Hitchens Versus the Christians (Video) April 5, 2009

Hitchens Versus the Christians (Video)

A couple weeks ago, at the Christian Book Expo, four Christian apologists (including Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig) debated one atheist (Christopher Hitchens).

I haven’t seen the full video yet, but I figure some of you may enjoy this:

(via Atheist Media Blog)

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  • My2Sense

    I was fortunate and attended the debate last night hosted at Biola University between Hitchens and Craig. Pretty tame stuff, with Hitchens refusing to answer Craig’s ignorant rhetoric on the definition of atheism the way Craig wanted it answered. But most amazing were the leaps of logic that Craig comes to in deciding God must exist (e.g. – Scholars agree Jesus was a real person, they agree that the tomb was empty, they agree there are numerous recountings of his resurrection, therefore Jesus was the Son of God, therefore God exists.) I would have liked Hitchens to call him a fool a bit less subtley, but I understand it would have hurt his case in the long run if he lowered himself to that level.

  • matt

    So as soon as the first christian commentator (I can’t remember) started with the argument from cosmology , I pretty much could tell where this whole debate is going. That’s 2 hours I don’t need to see after all.

    Also, while I generally dislike the No True Scotsman fallacy, I think that given loose definitions and understandings of atheism it’s quite possible that the first author really never understood why he was an atheist…

  • Ah the stupid, it burns. I’ve only watched the First 20 minutes but the arguments the Christians put across are rubbish. Surely they have a nuanced and intelligent opinion between them that they can use?

  • Siamang

    Five minutes in, and I shut it off.

    Can anyone at all tell me why the cause of the universe has to have the aspect “personal”?

    I get (though I don’t agree with ) the notion that a cause to the universe would have to be atemporal and uncaused. While I think they are actually assuming much that is unknown and unknowable there, I understand how they can make THAT error.

    But how do they assert that this cause has a “Personal” aspect and look themselves in the mirror? How do they justify that in any logical sense?

  • miller

    He throws the “i was an atheist” card out their but he speaks as if he never read a single atheist argument.

  • drew

    Oh, Hitchens. It always annoys me that he is never to the point in his responses, but has to go off on tangents, and add superfluous thoughts only to inflame. He comes off like a fire-and-brimstone preacher ranting. Sam Harris is definitely a calmer and more reasonable debater as far as I’ve experienced.

    I often think “Am I an idiot?” when these supposedly somewhat learned people (in various ways) keep making awful arguments. Case in point: Morality. Evolution of social interactions for the benefit of society. Simple as that. But it’s like the words cannot enter their brain, and I’m left feeling confused.

    Maybe these people have just been educated with insurmountable blind spots. :/

  • Aj

    Strobel certainly believes non-reason produces reason, he’s constantly passing the one off as the other. He’s either lying about knowing and understanding arguments of atheists like Hitchens, or he’s lying about being an atheist at all. I haven’t heard a reasonable argument why the “cause” of the big bang has to be atemporal or uncaused, let alone personal, I thought Turok’s hypothesis that doesn’t include any of those properties was just one of many possible hypotheses. Finite and infinite minds, something from nothing, he is operating from a different dictionary because those phrases don’t mean anything to me.

  • Alex Malecki

    So, why exactly is the panel titled so heavily in favor of the Christians? 4 on 1? Damn

  • Ethan

    Gotta say, that was painful to witness. It was like watching Inherit The Wind all over again. Only this time with an overwhelmingly disproportionate ratio of Matthew Bradys to Henry Drummonds.

  • So, why exactly is the panel titled so heavily in favor of the Christians? 4 on 1? Damn

    I would guess, to give them a fighting chance against the powers of common sense?

  • If that’s the case Tim D then they still lose.

  • 3D

    Alex Malecki Says:

    “So, why exactly is the panel titled so heavily in favor of the Christians? 4 on 1? Damn”

    Which makes it pretty funny that Hitchens pwned them all.

    Notice how they all shift in their chairs when he starts talking about Auschwitz etc. They all start to try to change the subject because there’s really no answer.

    Almost everyone of any faith or of no faith, if they saw someone being murdered on the street and had the power to stop it, would stop it. Why doesn’t God?

  • Jordan Boellaard

    The moderator’s lil speech about how theism offers stuff for those who aren’t intelligent and lowly really doesn’t help make a case for theism. It just makes it sound like those who can’t think will believe in theism because they’re so lowly.

  • I always try to watch things like this in full, I feel that although I find it ludicrous or annoying or repetitive, I don’t want to just turn it off or shut it out because that is exactly what believers do when hearing atheists’ counter-arguments.

  • I’m impressed by you guys. I only made it through 1:37 (that is, 97 seconds). When the moderator said he was the editor of Christianity Today and then started hawking the rag mag, I felt I’d seen enough.

    Am I being closed minded for thinking that these people can’t tell me anything new that is important? I mean, if there ever was real empirical evidence or proof for god, surely it would be the leading story on CNN, right?

  • Einmaliger

    I just watched the whole thing and found it quite entertaining. There where times where a real, honest discussion took place, and most of the time it was at least bearable to watch, if not entertaining and sometimes quite funny. But beginning with the last audience question (obviously by some creationist Hovind disciple) and culminating in the awfully aggressive and polemic final statements, it was no fun anymore.

    I am reminded of a statement in Hitchens’ book, that many of the more powerful and intelligent religious leaders are in fact not delusional, but dishonest and manipulating. Now seeing that, after having discussed a lot of good arguments for and against theism, the last statement consisted of the claim that not a single argument was made by Hitchens, I need to question if these guys were even honest at all.

    That being said, I really liked Hitchens’ rhetoric and his humorous approach to the emotional debate.

  • Aj

    I managed 31 minutes, when they all questioned how atheists could be moral, and rejected the answer without understanding it. They lost me before though, when they talked about pop fizzing as if that was equivalent to the human mind. It’s clear that they were all singing from the same hymn sheet, I don’t understand why they all had to be there apart from to monopolize the time.

  • Vic

    I’m surprised that theologians of their stature don’t have any better arguments for their god’s existence. It’s a bit embarrassing.

  • Aaron

    I watched the whole thing. The arguments for god were weak. I’m left wondering why Hitchens didn’t answer them properly. Forget morals for a second, why was there no discussion on the anthropic principle or infinite regression? Is there recent evidence that refutes either of those? Back to morals, where’s the answer to ‘Is your belief the only thing stopping you acting amorally?’. Have I missed something? Shouldn’t this have been an easy win?

  • Siamang

    I don’t want to just turn it off or shut it out because that is exactly what believers do when hearing atheists’ counter-arguments.

    Fair enough.

    Okay, anyone who watched the whole thing… was there any new argument that the theists brought up that isn’t covered by:

    Teleological argument.
    Ontological argument.
    First-mover argument, including the Kalam formulation.
    Argument from Biblical historicity.
    Argument from morality (yes, I know that’s just a refinement of teleological).
    Pascal’s wager.
    Stalin, Mao, Pol-pot, etc…

    I’m saying this because, after the ten-thousandth time you’ve heard the same seven arguments from the same exact four people, you know, I feel like I’ve give them a lot more leeway than they’ve ever given me.

    Especially since one of the presenters, Lee Strobel, actually ignored the toughest of our questions when he posted here.

    Why should I listen to him ignore Hitchens when I already experienced him ignoring me!?

  • I watched the whole thing and although it was often painful, it was informative to hear the stock apologetic responses all at one time. The one point that Dawkins probably would have made that Hitchens didn’t emphasize is that the main reason why people believe in one religion or another is because they were conditioned in childhood to believe it and those beliefs reinforced throughout life. Without that conditioning, religion would collapse. Christians know this all too well. Thus their Sunday schools for children, etc.

    I did agree with Hitchen’s theme that Christians are arrogant to think they (and they alone) know the mind of God.

  • Kiera

    I made it through. A few comments.

    The one part that I wished Hitchens had refuted further was the argument by one of the Christians that love, art, landscape, music cannot possibly mean anything without a God (around 1h17m). Frustrating.

    I think it’s difficult for some religious people to talk to or debate atheists because they can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that we don’t have a dogma. There’s no book of atheism. It’s a stance based on being against other stances. If there was no religion, there would be no atheism– indeed, some countries which are more privately religious or primarily non-religious look at our issues in the US and scratch their heads at the atheist “movement”. This comes out early in the debate portion, when the moderator asks what atheism offers to the suffering. Obviously Hitchens cannot speak to this, because he can only speak for himself and not for other atheists. He can only say what it does not offer, and for some reason the Christians feel like that is a win for them, which it is not. It’s just a misunderstanding. If the debates could get past this, they would certainly be more productive.

    +1 for the LOTR reference though around 1h35m.

    Hitchens is such a troll. Part of me likes it. (see ~1h38m)

    The fine tuning argument made me laugh a little and clench my teeth a little. It’s so over argued and has been torn apart again and again and yet there are denialists who do not listen. Just because you don’t understand how things have evolved doesn’t automatically mean that “God did it”. If God can exist and make such a complex thing like a human being, how is it LESS rational that it evolved over BILLIONS of years (and still has flaws, by the way. Why can’t we make our own vitamin C!? *shakes fist*). I don’t get that.

    All I know is that I don’t want to be in the world with these people when we finally find that corpse of Jesus and their God is dashed. Because apparently they will all become morally devoid wicked killers.

    PS. Dear The last guy to close: You have FIVE christians on the panel and a ROOM FULL of christians against ONE atheist. You expect him to both answer ALL of your questions AND give you other panelists time to speak?? If he had taken the time to answer all of those questions, they would have called him a selfish ahole for taking up all of the time. Give me a break. *bang head here* If you maybe hadn’t talked about his amorality for a half hour, he could have gotten to your questions.

  • The other thing that struck me is the cleaver (only in an argumentative way) tactic of listing off all these Deist arguments for a first cause and then kind of slipping in anecdotal biblical “evidence” as somehow being of the same category for the truth of the Christian gospel stories about why they are Christian instead of some other religion. I also agree with Kiera that the last closer (the guy on the left) was by far the most pompas of them all. His “job”, as it were, in being the last speaker was to leave the Christian audience thinking they were morally and intellectually superior.

  • Thanks for posting this. I think the question about hope is one that goes on in a lot of Christian minds. I think it was answered satisfactorily toward the anti-Christian answer but may not have satisfied the emotions of a person who is disabled (as the moderator said with CP or worse) & is questioning to become atheist when they’re suffering and looking for hope.

    I was once asked to write a “religious” message for the disability community twice – one on coping and one on peace, so I chose the “agnostic” approach that I knew would not be addressed by other religious people, but the disabled and even “not as intelligent” can be atheists:



  • Polly

    I also agree with Kiera that the last closer (the guy on the left) was by far the most pampas of them all.

    He’s a an Argentine from the fertile grasslands of south America?

    I SWEAR I’m not trying to pick on you, Jeff. That just caught my eye.

    I can’t comment on the vid, because I can’t watch it. But, the comments tell me I’m not missing anything.

  • I managed to correct that typo just before my time limit was up. 🙂

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Pedantry alert: Jeff, it’s “pompous,” not “pompas.” Nice try though.

  • Damn!!!! I’m sticking to four letter words.

  • Gribble_the_munchkin

    The guy on the far left of the panel (not the moderator) is William Lane Craig. He is deeply annoying to me. I once had a short email conversation with him, posted a few queries to his website and got replies. He willfully misinterpreted my queries to construct strawmen which he then shredded. Once he did it twice it finally dawned on me. Craig is not interested in honest debate. He isn’t interested in dialogue and honest questions and answers. He is an apologist and he has a higher mission, to keep folks christian. If he has to be dishonest in his arguements to do it, he will. Souls are at stake.

    Lee Strobel waves the Ex-atheist flag but never seems to engage with any atheist arguements. Instead he peddles the same brand of generic apologetics as the other guys on the panel.

    All in all i think Hitchens won this debate. But then i agree with his arguements. I’d like to see what the views of christians that watched it are.

    Craig pulled a nice quick move at the end by listing all the questions hitchens had not fully answered, a very sneaky tactic that ensures viewers remember Hitchens failures rather than his victories.

  • the mountain dew vs. dr. pepper argument was pretty ridiculous. that guy kept bringing up the worst arguments that i refuted by screaming at my computer screen, i just kept waiting for hitchens to take advantage of it.

    also same with the fine-tuning argument. there are so many other plausible explanations for the fine-tuning that instill in me more awe and excitement about the universe than a “god did it” response does.

  • Emily

    This was painful in so many ways.
    First off, I could barely believe that 99% of the refutations from the theists were coming from SCRIPTURE. How was that supposed to enter a logical conversation with an atheist, who contends that the bible is practically rubbish? Secondly, I agree with those who have commented on Hitchen’s lack of coherency in answering the theists’ questions. I wish he had tackled their ontological arguments about the creation of the universe, the existence of morality, etc., much deeper. It did seem that his overall argument was something like, “Religion has done A, B and C. That’s why it’s bad.” Although his points were true, I wish he had tackled their arguments for theism with more scientific facts instead of philosophical rhetoric. It is always a joy to listen to him though… I just think little was accomplished, sadly.

  • Pseudonym


    Surely they have a nuanced and intelligent opinion between them that they can use?

    Not in this panel, no. Besides, they have to keep up with Hitchens’ lack of nuanced, intelligent opinions.

  • Jim B

    I watched the whole thing. I’d say Hitchens failed. As an atheist, I agreed with most of what he was saying, of course, but I doubt he changed the mind of any Christian.

    The apologist who noted that Hitchen’s answer to just about every issue was: God is a peeping tom, God allows bad things to happen, I don’t want a God like that! Said much more eruditely of course.

    Points to the guy who made the fizzy soda analogy; at least he was trying to make an original argument. Hitchens didn’t answer all that clearly. He should have started with, “Yes, we are the artifacts of natural processes with no hidden soul. We’re just a incomprehensibly more complex than a quart of soda, though.” He could have pointed out how a single base pair coding error can, if it occurs at the wrong spot, result in non-viable human beings. Things are that mechanistic.

  • As religiosity is predominately rooted in emotion, I think Hitchens’ strategy is to poke holes in the “love affair” that Christians have with their gØd. Or maybe he doesn’t consciously do that but that is just the way he relates to religion. Dawkins and Harris, on the other hand, take a much more cerebral and detached approach to discussing religion.

  • TalentedChimp

    It’s ironic that one of the arguments used by some theists is that one cannot be sure that reality can be interpreted absolutely, i.e. the empirical method cannot be tested for validity. Yet they bang on knowing through personal experience their god and revelation, etc. as being properly basic beliefs.

    Eating their cake and having it too?

  • Kyle

    I made it as far as Lee’s tired something comes from nothing.

    And I agree with whoever said I shouldn’t shut down after their arguments because they do the same thing. But, my dear, you have to draw the line somewhere.

  • lola

    Hitchens flops from one inflammatory statement to the next, often with a lack of coherent argument. He also often fails to even address the particulars of the theists arguments. Hitchens does not like the way some people believe that God did/does things. He cannot accept religious ideas, and in this particular instance, Christian ideas. For instance, he rants about a god who would create people sick and brutish and cruel and then tell them that they need to get cured. Simultaneously, he’s left with his opinion that humans are sick and brutish and cruel…but in his scheme there is no cure at all and there is no god to blame. IF there is a god, God isn’t doing things the way Hitchens would, and this is intolerable for Hitchens. And therefore Hitchens dismisses all religion. Therein lies the crux of Hitchens platform: a fundamental disgust for the way things ARE; and if there is a god, HE is the one to blame; and therefore Hitchens isn’t going to believe. This is an emotionally-driven belief, and, I believe, the reason why he fails to fairly dispute particulars and instead resort to inflammatory statements of outrage and disgust.

  • Wow. Craig used the Ontological Argument. I thought he normally avoided it because it sucked (The Argument from Superior Imagination). It turns out that he normally doesn’t use it because he doesn’t have time.

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