Most reviewers of the debate, including those who agree with John's position, have said that John lost the debate. I would agree if we are talking about the technical rules of debating. Dinesh presented his points more clearly and more emphatically than John. John's overall presentation was weak and somewhat disorganized. He failed to challenge many of Dinesh's points and rebuttals. However, I think this was due to the fact that Dinesh is an experienced debater and a polished speaker. As I reflected upon the specific arguments that Dinesh and John gave, however, I believe John is the clear winner on substance.
Below is my summary of the debate along with my comments (in bold). I have only listened to the debate once, and while I tried to take good notes, I may have missed some things or placed them in the wrong place. With that caveat, here is my summary of the debate.
Opening Statement from John Loftus:
Dinesh will argue that belief in the Christian God is possible no matter how unlikely. I call it the "Dumb and Dumber" Defense from the movie with the same title. In the movie, Jim Carrey is told by a girl that he has one chance in a million of getting her. Carrey is excited, and says, "well then I do have a chance." Loftus says that the likelihood of the Christian God existing is about the same as the chance Carrey has of getting the girl.
While I basically agree with John's point, I would not have used the "Dumb and Dumber" reference as it seems that you are calling Dinesh and Christians dumb. That just serves to turn the audience against you from the very beginning.
1. Loftus argues that our religion is largely determined by where we are born. He says that if Dinesh had been born in an Arab country, he would likely be defending the Muslim God tonight instead of the Christian God. Loftus maintains that people tend to follow the religion which is dominant in the culture in which they are born and reared.
This point is indisputable but could have been phrased more carefully. Dinesh and probably some of the audience thought John was saying that the geography was the determining factor rather than the indoctrination provided by the child's parents and culture.
2. Loftus argues that Christianity is not unique in its enormous growth or positive influence on society. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world today. They all think that their religion is a positive influence on society. Hindus think the same. Shintoists think the same, etc.
3. Loftus argues that showing that something is consistent with a belief in the Christian God is not the same thing as proving that the Christian God exists. For example, he expects Dinesh to use the "big bang" theory to argue for the Christian God. The fact is that Muslims could use the same argument. So the argument does not prove anything relative to the existence of the God Christians believe in.
4. Loftus argues that the Bible demonstrates a superstitious, pre-scientific understanding of the world. For example, the Bible presents a donkey that talks, DNA being changed by viewing peeled sticks, Egyptian magicians changing sticks into snakes, etc. No educated person today would believe such things really happened.
True, but some Christians who admit there are some errors and myths in the Bible, still hold on to their Christian faith. They would argue only fundamentalists accept everything in the Bible as literally true.
5. Loftus argues that a belief in the Christian God is based on historical evidence and that history is very weak in evidential value because it is subjective and biased.
Once again true but not presented in a clear way that would be easily understood by audience. Could be taken to mean that we cannot know anything about history. John alluded to some author that has written on this subject but he should have quoted the author and formulated a clear argument.
6. Loftus argues that if the Christian God really existed, He would have condemned slavery, female subjugation, and the killing of people who have a different religion. He would have made doctrines over which Christians have spilt each other's blood, such as the doctrine of the eucharist, unambiguously clear. Instead, he left it vague even though he would have known that it would be a major point of contention among his followers.
Excellent point and one that should have been driven home time and time again.
7. Loftus argues that the problem of evil negates the existence of the Christian God. He says that a loving parent would not give his child something that he knows can cause harm. He says that even though God knew that giving man free will would produce enormous suffering, he did it anyway. He compares a mother giving a razor blade to a two year old. If that toddler hurts himself or someone else with the blade, its the mother who is at fault.
Another excellent point which should have been restated when Dinesh failed to answer it.
Opening Statement from Dinesh D'Souza
Dinesh says he is "baffled" by John's opening statement. He says that we are here to debate facts and John has given us "argumentum diarrhea." He says that Loftus is "just whining." He says John needs to make specific arguments against the Christian God.
I find Dinesh's comments insulting and condescending. I also think that John did make some specific arguments against the Christian God which Dinesh just ignores. John would have been better served to enumerate his arguments and restate them in the conclusion to his opening statement but this does not permit Dinesh to just ignore them.
Dinesh then responds to John's first point by saying that the argument about where someone is born being determinative of what they believe is the "genetic fallacy." He says that he was born in India, a Hindu country, yet by choice became a Christian. He says that if someone was born in Oxford, England instead of Oxford, Mississippi, that person would be more likely to believe in evolution. Does that have anything to do with whether evolution is true or false? No, it doesn't. Thus, John's argument is irrelevant.
Dinesh is flat wrong about John's argument being a genetic fallacy. I have discussed this in a previous post.
Furthermore, I think Dinesh is being disingenuous when he says he was born in a Hindu country, yet became a Christian. My understanding is that Dinesh was born to Christian parents in India. That changes everything. At 17, he came to the USA. This is where John could have been clearer in his argumentation. Its not the geography of where someone is born as much as it is the religion of the parents to which he is born.
Dinesh does not address any of the other points made by John but rather begins to make his positive case for the existence of the Christian God.
1. Dinesh argues that Christianity has a better explanation of the ultimate questions of life than does science. He says that science has "no clue" to the following questions:
a. Where did we come from?
b. What is the purpose of life?
c. What is after death?
Of course science doesn't touch on these philosophical questions. It is not the domain of science. Just because religions have answers to these questions does not mean they are the right answers.
2. Dinesh argues that the universe had a singular beginning and thus must have had a cause. He says nature could not have produced itself because at the time of the big bang, there was nothing. He says that the Hebrew Bible recognized this truth, because it teaches that "first there was nothing and then there was something." This something, i.e., the universe, was caused to exist by the Christian God.
First, as John already pointed out, there is not agreement among scientists on cosmic singularity. As a matter of fact, Stephen Hawking, whom Dinesh cites as his authority on this matter, has since changed his mind. In A Brief History of Time (p. 53), Hawking writes:
"So in the end our work became generally accepted and nowadays nearly everyone assumes that the universe started with a big bang singularity. It is perhaps ironic that, having changed my mind I am now trying to convince other physicists that there was in fact no singularity at the beginning of the universe-as we shall see later, it can disappear once quantum effects are taken into account."
It would have been good if John would have nailed Dinesh on this misrepresentation of Hawking.
Second, the Hebrew Bible does not say that "first there was nothing and then there was something." Dinesh makes an assertion but provides no scriptural evidence. Furthermore, if Dinesh is claiming that the Bible is being true to science in this case, then why isn't it in other places, such as the day the sun stood still in Joshua? The Christian apologist cannot "have his cake and eat it too."
3. Dinesh argues that the universe is finally tuned and that if any of the laws of the universe were even slightly different than they are, no life would exist. He says this demands belief in a God who cares for us.
While Dinesh is right about the fact that the laws of the universe could not be changed and life still exist, this does not argue for the Christian God. In fact, it does not even argue for a God at all.
Dinesh pauses to mention that he is arguing for the Christian God on the basis of secular reason not divine scriptures.
He is arguing for a deity but nothing in his argument demands the Christian deity. Furthermore, many Christian apologists would say that Dinesh has already "sold out" by placing secular reason over divine revelation as his ultimate authority. That is because they realize that if reason is the ultimate authority, then Christianity is not true.
4. Dinesh argues that things in the world are not the way they ought to be. He says that all of us can imagine perfection but we are not able to attain to it. He says that no religion but the Christian religion solves the problem "from the top down." Man cannot reach up to perfection but the Christian God can reach down and bring us to perfection.
I found this argument to be quite vague. Because we can imagine perfection does not mean that it has to exist. Furthermore, if the Christian God is lifting mankind up to his level, he is doing a pretty poor job of it. In addition, other religions have means for individuals to reach perfection. I fail to see how this argument does anything to prove the God of the Christians exists.
5. Dinesh argues that there is strong historical evidence that Jesus existed and that he was raised from the dead. He says that the historical evidence that Jesus existed is far greater than the evidence that Socrates existed, yet no serious philosopher or historian today doubts that Socrates really existed. He says there are four historical facts upon which the majority of scholars agree: a. A man named Jesus lived in 1st century; b. This man Jesus was crucified; c. This man Jesus was buried in a tomb; d. This man Jesus was seen alive by both believers and skeptics three days later.
These ideas are plagiarized from William Craig. First, these 4 things are not historical "facts." They are reports that purport to be historical. I would accept these 4 things as probably historical if you were to change letter d. to read: This man Jesus was reportedly seen alive three days later but the reports were written by his own followers many decades after the event supposedly happened.
6. Dinesh argues that the universe requires an explanation.
Okay, but that does not mean that we know what the explanation is and it certainly doesn't demand that we postulate the God of the Bible as the only viable explanation.
7. Dinesh argues that the existence of a moral law demands a lawgiver.
This is an assertion without any proof. Why does morality demand a supernatural being? Dinesh does not say. Why would a moral code demand the Christian God? I really tire of this argument because the morality displayed in the Bible is inferior to the morality of civilized people today. If the Bible was written by the moral lawgiver, then why does it demonstrate such a poor morality itself?
Rebuttal by John Loftus
1. Loftus mentions brainwashing and says that Dinesh and Christians are brainwashed as much as Muslims.
While this may be true, although I would prefer to say they have been indoctrinated, it is not productive to bring up in a debate. It sounds insulting and condescending and turns the audience against you.
2. Loftus argues that history is subjective and is therefore very weak in terms of evidence.
I agree but Loftus does not substantiate his point. He should have formulated a specific argument.
3. Loftus argues that Christians accept the conclusions of science in every area except those where it contradicts their holy book. He mentions that "cosmic singularity" has been refuted by Victor Stenger.
This is an excellent point that I think needs to be driven home more forcefully. Christians trust medical science when they get sick. They trust aeronautical science when they get on a plane but when science contradicts anything in the Bible, they take the Bible over science. Regarding Stenger, John again fails to cite the specific argument that Stenger makes. Just saying that an author has refuted something without citing the author is not a good argument.
Rebuttal by Dinesh
1. With regard to John's charge of brainwashing, Dinesh counters by saying that the vast majority of people in the world believe in God, so if John is right, virtually the whole world is brainwashed.
Saying the majority of the world believes in God is argumentum ad populum and is not a valid argument. The whole world used to believe the earth was flat too.
2. Dinesh says science is on his side and refers to a list of 200 of the greatest scientists from history who believe in God. He says that with regard to science, "Loftus is lying." Dinesh claims that "cosmic singularity" is an established fact and cites Stephen Hawking. He says that when atheists don't know how to explain something they chant: "quantum".
Dinesh is being disingenuous again. Yes, many scientists in the past believed in God but most today do not. Dinesh should have mentioned the dates when these "200 greatest scientists" lived. With regard to "cosmic singularity", it is Dinesh who is stating a falsehood. Hawking has repudiated "cosmic singularity" and Dinesh either knows that or should know it. Its the Christians who insert "Goddidit" for anything they can't explain. To say that atheists chant, "quantum" is not a parallel. There is scientific evidence for "quantum physics" and there is none for God.
Dinesh refers to near death experiences as proof of the after-life. He rejects the "dying brain theory" that scientists have proposed because he says that if the person's brain were dying, how would you explain the fact that the person is functioning normally now.
I can't believe that Dinesh does not see his own contradiction here. If the person's brain were dead (as Dinesh claims), and not just dying (as science claims), then its even more incredible that the person is functioning now. Not only was his dead brain brought back to life but it was healed of any damage.
Furthermore, even if the NDE's are true, they don't prove the existence of a God, much less, the Christian God.
Dinesh argues that Christianity is the only religion that accepts another religion as being entirely true, namely, Judaism.
How this is supposed to prove that the Christian God exists is beyond me.
Dinesh says that Catholics and Protestants disagree mainly on just one doctrine, the nature of the eucharist. He says they agree on 99% of core doctrines.
That is blatantly false. Protestants disagree with Rome on the authority of the Pope, the sufficiency of the Bible, the plan of salvation, and a host of other matters. Either Dinesh is ignorant or he is intentionally being deceptive.
Dinesh argues that John's point that the disagreement among religons cancels them all out is not valid.
I agree with Dinesh here. John's point has some merit but would need to be stated in a different way.
Dinesh argues that Jesus' moral teachings is what makes him great. His teachings if followed would make everyone's life better. He says this is a big problem for the atheists to answer and it always disarms them. He goes on to say that Jesus never hurt another person and is a good role model.
Some of the teachings reportedly said by Jesus are in fact good, practical principles for living. Others are completely impractical and would lead to utter disaster if practiced. As far as Jesus never hurting anyone, that may be true of his first advent but Christians claim he is coming back again and then he will hurt a lot of people.
Dinesh argues that the existence of hell is sufficient refutation of the idea that the after-life is a result of "wish fulfillment." He says that if the afte-life were simply the invention of those who want a pleasant existence after death, then the idea of hell would never have developed.
First, as stated above, even if there is an after-life, it does not prove the existence of a God much less the Christian God. Second, hell is easily explained under the idea of "wish fulfillment." Those who want a pleasant existence in eternity want their enemies and oppressors to experience the opposite, thus the invention of hell. Virtually everyone who believes in an after-life believes he or she will be going to heaven. Its only their enemies who will be going to hell.
After careful reflection on the specific arguments presented by Dinesh, I did not fine a single one with any merit. He basically has no argument at all. John did have some good arguments but they were not always stated clearly and emphatically. John would have been better served to select his three or four top arguments and keep restating them against any rebuttal offered by Dinesh.
In conclusion, let me say that I am not claiming that I would have done a better job against Dinesh. Its easy to sit back as a Monday morning quarterback and point out others mistakes and shortcomings. I applaud John for his efforts and I think that on the matter of substance, he won the debate.