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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Debate--Dinesh D'Souza vs. John Loftus

On Tuesday night, Feb. 9th, Dinesh D'Sousza and John Loftus debated the existence of the Christian God at the University of Illinois. The full debate is not yet available on line but there are some clips on Youtube.

In one of the clips, Dinesh attempted to answer John's argument that people tend to adopt the religion into which they were born. John argues that if you were born in India to Hindu parents, you are likely to follow Hinduism. If you are born in Saudia Arabia to Muslim parents, you are likely to adopt Islam. Similarly, if you are born in the U.S., you are likely to be a Christian. John's point is irrefutable. Statistics easily confirm it. So, how does Dinesh respond?

He argues that John is guilty of the genetic fallacy , the idea that an argument is wrong based on the origin of that argument. Dinesh says that if you were born in Oxford, England as opposed to Oxford, Mississippi, you would be more likely to believe in evolution. If you were born in New York as opposed to New Guinea, you would be more likely to believe in Einstein's theory of relativity.

There are so many problems here, I hardly know where to begin.

First, John's argument is not an example of the genetic fallacy. An example of the genetic fallacy would be that an argument originating from a bad source must be bad or conversely, an argument originating from a good source must be good. For example,

(1) My mommy told me that the tooth fairy is real.
(2) The tooth fairy is real.

(1) Eugenics was pioneered in Germany during the war.
(2) Eugenics is a bad thing.

John is not saying that Hinduism is bad because India is bad or that Christianity is good because the U.S. is good. He is simply making the socially scientific observation that people are most likely to adopt the religion of the culture in which they are born.

Second, Dinesh's example is not analogous to John's. The theory of evolution is something that can be investigated and repeated. It has been established as a scientific fact. The overwhelming number of scientists believe in evolution. The same is true of Einstein's theory of relativity. Religion, however, is not something that can be investigated scientifically. Religion is based on faith (as shown in my previous posts). There is not an overwhelming consensus around the world among educated folks that any one religion is true such as there is with evolution or Einstein's theory of relativity.

Third, the reason that someone born in Oxford, Mississippi or New Guinea might not believe in these scientific theories is simply because its more likely that the persons born in those two places have less education than those born in Oxford, England or New York. On the other hand, the reason why someone born in Saudia Arabia is likely to be a Muslim is because of the dominance of that religion in that culture. In addition, while John's contention is easily demonstrable by statistics; Dinesh's rebuttal is not. It is simply an ad hoc argument intended to divert attention (red herring fallacy) away from the real issue.

Some have said that Dinesh won the debate. That may be true based on the technicalities of scoring a debate but its not true based on the substance of what was said (at least not what I have heard up to this point). Dinesh is a polished speaker and an experienced debater. He knows how to sway an audience. Oratory, however, is not a substitute for valid arguments.


  1. I think you're missing why people think D'Souza won the debate. It is completely true that D'Souza didn't bring up valid arguments, but also remember that the only reason we know this is because we're already educated on the subject. It would be very difficult for a Christian to convince us he has good arguments because we already know why most of them are invalid.

    When you're looking at the audience, however, they would not automatically know that D'Souza's arguments lacked substance. To the common ear, they seemed quite valid. That's why, in a debate, these arguments need to be effectively responded to to question the credibility of the debater saying them. And, as I remember it, that rarely, if ever, happened with D'Souza's arguments. I think that that was the largest problem I had with the whole thing.

  2. Franklin, you may very well be right. I have not heard the whole debate yet. The problem is perhaps that John and other atheists who debate Dinesh, Craig, etc. have not taken classes in debate techniques. We all probably need to take some basic classes in debate.

  3. Franklin, you are ignorant. While I'll admit I could have responded better than I did on a few questions. I WAS NOT GIVEN THE CHANCE TO RESPOND.

  4. Ken,

    Dinesh was correct. John was guilty of the genetic fallacy. The source is irrelevant whether it is good or bad. I honestly don't think you know what you are talking about here.

    The truth is what we are talking about which can be obtained from reality. Where a belief comes from is irrelevant to the veracity of that belief.

    Einstein for example came up with the idea for his theory of relativity from his pantheistic worldview; however, the idea of relativity is not falsified by his inspiration for that belief.

    The whole argument boomerangs on atheists who deny that a person has free will. Education is indoctrination and no different than any other source for forming beliefs. If the mind is merely a physical process, then there are no right and rational beliefs since the mind is not able to think outside of its environment.

    I like John's new line of thinking in that he was not given a chance to respond. Failure is always followed by a million excuses. John just lacks good arguments is all; otherwise, he would have done better. His argument for brainwashing for example is terribly poor. John tried to have psychological impact rather than rely on a good argument. Atheists are good at name calling but it rarely is effective in a debate.

    God Bless...

  5. Zdenny,

    1. I don't think you understand what the genetic fallacy is. Ken just explained why John's argument is not the genetic fallacy, and your objection is not objection at all. Reread Ken's explanation.

    2. Einstein for example came up with the idea for his theory of relativity from his pantheistic worldview;

    Care to cite a source for this assertion? Einstein certainly didn't believe in a Judeo-Christian sort of God, but claiming that relativity was inspired by what he did believe? That's an incredible stretch that needs backing up. Einstein never wrote anything to suggest this, so you're going to have to do a whole lot of unsubstantiated wrangling to show it, and you'll fail in the process.

  6. @zdenny -- I agree that the source of a belief does not contribute to its veracity one way or the other, but this is not the point John makes. He recommends the 'outsider test of faith.' That is, as an outsider, could I prove this to myself.

    The point is not whether I heard that water has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom from my mother and father, from Hitler, Oprah, or Pamela Anderson. The point is that regardless of where I heard it from, I can study it objectively and decide for myself whether it actually is true or not.

    John's point, if I understand him correctly, is not that WHERE the view came from affects it's veracity, but simply the fact that we should not automatically believe it BECAUSE we heard it from that source. While the belief may be true even though we learned it as children from our parents, John's point is to encourage us to challenge it since simply because it came from our parents.

    My hypothesis as a believer as of 1.5 months ago is that while a lot of believers say they have good reasons over and above their faith being passed down... we actually mean that most of us grew up not questioning it (who grew up in a Christian house and actively pursued at age 8 wondering if Islam or Hinduism was equally true?), and then 'grew stronger' in our faith by virtue of the fact that we were probably immersed in a one-sided information stream of theology, apologetics, etc. So now, as intellectual adults who can form any number of arguments against anything that challenges us, we point out the flaws in atheistic arguments and are able to sit back comfortably in our can't-prove-God-wrong-chairs rather than actually taking a moment to try and understand what it is that the atheist has problems with. Gee, there are so many people who question Christianity... I wonder what their point really is or how they came to that conclusion?

    Lastly, re. name calling. Did you listen to the debate? Have you heard D'Souza before? Of any debater I've ever listened to I believe he is the most condescending, insulting, and come-across-as-arrogant individual yet. Hitchens has some of this going on, but Dinesh really has no problem absolutely insulting his opponents via name-calling - directly to their faces, using overtly insulting language, etc.

    Don't-know-what's-out-there bless...

  7. Einstein's theory began with thought experiments, and made a unique prediction regarding light and massive objects. That prediction was tested and was confirmed. That's how science works. It is not a debate.
    A bad education is no better than indoctrination. A good education teaches critical thinking skills that lead one to question assumptions and work out ways to test ideas--pretty much the opposite of indoctrination. Again, science is not settled by debate. Repeatable tests with controls and blinding is how the mind "thinks outside of its environment." Internally derived knowledge offers no chance of doing this. BY DEFINITION.
    To paraphrase Philip K. Dick, reality is what refuses to go away when you stop believing in it.

  8. John's statement is a genetic fallacy because he is stating that a person forms their belief due to their environment.

    Christianity is based on the empirically verified historical fact of the resurrection. The evidence for which is overwhelming.

    While lack of evidence can be demonstrated for all other world religions, Christianity doesn't lack evidence and is loaded with support.

    The only way to deny the evidence for Christianity is to enforce a naturalistic worldview on the evidence which clearly is unjustified.

    Why do you think most Islamic and secular countries suppress Christianity. Christianity is rational and supported by evidence. When placed side by side with other religions, Christianity always wins which means it has to be suppressed.

    Even now in the U.S. the secularist suppress Christianity in the hopes of stamping it out. Even though we have guaranteed free speech and freedom of religion, secularists are attempting to keep faith in the home rather than allow our freedoms as guaranteed in the public as stated in the Constitution.

    Everyone knows the power of Christianity which is why everyone opposed to Christianity has to engage in censorship.

    John's argument should have been that the evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. Dawkins wants to label faith education for children as child abuse in an attempt to suppress free speech and freedom of religion. This is the only way method at their disposal because the evidence for Christianity is overwhelming and incontrovertible.

    God Bless...

  9. Zdenny: “Christianity is based on the empirically verified historical fact of the resurrection. The evidence for which is overwhelming.”

    And just HOW does modern humanity know this??? The same way we know Jesus loves me…”for the Bible tells me so!” or purely: Circular Reasoning!

    Fact is, the Bible (via Jesus) CLEARLY tells all Christians: If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. (Matt. 17: 20).

    And, again in Luke: And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamore tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. (Luke 17: 6).

    The Biblical claims even get more outrageous in John 14: 11. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. 12. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. 13. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

    So Zdenny, you claim that the Bible’s claim that the resurrection evidence is “overwhelming” and true but yet, the same Bible claims any Christian, with the minuteness of faith, can cast mountains and sycamore trees into the sea. This is an over whelming Biblical fact, yet, in the history of Christianity no one has EVER done this nor has seen it done!

    Fact is again Zdenny, if Jesus (by his own words) ever went to the Father, than, again by Jesus’ own words, every Christian should be doing greater works than Jesus himself ever did!

    So which is it Zdenny? Just why have none of the other Biblical claims never happened:

    A. Because no Christian has ever had faith even the size of a mustard seed?

    B. Because Jesus did not go to the Father “because I go unto my Father.”?

    C. Because Jesus was a liar?

    C. Because the Bible is just not true?

    The day Zdenny can do what the Bible (In Matt., Luke, and John) CLEARLY states ALL Christian can do (No If’s, And’s or But’s), then AND ONLY THEN I will consider the historical fact of the resurrection is “overwhelming”!!!!

    So until then Zdenny, you, and all the other Christians, have a lot of work to do on your faith!

  10. Harry,

    You shouldn't have stop at John. You need to read on into Acts.

    The mountain and the tree examples are absolutely true. When you have faith, you are walking in the will of God. As the Bible says, "It is God at work in you both to will and to do of HIS good pleasure."

    Since it is God's Will that is being carried out, you only need a small amount of faith (any amount will do) to do incredible things; however, all Christians know that faith in Jesus Christ causes us to walk within the will of God being compelled by His love. If it is God's will for a mountain or a tree to be moved, it will be done! All Christians believe this! Since God brought the universe into existence, we are also absolutely certain He can move a mountain or a tree anytime He desires.

    God Bless...

  11. Zdenny,

    If Christianity was a modern product marketed in the media whose claims could be held accountable in a court of law, churches would be sued out of existence.

    Fortunately for Christianity, it is grouped with ALL the other world religions and is immune from the real world just as a child who makes wild statements and acts in irresponsible ways is immune from the real world and it’s legal system.

    While Christianity may claim it is the only true faith system and its God is the only true god, the legal system (especially in the United States), gives Christianity the same protection it would the mentally handicapped and children.

    If Christianity was as factual in its supernatural claims as the Bible clearly wants people to believe it is, it would not find itself in the same basket with all the other world religious systems and given the same handicapped treatment under the law.

    In short, as for as the legal system is concerned, the Christian faith can NOT be held accountable since it has NEVER reached the age of factual and legal accountability.

    Thus, the Bible itself can sin with as many defaults (claims and promises) as it wants, it WILL NEVER be taken serious enough to be held legally accountable.

    It will be when the Bible and Christianity is removed from the mythological basket of world religions and is held totally accountable under law; when it can be sued in court for Biblical claims, that my friend will be when I accept the resurrection (and its god) as a historical fact.


  12. I think Zdenny is a character from George Orwell's "1984."

    I think he worked in the "Ministry of Truth."

  13. ZDenny,

    You're clueless on the difference between a statistical fact and "the genetic fallacy."

    We are all products of both Genetics and Culture.

    Statistically, children grow up with physical attributes dicatated by their parents genetic structure.

    Statistically, children grow up believing what the culture around them tells them to believe.

    Those are just statistical facts. There is no place to even introduce concepts of logic.

    The only way to scrape out a true genetic fallacy would be to say "A Christian told me that children tend to take on the religion of their parent's, so I know it's true." (Because Christians don't lie) (the imputed statement).

  14. But what if the culture is diverse, Jim, and people are exposed to a variety of options, as is increasingly becoming the case on account of the information age? When that person chooses Christianity, he's doing so for more reasons than that his parents or culture told him to do so. Not all of the reasons may be rational, but may be because Christianity meets their needs in ways that other religions do not. But, in this day and age, many people are consumers of religion. They're not predetermined to believe in Christianity because they live in a "Christian" culture (if we even are that---totally).

  15. When I was in the fifth grade, I had a teacher who always told the class to be different as individuals.

    She would tell us that it is so easy to float down the river of “me too” ignorance, but it takes character and diligence to fight the popular current and swim up stream.

    By comparison, the super natural worlds of religion are a vast cafeteria whose offerings are open to everything our mental tray needs to assemble what we want to call “God”.

    Of course, this mental smorgasbord is limited when we do choose one religion over all the others and assemble the available myths into some human characteristics we can call our “God”.

    This why religion is sooo available as a mental default and why everyone wants to and can do it.

    It is a totally a Win / Win situation. And just as the circus “carny” lures unsuspecting people over to play an easy to win game (Everybody plays; everybody wins!), in the end, the only thing gone is the money people put up hoping to win.

    From the earliest times on some Holy Mountain (Sinai / Horeb ) to the Temple in Israel, the Judeo-Christian religions have been feed and kept alive by, NOT GOD, but MONEY.

    This is why religion and politics are always grouped together: Both need believers and money to give them life and power.

    Secondly, the proof whether one god / religion or political party is the only true way to go is built only on the subjective faith of the true believer! But, without faith backed by money, the religious god is dead.

    When I pass churches on my way somewhere, I see a service offered to the community as a business much like the SAM’S Clubs and Costcos who offer services to those who pay to play.

    So, if you want to really see what God looks like, pull a bill out of your wallet. He look just like a former leader of the United States!

    Remember, the 10% tithe and the over and above offering are the blood that keeps the god of faith on his throne.

  16. So according to Dinesh's (sad) logic, all Buddhists must be committing the genetic fallacy too, because they're Buddhist and just don't give a hoot about Christianity? That sounds rather absurd if you ask me.

    It seems by espousing as much Dinesh is, himself, making the genetic fallacy by saying that morality can only have meaning under the Christian context and no other.

    Sometimes Dinesh D'Souza's logic is so poor it just eludes me.

  17. @John

    Franklin's ignorance must be contagious, then, because I agree with him 100%. But then again, I've done hard sales work and I deal with the public on a regular basis. I'm well versed in handling objections before they come up and controlling the conversation to make my side look better than the competition's.

    "While I'll admit I could have responded better than I did on a few questions. I WAS NOT GIVEN THE CHANCE TO RESPOND."

    This is essentially the same as saying that you did not control the tempo. If you had, you would have built your scaffolds early and had them to rely on when you were shut out. You could have made an off-handed remark as you came into the next question, or worked it into the Q&A. This is how debates work... sometimes you have to be sneaky when your opponent doesn't give you the chance to respond.

    It doesn't make Franklin (or anyone else) ignorant or even antagonistic when they try to constructively point this out. We're all on the same side here, isn't it possible to learn from each other?

  18. James Pate,

    If the culture is diverse, it would simply make the statistical data collection and correlation study more difficult.

    However, you could still perhaps find out that in a diverse culture where there are 4 religions that comprise 10%, 20%, 30% and 40% and children reach adulthood with religious beliefs in the same exact proportion--then it would still be a statistical truth that "children tend to take on the religion(s) of the culture they grow up in."

    Of course, one could take the data mining further and figure out if the children were taking on the exact religion of their parents, or if they were all shifting around a little or a lot--yet still correlating overall to the "parent population" in general.

    This would simply be another statistical data point collection and analyzing exercise. Perhaps the data would show no change from parents belief, little change from parents belief, or much change from parents belief.

    It's just a data mining exercise depending on what question you're trying to answer.

    But it still results in a statistical result--not a result of some genetic fallacy.

    A proper attack against the statistical answer that you think might be in error is to attack the science based on things like "improper questionnaire setup" or "biases in collection." For this reason, actual sociological studies collecting data like this present the collection protocols and analyzing protocols so that peers can review the results and see if they are valid.