Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sam Harris v. Dennis Prager

Here is a great internet moment. Sam Harris debates Dennis Prager on the basic question- Is it rational to believe in god? Prager is forced to write and voice his views, two things he is very well-known for doing well. However, in this forum (e-mail debate) he isn't simply writing an essay that allows no response. And, unlike the radio show, he can't fade out to a commerical break or talk over the person he disagrees with.

The result: I've never "seen" Prager so upset and frustrated. That's what happens when someone shows how stupid your views are. You be the judge.

I have agreed with some of Prager's points in other fora, so I thought I'd try hard to read this objectively. I found Harris to come across as razor-sharp and reasonable- easily a cut above Prager's intelligence, which lost its patina of respectability without the aforementioned crutches that he and the other radio flacks enjoy so much.

In my view, Harris had the command of the facts and the arguments. Prager was obtuse at times and cagey and immature at other times. He was off his game and very nervous to have to put it all in black and white. He tried to run to the refuge of Francis Collins, a brilliant christian geneticist who happens to be a christian. But Collins' faith had little to do with scientific inquiry, as Harris is quick to point out in a scathing manner that nearly made me cringe with embarassment for Prager and Collins both.

There were two misteps that Harris made, which is certainly forgiveable, given the veritable field day he had with Prager. However, as something of a debater myself, I can't help but be frustrated that the following two points weren't forthcoming:

1. How does Prager justify not becoming christian in the face of the superior intellect Collins' "realization" of the truth of christianity? Prager is fond of touting "judeo-christian" values, as the servant Jew of his christian owners at Salem Communications, a nutty christian radio conglomerate. Well, let's see- Christianity is Judeo-christian, but Judaism is only Jewish. Better to be christian and have the best of both worlds, eh, Denny?

2. On the topic of how the world would fall apart without belief in God, I am reminded of the common argument that atheists did terrible things, such as Stalin and Hitler. However, virtually all of the Nazis who killed and tortured and horded all the innocents in WWII most likely considered themselves christian! Same for the Russians who slaughtered 20million of thier fellow russians under Stalin.

Hat-tip: CarbonShidduch