D'Souza and Singer debate God, morality
The debate, co-sponsored by Princeton Faith and Action, the Fixed Point Foundation and the Christian Union, featured Singer, the Princeton professor and controversial ethicist, and Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative writer and former policy analyst for Ronald Reagan.
In his opening argument, Singer explained that he would not focus on his personal beliefs but would instead debate more generally.
“We are not discussing any particular moral views held by any particular atheist,” he said.
D’Souza, however, begged to differ. “My task is to discuss [Singer’s views],” he said in his opening.
During the debate, both men advanced arguments based on their ideas of morality and religion.
Because God does not exist, Singer said, fundamental ideals of right and wrong cannot depend on God and must exist independently.
In response, D’Souza questioned the validity of Singer’s conclusion that there is no God and maintained that “moral codes for any society come from religion.”
Singer said he believes people do the right thing because they empathize with their fellow human beings and understand and rationalize how others feel when they suffer.
Though D’Souza acknowledged that people feel empathy when they see others suffer, he said there is no connection between empathy and acting on the empathy by helping the suffering without the influence of religion. Those who help others gain nothing from an evolutionary standpoint, he said.
“Pure altruism has no Darwinian basis,” he said, adding that instead of doing just what is evolutionarily beneficial, “we should invent unselfishness and revolt against our background.”
Singer countered that being religious does not make people more moral.
“When we compare more Christian countries with less Christian countries, many of the things Christians condemn [are] more common in more Christian countries,” Singer said, adding that “less than 1 percent [of people] in prison are atheists.”
D’Souza maintained that “much of secular morality is standing on the Christian pedestal.” D’Souza said he believed that all so-called secular societies were influenced by Christianity.
“If we want to look at what secular morality is, we have to look at communist regimes in the 20th century,” D’Souza said, adding, “Atheism is responsible for mass murders.”
Singer, a descendant of Austrian Jews, recounted his parents’ experiences in Vienna during the German occupation to counter D’Souza’s argument.
“Some of the greatest murders of recent times were cheered on by Christianity,” Singer said. “Atrocities are not unique to atheism.”
Singer said the presence of natural disasters and the suffering of animals who do not have original sin are evidence that God does not exist.
“There isn’t a god [who is] … all-knowing, all-powerful,” Singer said, adding that “if you look at events around us … there wouldn’t be such a god. Such a god would not permit such [atrocities].”
D’Souza said that this argument is nonsensical because it is akin to claiming that one’s own father does not exist simply because he is unwilling to help during difficult times.
Instead, D’Souza said, disasters simply change people’s opinions of God and bear little proof for or against God’s existence.
Members of the audience had mixed responses to the debate.
“The debate was disappointing,” Nick Cox ’11 said. “It was supposed to be about morality without God, but neither gave satisfactory explanations of God or morality.”
Cox added that he thought the arguments on both parts were simplistic, weak and irrational.
Others said they were in awe of the debaters.
“Both are so good at times,” Colin Ponce ’10 said. “It’d be dangerous to have one alone in a room [without the other].”