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Preparation for the Silverman Debate

Yesterday I posted an article on Examiner about an upcoming debate between Dave Silverman of American Atheists and Ann Coulter’s ex-fiancée, Dinesh D’souza. While some atheists feel comfortable writing off D’Souza as a hack, the fact is that he is a very intelligent and skilled hack. So I thought I would help Dave prepare.

D’souza is an experienced debater… possibly even a master (snicker). He is intellectual enough for people to take him seriously and witty enough to not be considered stuffy. Silverman is less experienced and doesn’t have the intellectual credentials that D’souza has. On the other hand, Silverman is also knowledgeable, passionate, and straightforward. He doesn’t take any bullshit either.

First, D’souza will almost certainly use what I call, the Carpet Bomb. He will fire off multiple issues and points of contention and expect Silverman to address them all. If Silverman doesn’t address one of the points, D’souza will call attention to how Silverman ignored his question or point. One way around this is to go first and to preempt the attack by either answering questions not yet made or Carpet Bombing him first.

But if he goes first, then the best way to handle it is in four stages. First, call attention to it. Sam Harris often does this by saying, “My opponent has put a lot on the table.” Second, address what you want to address. Third, refer people to the website for more detail on any issue you didn’t have time to address. And forth, attack back!

While the debate is titled, “Is Christianity good for the world?” D’souza will quickly attempt to change the debate to, “Is atheism good for the world?” I think it is important to point out that atheism is simply a lack of belief. It isn’t good or bad for the world necessarily. Humanism, reason, critical thinking, etc. are good for the world for obvious reasons. But I think it is also important not to get bogged down in this and to keep the focus back on the real question of the debate. It might even be wise to call attention to the fact that he creating a new debate which can be had at another time, but that today’s focus is on Christianity.

D’souza has already hinted at one approach he will likely take. He is going to bring up Stalin, Pol Pot, and maybe even Hitler (despite the fact that Hitler was a Catholic) and hold these people up as the logical conclusion of atheism. Sam Harris had a good response to this type of argument when he said that those people had a religion of nationalism and that no one ever suffered for being too reasonable. But this might also be a good opportunity to talk about how some of the most atheistic nations in the world (Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, etc.) raked highest in quality of life indicators. Even in America, the states that are the most religious are also the states that rank worst in quality of life indicators.

The final card D’souza is likely to play is the moral monopoly card. This is where Sam Harris’s book The Moral Landscape comes in handy. But Silverman could also use Hitchens here by pointing out how religious morality is actually pretty horrific.

I have written a few short Examiner articles that I think might be useful:
Human Rights: Religion vs. secularism
Atheism 101: Is there moral grounding without God?
Atheism 101: Is atheist morality grounded in evolution?
Atheism 101: The Purpose of Life
Atheism 101: The Problem of Evil
Atheism 101: How atheist parenting differs from religious parenting
Atheism 101: The “No True Scotsman” Fallacy

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