D’Sousa v. Shermer; The Manhattan Declaration and The Good and Faithful Servant

On Wednesday I hosted a debate between Dinesh D’Sousa and Michael Shermer on the subject of to whom it was we would be giving thanks this Thanksgiving, the latest in my series of conversations between believers and deniers. The audio is of course here in the Hughniverse and the transcript will be up at HughHewitt.com later this weekend. This week also saw the launch of the Manhattan Declaration, and the delivery of my new book The Good and Faithful Servant, both of which deal with the obligations of a Chirstian in a democratic republic like ours. So this is an open thread on all those subjects: Your reaction to the debate, the declaration and to the discussion. Have a great Thanksgiving.


  1. Rob Moses says

    Michael Shermer is a close personal friend, I always enjoy his thought provoking (but ultimately wrong-sided I bleieve)debates on faith, God, and spirituality. One of the best meals I have ever had was with Michael, Dinesh, and our wives in Pasadena. The thing that makes Michael different from Dawkins is three things he is happy, is still a truth seeker, and a gentleman in debate/conduct.

    Our family prays for Michael frequently and often.

  2. Nathan Hansen says

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Looking forward to hearing the debate.

    I signed the Manhattan Declaration (even though I’m a Mormon =P)

  3. Chris Bogdan says

    Thanks to Hugh, Dinesh & Michael for an interesting conversation. It was interesting to note that, right at the end, Mr Shermer apparently failed to understand Hugh’s utilitarian question.

    This is something I’ve experiences in my own conversations with non-belivers and, hearing it as a listener (rather than participant), made me wonder if that understanding of the question – rather than the response to it – is really where the difference lies between believers and non-believers.

    • Justin Flavin says

      ask me. i’ll try to answer it as i am an atheist.

      ( i couldnt quite get the question as hugh got all excited, and folks were talking over each other..)

      • Chris Bogdan says

        Alrighty – essentially the question is whether you think that society/the world/whatever benefits when people believe.

        When it was posed, I had a particular understanding of the meaning of the question but Mr Shermer’s reponse made me question if he and I interpreted it the same way. It could also be that he was being disingenuous but I’d rather give him the benefit of the doubt than just assume it to be so.

        • James Braselton says

          It took a minute or so for Shermer to formulate an answer, but, by then, Hugh began to cut him off and criticize him for not answering the question. Then, after going to break and promising to re-state the question, Hugh changed the question so that Shermer never had a fair opportunity to answer it.

          Hugh, you are a terrific interviewer, but you’re losing patience lately. Ask the question you want, then give the interviewee a fair chance to answer. If he avoids the question, your audience is astute and perceptive enough to understand what is happening. When you treat someone rudely, it reflects poorly on what is one of the finest talk shows in the country.

          • Lavaux says

            I listened to the interview and confirm that Mr. Shermer dodged the utilitarian question, i.e. has America (and the world) benefited from the Christian faith? If so, then doesn’t the Christian faith have some demonstrable material and ethical utility (beyond its own truth claims)?

            The reason Mr. Shermer dodged the utilitarian question is that materialist utilitarian ethics suffers several weaknesses, one being the belief that human happiness must arise from purely mechanical causes which by nature should be capable of programmatic replication. If this is true and if Christian faith tends to mechanically produce human happiness, then its programmatic replication would serve the good (i.e. ethical utility). Keep following this idea and realize that it leads to thin ice for atheists.

          • Paul Till says

            James, I’m a Christian believer — actually I’m a missionary!– and I had the same reaction as you did to the interview, at least to that closing section. It spoiled an otherwise fascinating and enjoyable listening experience. I would really like to know if Hugh has listened to the tape and had some second thoughts. What I found even more strange was that to me, the “utilitarian question” seems almost irrelevant. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Shermer imply that whether or not something benefits society, he’d rather people believe what is true? I’m with Shermer on that one, and I think Jesus (“the truth shall set you free”) was definitely more into truth than into fictions that could benefit society. James, tell me what you think, but I would suspect atheists react with great suspicion if we believers try any “yeah, but it’s good for society” arguments.

        • jerseyjd says

          Did Justin or James answer? I think the answer to the utilitarian question (as you posed it) is essentially, yes; but that is only tangential to the larger question they were discussing.

          All in all, I liked the exchange. You won’t find that on TV and would be hard pressed to find it on the radio other than HH; maybe Praeger.

          Yours, JJD

  4. Fallon Foster says

    I remember thinking, while listening, that Dinesh seemed distracted, and missed a very potent opportunity to rebut Michael’s claim that everyone’s struggle to resist death proves “that nobody really believes that 100%. I think there’s always a level of doubt. If it were, if that were not the case, then why is it that Christians and deeply religious people at end of life employ all the technologies that everybody else does, and they hang on and struggle and fight, and they’re just as sad and crushed when they lose somebody that they love. And so I think there is a sense somewhere in everybody’s brain that maybe, this is really all there is, and therefore, I do feel bad when I lose somebody, or I do want to hang onto my life until the last possible moment.”

    Michael was falsely effective.

    He misinterpreted the data. Christians know that death is un-natural, that is, that it was Not present within Creation at the time God pronounced all that He made as “Good.” Death is an offense to the image of God which He built into all of us. THAT is the reason MOST (not all) people resist death. As Dinesh posited earlier:

    “look, we all say things, we all believe that things are not the way they should be. In other words, we all believe that we live on two levels – the level of, you might say, the way things are, the lower level of humanity, and then the way things ought to be – absolute beauty, absolute perfection, absolute goodness.” DD

    This is the witness within all of mankind, yet Michael attributes it to more to backwater spandrels than the mainline central, most evidenced, truth that it is.

  5. Christian Schultz says

    Couple comments on the D’Souza Shermer disussion (which was extremely enjoyable).

    Hugh – you asserted that no one positted Tolkein. Well, Tolkein kinda did. And Snorri* sorta did in the Prose Edda. Snorri, was a member of the Althing in 13th century Iceland. The Prose Edda is a recording of the old norse myths. Kind of a precursor to Bulfinch’s mythology only for the Vikings. They DID believe that stuff so it was at one point positted. Further, Tolkein lifted lots of goodies from tke Prose Edda including names and events to create his mythology for the british isles.

    Second point; I think Shermer is right that D’Souza does attempt to assert a God of the Gaps. Its a very clever manner of doing it but D’Souza is, in essence, offering us proof for God. We don’t need proof for God. Faith and proof are in direct opposition. There are mysteries…. “you were not put on this earth Mr. Burton to ‘get it.'” (hope my Big trouble reference doesn’t go unappreciated)… and how God does and did and will do what he does, did and will do are amongst those mysteries. “Where were [we] when God laid the foundations of the earth?”

    Lastly, on the mind and the brain. Information, knowledge, logos. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. Information precedes creation. The mind is a pretty neat bunch of neurons that are uyseless without information. Amino acids etc etc require information. Information requires a carrier…***

    * http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snorri_Sturluson

    • Lavaux says

      On the mind/brain dichotomy, Mr. Shermer proposed a “science of the gaps” because he demanded proof of some physical realm and mechanism that contains the mind while acknowledging that science cannot account for over 90% of the “dark” matter in the universe. What also strikes me is that the atheists have fashioned no systematically satisfying epistemology accounting for the distinction between the known and the knowable while seeming fully satisfied to place their unconditional faith in the latter.

      • Christian Schultz says

        Agreed. But that is a common position from atheists. I think I’m just restating your more eloquent comment but… atheists are perfectly happy to accept on faith that the currently unknow will at some point be known and therefore may be accepted as true.

        Dawkins did it recently with his assertion that gaps in the fossil record will be filled. The problem is that when we find those gap “fillers” they tend not to fill gaps but create new ones.

        • Lavaux says

          Exactly right, especially re the fossil record. Evolution is not a falsifiable theory because when new fossils are found that don’t fit in established chains, natural historians simply rearrange the relevant chains. Therefore, no found fossil can falsify the theory. Worse, all unfound fossils are presumed to fit in the extant chains, and pointing out that is a most unscientific presumption earns one a “God of the gaps” accusation.

          Materialists can never verify their understanding of the universe; they can only falsify it. Even so, they have the chutzpah to demand that we set aside our faith in God for the time being and trust that science will eventually get around to answering all our questions about the truly important aspects of life that give it purpose and meaning. No thanks; not interested.

  6. Jody Steel says

    Enjoyed the debate, more polite than most faith/atheism discussions I hear. I used to be an atheist, and still feel that logic and intellect favor that position. But using logic and intellect on the question of faith is like using a hammer on a screw, it’s the wrong tool. Arguing with all the people who used to try and convert me was fun, but they were using the wrong tools too. Life intervened, the tool is grace, and we don’t often have access to grace as a tool for our own use.

    Different evidence will appeal to different individuals. As one who had a near-death experience, to me that evidence is very strong, while to those without the experience, it is just another anecdote, or set of anecdotes. As it happens, I have also been choked into unconsciousness, and oxygen deprivation was not at all a similar experience. For what it’s worth.

    Probably nobody disputes our animal nature, which fights death to the bitter end. Grief may be part of that, a shock to one’s concept of life, a challenge in restructuring that concept of life to proceed without the loved one. One can grieve while believing. Finding solace in faith doesn’t make grief disappear. Sometimes we feel it ought to, that our faith must be lacking, rather than accept we are being pruned.

    It always seems to me that the argument devolves to the atheist feeling intellectually superior, no matter how polite. Atheists probably feel that we of faith are condescendingly pitying. But it is like trying to explain the color red to someone who is color-blind. I see it, they don’t.

  7. Mitzi Pepall says

    I didn’t enjoy this debate at all. (I am a Catholic, by the way.) I like Dinesh, but just don’t think his method of arguing for the existence of God is useful or proves anything. There are few people who go deep enough into this subject for me. I recommend Liebnitz’s letters to Samuel Clarke on the subject. Too bad you can’t have Liebnitz on!!

    Hugh, I love you most of the time, but not when you treat a debater like he is on the witness stand. You were hectoring the witness but there was no judge around to tell you to stop.

  8. Michael McGranaghan says

    I just got around to listening to the D’Souza/Shermer debate today and found it very enjoyable and engaging, for the most part. I don’t know anywhere else in the broadcast media where one can find discussion of interesting philosophical questions other than the HH show. So I want to thank Mr. Hewitt and the staff of the show for producing this kind of content.

    However, the last two segments of this debate did a real disservice to Michael Shermer. Mr. Hewitt was rude and needlessly hostile to Mr. Shermer. Hewitt repeatedly interrupted Shermer’s answers to Hewitt’s questions and then falsely characterized Shermer’s answers. Worse still, Hewitt accused Shermer of dishonesty and being engaged in an evil project without allowing Shermer to adequately respond.

    First let it be noted that Hewitt’s accusation that Shermer dodged the question whether the world is better off with faith is completely false. Shermer gave three separate answers to this question.

    Shermer’s first answer requires a little reconstruction on the listener’s part because Hewitt interrupted Shermer so much, but I think it’s reasonably clear that Shermer believes that one ought to believe true things and not believe false things. Shermer seems to think the believing the truth is good. So when Hewitt asked Shermer whether he thought belief in God is good and Shermer answered that (as far I as I can tell, given the interruptions) such a belief isn’t good because it isn’t (in Shermer’s view) true, Shermer was giving a direct answer and not dodging the question.

    Hugh Hewitt may believe that believing the truth isn’t good, but that notion is not, to put it mildly, a universally accepted idea. When you ask someone whether a particular practice is good, you have to accept that the person you are asking might have a different conception of goodness than you do — especially in a philosophical discussion if you haven’t had a prior discussion of the nature of the Good.

    I found it interesting that Hewitt draws such a stark distinction between Truth and Goodness. While one can certainly find philosophers who think that the pursuit of truth should take a back seat to other ethical considerations, none of those philosophers, to my knowledge, are Christians. C.S. Lewis, for example, argued in “Mere Christianity” that one should adopt the Christian faith only if one thought it were true. Lewis, whom Shermer studied at Pepperdine, rejected the very kind of prudential belief that Hewitt appears to support.

    Shermer goes on to give a second answer to Hewitt’s question. Shermer says that the belief that justice is done to individuals in the afterlife weakens the motivation to pursue justice in this life. Immediately after giving this answer Hewitt accuses Shermer of refusing to answer the question, apparently on the grounds that Shermer’s answer took the form of a rhetorical question “Why do you care about justice now?” (meaning in this life)

    At this point in the segment Shermer has spoken 324 words and D’Souza 590. But Hewitt turns to D’Souza and asks him to comment about how frustrating it is that atheists refuse to answer utilitarian questions and about Hewitt’s belief that the reason atheists so refuse is because such questions “dissolve[] all of their objections to faith.” Shermer wants to respond that he has answered the question, which is true — he has, but Hewitt cut him off until the end of the segment.

    Shermer must have spent the break trying to reformulate his arguments in light of Hewitt’s restriction that the good of a belief can’t include considerations of whether the belief is true, because after the break when Hewitt askes Shermer whether belief in God is rational, Shermer responds that since belief in God has led (in Shermer’s opinion) to such undesirable consequences in Peru, namely poverty, such a belief is therefor irrational.

    Bizarrely Hewitt also thinks this answer is a dodge. Whereas before the break Hewitt’s objections depended on the unusual notion that believing the truth isn’t inherently good; after the break Hewitt’s objections depend on the opposite notion that basing one’s beliefs on their ability to relieve one of poverty isn’t rational.

    The mind reels at trying to ferret out what sort of theory of epistemology Hewitt must be using in order to believe that believing the truth is neither good nor utilitarian, whilst simultaneously believing that belief based on the probability of material gain is also irrational. What exactly constitutes an acceptable justification for holding a belief, according to Hugh Hewitt, if neither the truth nor the material usefulness of the belief count?

    But Hewitt’s inscrutable epistemology isn’t really my objection to these two segments. My objection is Hewitt’s use of his epistemology to justify the accusation that Shermer was refusing to answer his questions. Hewitt just didn’t like the answers he was getting because of Hewitt’s own quirky philosophy. That’s not the same as a dodge.

    What’s worse Hewitt then goes on to imply that Shermer is being dishonest by asking D’Souza “Dinesh, give me your example. Tell me how you can do this time and time again, because they do not argue honestly.” In the context of the previous discussion there’s no way not to infer that Hewitt was including Shermer as an antecedent to “they”. For Hewitt to accuse Shermer of dishonesty with only two minutes left of a two hour interview and not allow Shermer adequate time to respond is a form of calumny. D’Souza, to his credit, defended Shermer’s honor by responding “no, Michael is an honest guy. He

  9. Michael McGranaghan says

    The Shermer / Koukl debate was also very good, and Hugh was much more fair than in the Shermer/D’Souza debate.

  10. Dennis Fair says

    there had to be massive fraud by the seiu for reed’s hughe victory and i mean in numbers of votes cast for him, but maybe just maybe i pray this fraud will be exposed