Monday, January 28, 2008

Atheism vs. Theism Debate at Stanford... Christopher Hitchens vs. Jay W. Richards

So Christine and I attended this event Sunday afternoon:

ATHEISM vs. THEISM and the Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design
A debate between Christopher Hitchens and Jay W. Richards, hosted by Ben Stein

Sponsored by the IDEA Club at Stanford; The Stanford Review; Vox Clara: A Journal of Christian Thought at Stanford

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a visiting professor of liberal studies at the New School. He regularly writes for the Atlantic Monthly and Slate, and is the author of numerous books, including Letters to a Young Contrarian and Why Orwell Matters. He was named one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect. As foreign correspondent and travel writer, he has written from more than sixty countries on all five continents. From 1982-2002, he wrote a column called the "Minority Report" for The Nation. Since 1992, he has been columnist and contributing editor at Vanity Fair and, at different times, Washington editor and columnist for Harper's magazine, American columnist and correspondent for the Spectator, the New Statesman, and other publications.

He is also known for his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything More on Hitchens here.

JAY W. RICHARDS is Research Fellow and Director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and theology with honors from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was formerly a Teaching Fellow. He also has a Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary, and an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. He is the author of many scholarly and popular articles in publications such as the Washington Post and National Review Online, as well as several books, including The Untamed God and The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, with astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. He is executive producer of the documentary, The Call of the Entrepreneur (Acton Media, 2007), and is currently writing The Christian Case for Capitalism (HarperCollins/HarperOne, 2009). More on Richards here.

MICHAEL CROMARTIE (Moderator) is Vice President at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and he directs both the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Religion & the Media programs. More on Cromartie here.

BEN STEIN (Host) is a multi-talented journalist, economist, author, actor and lawyer. Well known for his acting career and signature role in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the highly talented Stein graduated with honors from Columbia University and was elected as valedictorian of his Yale Law School graduating class. He has worked as a poverty lawyer in New Haven and Washington, D.C., a trial lawyer in the field of trade regulation at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., and a university adjunct at American University in Washington, D.C., the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. In 1973 and 1974, he served as a speech writer to Presidents Nixon and Ford. He has been a columnist and editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal and a syndicated columnist for numerous papers and magazines. He has written and published sixteen books, seven novels and nine nonfiction books. More on Stein here.

As you can see, it was a strong gathering of intellectuals. Ben Stein started with flattering introductions of the debaters, especially Christopher Hitchens, so this was probably a factor in why I was disappointed in the event. I don't think I'm being biased in stating that Hitchens didn't represent the atheist viewpoint well.

He really didn't argue on intellectual grounds, sound logic, and tried to appeal to the emotions of audience, especially those already leaning towards his world view. As the debate went on, he became more belligerent taking shots at Richards, Stein (borderline anti-semitic comment, so i want to review the recording), Christians, Mormons, Catholics, and others.

Even though Michael Cromartie was the moderator, it was really Ben Stein. There were times I thought Ben wanted to debate Hitchens himself. As for Richards, he was solid. Excellent, logical answers. I really liked his style and the wealth of information he provided. Enough for me to buy one of his books :)

During the open Q&A, there were even a couple audience members that asked questions that Hitchens had to dodge. I'll try to get the video or audio of this event and post it here.

An interesting sidenote. During one point, Ben Stein asked Hitchens whether he was pro-life and Hitchens explained that there is enough scientific evidence from embryology to know that life begins at conception and just the fact of seeing a fetus develop in a person's belly is enough for him.

Hitchens is pretty far-left as they come but for him the abortion issue is about science and fact, which is what it should be about. Since he's British (just last year he became a U.S. citizen), I assume he never got caught up in the politics of the abortion issue which dominates this policy issue in the U.S.

Related articles:
"My Debate with Atheist Christopher Hitchens" by Dinesh D'Souza

"God v. Atheism: My Debate with Daniel Dennett" by Dinesh D'Souza

UPDATE: More from the Stand to Reason blog with a bit of a discussion here.

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