Virginia Commonwealth University (September 9, 2008): “Does God Exist?”, Christopher Hitchens V. Frank Turek
TUREK: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
AUDIENCE: Good evening.
TUREK: My name is Frank Turek. Before I get started let me ask you this: how many of you have heard me before or this is your first time? How many of you are here tonight? How many do not respond to surveys? [To Hulsey] 3 out of 10 don’t respond to surveys, Dean. This is my first formal debate so give me a little grace if I can’t cram everything I want to say into 20 minutes. I will say, however, I’ve had many informal debates, most of them with my wife and I have not fared very well there. I will say, however, that she is probably the perfect sparring partner for Christopher Hitchens because her nickname at our house is Nails and Nails is the type of woman that if she ain’t happy, ain’t nobody in the house happy so hopefully I’m prepared for a very formidable opponent in Christopher Hitchens and I do want to say that I very much like Christopher Hitchens. I’ve been following him for many years. I’m kind of a political junkie so I’ve seen him around quite a bit and I appreciate his charm and his wit and I agree with him on a lot of things, obviously not the issue of God, that would make a very boring debate. But I will say that I went up to Christopher just about a half hour ago and I shook his hand and I said, “Christopher, I’m actually a fan,” and he smiled and he said, “The night is young.” I want to thank The United Secular Alliance. I want to thank Daniel Pendergrast. Where’s Daniel, are you here Daniel? He was my contact here. I also want to thank Dean Timothy Hulsey and I also want to thank, of course, Christopher for doing this debate. I think it’s impossible not to like Christopher and as I mentioned I do. He’s carrying the cross for atheism and he carries it very well. Tonight I’m going to carry the cross for theism and I want to point out that I think we’re both trying to explain the world around us. We both have the burden of proof to explain why reality is the way it is. I have to show how reality is best explained by theism and Christopher has to explain why reality is best explained by atheism and I think we should follow the evidence where it leads. I think that the evidence we see all around us and within us leads to a spaceless, timeless, immaterial, personal, powerful, intelligent, moral creator (i.e. what we would call a theistic god). And this creator created this universe and the life within us—or the life within it I should say. Now I’m going to try and summarize my 450-page book, at least the first 200 pages of it, in the next 20 minutes (or next 18 minutes at this point now) and that is an impossible task. That would be about 20 pages a minute. Actually, probably I can do it because I’m originally from New Jersey. See, I speak at 150 words a minute with gusts to 350, so if I go a little quick and you want to see more of the evidence please get the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist and I want to point out that all the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to feed needy children; mine, ok? See, I’ve got three sons. The oldest two are in college right now so I need a little help and one of them is sitting right over here. Alright, Christopher, on page 282 of god is Not Great, available at fine bookstores everywhere, says this: “Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, religion no longer offers an explanation for anything important.” I think that is exactly wrong. I think due to the telescope and the microscope, we are seeing evidence that leads directly to God. I’m going to give you three major arguments for this and then I’m going to give you four more that are a result, I think, of a theistic world view. I’m going to spend most of my time on the three and then I’ll just mention the last four. The three are: the cosmological argument from the beginning of the universe, the next one is the teleological argument from the design of the universe and the design of life and the third is the moral argument. Let’s start with the cosmological argument, and this is basically the argument from the Big Bang, that the universe had a beginning. If it had a beginning, it must have had a beginner. Now, for some reasons Christians are afraid of the Big Bang. I’m not afraid of the Big Bang, I believe in the Big Bang. I just think I know who banged it. Now, the evidence for the Big Bang is good. I’m going to give you evidence in an acronym: SURGE. S, U, R, G, E. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it because even Christopher, in his book on page 65, says, “The Big Bang is the accepted origin of the universe.” S stands for the second law of thermodynamics, that the universe is running down. As that sun is up there, it is burning out. Ultimately we will go to heat death, as Christopher has said in his book, “Well, if the universe is eternal, that sun would’ve burned out a long time ago but since the sun is still up there and we still have energy here, the universe must have had a beginning.” The second law of thermodynamics also says that ordered things go towards disorder. It affects this school. We have to paint the walls. We have to put gas in our car. The second law of thermodynamics also affects us as human beings. When you get older, the second law of thermodynamics is seen by the fact that we all get dresser disease (that’s when our chest falls into our drawers, see?). That’s the second law of thermodynamics. The U in SURGE is the fact that the universe is expanding, discovered by Edwin Hubble in 1929. Hubble deduced that if the universe is expanding, if you watched everything in reverse, you would see it collapse back to a point mathematically and logically to nothing. So the universe exploded into being out of nothing. The G stands for the great galaxy—I’m sorry, the R stands for the radiation echo, discovered by accident by Penzias and Wilson, two scientists working at Bell labs in Holmdel, New Jersey. They discovered basically the radiation afterglow or the remnant heat from the initial Big Bang explosion. The heat is still out there, it’s just a couple of degree above absolute zero. Now good theories predict future discoveries and they said if the radiation afterglow was out there and the Big Bang really did occur, we ought to find very fine temperature variations among the radiation afterglow so they sent up a satellite in 1989 to circle the earth, it’s called the COBE space satellite to measure this radiation afterglow and for three years they found nothing until they tuned their instruments just a little bit more precisely and found that there were temperature variations in the radiation afterglow and they were down to one part in 100,000. George Smoot, the leader of the expedition said, “If you’re religious, it’s like looking at God.” Stephen Hawking said this is the greatest discovery of cosmology, perhaps the greatest discovery of all time. Those temperature variations allowed galaxies to ultimately form so we could ultimately be here. The E in SURGE stands for Einstein’s theory of general relativity which says time, space, and matter are co-relative. You can’t have space without time, you can’t have time without space and matter and in effect it says that the universe came into existence with space and time together. In other words, once there was no time, once there was no space, once there was no matter and then bang, out of nothing the universe exploded into being. What is nothing? Aristotle had a good definition of nothing. He said, “Nothing is what rocks dream about.” Nothing. There was no thing. There was not positive and negative energy, as Isaac Asimov has said. There was not a vacuum. There was not swirling mathematical points at Dr. Atkins has said from Oxford. There was nothing, what rocks dream about. Which means that the universe exploded into being, all space, all matter, all time out of nothing and several scientists have pointed this out. Stephen Hawking said almost everyone now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang. Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow, the man who sits in Edwin Hubble’s chair (or who did until February when he died) he was an agnostic. He sat at Mount Wilson and looked through Hubble’s telescope. He wrote a book in 1978 called God and the Astronomers and here’s what Jastrow wrote, or here’s what he said, actually, in an interview. He said, “Astronomers now have found they’ve painted themselves into a corner because they have proven by their own methods that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth and they have found that all this has happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I and anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact. Why is an agnostic astronomer saying supernatural forces at work? Why couldn’t nature have created the universe? Because there was no nature, there was nothing, what rocks dream about and then the entire space-time continuum leapt into existence. If it’s not a natural cause, by definition it must be a supernatural cause, something beyond the natural. In fact, Arthur Eddington, the contemporary of Einstein who was an expert in general relativity, said, “The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.” So the cosmological argument leaves us with one question: either no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing. The atheistic view is no one created something out of nothing. The theistic view is someone created something out of nothing. Which view is more reasonable? I think Julie Andrews had it right: nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. That’s the cosmological argument. The teleological argument: the design argument actually had two arguments contained within it. It is the argument from design and there are dozens of factors about the universe that are precisely designed for the existence of the universe and life. So not only did the universe explode into being out of nothing, it did so with incredible precision. Stephen Hawking has noted that the universe would not exist if there was a decrease in the expansion rate one second after the Big Bang by only one part in one hundred thousand million million.” This lead Hawking to conclude, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe should have begun in just this way except as an act of God who intended to create beings like us. Not only is it designed in terms of its expansion but the gravitational force is so precise if you change the gravitational force by one part in ten to the forty, nothing would exist. What’s one part in ten to the forty? Stretch a tape measure across the entire known universe. Set gravity at one inch anywhere on that tape measure. If you move gravity—the force of gravity one inch in either direction, we don’t exist. There’s also factors about our universe and particularly our solar system that cannot be explained unless there is a designer behind it. For example, the earth rotation, 24 hours just right. If it was a little bit more or a little bit less we wouldn’t be here. The axial tilt, 23 and ½ degrees, just right. Change that and we’re not here. The—Jupiter being in its current orbit. If Jupiter wasn’t there, we’d be bombarded with space material. Why? Because Jupiter acts as a cosmic vacuum cleaner, it attracts all of the cosmic space junk to it rather than us. There are a number of factors I don’t have time to get into, but Arno Penzias, the man who codiscovered the R in SURGE (the radiation afterglow) said this: “Astronomy leads us to a unique event: a universe which was created out of nothing one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the right conditions required to permit life and one which has an underlying, one might say, supernatural plan.” A friend of Christopher, atheist Steven Weinberg, who is an atheist, put it this way: “Life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values. So not only is the universe precisely tweaked—and by the way, there would be no life unless the universe was precisely finely tuned, as I just mentioned, but life itself is designed. Let me take you to your breakfast table for just a second. Suppose you wanted to have a bowl of alphabet cereal. You’re a teenager and you come downstairs and have a bowl of alphabet cereal and you see the alphabet cereal’s knocked over and the letters from the alphabet cereal are spelled out on the placemat and it spells, “Take out the garbage, mom.” What are you going to assume, cat knocked the box over? Earthquake shook the house? Or are you going to say, “No, that’s intelligent design from an intelligent being.” Or let’s say you’re laying out on the beach and you see in the clouds, “Drink Coke.” What are you going to assume, unusual cloud formation? No, you’re going to say there has to be a sky writer up there, even if you didn’t see him. Why? Because messages only come from minds. Well it turns out there’s a message in all life called DNA, we all know about it. All life has a message. I have DNA, you have DNA, a banana has DNA. In Darwin’s day it was not known how incredibly complex simple—so called simple life is. And they thought that maybe simple life could come together without intelligent intervention and ultimately natural selection could take over. It’s the theory of macroevolution, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, from the goo to you, via the zoo. From the infantile to the reptile to the crocodile to the gentile, that’s the theory of macroevolution. The problem is is that now we know that this intelligent life couldn’t have come together by natural laws because we now know that the simplest life has the amount of specified complexity or information in it, in terms of DNA, of a thousand complete sets of Encyclopedia Brittanica. Now, who’s that according to? Not a Christian, not a theist, that’s according to Richard Dawkins, from his book Blind Watchmaker, I think it’s page 116. Now to believe that that resulted by natural law is like believing that the Library of Congress resulted from an explosion in a printing shop. See, I don’t have enough faith to believe that. So life appears to be designed. In fact, Antony Flew, who was a atheist, a very prominent atheist, but recently became a theist, or at least a deist as a result of this evidence said, “It is impossible for evolution to account for the fact that one single cell can carry more data than all the volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica put together. It now seems to me that the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research have provided materials for a new and enormously powerful argument from design.” How am I doing on time, Dean? Five minutes, ok thank you. Design is so prevalent that even people like Francis Crick, the codiscoverer of DNA, Sir Fred Hoyle, who coined the term “Big Bang” in a derisive way, are now, or were, proponents of panspermia, seeds everywhere, in other words, that life got deposited here by aliens, which is just kind of a backhanded way of saying that there’s no way we know how life came by natural causes here. There must be aliens out there that brought it here, which, of course, just puts the question off one more step: where did the aliens come from, right? There’s a lot more on the design argument but I’m running out of time here. Let me just give you one quote from Chandra Wickramasinghe who is a student of Sir Fred Hoyle. He said, “The emergence of life from a primordial soup on earth is merely an article of faith.” Sir Fred Hoyle said, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggest that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics as well as chemistry and biology and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” So cosmological argument, teleological argument, now let’s move on to the moral argument. If there is no God you can’t say that decapitating a man on a bus is objectively morally wrong. That’s just your opinion. As Dostoyevsky said, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.” Now I want to be very clear here: I’m not saying that atheists can’t know morality, they do. I’m not saying that atheists can’t be moral, they can. I’m not saying that believing in God makes you more moral. As Christopher has pointed out and, as I say, I agree with much of what he writes here, I’m not saying that religious people are necessarily better than atheists. That’s not the argument. The argument is is that there’s no way to say that a given act is moral or immoral unless there’s a standard beyond humanity. It’s not just my opinion, it’s not just Christopher’s opinion or Mother Teresa’s or Hitler’s, there is a standard beyond everybody that defines what is right. That standard is God’s very nature. Since objective moral laws exist, there must be an objective moral law giver. You say, “No, there doesn’t need to be any moral law giver.” If there’s a prescription there must be a prescriber. If you go to the pharmacist and you say, “Here, I’d like you to fill this prescription,” and the pharmacist says, “Who prescribed it?” and you go, “Nobody,” are you going to get your prescription? No. Now, again, there’s a lot more on the moral argument, maybe we can talk about it a little bit during the Q & A, but what can learn from these three arguments for God? We can learn from the cosmological argument that this being must be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. Why? Because it created space, time, and material. It must also be powerful. Why? Because it created out of nothing. Must be personal, why? Because you can’t go from a state of non-existence to a state of existence without making a choice and only personal beings make choices. Impersonal forces do not. It must be intelligent. Why? Because it created in such a highly-designed, razor’s edge way. It must be moral. Why? Due to the moral argument. And of course, it must be a creator. These attributes are the attributes of what the Bible would call “God.” Let me sum up what agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow said after going through evidence like this. He said, “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason,” and remember, he’s the agnostic, “the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mounts of ignorance, he’s about to conquer the highest peak. As he pulls himself over the final rock, he’s greeted by a band of theologians who’ve been sitting there for centuries.” [To Hulsey] Two more minutes? Take three, thank you sir. Those are the three main arguments. Now I’d like to say there’s four additional truths about the universe that are better explained by theism than by atheism. First of all, reason and the laws of logic. Christopher’s a self-described materialist but if atheism is true we have no grounds to know it because reason and thoughts are just chemical reactions in the brain. How can you have—even Einstein believed this. Einstein was a determinist. How can you trust what Christopher says if it’s just chemical reactions going on in his brain and chemical reactions in our brain? See, chemical don’t reason, they react. Now, I’m not saying there’s no connection between our thinking and chemicals, there is, but if it’s nothing but chemicals, how can we trust them? Even Darwin recognized this, it’s called Darwin’s doubt. He said, “If we are just the product materially of primates, why should I even trust anything, much less my theory of natural selection?” The next major reason is the laws of mathematics. Science depends on the notion that the universe is rational and mathematical at all levels. But how does rationality and mathematics arise from randomness? How do they come from matter? Rationality and mathematics are the product of mind, not matter. So you’ve got reason and the laws of logic, the laws of mathematics, and, number seven (or, seven in my list here, three in the addition) human freedom and the ability to make choices. Christopher is somebody who is very concerned about human freedom as I am, but again, if we are just molecules in motion, how do we have human freedom? William Provine from Cornell, he’s a materialist, a Darwinist, he points out that we don’t have any human freedom if all we are is molecules in motion. Now, Christopher ought not scold anybody for being a snake-handling, Bible-thumping, funny mentalist preacher because according to his own world view, that person is that way because these are just chemicals going on in his brain. Neither could you say that Hitler had done anything wrong if it’s just chemicals going on in his brain. I mean, what is the murder molecule? How much does justice weigh? These are questions that have no answer in a materialistic world view, but that is Christopher’s world view. It seems to me that it makes much more sense to say that reason and laws of logic and mathematics and human freedom come from a great mind that granted us these immaterial realities. The final argument is consciousness. Do you know that a heap of sand and a human brain have the same elements? Why are some carbon-based molecules conscious and some are not? Materialists have no answer for this. Daniel Dennett, another person who would agree with Christopher on many things, he’s a materialist, says that consciousness is an illusion because he’s a materialist. You’re not really witnessing this right now, it’s just an illusion. Now one wonders if he was conscious when he wrote this. But again, there is no explanation for this in an atheistic world view. Now I have a couple other arguments on the bench but I don’t have time to get to them. Let me sum up in one minute. We need to take all of this data into context, not just one argument but all of them. What is the best explanation? Christopher has to explain these eight truths about the universe from an atheistic perspective. He must explain how the universe arose from nothing, how extreme fine-tuning and design arose from chaos, how life arose from non-life, how morality arose from materials, how reason and the laws of logic arose from matter, how mind arose from mud, how mathematics arose from molecules, how human freedom arose from blind repetitive forces and how consciousness arose from chemicals. If he can’t give evidence to explain these truths about reality from an atheistic perspective, if he’s just going to state unsupported speculative possibilities that rely on faith, then I think theism is a more reasonable world view. Thank you for your attention, I appreciate it.
HULSEY: Thank you, Dr. Turek. We’ll now have 20 minutes from Mr. Hitchens in his opening statement.
HITCHENS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming. Thank you, Dr. Turek for that very spirited opening to the evening. I should say first it’s a great honor to be in the capital of the great state of Virginia. I’m, in a small way, a biographer of Thomas Jefferson and his memorial, as you know, omitted the mention of his presidencies and vice presidencies and preferred to focus on his work at the university and his authorship of the Virginia statute on religious freedom which is the embryo and basis of the first amendment to our Constitution which makes this the only country in the world that has ever decided that God and constitutional matters should be separated and it’s in defense partly of that civilizational impulse that I rise this evening to satirize the idea that we’re here by somebody else’s permission and owe that person an explanation, which is what it is to be a theist if not a deist, at any rate. I almost never watch television and I’m usually glad that I don’t, but now I’m glad that I—sometimes I’m forced by my daughter to watch Family Guy because you may have possibly seen the moment when the chubby father comes down in the morning and looks at his cereal in the bowl, accepting one of your more sophisticated challenges, and he says, “Look at this, it say oo-oo-oo-oo-oo,” and his daughter says, “Those are Cheerios, dad.” But I accept the ontological challenge and I accept it in this way: the answer to the question with which we confront ourselves tonight, or are confronted, if you prefer, does god exist, is to me, yes, it does. It must do. It must do because it is so real to those who believe in it. There are people of whom it may be said that for them God does exist, I’ve become perfectly persuaded to this by now. There is no form of persuasion that would make me ascent to this proposition. Some of us are born—we’re born, too—in an answer to Blaise Pascal’s own problem, the one that made him write his Pens&eecute;es and address them to those who are so made that they cannot believe. Those of us to whom almost everything that Dr. Turek just said would be the mere equivalent of white noise. I suppose it’s my job this evening to explain ontologically how that is the case. Perhaps I’ll do it by force of example. Recently, very recently, in fact as little ago in time as last year, the Vatican announced that limbo, the destination of the unbaptized child soul, no longer exists. There is no such place. St. Augustine was in error, it appears, in sending so many children, at least the souls of so many unbaptized children to this destination for so long. Among the comments that I heard about this, one of the mildest, actually, was that of a woman raised in the Catholic faith whose child had died before baptism could take place who had for many years believed that that’s where her unbaptized child had gone and she said, “They can’t tell me that place doesn’t exist. It’s been as real to me as anything possibly could be for so long. They’ve no right to tell me now that this no longer exists.” Ontologically, limbo exists for those who believe in it just as God does. I’m not here to deny that. It’s only a few decades now since the rival church of Rome, the Church of England, announced really no one actually goes to hell. It could be that after you die you’re forbidden God’s grace, but there’s no real place of eternal, unending, infinite torture and torment with which those who claim the grace of God and the redemption of Jesus made a living for so many years and how do they make their living? By lying to children. Think of it: hundreds and hundreds of years of people proudly earning their keep by lying to children and terrifying them and saying that because they could do that they’re morally superior to us. Reason, common sense, decency, ordinary decency rebels against this kind of mind-forged manacle, how ever charmingly or humorously it’s expressed. But hell exists in the minds of several people I’ve spoken to just today on this campus in the intervals of other conversations. For them it’s real, and I don’t say that it’s not. What I want to show is that it can, if it does exist, nonetheless be abolished, like many other mind-forged manacles and man-made tyrannies that confront us. And in fact, that this belief in a supreme and unalterable tyranny is the oldest enemy of our species, the oldest enemy of our intellectual freedom and our moral autonomy and must be met and must challenged and must be overthrown. I want to argue for nothing less than that. It’s actually rather wonderful, isn’t it, that religious authorities used to say they were infallible. Say—just take the last the Pope, just the last. I know I’m not talking with a Catholic apologist this evening, but nonetheless “The Church,” when people say “The Church,” they know which one they mean, they mean the one in Rome. The one where when Stephen Hawking was invited and was asked at the conference on The Church and science if there’s anything he’d like to see in Rome while he was there. He said he’d like to see the records of the trial of Galileo. (Don’t please be invoking Mr. Hawking by the way as if he was a deist.) The last Pope, just in the last decade of his tenure apologized. He said, “We were wrong about the Jewish question. We probably shouldn’t have said for so long the Jews were responsible for the murder of Christ. We were probably wrong in forced conversion of the peoples of the Indies,” as they were thought of (the isthmus and the southern cone of our hemisphere). “We were certainly wrong—we owe an apology to Muslims for the atrocities of the crusades. We owe an apology to the Eastern Orthodox churches for the incredible butchery to which they, our fellow Christians, were subjected by us, The Roman Catholic Church. And we probably owe an apology to the Protestants for saying so many awful things about them and torturing and burning and killing them, too. So having now said that we were completely wrong and completely cruel and completely sadistic and completely violent and retarded human civilization for that many centuries in that many countries and continents, we quit and now we can go back to being infallible all over again.” There are people who, on faith, will accept being spoken to in that tone of voice and in that way but I, ladies and gentlemen, am not one of them and I don’t think there’s any form of persuasion that should allow you to be spoken to as if you were serfs or slaves either. Proceeding with the ontology with which I began, the Aquinas point that if you can conceive of something, whether it’s a ghost, a phantasm or a deity, if you can conceive of something it is, in some sense, real if it’s real in your mind and showing with the obvious fallacy that has always attended that, is it nonetheless possible for an atheist to say—a proclaimed atheist to say, as I do—proclaim myself to be—that God positively can be said not to exist? No. It’s a very common misunderstanding about my fraternity, sorority. I’ll just take a moment to clear it up. The atheist says no persuasive argument for the existence of God has ever been advanced or adduced without convincing rebuttal. No argument in favor stands or has been found to stand the test of argument and evidence. We cannot say that we know that there could be no such entity. Among other things, we’re too reverent of the extraordinary time of discovery, innovation, pushing back of the frontiers of knowledge and understanding that’s taken place just in our own time to make any such remark. But, by saying this we say, I think, quite a lot. There is no valid or coherent or consistent argument that would not work, if it comes to that, for the existence of any God. Now, I noticed it was by a slight work of elision, a bit of tap dancing there that Dr. Turek went from being a deist to a theist, and then from being a theist to a Christian. Now I know he does not believe in the existence of the sun god Ra. I’m practically certain he doesn’t believe in the existence of Zeus. If you’ll pick up a copy of my portable atheist, a selection of the finest writings by non-believers down the years, and just turn to the three pages where Menken—H.L. Menken lists the easiest-to-name 3,000 gods that used to be worshiped and are no longer accepted to exist by anybody. You’ll spare me the trouble of reading them out. No, he thinks he doesn’t just know, Dr. Turek, that there is a god, he knows which one is the right one, from a potentially infinite list. Actually, from a list that’s as long as the number of people there are or have ever been in the human species because if you ever argue with a theist or a deist, as I do every day, you’ll find they all believe in a god of their very own. Indeed they often say a personal god. Indeed they often say a personal savior. So out of what are we reifying a concept that applies to all of us? Out of nothing but wish thinking and nonsense and fear and ignorance and above all—and I’m not quitting on this point—servility. Everyone in this room is an atheist. Everyone can name a god in which they do no believe. Let them advance the case that the one in which they believe is the superior one. Let Dr. Turek be the first person I’ve ever met to do that convincingly this evening and I will show him due respect. I don’t think the task can actually be undertaken. Now, the same tap dancing hopes you will not notice deism and theism are quite different things. The deist argument says that there is so much order apparent in nature and in the cosmos and in the universe that it might be unwise to assume that such order has no one interested in ordering or designing it. That assumption might be an unsafe one. The philosopher Paley and his natural theology said design implies a designer. He came up with that very famous image of the watch. If you come across a watch if you’re a primitive tribesperson in the Sahara, you may not know what it’s for, but you know that it’s not a rock or a vegetable. You know it has purpose and someone made it that way. Until quite recently, that was the default position of most intelligent people, including Mr. Jefferson who, despite his intermittent atheism, in my judgment, was a theist—I’m so sorry, was a deist, was a deist. He would debate—among the many skills he had was a very advanced level of paleontology. He would debate with the greatest paleontologists of his time, the Compte de Buffon. How comes it—how can it be that we find sea shells so high on the mountains in Virginia. How can this be? Not even the most intelligent people of that day—and it’s very recent, it’s an instant in historical time—had any idea how that could be. There isn’t anyone in this room who wasn’t educated and brought up knowing exactly how that is. It’s just a shame that Jefferson and many other intelligent and humane and well-educated and literate people just couldn’t see that far. He wasn’t to know that Darwin was born in his day on the same day, actually in 1809 as Abraham Lincoln, the very same day the two great emancipators. (Darwin, in my judgment, the greater of the two.) Now we know—we know this proposition to be true, the proposition that was ridiculed so pathetically, I have to say, I thought, by Dr. Turek. There is no explanation for the origins of our species, for the origins of our cosmos, for the origins of our globe itself, there’s not one explanation left which requires the existence of a deus ex machina. In every case we have a better or sufficient explanation. I think that assertion of mine will stand any challenge this evening. I’m looking forward to hearing some more of them. Of course Darwin used creationist images. He actually set out to vindicate Paley’s theology, thought he could do it by his study (taxonomical study of nature). Einstein used God images when he spoke of the extraordinary majesty of the cosmos. It’s in us. It’s in our vocabulary. It’s hard-wired in us, you might say to use images of awe-inspiring, godly, Mozartean, you might say or even Shakespearean images when talking about these things but when we come to the actually analysis of them we find that we don’t need the prime mover at all and that most of the prime mover explanations, if not all of them have been positively misleading so that the deist may propose a designer and I may not be able to show you convincingly that there may not be such a person but the theist has all their work still ahead of them. From this designer, how do we get to the designer who answers prayers? Did you hear a thing, I mean, just a phrase, even an implication, even a suggestion from anything my opponent said that you could, by an argument from design, prove answered prayers? Or prove that someone born of a virgin was therefore the son of a god? Or could prove that resurrections occur and that by people being tortured to death thousands of years ago, we are now redeemed, that we are vicariously forgiven, our own offenses by human sacrifice? How does deism help you to that? It doesn’t. It quite simply doesn’t and cannot and the attempt to build from one to the other is a conjuring trick of a very vulgar, I think, kind. We live in the childhood of our species so when Stephen Hawking says that if we could understand the event horizon that surrounds the black hole we would, in some sense, know the mind of God, he proves that our vocabulary is still that of our infancy. He makes no concession to the idea of a theist or theocratic dispensation. I better ask now how I’m doing for time. Good, not sure I’m going to need all that. But I’d like to try and reply and fight on my feet when I can and I made some notes about what Dr. Turek had said and I feel that they were challenges to me that I would be ignoble if I didn’t respond to. The first and, I thought, frankly the most egregious was this: I find it extraordinary that it can be said on a university campus, in this year of grace, that without God, humans are capable of doing anything, that there is no moral restraint upon us if we don’t concur in the idea that we are the property and creation of a supreme being. I’m making the assumption that all of you check in now and then with some sort kind news outlet and have a view of what’s going on in the rest of the world. Isn’t it as plain as could be that those who commit the most callous, the most cruel, the most brutal, the most indiscriminate atrocities of all do so precisely because they believe they have divine permission? Shall I answer my own question? Shall I insult you by adding more? Who can’t think of an example of this kind? Let me put the question in another form than I’ve put it in now. Every forum from Youtube to C-Span to the wireless to the print to the radio to the television and in innumerable forums to those who say that without God there can be no morality, you are to ask yourself two questions: you are to name a moral action undertaken or a moral and ethical statement made by a believer (I dare say you can do it). You are then to say that you cannot imagine a non-believer making this moral statement or undertaking this moral action. Can you think—can you now think—can any of you think—you don’t have to answer, you have all night and you have my email and I’ve done this with everyone from the Archbishop of Canterbury to even lower people. You name me the ethical or moral statement that a believe can make and a non-believer cannot and there’s a prize and I’ll tell you about that later. Now there’s a second question: think of something wicked that only a believer would be likely to do or something wicked that only a believer would be likely to say. You’ve already thought of it. The suicide bombing community is entirely religious. The genital mutilation community is entirely religious. I wouldn’t say that the child abuse community is entirely religious, I wouldn’t, but it’s bidding to be entirely religious. It operates on the old Latin slogan, “No child’s behind left.” How dare anybody—how dare anyone who speaks for religion say of us, the secular and the non-believers that we are the immoral ones. It is itself a wicked thing to say, itself and absolutely indefensible thing to say. No, the decapitation on the bus is going to be done by someone who thinks God is telling him to do it. Smerdyakov is actually the stupidest character in Dostoyevksy’s novel and he’s the one who makes this proposition. Everyone has to understand, everyone has to understand that it is those who feel that the divine is prompting them, who feel they are permitted anything and everything and it is though those who are the leading, the most salient, most violent and vicious opponents that the values and civilization that Thomas Jefferson stood for and promulgated. Just on the question of fine tuning, I have a number of responses. We have to postpone some of the naturalistic questions for later when I know they’ll come up again. You mentioned Edwin Hubble and the way that he saw the red-light shift and saw that the universe was not just expanding, but expanding very fast, away from itself, that the Big Bang had not stopped. Lawrence Krauss, great physicist, probably the next Nobel Prize winner for—has noticed that most peoples’ assumption was wrong, that though this expansion was taking place, it was thought, the rate of speed of expansion must surely be declining. People still think in Newtonian terms in this way. No, says Krauss. He’s pointed out and now it’s agreed by all. No, the Hubble rate of the red-light shift is increasing. The universe is dissipating itself at high speed and the speed is getting greater. What does this mean? Well, it answers the question of why is there something instead of nothing? Because now we have something. We’re all here because there’s something, and nothing is coming right for us. Very soon a physicist wouldn’t be able to tell the Big Bang had ever taken place, so far sprung apart will the whole system be. And meanwhile, look in the sky at night and you can see the Andromeda galaxy headed straight for us on a direct collision course. Who designed that? Who made it certain that every other planet in our solar system is either too hot or too cold to support life, as is most of our own planet, and that in just one tiny, irrelevant solar system already condemned to heat death and implosion. Some design, wouldn’t you say? But these are just the paltering, minor objections that I have to the theistic world view. The main one is the one with which I began. Religion—theism, not deism, theism, I underline—theism says that all our manifold problems (what is the good, how shall we live it, how shall we know it, how to explain suffering, how to confront the possibility of our own molecular irrelevance, all these question that must disturb and detain us all) can be solves by referring them upward to a totalitarian judgment, to an absolutist monarch (the other thing that the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom was supposed to rebut, repudiate, disown).
HITCHENS: [To Hulsey] I promise you, 30 seconds. There is no totalitarian solution to these problems. There is no big brother in the sky. It is a horrible idea that there is somebody who owns us, who makes us, who supervises us, waking and sleeping, who knows our thoughts, who can convict us of thought crime, who can—thought crime, just for what we think, who can judge us while we sleep for things that might occur to us in our dreams, who can create us sick, as apparently we are, and then order us on pain of eternal torture to be well again. To demand this, to wish this to be true it to wish to live as an abject slave. It is a wonderful thing, it is a wonderful thing, in my submission, that we now have enough information, enough intelligence, and I hope, enough intellectual and moral courage to say that this ghastly proposition is founded on a lie and to celebrate that fact and I invite you to join me in doing so. Thank you.
HULSEY: Thank you Mr. Hitchens. We now have five minutes of rebuttal from Dr. Turek.
TUREK: In fairness to Christopher, that statement—obviously was his opening statement—was not meant to rebut my statement but now my statement is to rebut his and I want to point out that most of what Christopher just said there is pretty much complaints about religion and religious people and has no impact on whether or not God exists. Religious people can be the worst people that ever lived. That says nothing about whether or not God exists. People can do evil, that doesn’t mean the parents don’t exist. Children can do evil, it doesn’t mean the parents don’t exist. My kids do evil but I’m still here. I do evil, my dad’s still here [gesturing towards the audience] in fact, he’s sitting right there. What does that prove whether or not God exists? Let me try and go down some of the things Christopher said. Yes, I am an atheist when it comes to Zeus but Zeus is not spaceless, timeless, immaterial, powerful, moral, personal, intelligent creator that I hopefully, at least I thought I gave evidence for and maybe Christopher will come back to my statements on that later. I don’t believe in Zeus because I don’t think there’s any evidence for Zeus but I think there’s evidence for the theistic God. Deism—I didn’t make the direct shift to theism, I probably should’ve been more explicit. I think it’s obvious there’s a theistic God because life came several billion years after the creation. That is not a deistic concept, that is a theistic concept. I didn’t say anything about Christianity. Even though I am a Christian, I don’t have time to defend Christianity here. I’d love to debate Christopher on the issue of Christianity in the future and I’ll publicly offer that right now. If he wants to debate whether or not the New Testament documents are reliable and tell us really what happened, what Jesus came and said and did, I’d be happy to do it. But when I mentioned before I have a couple arguments on the bench—I’ve got almost a full baseball team of arguments here. I’ve got a couple arguments on the bench—it’s the resurrection is one of them and I don’t have time to get to that here, so I’m not backing up the Christian God here, I’m backing up a theistic God even though personally I do believe in a Christian god. He claimed Darwin was the great emancipator and that—he went on to talk about atrocities and I think he, again, missed my point. As I said before I’m not saying atheists can’t be moral. Christopher, what he says in his book, again, much of it is true. Religious people have done awful things. In fact, Christianity predicts we’ll be hypocrites. That’s what The Church is, it’s full of hypocrites. Whenever anybody says, “I don’t want to go to church, there are too many hypocrites down there,” I always say, “Come on down pal, we got room for one more.” That’s what The Church is, we’re all fallen, we’re all sinners, that’s why we need a savior because we can’t do and Christopher said, “Well, how can you command somebody to be well when they have no capacity to be well?” Well, we were well in the beginning and—I’m going into Christian theology here, I understand, I’ll just try and answer the point—we were well in the beginning but then we messed up so God, the great physician, came back to save us. That’s Christian theology. Again, I don’t have time to support it, I’m just pointing out that is the theology. Now Christopher talked about atrocities, but again, on the atheistic world view—here’s the main point—how do you define what an atrocity is? Who defines it? Who has the authority to define what an atrocity is? The carbon atom? The benzene molecule? I’m not saying you have to believe in God to be moral. I’m not saying that only religious people are moral. I’m not saying atheists can’t be moral. I’m not saying atheists don’t know morality. I’m saying there’s no way to justify what is right and what is wrong unless there’s some authority that provides it. What is the authority? In a materialistic world view there is no authority. The carbon atom has no moral authority over you. And it seems that Christopher goes on and on about how he does not want to be under any some kind of divine totalitarianism. That is a moral rejection of God. Where does he come up with this immoral totalitarianism? His world view does not afford immorality because his world view does not afford morality. He has to borrow from the Christian world view in order to argue against it. In fact, he has to sit in God’s lap to slap His face. Where does he get morality from? Where does he get reason from? Where does he get mathematics from? Where does he get consciousness from? Where does the universe—he said there are explanations for where the universe came from, atheistic. I’d love to hear them. I haven’t heard one yet. How does something come from nothing with extreme fine tuning? What is the explanation for that? He said there are arguments for the beginning of life that are naturalistic. Not according to the people who are studying the matter. How about Francis Crick? If I could find his quote here…Francis Crick said, “Every time I write a paper on the origin of life, I swear I will never write another one because there’s too much speculation running after too few facts. Marc Kirschner of Harvard and John C Gerhart of Berkeley said, “Everything about evolution before the bacteria-like life forms is sheer conjecture.” Biochemist Klaus Dose admits that after almost 30 years of research into the origin of life has led to “a better perception of immensity of the problem of the origin of life on earth rather than its solution. At present, all the discussions on the principal theories and experiments in the field either end in stalemate or in a confession of ignorance.” Now I’m not saying that this is a default position, that it must be God. I’m not saying that I just lack a natural explanation for the origin of life. I’m saying that specified complexity, information, the DNA structure that we all have is evidence for an intelligent being. Because information only comes from minds. The laws of ink and paper did not create god is Not Great. There was a mind behind it that brought it into existence. And there’s a mind behind DNA. What is the atheistic explanation for DNA? What is the atheistic explanation for information? What is the atheistic explanation for all of these nine things I mentioned? [To Hulsey] How much time to I have? I have none. Survey said, “Sit down.” [To Hitchens] Yes, sir.
HITCHENS: Well I think I’ll just invite Dr. Turek to do the following: make available to us on a sheet of paper, which I’m sure he has, the thesaurus of quotations that he’s found from this and that, scientists and physicists and natural scientists and so forth, and you’ll find when you read them, when you look at them—I was writing them down as he went through them—all of these are statements of uncertainty. All of them. They’re statements of all we know is how little we know. That’s been, for many years, my definition of an educated person, someone who knows enough to know how ignorant they are. It’s actually is the only—it’s not my own original definition, it comes from the Greek, but it’s the only definition that works and no one working and toiling in the field of science could possibly say anything less or more of themselves, especially at a time like this, but, there you have it right away. The theistic and deistic explanation has to be based on a certainty that there is a supervising and, if you want to be a theist, a caring and intervening creator who manages these matters and there hasn’t been a single sentence so far from Dr. Turek in support of that proposition. Let me give you an example. If you—do you—the event horizon of Stephen Hawking that I just mentioned—I’ll take the cosmological one, just to begin with—the event horizon is the lip of the black hole. It’s where the—suppose you could travel towards a black hole and see it and see the lip of it and notice it before you went in and over and down, that’s what’s known as the event horizon if it exists. Hawking had a gravely ill colleague in Cambridge who said if he knew he was definitely going to die, that’s the way he’d like to go, falling into the event horizon lip of the black hole because in theory you’d be able to see the past and the future and time, except you wouldn’t have quite enough “time” to do so. But, that would be a grand way to check out if you were a physicist. “Turn away from this,” says the—”turn away from that—these incredible, majestic, awe-inspiring thoughts,” say the theists. “Think about the burning bush instead. Think about the trivial miracles witnessed by sheep herding peasants in Bronze Age Palestine and think about the death that they feel that we should incur for their sins.” It was stated by Dr. Turek that the sins of these people, the transgressions of these people and the debt they owe their creator bind all of us as sinners. What a shame we’re not perfect. What a shame there’s nothing we can do about it. What a shame we’re created already in prison and have to earn our emancipation. I tell you again, this is servility to the ultimate power. Now, there are people in this audience much better equipped than I to say that there is so far nothing in our natural world—to move away from the cosmological—there is nothing in our natural world, the globe we live on, that cannot be explained by random mutation combined with evolution by natural selection. Nothing works without that assumption. Everything works with it. There are lots of things that remain to be decided. But it’s not a theory, or not just one. It does work, it is operational. It does not require a prime mover. Ockham’s razor says we should dispose of unnecessary, needless assumptions and that’s what I propose we do in this case. I’ll put it another way: how long would you say Homo sapiens has been on the planet? Francis—not Crick, excuse me, the author of the—[To Hulsey and Turek] the supervisor of the human genome project…
HITCHENS: …Collins, my new best friend and occasional debating enemy, thinks not more than half a million years. Richard Dawkins thinks it could be as much as three quarters of a million. I can sink the number actually, if you like. We know that we left—the species left Africa about 75,000 years ago, having probably shrunk down to about two or three thousand people as a result of a terrible climactic disturbance, probably from Indonesia, probably from a predecessor of Krakatoa, which meant that we were this close to joining the 99.8% of all species every living on the surface of this planet who became extinct. Some design, by the way. Profuse creation of millions and millions and millions of life forms all to be wiped out with not even anyone to testify to their previous existence. We nearly joined that lot, managed to get out of it just in time. Let’s call it—I don’t want Francis’ million or half a million or Richard Dawkins’ 75,000, whichever way—just give me that amount of time. Suppose we’ve only been around for 75,000 years. Monotheism (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) shows up, what, four or five thousand years ago at the most. So if you give me my most microscopically small assumption of human existence, for at least 70,000 years heaven watches as the human species is born, dies, usually of its teeth, usually at about 20, usually its infants having about a 9, 10, 2% chance of living. You can—I don’t have to draw you a picture—watches this with indifference. Thousands and thousands of generations, miserable, illiterate, starving, hungry. To say nothing of the wars they’ll fight with each other, to say nothing of the cruelties they will inflict as well as the ones they will suffer just from existence and only three or four, perhaps five thousand years ago heaven decides it’s enough of that, it’s time for an intervention, and the best way to do it would be in the most primitive part of the Middle East. Not in China where people can read and have looked at telescopes. No, in the most primitive part of the Middle East basically by offering human sacrifice to them. This is a doctrine that cannot be believed by anyone who studied anything scientific, anything historical, anything archaeological, anything paleological, anything biological. No, can’t be believed by anyone. It can be only be believed by someone who wants to be a play thing and a slave of a pitiless, totalitarian power. How glad we should be that the evidence for this ghastly entity is nil. Good. Thanks.
HULSEY: I’m going to stay out of the way and let them ask questions of each other and the way that we’ve scheduled is a minute to ask and five to answer. We’ll try to stay to that.
HITCHENS: That’s very generous.
HULSEY: If you, Dr. Turek, would like to go first since you had already posed some questions to Mr. Hitchens. We will start there.
HITCHENS: How many times do we do that?
HULSEY: Three times, so you get three a piece.
HITCHENS: Wouldn’t—could I just propose, unless you really have three that you’re dying to—I don’t have three I’m trying to duck, but that seems a long time for the audience to have to wait, it seems to me. Could we do two, maybe, and get to their questions?
TUREK: I have six.
HITCHENS: You have six? I’m your witness then.
HULSEY: So three was right. Dr. Turek?
TUREK: Christopher, what is your explanation for the beginning of time, space, and matter out of nothing?
HITCHENS: Well, we don’t know—I remember being asked by one of my children once when they said, “Well, what was there at the Big Bang?” and I said, “Well you have to imagine,”—this shows how poverty-stricken our own vocabulary is and I suspect how poverty-stricken our own capacity is. In other words, I think there are some things not that we don’t understand or know but that we cannot so we’re reduced to sort of primitive images—but I said, “Suppose you picture all of matter, the whole matter, condensed into”—I got this from Hawking, I think, or one of his colleagues—”condensed into something like a very small, dense, black suitcase of the kind you see people carrying money in crime films and it’s about to fly open. That’s what you’d have to be able to—and everything that’s ever going to be is inside that.” That was the best I could do and I don’t think many people could do, if I do say so myself, that much better. But I was completely unhorsed because the kid said, “Well, what was outside the suitcase?” and I thought well, I can’t—I can’t do that and I don’t know anyone who can. And that, in a way, would be my whole point. I don’t have to know, you do. You’re the one who says you know, not me.
TUREK: Is it…
HITCHENS: The theist or the deist say, “Oh, come one, we know this is only possible with an author. It’s only possible with a creator. It’s only possible with a master and commander. It’s only possibly with a dictator.” You’re welcome, I don’t need five minutes.
TUREK: Is it fair to say, though, that if the creation was out of nothing, and that’s the common view today, that the being that brought it into existence—the cause, whatever it was…
HITCHENS: Don’t say being. What ground do you have to say being?
TUREK: Because to go from a state of non-existence to a state of existence you need to make a choice.
HITCHENS: No you don’t.
TUREK: You don’t?
HITCHENS: No you do not.
TUREK: How does something…
HITCHENS: Where are you getting this choice from?
TUREK: The choice—how does a—first of all, there was no nature, there was nothing. So if there was nothing, how do you get something from nothing without a cause?
HITCHENS: How do you get—I can answer the same question in the way I did before—how do you get so much nothing from something? You look into the night sky if you’re in, say, the Carmel peninsula—you can’t do it from many parts of Virginia now, but you are in certain parts of California, as I was just recently—you can look into the night sky and see the universe is blowing up and bursting into flames every night of the week, several times. They had something and it’s all nothing now. Who’s the author of that? Who mandated that? Who’s the creator of that? Who’s the dictator who demands that sacrifice?
TUREK: The fact that things…
HITCHENS: You’re making a rod for your own back here.
TUREK: No, the facts that things go out of existence, Christopher, doesn’t mean that they’re not designed. The typewriter is out of existence right now, thankfully. But the typewriter’s designed. So the fact that the universe is going to heat death doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a designer at the beginning and, of course, religious people believe that somebody’s going to intervene to stop it before it does go. And even if…
HITCHENS: Oh, they do?
TUREK: Even if it doesn’t…
HITCHENS: Wait, wait, wait, wait…
TUREK: Even if no—hold on…
TUREK: Even if nobody intervenes, it [inaudible] goes to heat death.
HITCHENS: Do the religious among you—excuse me—did the religious among you, ladies and gentlemen, to understand, I did not, that there will be an intervention to make an exception in our case, that this will not happen to our cosmos, that God will prevent the heat death of…?
TUREK: That’s the Christian view, and it’s [inaudible]…
HITCHENS: I had no idea. I had no idea. It’s…
TUREK: A new heaven and a new earth will be created. Genesis is paradise lost, Revelation is paradise restored.
HITCHENS: Have it your way. It sounds fatuous to me, I’ve got to say.
TUREK: Again, how do you get something from nothing?
HITCHENS: You—I’m not the one who has to answer the question. Excuse me, you’re the one who has to answer it. You’re the one who claims to know. You say there was a creation moment and a creator. I want to know why you’re changing the subject…
TUREK: I’m not changing the subject…
HITCHENS: …and saying to me how do I not know this when you’re the one who has all the information.
HITCHENS: I also want to know—no, I also want to know this: I want to know what sources you have that are not available to me. How do you know that an intervention will occur to prevent the entropy and implosion and destruction of our solar system?
TUREK: If you want to go to our second debate I’ll provide that.
HITCHENS: Well it’s…
TUREK: But what I’m saying…
HITCHENS: Is this an artificial separation?
TUREK: Let’s say there’s no intervention, we go to heat death. Does that mean the universe was not created and not designed?
HITCHENS: It doesn’t entail that belief, no. But it makes it…
TUREK: Ok, so what’s your point?
HITCHENS: It makes it seem a very capricious designer. Shall we say—rather, as I said, it’s an old verse of Fulke Greville’s: “Created sick, commanded to be well.” Why would people be told, “Ok, I can create you but I’m going to create you with original sin, misery, shame, death of children, disease and so on, just to see if you can pass a test that would mean I might not send you to hell. I don’t say that that didn’t happen. I say that I’m very glad that the evidence for it is very scanty. And I accuse those of who do believe it, and I can’t have been surely misunderstood on this point, of having—harboring a very sinister desire to live in a totalitarian system.
TUREK: How do you define sinister?
HULSEY: Let get—let’s—Mr. Hitchens…
HITCHENS: The desire to be a slave.
TUREK: Is that…
TUREK: Is that chemicals in your brain…
HITCHENS: I regard masochism…
TUREK: …or is there something beyond you that…
HITCHENS: I’ll say that I think masochism is a sinister and creepy impulse, yes.
HULSEY: Mr. Hitchens…
[Interlude where Hulsey sees to it that Dr. Turek’s microphone is turned up]
HULSEY: Mr. Hitchens, a question for Dr. Turek.
HITCHENS: Alright. I won’t take a minute to ask. In the—I don’t just support and try and help out those who dissent from the ridiculous belief of Christianity, the horrible idea of vicarious redemption. In other words, the idea that by watching another person suffer, an innocent person suffer, that you could be freed, not just from your debts or your sins, but your responsibilities. You could cast your sins on a scapegoat. I don’t just oppose that disgusting belief, I oppose it for the Judaism from which it’s plagiarized and the Islam that plagiarizes from it and I give publicity and exposure whenever I can to those who were brave enough in old times to oppose this nightmarish belief. And one of the great opponents of the Islamic totalitarianism in ancient Persia was the great Omar Khayyam, perhaps the greatest poet of all Persia, whose Rubaiyat is known at least to some of you and my favorite verse of this comes from the Robert [Bagalian] translation and it takes the form of a question—the quatrain is in the form of a question. It says, “And do you think that onto such as you, a maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew, God gave a secret and denied it me? Well, well, what matters it? Believe that too.” This magnificent astronomer and scientist and physician and humanist of Persia who opposed the cruel, sadistic, verminous, ignorant Mullahs of his day, I borrow the question: what is your authority for saying that you know something that I don’t?
TUREK: Christopher, I’m giving a probability argument. As you said before, you can’t disprove the existence of God. And you can’t prove beyond any doubt that there’s a God. I’m giving probability. I’m giving cosmological, teleological, moral, consciousness, reason, mathematics, all of those things I listed before. It’s open, the evidence is open to everybody and this is related to your 70,000 years point that you just made there. From a Christian perspective, God has always had a revelation, even before Christ. It talks about the fact that God has always had a witness. There’s three witnesses. There is creation; everyone has creation. There’s conscience; everyone has conscience and there’s Christ. Now Christ, it’s true, only came 2,000 years ago but His…
HITCHENS: And has to come again.
TUREK: …sacrifice of aontement—excuse me—His sacrifice of atonement is retroactive to everybody who lived before Him. So He’s always had a witness.
HITCHENS: How convenient.
TUREK: It is quite convenient and that is the very nature of God, you’re absolutely correct.
HITCHENS: Well, I got him to say it. You see, if we were only discussing ontological questions that would be all very well and it could be quite amusing. I could say that you require a higher degree of standard of proof for your proposition than I perhaps do for mine and you’d probably accept that, and so forth, and we could go back and forth. We’d be paltering again with the essence of the matter which is this: that the difference between the theist and the deist is as follows: the deist says it make not make some kind of sense without a designer. The theist says, “When I tell you what to do, Christopher, I have God on my side.” The deist says he can tell what God wants of me, what length I should shave off the end of my penis, if I’m a boy or have a male child, or off the clitoris if it’s a female child. He knows to the exactitude what the proportions of that should be, what the diet should be, what the dietary laws ought to be, who I should sleep with and in what position and various other—you can—and since God doesn’t ever directly appear and say, “Do it this way,” it’s done for Him, and this is really convenient, by human representatives who claim to act in His name. So that’s why I think your standard of proof should be a great deal higher because if you—the reason this point is important to you is because it would mean real power in the only world that actually exists, which is the material world, of you over me. And you wonder why I’m not keen.
TUREK: Ok. The material world is all that exists. That thought that you just mentioned, Christopher—the material world that all that exists—is that thought material, and if it is, why is it true?
HITCHENS: That sounds like casuistry to me but I certainly think that everything that I am capable of thinking, saying, feeling, and so forth, does depend on my continued existence as a, what should we say, a mass of molecules, or…Yeah I—shoot me in the head and I can’t go on like this. And I won’t be coming back to bother you, either.
TUREK: [To Hulsey] Question?
HITCHENS: Nor am I going anywhere after that’s happened.
HITCHENS: And I don’t wish it otherwise, by the way. I don’t wish otherwise. Sir.
TUREK: God gives you what you desire.
HITCHENS: Would that that were the case.
TUREK: I have a, bear with me, a relatively long question here. After admitting that an unborn child is a human being, you write on page 221—and thankfully you say in the book that it’s nonsense that an unborn child is not a human being, you admit that the unborn child is—you say this, and I quote, “There may be circumstances in which it is not desirable to carry a fetus to full term.” You then go on to advocate termination of pregnancy if birth control fails. Here’s my question: why is it that according to you when God plays God by taking a life prematurely, in the Old Testament for example, it is a moral outrage but when you play God by taking a life prematurely through abortion it is a moral right?
HITCHENS: Well, it’s a false distinction. I mean, I don’t—that’s not what I say. I mean, I say that the great abortive agent is, I’d say, nature. I don’t say God. Of course, God does not decide that so many pregnancies are not carried to full term. Nature knows, in the case of our species, as with every other mammal and primate, that some fetuses are not going to make it and flushes them out. That’s just a brute fact. We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case because we are, as you know, adapted biologically to an environment which we’ve abandoned, The Savana. That’s why we have appendices that are designed for grass eaters. You know all this, it’s all very well-knowable. You can’t be having of sickly, half-baked childre nand get away from the predators. So nature is the great abortive agent. I certainly don’t blame God for it. I do, as a humanist, believe that the concept “unborn child” is a real one and I think the concept is underlined by all the recent findings of embryology about the early viability of a well-conceived human baby, one that isn’t going to be critically deformed, or even some that are will be able to survive outside the womb earlier and earlier and earlier and I see that date only being pushed back and I feel the responsibility to consider the occupant of the womb as a candidate member of society in the future and thus to say that it cannot be only the responsibility of the woman to decide upon it, that it’s a social question and an ethical and a moral one and I say this as someone who has no supernatural belief. So, your question ought to have been this: how do I have any ethical opinions since I don’t believe that I’m created and I don’t believe I’m going to heaven?
TUREK: I prefer the first question, if you don’t mind.
HITCHENS: Right, but ok, but I mean—isn’t it entailed by it? Have I—well I appeal to the audience, have I not answered the question about the termination of pregnancy?
[Several audience members raise doubt]
HITCHENS: Which bit have I not answered? You’d better prompt me, then.
TUREK: I’ll read it again: why is it that, according to you, when God plays God by taking a life prematurely…
HITCHENS: Well I didn’t—it isn’t according to me. I don’t say God does that.
HITCHENS: Nature does that.
TUREK: In your book, which is right over here, you have an entire chapter about the atrocities in the Old Testament.
TUREK: And the atrocities have to do with God commanding genocide and those things. And you obviously have a problem with that, as many people should. So my question again is why, according to you, when God plays God by taking a life prematurely in the Old Testament is it a moral outrage but when you play God by taking a life prematurely through an abortion it is a moral right?
HITCHENS: Well once again, I’m sorry if my work so obscure. I don’t say that I have a moral right to terminate a pregnancy. I have given all the reasons that I think hedge that question ethically and morally very sternly, very stringently. And in any case it’s not like saying that every living child of the Amalekites should be destroyed and an injunction by God to Moses to say he’s been too merciful and he spared too many children and enslaved too few women and didn’t make the genocide complete. I’m sorry I’ve never been accused of and I expect not to be, if I’m lucky enough in my life, of any such thing. And the idea there’s a moral equivalence between the two or handling the really difficult question of an unviable fetus and what should be done about it isn’t a moral equivalence at all.
TUREK: So do you want to say that all unborn life is, like you say in the book, is a human being and therefore you should not kill it? Is that what you want to say to get out of this dilemma? Or what is it you want to say?
HITCHENS: No, but I think—no, but I think the presumption—I’ve long said that the presumption is that the unborn entity has a right on its side and that every effort should be made to see if it can be preserved and I think that’s an ethical imperative. What I do say in the book is I think The Roman Catholic Church makes this argument immoral when it could be a moral one by saying that contraception is not going to be allowed, by saying that contraception is the moral equivalent of abortion. In other words to say that contraception is also murder, which is a nonsensical and disproportionate position. I quote some serious Catholics in my book—William F. Buckley the late is one, [indecipherable] is another one—by saying if The Church says that contraception and abortion are morally the same, it degrades the opposition to abortion. And by making absurd arguments, as it has in the past, Aquinas believed every single sperm contained a micro embryo inside it and thus that, if you like, I hope I don’t offend anyone, handjobs are genocide. As for blow jobs, don’t start. That an ectopic pregnancy, in others words, a direct threat to the life of the mother, a Fallopian tube pregnancy is, instead of a direct threat to the life of the mother and an obvious no-starter for a human embryo, because that’s going anyway, is someone who should be allowed to vote. This is nonsense. It’s casuistry. It’s immoral. It’s superstition and it prevents people from thinking seriously about matters that humanism can decide for itself, for heaven’s sake, without any supernatural intervention.
TUREK: Your question, sir.
HITCHENS: Oh, well, since I apparently I answered your last question with a question of my own I’ll make it my question to you. I’m very keen to know how it is that you, in a sense, that you dare to say that without a belief in religion I would have no source for ethical or moral [indecipherable].
TUREK: That’s not what I’m saying.
HITCHENS: You seem to hint at it.
HITCHENS: [To the audience] Did he not?
TUREK: Oh, I’m not saying you don’t know morality, Christopher, I’m saying you can’t justify morality without a being beyond yourself.
HITCHENS: So that—just if I—ok, good. So that if I say that for me it’s enough to be willing to love my fellow man and perhaps hope that my fellow man or woman will give me some of the same consideration in return and that, after all, the Samaritan, of whom we’ve all heard, was the only one to help after the priests and Levites had passed by and the Samaritan also, though he’s talked of by Jesus, can’t have been a Christian because he appears in a story told by Jesus so there can’t be any Christianity before that. Somehow he knew the moral thing to do was to help his fellow person without religious instruction.
TUREK: Yes, that’s right.
HITCHENS: And that that’s actually the whole point of the parable, though it’s not the way it’s usually told.
TUREK: And that’s what Christianity teaches: you know morality, it’s written on your heart. You don’t need the Scripture to know right from wrong.
HITCHENS: And this was only available to us 2,000 year ago?
TUREK: No, you’ve known it from the beginning of time. Conscience has been on humanity forever. That’s the point.
HITCHENS: You’ll have to let me press you a little bit on that. I mean, William Hewitt Gladstone spent a huge amount of his life—and he was a great scholar of Latin and Greek—showing that every one of the Greek Socratic and other moral precepts, all they were were just prefigurations of Christianity. This was the best the Greeks could do before Jesus arrived.
TUREK: No, no, no, no. I don’t mean that.
HITCHENS: They couldn’t face the idea that these solidarities and moralities and understandings are innate in people and don’t require divine permission. I just have to ask you, if you can do it plainly, which side do you come down on, do you think we need divine permission to act humanly to each other?
TUREK: No, it has nothing to do with permission, it has to do with the ontological category known as morality. Where does morality come from? Does it come from the benzene molecule? The carbon molecule? The oxygen molecule? In your world view where does it come from?
HITCHENS: Suppose that we were having this discussion before the existence of molecules was understood.
TUREK: That’s irrelevant.
HITCHENS: No, it’s not because the discussion about where does the good come from was being conducted before Lucretius developed the atomic theory, before Democritus and Epicurus, I should better say, understood that the whole world was made up of atoms and molecules. Before that was known, people were arguing why do we behave one way to our fellows and we call it good and another way and we call it wicked?
TUREK: Because it’s written on..
HITCHENS: The molecular—I don’t think you can build in a molecular distraction to that.
TUREK: That’s—it’s—?I don’t have the molecular problem, you do. You’re a materialist. I’m trying to ask you where does morality come from in a materialistic world view?
HITCHENS: Well, did I not just acquit myself of that charge and say that the argument preceeds the knowledge of the atomic and molecular structure.
TUREK: No, it doesn’t.
HITCHENS: Not that I think, by the way, that the atomic and molecular structure is irrelevant and it could be that we might find out that there are, who knows, pheremones or this or other phenomena that do have an influence on our moral conditioning. There still wouldn’t, to a morally normal person, relieve them of the responsibility of saying that I feel I know what’s right. I feel some things my children don’t need to be told, they already know.
TUREK: Let me interject here and just ask the question in another way.
HITCHENS: Whereas to tell a child, “You go to this church which means you’ll go to heaven but your little playmates don’t go to that church and therefore will go to hell,” seems to me to be an unpleasant thing to be saying.
TUREK: Yes, that is.
HITCHENS: Maybe I’m in a minority.
TUREK: That could be an unpleasant thing but how do you…
HITCHENS: Actually, an evil thing to be saying…
TUREK: Let’s call it evil, Christopher…
HITCHENS: That’s something only a religious person would dream of saying.
TUREK: Let’s call it evil. Where does evil come from…
HITCHENS: Religion. And morality—to answer your next question, morality comes from humanism and is stolen by religion for its own purposes.
TUREK: Humanism according to who, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, who?
HITCHENS: You’re saying that Hitler was a humanist?
HITCHENS: I’ve lived to hear it said.
HITCHENS: And in Virginia. Hitler was a Catholic.
TUREK: A human. A human. A human.
HITCHENS: Hitler was a Catholic, so was Mussolini.
TUREK: Give me a—how does morality exist if it’s just my opinion against your opinion and there’s no standard beyond?
HITCHENS: Both of them had an official political concordat with the Catholic churches. Both of them wanted the worship of themselves as well as of God.
TUREK: So I suppose no evil comes from atheism?
HITCHENS: And their third main ally, Hirohito, the Emperor of Japan, not content just to be theocratic, was himself a god. So anyone who says that fascism and Nazism were secular is an ignoramus…
TUREK: Why is it wrong…
HITCHENS: …on a gigantic scale.
TUREK: Alright, ok. I’m asking an ontological question, I’m not asking…
HITCHENS: I’m not going to be called a Hitlerite because I’m a humanist…
TUREK: I’m not asking a sociological question.
HITCHENS: …let’s get that clear.
TUREK: Alright. Let me ask the question another way. This is my last question. If God does not exist why do all people have a fixed moral obligation to love and not murder? How do molecules in motion have any authority to tell you how to behave? When you do something wrong, whose standard are you breaking, who are you displeasing? The carbon atom? The benzene molecule? Who?
HITCHENS: This question’s been asked—Socrates answered it like this, when he was on trial for his life (accused of blasphemy, by the way): he said that he had an inner daimon, was the way he put it, not a demon, but a daimon, an inner spirit, an inner critic, a conscience would be one way of putting it, and that he knew enough to know, even when he was making the best speech of his life, that if he was making a point that was somehow dishonest or incomplete or shady, the daimon would tell him, “Yeah that was clever, but you shouldn’t have tried it.” He knew. Any person of average moral equipment has the same knowledge. I hope you’ll—if you don’t I’m very sorry for you. Adam Smith called it the internal witness who we all have to have a conversation with all the time. It’s been—C. S. Lewis decided to call it conscience and to attribute it to the divine but he didn’t improve on what Adam Smith said in The Theory of Moral Sentiments or what Adam Smith said when standing trial for his own life. It’s been sometimes colloquially defined as why do people behave well when nobody’s looking? I don’t believe there’s anyone in this hall who doesn’t know what I mean by that. Why, when it won’t do you any good when you decide, “I could’ve kept that wallet I found in the back of the cab seat, but I’m not, I’m going to turn it in and see—find its real possessor.” There are those people to whom those thoughts do not occur, who are deaf to that idea, who only think of themselves, who wouldn’t worry about the internal daimon or censor or companion and there are, of course, people who only get pleasure from being unpleasant to other people and inflicting cruelty on them. The first group we call the sociopathic and the second group we call the psychopathic. My only—they occur in nature and in society. My only problem is with those who think we’re all made in the image of God, the one explanation that absolutely doesn’t work at all, that gets you no where, that explains nothing.
TUREK: Christopher, it’s your turn to ask.
HITCHENS: Oh really?
TUREK: Yes, sir.
HITCHENS: Well my question is this: would anyone in the audience like to join this conversation?
HULSEY: We actually have question if you’re ready to move along.
HITCHENS: Yeah, I am.
HULSEY: There are a couple of questions—a lot—several similar questions that boil down to a couple of questions for each of you and one that I’ll end with that I think is an important one to address to both of you. Since you gave your turn away, Mr. Hitchens, I’ll ask you first. “If,” the questioner asks, “If God does not exist then what is the purpose of life?”
HITCHENS: Well, I can only answer for myself. What cheers me up? I suppose mainly gloating over the misfortunes of other people. I guess that…
TUREK: And you say evil comes from religion, huh?
HITCHENS: I guess that has to be—yeah, mainly crowing over the miseries of others. It doesn’t always work but it never completely fails. And then there’s irony. There’s irony and—which is the gin in the Campari, you know, the cream in the coffee. Sex can have diminishing returns but it’s amazing. No, that’s pretty much it, then it’s clear onto the grave.
HULSEY: Dr. Turek?
TUREK: Yes. [To Hulsey] You want me to answer that or not? Somebody else, ok.
HULSEY: If Christianity is true, then why aren’t the differences that Jesus makes in the lives of Christians more powerful or evident than the impact other religions make on their adherents?
TUREK: I don’t know if I accept the premise of the question.
HULSEY: Well, the questioner adds, Ghandi was every bit as influential as any Christian.
TUREK: Yeah, that’s true and that’s one of the problems with Christianity. The biggest problem with Christianity is Christians. I admit it.
HULSEY: But the questioner’s asking a more central question which is if this is the truth…
HULSEY: …why doesn’t that truth, by the weight of its infinite being cause its adherents to behave in a way that we can all notice?
TUREK: Well, I think you can notice it in several Christians. I think Christians for years have been the ones that have built hospitals and cared for the poor and cared for the weak and the sick. So I think it does make a difference. My problem, which is part of the problem that the questioner is asking, is why doesn’t it have this effect on everyone? And I’ll throw a little Christian theology in here: the problem isn’t that we don’t have all the Holy Spirit we do, we just don’t allow all the Holy Spirit to do what it should do. It’s our problem, we are fallen human beings and that’s why Christ had to come because we are fallen human beings.
HITCHENS: And has to come again because He didn’t get it right the first time. I agree with you that the grammar of the question is wrong but for a different reason. I don’t see what’s moral about Christian preaching. For example, apart from the horrible idea of vicarious redemption—I’ll say it again in case I missed you the first time what I mean by that—I could pay your debt, even if I didn’t know you. If I was a friend I could say, “You’re in debt? I’ll pay.” In extreme cases people have been known to say, “I’ll serve your sentence in prison. I’ll do that for you.” What I cannot do is relieve you of your responsibility. I can’t say, “Throw your sins on me, they’ll melt away.” Immoral. People are not allowed to be, you’re not entitled to be relieved of your responsibilities. And vicarious redemption by human sacrifice is a very primitive and horrible scapegoating idea that belongs to the barbaric period of human history.
TUREK: So all pardons are immoral?
HITCHENS: Completely it’s own—no, not all pardons, I didn’t say that. I said vicarious redemption is an immoral doctrine. It’s also immoral of the Nazarene to say, “Take no thought for the morrow. Not to clothe, not to eat, not to invest, leave your family, leave your children, leave everything, give up the world, no investment, no thrift, no thought for the future, just follow me.” That’s only moral if you are a sure believer in the idea that the world is about to come to an end, which was the case with this apocalyptic [indecipherable].
TUREK: I guess you never read the parable of the talents, huh?
HITCHENS: He said the prophecy is that the world is coming to an end real soon. There’s no point in caring about it or anything else. That’s not a moral preachment to me at all. There are many other ways in which I fail to see any bad behavior can ever be described as unchristian. And of course it’s completely laughable to say Christians build hospitals. Just as many Christians have bombed hospitals that have built them and as many Muslims have built hospitals as Christians have and as many Babylonians have built great buildings as Christians have. If that’s the best you can do, that’s the best you can do.
HULSEY: One of the questioners repeats a point from Dr. Turek’s opening statement that apparently he or she feels you did not address Mr. Hitchens…
HULSEY: …about the irreducible complexity of DNA and is it possible for such structures to have formed by chance?
HITCHENS: Well, there are two—I have two responses to that. One is what would she have said before she knew about DNA?
TUREK: What does that have to do with anything? It existed prior to anyone knowing about them.
HITCHENS: Yes, that’s right.
TUREK: Gravity existed before we knew about it, Christopher.
HITCHENS: That’s correct.
TUREK: You need an explanation for it.
HITCHENS: That’s correct, and Christianity thought it could explain everything and then it found out more things…
TUREK: No, not everything.
HITCHENS: Wait, it’s a very simple—same as your point about molecules that I said that these arguments predate Epicurus, Lucretius and the atomic theory. Christianity used to say it can explain everything. All you need to know is that there’s an all-powerful, all-loving, all-intervening, all-knowing, omniscient god. Ok, well then wait, wouldn’t DNA explain more? Ah, well that only shows that God’s even cleverer than we thought. So it’s an infinitely expanding tautology. There are many—there are some Christians who accept, in fact it was actually a Catholic physicist at The Univerity of Louvain in Belgium, who first came up with the idea of what we now call the Big Bang. And most popes, not all, most popes have accepted it. Some thought of it as a challenge to Christianity. The Pope Leo, who he went to—I can’t think of the scientist’s name for a second, maybe someone here can help me—he went to the pope and said, “Looks like this is how things started,” and the pope said, “If you like, I’ll make it dogma that every Catholic has to believe it,” and he said, “That would slightly be missing the point Your Holiness.”
TUREK: Christopher, what does this have to do with the origin of DNA.
HITCHENS: Well, because it is true to say that religion, as Stephen Jay Gould said, that religion and science belong to non-overlapping magisteria. I think these magistria are, in many ways, incompatible and in many ways irreconcilable but it is no more true to say that the existence of the complexity of DNA shows that God was more ingenious than we thought than it is to say that it necessarily shows by its self-revealing ingenuity that we don’t need the hypothesis of God. Both of these positions would be, in my opinion, somewhat reductionist, though I would have to say that I think the second one is more persuasive and more elegant.
TUREK: No, Gould is wrong…
HITCHENS: Will that do?
TUREK: Christians, or religious people—religion is trying to find out what—how the universe began and so is science. They’re not…
HITCHENS: No, religion says it does know, excuse me.
TUREK: It’s trying—it tries to find it…
HITCHENS: Religion is not a process of scientific inquiry. Religion is an affirmation of faith. It says it already knows.
TUREK: I am a religious person, Christopher…
HITCHENS: It says it already knows.
TUREK: …and I will use the evidence to try and point out that the universe exploded into being out of nothing.
HITCHENS: And you have scientific evidence for the view that an intervention will occur to prevent the implosion and [indecipherable]…
TUREK: No, forget that. Let’s start at the beginning.
HITCHENS: I can’t forget it.
TUREK: Let’s start at the beginning. That’s for debate two.
HITCHENS: It’s the only thing you’ve said all evening that I’m going to remember.
TUREK: That’s for debate two.
HITCHENS: No, no. I mean, don’t say…
HITCHENS: Look, do yourself and your faith the honor of saying it’s faith.
TUREK: No, no, no. The argument would be…
HITCHENS: Don’t say it’s science based. You won’t get away with it.
TUREK: The argument would be, Christopher, is that if the universe exploded into being out of nothing then miracles are possible because the greatest miracle of all has already occurred. The question is…
TUREK: …have miracles occurred in the first century?
HITCHENS: No, because a miracle—a miracle is a…
TUREK: That requires another debate whereby we have to look at the hictorical evidence and see. And if it is true that Jesus really did come and say and do the things that the New Testament writer said He did then whatever He teaches is true because if He rose from the dead He was God. If He taught that there will be an intervention then there will be. That’s the argument, I don’t have time to support it.
HITCHENS: Very good. Now, gosh—a sentence or two from David Hume on miracles would clear all of this up.
AUDIENCE: [Informing Hitchens his mircophone has fallen off]
HITCHENS: A sentence of two from David Hume would correct what you said. A miracle is defined not as part of the natural order but as a suspension of the natural order.
TUREK: No, an intervention, not a suspension.
HITCHENS: You can’t say of the Big Bang, which is the foundation of the natural order, that it’s a suspension of what it starts. You may not do that. However, if you meet someone in the street who you yesterday saw executed, you can say either that an extraordinary miracle has occurred or that you are under a very grave misapprehension and David Hume’s logic on this, I think, is quite irrefutable. He says, “What is more likely, that the laws of nature have been suspended in your favor, and in a way that you approve, or that you’ve made a mistake?” And in each case you must—and especially if you didn’t see it yourself and you’re hearing it from someone who says that they did. I would go further and say the following: I’ll grant you that it would possible to track the pregnancy of the woman Mary who’s mentioned about three times in the Bible and to show there was no male intervention in her life at all but yet she delivered herself of a healthy baby boy. I can say—I don’t say that’s impossible. Parthenogenesis is not completely unthinkable. It does not prove that his paternity is divine and it wouldn’t prove that any of his moral teachings were thereby correct. Nor, if I was to see him executed one day and see him walking the streets the next, would that show that his father was God or his mother was a virgin or that his teachings were true, especially given the commonplace nature of resurrection at that time and place. After all, Lazarus was raised, never said a word about it. The daughter of Jairus was raised, didn’t say a thing about what she’d been through. And the Gospels tell us that at the time of the crucifixion all the graves in Jerusalem opened and their occupants wandered around the streets to greet people. So it seems resurrection was something of a banality at the time. Not all of those people clearly were divinely conceived. So I’ll give you all the miracles and you’ll still be left exactly where you are now, holding an empty sack.
TUREK: No, Christopher, you have to look at each miracle in light of the evidence and the context. Hume was wrong because his premise, that was wrong, was the one that said the evidence for the regular is always greater than that for the rare. It’s not—from Hume’s own world view—if Hume was here to today he wouldn’t even believe in the Big Bang because it only happened once. It’s not a regular event, it happened once. He wouldn’t believe in the spontaneous generation of life, which is what a materialist must believe because it only happened once. He wouldn’t believe in his own birth because it happened only once. He would be able to believe in the whole history of our solar system because it only happened once. You don’t need regular events to know whether or not something happened. Singular events happen all the time. This debate will never happen again [to the audience] yet you’re here to witness it.
HITCHENS: There’s a—I mean, I’m just going to put my—repose my trust in the audience here. There’s an obvious difference between a singularity and a miracle. And I—I mean, I think it would be embarrassing to try and explain it. It would be patronizing to…
HULSEY: Dr. Turek, a member of the audience takes issue with your claim that objective morality necessarily relies in an absolute deity, asking instead what about empathy, for which there are apparently significant biological bases?
TUREK: I didn’t hear that, what?
HULSEY: What about empathy…
HULSEY: …for which there are fairly well established biological bases, a very human emotion, cannot empathy lead to morality?
TUREK: Is it right to be empathetic, that’s the question. I’m not saying there’s no chemical connection between morality and—or, for morality I should say. Certainly they’re going to be linked, there are chemicals going on. The question is, what is the standard that makes empathy or love right? What is the chemical composition of love? What is the—how much does justice weigh?
TUREK: These are all things that make no sense in a materialistic world view.
HULSEY: Well, but that’s not entirely true. Let’s say for example that cognitive neuroscientists are able to determine with scientific levels of precision that in fact certain neurochemical and cognitive events always—essentially always co-occur with the experience of empathy.
TUREK: But that wouldn’t mean that empathy’s right. See, there may be chemical compositions that cause that guy to chop that guy’s head off on the Canadian bus. That wouldn’t make it right. The question is what makes something right? In a materialist world view there’s nothing that can make something right or wrong. As David Hume has said, “You cannot get an ought from an is.”
HITCHENS: Well, I’m happy to agree with that. I think that’s true. But I have to add only that there are—we’ve all—some of us have been lucky enough to see it or meet people who’ve done it and all of us have read about it—there are people who will, when a grenade is lobbed through the window throw themselves onto it before it can blow up. It does happen. There are people who die under torture without giving away the whereabouts of their comrades. There are people who go do bomb disposal work and sit diffusing a huge device. They know that at any minute—it does happen. It’s always happened. It’s common to every known human society, it’s a part of every heroic narrative of every known society that’s ever been. Those who do it are honored. They are “sung” as we say (in the times when there was no literate—no literal record) and it doesn’t require divine sanction or permission. It is, we’re proud to say, if not innate in us (we’d be too humble to say that), it’s innate in our species. It’s something we can all aspire to.
TUREK: Yes, you know it.
HITCHENS: We do not get it from Big Brother. If we did that would degrade it. It would mean it wasn’t heroic, it wasn’t brave, it wasn’t individual, it wasn’t exemplary—didn’t deserve anything.
TUREK: Why are these things good?
HITCHENS: Well, because it would be in the hope either of a reward from Big Brother or for fear of punishment from it. It would abolish morality.
HITCHENS: It destroys ethics. It means the individual example is dust. How many more times do I have to say this?
TUREK: Christopher, you’ve already abolished morality by your materialistic world view. There’s no such thing as morality if you’re just a bunch of chemicals.
HITCHENS: Wait a second, I—[responding to audience applause] It’s ok, I already know some people will clap at anything. Are you—do you mean to say that the human—that the body of a mammal or primate is not a chemical composition?
TUREK: No, it is.
HITCHENS: Oh good.
TUREK: I’m questioning where you…
HITCHENS: Why do act as if this has only just been discovered and as if it’s a theological point?
TUREK: Because you apparently haven’t discovered that morality…
HITCHENS: I say that in spite of—No, I would rather say that in spite of the fact that I am a primate—or, notwithstanding, perhaps I’d better say, that I am a primate, nonetheless I’m capable of thinking about heroism, self-sacrifice, example and so forth.
TUREK: Why are all those things good? Why are they good?
HITCHENS: Don’t turn to me and say, “How can you say that and be a primate?”
TUREK: Why are they good?
HITCHENS: I’m a primate. I can’t alter the fact that I’m a primate. I can conceal it better than some people can.
TUREK: Why are they good?
HITCHENS: That’s the best I can do.
TUREK: Why is bravery, heroism…
HITCHENS: You’re a primate as well and you’ll agree, both of us, that it shows, ok?
HULSEY: Let’s finish with this, which is the fundamental question and I think deserves a serious answer. The writer says, “Gentlemen, I venture to say that no one”—“no one” is two words, by the way—”no one came into this room without already deciding who he or she agrees with and no one with leave with a different mind set. What would it take for each of you, what evidence would you need, upon what basis would you make a decision to change your mind fundamentally about the question that we gathered here to discuss this evening?
TUREK: Great question. Well, Christianity would be refuted by somehow discovering the body of Christ. Theism might be—I don’t know how you could refute theism, if all the scientific evidence somehow changed. If—I don’t know how you deal with the morality issue, if the fine tuning didn’t occur, if we could find—if the universe it eternal it wouldn’t need a cause but all the scientific evidence seems to suggest the universe is eternal so it needs a cause and the cause must be immaterial, spaceless, timeless but if all that changed that might be—at least get me to doubt theism. Sir?
HITCHENS: In most of the debates—I wish I had though of this this evening, actually—[Interrupted by audience reminding him to keep his microphone closer] In most of the debates I’ve taken part in, and I wish I had thought of it this evening too, we took a vote before the debate, including registering the undecided and then had one and the end, just to see—basically to see where the undecided had gone and I was always surprised by how many people had come or at least were willing to consider themselves as having come with an open mind. I—my view is this: very few people have that much difficulty thinking of themselves as objects of a divine plan. The great advantage religion has is our own solipsism. It’s the same as people who don’t really believe in astrology but they’ll take a quick peek to see what’s happening to Taurus today and if it says, “Well, might be a good time for a flutter on the stock exchange,” not to think, “Hang on, the planets don’t really move to determine my investments, but maybe, you know…It’s not impossible it could all be about me.” I think about it quite a lot actually because I have the same birthday as Thomas Jefferson, April the thirteenth, except that I don’t because he was born under the old calendar and I think though it says on his tomb he was born on the thirteenth of April, he was actually born on something like the twenty-fifth of April, under the old calendar. I’ve often wondered how the horoscope people manage the transition, the time when everyone had to change which star sign they were. I dare say it got done easily enough. Religion works for most people because to have—people, in a sense, horribly do want it to be true, that they are supervised, that God looks out for them, that they might be rewarded or that they might be punished. It has this terrible, servile advantage. That’s why I consider it to be morally superior to be an atheist, to say I would rather live without that ghastly master-slave mentality.
HULSEY: And there’s no evidence or event that can change your commitment to that belief?
HITCHENS: I could only say that if there was—I’m very relieved to find, having studied what I think of as the best evidence and arguments from physicists, biologists, paleontologists, students of mythology, history, archaeology and so on, very relieved to find that there’s no evidence for it at all. If I thought it was true, I would consider myself condemned to live under a tyranny and I’ve spent my entire life repudiating that idea and helping, I hope, others to think the same. But, there is not a chance, of course, there isn’t a single chance that anyone will find that, hey, after all, we can definitely know that a virgin conceived or that a condemned felon walked again and it’s quite absurd for anyone to argue in scientific terms as if any of that is even thinkable. What I don’t understand—I suppose I should close by—is why anybody should be so contemptuous, I suppose is the word, or insecure about their own faith as not to call it that. Did you hear him say at any point this evening, “This is my faith. I believe it inspite of the evidence to the contrary. I lay my life on it. I believe I’m redeemed by it. I think I will live eternally because”—no, he has no confidence to say anything like that. Instead he tried to mix it up in an area in scientific inquiry where he’s no more competent than, hey, even I am. And that is where he made his big mistake. Thanks.
HULSEY: Gentlemen, what did we decide, five minutes to close?
TUREK: Five to ten? Seven maybe?
HULSEY: [To Hitchens] Since Dr. Turek went first in the opening, would you mind going first now?
HITCHENS: Well, I thought I just wrapped.
HULSEY: You can call it a wrap unless you’d like five more minutes.
HITCHENS: Gosh. When asked what I think the most erotic words in the language I sometimes think—[realizing he’s off microphone] when asked what I think are the most erotic words in the language, I sometimes think slowly, “captive audience.” No, you know what? If I hadn’t made my case by now, brothers and sisters, I don’t think I will make it in the next five. I ask you to excuse me. If anyone thinks that there’s a question, having—who’s heard me, that thinks there’s a question that I answered poorly or inadequately, or badly or failed to answer at all and would like to challenge me I’d happily give them five minutes but I have, so to say, shot my bolt otherwise. Is there anyone who would like to challenge me? Yes? [To audience member] Please.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: If there is no God, why do you spend your whole life trying to convince people that there isn’t? Why don’t you just stay home?
TUREK: [To Hulsey] Can you repeat that?
HULSEY: Yes, the question is if there is no God, why spend your life and career trying to refute that? Why don’t you just leave it alone and stay home? Fair enough?
HITCHENS: Well it’s not my—it isn’t my whole career, for one thing. It’s become a major preoccupation of my life though in the last eight or nine years, especially since September 11, 2001 to try and help generate an opposition to theocracy and its depredations. That is now probably my main political preoccupation, to help people in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Israel resist those who sincerely want to encompass the destruction of civilization and sincerely believe they have God on their side in wanting to do so. A thing—maybe I will take a few minutes just to say something that I find repulsive about, especially monotheistic, Messianic religion. With a large part of itself, it quite clearly wants us all to die. It wants this world to come to an end. You can tell the yearning for things to be over. Whenever you read any of its real texts or listen to any of its real, authentic spokemen, not the sort of pathetic apologists who sometimes masquerade for it, those who talk—there was a famous spokesmen for this in Virginia until recently, about the rapture say that those of us who have chosen rightly will be gathered to the arms of Jesus, leaving all of the rest of you behind. If we’re in a car, it’s your lookout, that car won’t have a driver anymore. If you’re a pilot, that’s your lookout, that plane will crash. We will be with Jesus and the rest of you can go straight to hell. The eschatological element that is inseparable from Christianity—if you don’t believe that there is to be an apocalypse, there is going to be an end, a separation of the sheep and the goats, a condemnatioan, a final one, then you’re not really a believer, and their contempt for things of this world shows through all of them. It’s well put in an old rhyme from an English exclusive bretheren sect. It says that, “We are the pure and chosen few and all the rest are damned. There’s room enough in hell for you, we don’t want heaven crammed.” You can tell it when you see the extreme Muslims talk. They cannot wait, they cannot wait for death and destruction to overtake and overwhelm the world. They can’t wait for, what I would call without ambiguity, a final solution. When you look at the Israeli settlers, paid for often by American tax dollars, deciding that if they can steal enough land from other people and get all the Jews into the promised land and all the non-Jews out of it then finally the Jewish people will be worthy of the return of the Messiah and there are Christians in this country who consider it their job to help this happen so that Armageddon can occur so that the painful business of living as humans and studying civilization and trying to acquire learning and knowledge and health and medicine and to push back—can all be scrapped and the cult of death can take over. That, to me, is a hideous thing in eschatological terms and end time terms on its own, hateful idea, hateful practice and a hateful theory but very much to be opposed in our daily lives where there are people who sincerely mean it, who want to ruin the good relations that could exist between different peoples, nations, races, countries, tribes, ethnicities, who say—who openly say they love death more than we love life and who are betting that with God on their side, they’re right about that. So when I say, as the subtitle of my book, that I think religion poisons everything, I’m not just doing what publishers like and coming up with a provocative subtitle, I mean to say it infects us in our most basic integrity. It says we can’t be moral without Big Brother, without a totalitarian permission. It means we can’t be good to one another, it means we can’t think without this. We must be afraid, we must also be forced to love someone who we fear, the essence of sado-masochism and the essence of abjection, the essence of the master-slave relationship and that knows that death is coming and can’t wait to bring it on. I say this is evil. And though I do, some nights, stay at home, I enjoy more the nights when I go out and fight against this ultimate wickedness and ultimate stupidity. Thank you.
HULSEY: Dr. Turek, your close.
TUREK: First of all I want to thank everyone, I know it’s been a long night and I enjoy listening to Christopher even if I don’t agree with him and I want to thank Christopher for being here and putting so much effort into this debate. Let me just clean up a few things that I wasn’t able to respond to before and that is this issue of design where Christopher seems to say because things are going to oblivion, it wasn’t designed. Well, first of all, design in a world constrained by physical constraints can only be optimal if you know the purpose of the designer. Stephen Jay Gould had a book years ago called Panda’s Thumb where he complained that the panda’s thumbs was not as good as our thumb. It only seemed to enable the panda to strip bamboo. Well maybe that’s all the panda was supposed to do is strip bamboo. You can’t say it’s a sub-optimal design unless you know what the purpose of the designer was. My car is not designed perfectly but it’s still designed. So, just because you find faults in design doesn’t mean there is no design and you wouldn’t be able to find a fault unless you knew what the purpose of the designer was. Let me now summarize Christopher’s book and as I read Christopher’s book it seems to me he’s making two statements. The first statement is there is no God and I hate Him. After all, Christopher defines himself as an anti-theist, not an atheist, but an anti-theist. And that’s why he couldn’t even respond to the question, “What might change your mind?” Nothing is going to change Christopher’s mind. His mind is made up.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: He’s narrow-minded.
TUREK: The second—he’s narrow-minded, yes. The second major point he makes is since religious people do evil things, God doesn’t exist. That is a non sequitor in logic. We all do evil things, that doesn’t mean our parents don’t exist. Just because people do evil things doesn’t mean that all religion is false. And Christopher bunches all religions together and makes no distinctions that need to be made. I am with you, Christopher, on your opposition of radical Islam. I am with you. I am with you politically on more things than you will know because I think many religions are false and there are many false beliefs. In fact, may religious people—here’s the points Christopher makes, and he’s right about many of these things: many religious people have behaved terribly. Many religious beliefs are false and can’t be justified. You don’t need to believe in God to know right from wrong. You don’t need the Bible or any other religious book to know basic right and wrong; morality predates scripture. I agree with all that and that in fact is the Christian view as well. And unless someone outside of the universe intervenes or laws of nature change this incredibly fine-tuned universe will go to oblivion. I agree with all that. But none of these things are arguments against the existence God. God could still exist even if all of Christopher’s assertions and complaints are true. Let me also point out that religion does not poison everything. Everything poisons religion. I poison religion. Regrettably, I poison religion because I don’t live up to the pure words of Christ. And that’s why Christ had to come because none of us live up to it but we know what the standards are because there’s a standard beyond ourselves. Christopher has identified how religious people poison religion, how they act immorally. You know, that’s what Jesus and the prophets did and why Jesus came. Christopher is so charming and he is so persuasive, he is like an Old Testament prophet. He is, and he is calling the church to morality. He can’t define what that is, but he’s calling them to it. He’s not calling them to the Christian morality necessarily, he’s calling them to his own morality but what he points out are some of the very things Jesus points out. Many people in the church are following tradition rather than the words of Christ. Many people in the church are doing evil things. Jesus condemned the people who were the most religious because they were the furthest away from God and Christopher is to be commended for that because many of them are. But unlike Jesus, who appealed to God’s standard of morality, Christopher’s atheism affords him no objective moral standard by which to judge anything wrong including all the sins of religious people: circumcision, sexual restrictions, suicide bombing, etc. He has to borrow objective morality from the theistic world view in order to argue against it. He has to assume God in order to deny Him. He has to sit in God’s lap in order to slap His face. He also has to borrow aspects of a theistic world view in order to even get his world view off the ground. He has to borrow the universe (which is a pretty big issue) he has to borrow fine-tuning, life, reason, math, human freedom, and consciousness. Notice he never addressed any of those things. Where do those come from in an atheistic world view? Christopher, in the last chapter of his book, talks about we need to get away from all this religious stuff and we need to go to Enlightenment values. What are Enlightenment values? Well, here are—is what Christopher says on the last page of his book: “Very importantly the divorce between the sexual life and fear, the sexual life and disease and the sexual life and tyranny can now at last be tempted on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse.” It appears that Christopher is rebelling against the church lady here. He doesn’t like the restrictions on sexuality. Is it true that if Jesus said sleep with anybody you want, Christopher would be a Christian? I don’t know. But that is what he’s rebelling against. Now he talks about the divine dictatorship. He says that he rebels, as he just pointed out, against the divine dictatorship because he’s an anti-theist. But let me ask this question: why must everyone submit to his dictatorship, the dictatorship of Christopher Hitchens? He’s telling everyone to live up—or to give up their sacred text and to live according to renewed Enlightenment values—values that apparently he gets to choose. Christopher, in effect, wants to replace God. He wants his values—he wants you to adopt Enlightenment values. Christopher never answered the questions and the evidence that I brought up. I think this is a theistic universe because all time, all space, and all matter exploded out of nothing; number two, it did so with incredible precision and extreme fine-tuning; we saw that life seems to be the result of intelligence; four, we saw that there are objective, immaterial moral values out there (and Christopher’s big on immorality, I’m with him on that); number five, we saw that immaterial realities such as reason and the laws of logic exist and have no way to be explained (there’s no way to explain those by materialism); that the laws of mathematics, number six, exist and they help us investigate and measure this orderly universe; number seven, that people are not mere chemicals but are free to make choices; and number eight, and finally that we are conscious beings and we cannot explain ourselves by mere chemicals. We’re something beyond chemicals but atheism only has a world view that says all that exists are chemicals. Because Christopher and his atheist friends have not been able to explain any of these realities from an atheistic perspective, they have instead relied on speculation and faith. I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. Now there’s one more other point: Christopher may think that there is no God and He hates him, but God thinks there is a Christopher Hitchens and God loves him.