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Christopher Hitchens vs. Dinesh D'Souza

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The Wrath
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I do not know much about Christopher Hitchens. I just started reading his brief biography on Thomas Jefferson. In the first ten pages, he already casts a few aspersions at Thomas Jefferson for being a "contradictory" when it came to slavery. Thomas Jefferson was one of the driving intellectual forces behind the first government established to protect individual rights. His contributions were the initial steps to finally end slavery in America. By leveling such out-of-context charges at Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Hitchens is doing a great disservice to one of the greatest founding fathers.

This book is copyrighted 2005, so the authors sentiments are very recent.

Things like this just infuriate me. This unjust charge is on the level of the faculty member in my department who called Aristotle a pig because he thought higher of men than women.

Edited by DarkWaters
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Very entertaining.

I think this was a good debate. Christopher Hitchens gave few very good arguments, however, he did not provide a standard for a non-faith based objective morality. He was good at explaining why religion is false but offered little in exchange to those who are looking for a way out of subjectivism after they reject religion.

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I do not know much about Christopher Hitchens. I just started reading his brief biography on Thomas Jefferson. In the first ten pages, he already casts a few aspersions at Thomas Jefferson for being a "contradictory" when it came to slavery. Thomas Jefferson was one of the driving intellectual forces behind the first government established to protect individual rights. His contributions were the initial steps to finally end slavery in America. By leveling such out-of-context charges at Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Hitchens is doing a great disservice to one of the greatest founding fathers.

This book is copyrighted 2005, so the authors sentiments are very recent.

Things like this just infuriate me. This unjust charge is on the level of the faculty member in my department who called Aristotle a pig because he thought higher of men than women.

Yes, Jefferson was instrumental in providing the basis for slavery to be abolished. But he also owned slaves. I haven't read Hitchens' biography of Jefferson, but I don't see anything wrong with calling that a contradiction. He wasn't perfect.

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I think Dinesh D'Souza won the debate, because Hitchens didn't take on his premises, and because his own premises are flawed. D'Souza is hanging his hat on Hume. The bulk and thrust of his most vital argument was Hume's idea that we can't generalize from particulars. We can't say that the speed of light is the same across the universe, because we've only measured its speed a few times here, but we don't measure every photon's speed, and who is to say what its speed is elsewhere?

He uses that to attack the notion that the order of the universe can be explained by observation or science, and counters by saying we can explain this order by the existence of a god who wills it to be so. He no where provides evidence for his claim.

Hume's major problem was that he was a rationalist, who tried to prove that which is observed, but you don't try and prove the observed. It goes the other way around, evidence is the starting point, not something that is to be proved. It's the thing on which proof is established. Evidence is the starting point, the given, the unquestioned. Or, more to the point, that which we directly perceive is the given. That's the axiom existence exists.

So, when I observe that light moves at a certain speed in a vacuum, I am going by the evidence, and when I say it is true on principle, I'm going by the fact that things act in accordance with their natures. How do I know things act by their nature, I've observed it. I'm going by the evidence. So, on this basis, there is no place the evidence doesn't support me. Every conclusion is evidence based, so you're on solid ground, including the idea that the universe is orderly, i.e. that things act in accordance with their natures.

D'Souza does take lots of liberties, he somehow believes that he doesn't need to offer evidence for Christianity and gets into a preaching mode from time to time. I felt like I was listening to a wholly roller, albeit a sophisticated one. Hitchens effectively dispensed with Dinesh on that point, though I don't know if Dinesh realized this.

Some other observations:

Hitchens on the the evils of secular movements such as Nazism, Fascism and Communism was quite weak. Those were secular movements, and they were deadly. Dinesh's fallacy was over generalizing, and attributing those evils to secularism, rather than to another form of irrationalism, subjectivism.

Dinesh talked about the achievements of great men who were Christian, e.g. Galileo, Da Vinci, Newton, et.al. , but what is noteworthy is all of these men came after the Renaissance, when Greek thought was re-introduced into Western culture, and the church was on the wane. Those men were also very strongly this world oriented when it came to their work, and influence strongly by Aristotle. Da Vinci was especially influenced by Aristotle, which was one reason he was such a great achiever, aside from natural talents. Dinesh no where makes note of the Dark Ages, when religion flourished. The result of Christianity in the West was the Dark Ages, an extraordinarily low point in Western history. D'Souza is trying to give religion credit for the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. Laughable.

D'Souza is pathetic toward the end of the debate, were he quotes Hitchens "The absence of evidence is evidence of absence." or, as he rephrases it, "if you don't see evidence for something don't believe it." D'Souza actually directly rejects this. Dinesh called that "dogmatic atheism", and then he goes on to say that where there is an absence of evidence, I can say there is a god if I want to, because you can't say there isn't one. It's an astounding attempt to over ride reality by a wish. I've lost all respect for D'Souza after this debate. If you want to see that statement it's toward the very end of the 9th segment, and the beginning of the 10th.

D'Souza says "What about questions that aren't in the empirical domain, like is there life after death."? How do we answer those? D'Souza, the answer is they are INVALID, because they fall outside cognition! Deal with it.

In effect, D'Souza can have no argument against anyone making up anything out of whole cloth.

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I agree with most of what you said, but have to question why you had any respect for D'Souza the first place? I've never heard the man say anything that is rationally defensible.

And I agree that Hitchens gave him a pass on a lot, but I'm not sure that was his fault. I think it was more due to the format of the debate.

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I agree with most of what you said, but have to question why you had any respect for D'Souza the first place? I've never heard the man say anything that is rationally defensible.

At one time I saw D'Souza as a man on the side of reason and a defender of America at its best. It's only recently I've noticed how bad he is, perhaps because he became worse.

And I agree that Hitchens gave him a pass on a lot, but I'm not sure that was his fault. I think it was more due to the format of the debate.

No, it wasn't format. You have to go right at the bad premises right away and Hitchens didn't do that. I suspect because he is an admirer of Hume, whom D'Souza used. But this is not surprising, since the only people who can really take on Hume are Objectivists. Ayn Rand is the one who effectively answered both Hume and Kant, where no one else could. I think it's interesting that D'Souza brought them out, and I like the fact that he has, because once they are vanquish, it's all over but the shouting.

Also, note my points about Communism, Nazism and other forms of collectivisms. Hitchens was rationalizing his position on that one. What Hitchens should have said is that irrationalism in all its forms is the enemy of mankind, whether religious or secular.

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No, it wasn't format. You have to go right at the bad premises right away and Hitchens didn't do that. I suspect because he is an admirer of Hume, whom D'Souza used. But this is not surprising, since the only people who can really take on Hume are Objectivists. Ayn Rand is the one who effectively answered both Hume and Kant, where no one else could. I think it's interesting that D'Souza brought them out, and I like the fact that he has, because once they are vanquish, it's all over but the shouting.

I wouldn't say either person won the debate. Both were awful on the level of principles. Hitchens' fatal flaw is that he's a skeptic. He believes with Hume, just as D'Souza does, that reason is unable to establish certainty in anything. For the same reason, he is an agnostic, since he can't prove there isn't a God. Philosphically, he is in the same anti-reason boat wtih D'Souza and all religionists.

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Hitchens isn't an agnostic with respect to the Judeo-Christian God anymore than he's an agnostic with regards to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. His position, which I agree with, is that it is impossible to prove that something does not exist, but that there's no reason to believe in any sort of supreme being. That makes him an atheist. An agnostic is someone who thinks there is no principle which allows us to make a judgement one way or the other. Hitchens makes the judgement.

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Hitchens isn't an agnostic with respect to the Judeo-Christian God anymore than he's an agnostic with regards to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. His position, which I agree with, is that it is impossible to prove that something does not exist, but that there's no reason to believe in any sort of supreme being. That makes him an atheist. An agnostic is someone who thinks there is no principle which allows us to make a judgement one way or the other. Hitchens makes the judgement.

Nevertheless, he must be agnostic in regards to God and to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is inherent in skepticism. A skeptic holds that no knowledge is certain. He therefore can neither affirm nor deny anything, he cannot distinguish an assertion from a proven fact - except through the use of stolen concepts. A skeptic is by definition agnostic about everything. If he claims to be an atheist, anyway, he is using stolen concepts, and therefore contradicting himself.

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It depends on how you define atheist and agnostic. An atheist, in my view, is someone who claims that there is no such thing as God. Hitchens makes this claim, just as he does with the FSM. An agnostic is someone who thinks that we can't know enough to make a claim one way or the other. Atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins claim that there is no God. Their "uncertainty" is mostly just a linguistic trick that they use because they don't want to claim infallibility.

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