-deception. I'm going to *choose* to believe I'm a little more handsome and witty, so I can be more confident in bars. I'm going to choose to believe that cigarettes are venomous snakes (literally, not figuratively), so I can't go near a pack again. I'm going to *choose* to believe in God, that I'm immortal, that I'm always loved and never alone, that I'll see my lost loved ones again, that the suffering and injustices in the world happen for a reason, etc. so that I can gain the health benefits such belief has been shown to have, so I can gain fellowship with my overwhelmingly theistic neighbors, etc.

But it doesn't work that way. You can choose what you read, what to watch on TV, who you talk to, what you're going to think about, etc. and those things *inform* your beliefs, but you can't simply decide you're going to believe proposition X and suddenly be a believer.

SPace said...

My comment about choosing atheism was to say that I've chosen to actually do research about a lot of things. Note the books that the comment is under - those are books I have read. I choose to be atheist, because even after reading all those books, and more, it is what makes the most sense to me. My atheism is informed, and I think a lot of people would like to believe that I went from God-fearing Christian straight to atheist. That is not the case.

I agree with what you say abot beliefs and decsions/choices, but it would seem to me to be more appropriate to say I choose to embrace the atheistic worldview than that I've formed that belief. It is not a belief in my mind, but more the absence of superstition. I choose not to be superstitious.