This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Hitchens and Prager Debate

Hitchens and Prager Debate - Comments

MichaelJSimpson's Avatar Comment 1 by MichaelJSimpson

Who knew Hitchens was so spot on? My opinion of him has significantly changed. If only he'd smarten up about Iraq I'd be with him 100%, but nobody's perfect.

Richard: you, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett should consider starting the "posse of reason." You could all tour the cable news channels. It would be great cross-promotion!

Wed, 30 May 2007 00:20:00 UTC | #43145

doodinthemood's Avatar Comment 2 by doodinthemood

I don't know if Hitchens had been allowed to prepare for this show or something but he came across as a genius. Could pull names and statistics from almost any point that could be raised.

It must get frustrating though how interviewers of this kind just ask questions that the interviewee has already answered in their book.

Wed, 30 May 2007 00:40:00 UTC | #43150

Morro's Avatar Comment 3 by Morro

Hat's off to Dennis Prager. He's the very best sort of person to argue against: calm, reasonable, intelligent, well spoken, and dead wrong. :)

Best debate on this subject that I've heard in months.

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:06:00 UTC | #43157

mnlandon's Avatar Comment 4 by mnlandon

Christopher was adept at dodging Dennis' no win questions.

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:07:00 UTC | #43158

Flagellant's Avatar Comment 5 by Flagellant

This didn't seem a good performance by Hitchens. He's usually so on top of his material but he is wrong about Berlin and Kennedy and Prager was right: Berlin was partitioned immediately after WWII (1945). The Berlin wall - and perhaps this is what Hitchens was thinking of - was built in 1961.

Agreed, though, that Prager was a good and interesting interviewer.

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:20:00 UTC | #43161

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 6 by Steve Zara

Who knew Hitchens was so spot on? My opinion of him has significantly changed. If only he'd smarten up about Iraq I'd be with him 100%, but nobody's perfect.


This seems a bit patronising towards Hitchens. He is very smart about Iraq, and knows about the situation there in great detail. He simply has a different opinion from many, that's all. The fact that someone so knowledgeable about this situation supports military action there makes me regularly question my own views about this.

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:32:00 UTC | #43163

Jesse.'s Avatar Comment 7 by Jesse.

I don't think this was one of the best performances of Hitchens. Usually he's much better. There were a number of subjects he could have burned down this Prager fellow on. For example

"There is more idiocy in the university than at your local church"

How could Hitchens not challenge him on that one? All the stuff your local stupidity farm / church teaches versus the stuff any real university teaches? Oh, come on. Hitchens let him off the hook far to many times imo.

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:36:00 UTC | #43164

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 8 by Russell Blackford

I normally like Hitchens a lot, but he disappointed me on this occasion. He makes too many concessions to an irrational moral viewpoint. I wish he'd told Prager bluntly that, yes, the morality you arrive at from a purely naturalistic, rational viewpoint is not the same as religious morality ... and so much the worse for religious morality. That thought might not go down well, but so be it. I realise that he's sincere in his wishy-washy views on abortion, for example, but he evidently hasn't reached the point in his thinking of saying firmly, "Yes, our morality does have to change. Let's start working on it."

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:47:00 UTC | #43168

Auld's Avatar Comment 9 by Auld

Sometimes the sound quality can affect your impression of the speaker. Dennis' recorded speech was crisp, clear and LOUD while Chris' recorded speech was muffled and soft. Could this have been intentional?

Wed, 30 May 2007 01:53:00 UTC | #43170

FXR's Avatar Comment 10 by FXR

If of all the religions and regimes which one would you like most to be overthrown?
(I think that was the question)

Easy answer: The Vatican regime.

Wed, 30 May 2007 02:19:00 UTC | #43179

BMMcArdle's Avatar Comment 11 by BMMcArdle

In reply to Auld;
I could be wrong, but it sounds like Hitchens is on the phone (telly).

Wed, 30 May 2007 02:24:00 UTC | #43181

jonecc's Avatar Comment 12 by jonecc

Prager asks "If you saw ten men walking towards you late at night, would you be relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study meeting?"

On balance yes, but that just proves that I believe Christians are less likely to mug me than muggers. This isn't an especially moral hurdle to clear.

If I saw ten men walking towards me late at night, I would also be relieved to learn that they were coming from a humanist meeting, or for that matter virtually any meeting at all, as muggers rarely do meetings.

"If you saw ten men walking into school to teach your children, would you be relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study meeting?" Definitely not.

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:01:00 UTC | #43190

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 13 by Steve Zara

jonecc: Excellent post.

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:25:00 UTC | #43201

LB's Avatar Comment 14 by LB

"Yeah, but I believe in God not Santa Claus"

Yes, why is that exactly?

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:28:00 UTC | #43203

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 15 by Russell Blackford

Excellent post jonnec, but I wonder what the best way is to answer such a question when you've agreed to answer "yes" or "no". If it were in court, such a question could only be asked in cross-examination, since it's leading. You could then be re-examined and asked to explain why you gave the answer. Maybe with a radio interview you have to say, "I'm prepared to give a yes/no answer but I insist on being able to explain my reasoning because it might not be what you assume."

What do other people think?

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:37:00 UTC | #43206

LB's Avatar Comment 16 by LB

I think its the kind of ridiculous question people like Prager spend hours dreaming up in order to fool an audience in to thinking they are not being well and truly thrashed in a debate.

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:46:00 UTC | #43207

Tobbe's Avatar Comment 17 by Tobbe

"If you saw ten men walking towards you late at night, would you be relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study meeting?"

At first it sounds like a very good argument. The obvious answer seems to be "yes", and why is that? But here's the strange part. Prager knew the answer to that question all along, and so he must have known it was a trivial question and not a profound one, because as he later adds "I would be relieved to learn that they were coming from a physics class".

And as #12 above has shown, the whole argument falls apart. And Prager knew this. But it didn't prevent him from asking the question, and I believe he said he asked all his guests the same question. Intellectual dishonesty.

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:49:00 UTC | #43208

Davee1's Avatar Comment 18 by Davee1

(This seems a bit patronising towards Hitchens. He is very smart about Iraq, and knows about the situation there in great detail. He simply has a different opinion from many, that's all.)

Christopher is NOT smart about Iraq. Though he sounds like he knows what he is talking about because of his authoritative tone, he often misrepresents facts, and repeats outright lies. There are some good articles at Slate and the Nation magazine detailing his inaccuracies.

It is also helpful to note that Christopher is good friends with Paul Wolfowitz. From his comments on the matter, it is obvious that his personal relationship colors his opinion.

Lastly, as pointed out in one article (I think the Nation one), Hitchens seems to view Iraq as the struggle of our lifetime, a great epic battle between good and evil. I am disappointed when I hear him talk about it, because it seems like the same kind of absolutism and dichotomous thinking that religious people are often guilty of.

Wed, 30 May 2007 03:50:00 UTC | #43209

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 19 by Peacebeuponme

14. Comment #46048 by LB on May 30, 2007 at 4:28 am

"Yeah, but I believe in God not Santa Claus"

Yes, why is that exactly?
That's McGrath's approach as well "Believing in god is not the same as believing in Santa Claus" as though that disposes of the argument. He doesn't believe in Santa for the same reason we don't believe in god: because of the evidence. I'm sure he worked that out around the same age we stopped believing in the supernatural.

p.s. Aren't these threads supposed to be about belief rather than The Iraq War?

Wed, 30 May 2007 04:45:00 UTC | #43220

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 20 by Jonathan Dore

Russell writes:

Excellent post jonnec, but I wonder what the best way is to answer such a question when you've agreed to answer "yes" or "no".


Surely the best response is not to agree to a "yes or no" answer in the first place. If anyone tries to get you to limit your answer to yes or no before they've even told you the question, it's always because they want to lead you into a semantic trap. This is a familiar trope of TV courtroom dramas, when counsel forces a witness to give a reply that seems to discredit the main thrust of their testimony, but only because the question is phrased in an artificially limited (or artificially open-ended) way. No one should fall for that, or be required to accept those limitations, in the real world.

It's a bit analogous to the story of a reporter asking Richard Feynman if he could summarize on one sheet of paper what he had won his Nobel Prize for. Feynman replied that if he could write it on one sheet of paper it wouldn't have been worth a Nobel Prize.

As soon as you look at it in that light, the unreasonable arbitrariness of the attempted limitation is immediately clear.

Wed, 30 May 2007 04:56:00 UTC | #43223

Yorker's Avatar Comment 21 by Yorker

15. Comment #46051 by Russell Blackford

Since you ask.

I think anyone asking such a silly question obviously designed as a trap, doesn't deserve a yes/no answer, they deserve, and would get from me, an arse-kicking; certainly verbally and possibly physically depending upon my assessment of them. People adopting such a dishonourable debating tactic should be chastised.

Wed, 30 May 2007 05:24:00 UTC | #43227

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 22 by Cook@Tahiti

RE: Potential muggers

If you narrow it down to Christians in a modern western city, than yes, it would be a relief, but only because Christianity has been (1) through a reformation, and (2) Christians tend to ignore large sections of their Bibles.

In any case, it's the Christian leaders Bush, Blair and Howard that are responsible for many thousands of deaths in Iraq - so how safe does that make the Iraqis feel knowing these leaders go to Bible study?


Prager was talking about idiocracy in secular universities - but he only mentioned sociology classes which would be the lease scientific of all the "-ologies". The further you go up the hierachy from cultural studies to anthropology to biology to chemistry to physics, the more secure you are.

Prager seemed to only read Hitchens subtitle and all his points were directed to that bit of marketing hype.

Wed, 30 May 2007 05:29:00 UTC | #43230

eirik's Avatar Comment 23 by eirik

jonnec,

excellent point. with smartness and wit like that, you should start writing or debating professionally yourself! :)

Wed, 30 May 2007 05:44:00 UTC | #43237

sane1's Avatar Comment 24 by sane1

Prager talked over Hitch to an annoying degree. Hitchens is excellent, and spoke on many subjects that I had not heard him expound upon before.

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:01:00 UTC | #43240

iluvsam's Avatar Comment 25 by iluvsam

Why is it that the religious apologists are the only ones with the radio/television shows? Everytime these hosts have RD, Hitchens, Harris, etc. on their shows, they cut them off, talk over them, double speak, break to commercial, etc. I wish just ONCE, it was Hitchens ASKING the questions and hence having control over the interviewee.

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:03:00 UTC | #43241

3legcat's Avatar Comment 26 by 3legcat

"If you saw ten men walking towards you late at night, would you be relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study meeting?"

yes, but not because the bible has made them safer to be around but because they are more likely to see me as part of their tribe, as a person much like them. i am a US citizen and look it.

if i were a woman in a burka, or a brown man in a turban, i would feel less safe surrounded by the bible study gang. i would feel threatened by anyone who devotes that much effort on an old book that he/she thinks gives them authority over others.

this is in group/out group behavior at work.

in a small town near by, an old laotian man was beaten to death for being "charlie". a secular version of the same phenomenon.

prager's question only validates our own built in tribalism and makes hitchen's point about "poison".

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:19:00 UTC | #43246

LeeLeeOne's Avatar Comment 27 by LeeLeeOne

Mr. Prager put forth a lot of nonsensical "questions", and dammed if you do, dammed if you don't scenarios. I find this line of questioning by xtians to be quite tiresome. This particular debate was really no debate at all... sigh

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:30:00 UTC | #43247

Kingasaurus's Avatar Comment 28 by Kingasaurus

"If you saw ten men walking towards you late at night, would you be relieved to learn that they were coming from a Bible study meeting?"

Yes (as far as a "yes" goes here), but it's also worth mentioning that immediate, physical danger to your person is not the only type of destructive behavior that we should frown upon or try to avoid.

Maybe these guys are unlikely to mug me, but let's say they are young-Earth creationists. Anybody here who doesn't think those type of beliefs will strongly retard the long-term progress of our culture, even if these guys have little interest in stabbing me or stealing my wallet?

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:38:00 UTC | #43249

Skeptic Jim's Avatar Comment 29 by Skeptic Jim

Lets say i had a lemon and it could talk. Would it believe in god?

Wed, 30 May 2007 06:41:00 UTC | #43250

ranjani's Avatar Comment 30 by ranjani

If the ten men walking towards you knew you were gay, I wonder how secure you would feel if you knew that they were coming from bible study class having just pored over Leviticus???

Wed, 30 May 2007 07:07:00 UTC | #43254