Thursday, May 22, 2008

D'Souza Debates Singer

On May 19, the Japan Times published an article by Peter Singer, an avowed atheist and professor at Princeton, about the debate he recently had with Dinesh D'Souza, the author of the bestseller What's so Great about Christianity. Dinesh was written about in this blog several months ago.

You can read the entire Singer article here.

Provoked to read it by a colleague, I read it, but I found it one-sided or biased as it is written by only one of the debaters. Although the article primarily deals with Singer's own views, one can see the bias in Singer's statements like the following: "In recent months, D'Souza has made a point of debating prominent atheists, but he, too, struggled to find a convincing answer to the problem I outlined above." Curious to examine further, I viewed the whole debate online, taking nearly two hours! I believe the debate itself is about 60 minutes and there is a long Q & A session.

Here I introduce the debate, which readers too can view online. The first segment given below is a direct video, showing the first nine minutes of the debate. Since there are 12 segments of the entire debate and Q&A, I simply paste the links to the other 11 segments. Feel free to explore each and follow the entire debate.

Although I don't want to spoil the excitement, I may point out that the purpose or focus of the debate is not explicitly stated... and that may be a key point. As those familiar with Singer know, he is a controversial figure. He was born of Jewish parents, acquired fame as the author of Animal Liberation, and is often criticized for his advocacy of liberal abortions, and even of infanticide and euthanasia. This is important to know, for you can see Dinesh trying repeatedly to draw him into a debate on these obviously provocative issues. His strategy was, perhaps, to show to the audience (at Biola, a Christian university) how Godlessness leads to unacceptable or murderous conduct. Singer, however, never falls into this trap and sets his own trap for Dinesh, by presenting the problem of Evil for Dinesh to face.

Video Segment 1: Debate Begins

Video Segment 2
Video Segment 3
Video Segment 4
Video Segment 5
Video Segment 6
Video Segment 7: Question & Answer Session begins
Video Segment 8: Q & A
Video Segment 9: Q & A
Video Segment 10: Q & A
Video Segment 11: Singer's Closing Comments
Video Segment 12: D'Souza's Closing Comments

For the enthusiastic, here is Dinesh's Blog.

Jesuits React to Peter Singer

On May 25, 2008, comments on the article of Singer made by William Johnston, a Jesuit and retired Sophia University professor, appeared in the Japan Times 'Readers in Council' section.
Johnston's main point is that Singer needs some exposure to Asian philosophy. Here is a section of what Johnston says:
If Singer would come to Japan and sit in silent, wordless meditation, he might eventually come to see that all is nothing, fullness is emptiness, God is and is not. The repetition of nothing ("mu" in Japanese) or emptiness ("ku" in Japanese) leads us to the reconciliation of opposites whereby we realize that everything is one and not one.

This knowing and not knowing, all and nothing, fullness and emptiness I also found in "The Cloud of Unknowing," written by a 14th-century English mystic who led me to see that I am one with the Absolute and not one. In today's word, we need dialogue with mystics and we can find this in dialogue with Asia.

You can read the whole letter of Johnston here.

A few days later, on May 29, there was a hilarious comment (also in the Japan Times 'Readers in Council') by a certain Greg Hutchinson of Sayama, Saitama, on what Johnston had written. After giving a brief overview of Johnston's comments, Hutchinson, added:
For people like me who are slow when it comes to the Truth and similar categories, Johnston adds that he is "one with the Absolute and not one." And so, it's safe to infer, are we all.

I would like to thank Johnston and not thank him, because his explanation was clear and not clear. (But with a smile.)

Another Jesuit, Fr. Peter Milward, reacted to Peter Singer's article as follows. As his reaction has not been published anywhere, I shall present the whole of it as he submitted it to me.

Why is there suffering?
May 20 2008

On reading the article of Peter Singer about the existence of suffering (in Japan Times, May 18), I had the feeling of what the French call déjà vu, and what the English call “old hat”. The arguments he trots out are as old as Epicurus (in Greek) and Lucretius (in Latin), and he may find them answered (in English) in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590) and Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man (1734). It was no doubt after considering such arguments that the psalmist repeated his impression that “The fool has said in his heart, There is no god.” It was, however, the author of the Book of Job – as Singer himself recalls, though he puts the answer into the mouth of Dinesh D’Souza – who undertook to answer the fool.

In the Book of Job the answer is put into the mouth of God himself, and interestingly the answer is no answer. The God of Job, in his wisdom, does not undertake to answer the unanswerable, or to solve the insoluble. If the problem of suffering goes back into the dim mists of antiquity, and if it is still echoed by atheists like Singer and Dawkins, it is simply because no one has succeeded in giving it a satisfactory solution. Yet the majority of human beings – not only Christians, let me remind Singer – have always believed either in one God or at least in many gods, and for them this has always been an important object of their prayers. At the same time, while praying, they have to admit their insufficient knowledge of the universe which God impresses on Job in answer to his question. If we knew everything, we might know the answer to this question, but we don’t know everything – not even Dawkins or Singer know everything – and so we have to be content, like Newton in his famous saying about a boy playing on the seashore, with our ignorance.



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