Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?

broadcast March 2008

Michael Shermer and Dinesh D’Souza go toe-to-toe on some of the greatest issues related to science and religion: is there evidence for God’s existence, what is the proper relationship between science and religion, and has religion been a force for good or evil in the world?

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57 Comments to “Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil in the World?”

  1. Robyn Wells Says:

    On the question who would invent hell? I wanted so badly to hear the the answer that there has to be a place for wrong doers/unbelievers to go. A reward and punishment system. It makes us feel better to know that people are going to get their just due. It’s hard to do good simlply because it is the human thing to do. Denish said it was because of Christian values that we do good for people we don’t know but I belive Buddah said to do this before Jesus. Also I wish Michael Shermer had responded with in Christianity we are threatened with believe or go to hell not by our works. I wonder if Dinesh has read the old testament as I’m doing now? How does he account for the angry, violent and voltile God I’m reading about? What about the Jesus who tells us to take up our swords? I was a Christian for 45 years. I would still be one if I knew which was the right part of the bible or the right personality of God to believe. Dinesh also states that only 2000 were killed because of Christianity. What about the Cathars, the Crusades, people killed on both sides during the Protestant Reformation, the native people of North and South America as well as other less conventional Christians like the Quakers. In response to Denish’s comment on the 10 commandments first, there were many more than 10. Next get some stones ready because breaking many of the commandments requires stoning. Did it ever occur to him that they were written by peoople to establish order in their enviroment?

  2. Steve Says:

    Another poster mentioned the fact that D’Souza was offered the last word on nearly every question debated. If I remember correctly, I believe Shermer was given the last word on an issue just once. Doesn’t that seem incredibly biased for a “debate”?

    I would agree that D’Souza won this debate, but the format, audience and moderator where all very obviously in favor of Dinesh from the beginning. I’m not sure anyone could pull off as much as a draw when debating someone in front of a hostile audience, with a moderator agreeable to the opposition in a format that almost always allows your opponent the final word.

  3. Anna Says:

    God is used as an EXCUSE for evil behavior . . .
    and the REASON for good behavior.

    There is no God . . it’s just a convenient excuse.

  4. Brian Says:

    “If god did not exist, it would be necessary to create him” – Warrel Dane –

  5. Robert Says:

    This was an interesting debate, and both D’Souza and Shermer are formidable debaters, but D’Souza clearly had the upper hand. Sure, the home field advantage and bias of the moderator helped, but D’Souza really out debated Shermer. D’Souza quoted his opponent more often, used Shermer’s arguments against him, and generally presented as a better public speaker.

    I would have liked to see Shermer engage in a more traditional style of debate (not only impart support for your position, but point out the fallacies of your opponent’s arguments). For instance, when D’Souza was speaking about religion as wish fulfillment not having Hell, it would have been nice to hear the mention of “cosmic justice” in Shermer’s rebuttal. A debate, by its nature, will not be won only by explaining how you are right. You must also explain why your opponent is wrong. D’Souza did a better job of this, even if his arguments were flawed.

    I more or less agree with Shermer as to whether religion is good or evil, only instead of yes, my answer is no. Religion (just like many human constructs) is neither good nor evil, just as an ingot of steel is neither good nor evil. The ingot could be used to make a sword that kills children, or it could be fashioned as part of an irrigation system allowing fresh water for the impoverished. Either way, the ingot is neither good nor evil, it is only what humans do with the ingot that can be considered good, evil, moral, or immoral. Good and evil are themselves human constructs and do not exist outside the human social construct. Religion has been used as the rationalization for great wrong, and the inspiration for great altruism.

    My father is a more aggressive athiest, and hopes that some day religion will wither away under the weight of empirical and rational thought. Religion will never go away. The simple fact of the matter is that people are not only rational, but emotional and capable of great rationalization (in the logical sense). People believe not what is true, but what they choose to believe. This is true of all people. “I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” (typically paraphrased: “God does not throw dice.”). This is a quote from Albert Einstein regarding quantum physics. Einstein chose not to believe the theory, even though he admitted that this was where the math lead him. It turns out that the theories that Einstein was referring to were correct.

    We all believe what we choose to believe. This is part of the human condition. We are hard wired to be tribal, we are hard wired to seek patterns, and we hate and fear not knowing something. This is what it is to be human, and as long as we are human, there will be religion.

    We would be the same without religion. Mother Teresa and Osama Bin Laden would still exist without religion, they just would have found other justifications for their actions. I was reading something about the new U.S. hate crime legislation and how many congressmen felt it would eliminate racism. I laughed. Racism is an expression of traits that are hard wired into humans, as are sexism, ageism, communism, egalitarianism, and, yes, religion. Passing a law will not stop humans from acting like humans. That doesn’t mean that the negative aspects of these traits should not be dealt with (they must for us to progress as a society), but let’s not kid ourselves. The only way for us to stamp out religion is to stamp out certain hard wired human traits, which will have its own set of negative consequences.

    Like it or not, religion is here, and it’s here to stay until our brains evolve significantly. The same argument can be made for science (remember, science is merely the process for finding the truth of the physical laws we are constrained by). It would be great if, as with any social group, the members could work with each other to benefit society as a whole.

  6. Carol Says:

    First, I’d like to know WHY it’s SO important to christians that non-believers….believe? And…what is the difference between a non-theist (deity) and an atheist) someone who doesn’t believe (like me) in the god word?
    As for “near-death” experiences, I believe that has everything to do with the brain gradually shutting down or the brain chemistry changing as the person gradually approaches death or even if they ‘cheat’ death. I don’t know that I believe in miracles. I prefer to call these “miracles” luck and nothing more. There’s no ‘man upstairs’, not unless you have something psychologicallly delusional going on. I like how people, those who say they’re christian, equate all things good that happen to them or problems that are solved, with religion. In the field of mental health, a schizophrenic says she/he ‘hears’ voices and that’s why they’re mentally ill, so if a christian says the same thing…I once heard a comic tell another comic that if she’s hearing her ‘god’ to her, she needs to get in touch with Bellevue.

  7. Carol Says:

    I’ve read…online and heard on t.v. that a non-believer, cannot prove the god-word exists. I’d like that person to PROVE that their god does exist. I can’t actually see the wind but I know it exists and it has something to do with currents and I see trees sway in the wind or feel it against me. I prefer PHYSICAL evidence of religion as opposed to being brainwashed or faith as something that people have, just because they don’t question what their church tells them.