Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Does God Exist?

This was the topic of debate held at the 92nd street Y on the UWS of Manhattan I attended tonight.

On a superficial level it could be said that Hitchens won the debate in that his arguments were logically and intellectually more sound. Boteach came across as an impassioned religious zealot and through his argument was not able
to prove the G-d existed. His strongest argument centered around the number of years (billions) it would have taken to produce a random genetic mutation that led to the existence of unique species such as horses. Computationally - the probability of this occuring is very low and increases over time.. The fact that these mutations occured at all could point to some sort of intelligent design. Hitchens arguments about why human beings needed religion at all to be moral since morality proceeded religion - thus it could be argued that morality did not come from G-d but rather was a human attribute. His points about why if G-d existed would he choose to reveal himself to a group of peasants in the Middle East 10,000 years ago were funny.. as was his questioning why we needed G-d to tell us who we could marry, have sexual relationships with and why we should love our neighbours when he himself thought it should be ok to hate your neighbours was comical... and that he cast doubt on the religious claim that fossils were planted in rocks in order to test people's faith!

I thought the conservative Rabbi did a good job or remaining impartial but both Hitchens and Boteach stooped to the level of character assassination and skirted around the fundamental question about whether G-d existed. I think there are bigger questions such as regardless of whether G-d exists are religious people happier? Why do human beings need religion? Even if G-d does not exist what is the harm in believing in him if it serves a purpose in people's lives?
What paradigms do people live by in a secular world? Is a secular society less ethical than a religious society? Is there a way to practice spirituality independant of G-d? Why do (some) human beings need G-d in order to be moral? Why are religions male dominated and what would happen if women were in charge of society and religion? Are women more moral than men? If G-d did exist can women be considered closer to G-d and less likely to break the rules laid out in Judeao-Christianity and if so why are they not running the show in organized religions? (Afterall women kill less, cheat less, are less likely to be incarcerated and less likely to break the rules laid out in the 10 commandments).

I decided to buy books by both of them - the Hitchens book - "G-d is not so Great" and the Boteach book called "Hating Women: America's Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex" .. both men are great thinkers. I asked them both to sign their respective books (the authors sat at opposite ends of the table) and I asked Hitchens why he didn't return to England where there was greater separation between church. He said he had family there and still visited.. I said: but doesn't it bother you - the lack of separation in this country... it bothers me, I added. He said: No it gives me something to write about!

I asked Rabbi Boteach how he pronouned his name. I commented that it sounded French, but I was guessing it was Hebrew. He asked me what my name was and thanked me for coming. He seemed very warm, genuine and had a twinkle in his eye. Hitchens was truthful but not as charming. My experiences of meeting these 2 men is similar to my feelings about religion and aetheism. Religion feels nicer and more cozy/inviting whereas aetheism is perhaps more truthful and honest but less inviting. This is the problem I have.. is it right to follow something that feels nice even though you don't believe it's true. Would such a path not lack integrity. Perhaps I will email the Rabbi and ask him.

(After the lecture, I went to drink tea at Starbucks and spoke to a very interesting lady. It was perhaps the most meaningful encounter I have had with a complete stranger since arriving in New York City over a year ago... )

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