Christopher Hitchens v. Frank Turek Debate the Existence of God

Frank Turek, co-author of I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, and Christopher Hitchens debated this issue in September 2008.

Turek vs. Hitchens Debate: Does God Exist? from Andrew Ketchum on Vimeo.


openlyatheist said...

Just finished Turek's opening statement. Ugh. These fast talking con-artists are getting worse.

Elsewhere, John Loftus asked, "Does anyone here think Hitchens knows enough to debate Turek?"

Turek had a lot to say about physics, for instance, - probably effective against Hitchens, but he would have been embarrassed if debating, for instance, Joe Stenger.

There is nothing impressive, to an educated person, about spewing out as many half-understood facts as possible and following each with, "God explains this." Then having the audacity to claim it is the other side who must "explain" the same list.

As I continue into Hitchens' opening statement, I'm compelled to say it again: atheists debating Christians need to work on their delivery.

stevec said...

I think Hitches answers the question of "where does morality come from" in at best an inefficient way, possibly misunderstanding the question for much of the debate, though I think he kind of gets it in the end, but fails to answer it with the easy, obvious answer.

Where does morality come from?

Well, imagine two species, much like us -- which is to say, a species which lived in groups -- one which is, for the most part immoral, and one, for the most part moral. The moral ones would be more apt to help one another out, and cooperate. The immoral ones would be more likely to stab one another in the back. Which species would be more likely to go extinct, and which less likely.

So, the answer to the question, where does morality come from can be answered with one word. That word is EVOLUTION.

Geez, was that so hard?

Anonymous said...

A sad episode in the ongoing theist/nontheist saga. The weakness of Turek's regurgitated arguments was exceeded only by Hitchen's ineptness. As another commenter noted, 'where morality comes from' could have been handled by almost any of us better than Hitchens. I am on the nontheist side of this, but I sympathize nonetheless that Turek could not get a coherent answer. Same about abortion where Hitchens stumbled about.

Hitchens could have addressed each of Turek's points, but ignored them all to go into his own oft used spiel about how old the species is and how long it took for God to intervene. He could at least have pointed out that even if we don't have an explanation for a particular point (which we in fact do have for almost all points), that doesn't mean 'Goddidit' is the explanation.

Given Hitchen's reddish face, inept argumentation, and hapless fumbling about with the microphone, I wonder if he was sober. Theist can rightly claim a victory here, the shallow arguments of Turek not being countered effectively by Hitchens. If by any chance you read the comments to decide whether to watch the video, spare yourself the time. Very disappointing.

feeno said...

Hey Steve

I wonder if that's why Dinosaurs are extinct, they kept stabbing each other in the back. Actually now that I think about it that would be hard to do with those tiny little arms?

Also, what you just said sounds like the opposite of "survival of the fittest." Not that what you said couldn't be true, just curios on how those 2 things work with or against one another?

Peace out, feeno

Swimmy Lionni said...

Hithcens always seems to answer morality questions poorly, usually feigning indignance at name-calling. Nobody should have this much trouble, because it's low-hanging fruit. Admit that atheist morality relies on subjective evaluation of human philosophy, and then point out that Christian morality does as well! Specifically, where does our moral imperative to obey God come from? The answer is always either question-begging ("From God!") or completely subjective, eg, "Because God is all-knowing" (we have a moral imperative to obey those who are smarter than us, or those who are infinitely smarter? why?), "Because God is our creator" (we have a moral imperative to obey that which made us, no matter the circumstances? why?), etc. Christians are in the exact same boat as we are.

Gus said...

"Also, what you just said sounds like the opposite of 'survival of the fittest.'"

How so? It seems to me that a cooperative society--the members of which support and protect each other--would be more "fit" to survive, adapt to their environment, and defend against invaders than a society that destroys its members given the chance. Therefore, the former would be less likely to go extinct than the latter, and more likely to pass its DNA, culture, religion, moral values, etc on to future generations.

Anonymous said...

It more and more bothers me that God is always in the gaps, never in the evidence, yet we're supposed to take gap theory as valid scientific proof.

Shygetz said...

"Also, what you just said sounds like the opposite of 'survival of the fittest.'"

What Gus said. Case in point: bees. Extremely moral creatures within their framework, and presumably not for theological reasons. Yet if they were amoral (say, worker bees refused to "altruistically" sacrifice themselves for the hive), they would quickly become extinct.

feeno said...

Dear Gus and Shy

I'll concede to you on this.

Peace out, feeno

Unknown said...

If as Turek says his "god is timeless, spaceless, immaterial" and existed when "nothing existed" then his god doesn't exist except in his own head.

First off, immaterial means of no importance. So Turek says that his god is of no importance!

So Turek is hypothesizing, well that's being polite to him since his assertions are not even in the proper form of a hypothesis. Anyway, Turek is hypothesizing that his (unlike other peoples) god is "immaterial". Ok, Turek, what is your proof? What is your evidence? What evidence would falsify your claim? Besides, how can something that doesn't exist materially as matter or as energy impact matter or energy? It can't since it doesn't exist by Turek's own admission!

Besides Turek, who created your god (other than Turek)? You're explanation of a timeless, spaceless, immaterial god doesn't explain anything that I didn't slice and dice apart when I was four. Until you answer who created your god Turek you're answers are mind pooish nonsense. But we do know who created your god Turek, Turek did, and it's quite the amazing god with all sorts of neato tricks up Turek's sleave. What a con Turek. Sigh.

Turek also claims that his god is timeless and spaceless. So his god doesn't exist in time or space, and has no matter.

Ok, at least Turek has the big bang sorta correct. I like how Hitchens put it with the black suit case holding all the matter in the universe. It's actually all the matter, all the energy, AND ALL THE SPACE-TIME as well! To answer his daughter's question, there was no outside of the suit case! To get that you've got to get that the suit case was a singularity which means that it had no dimensions at all since it was all crunched up in a point tinier than any point you can imagine - actually that doesn't get it quite right since space-time didn't exist for all that energy (matter is formed much later on). If there is no space-time you can't have a singularity of any dimensions.

Turek's god could not have existed before the big bang as everything including "nothing" came into being with the big bang. Yup, nothing itself didn't exist before the big bang for there was no space-time for nothing to exist in. Wrapping your head around that one makes it hurt... yeah I know. The big bang started time and space and without out time and space you can't have "nothing" nor "something" which also means you can't have Turek's god - except in Turek's head of course which is where we know it to exist as bio-electric-chemical-information patterns feeding him wonderful drugs to make him happy that he has his immaterial god. Must be a trip! Fortunately I stay off the god drugs by not ingesting delusional beliefs about invisible friends.

Turek's god is his invisible friend - literally! Turek is a very special needs person who for some reason needs his invisible friend to get through the day. It's very sad for him. It's very sad Turek.

Turek, your right that your "god" is immaterial, as in does not matter except in the lives of belief stricken god delusionals and those that they do harm to as a result of their god delusions.

Raul said...

Damn, I am a fan of Christopher Hitchens,when it comes to debating with theisths,but that was so weak... I mean,f.e. , after like 100 minutes of the debate there's this question from the audience : "What about empathy,Mr. Turek?"
Well,at least someone there could answer the question about origins of morality,but doesn't seem like that someone was Mr. Hitchens.
"A sad episode in the ongoing theist/nontheist saga. The weakness of Turek's regurgitated arguments was exceeded only by Hitchen's ineptness."
Yes,that really is sad...

Unknown said...

I was disappointed in Hitchens too. As someone mentioned, I don't think he was sober.

Religionists think they have a great point with the “where did morality come from” question or the “what moral standard are you using” question. But it’s a false argument. Hitchens should have been ready to turn the tables. One easy question is “let’s see your moral standard…where it is”. Nothing like hearing “it’s written on our hearts” and other nebulous nonsense. I have a couple of questions I like to ask the “moral absolutists”.

1) Is it always wrong to order homosexuals to be put to death?

2) Is it always wrong to order innocent children and babies to be slaughtered?

Since Yahweh did both of these things, it’s a question they can’t really answer.

The Standing Dragon said...

Odd - I'm a huge fan of Hitchens's points - but as so many have said, I found him awfully inept.

On the question of morality, wouldn't it have just been easy to say morality is a social adaptation that enables species survival by promoting society? Examples given of how our western morality noticibly differs from middle eastern and eastern morality would have been a cincher in that.

To me, what astounds me is that no one called Turek on the idea that his entire premise was based on the notion that humanity was somehow special. It is truly the core of theism - we are the chosen species, and all was created for us to stand on/interact with in an effort to come to know the divine. Yet.. Hitchens and the audience never really challenge this - in the debate of the existence of God, saying 'if you changed any factor, we wouldn't exist' may be true, but it's irrelevant. It is indeed horribly likely that SOMETHING ELSE would exist, wouldn't you say?

In fact, if we rewound the tape - if we somehow reversed the tree of life to pre-human and let it play forward again, the likelihood that we would be as we are now is very, very slim.

The entire debate about God can be summed up in the simple question: "Are we, as human beings, somehow divinely special?" If we are not, there certainly does not need to be a designer to lay out our existence.

Unfortunately, that very freeing concept is very bleak to a theist.

Unknown said...

Although to be fair Standing Dragon, humans are special in that we have language which no other species has. Otherwise we could not debate the existence of a god.

Gar said...

I feel really sorry for Turek and I'm not even done watching his opening ("How am I doing on time? Two minutes? You'll give me three? Thanks."). It was a big mistake to go up against Hitchens for his first public debate.

Gar said...

I finished watching and, well, Hitchens pretty much wiped the floor with Turek. Just a little into the back and forth, Hitchens realized that Turek was no match for him and so Hitchens slumped comfortably back into his chair and became visibly and intellectually disinterested.

By the end of the back and forth, Turek was so shaken up that he resorted to putting words in Hitchens' mouth. Then Turek had the audacity to claim that Hitchens is a false god come to convert the masses, with Turek playing off that to commend Hitchens for taking the role of the devil and testing the fortitude of Christian faith. Turek closed by saying something like, "God loves you, Hitchens, even though you hate God," which only strengthened the whooping from the little group of ardent Christians cloistered near the front.

You could almost hear the mental tongue lashing Hitchens was giving Turek at that point, but Hitchens had already given up his right to rebut so he stayed silent. However, it was not to be the last jab. After all of his raving comparing Hitchens to a despotic god and the guttersnipe commentary that followed, Turek thrust out his hand and forced what should have been a more congenial handshake. Hitchens hesitated, but begrudgingly gave in out of civility.

jUUggernaut said...

The debate demonstrates again that one needs to do an enormous amount of "opponent research" if one wants to come out ahead. But arrogant debaters like Hitchens always believe they can wing it.
In this case, it would have required to read Turek's book because this obviously served as his script.
Turek's arguments were a pityful load of horse manure but the way he presented them, as a bulleted list with lots of physics and name dropping thrown in, gave it the appearance of substance.
The effect on an audience is that the impression remains that Turek's opponent failed to address the barrage of 'points', and Turek regurgitated this claim several times, including in his final statement (which was so bad that I would have pelted him with insults and foul eggs at this point. I'm not kidding. Listen to the final minutes, they'll make you gag.)

Pitiful. There's one point of light though: at one point the camera captured a beautiful young woman with a very thoughtful expression on her face. Oops, I just committed one of those though crimes mentioned in on of the versions of the Ten Commandments - and it's punishable by death.
How dare xtian apologists pronounce the word "morality"? How dare they?

Unknown said...

Hitches was very good on his prepared points, but I concur that his handling of Turek's points were inept.

What I found more interesting is that as inept as Hitchens was, Turek still sounded like an idiot.

Darrin said...

Here, we witness the Harlem Globetrotters and all their showmanship lose to the Oklahoma City Thunder professional NBA team.

In April, we'll see these same Harlem Globetrotters take on William Lane Craig, a.k.a. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Hitchens has a penchant for pain, or else a poor PR department.

Trudy said...

Why is it that Mr Hitchens gets so sarcastic when he cannot really get his point accross?
Why does he use all those complicated words when he feels he is loosing the debate?
Is it to show how smart he actually is? Even though he totally misses the point? As if he wants to say:"Don't you dare question my intelligence!

I have yet to find a person who can tell me in a very simple way why there is no God?

jUUggernaut said...

Christopher Hitchens consciously cultivates his image as an arrogant British intellectual snob. (It may also be his true self but who knows).

The simple arguments against god don't concern themselves with astrophysics or even biology but with the nature of evidence.

Claims about the existence of God or gods or spirits or demons or life forces or fairies .....
are only made by humans. Living as a human being around other human beings will have taught you by now that we often make or hear claims that are lies, delusions, misinterpretations, bragging, conjecture, madness, jokes, ramblings or deceit. Every day there is fraud committed exploiting the gullibility or trust by con artists, religious or otherwise.

The problem is: when it comes to supernatural claims there are in effect no criteria to distinguish the frauds from the messenger from god.
Because what is comes down to is that someone has says he or she was a communicating with a deity, and later manages to convince other people that it was really so.

In other words, later believers rely on oral reports and imperfect manuscripts handed down to them (sometimes over generations).

In a court of law that aims at fairness we have a name for this kind of evidence: hearsay without physicial evidence or independent confirmation. For obvious reasons, it is not admissible, and does not deserve the name evidence. Otherwise we would have little hope to see through artfully invented excuses or malicious claims.

What's worse is that in matters of theology, our 'court room' spans all of history and all of the globe: we have vastly different theologies all claiming to be true and all contradicting themselves. For both logical and practical reasons they cannot all be true at the same time. While it is theoretically conceivable that one theology gets it right, there is no way to figure out which one that might be because they all, without exception, offer no evidence that rises beyond the inadmissible claim of personal revelation. It is however extremely likely that they are all false.

And false they are as demonstrated over and over and over again when concrete religious predictions are empirically tested. Take prayer. Tested extensively by both neutral researchers and those eager to find positive results. Negative. No better than chance. And the happy anecdotal reports are simply explained by people's tendency only to count the 'hits' and to ignore the 'misses'.

The existence of a specific personal god who does things only a god can do and makes specific demands on people apparently can not be proven. But there would still be a way for a god to actively prove its existence once and for all: Many religions claim their deity has supernatural powers. In other words, it would be super easy for Super Daddy to put his fist down and give all non believers irrefutable physical proof of his existence and power by creating a miracle that makes his case. Again, nothing. God is like a starving beggar without apparent means of subsistence claiming to be the richest person in the world. Too poor for a coffin.

This impossibility to pinpoint any particular god's existence has led some to speculate that this 'ultimate' miracle is the coming into being of the universe and life itself: a deity must have gotten the universe started! Refuting that speculation is somewhat involved and I won't deal with it here (read Victor Stenger if physics is accessible to you) but luckily, it isn't necessary for our purposes as human beings.
Because it has no implications for us. Suppose there was a divine kickstarter. So what? While creating the universe is quite a feat it provides no basis for ethicals whatsoever. None. Or 'meaning', for that matter.
Moreover, this alleged 'creation' happened a long time ago. Unimaginably long. Let's just say that the statute of limitations to pay royalties has expired. And please note that this cuts both ways: we are in turn prevented from suing the supposed deity for shoddy workmanship.

I will liken our situation to the survivors from a plane crash stranded on an island. Imagine how at first there is justifiably enourmous gratitude for the captain whose flying skills managed to avert total disaster. But suppose no help ever arrives. Suppose the survivors are stuck on this island for hundreds of generations until the memory of the flight captain is lost in the mist of time. Technically, after a few hundred years, the inhabitants still owe their existence to that captain in some manner of speaking. But in practical terms? His skills were about flying, alas they have no plane. His skill were not about growing foods, curing disease, building shelter, or solving disputes, or delivering babies, or sharing sexual bliss, or creating forms of government, or managing resources, or listening, or creative expression, or what have you.
Actually, let me take that back: unlike any distant kickstarter deity who (necessarily!) lacks human characteristics, our ancient and long deceased captain was a human being, with all that entails! He will actually have contributed to the knowledge, wisdom, practices and custom of those islanders because he brought with him a body, a mind, and cultural and practical experience. Unlike this deist god who contributed nothing human.

So there you go: for all practical purposes, we have to depend on ourselves. We arrived without instructions manual. The people who claim to possess one turn out to be deceived deceivers with stunning regularity, and we observe that religions and their supposedly holy books have come and vanished through the ages, proven fake by their extinction. And as of yet: no miracles.

Instead: We created a wealth of knowledge thanks to applying the scientific method, helped by judicious use of other human qualities such as compassion, love, curiosity, yearning, and unrelenting effort (to list just the nice ones - history is also advanced by cruel assholes).

Note that in essence, the scientific method simply means to take obsessive care not to fool oneself. Theology, by contrast, encourages, even glorifies such self deception. Just look to any religion and it will be instantly obvious (it is easiest with religions whose tenets you don't share).

What many hope of religion is that with its silver bullets of divine law, divine love, and divine guidance all our questions, the global and the personal ones, will instantly receive a correct answer. Apparently, it's easier to be "born again" than it is to grow up! (as a bumper sticker by the White Bear Lake, MN Unitarian Universalist congregation read).

We humans have great potential but we have to figure it out on our own. The search for 'ultimate meaning' is futile. It won't help to solve the real puzzles, quagmires, and problems that we are facing. But that futile search has so far done a lot to sidetrack us and divert talent which could otherwise have contributed to real solutions. Lets phase out religion. To cold-shoulder religions won't deprive us of experiencing and sharing love, wonder, exitement, pleasure, or the joy of discovery. No one can take our humanity from us, and creative minds will always produce properly labeled fiction and mystery in the form of literature, film and the arts.

Finally, religions has strived for so long not because their philosophical claims were so convincing but because they created communities (if often by force). If we can find healthier ways of providing communities and togetherness without the high cost and ill effects incurred by religions we'll reap just the benefits. Advancing religious tolerance may we a step in the right direction. So is joining an undogmatic, tolerant religious community such as the modern Unitarian Universalists who, it is joked, only truly worship the coffee urn - as a symbol of human dialogue and togetherness. As a hard atheist I'm a happy member of one such congregation (sample some sermons at

Once you realise that obtaining answers to 'ultimate' questions is a fool's errand you'll see that satisfactory answers to more concrete questions are, by contrast, quite achievable.

We lose nothing of substance when we lose belief in a god.

Trudy said...

It amazes me why you people have to argue/comment with all those high voluted words. Keep it simple else what you are saying might be misinterpreted. That is probably why the Bible is misunderstood and hence to the one person it means this to the other something entirely different.

An other problem I have is the name calling, politeness is so lacking. One would NOT dare talk to the President or the Queen like that, or the Pope for that matter (even though you do not agree with his theology!).

I for one do not find it necessary to put that kind of a strain on conversations or arguments, no matter how right I think I am!

Besides, in business you don't get very far when you tell a client his words are like “cow manure”.

If you want to gather up more “sheep into your fold” speak their language.

jUUggernaut said...

Trudy, what exactly are you responding to? The debate video? Online discussions in general?
People with a bigger vocabulary who fail to hide it?

It's no secret that discussions about religion tend to get out of hand. Or that it may be more effective to be polite than rude.

People's opinion on what a proper discussion should sound like differ greatly by culture - ever followed a discussion among Israelis, or French, or Greek, of Brits? Hold on to your seat! You're not in Kansas any more.

More importantly, I like the power of a good argument and believe that it works regardless of whether it's phrased bluntly or politely.

Finally, much of what is put forth by theologians is ridiculous, plain and simple. You don't have to be an atheist to see it, it suffices to belong to a religion different from the speaker!
In my opinion it is perfectly alright to ridicule ridiculous ideas.

Civility - yes. Deference - no.
(And looking up a difficult word once in a while is not really a burden. On my Mac the dictionary is a control click away, and I use it.)

Unknown said...

For a lay audience, I'd say Turek "won". Hitchens is not the best representative of atheist arguments in formal debates like this one. Having seen and read many, many of these types of discussions, I would say that Hitchens was trying to appeal to a more knowledgeable, liberal audience. What I sensed from him was a disappointment that the debate from Turek's side was so elementary and a reluctance to lower himself to engage in it, but that reluctance came across as dodgy. I was frankly surprised, and I think Hitchens was as well, that Turek trotted out such obvious and tired arguments that have been clearly and thoroughly responded to by atheists for years and years. A Sam Harris would have been much more direct and precise in refuting Turek's claims and might have made for a better, if not more entertaining, debate.