My initial reaction to the debate is that I wish it could have stayed a little more focused on a particular religion rather than swinging wildly out of control. It's not really fair to lump all religions together, or even all strains of the same religion together...but that's often the course that Hitchens down which Hitchens seemed to push things.
By far, I think Hitchens' most compelling argument was the question of what was God doing for the thousands upon thousands of years of man's prehistory. It's a variant on the "problem of evil" question that atheists often seem to dwell on, only slightly more complicated. In the age of Christ, we can excuse God's inaction because we understand the concept of free will...and we can take consolation in the revelation of salvation. Our cave-dwelling, prehistoric ancestors may not have had such consolation.
It then occurred to me that the Bible directly addresses this issue. Even if you don't take all of Genesis as literal history, the Bible acknowledges that God only rarely reveals himself from the time of Cain until the time of Abraham. This makes sense from a biblical stand point because it is like God saying: "Okay, so you think you don't need my help? Let's see how you fair without me for a few generations...not so well, huh?" It seems like a reasonable pedagogical device to me.
But, of course, the fact of the matter is that God never completely abandons His creation. Think about all the minor examples of providence that happens in your daily life without God explicitly and directly revealing himself. God's hand was probably no less in the daily lives of our prehistoric ancestors than it is today. Of course, an atheist sees providence as coincidence, so I don't know that you can necessarily win an argument with this kind of retort...but I'm more interested in reaffirming faith than persuading a hostile audience at the moment.
I'll rattle some more reactions in the continued post...click through...
While not as thought-provoking as his demand to know why there is no record of revelation to prehistoric man (and if he did, how would prehistoric man record it, there being no concept of history?), Hitchens made quite a dramatic display by quoting Milton's Satan almost verbatim. It was rather fascinating. He argued that the existence of a benevolent God would be insufferable because it reduces humans to some kind of abject posture of complete indebtedness. All we can ever hope to do is grovel before the creator-master, in Hitchens' and Satan's view.
Of course, what Hitchens misses is that God humbled Himself so that we wouldn't have to preoccupy ourselves with feelings of unworthiness. We should seek to show gratitude to God because that is the right thing to do, but it's not like He sends us a bill every time He does something good for us.
As D'Souza rightly observed, Hitchens has some kind of weird grudge against religion. The atheist argued that religion is a lie, and it's wrong to lie to the poor and to children to make them feel better about bad situations and lull them into a false sense of security. He never quite articulated why that was wrong.
I think D'Souza scored the most points when he observed, using the tools of Marxism, that any morality which Hitchens professed (and professed quite a bit) was mostly likely owing to his upbringing in a culture whose values and morals have been determined by Christianity itself. You don't have to believe in God to believe in human equality, but you probably believe in human equality because, at some point, the person who taught you about it was taught be someone who believed in God.
Another intriguing moment (and I'm just randomly jumping around here) was when a student asked Hitchens how there could be a standard of morality if morality was developed through human evolution (rather than Divine revelation, inspiration, or programming). Hitchens dodged the question, but I thought it deserved more attention. The student essentially was asking what would prevent someone from stepping forward with a newer, more evolved morality that could justify currently immoral acts.
And to conclude my scattershot response to the videos, I wish someone would have compared religion and science in the following way:
According to Hitchens, religion is bad because, whatever good it might provide in the short term, religions breed atrocities and lies. A human institution that breeds atrocities should be stopped.
Whatever good it might provide in the short run, science also breeds atrocities and lies. Consider how often scientists have been employed to make weapons of mass destruction (ones that actually exist and have even been used to actually kill actual people). Consider how often studies are debunked after they are professed to be true. Thus, science has been as disastrous, if not more disastrous as religion to the health of human society.
And yet only a fool would suggest that we should stop all scientific research in the whole world.
Rather, better scientific research will produce findings that will solve the problems that past research has caused or failed to address.
Likewise, better religion will produce a society that can overcome the suffering caused by failures to practice religion appropriately.
The problem is not that we have science, but that we often abuse what we find through science.
The problem is not that we have religions...the problem is that there are good adherents to bad religions and poor adherents to good religions.