Friday, February 15, 2008

Hitchens v. Boteach

Below's video of Christopher Hitchens debating Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the subject "Does God Exist?" After a short introduction, both speakers were allowed 15 minutes of time and a debate then followed.

The Hitch, loathed by many, loved by many more, was once again uncompromising, logical, sharp, erudite and very well-spoken and captured the audience right from the off. His discourse was clear and very, very closely argued.

By contrast, the Rabbi started resorting to ad hominem almost the moment he opened his mouth, immediately calling Hitchens a hater. He spent considerable time elaborating on just what a loathesome ("fanatical") hater Hitchens actually is, at least in the Rabbi's opinion. This is a fairly classical theist tactic: calling atheists haters, who provide no hope and loathe what they don't believe to exist (G-d). In the case of the Rabbi, deploying ad hominem so early on was intended to turn the audience against Hitchens' arguments: 'surely from such a bad person nothing good can emanate?', ergo, 'listen to me, not him...'

But the hater thesis doesn't cut the mustard with Hitchens: he hates religion and makes no apology for that. And sadly the Rabbi seemed unable to grasp that Hitchens' hatred of religion has nothing to do whatsoever with the burning question of the occasion, "Does God Exist?"

The Rabbi's
ad hominem opening shot didn't bode well for the quality of the rest of his arguments. After his initial attack then followed more of the old and tired non-arguments, constructed simply by a number of far-fetched associations. Typically Schmuley tried to link Darwin to Hitler (and drew very little applause for it - although slow clapping would have been even more appropriate). Here the Rabbi's tactic of mild smearing was similar to above: by managing to mention Darwin and Hitler in the same sentence, he hoped to create the illusion that evolution is evil, an opinion held dearly among the more moronic part of the Creationist crowd. And there was more ad hominem too, in what Hitchens later referred to as "a crazy salad of slander". Boteach quoted Crick saying some terrible things. Fair enough, but what does this have to do with the question of G-d's existence? Nothing of course, it's merely designed to put these people, and by illogical extension other scientists, in a bad light. Schoolyard stuff really...

The Rabbi then proceeded to try and prove that a theory (Evolutionary Biology - EB) that hasn't been completed yet must surely be entirely wrong. Clearly, the Rabbi doesn't understand the scientific method and how scientific paradigms evolve (no pun intended). It's sad that the Rabbi believes pointing to imperfections, even gaps in the evidentiary body of EB, somehow invalidates it, yet feels free not to present even the slightest shred of evidence for the existence of The Great Social Worker in the Heavens.

Finally, Shmuley declares himself an adherent to the most recent creationist fad: Intelligent Design.

The debate then started and got quite heated. The Rabbi vocal volume seemed to increase all the time and increasingly he came across as the fanatic he accused Hitchens of being.

Watch it or at least skip through it...

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