D’Souza-Shermer Debate Packs Antelope Gym
By Brooke Bellah
Students, faculty, staff and community members filled GCU’s Antelope Gym on Wednesday evening to hear Christian author Dinesh D’Souza and atheist Michael Shermer debate the question “Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil?”D’Souza, a former political analyst in the Reagan administration and the author of “What’s So Great About Christianity” and other books, opened the debate. He began by asking the audience to consider what the world would be like without Christianity.
D’Souza argued that the modern world’s moral views — such the value of the individual and an emphasis on human rights — stem from a Christian worldview.
“Even the values atheists care about are the result of Christianity,” he said. “Even the atheist is standing on a Christian mountain.”
Compassion was introduced by believers, D’Souza said, noting that the Greek philosopher Aristotle did not place compassion on his list of 20 virtues.
He said atheism, not religion, has been responsible for a preponderance of evils down through history. He cited the regimes of Stalin, Lenin and Mao and their respective atrocities, insisting that atheism was central to their murderous campaigns.
“Even Osama bin Laden can’t compete with these numbers,” D’Souza said.
Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and a former evangelical Christian, responded that religion is not what creates our moral values. He said an atheist does not lack basic moral principles.
“Try not believing for a day, and see what happens,” he said. “You will find that nothing will change. Your morals will stay the same.”
He cited instances in which religion, specifically Christianity, has been a negative force in the world. He used the examples of slavery, women’s rights and homosexuality to show how, in his opinion, Christianity has been “behind the curve” on social and moral issues.
Shermer questioned the nature of a God who would allow slavery to exist.
“How do you explain that the creator of the universe didn’t even get slavery right?” he said. “Slavery is sanctioned by both testaments in the Bible. It took 2,000 years for Christians to get it right.”
The audience, though overwhelmingly on the side of D’Souza, included a smattering of Shermer supporters. The debate was civil and polite, with the men showing respect for each other and the seriousness of the topic.
However, the event wasn’t without a few lighthearted moments and zingers.
“Listening to Michael Shermer, I feel like I’m at a rodeo,” D’Souza said. “I see a point here and a point there, but there’s a lot of bull in between.”
Afterward, Shermer was good-natured about debating a Christian on the campus of a Christian university.
“Dinesh came to Cal Tech last year, and we did this in front of a thousand scientists,” he said. “So it’s tit for tat.”
Students in the crowd acknowledged that Shermer had scored a few points.
“The most interesting part of the debate was when Shermer called out Christians for not following what they believe. It was very convicting,” said junior Richie Gledhill.
Alyssa Adams, a senior majoring in Christian studies, said that Shermer “was able to speak a little more plainly” but what he said “didn’t carry as much weight.”