One question – Is religion a force of good or evil? – fueled the University Lecture Series (ULS) religious debate between acclaimed authors Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Shermer on Tuesday night.
Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University, monthly columnist for Scientific American and author of 11 books, answered the question shortly into his argument.
“Religion is good when it does good and bad when it does bad,” he said. “Religion does a lot of good things.”
Shermer’s opening argument kicked off the two-hour debate, which was held in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater.
“You’re behaviorally a believer or a nonbeliever,” Shermer said. “When I was on Stephen Colbert’s show, he asked me in the green room about this, and I said, ‘I’m agnostic,’ and he said, ‘That’s just an atheist without balls.'”
After Shermer’s opening statement, D’Souza, president of King’s College in New York and author of nine books, said atheists should believe in God and be as critical of science as they are of religion.
“Shermer has an uncritical attitude toward science and skepticism, and this makes him unbalanced in his assessment of religion,” D’Souza said. “Religion, especially Christianity, is a core of many of the crucial ideas of Western civilization that are accepted by believers and nonbelievers alike.”
However, Shermer said his interests do not lie in science alone.
“I have always been interested in religion,” he said. “And how could you not be? It deals with the biggest questions, like the meaning of life, the origin of the universe and why we’re here.”
D’Souza also explained his perception of evolution, which, unlike Shermer’s, is based on biblical ideas.
“The Bible tells you what happened, but it doesn’t tell you how,” D’Souza said. “Evolution is a description of how.”
Because D’Souza and Shermer have spoken together before, the debaters maintained a friendly dialouge. However, many people in the first few rows of the theater did not feel the same way and often verbally disagreed or laughed at some of D’Souza’s claims.
Lory Hundt, a science teacher at the Christian Berean Academy in Tampa, brought about 40 students from grades seven through 12 to watch the debate.
“I enjoyed the debate simply because these are the types of things that we teach our students,” she said. “Although we’re a Christian school, we teach them to think in all different areas and look at all different views.”
While Hundt and her students enjoyed the debate, Scott Smith, a 22-year-old majoring in astronomy, said he felt one side of the debate wasn’t fair.
“I thought it was really great,” Smith said. “I was a little disappointed in D’Souza because he seemed to dodge some questions and misrepresent Shermer’s positions.”
After the debate, D’Souza and Shermer signed books and answered questions from the audience.
“I want students to realize that the defense of God and Christianity is not merely a matter of blind faith,” D’Souza said, “but that it’s supported by reason and evidence.”