Measured Against Reality

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Great Debate

I just got back from the Hitchens debate. I have to say, Hitchens is a wonderful speaker, incredibly articulate and a masterful wordsmith, and still clever and funny. His ability to speak on the fly is something to behold. However, he did nothing to endear himself to his opponents, calling them names (albeit only deserved ones) and using colorful language (at one point saying that if someone told him to sacrifice his daughter he could only reply, "Fuck you", which must have gone over great with the people in the churches the debate was broadcast into).

And, as anticipated, the moderators were incredibly biased. Ben Stein was openly antagonistic toward Hitchens, and Hitchens didn't mind at all (one presumes he gets it all the time). They also could have controlled the debate much better, it reminded me of the most recent Democratic debate, where there was more talking between the debaters than question-answering. The few questions that were asked of the debaters were tremendously inane creationist claptrap, almost verbatim out of the Index of Creationist Claims. It would have been really nice to have a question that was antagonistic toward Mr Richards (the Theist).

All that said, I think Hitchens could have done a better job. One of Richards's key points was that the universe had a beginning, that it came from nothing, and must therefore have a cause. Besides being readily refutable philosophically, we don't even know it's true. I think if Hitchens had pointed all that out, then repeatedly stress (although he did stress it once early) that God is a shitty explanation for this anyway, "I don't know" is a far better answer, that Richards would have been blown out of the water.

In fact, I would have stressed the atheist's uncertainty, and the beauty in that uncertainty. I know it's not terribly persuasive to someone who has committed to Theism, but neither is anything else, and I think that the openness of our minds, and our ability to say, "I don't know", are two things that should be stated at every opportunity.

I have only one last criticism of Hitchens, the debate was only 105 minutes (90 "televised", the rest Q&A with the audience), and expecting extensive coverage of all the issues is absurd. However, dismantling Intelligent Design can be done in that time (especially since Hitchens definitely got more than his fair share). Sticking to the topic (which Richards correctly criticized Hitchens for not doing) would have been more effective than tangents that, while true critiques of religious, were a bit misplaced. But perhaps that is an unavoidable consequence of the way his mind works.

That said, he was great, and I would have paid to listen to him. Plus he gave autographs afterward, and personalized them too (something Richard Dawkins did not do, but Dawkins had a considerable line to deal with, while Hitchens had only a handful of fans). If you have the chance to listen to him, whether in a speech or in a debate, even one totally stacked against him, you should absolutely do it. It was well-worth the hardship I now have doing the work I need to get done for tomorrow.

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  • I guess the bias was to be expected, given the groups behind the event. It's frustrating that we can't seem to slay the Incompetent Design movement. It sounds like Hitchens performed well under the circumstances, although he probably should have spent less energy bashing religion/Christianity and more on some of the really straightforward criticisms of ID, where he might actually sway people.

    I don't know all those criticisms myself, but off the top of my head, don't the examples of "irreducibly complex" cell/body components that IDers bring out, like flagella and clotting, keep getting scratched off, one by one, as biologists find scientific explanations for their evolutionary development? But every time that the ID belief of "there's no WAY it could happen!" is proved wrong, they just leap to the next lily pad. Well, science is closing in and ignorance is getting smaller every day.

    By Blogger Jeremy, at 4:40 PM, January 29, 2008  

  • the truth will out! that craven coward ebon musing (redundancy intentional)just banned another theist because that theist was kicking ebons ass in a debate, then ebon deleted the posts in which his ass was being kicked! and three for the hat trick! even atheists know that craven cowardice is bad for the gene pool!

    By Anonymous theistscientist, at 12:27 PM, January 31, 2008  

  • Theistscientist, why do you think I care about what happens on someone else's blog/forum? I read Adam's blog, but how he manages comments is entirely up to him and doesn't affect my opinion of him at all (although, honestly, I highly doubt that your portrayal of the situation is entirely accurate).

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 12:33 PM, January 31, 2008  

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