D’Souza-Shermer Debate Packs Antelope Gym

November 18, 2010 / by / 33 Comments

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?”

Michael Shermer

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.

Dinesh D'Souza

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.”

Brooke Bellah is a junior majoring in English Literature. After graduating, she plans to go to law school.

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33 Responses
  1. Jaz Johnson

    I thought the debate was pointless on the side of the “new atheists” Primarily for this reason; if we define religion it’s a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, by default wouldn’t atheism be considered a religion? So how can an atheist debate on if religion is good or bad when atheism or Marxism is a religion in its own right? It just doesn’t make sense. I felt that Mr. Shermer didn’t answer any question directly whether it was from Mr. D’Souza or from the student body. Just my opinion.

    Nov.18.2010 at 11:54 am
  2. Nick

    Religion incorporates the supernatural into their beliefs, nature, and purpose of the universe. Of course, atheism does not. How does one practice atheism?

    Nov.18.2010 at 1:31 pm
  3. Kevin

    One practices atheism by not believing that there is a God. I’m sorry Nick was that really your question????

    Nov.18.2010 at 4:37 pm
  4. Nick

    The religious practice by fasting, praying, and acknowledging sacred text. What is the alternative for the atheist? Sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Lol. In a sense, atheism is a theory and nothing more.

    Nov.18.2010 at 6:11 pm
  5. Helen Parris

    I can understand why Michael Shermer has an atheist viewpoint, however I cannot see the world without any kind of religion. When Christ was crucified, a major effort was made to quelch the christian religion, including by Paul, who eventually became one of christianity’s biggest ambassador. I am sure the other religions of the world came under similar attacks. Religion cannot be crucified, and this should be proof that God is real. The question is, which God is real.

    Nov.19.2010 at 7:23 pm
  6. Cassandra Mingo

    Christians, let’s stand on the truth of God’s word when addressing the subject of religion. James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” All we can do is give people the truth of God’s word. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts to be drawn to God.

    Nov.19.2010 at 8:09 pm
  7. B. Heyward

    Religion can be a force for evil just as evil can, if Chirstians are not careful. For example, you can tear up more than you build; unless, you tear up to rebuild. But if you destroy and do not rebuild then you are evil. When Chirstians destroy they are building for the kingdom principles. How can you see what is going on and reach for the greater good and do evil to get to the good? Sometimes what appears evil looks good and vice versa.Have you been fair? Faith and love for God convicts you and you wait on good vehicles to do good things. Wait on the lord. It will come; the good vehicle and you should not miss it by focusing on the bad vehicles that may be more attractive. I think some Christians are more mature and some are at different levels in thier relationship with God. That is something very important to consider when comparing Christians and non Christians. Free will is a good thing and it gives you a choice.To error is human and to forgive is divine.

    Nov.20.2010 at 5:02 am
  8. Craig

    While many of the modern atheist authors have a similar moral stance, one need only compare them to the Ayn Rand atheists to see there is no real tenants of atheism…….if you go so loose as to just saying the lack of belief in something is the religion, then we all practice an infinite number of religions. More to the point, why is it important for people to claim atheism is a religion?

    Anyway, what I originally wanted to say, during the debate, I got the distinct impression that Dinesh doesn’t believe in most, or possibly any, of the supernatural aspects of Christianity. Did anyone else get that feeling?

    Nov.20.2010 at 8:58 am
  9. Don

    I’m glad this debate sparked some thought and introspection about how we apply our beliefs to life. But, the format of the debate is a reflection of our unfortunate national preoccupation with debates of polar opposite perspectives. It’s interesting to listen to these, but doesn’t necessarily take us into a deeper understanding of the issues.

    I would love to see GCU sponsor discussions featuring prominent figures within the Christian tradition, helping us to focus more on issues within the faith. Perhaps Luke Timothy Johnson and John Dominic Crossan or Jim Wallis and Richard Land?

    Nov.20.2010 at 2:16 pm
  10. Belinda

    Can anyone explain genocide perpetuated in the name of “Religion”? How can progress be justified with the killing and/or enslavement of so many in the name of “Religion”? How can the torture and mutilation of human beings be sanctioned in the name of “Religion”? The question of the debate caught my interest, and no I am not an atheist. I believe that God exist and if God exist then evil exist also. Is religion Good or Bad? That was the question and it should have been the focus of the debate not Theology and Atheism. Because man is inherently evil and must find God, then yes religion can definitely be bad. Because bad men do horrific things in the name of “Religion” it is not the other way around.

    Nov.20.2010 at 4:10 pm
  11. TJ

    Nick, I think atheism is actually an absence of theory. Atheism cannot explain the universe, but when they do, they use words like faith and belief. They believe the universe started a certain way – they have faith that inorganic matter combined to form the organic matter which spawned us. With all we know about atomic and subatomic structure, we still cannot cause inorganic material to produce organic matter.

    I guess the sacred text of the atheist is just an incomplete science book. Somewhat mundane, eh?

    Nov.20.2010 at 5:49 pm
  12. Sam Tillman

    There is something that has always puzzled me about Atheist. Why debate something if you truly do not believe it exist? what is the point? I never have discussions about if little green men exist, because I do not believe they do. I would defend atheist right to not believe. However I think a lot of them should be inquiring as to why they stopped believing.

    Nov.20.2010 at 6:43 pm
  13. Elizabeth Richter

    As Christians, we are not called to practice a religion. We are called to follow the Way, as taught to us by the Son of God. All religions believe in a higher power, but Christianity is the only faith that has witness of God’s voice coming out of heaven declaring the true identity of Jesus. Satan is prowling yet today, waiting to lead unbelievers and doubters down even the most innocent path to eternal destruction. Immorality, depravity, and loathing have been disguised as sex and sexting (abuse through degradation), drugs of all sorts(anything that is a man-made replacement for avoiding the true healing power of God) and smart remarking humor, not ot mention the right in your face hate message of death metal rock & roll. Abuse in any form is not funny or acceptable. How long will God put up with our complacent apathy to stand up for what we know to be the truth? That is my opinion, anyway. I am concerned for the future of my children’s children.
    James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


    Nov.20.2010 at 6:45 pm
  14. Fannie M. Chism

    I am a fan of D’Souza; therefore I know he presents himself well; however, the points that Shermer was making, there should have been solutions, because they were not comical topics, but very serious. He could gain a lot of fans through those statements, if people do not understand the purpose and plan of God. However, I am grateful that Grand Canyon University allow this type of dialogue, because this is the search for wisdom and understanding, which is a great price, because through that people are involved and influenced.

    Nov.21.2010 at 1:21 am
  15. Greg

    Atheism is by definition a lack of belief. I don’t know if you could say one could “practice” not believing in God, just like no one practices not believing in Zeus or unocorns. The old OLD argument that atheism is a religion and a force for evil is a misunderstanding of what atheism actually is. Stalin, Lennin, and Mao did not kill people BECAUSE they did not believe there was a god. They killed because they were simply evil people, bent on getting as much power as possible.

    Hitler was a Christian, but you don’t see atheists claiming that it was his Christianity that made him evil!

    Osama Bin Laden on the otherhand killed BECAUSE of his religious beliefs. The same thing goes for suicide bombers in the Middle East.

    Nov.21.2010 at 12:29 pm
  16. Jaz Johnson

    So atheism is the lack of a god-belief, the absence of theism, to whatever degree and for whatever reason? The problem with that is once you say ” I lack a belief in God” you have in fact affirmed a religous belief. Atheism is in fact a belief system to the so called “atheists”, after all atheists can’t offer definitive proofs that God does not exist, and hence there must be an element of faith in the atheists viewpoint. The lack of evidence to prove God does not exist- to merely suspect that God does exist- is a position that quite obviously involves a level of faith. So in conclusion Atheism is more than just a “theory” it is in fact a religion because it is still faith based.

    Nov.21.2010 at 1:17 pm
  17. Weder

    I believe that “religion” has taken the place of true spirituality. I think as humans we have strayed so far that we are in comparison to the Pharisees. They knew “religion”; yet, crucified Christ. Our spirituality is what saves us and keeps us as Christians. Our belief that there is a God, that he sent his only begotten son to die for us, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves is what makes us spiritual. Without the Holy Spirit guiding us as he did Jesus Christ “the annointed one”, we are not Christians simply religious.
    Sure there are people who call themselves Christians who do not practice what they believe, just like any other belief. There are athiests who do not practice what they seem not to believe. I state that the Christian community needs to stand up and show that what truly makes us different from the world is not what we say but how we live. Our light is to shine in the world, to cut thru the darkness. By that God meant we have to be of the world not in the world. Love is what will always show a true Christian to be who they say they are… We have to learn to practice what we preach, otherwise Atheism seems like a great alternative in the midst of someone’s chaos (life).

    Nov.21.2010 at 9:18 pm
  18. Tracy Maldonado

    Atheism is not faith based.It’s not a religion. Just the opposite. There are plenty of evil religious people, and there are plenty of good non-religious people. To put a belief about something and call it fact without proof to me is absurd. There are so many religious beliefs in this world, all without proof. I don’t care. I know right from wrong, love from hate, you do the best you can for yourself and for your fellow man.When you do right and you love unconditionally, don’t judge others for their beliefs, your world will be better.
    If you need a religion to function

    Nov.21.2010 at 9:46 pm
  19. Theresa

    I have learned over the years to never believe what anyone says but to test it out for myself. After learning about many religions and belief systems I have found more similarities than differences. At any time a person or group uses their beliefs against those who do not believe the same as them, that is using it for evil no matter how its justified. Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Holocaust, wars, etc all are for power within the human race…not for the glory of any master. Man has corrupted belief systems to the extent that it is difficult to know what is true anymore. HAving a debate over whether one system is correct or not doesn’t solve anything. The only way to know truth is to live it. As we have witnessed throughout history, people blindly following what others tell them is truth only ends in disaster. Loving our neighbors as ourself doesn’t mean we only love those that think and act like us.

    Nov.22.2010 at 6:48 am
  20. Kel

    I did not attend the debate, despite having a ticket. I hold little interest for a discussion about whether or not religion is a force for good or evil; any religion, I believe, is a good thing. Religion is a rational thing. I didn’t desire to listen to petty arguments regarding the wrongs Christians commit, nor imagine drawn up pictures of a world without religion. There’s no point to that for me. I can safely argue that non-Christians commit similar, if not worse, acts as Christians. But then, what Christian claimed to be entirely perfect? A true Christian wouldn’t dare say such a thing, let alone posit that his/her brethren are, too, perfect. Decisions left in the hands of a (wo)man are decisions left in the hands of an individual capapble of mistakes, and certainly capable of sin. I think Atheism’s claim that religion can be bad, or that religious people are flawed, stems from resentment and/or disappointment.

    The reason I wanted to post here is because I found the discussion interesting. I wouldn’t say that Atheism is a theory, as anybody could pointedly note that Theism is just as much a theory. Despite your valid comments, I would label Atheism, still, a religion. Everyone seems to think Religion connotates faith in the supernatural. I think that’s a bit of a misleading idea, as religion is clearly defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. More often than not, you’ll find people believing in in an intentional agent, or a creator (Demiurge, God, Brahman, et cetera). However, religion is an understanding of our existence. Atheism is an understanding of our existence, usually through science.

    Regardless of my belief, many atheists shudder at the ieda of their philosophy on life being called a “religion.” That’s a a matter of connotations in my opinion.

    Nov.22.2010 at 9:12 am
  21. Roy

    @ elizabeth r. why would you fear for your children’s children? As the walls crumble around the world due to the evils of man your faith and foundation in God’s words and Jesus’ actions will protect you and lead to the path of salvation. Only if you are not teaching your children and hence your children’s children need you worry about them when the dark days come.

    Nov.22.2010 at 1:39 pm
  22. Tracy Maldonado

    This is for Kel- I really liked your comment “Athiesm is an understanding of our existence, usually through science”, I agree. Oh and about athiest shudder at being called a religion. Again I agree. You have a good understanding.

    Nov.25.2010 at 9:35 pm
  23. Richard

    The first question I would have asked is, “What is the true meaning of religion?” Kel gave us the true definition. It would be more accurate to say that religion is mankinds way of trying to get to God. However, in Christianity we find that we cannot get to God. It is God who comes to us. Many people think that Christianity is about a place, they do not realize it is really about a relationship with a person.
    While atheist try to claim that they use science to prove their philosophical theories, a look at the scientific facts show most of them use twisted science or little parts of science that fit their agenda. There have been people who got into science to prove there is no God only to find out through science that there must be a creator. With the proof that there is a creator then they we must ask how can we know who this creator is. Which worldview can be tested and proven true? Only Christianity has been proven scientifically, historically, and prophetically to be true.
    As far as looking at the horrors committed by religion, we must remember that we cannot judge a belief system based on its’ abuses. We must look at the core teachings and see what is being taught. Can we put on the same level those who claimed to be Christians yet went against the Bible and killed innocent people with those who yielded to the atheistic mindset that there is no God and mankind is the ultimate like the Nazis and the Communist Regime of Stalin?
    While some religions do share similar ideas on morality, this only proves what the Bible says that God has written His Law on the hearts of man. If you look at the different religions they different four main areas: origin, sin, salvation, eternity. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to search out for the truth regardless of where it leads us and to tell others about the truth.

    Nov.26.2010 at 9:04 pm
  24. Dina S. Morris

    How can anyone be or accept being a atheist as a form of religion. The word of “God” lets us know that “In the beginning “God” created the heaven and the earth. There was no other being here or there helping him.”God” also stated that he is a jealous God and he will not share his glory with another. This why the “Devil” Satan got kicked out of heaven. It is located and the book of Isaiah. Many people do not understand the Holy Bible because they are not Holy ghost or Holy-Spirit filled. Most people learn the bible through their own understanding and not the leading of the Holy-Ghost or Holy-Spirit. Those who practice and call themselves atheist, are non-believers and will be condemned with the devil, satan, the dragon, to the the Lake of Fire and brimstone that the Holy Bible speaks of in the later verses of the Book of revelation, the book of prophecy. To our two speakers, you can speak all you want but make sure it is backed up by scripture/s. I do not care if they have two or three PH.D’s, but if it is not according to the Holy Bible knowledge, then they are going to be in trouble. The word of God let us know that if any man takes away or add to the Bible, let him be a curse. “Even if an angel come down from heaven and preach anything than what the Apostles preach, let him be a curse.” Do you notice that in the Holy King James Bible, the word God, the G-is capitalized. Even the word devil and satan in the Holy Bible is small letters.Just think about what you are going to express after hearing the two speakers. Their message is valid only if the information is pertaining to Bible Prophecy. Evil is evil, and as for you that do not know, evil came from Cain, the first born of Adam. Cain slew his brother Abel, having a spirit of Jealousy. For this was the first sin known as murder. When satan deceived Eve, that was a form of sin known as a lie and deception. I can go on and on but evil has plagued our nation and country for centuries. The good part is, the Lord is going to destroy this earth and those that are living for him and filled with his Holy-Spirit is going back. I do not how rich and famous that you are. The Holy Bible states that, “He that has not the spirit of Christ is known of his.” take it from their, our Lord and Savior was nailed and crucified, what more evil do I need to make. Evil is everywhere. It has plagued the heart of men and women everywhere, especially non-believers.They are spiritually blind and deceived at the same time because they do not believe in God but have their own erroneous understanding.

    Nov.26.2010 at 11:47 pm
  25. Dina S. Morris

    Helen Parris, you stated which God? Why did you make this statement? Are you Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit filled. if you are, then you would know that there is only one eternal God of this universe that created heaven and earth. if you have a spirit that make you speak in different tongues, what miracle would you call this? Not everyone that profess or co call him/herself a Christian unless he/she is spirit filled. While I am living in the USA, I will worship the only true and one God, Jesus Christ who will be sitting on the throne on Judgment Day. Judgment day is for those that are not going to heaven, they are going to be judged for the sins done in their body.

    Nov.27.2010 at 12:03 am
  26. David Hammond

    Religion saves no one. Even Christianity is guilty of apostasy, heresy, and adultery, and has off shoot branches that aren’t biblical based. The real question is, “What would the world be like without God?” It is God who holds this world into balance, and only God can save the soul. You can go to church and practice religion just to go through all of the motions, but if you have no walk with God, then what is the point? You might as well be an atheist.

    Nov.29.2010 at 1:09 am
  27. Elizabeth Richter

    I fear for my grandchildren because I can’t be with them 24/7 while they are still in their formative years. The youth of our nation are being led to believe that their value is based on what they have, how they look, whom they admire, what their parents do for a living. They are encouraged to spend their free time playing video games and social networking on computers. Their schools are forbidden to start the day with prayer. I believe the role of Christian parents is to instill values of self-respect, true love and compassion for others, and gratitude. Not the spoiled narcissistic behavior we find so prevelaint today. Jesus said,”The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few.” He even wept for the fate of His people. (Luke 19:41-45)

    Nov.29.2010 at 12:55 pm
  28. Jon

    I would like to preface this comment that I am agnostic. I maintain the position that there is no evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God. I maintain that I, a mere human being, do not know what happened at the ‘beginning.’

    Now a lot of people here are trying to make the argument that atheism/agnosticism is a religion. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    I maintain that for one force to exist there has to exist an equal but opposite force. In this scenario, one can call religion a force and therefore logically atheism must be the other force. This line of thinking stems from rudementary physics.

    Many people, at least here, assume that because atheist have beliefs that they must be a religion. This line of thinking is flawed because as a previous commenter noted, “You do not practice your disbelief of Zeus.” In this light, it is rather silly to call atheism a religion when it is clearly the absence of religion. Just as the dark is the absence of light.

    I don’t claim to know anything about the origins, but for some reason I adhere to logical thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism.

    We do not live in a world of black and white. Everything is rather gray. I believe that there are no bad people in the world. Just good people who are bad for each other. While Hitler will forever be hated, at the time he brought economic growth to Germany. If you were to say that you were perfectly good, I would call you a liar. If you said that you were inherently evil, I would call you a liar.

    Always question and find something new to learn each day because the day that you stop learning is the day that you become obsolete.

    Nov.29.2010 at 9:24 pm
  29. Jo Kim

    This world is black or white, light or dark, right or wrong there is no such thing as gray, gray is black. In regard to the comment “You do not practice your disbelief of Zeus.” Actually you do, by believing in only 1 God you by default disregard in other belief system, same with Atheism. Hitler and the likes were more Darwinist than anything. I guess I have 1 question for skeptics, atheists, and agnostics. Why do you not believe that there is a intelligent design to our existence? How do you explain the beginning of space, humans, animals? Is the universe uncaused and therefore eternal? How come the water in the ocean stops at a certain place on land?

    Nov.30.2010 at 1:51 pm
  30. Jo Kim

    @ Jon, you said “maintain the position that there is no evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God. I maintain that I, a mere human being, do not know what happened at the ‘beginning”. So that would mean that you have faith that there more than likely isn’t a God Correct? Based on what Jaz Johnson said “The lack of evidence to prove God does not exist- to merely suspect that God does exist- is a position that quite obviously involves a level of faith” By definition your belief is faith based making what you believe a religion. Your argument is self defeating

    Nov.30.2010 at 2:00 pm
  31. Elizabeth Richter

    @Jon, take a look on UTube for scientific evidence. Lou Giglio: Laminin. Laminin is the rudimentary element of human existence. I believe the Law of Physics you were referring to is properly stated: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Black and white. God’s Word is clearly black and white. Agnostic in it’s literal Greek translation means: without knowledge. Seek Him, you will find the truth. The truth shall set you free! Believe it.

    Dec.02.2010 at 2:01 am
  32. Jo Kim

    @ Elizabeth, I believe in one God and his name is Jesus Christ. I agree that if you look for Christ wholeheartedly you will find him, and since he is truth you will find that as well. Thank you for the youtube suggestion, I will check that out tonight!

    Dec.02.2010 at 8:50 am
  33. Rachel M

    I recently started a new job, my work-mate is not, upon learning of our differences I wondered and worried how I would be able to handle this long term. After much prayer and reflection I asked myself, what was I worried about, Jesus said to love others, he said pray for your enemies, shine your light, be on guard against the enemy which is NOT of flesh but spiritual – the enemy is always satin. We Christians are shrinking in numbers not because of atheism, but because we are losing those who share most of our moral values due to our own sin – judging others, gossip and selfishness. When we act outwardly what we say we believe inwardly others will flock to the Lord we worship too. celebrating the birth of Christ rather than the arrival of Santa, not engaging in the excesses of eating and spending in the name of Christ but rather serving and giving in excess to those in need, even non-believers. After the election, my work-mate was surprised that I was not “hating” on Obama, I recited Romans 13:1 to her, she was very relieved to know I felt that way. She is not converted, may never be however I have gained her trust and we now talk about almost anything respectfully, including religion. Religion isn’t a bad thing if it is “true religion” which is taking care of the poor and oppressed even if they are not believers. And the atheist ought to remember, Christ came to save the imperfect not the perfect, so they will often view Christians behaving imperfectly.

    Dec.07.2012 at 10:18 pm
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