The Debate That Wasn’t

Easing into Sunday evening watching a debate found accidentally on YouTube, has left me with some things to carp about.

I am posting the YouTube video here, so if you’ve got two hours to throw away, knock yourself out. The debate was between well-known cosmologist Professor Lawrence Krauss and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, who is styled as an author, lecturer and intellectual activist. The topic of debate was Islam or Atheism – Which Makes More Sense?

Need I point out who represented what point of view?

The points raised on both sides during the debate were not that important – I, and I’m sure those of you who listen to these kinds of debates will have heard them before in some form or the other. What really sustained my attention for two hours was the manner in which the debate was conducted, some of the strategies used, the seeming inability of the adjudicator Timothy Yusuf Chambers (a former Irish Catholic priest, converted to Islam) to affect any sort of control over the two protagonists, and an amusing event involving an outraged Muslim woman during the Q&A session, which I’ll come back to later.

While Hamza Tzortzis came clearly prepared with a lengthy written opening remark which he was at pains to point out was based on deductive logic, it was absolute rubbish. No doubt Lawrence thought so too and made it quite plain in his opening address. Deductive logic is all well and good, but if your conclusions are based on faulty premises, then it’s all just bullshit.

Professor Krauss on the other hand just winged his way through his opening statement, and chose to engage frequently with Tzortzis in and off the cuff manner. There was something I found disturbing about this though; Krauss often came across as rude, near-insulting and somewhat arrogant. But everything he said, made sense and was scientifically correct. To his credit, Tzortzis in the face of this onslaught of scientific reasoning tinged with rudeness, held it together remarkably well.

Krauss’s approach to the debate was of importance, and he even clarified that he preferred discourse to the strict and limiting formal debate format. The term he used was “chat,”  because he explained that it allows more room for people to explore, and gain knowledge, rather than just throwing rigid ideas at each other. There is much merit in this.

After watching this and other debates, it has dawned on me how debate about such opposing ideas as atheism and religion have improved over the years. It used to be that religious apologists would simply quote from religious text and other dogmatic theological literature and demand that it be accepted as unadulterated truth. And it used to be that simply asserting things without having to provide proof or evidence was common. Now, apologists prepare more thoroughly using logic and even science. Alas, logic and science used incorrectly, even disingenuously, will never trump the scientific method.

And now we come to that amusing incident. During the Q&A session a clearly irate, albeit foolish woman decided to use the opportunity to complain about some guy who had entered the debate late, and decided to sit at the rear of the hall next to a group of girls of which the complainant was a member. She was quite adamant that her values as a Muslim woman was violated by this latecomer who according to her, should have chosen to sit elsewhere with other men, because she had clearly distanced herself from the men in the audience as was required of her belief system.

Krauss pointed out quite nonchalantly that the debate was clearly advertised as a non-segregated event, and she should have chosen to watch the debate on YouTube, rather than demand deference to her quaint beliefs.

Quite so, Professor Krauss, quite so.

And so who was the winner? I’ll leave you to decide, but for me, science always wins.