As I mentioned, I have recently been listening to a variety of religion/atheism debates. There is a phenomenally-extensive collection of them available here. Having recently gotten a spectacular pair of noise-cancelling earbuds, I’ve been listening to them most often while doing yardwork. Unfortunately, that means I can’t take notes. I have been finding myself wanting to respond to many of the points that have been coming up, because I don’t feel that the debaters always take the right approaches. I wish I had the leisure to be able to listen to these while not doing something else, and then blogging about my experiences. Oh well, maybe when I retire.
Several of the debates I’ve listened to lately have featured some of the so-called “new atheists.” Before this debate-listening-spree, I’d read some Christopher Hitchens (I love the way he expressed many things, but find his approach too confrontational and, frankly, dickish), Richard Dawkins (also somewhat dickish, but quite the scientist), and some Danniel Dennett (I know him mostly from his early work on “The Mind’s I” with Douglas Hofstadter, and have a great respect for him because of that). But for some reason I have never read any Sam Harris. I listed to two of his debates today, and I was blown away. I don’t think there was a single thing he said that I disagreed with. I am going to have to get his books very soon.
The first one I listened to today was a debate at the University of Notre Dame against William Lane Craig, focusing on the underpinnings of objective morality with or without religion. Craig was making a very philosophically-restricted set of arguments, and refused to allow the discussion to deviate from his points. I was therefore somewhat disappointed that Harris didn’t more directly tackle the specific arguments that Craig brought up, especially since I think good arguments against his points were relatively easy to come up with (essentially, Craig defined “objective” extremely narrowly, to the point that almost nothing could meet it, and then defined “God” as the only thing that could meet that definition; while structurally sound, the argument fails because of its lack of connection to any belief system that anyone actually holds). Nonetheless, even with that complaint, I was blown away by Harris. He wasn’t really stating any arguments that I hadn’t heard before, but he stated them all so well, and frankly so like I have stated them in the past myself, that I became an instant fanboy.
The second debate I listened to, which I finished minutes ago, was with Rabbi David Wolpe, and was much more of a free-form discussion than a formal debate. The format in-and-of itself made the conversation extremely lively and engaging, but it was also quite fascinating to hear a conversation where the “opposition” was from a non-Christian tradition. I loved what both of them said (though of course I fundamentally disagreed with numerous of Wolpe’s points), and loved how both of them approached talking with each other. I also quite respected Wolpe’s approach to issues such as historical context of the Torah. I feel that both participants acquitted themselves quite well. I strongly recommend listening to this debate to anyone that is even vaguely interested in the topic.