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David Berlinski and Christopher Hitchens

Moderator: Dr. Berlisnki, you’re not a Christian, and indeed, you’re not religious as I understand it. Why do you argue for a Judeo-Christian influence in society?

David Berlisnki: I presume you are not asking me in the hopes of a personal declaration. And I won’t say that this secular Jew has a remarkable degree of authority when it comes to these moral events: after all, I have lived my own life under the impress of having a good time, all the time. On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to hear these words from someone such as myself, because at least you are hearing them from someone with no conceivable bias in their favor.

In its largest aspect, Western science is of course an outgrowth of Judeo-Christian tradition, especially to the extent, perhaps only to the extent, that it is committed to the principle that the manifest universe contains a latent structure that can be discovered by the intellect of man. I think this is true. I don’t think this is very far from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ declaration that, ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ […]

You know, Stephen Hawking just published a book, one explaining, again, how everything began — why it’s there, why we shouldn’t worry about God, et cetera. And to paraphrase the claim that he now makes: having given up on “A” through “L”, he now champions something called “M-theory” to explain how the universe popped into existence. I respect Hawking as a reputable physicist. But I can tell you this: What is lamentably lacking in every one of these discussions is that coruscating spirit of skepticism which a Christopher Hitchens or a Richard Dawkins would bring to religious claims, and then lapses absurdly when it comes to naturalistic and scientific claims about the cosmos.

Surely, we should have the sophistication to wonder at any asseveration of the form that the universe just blasted itself into existence following the laws of M-theory — a theory no one can understand, whose mathematical formulism hasn’t been completed, which has never once been tested in any laboratory on the face of the earth…

Finally, the fact that the earth, our home, is a small part of the physical universe does not mean it is not the center of the universe. That is a non sequitur. After all, no one would argue, least of all Mr. Hitchens, that the doctrine that home is where the heart lies is rendered false by distance. We should be very careful about making these claims. I agree that the universe is very big; there are lots of galaxies and amazing things. And there is certainly some biological continuity between humans and the animals that came before us. But as for the central religious claim that this particular place is blessed and important, that’s different. No doctrine about physical size rebuts it…

And as to why should a secular Jew open his mouth to questions pertaining to the Christian religion? It’s a big tent. I’m presuming I would be welcomed.

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An excerpt from Berlinski’s 2010 debate with Christopher Hitchens. Berlinski’s erudition reaches almost comical heights in this debate, which is, in my opinion, one of the more compelling Hitch ever did. I like the whole thing, but you can watch the pulled section below.

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