Dawkins in the Dock

Have you every day dreamed of what it would be like to see über-neo-atheist Richard Dawkins in the dock having his published writings put up to legal questioning of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” kind?

Dream no more! Just click this link to a transcript of an episode of the Hugh Hewitt Show (US), where the legally trained host cross-examines the Oxford Don and exposes some of his weak points. The result is very pleasing in a “shadenfreude” kinda way.

Here’s a taste:

HH: On the person of Jesus Christ, did He exist?

RD: I suspect He probably did. I suspect there are lots of itinerant preachers, and one of them was probably called Yehoshua, or various other versions of Jesus’ name, but I don’t think that a miracle worker existed.

HH: How do you rate the evidence for Christ’s existence, manuscript evidence, eyewitness evidence, things like that?

RD: As I said, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a man called Jesus or Yehoshua existed. I would say the evidence that He worked miracles, He rose from the dead, He was born of a virgin, is zero.

HH: Well, you repeatedly use the analogy of a detective at a crime scene throughout The Greatest Show On Earth. But detectives simply can’t dismiss evidence they don’t want to see. There’s a lot of evidence for the miracles, in terms of eyewitness…

RD: No, there isn’t. What there is, is written stories which were written decades after the alleged events were supposed to happen. No historian would take that seriously.

HH: Well, that’s why I’m conflicted, because in your book, you talk about the Latin teacher who is stymied at every turn, and yet Latin teachers routinely rely on things like Tacitus and Pliny, and histories that were written centuries after the events in which they are recording occur.

RD: There’s massive archaeological evidence, there’s massive evidence of all kinds. It’s just not comparable. No…if you talk to any ancient historian of the period, they will agree that it is not good historical evidence.

HH: Oh, that’s simply not true. Dr. Mark Roberts, double PhD in undergraduate at Harvard has written a very persuasive book upon this. I mean, that’s an astounding statement. Are you unfamiliar with him?

RD: All right, then there may be some, but a very large number of ancient historians would say…

HH: Well, you just said there were none. So there are some that you are choosing not to confront.

RD: You sound like a lawyer.

HH: I am a lawyer.

RD: Oh, for God’s sake. Are you? Okay. I didn’t know that. All right. I will accept that there are some ancient historians who take the Gospels seriously. But they were written decades after the events that happened, and they were written by people with an axe to grind, written by disciples. There are no eyewitness written accounts. The earliest New Testament…

HH: I understand you believe that, Professor. I do. But what I don’t understand is how you can use the analogy of the Latin teacher or the detective, when it breaks down given your dismissal of evidence you don’t see fit to deal with squarely?… It’s actually a very persuasive…in fact, the arguments for the manuscript evidence of Christ and His doings is much stronger than anything, for example, Tacitus or Pliny wrote. It’s just much stronger. Now you might counter with Cesar’s Gallic war commentaries, and you do mention those, and those are contemporary accounts by an eyewitness, but so are the Gospel evidences, say, of Luke accompanying Paul about. And yet you’re dismissive of the miracles that occurred in there. So I’m just wondering…

RD: They may be. The accounts of Luke accompanying Paul may be real, but Luke never met Jesus.

HH: But again, I’m not arguing that point with you. It’s just that you dismiss that all without dealing with it serially, which would not be, I think, consistent with your detective argument, or your Latin teacher argument, because…

RD: I cannot believe that you’re doing more than just trying to score points. You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus.

HH: That’s not what I’m saying at all. I didn’t say that. I said that your argument, by analogy, to a Latin teacher being harried by people who deny certain things, but especially your idea of a detective using evidence at a crime scene, that it doesn’t comport with your dismissal of the evidence for Christianity and the historical Jesus.

RD: Okay, do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: You seriously do?

HH: Yes.

RD: You actually think that Jesus got water, and made all those molecules turn into wine?

HH: Yes.

RD: My God.

HH: Yes. My God, actually, not yours. But let me…

RD: I’ve realized the kind of person I’m dealing with now.

HH: But what would that person be? The Stephen J. Gould student that you’re dealing with now?

RD: Okay. You think that…

HH: Wait, we’ve got to go to a break, Professor.

Read it all here.

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64 Responses to Dawkins in the Dock

  1. matthias says:

    Was Hugh Hewitt a student of Stephen Jay Gould? I read Gould’s books as part of my udnergraduate study and i was impressed with his belief that science could not and should not postulate about the existence of God. In my Bible Study group we have a scientist-microbiologist- and he told us last week that all of his scientific research leads him to belief in God.The concept of design in nature.
    It is good that Dawkins got a taste of his own medicine ,but i hope and pray that perhaps ,just perhaps his experience with HH will make an impact that will cause him to question is position.

  2. Tom says:

    Oh my god. I love it. It’s brilliant.

  3. Kiran says:

    :-) I like it.

  4. Son of Trypho says:

    I think the interview was more interesting for what it revealed about Dawkins – he seems to make a lot of assumptions and casually disregard careful consideration of alternative interpretations/views.

    I’m loathe to say it (based on the academic position he holds) but he came across to me as quite ignorant.

    Not his finest day I think.

    • Schütz says:

      “he came across to me as quite ignorant.”

      Certainly ignorant about the origins of the Genesis creation narratives:

      HH: His [Collins] new book is The Language Of God. He writes in it that the idea that scientific revelations would represent an enemy in the pursuit of understanding the book of Genesis is ill-conceived. How do you respond to that?

      RD: Well, I understand Dr. Collins’ point of views, that there is a compatibility between evolution and religion. How he manages to get that to the book of Genesis, however, I don’t know. The book of Genesis, after all, was not written by any philosopher or scientist of any great wisdom. The book of Genesis was written by tribesmen who had no privileged information at all. And so he, Collins would make a much stronger case if he would give up on the book of Genesis, and say that there is a compatibility between his conception of some sort of God and evolution. I wouldn’t follow him there, but it would be an awful lot easier to follow him than if he says it’s compatible with the book of Genesis. Why the book of Genesis, not any other origin myth of which there are thousands all over the world?

      Biblical scholars would be able to tell Prof. Dawkins that at least the first Creation narrative in Genesis is the work of a poetic and theological genius who was an astute observer of the Universe around him (note well the categories in which he catalogues nature, and the cosmology inherent in the overall picture). Add to this the incredibly fine anthopological philosophy (not to mention theology) in the description of the creation of human beings. Only someone who did not value poetry and theology as disciplines could say that this was not the work of a genius.

      • Son of Trypho says:

        Yes, but not just that – here are a few examples from the first part:

        1. he assumes that Gould would have been quite hostile to his work and infers from that assumption that it wouldn’t have been distributed to his students.

        2. he claims some awareness of Berlinski’s views and again assumes (wrongly) that he is an anti-evolutionist. It appears he hasn’t read his recent works.

        3. he provides a very feeble response to the questioning of the letters received from people complaining about evolution teaching persecution.

        4. it seems as if Dawkins hasn’t read virtually anything in depth which is critical of his position or views.* this just strikes me as being particularly ignorant for someone taking the fight up on a topic.

        *(perhaps the first point I noted was a clue to his own behaviour?)

        • Kiran says:

          Dawkins ain’t much of a philosopher. So, 4 isn’t very surprising at all. It really does drive me up the wall that Dawkins etc… assume theists/Christians are stupid, and don’t seem to be familiar with the charity principle in interpretation.

  5. Tony says:

    I’m actually most interested in the casual reference to schadenfreude, David.

    By way of disclaimer, just in case I come across as a bit ‘holier than thou’, I’m one who enjoys a little schadenfreude myself. I find the arrogance of people like Dawkins and Hitchins brings forth wishes that someone would take them down a notch or two.

    I’ve just watched ‘The Intelligence Squared Debate – Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry vs. The Catholics (Archbishop John Onaiyekan and British MP Ann Widdencombe)’.

    It starts here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvZz_pxZ2lw

    In this case the schadenfreude was very much the other way; the ‘Catholics’ didn’t lay a ‘glove’ on Fry and Hitchins. The latter won the audience over in droves (they had plenty of material to work with!).

    My experience of these exchanges is more like the YouTube debate than the excerpt you posted, by a country mile.

    Is it because we don’t really put up decent speakers to tackle the likes of Hitchens, et al? I think there’s some truth in that.

    But, to me, the fundamental truth is captured in that biblical quote: ‘For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles ….

    In other words, the realm of words (wisdom) is not a realm we’ll ever ‘win’. Effectively it’s stacked against us even where there is good will and genuine openness (rarely a characteristic of these sort of exchanges!).

    So I guess I’m saying that we feel schadenfreude because it’s a glimpse of victory, but that is illusory. Knowing that, how do we approach such exchanges?

    • Louise says:

      Tell you what, Tony, why don’t you just instruct all of us here on what we should do and how we should behave?

    • Schütz says:

      I find the arrogance of people like Dawkins and Hitchins brings forth wishes that someone would take them down a notch or two.

      Yes, that is what I enjoyed.

      Thanks for the link to the other debate – I will watch it tonight when I have time. But it doesn’t surprise me that Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens could win a debate with almost anyone, nor that they won their audience over. They are both very articulate and entertaining speakers (someone recently said that Stephen Fry would be entertaining just reading the white pages telephone directory…). I will withhold my judgement until I have watched the Youtube video, but I already suspect that they won more by reason of their great rapore than by the strength of any particular argument. And one would have to look far and near to find any Catholic who could give them a run for their money on the speakers box. Perhaps Peter Kreeft.

      • Paul says:

        By coincidence, I also found the link to the Hitchens/Fry debate. I was struck by the emotion from Hitchens and Fry – they are literally shaking with anger when they are speaking. I also noted the bias of the “moderator”, who at one stage boasted that the audience was weighted against the yes case.
        The topic for this debate was something like “the Catholic Church is a force for good” which is typical for these things. The question is aimed at targeting the crimes of Catholics rather than the truth of the Church as the framers of the debate think this is the best way to their ends.
        More seriously, I think the mistake that Anne Widdencombe and Bp Onaiyekan made was to evade the questions about homosexuality and condoms, rather than state the Church’s position clearly. The stacked audience would have reacted against them, but truth would have been proclaimed.
        At a personal level, despite the comments people have made here, I think I would rather have dinner with Mr Hitchens than Mr Fry. Hitchens is angry and not above twisting facts to make his case, but I think he is probably good company. Fry, however, I find very irritating. He is on TV a lot lately, and everything he does is based on supercilious, empty word play that sometimes passes as wit, but in the end is a way of avoiding any serious discussion about the important things in life.

        As for the Hewitt vs Dawkins debate, I would have been interested to see video of this to see if Dawkins’ performance is as weak as it reads in the transcript. For example, his assertion that teachers of evolution were being discriminated against went up in smoke after the simplest and most obvious questions.
        Then, later, he made the statement “You cannot seriously be saying that the case for the existence of the Roman Empire is as weak as for Jesus”. If you read the preceding discussion, you can see a live, real-time example of Dawkins’ method of setting up a straw man. He uses the technique so often, he is very good at it.

        Anyway, all these debates reinforce my idea that the New Atheists are really old men frustrated by the continued existence of the Catholic Church, despite the hopes of their youth. If they don’t believe in it, why not just ignore the Church instead of their high blood pressure anger. If they believe the ignorant masses in Africa are being duped, how do they explain their “enlightened” alternative is not replacing the Church.

        • Schütz says:

          I still say you have to respect Stephen Fry, if only because, in his recent USA-TV-travelogue, he used the word “consubstantial” in a non-religious context.

      • Tom says:

        I very much enjoy Peter Kreeft.

        • Tom says:

          okay that was meant to tag with your comment previously about a speaker that might give Fry/Hitchins a ‘run for their money’.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Dawkins is one of the most insufferably annoying people in public life today, and there is tremendous satisfaction in seeing him stumped.

      But there’s an element of shooting fish in a barrel about that. Dawkins may be a first-rate scientist, but he’s not an impressive philosopher. As a result, besting him in a philosophical discussion doesn’t actually establish a great deal; in particular, it doesn’t establish the validity or “convincingness” of your own position. It’s a bit like beating Belgium in a cricket tournament.

      And you rightly raise a much more radical objection; Christianity isn’t about besting anybody. The cross is a radical subversion of the wisdom of the world about the importance of power. To embrace the cross is to embrace weakness and defeat. This is not a clever counterintuitive tactic to achieve power and victory by surprise, as it were; the weakness and defeat for which the cross stands is real, not illusory. Christ really was tortured to death on the cross; if that was not real weakness and real defeat then the resurrection is deprived of meaning. So we embrace weakness and defeat not to achieve power and victory, but to transcend the desire to achieve them. Is it any wonder Paul calls this “foolishness”? Is it any wonder that he asks – particularly apposite in the present context – “Where are the philosophers? Where are the experts? And where are the debaters of this age? Do you not see how God has shown up human wisdom as folly?”

      Ultimately, I don’t think Christianity can be vindicated by besting Dawkins – or anyone else – in an argument, and tempting as the endeavour may be it is, in the end, a distraction from Christianity.

      How should we approach encounters with Dawkins? Well, I think that needs a lot of reflection. But maybe a starting point for a bit of lateral thinking is to ask what we can affirm in the thought of Dawkins.

      I think Dawkins is entirely sincere in his pursuit of truth, and right in his assessment of the importance of pursuing truth. We can affirm that. I feel, though, that he places altogether too much faith in science as the preeminent or even sole discipline for pursuing truth. I think, actually, if you engage usefully with Dawkins, what you end up exploring is the nature of science, and the kinds of truth that science illuminates.

      • Peregrinus says:

        Sorry. Posted this in the wrong place. It’s a response to Tony’s comment further up the page, and “you” in the third paragraph refers to Tony, not David.

      • Louise says:

        As a result, besting him in a philosophical discussion doesn’t actually establish a great deal

        Actually, I think it does.

        Firstly because secularism (of which The New Atheism forms a part) is not rational at all. It is quite happy with contradictions and lack of logic. It is trying, by brute force, simply to assert a variety of things, merely by affirmation, not argument. It is trying to completely rid the world of the Catholic Church. This is partly why these New Atheists are so cranky that they haven’t yet succeeded.

        The secular position and that of atheism generally is not very sound. When someone like HH points out all the deficiencies in their case, it does little to change their views, it’s true, b/c they are so irrational and motivated entirely by hatred of Christ and His Church. Only the Holy Spirit can overcome that, so we must pray.

        However, the more reasonable people in the population who are not absolutely for or against the Church yet, can be swayed by persuasive arguments and in the end, if the New Atheists, and staunch secularists just want to operate as beasts by the setting aside of reason (they worship it rather than use it) then perhaps they will end up being ruled by the reason of believers (just as man riules the beasts).

        Along with everything else in our toolbox, reason can be used for good.

        • Peregrinus says:

          Hi Louise

          One of the thoughts I had when writing my earlier piece – although I didn’t include it – was that the satisfaction of debunking Dawkins is always limited by the fact that he fails to appreciate that he has been debunked.

          This, I think, is because his faith in science means that he cannot recognise non-scientific arguments as having any force or merit. Consequently they can never – to his mind – refute his position. The result is that in an important sense you can’t best him. He will remain convinced of the rightness of his own position as will all those who already agree with him.

          I don’t think argument of the Hugh Hewitt kind is going to win many converts; what it will mainly do is gratify those who already disagree with Dawkins but, fun as that may be, it doesn’t achieve a great deal. Remember, Dawkins is actually intellectually committed to rationality. He holds to his faith despite its irrationality, not because of it. So showing that it is irrational really gets you nowhere.

          And a second point: You rightly draw attention to Dawkin’s constant anger. It’s my suspicion that Dawkins’s irrational faith is largely built on, and sustained by, anger.

          Why is Dawkins angry? Well, I could be smart and say that he is angry at the obstinate refusal of religious belief to conform to expectations and wither way in the light of scientific progress. But that’s too glib; Dawkins is not angry because he is a (disasppointed) atheist; he is an atheist at least in part because he is angry. The anger precedes the atheism.

          And this is important, because it means that fuelling anger fuels atheism. For the most part, people aren’t drawn to Dawkinsism because of its rationality. It’s no more rational than the simplistic fundamentalist religion that it treats as normative, and then attacks. People are drawn to Dawkinsism because they are angry or afraid. And a rancorous, stand-up, bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred confrontation on Dawkins’ terms, even though conducted on ostenstibly rational terms, can actually help in a small way to create and sustain the conditions in which Dawkinsism takes root.

          Jesus didn’t seek to win anyone over by rational argument; he reminded them of things they already knew to be true, and appealed to values they already held. It seems to me that the way to win people to Christianity is not to show that Christians can out-snipe Dawkins, but to show Christianity as something more attractive, more appealing than Dawkins; something that goes with people to places where Dawkinsism cannot go.

          I don’t know if you’ve read Terry Eagleton on Dawkins. Eagleton is an agnostic and a reluctant ex-Catholic (as in, he’d rather be a Catholic, and it costs him a good deal, in personal and emotional terms, not to be). He’s theologically highly literate. His analysis of Dawkins (and Hitchins, and others) is devastating, and his presentation of Christian theism is radical, challenging, illuminating and a good deal more positive and more attractive than that of quite a number of Christians who address Dawkinsism. His essential point is that Christianity tackles questions which Dawkins hasn’t even asked and which, because of the narrowness of his faith, cannot ask. That seems to me to be a much more appealing critique of Dawkins than Hewitt’s admittedly entertaining approach.

          • Schütz says:

            Jesus didn’t seek to win anyone over by rational argument

            Um. I think you will find that he did, Perry. What about when he argued with the Sadducees about the Resurrection in Matt 22. The argument there is entirely one of logic. God is the God of the living, God is the God of Abraham, therefore Abraham is alive, not dead. QED.

            On second thoughts, perhaps you are right. This was hardly done to “win the Sadducees over, but to “best them”. The Pharisees enjoyed the fight – until Jesus turned his logical argument on them in reference to who the Christ would be.

            Actually, the whole passage has Jesus looking very much like Hugh Hewitt…

          • Paul says:

            I certainly agree that embarrassing Richard Dawkins because he can’t remember things in his own book isn’t the way to spread the Gospel (after all, the New Atheists are getting old, so the odd memory lapse is forgiveable).

            It seems to me that the other difficulty in these debates is that the two sides are often talking about different things. Dawkins concentrates on the details of fossil evolution, but dismisses the question of the existance of matter for eternity as something that “the physicists are working on”.

            On the other hand, the attack from the Hitchens/Fry debate is on the basis of moral behaviour. They criticise Catholics for attachment to material comfort and for crimes against children. Of course, they emphasise the failings of Catholics and gloss over those of the rest of humanity, but having said that, we have to be honest enough to address these failings.

            Imagine a world in which there had never been crimes against children by priests. Imagine how much easier evangelisation would be in that world.

          • Louise says:

            Great reply, Pere and I don’t disagree substantially.

            Part of my point however, was that it’s not just about Dawkins. (I didn’t say that explicitly, I don’t think).

            Certainly in private I wouldn’t bother arguing with a person like this for all the reasons you state. I would just try to love them.

            In fact, that’s exactly how I do approach such people. Whether I’m “successful” or not is another matter entirely.

        • Schütz says:

          yep, I’m with you, Lou.

          If someone says “I’m rational and you’re not”, one has a complete right to test that claim. Rationally.

      • Schütz says:

        The cross is a radical subversion of the wisdom of the world about the importance of power. To embrace the cross is to embrace weakness and defeat.

        That doesn’t mean we can let him get away with stupid comments about the author of Genesis 1.

        • Peregrinus says:

          No. But it does put our acheivement in calling him on these comments into a proper perspective – i.e. we haven’t acheived very much.

        • Kiran says:

          Perry, I like much of what you say, but…

          I can say here what I wanted to say earlier in your debate with CP. I have lately been reading Wittgenstein. And your position is very close to W’s, which has a great deal going for it. If I introduce people to the Faith, I should begin by teaching them how (and why) to pray. You also have this going for you that most of us, as Newman noted, we are influenced by personality. It is perfectly fair to respond to an intellectual argument against the faith with “I don’t know why you are wrong. But you are!” The best evidences for Christianity are Christians. (I suspect very strongly that I believe all things that I believe because of other persons, and in and of things only because of the persons: Or to put it better the difference between inanimate objects and persons is that persons can be truthful).

          Now, having said that, I think both you and W underestimate the role of reason. To begin with, reason does have a role to play as part of our worship of God, precisely because like everything that is given to us, it is given to us to glorify this. Public reason has a place just as does public worship, for by it we share, and defend what we believe. There are also good and bad reasons. One has a duty, I would think to knock down bad reasons, and exalt good ones.

          I would think further, that part of all of this involves defending not only God, the Church, or religion, but also humanity and reason as such, and that not only because that man is created to glorify God, but also because Dawkins and his ilk repeatedly proceed by denying (or reducing the basis of) the wonder of the world, by pointing to a certain kind of explanation (or worse still a certain explanation) and saying “See this? This is all there is.” One of the best anti-Dawkins arguments I have read is Gilbert Ryle’s wonderful 1953 paper, “The World of Science and the Everyday World” which makes its point by making the above argument with “accountant” in place of “this.”

          • Louise says:

            Related: I heard an excellent talk the other night at a retreat, where the speaker said that we learn to desire from what others desire. (Look at kids with toys!!!)

            So, we can learn to desire God by watching Christians, yeah?

          • Peregrinus says:

            Thanks, Kiran. I’m flattered by the comparison you make, though I doubt that Wittgenstein would be.

            I agree with you, I think, on the importance of reason. The Christian faith is rational, and it is important that it should be rational, and its rationality can be criticised and scrutinised.

            Likewise Dawkins’s faith aspires to be rational, and it is legitmate to scrutinise and criticise that claim.

            My point is that (despite what he no doubt believes) Dawkins doesn’t hold to his faith because of its rationality, and nor do most of the Dawkinsites. Hence attacking the rationality of Dawkinsism won’t actually change many minds. The more accurate and in point the attack is, it seems to me, the more it is likely to fuel the impulses which lead to the embrace of Dawkinsism in the first place, so it may be positively counter-productive.

            A related point is the obvious one is that even successfully attacking the rationality of Dawkinsism does not prove the rationality of Christianity.

            All this means that winning the debate does not equal conversion of the opponent or, in all likelihood, of many of the observers.

            To say that the best evidence for Christianity is Christians is true, but in a double-edged way. Truly living the gospel is a far more powerful witness than merely preaching it. On the other hand, the weaknesses and failings of Christians reflect on Christianity too. It’s important to engage with the critique of Christianity offered by Dawkins, but if this becomes an exercise in “stumping” Dawkins, we’ve gone astray, because that’s not an attitude with reflects well, or I think authentically, on the way of the cross. And precisely because stumping Dawkins is so very, very tempting, I think we need to acknowledge and name the it as temptation, in order to put it aside.

            • Tony says:

              It’s important to engage with the critique of Christianity offered by Dawkins, but if this becomes an exercise in “stumping” Dawkins, we’ve gone astray, because that’s not an attitude with reflects well, or I think authentically, on the way of the cross. And precisely because stumping Dawkins is so very, very tempting, I think we need to acknowledge and name the it as temptation, in order to put it aside.

              That pretty much captures what I was trying to say in a nutshell. Thanks Pere.

            • Kiran says:

              I wouldn’t make that distinction between living the Gospel and “merely” preaching it. Words are good too, even if there are other ways of preaching the Gospel. But they are part of a whole. In relation to Dawkins, I think, critiquing Dawkins and even ridiculing him might not win him to God (and he is – like every other person – worth winning to God).

              My broader points are these:

              1) Granted that after the Council of Trent, there was an over-emphasis on reason and its role in faith, should we on that account go the other way and attack the role of reason?

              2) Dawkins etc.. have a broader impact than just on religion and its practice. Dawkins’ particular kind of attack is scientistic and thus harmful to all the social sciences. I am glad that the coalition against Dawkins is broader than just the Catholicly minded. It ought to be.

              3) W cuts both ways too. He once remarked on evolution and the age of the earth, something along the lines of “Why the hell should they be so certain?” a sentiment which I can heartily echo. The nominalist side of me constantly wants to reassure people that, scientifically, a good theory isn’t for all of that true. It just is a good theory: If you want to do biology, you must learn Darwin and genetics and so on. But I see no reason to give one’s allegiance to it, or even to accept it as anything more than one of many interesting pictures of a wonderful, but far more complex, world.

    • Tom says:

      Wow that youtube debate made me angry. Hitchins is totally disingenuous.

      • Tony says:

        … totally disingenuous.

        That’s a big call Tom, I’m not sure anyone can be totally disingenuous.

        • Tom says:

          I’m pretty sure he is though :)

          But seriously – Hitchins goes on and on and tries to catalogue every single sin or culpable act the Catholic Church can possibly be tied to (and here he doesn’t care whether or not the Church is culpable, just as long as he can sling the mud: eg: comments about the Church during WWII – thankfully the minister took him to task for that)

          What’s more is, this had nothing to do with the debate at hand – and Stephen Fry did exactly the same thing. The question is, whether the Church is a force for Good or not. This can go one of two ways: either a) does the Church aim to produce good or evil? or b) does the Church actually produce more good than evil?

          Now – and this is what got me really riled up, Hitchins and Fry go on about the bad things, and pretend like there is nothing good that the Church does. It’s just dishonest. Further, it completely obfuscates the issue because it categorically fails to give an account of why the Church would be appealing at all.

          The fact remains is that there are people in the Church who love the Church despite her flaws. It’s not as though I can hear in the news the awful things that happen and ignore them: I am painfully aware of the faults of the Church. The point is, I love Her anyway. Why is that? What is it about the Church that is good that I love Her?

          For this, Hitchins and Fry are utterly dishonest and yes, totally disingenuous.

          The last, and biggest problem Fry and Hitchins have is defining the meaning of Good. For one thing is to say the Church fails to produce what She declares good – another is to say She does nothing good, and everything She does is evil. If this is the case, then sir, tell me what good is! (Having just written a thesis on this topic, I feel competent to at least question the issue – I will argue this point)

          The reason we have tradition, and the reason we have, essentially, ancestral teaching, is it is a short-cut. No matter how much any human tries, there will always be mysteries that are closed off – that is, there is a limit to human intelligence. Most people however, wont even pursue those mysteries that can be understood, for whatever reason it may be. Now for the vast bulk of people who are not philosophers or theologians, there is Tradition (and Tradition takes on new levels of meaning for those who are philosophers and theologians). Tradition, generally, is what people use to dictate the meaning of words such as Good, or Evil, or Happiness.

          That being said, the position of the Church is not one that relies strictly on tradition! There is a school of philosophy and theology that reaches back thousands of years to answer these pressing questions – as JPII said, ‘bonum et esse convurter’ – Good and Being are convertible.

          Hitchins and Fry who happily reject the Church (and, like it or not that means they have rejected the Traditions of the culture they have grown up in) have a real problem.

          They say the Church is not a force for good? I say: well what do you mean by good? What does something being a force for good actually mean? Without relying on certain circular assertions like ‘good is not evil’ and ‘evil is not good’ what does the term ‘good’ mean, properly speaking?

          Fry started talking about the Enlightenment and criticised Benedict XVI for condemning post-modern relativism, with the quip ‘that just means thinking for yourself’. What total bullshit – and yes, it is self-serving crap. The WHOLE point of post-modern relativism, or post-structural relativism is the destruction of thought! The argument that thought is ultimately not real!!!



          Sorry, i’m trying to express my inarticulate rage!

          Seriously, their disingenuity makes me angry because they’re talking nonsense, and I suspect that deep down they KNOW they’re talking nonsense.

          I have to go, a friend came over. But yes, they’re arguing nonsense and it convinced that hall full of people. I am ready to despair about that.

          • Louise says:

            In Jane Austen’s novel, Mr Knightly at one point scolds Emma by saying, “Better to be without reason than to misapply it as you do.”

            That’s what I think nearly every time the average secularist opens his mouth. Despair is not an option for Christians, but it does make some of us very desolate when so many people around us abuse their own intellect, normally because their Pride will not let them submit to God, or because they cannot abide that pesky commandment about adultery.

            It almost always comes down to sex and if it doesn’t, it comes down to the attraction of such heresies as gnosticism.

          • Tony says:


            It seems to me that you’ve created a whole framework for the ‘debate’ in terms of what you think should have been achieved and how you think the terms should have been defined.

            Having done that, you get real peeed off because it falls very short of those expectations.

            You also use the kind of exaggeration and one-sidedness you accuse Hitchins and Fry of.

            So, again, the deeper question must be asked. What can we realistically expect of this sort of encounter and, after working that out, how should we approach it?

            For example, the topic is deliberately vague and its terms open to all sorts of interpretations.

            As participants you could choose to spend some time coming to a consensus about the terms and that would serve truth well, but it would not make a good ‘contest’.

            Hitchins and Fry take advantage of that form by just spouting keywords and the audience in the auditorium responds because they identify with them. We, as viewers are either peeed off if we don’t agree with them or bathe in our own schadenfreude if we do.

            Goal achieved: a good ‘spectical’ which engages the audience.

          • Paul says:

            Hi Tom,
            as you say, Fry was talking complete nonsense about relativism, but really, he was doing what he knows best. He is a professional clown, which means his stock in trade is producing one-line gags and stories which get a reaction from an audience, and it matters not one jot whether what he says makes sense, in fact the more nonsense he talks, usually the better the impact on the crowd.

            The moderator said she hoped the debate would produce light as well as heat, but she knows perfectly well that she framed the debate so that was impossible. If the yes case had followed the tactic you suggest, the crowd wouldn’t have listened much because they were looking for a slanging match along the lines of “the billions of dollars worth of art in the Vatican trumps Catholic aid to Africa” and “there are more child molestors who are priests than among the gay community”. These assertions got a cheer from the audience, even though there was no attempt to prove them.

            A “debate” like this will never achieve any light no matter who takes part in it. The format was extremely short presentations (about 5 minutes) in front of a crowd hostile to one side from the start, in a ratio of 2:1. In that situation, it is always easier to present the cynical side of the argument: “The Vatican has millions” will always go over better than “Fr Damien sacrificed his life for the poor because he believed in Christ and his Church.” Probably the only thing the yes side could have done is to mention the good the Church has done, present, when asked, the Church’s position on sexual morality, and turn the other cheek when abused by Fry, Hitchens, the moderator, and two-thirds of the crowd.

            (PS, this is meant as a response to Tom’s post of 3.46pm. My last post seemed to get out of order for some reason)

  6. Louise says:

    Enjoy your schadenfreude, David. I am.

  7. Louise says:

    Just a reminder (to me if no-one else) to pray for Prof Dawkins, who needs salvation as much as any of us.

  8. Joshua says:

    I must say, Stephen Fry’s animus against the Church saddens me deeply, as I quite enjoy his humour, and think of him as a pleasant character: I take it that his objection stems from his moral issues…

    Pray for him.

    • Tony says:

      I actually found his testament very moving Joshua, all the more because it contrasted with his usual style.

      His perception about the church’s attitude to him as a homosexual, can’t be denied. It was real, it was personal.

      BUT it also resonated quite demonstrably with the audience.

      That’s our problem.

      From his point of view and, apparently, from most of the audience’s points of view, saying your homosexual orientation is ‘disordered’ is the same as saying the same about left handedness.

      Frankly, I can’t imagine how devastating and confusing that might be to someone growing up.

      • Tom says:

        It would be almost as devastating and confusing as thinking that right and wrong are a subjective product and whatever you want is right and whatever you don’t want is wrong. Now THAT is destructive, devastating and confusing. Of course, the last 50 years have been hell bent trying to pretend that’s not the case, but that’s life.

        • Tony says:


          While it may be correct that his experience of his own sexual orientation is subjective (as with all of us) to dismiss it as just subjective is getting a little thin.

          To top that off with the notion that he’s doing a ‘whatever you want is right and whatever you don’t want is wrong’ is convenient, but not provable or particularly useful.

          • Louise says:

            whatever you want is right and whatever you don’t want is wrong

            If it’s true this attitude exists (I think it is), then it’s pretty useful to describe such an attitude.

            It’s all there in Belloc.

            As for subjectivity, I think the Church’s position is that Fry’s sexuality is objectively disordered.

            A non-believer who nevertheless finds the modern attack on traditional morals to be absurd, likens the trampling of traditional morality underfoot as running into heavy traffic.

            I think he’s right.

            There is a definite attitude in modern society that people can do more or less as they please without negative consequences.

            Apart from anything else, this is just stupid.

      • Louise says:

        Tony, are you suggesting the Church change its teaching on homosex, or just explain the teaching better?

        • Tony says:


          In the context of this discussion, neither.

          • Louise says:

            You say that it’s our problem that Fry feels bad about the Church’s attitude towards his sexuality.

            So, I’d like to know what you think we should do about that.

            • Tony says:

              Again Louise, it depends on what you want to achieve.

              If your goal is to evoke schadenfreude in those who support you, you’d come up with some slick one-liner that would hopefully put Fry in his place and, if at all possible, humiliate him (an almost impossible task, I’d say). That would also make for good TV and you’d get invited back next time.

              If your goal is to ‘win’ a point you’d respond with something like what Tom said:

              It would be almost as devastating and confusing as thinking that right and wrong are a subjective product and whatever you want is right and whatever you don’t want is wrong. Now THAT is destructive, devastating and confusing.

              Again, you’d be pleasing those who supported you anyway and further alienating those that don’t.

              If you wanted to respond in an essentially Christ-like way (IMO) you’d listen and believe his experience.

              You’d acknowlege that the church has played a part, if only by not countering it enough, discrimination against homosexuals and express genuine regret for that and maybe even us the ‘S’ word.

              BUT you’d then go on and explain as clearly and succinctly as you could what church teaching is and show how those who use church teaching to discriminate against homosexuals don’t have a leg to stand on.

              After that you’d probably not be invited on such panels again because you’re not willing to play by the rules.

            • Louise says:

              Well, that was constructive, Tony. And I’m happy to say that on the whole I agree with you.

              I would query whether the Church has actually discriminated against homosexuals, though – do you really think it has?

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