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The Great Debate:
Dinesh D’Souza v. Michael Shermer

broadcast February 2007 | comments (79)

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In this debate on what are arguably two of the most important questions in the culture wars today — Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil? and Can you be Good without God? — the conservative Christian author and cultural scholar Dinesh D’Souza and the libertarian skeptic writer and social scientist Michael Shermer, square off to resolve these and related issues, such as the relationship between science and religion and the nature and existence of God. This event was one of the liveliest ever hosted by the Skeptics Society at Caltech, mixing science, religion, politics, and culture.

Dinesh D’Souza is the Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Investor’s Business Daily called him one of the “ top young public-policy makers in the country,” and the New York Times magazine named him one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers. Before joining the Hoover Institution, Mr. D’Souza was the John M. Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In 1987–88 he served as senior policy analyst at the Reagan White House. From 1985–1987 he was managing editor of Policy Review. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1983. His books include the New York Times bestseller What’s So Great About America. His 1991 book Illiberal Education was the first study to publicize the phenomenon of political correctness. He is also the author of The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno Affluence. D’Souza’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair, New Republic, and National Review. His latest book is titled What’s So Great About Christianity?

Part A

Part B

Part C

Part D

topics in this broadcast: , , , , , , ,

79 Comments to “The Great Debate:
Dinesh D’Souza v. Michael Shermer”

  1. Keith Says:

    Even if Christianity was the source of modern values (or all of morality as Dinesh seems to think), what does it matter? I still have no reason to believe in a diety, much less the paragon of anti-modern values, the Judeo-Christian god.

  2. Joel Says:

    Two words: Antony Flew

    Flame away.

  3. Christopher Engelsma » Blog Archive » Atheism Says:

    […] Dinesh D’Souza also regulary takes on athiests.  He has debated Daniel Dennett and MIchael Shermer. […]

  4. Eli Says:

    This is directed at those that are denying the existence of the Jesus from the Christian Bible.

    Claiming that Jesus never existed is to deny the tools that are used to understand our history. Bart D. Ehrman has shown how we know that Jesus existed based on 1) Criterion of independent attestation, 2) Criterion of dissimilarity, and 3) Criterion of contextual credibility.

    Jesus existed, this is simply a matter of good history. To argue that ALL the stories that are described in the New Testament gospels are true brings up some major historical qualms, but this does not mean that all of it is wrong. Hypothetically, if we one day found out we were wrong with our understandings of natural selection this does not infer evolution is false.

    To deny that Jesus in the gospels did not exist one would have to prove how he did not exist by falsifying the arguments set forth by such leading academics as Ehrman. It is just as childish to buy into a Zeitgeist argument as it would be to infer that a global flood happened.

    As for Atheists or Theists killing, this argument is getting so absurd on both sides. People kill, memes do not. Memes can influence, but it is the person that carries out the action. The use of ‘Atheism’ or ‘Theism’ as the reason for killing is barbaric, as we all know its the abuse of power, and it just so happens these memes allow for a greater abuse of that power. In the end, with or without them people will find some meme to abuse and kill in the name of that.

  5. manainne Says:

    Is it possible to be a “good” person without Christianity? Of course it is, but why bother?

  6. Derek Says:

    It appears that many on this page are more interested in the existence of God. Unfortunately, the existence of God is not quantifiable and it cannot be known through empirical methods. Yet, people attempt to discredit D’Souza simply because he believes in God. Further, people do this based on presuppositional philosophical rationalism, a priori. To put it another way, D’Souza doesn’t matter to you because, his perspective doesn’t jell with your world view. If this is the case, why watch scholastic debate? All you have done is proof text the arguments to suit your biases. I want to thank both of these debaters for approaching this debate with professionalism and intelligence. I wish the posters would do the same.

  7. Thy Liberty In Law » Laying Down The Law Says:

    […] […]

  8. mark Says:

    D’SOuza clearly won the debate. He has had many debates now with atheists and its becoming tiring the wipe he destroys their arguments!

    No wonder Sam Harris has requested a written debate with D’souza and has refused to an oral debate.

  9. Reborn Says:

    Tom Laird said most of it, but I am shocked at the number of people who have developed their own set of “beliefs” in an attempt to justify a lack of moral or ethical self-worth. Being a former atheist myself, I found it easier to sin than follow God’s guidance.

    I feel compelled to remind the blind naysayers that a theory, such as the “big-bang” theory, or Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution”, are just that…THEORIES.

    From —

    1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein’s theory of relativity.
    2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
    3. Mathematics. a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.
    4. the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory.
    5. a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.
    6. contemplation or speculation.
    7. guess or conjecture.

    Please note the last couple of definitions in particular. To paraphrase Charles Darwin, ” I do not believe the theory to be plausible, but it is all that I have, since I do not believe in God”.

    The facts are clear, but it easier to deny them than face the truth of a bleak and dismal eternity without faith.

  10. gary Says:

    There is a problem here that I have seen from both Michael and Hitch.
    They sometimes seem to come in with their own statements to make (which is fine) but don’t take the time to refute the ridiculous drivel thrown out by the opponent.
    They would better serve the “cause” if they would pay a little more attention to the charges being made, rather than the charges they go in expecting.
    It would be fairly easy to refute so many of the statements thrown out, and the opportunities are missed.
    I don’t know the first thing about formal debate, but I have never lost an argument in a bar (snicker) so that must mean something…right?
    Seriously though, make notes while your opponent is talking because some of those watching may not realise what lies they are spreading. Just because you know it’s a silly statement doesn’t mean everyone viewing does.

  11. joe Says:

    John, Post 31 wrote:
    > USA [is] the shining light on our planet….

    Looks like someone has their own issues with believing in mythical bunk…
    Shining Light = Military bully, ‘spreading democracy’ at gunpoint.

    (that would be the same ‘democracy’ that will use force to try and ‘solve’ the bugabear of Global Warming (great article on *that* BTW — I love to see Skeptics debunking the religions of the left as well as of the right. Although, I like George Carlin’s poignent rant on the ‘save the planet’ religionist just as well as Patrick Frank’s)

  12. Evan Says:

    I love watching these two guys debate. I am a Catholic but I have huge respect for Michale but I agree with most people here that defined arguments were not here. Dinish argues that western Society at large benefited from its Christian past. Michale worries that theistic beliefs will halt progress etc. Kinda going in circles in many aspects I agree with them both.

    Joe I would be careful in calling the Liberation of Iraq Mythical Bunk..It it not just American guns spreading Democracy in Iraq by gunpoint. The Iraqi security forces with the support of the Americans are trying to give that country a brighter future than it would have had under Saddam then one of his sons.

    Your words are very hurtful to many people my self friends of mine. How has freedom ever been wrestled from the kind of tyranny Saddam embodied but by the end of gun? It isn’t 2006, and current success is not mythical bunk by any stretch.

  13. Noel Cruz Says:

    I watching the whole debate, one could note the reluctance and inability of Shermer to answer any of the questions that were directly given to him. D’souza on the other hand approaches and answers all his quesitons with truth. I see nothing wrong in living with the thought that you have to answer to a higher power since it affects the way you live today. If there is no GOD, then anything goes and this will be the time when humanity will end.

  14. Michael Says:

    I came here via a link from another website, and I was surprised at the overwhelming number of anti-God statements (in light of population statistics, etc.) … and then I see I am on Michael Shermer’s website. LOL. Explains a lot!

    I haven’t watched the videos yet, but have only read the above comments. It’s obvious many people consider themselves Bible experts who don’t know a thing about what the Bible says. It’s also obvious that many people on here are clueless that many Christians don’t consider the great body of so-called Christians of past centuries to be true Christians. And this follows on the logical view that people who are true representatives of a religion should practice what that religion teaches … which is certainly not what we see in the wars and persecutions of medieval Christianity. This is not surprising, because New Testament faith is a hard line, which even people who “believe” it are not willing to follow. There is very little Christianity in the world that is true to its source, even allowing for the complexities of understanding an ancient text and the different ways a statement can be understood.

    On the other hand, there is nothing inherent in an atheist/evolutionist ideology to prevent someone from being a warmonger. Indeed, it would very much fit with how things happened over the supposed millions of years of pre-human existence … such people would just be continuing the tradition. The ideas that individuals have personal “value”, that people have rights, that human life is something special, are all spiritual values that must arise from something other than scientific facts.

  15. Farook Iqbal Says:

    Shermer, why don’t you debate with someone who is not an employee in your disbelieving magazine. Ravi Zacharias comes to mind. You have tons of evidence but yet you dont debate someone who is outside of your safe circle.

  16. Farook Iqbal Says:

    Also wanted to respond to your BS on Penn and teller’s BS. Here is some proof since you actually didn’t do your research before you went on the show.

    Penn and Teller are liars who want ratings for their show. They are BS. here is why. There is not just a little evidence but a ton of evidence of the Jews being enslaved by Egyptians. Its located in the 12th dynasty. Most Archaeologist look the 14th dynasty for evidence and don’t find any. Its the WRONG TIME PERIOD!!!! Just look it up on the INTERNET. DID THEY ACTUALLY DO ANY RESEARCH OR JUST PICKED A Biased point of view and went with it. Sobekneferu who was the daughter of Amenemhet III is recorded as having NO children. She went and bathed in the river. Why would she do that? go to the river to bathe?? DID SHE NOT HAVE FREAKIN BATHING FACILITY IN THE PALACE???? She went to the river to bathe because she was praying to the river GOD HAPI BECAUSE SHE HAD NO KIDS AS IT ITS IN THE BIBLE EXODUS 2:5-6. This all is not from the bible but is 12th century Egyptian records. Funny how the bible account says the same thing in great detail? hmmm yet the bible there is no actual fact just fiction.

    I also liked your weak premise on how there was another guy who preformed miracles and did stuff like Jesus there were lots of them. They all did it. Very nice fallacy? Here let me say the same thing in different words so you can get it. though there were lots of basketball players that played ball they were all like Jordan. They all threw the ball in the hoop. Sounds very similar to “Fallacy of Exclusion”. Please present better arguments Shermer i don’t have your education or your nice diploma’s and i know you’re full of it.

    If God is not real why are you so bent on proving it? Please think about that statement first then respond.

  17. Simple Says:

    I keep hearing “Did not prove that Jesus exist” or as Michael quoted, “If God were to put a large sum of money into a Swiss bank account” or “Why would god not grow limbs” To me this just means you have no idea how God works. He wants us to find him through distance and discipline, to earn the wisdom. If he grew our limbs and provided miracles we would believe because we were shown it but didn’t have to find it. lives lessons are not learned through witness but experience. “Who are we to demand our creator prove himself?” This explains the lack of depth in a atheists comment, there hatred and mean spirit. Just empty vessels that repeat day in and day out things they saw on Discovery Channel or read in a book. Watch comments from the “atheist, you will see no heart, no passion. just repeaters spewing scientific “facts” that have yet to provide a single proof that God does not exist. My point is God can not been shown in a lab or micro scope. Nothing I say to you will get you any closer to God. I had to find him on my own with my own self sacrifice. I never demanded he prove anything and perhaps that is the difference between us. Just imagine there is a God and at the end he makes sense of everything. Why we are hear and the point to it all. There is more to this life then shopping and the Internet. He explains that we are young and he had to create this temporary life to condition us for something bigger. Some passed some do not. And we take all of our experiences and understandings and move on to something amazing. Or you live on this earth because of a chemical reaction. You have no purpose because in the end when nothing is left it is as if it never existed. This conversation is pointless. Feeding our children and teaching them is irrelevant. They will just be dust one day. What is the point in even reading this and arguing creation vs evolution if nothing matters in the end. Why do soldiers sacrifice their lives for civilians if in the end the life is nothing?

  18. elmolestoso Says:

    But why won’t god heal the amputees?????

  19. Robert Says:

    Great debate, and well done to both sides. Very entertaining, and personally I felt Dinesh was slightly superior as far as scoring the debate would go.

    Personally, I am agnostic (lol @ ‘atheist without balls’, but I would prefer to say ‘an atheist is an agnostic without brains’). I appreciate the devotion to scientific rationality that comes from the skeptical side of the debate, but I am bewildered how this could lead a person to be ‘certain’ that no god exists(certainly something that science has not proved or disproved). My own background is scientific and while I am well aware of the phenomenal progress made in explaining the nature of our world there is still huge parts of the spectrum that remain unknown. The beginning of the universe for example. Even if we reasonably accept a Big Bang, and I personally do, what was before this? Where did the matter come from? Sounds like a reasonable point of entry for the existence of a god. That being said, I don’t know, and nor do you, so until more evidence comes to light I remain open minded.

  20. Richard Says:

    I have spent a good deal of time researching the connection between pagansim and the Bible and there is a massive amount of plagerized themes that are in the bible from older Assryo-Babylonian religions as well as Greek and Ggyptian. This includes most of the major characters, Moses – Bacchus, Jesus- Mithras just as a few examples.

    From a historical perspective Jesus also fails to meet the litmus test. Jospheus Antiquities mention of Jesus was latter admitted by Christians to be a forged entry and Pliny the Younger is a more reputable entry however it does date the appearance of Jesus much later and coincides with Luke writing of the Synoptic Gospels.

    If the real question of these debates is “Does God Exist”? I always come back to “What evidence is there”? and the answer I always hear is you must have faith.

    I have been taught that faith without fact is ignorance.

  21. Donnie Says:

    Can all this theists give answer to “Why did god create Human race?” and “Where from does he come?” and “Who created him?”

  22. brad Says:

    just read the Devils delusion by David Berlinski. It is a fresh and intelligent rebuttal of the GOD Delusion by Dawkins and Berlinski also strikes at Shermer and Christopher Hitchens. The debate of GOD and science is like the Hatfield and the McCoys feud…it seems neverending. Science has not proved the GOD does not exist. Thats a fact. Also what made the big bang happen??? How did something come from nothing?? Even Hawking writes… if the universe had a beginning then you could suppose it had a creator. Thats a fact. But what overwhelmingly makes me believe that HE is what HE is… I picked up the Fall 2008 isssue of Discover Magazine presents the Whole Universe. Just looking at those beautiful pictures of our universe certainly moves me to think… we are not here by chance. Thats a fact.

  23. supercuré Says:

    Pheeew. Some days I am glad i am an agnostic.

    if i was a Christian, i’d think really hard about the following simple question: is my god the right one?

    Fair enough, you may feel it as a truth – and i can respect that.

    But what if? When you die, what if you happen to be sent to Buddah instead of good old St Peter? What if it was to be Allah? Bhaal? The Big Spaghetti Monster?

    Wouldn’t the “actual” god be vurrry displeased that you worshiped a false god all the time? All religions carry frightening small prints when it comes to worshiping the wrong god.

    So, are you sure that you worship the real god?

    Another question that would make me vurrry uncomfortable is the following: why is it that most Christians were born from Christian families? I mean, Taoists are probably born in Taoist families, Jews in Jewish families and so on. Few Odin worshipers in Marrakesh, not many Zoroastrians in Madagascar. You see the picture.

    So, it looks fairly obvious that one naturally adopts the prevailing religion of their place of birth / residence.

    Then: why would all the Chinese be wrong? Is the god of the Indians not as valid a proposition as yours? Half the world population cannot be wrong, can’t they? And they have old books about their messiah and gods too, some of them predating the Bible by a good few centuries.

    Bhaal’s not going to like it. Pray i am wrong,

  24. Pierrot Says:

    The whole debate is so stupid…

    I never feel at ease when discussing about religion with people, because I simply cannot understand how a normal intelligent adult can believe such -well- stupid stories and the terrible philosophy connected with it.

    Even if – and this issue is often pointed at- you believe in (a) God, how can you be sure that your God is the right one? Shouldn’t you be very VERY afraid that you chose the wrong one? Every religion knows of the worst punishments if you believe in a wrong God. So, mathematically speaking, and even taking into account only the 5 major religions, your chance of being right is at most 20 %… not very much for the challenge of infinite happiness or doom. (if we take into account every God that was ever worshipped, your chance diminishes right down close to somewhere zero..)

    So if people want to believe that a God, a being so powerful that it can create a whole universe, has nothing else to do than presenting himself in more or less obscure ways to a very selective community in old times, with some illusionist tricks and so on… I say: let them. I have no whatsoever in common with people that do believe such things… it simply is schizophrenic and incomprehensible !

    The only thing I strongly would oppose (and fortunately I live in Europe in a, compared to the US, atheistic country) is the way politics would be influenced by religious beliefs. Even though we have many christian parties, even which have the power, no one would openly try to implement a non secular policy in whatsoever field. (They sometimes try doing it through the “back door”, but normally this goes not undetected).

    So I can only hope for the US, that the beginning outing of atheists and the more and more intense debates will help it to arrive in the 21st century as soon as possible.

    At least you invented the FSM, and I think, as silly as it may sound at first, this is a VERY powerful weapon against religions, because you can do EVERY argument the religious use
    with the FSM as well – which shows so strikingly immediately the ridiculousness of all their arguments! )

  25. b hartnett Says:

    i was a skeptic but after this incredibly persuasive performance by dineesh ive decided to become a theist.

  26. Jason Hitchcock Says:

    The fundamental point that Dinesh makes remains unchallenged. Namely, the footing of modern western society’s values like tolerance, compassion, separation of church and state–these were all given their fundamental place in western society by Christianity. It was interesting to me that the debate moved away from the question about “religion being good or bad” and became (especially during the questions) a debate about the rationality of Christianity.

    It’s funny to read all the comments questioning the existence of Jesus. As far as historical questions go, people forget that the criteria for historical veracity is very different from the criteria for scientific veracity. History looks at one-off events, always unrepeatable in a laboratory. Science demands repeatability. The way to answer a historical question is not to demand empirical proof. Rather, the historian is always making truth claims that go “unproven.” History forces the ultimate skeptic to make truth claims based upon a very different system of “knowing.” Keeping this in mind, only the boldest of skeptics (all of course having their own axe to grind) have even suggested that the existence of Jesus as a myth. Take the Jesus Seminar for example. Here is a group of Bible scholars and historians, most of them being secular or your run-of-the-mill “anti-fundamentalist,” and there is remarkable agreement about the existence of Jesus. In fact, you’ll find even secular historians agree on these points.

    1. Jesus existed
    2. He was a Jew from Galillee
    3. He led some sort of movement and was crucified after going to Jerusalem

    Admittedly, these are the most boring conclusions. So to say this helps argue up all the way to orthodox Christianity is ridiculous. My point is, to posit the non-existence of Christianity requires a historical explanation for far more unexplained data. It is a very silly claim, but shows the lengths people go.

    I recommend NT Wright for anyone looking for a historian willing to take on board all that data. Obviously, the guy’s a professed Christian and has an opinion. That does not make him any less of a good historian, and anyone reading his work will see the scrutiny he brings to the table.

  27. Rosaline Costa Says:

    The discussion topic “religion being good or bad” has turned into a debate on “whether Jesus existed or not” point. Historically Jesus existed in Israel born in Galilee, walked around Jordan, Samaria, Tiber,Bethlehem, Nazareth, Judea, etc. areas and died on the cross in Jerusalem. What he did was to help people in curing the sick, giving life to dead, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, curing the lame and so on. What he preached was to love people and to forgive others for their weaknesses. He never preached “Christianity” neither established “Church”. All those who follow his way of life and teachings are called Christians after his name. The nature of people, whatever religion she/he might follow, have the same. The nature of human being is not as per her/his religion, but as a human nature people act. Religion is a spiritual matter which may or can influence in our life but that does not make “religion being good or bad”. “Good and bad” exists in every human being and no religion generates this good and bad. Some may use or abuse religion in this regard but that does not mean the religion itself is totally good or totally bad. Like if I have a knife I can use it for good purpose or even to kill a person which is grave sin.
    Lets us use religion for our good and not abuse for our selfishness in this life.

  28. SamJohnson Says:

    It appears that D’Souza is not an empiricist or a skeptic but instead starts out with positions and seeks to confirm them. His recent film in which he seeks to assassinate Obama’s character, sliming him with claptrap — that he’s a subscriber to a “3rd world anti-colonialist ideology” is nothing less than bearing false witness. The idea is hardly coherent but is nevertheless a calculated and deliberate smear.

    If this guy is an advertisement for Christianity I would spit on it. Fortunately I know some Christians whom I admire and respect. They would pray for this creep.

  29. swis Says:

    @Donald Foster Let me ask you this: If I believe like that of atheist then what is my punishment as an atheist for not believing as they do?
    If an atheist believes as I, how much more of an award of good news is it that he will have an eternal life? Furthermore: If I am loyal to my creed, and my creed requires me to share my creed, how then am I not blameless to share my creed with all since my creed solidifies that all may have the same creed as I?. If my creed is righteous and true, how then am I not blameless from those who never believe my creed, whom I have shared my creed? The creed of Jesus Christ, the Lord of all in the universe , who came as God in the flesh and Savior of all man; and man’s eternity because of man’s sin for man’s creed. So to am I to share the word and good news so that all may be saved.