The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion

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Beware of God

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In the words of Blaise Pascal, mathematician and Catholic, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” Does religion breed intolerance, violence, and the promotion of medieval ideas? Or should we concede that overall, it has been a source for good, giving followers purpose, while encouraging morality and ethical behavior?

  • For the motion

    For

    Matthew Chapman

    Author, Filmmaker and Co-Founder of Science Debate

  • For the motion

    For

    A.C. Grayling

    Renowned Atheist and Professor of Philosophy

  • Against the Motion

    Against

    Rabbi David Wolpe

    Named the #1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek

  • Against the motion

    Against

    Dinesh D'Souza

    President of The King's College and author of What's So Great About Christianity

  • Moderator Image

    Moderator

    John Donvan

    Author and correspondent for ABC News.

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Chapman

For The Motion

Matthew Chapman

Author, Filmmaker and Co-Founder of Science Debate

A journalist, screenwriter, and director, Matthew Chapman is the Co-founder and President of Science Debate, an organization seeking to get political candidates, particularly presidential candidates, to debate important science policy issues. The great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, Chapman is the author of two books, Trials Of The Monkey - An Accidental Memoir and 40 Days and 40 Nights - Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania. His most recent film, The Ledge, was accepted into competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and deals with the ultimately fatal feud between an atheist and an evangelical Christian.

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A.C. Grayling

For The Motion

A.C. Grayling

Renowned Atheist and Professor of Philosophy

A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher and professor, has written over 20 books on philosophy, religion and reason including Against All Gods and The Good Book: A Secular Bible. Previously a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, Grayling is now Master of the New College of the Humanities, an independent university college in London. For nearly 10 years, he was the Honorary Secretary of the principal British philosophical association, the Aristotelian Society, and a Trustee of the London Library. A former fellow of the World Economic Forum, Grayling was a Booker Prize judge in 2003.

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D'Souza

Against The Motion

Dinesh D'Souza

President of The King's College and author of What's So Great About Christianity

A New York Times bestselling author, Dinesh D’Souza, the President of The King’s College in NYC, has had a distinguished 25 year career as a writer, scholar and intellectual. A former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, D’Souza also served as an Olin Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute as well as a Rishwain Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Called one of the “top young public-policy makers in the country” by Investor’s Business Daily, he quickly became a major influence on public policy through his writings. In 2008 D’Souza released the book, What’s So Great About Christianity, the comprehensive answer to a spate of atheist books denouncing theism in general and Christianity in particular. Consequently he has gone on to debate atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer.

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Wolpe

Against The Motion

Rabbi David Wolpe

Named the #1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek

Named the #1 Pulpit Rabbi in America and the second most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California. He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and he currently teaches at UCLA. In 2003 Rabbi Wolpe was named one of the hundred most influential Jews in America by Forward. He is the author of seven books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. His new book, Why Faith Matters, is largely a response to atheist theories.

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Declared Winner: For The Motion

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    10 comments

    • Comment Link zscores Wednesday, 26 March 2014 00:38 posted by zscores

      Compassion is what it means to be human, ergo: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Faith, a lateral application, works. Atheism has clearly killed more people in history. Atheists argue "win lose"; people with faith argue "win win". Islam? Not a religion but a dark theocracy celebrating death before life! The Koran not about faith but about obedience. Similarly the atheist argument: "You must think as we do and man is not spiritual, he is temporal".

    • Comment Link dj Sunday, 10 November 2013 22:06 posted by dj

      What if religion or non-religion (humanist or atheist) has nothing to do with the civility of the modern western world? It maybe that economic prosperity led to a moral society and not the other way around as most proclaim. When the basic necessities of life are so cheep (food and water), human beings have less reason to bash one another over the head. Humanism and religiosity may just be irrelevant rationalizations.

    • Comment Link Darrell Tuesday, 05 November 2013 20:44 posted by Darrell

      Winning this debate is as simple as one statement. -There was a period of time when everyone was religious. The time known as the Dark Ages, which lasted nearly a thousand years. During this time in Europe advancements in science and education were criminalized. Scientific books were burned that were said to be blasphemous. Had the Dark Ages not occurred, our world would be a thousand years more advanced and into the future. So, yes, the world would be better off without religion.

    • Comment Link Ellen Blackstone Wednesday, 12 June 2013 22:20 posted by Ellen Blackstone

      I thoroughly enjoyed this debate -- except for one thing. I thought Michael Donvan was biased and rude on occasion, and that he even belittled Volpe and D'Souza and added his own bias into the debate. Totally uncalled for. And I don't agree with Volpe and D'Souza, but more with Grayling. It was not quite as "disciplined and civil" as I would hope.

    • Comment Link david bailey Monday, 06 May 2013 15:57 posted by david bailey

      The best way to win an argument originated from the playground - that is to simply point to the scoreboard. Based on the unopposed empirical evidence presented on the net positive effect based on the acts of the faithful - it is a slam dunk. If one is going to classify "Stalinism", eugenics or any other form of atheism as a religion - then the premise of the debate seems moot. The rest of the debate seemed to be a side show to this central point. It seemed to play to the psychology of the audience - specifically their anti-american, anti-west, anti-religion bias.

    • Comment Link scott Saturday, 04 May 2013 19:39 posted by scott

      Does religion provide truth? Of course not. Religious stories with supernatural phenomenon are morality tales, and are all fictional at the core. Don’t take that on faith. It’s a fact. That said, this debate is not about the truth of religion, but whether it is good for the world, and that is a much harder question to answer.

      -- Arguments for a world without religion:

      01
      As a species, we might not survive if we continue to practice religion, especially in its more extreme forms. The main problem is that most religions claim to be the only path, at the exclusion of all others. When coupled with divine instructions to share the good word and defend against all other claims, conflict is inevitable. It’s by design: “We’re right and everyone else is wrong.”

      02
      Religion often discourages or prohibits scientific inquiry that yields benefits to everyone. Science provides large scale access to food, water, medicine, energy, communications and transportation. Scientific discoveries and inventions reduce suffering and provide higher standards of living. Religion often tells us that these are earthy matters that don’t matter, or that suffering is god’s wrath for sin. It often blames victims for their troubles, or gives people false hope. Religion can be quite cruel.

      -- Arguments against a world without religion:

      01
      Science provides no means to judge right and wrong behavior, so if we rely exclusively on scientific investigation and statistical analysis to inform public policy, do we not invite economical or efficient decisions over moral ones? No institution, other than religion, teaches morality so effectively as to keep relative peace in society. If we eliminate it, do we not unleash people to act according to their self-interest and the interest of their tribes, with no regard for others? Without self-regulation, imposed by religion, will society begin to collapse and challenge law enforcement in ways we can only imagine?

      02
      Supposing the world would be better off without religion, how could get there? If we define religion clearly, make it illegal to teach or practice, the scenario would play right out of a doomsday novel with correct thinking, loyalty oaths, state surveillance, thought police, medical treatment of dissenters, political trials, political prisoners, re-education centers -- a human rights and free thinkers nightmare. Short of that, dispensing with religion is neither expedient nor efficient, and relies on popular recognition that scientific advances provide better solutions and lifestyles than do religious practices. Since a coercive change has too high a human cost and a persuasive change is unlikely to succeed in time to address overpopulation, food and water shortages, global warming, environmental degradation, and nuclear war, a better strategy might be to fund science in the name of doing what is right; The message that we are caretakers of this planet resonates well with some Evangelical Christian groups.

    • Comment Link Trevor G Tuesday, 16 April 2013 15:57 posted by Trevor G

      The biggest issue with this debate is that the idea of what a "religion" is tends to shift every couple of minutes. Is it centered on traditional texts, on communities, a belief in God, or something else? A religious community may have developed a useful set of beliefs that it teaches its members, but if these don't actually arise from God or the texts, then would any of the social implications change without faith in such things?

      D'Souza is also massively hypocritical for constantly arguing for the superiority of Christianity (by which he means the West) while attacking Grayling for going after Christianity's failings. It is Christianity, of all the large religions, that most emphasizes the idea the humans are morally flawed and fated to annihilation without a God-king-father. The alledged superiority of Christianity, as evidenced by modern Western society's power, shows only ignorance of the flow of theological, philosophical, and scientific thought between civilizations.

      The arguments that atheistic regimes committ atrocities seems to not be an argument against atheism, so much as against totalitarian communism. I can recall that, as a child, I had read enough of world history to understand the atrocities committed in the name of religions throughout the world. When I was twelve or so, my father asked about the same communist regimes mentioned by D'Souza, and I replied, "In those countries, the state is God and communism is the religion."

      Certainly, if something like early Daoism can be considered a religion, rather than a philosophy, then so can the faith-based system of Stalinism.

    • Comment Link David E Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:27 posted by David E

      Pascal is basically correct on this one...

      There is nothing worse than a bigot who feels he is doing the "work of God"...

    • Comment Link jay bee Sunday, 10 February 2013 07:43 posted by jay bee

      where is the debate with Fry and Hitchens.......?

    • Comment Link Josh Friday, 27 July 2012 13:38 posted by Josh

      I'm an architect that specializes in design religious institutions. Thank you for providing this rich format that respects both sides of issues and gives a valid system for them to debate in a public forum. I wish other public discourse could be so well handled.

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