On Friday, November 30, I debated philosopher Daniel Dennett at Tufts University on the topic, "Is God a Man-Made Invention?" This was my third debate against a leading atheist, following my debate with Michael Shermer at Oregon State University and my debate with Christopher Hitchens at the Ethical Culture Society in New York. The auditorium at Tufts filled up so quickly prior to the Dennett debate that the organizers had to have a second overflow room where viewers could watch the fireworks on a big-screen TV.
Do you want to watch the debate? Go to Youtube.com and search for the “Dennett D’Souza debate.” My earlier debates with Shermer and Hitchens are also online. You can find the Hitchens debate at dineshdsouza.com or isi.org.
Dennett surprised me a little by showing up with a power-point presentation. I hadn't agreed to this in advance, but I didn't object. I thought to myself, "I'm not sure what advantage slides are going to give him in a format like this one." Dennett spoke first for 25 minutes, and sure enough, he made full use of those slides. He had quotations from me up there, and he challenged me to defend them. I was impressed by Dennett's preparation, and also by his avulcular "grandpa" style, an effect enhanced by his white Santa beard. Atheism is a grim philosophy, but Dennett more than anyone else makes it seem harmless and even charming.
Normally I would use my opening statement entirely to make the case for God's existence. But I didn't want Dennett's allegations to go unrebutted for too long. So I devoted the first five minutes to puncturing some factual and historical holes in Dennett's argument. Then I proceeded to make my case. Of course I conceded that religion is a man-made invention, but I argued that modern science has over the past century produced remarkable discoveries that affirm and support the argument for God's existence. In doing so I recognized that I was challenging Dennett not only on his home campus, Tufts university, but also on his home turf, which is a philosophical atheism rooted in science.
We each had two five-minute rebuttals which produced lively exchanges about the Big Bang and about whether the universe is fine-tuned for life. When I challenged Dennett’s interpretation of evolution, he charged me with simplifying and “caricaturing” his views. Some degree of simplification is unavoidable in debate, because there simply isn’t enough time to address arguments with all their nuances. This criticism, however, applies to both sides. I countered Dennett by saying that I wasn’t the only one to question his use and abuse of Darwin.