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Sharpton and Hitchens Debate God
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Here's a link to a debate at the New York Public Library between Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens regarding god.

It's got some interesting moments, but the debate is mostly a back-and-forth in which Sharpton tries to sidestep debating the merits of organized religion and keeps at Hitchens to argue what is wrong with believing in a non-denominational sort of god, as well as the issue of where morals come from.

Hitchens unfortunately is often wordy and circuitous, and never just comes right out and hits these points head on, though he does sort of address them. In one facetious remark he talks about how anyone might think that it never occurred to people before Moses came down from the mountain to think of stealing, adultery, and murder as wrong. It kind of relays the point, but again it looks like Hitchens wants to go head to head with Sharpton on scripture, and Sharpton doesn't want to play in that particular ballpark.

All Hitchens had to say, in direct response (though he says it as an aside a couple of times), is that the problem with believing in god is that there's no evidence for it. And if there were evidence for it, you wouldn't need faith. Sharpton recounted how personal revelation led him to believe in god...he's experienced it, and knows it to be true. We that's peachy, but it's not a very good standard for discerning things that are true from things that are garbage. You wouldn't take a drug that claims to cure cancer based on someone's "feeling" about it, would you? I'd hope not. You'd want some hard, cold, clinical studies to back up any claims before you shelled out your hard-earned dollars.

If at that point belief in god is a completely personal thing, then there's absolutely no need for anyone to try to convince anyone else about it, right? And that's one of Hitchens' strongest points: believe what you will, but don't try to forcibly feed it to me or teach it to my kids.

As for morality, I think this is a really interesting issue, and one on which atheists are habitually called and are usually pretty weak in answering. The short answer is, someone who does not believe in god gets there morality from reason. The ancient Greeks hashed out a number of competing ideas about non-theistic bases for morality. Basically one can and should use reason to discern right from wrong, and sadly not enough people do. It doesn't take much common sense to figure out why murdering someone is generally bad. Most moral underpinnings have to do with maintaining a livable social environment and have underlying dynamics of selfishness. Since the last century the discipline of game theory has gone reasonably far in explaining some of the behavioral tendencies of animals to engage in practices that seem oddly uniquely human, such as altruism. The answer is that it often pays off to be nice and cooperative, as many people can attest too. Many times in the right environment, the nice guy finishes first.

Then again, we're not animals. We're not slaves to our genes. We have nice big neocortices that allow us to reason and discriminate about how best to live and treat one another, and if we reason enough, we might just realize that we don't need an almighty superforce to dictate our actions and hover over us to scrutinize and judge our every minutiae.

Anyway, that's how I might have answered Sharpton. So have a look if you get the chance. It's worth it anyhow.

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