I’ve had a busy week. Monday was Boston Skeptics in the Pub with the famed and justly popular Marc Abrahams of the Annals of Improbable Research. A wrap-up of that event, plus video goodness, will come soon enough. I’ve also had podcasts to record Sunday and Wednesday and a few other events Tuesday and this Saturday, thanks to the Harvard Humanists.
This Saturday I’ll be on campus to see Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin receive the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism ($10 tickets are still available!). On Tuesday, those zany Ivy League heathens also organized a debate between Dan Barker and Dinesh D’Souza on the topic of atheism vs. Christianity. It’s the debate that I really want to whine about (not my packed schedule).
First of all, I found Barker to be intelligent and well-spoken, if not just a bit dry. Second of all, my feelings on D’Souza, bearing in mind my obvious bias: he is a vile person. I mean, seriously, ugh. During his introductory statement, I remember thinking, “Oh, he made a joke there. He seems to be nice enough.” But by the end I was thinking, “If I were a Christian, I would campaign to have his Bible taken away and his vocal cords forcibly removed.”
Perhaps it’s because I don’t attend many debates, but I found this to be the most pointless exercise of my month, and that includes last week when I turned a vacationing coworker’s cubicle into a gnome-themed magical wonderland complete with gnome-faced cupcakes with little strawberry cone hats. Seriously, this debate was more pointless than that.
I think it’s safe to say that by the end of the debate, there was no consensus on the whole “is there a god or not” question. I doubt anyone in the audience left with a new outlook, unless the original outlook was “Dinesh D’Souza seems nice enough.” Rather than torture you with a blow-by-blog account, I’ll just pick out one example that I hope illustrates the utter pointlessness of this exercise combined with the reason why D’Souza turned me off to such a severe degree.
I’ve seen online clips of D’Souza in debates, and a few times I’ve heard him say this very strange thing: that society makes “laws” to prevent people from behaving in a certain manner, and scientists make “laws” to vainly attempt to make the Universe behave in a certain manner.
I’ll give you a minute to roll that around your head.
Each time, D’Souza’s opponent corrects him, informing him that the word “law” has different meanings. Proscriptive laws are the ones society makes to enforce civility, and descriptive laws are the ones scientists use to describe the behaviors they observe in nature. Tuesday night, D’Souza used the exact same fallacious argument that had been repeatedly corrected for him in the past. This caused me to wonder: is D’Souza just not getting it? Is he unable to understand this simple distinction? Or is he purposely using underhanded tactics to argue his point?
To put it in blunter words, is Dinesh D’Souza stupid or dishonest?
I’d like to have had the change to ask him personally, but the line to ask a question was long and my patience was short. I only made it through the entire debate due to the calming effect of the drinks I had prior (thanks Joshua!), and I certainly have no desire to see D’Souza ever again. Nor any other debate, for that manner.
So tell me, Skepchick readers: do debates do it for you? Do they have a time and a place, or are they useless exercises?
And Harvard Humanists, I’m counting on you to save my brainmeats with a much more fun and interesting event on Saturday! Locals, post below to let me know if you’re going to be there. Maybe we can go for dinner or drinks beforehand!
Greg Epstein, chaplain of the Harvard Humanists, sent me a note highlighting the fact that the students were in charge of putting on the debate, and they did an excellent job. I’ll quote from his message with his permission:
So the best thing I take away from this event is that the students who ran it, who were mostly freshmen and other newbies, all smart and with raw talent– got involved, got to thinking, and got a charge of energy towards future Humanist/skeptic/atheist organizing. Now it’s up to us to guide them towards organizing better things in the future.
I can definitely get behind that. I’ll just clarify that I was annoyed because of D’Souza’s inability or unwillingness to listen to his opponent and answer the questions posed to him by the moderators and audience members. The debate itself ran smoothly and the students handled everything very professionally — I especially liked the guys who repeatedly clarified for D’Souza and audience members that a question is a short interrogative sentence.
Also, here’s the link to Joshua’s wrap-up of the event. Sorry I didn’t include it earlier!
Lack of sleep has made me forgetful, unable to communicate clearly, and ignorant of my friends’ blogs. Let that be a lesson to you kids.