Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hitchens vs. Boteach: Prelude to the "Month Without God"

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Thanks to Daniel Radosh, last night I got to go to a debate on the existence of God between Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at the 92nd Street Y, not far north of me, and Hitchens was generally perceived to mop the floor with Boteach (henceforth pronounced “bee-atch”) — and if you don’t believe me, read these reactions from the staff of As Daniel, who also went to the recent Hitchens/D’Souza debate I attended, says, you want Hitchens to drink just enough to be outrageous but not so much as to be incoherent, and I think he must have gotten it just right last night.

(Daniel, author of the book Rapture Ready! about weird Christian pop culture, will be in a debate of his own, at Lolita Bar, on April 2 — the week his book comes out — against former Blightobody lead singer Brian McCarter, on the slightly more earthly question “Does Christian Rock Suck?”)

Hitchens very carefully distinguished in his marvelous opening statement between the lack of evidence for God and the (far more debatable) social consequences of religion — one of the most important distinctions in the world, and one that atheists are sometimes careless about, I must concede. (Indeed, one of my Book Selections of the Month for this very special February will be The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, on shelves tomorrow, which does a great job of skewering the claim that religion has been a major historical cause of wars.)

Boteach (about whom the audience was audibly alarmed during the intros when the moderator introduced him as “the founder and chairman of This World”), unfortunately, leapt right into the emotional/aesthetic argument that Hitchens and other atheists dwell in a dark and blighted world without purpose or morality, and things went downhill from there, with Boteach making excursions into advocacy of intelligent design theory and some unconscionable abuse of the concept of probability (at one point insisting that if something is improbable, such as a beneficial mutation, it will not only not happen within billions of years but will not happen even over an infinite span of time).

In any case, no evidence for God’s existence was presented, and rational people do not believe in things asserted without evidence. But more on that throughout February, starting (in a way) with tomorrow’s Retro-Journal entry.

Attending the debate, by the way, was Kirsten Giardi of Good Will in New Jersey, accompanying some non-believer friends of the Rabbi. She was my favorite female in fifth grade or so and has since apparently been an unsatisfied financial-sector worker and a more-satisfied social worker — and thus a reminder that even back in fifth grade, I liked hybrids and converts — and that, too, will be discussed in tomorrow’s Retro-Journal entry.

And speaking of career changes, the New Wave online station I was listening to earlier this week played a song by a music group made up of two blonde, female, teenage sisters named Aly and A.J. — who happen to have gone from singing Christian rock to singing mainstream pop, thus making them a Venn diagram intersection of two of Radosh’s favorite targets of mockery: religion and teen girl bands. But what strikes me about them is that in an interview, they reveal themselves as Darwin-doubters (like Boteach), and, while they’re at it, reveal how dangerous post-Buffy sarcasm is, since it can be wielded against Darwin as easily as it is normally wielded against, say, “sexism.” One of the sisters says in an interview that “Evolution is silly. Monkeys? Um, no.” Just because you can train the crosshairs of sarcasm on something doesn’t prove you’re right, people. Please, please remember that, you smug jerks.

P.S. Speaking of irrational beliefs, I’ve been chastised on a comic book website by comic book/TV writer and creator of Eli Stone (the first episode of which is airing on ABC as I write this) Marc Guggenheim for posting the claim that the show irresponsibly repeats anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, as my ACSH co-worker Jeff Stier wrote today in a New York Post op-ed.

P.P.S. All right, yes, I looked at a couple comic book websites — to find out what’s going on in DC Comics before this summer’s Final Crisis miniseries. Turns out Superman-Prime and Monarch (himself a fusion of all the Captain Atoms) blew each other up, while Darkseid’s trying to take over the cosmos. Why has the Source forsaken us?

1 comment:

John C. said...

Boteach was embarrassed so badly that day, i wonder if he will ever try to debate anyone again.

After the debate when everyone was going for book signings you could see a huge line behind Hitchens while no one went after Boteach.