D’Souza on "An Absentee God?"

During this debate, Christopher Hitchens actually raised an intriguing challenge to God’s existence (good points from atheists are so hard to find these days). Now, Dinesh D’Souza has an answer:

What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. On Friday July 11 the libertarian conference FreedomFest will have, as its featured event, a debate on “Christianity, Islam and the War on Terror” between Christopher Hitchens and me. The media will be there, and the organizers also expect to have the debate up on the web. (Just in case Richard Dawkins is listening, I’ll have to remember
not to use Hitler-style shrieks and yells.)

In thinking about this debate, I’m reminded of an argument that Hitchens made in our New York debate last October. At that time I did not know how to answer his point. So I employed an old debating strategy: I ignored it and answered other issues. But Hitchens’ argument bothered me.

Here’s what Hitchens said. Homo sapiens has been on the planet for a long time, let’s say 100,000 years. Apparently for 95,000 years God sat idly by, watching and perhaps enjoying man’s horrible condition. After all, cave-man’s plight was a miserable one: infant mortality, brutal massacres, horrible toothaches, and an early death. Evidently God didn’t really care.

Then, a few thousand years ago, God said, “It’s time to get involved.” Even so God did not intervene in one of the civilized parts of the world. He didn’t bother with China or India or Persia or Egypt. Rather, he decided to get his message to a group of nomadic people in the middle of nowhere. It took another thousand years or more for this message to get to places like India and China.

Here is the thrust of Hitchens’ point: God seems to have been napping for 98 percent of human history, finally getting his act together only for the most recent 2 percent? What kind of a bizarre God acts like this?

I’m going to answer this argument in two ways. First, in this blog I’m going to show that Hitchens has his math precisely inverted. Second, in a future blog I’ll reveal how Hitchens’ argument backfires completely on atheism. For today’s argument I’m indebted to Erik Kreps of the Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

An adept numbers guy, Kreps noters that it is not the number of years but the levels of human population that are the issue here. The Population Reference Bureau estimates that the number of people who have ever been born is approximately 105 billion. Of this number, about 2 percent were born before Christ came to earth.

“So in a sense,” Kreps notes, “God’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. If He’d come earlier in human history, how reliable would the records of his relationship with man be? But He showed up just before the exponential explosion in the world’s population, so even though 98 percent of humanity’s timeline had passed, only 2 percent of humanity had previously been born, so 98 percent of us have walked the earth since the Redemption.”

I have to agree with Kreps’s conclusion: “Sorry Hitchens. And Hallelujah.”
Part 2 of his response:

Here I want to show how Hitchens’ argument completely backfires on atheism. Let’s apply an entirely secular analysis and go with Hitchens’ premise that there is no God and man is an evolved primate. Well, biology tells us that man’s basic frame and brain size haven’t substantially changed throughout his terrestrial existence.

So here is the problem.
Homo sapiens has been on the planet for 100,000 years, but apparently for more than 95,000 of those years he accomplished virtually nothing. No real art, no writing, no inventions, no culture, no civilization. How is this possible? Were our ancestors, otherwise physically and mentally undistinguishable from us, such blithering idiots that they couldn’t figure out anything other than the arts of primitive warfare?

Then, a few thousand years ago, everything changes. Suddenly savage man gives way to historical man. Suddenly the naked ape gets his act together. We see civilizations sprouting in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, and elsewhere. Suddenly there are wheels and agriculture and art and culture. Soon we have dramatic plays and philosophy and an explosion of inventions and novel forms of government and social organization.

So how did
Homo sapiens, heretofore such a slacker, suddenly get so smart? Scholars have made strenuous efforts to account for this but no one has offered a persuasive account. If we compare man’s trajectory on earth to an airplane, we see a long, long stretch of the airplane faltering on the ground, and then suddenly, a few thousand years ago, takeoff!

Well, there is one obvious way to account for this historical miracle. It seems as if some transcendent being or force reached down and breathed some kind of a spirit or soul into man, because after accomplishing virtually nothing for 98 percent of our existence, we have in the past 2 percent of human history produced everything from the pyramids to Proust, from Socrates to computer software.

So paradoxically Hitchens’ argument becomes a boomerang. Hitchens has raised a problem that atheism cannot easily explain and one that seems better accounted for by the Book of Genesis.
UPDATE: A reader posed a few challenges to D’Souza’s argument (if he wants to know why I’m not publishing his comments, he’s free to ask here). I want to address them, though, since they strike me as common areas of misunderstanding.

Humanity’s “takeoff” provides no evidence that God was involved. It could have been coincidence, or the invention of something like the written alphabet or mathematics or several such developments at once.

But this is precisely the issue: mankind had a whopping 95,000 years in which none of it happened. Then “several such developments at once”? Granted, it’s not material evidence, and it’s not proof, but you’ve gotta admit, it’s certainly intriguing circumstantial evidence.

It also provides no evidence that it was Christ or Christianity specifically that is the answer. Advancements took place before Christ…maybe the Greek Gods get credit for Ancient Greece?

This complaint gets the two arguments mixed up. D’Souza does not tie human advancement to the coming of Christ at all, but to the endowment of man with a soul. The only point Christ pertains to is the percentage of the human race that lived before Him as opposed to after.

It’s also interesting that technology has advanced exponentially in recent history, despite no known input from Allah or God or Zeus.

That’s because the input we’re talking about—the soul transforming an animal called human into a man, giving him a true mind rather than a brain—already happened. According to D’Souza’s theory, human reason and creativity flow from this singular change.

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