TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Video: Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind? — Dinesh D’Souza vs. Andrew Bernstein

For the first time ever, a top Objectivist intellectual, Andrew Bernstein, debates a top Christian apologist, Dinesh D’Souza.

New Atheists,” such as Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer, have debated Mr. D’Souza in the past, but their critiques of Christianity have been based on skepticism, subjectivism, relativism. Dr. Bernstein’s case against Christianity (and against religion in general) is grounded in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

Enjoy the debate, share it with friends, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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Posted in: Religion

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Mark Coldren

    I hope TOS follows up on this debate with a couple blog posts. Especially (for me), on Dinesh’s comments about modern physics and the alleged beginning of space-time supporting Christianity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Carach Patrick Black

    Oh my, the Romans did not invent anything? I almost stopped listening to Dinesh at that point.

  • John Gold

    I don’t know anyone who thinks D’Souza is a “top Christian apologist.” People like Bill Craig and Paul Helm are much more sophisticated in their defenses of Christianity.

  • Anonymous

    I watched the debate again, wanting to review D’Souza’s response to Bernstein’s remarkable 15 minute presentation of Objectivist basics. D’Souza dismissed them as nostrums. In the context of the Big Bang and life-after-death discussions, he said:

    …he [Bernstein] doesn’t have the best knowledge we have. He’s simply relying on nostrums as if, in a few philosophic precepts, he can settle questions about the world and about where it came from….I would actually invite Andrew Bernstein to give me real reasons–empirical reasons–why life after death is impossible or why life after death doesn’t exist.

    I think this is coming from the same source as this statement by Jerry Coyne, a prominent New Atheist scientist in the field of evolution:

    …most scientists, including myself, take the absence of God as a provisional working hypothesis based on the history of science, for, like Laplace, we have never needed the assumption of God. I am, and have always been, willing to entertain evidence of the presence of a divine being.

    I’m not a philosopher, but I think this is some form of empiricism that denies philosophic axioms. IMO, if reason’s ability to rebut religious fantasy is confounded, then religion will have a much longer life, and this ability to confound reason is a major part of the Xn apologetics I’ve seen. One other point here is that D’Souza asks for reasons; this is not universal among apologists: Timothy Keller, Xn author, asks (I paraphrase): “where is the evidence that conclusions need evidence? There is no evidence for that.” (I think he’s using “conclusions need evidence” in his attempt to deny it.) Keller shocked me several years ago when he got an overflow crowd for an evening speech in a 700 seat auditorium on the U.C. Berkeley campus.

    I’m puzzled by why Bernstein didn’t mention the witch-hunts in Europe; Wikipedia gives an estimate of (link) 40,000 to 60,000 executions. BTW, the (link) Salem witch trials is an interesting story, although not long lived. Witchcraft today? This video, (link) Witch hunters hold a conference at Harvard, is really creepy. (BTW, I don’t believe for a second that Harvard would sanction stuff like this.)

  • Anonymous

    Added note:

    D’Souza’s argument looks like Keller’s, in this general way: first, he finds that the existence of God cannot be be proved or disproved by reason, then he finds reasons for a faith choice. Of course, this is only going to work if he’s sure that reason is unable to refute his faith beliefs. This also sidesteps his burden of proof problem and the consequent attacks on the proofs. It all works out.

  • John Gold

    Numbers about the deaths for the witch hunts and inquisition are subject to a lot of dispute. But there is no argument that atheism (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.) is responsible for the deaths of tens or hundreds of millions.

  • Larry

    I just finished watching this – what a bloodbath. Did Bernstein seriously try to be agnostic regarding the big bang and at the same time claim to follow the evidence? Then he didn’t even understand the question regarding the “philosophical impossibility of an actual infinite number of things” posed during the Q &A? Why didn’t he attack altruism? The debate was on whether Christianity was good or bad for mankind not on whether God exists or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vasquja Jason Vasquez

    How was Dr. Bernstein agnostic regarding the Big Bang? He didn’t explicitly explain how it occurred, but he implied it occurred because something did exist in the universe to cause it.

    Dr. Bernstein’s point was to disprove Mr. D’Souza’s conclusion that something came from nothing. I don’t think he did a good job of integrating the abstract idea of causality into a concrete example, but I do not understand how that made him agnostic on the topic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vasquja Jason Vasquez

    Mr. D’Souza would like you believe that the beginning of space-time supports Christianity, but he simply implies that because we do not know enough to make a conclusion, we must make a faith-based assumption about it. I don’t see why we are only faced with making a faith-based assumption, when there is evidence to consider a rational assumption, instead. I can consider string theory, but not that a sky wizard made it so and it’s beyond my comprehension.

    I also fail to understand how this subject proves Christianity is good for mankind at all.

  • John Gold

    What is it with Objectivists and science? They don’t seem to like quantum mechanics or the Big Bang theory. Rand wasn’t even sure about evolution. And try to get an Objectivisst to say something intelligent about The Bell Curve and all the important work disproving the blank slate view of mankind.

  • Larry

    Listen at 1 hour and 50 secs. He says “the Big Bang theory – if its true – is an example of an eternal universe theory.” Not only is that agnostic, but its not even correct. Time and space came into existence at Big Bang – I’m not sure you or he understands what this means. There can’t be “something did exist in the universe to cause it” as you say because there is no universe!

  • http://twitter.com/HVV_com Het Vrije Volk .com

    For matter coming out of the Big Bang, there had to be energy going in, or not? Do scientists agree that Big Bang created universe out of nothing? No matter, no energy, no quantum fluctuations?

  • http://twitter.com/HVV_com Het Vrije Volk .com

    For matter coming out of the Big Bang, there had to be energy going in, or not? Do scientists agree that Big Bang created universe out of nothing? No matter, no energy, no quantum fluctuations?

  • Larry

    No there is nothing before the big bang. No time, no energy, no space, no void, no physical laws, no vacuum, etc. That’s where the best scientific evidence leads.

  • Larry

    No there is nothing before the big bang. No time, no energy, no space, no void, no physical laws, no vacuum, etc. That’s where the best scientific evidence leads.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=name&id=100000501085308 Martin Lundqvist

    “What is it with Objectivists and science?”

    Am I to take that as an invitation to explain how Objectivists link together reality, logic, reason, knowledge, technology and human happiness? Or do you prefer to read the Wikipedia article instead as your reference?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=name&id=100000501085308 Martin Lundqvist

    “What is it with Objectivists and science?”

    Am I to take that as an invitation to explain how Objectivists link together reality, logic, reason, knowledge, technology and human happiness? Or do you prefer to read the Wikipedia article instead as your reference?

  • Jason G

    I’ll admit that I’m not an expert in Objectivism. But I do consider myself a student and admirer of the philosophy. I don’t know what I expected to gain from this debate, but I had a preconception that the side of reason would be hard to beat in a debate. After watching the debate I couldn’t help but find D’Souza’s arguments to be based in reason as well. In my opinion, he made he was more convincing in his arguments – certainly his style and delivery was less combative which I had to look past to be fair to the arguments being made.

    I can’t claim D’Souza’s points to be irrational. He simply said faith takes over where reason can’t go. The difference I see is how these subtle differences result in individual choices. Bernstein promotes a morality that is based in the known and only the known, where D’Souza believes in a morality that includes what is known and a faith is what is not known. I haven’t made a choice for myself which morality is more harmful.

    It seems to be the more ignorant a person is the less room they have to move in a rational environment. If their mind cannot conceive of a truth based on evidence, they have little room to move, and will generally resort to faith in making a decision. But in D’Souza’s case he obviously is very intelligent and his mind can conceive of many truths so he can act rationally in a broader environment. This is consistent with his definition of faith – faith goes where reason cannot.

    I hesitate to say that each person has different thresholds for truth, but it is true that an intelligent person and an ignorant person have different understandings of what is true. What is true is true, but a person still has to have knowledge of the truth to act rationally on the truth. If they lack that knowledge it doesn’t remove their responsibility or need to act, so they do so on faith. The action while not based in reason, may support the truth or it may support that which is not true. That is to say, a choice made on faith can sometimes have the same result is a choice based on reason.

    Anyway, very interesting debate. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    I watched the debate but not the Q&A. Both did poorly. D’Souza had so many inaccuracies that I’d be embarrassed if I were a theist. While I agree with Bernstein I found his second 15 minutes to be too abstract and deductive as to appear rationalist–at least to the uninitiated. D’Souza picked-up on this and essentially called him a rationalist using the conservative big “R” Reason terminology common among conservatives.

    Bernstein did good in his 5 minute response but there was too much in D’Souza to refute. (Andrew picked a good sample of errors.) Great rebuttal on “no Greek science!”

    Over all, Bernstein relied too heavily on abstract theology (existence of God, creation etc.) The ethnical limitations of Christianity weren’t adequately explored. No altruism discussion? No paternalism? Social justice–a 19th century Catholic concept–is the basis of today’s left. And communism is just Christianity secularized!

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.dixon.50 Patrick Dixon
  • Anonymous

    Actually, there was the singularity — don’t forget that. But yeah, everything else was gone, including time.

  • John Gold

    Patrick, you are right. Objectivism is a quasi-religious philosophy at least in its more extreme manifestations (such as the Objectivist movement in the 50s and 60s and the ARI today).

  • Frank Loreti

    All the Big Bang has to say is that all the stuff was in a much, much smaller region of space than it is now at a much, much higher temperature. There is no theory as to how the stuff got there. Only what it did after that. And experimentally we are 14 orders of magnitude from those energies. So any claims of ex nihilo creation of matter is, in fact, worse than arbitrary. It violates the conservation laws and assumes that nothing new will be learned in those 14 orders of magnitude, so that the only “explanation” is a lame appeal to “quantum fluctuations” or murky, ridiculous “uncertainty principle” hand waving arguments. Any ideologically honest physicist would have to say, “I don’t know how the stuff got there”.

  • Anonymous

    No argument from me on your conclusions — and I am a physicist. ;-) But I work in industry, maybe that is the difference.

  • Frank Loreti

    Sorry Dr. EE, my comment was not directed at you per se, but the entire thread. Andy’s comment on the Big Bang was correct in that there is no evidence of something from nothing as some previous commenters have suggested was currently accepted science. And I’m a physicist, too! But alas, not professionally.