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Debate: Is There An Afterlife? With Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, David Wolpe, and Bradley Artson, moderated by Rob Eshman

2011-04-25 1 comment

On 2011-02-17 in Los Angeles, California, there was a debate entitled “Is There An Afterlife?” featuring such prominent figures as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, David Wolpe, and Bradley Artson.

I attended this debate in person and it was very enjoyable. The topic of discussion may seem a bit silly, and in fact Sam Harris joked about this at the beginning of the debate saying, “I’ve been very worried about this, that all of you [in attendance] have given up a perfectly serviceable Tuesday evening only to hear the four of us tell you every which way that we have no idea what happens after death.” Despite this, it turned out to be very interesting.  I found each of the panelists to be articulate, entertaining, concise, and witty. The only exception in my opinion was Artson, who was rambling, boring, and just kept droning on and on, talking in circles as well as going off on tangents rather than addressing the issues put forth to him by the others. It seemed to me Artson did not belong up there with the others who are the top dogs in their field and masters of their craft. But like I said, overall the event was great. The moderator Rob Eshman did an admirable job as well, and he wrote a good summary of the whole event which you can read here: http://www.jewishjournal.com/bloggish/item/hitchens_wolpe_harris_artsen_and_the_afterlife_excerpts_20110222/ In fact, if you watched the debate and didn’t know anything about Eshman, you would have a very difficult time determining which side of the issue he agreed with, and that is definitely the mark of a good debate moderator so I laud him for that.

At one point the conversation turned to the idea of dualism, the notion that the mind exists separately from the body and that a person is more than just the “sum of their parts.” Obviously this is closely tied in with the notion of an afterlife. One (or both) of the rabbis brought up the phenomenon of near-death experiences inducing a spiritual feeling in the person going through the experience, and used this as an argument for making their case for the existence of dualism. I was surprised and disappointed that Harris (who has a doctorate in neuroscience) did not refute this argument as many have done already. There is a growing body of evidence showing that the spiritual or religious feel of a near-death experience is a manifestation of biochemical processes going on in the brain. For example, researchers have been able to artificially induce this spiritual/religious feel of a near-death experience by stimulating the brain of a person in a certain way. There’s much more to be said about that topic but I will save it for another time; I merely brought it up to express my disappointment that Harris didn’t talk more about that, for whatever reason.

One other minor thing to note is that some of the audience was having trouble hearing Hitchens who had fairly recently undergone treatment for esophageal cancer (i.e. throat cancer). This was remedied when someone finally gave him a better microphone.

Feel free to watch the debate below. For the most part the entire discussion is fascinating and entertaining, regardless of your own personal beliefs on the issues. If you are interested in the topics of religion, death, afterlife, god, or a lack thereof, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the debate as much as I did.

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Not Feeling Guilty Just Because Religion Doesn’t Go Down Smooth and Always Lets You Down 101

Spurred by the frustrations of a good friend trying to reach common ground with a loved one,  I am providing a funderful crash course.

Not Feeling Guilty Just Because Religion Doesn’t Go Down Smooth and Always Lets You Down 101 (regardless of how many spoonfuls of sugar you take it with)

Professor Teezey: Professor works as a Biomedical Engineer and has explored the issue extensively (from scientific and psychological standpoint) during world travel with much spirited discussion as well as extensive reading and exploration into the issue during a period of being between school and jobs. Officially raised catholic, your professor was a student of “Sunday School” (which he attended on Mondays), and he had a generally good experience with the organization and the people in it. Raised by a highly conservative family in very liberal areas of coastal southern California, your professor is an extremely intelligent individual who loathes contradictions and cognitive dissonance. Essentially, he has agonized over this issue so you do not have to. The professor hopes that you will no longer feel guilty for being who you are, and that any conclusions you end up drawing are your own.

Your education begins…

1)

God bless Joe Pesci:

2)

The God Delusion, preface linked below. You do not have any choice in the matter, if there was something higher than Required Reading, this is it. If you were read chapter 2 and then go to hang out with friends downtown…they would know that your mind was elsewhere. Chapter 2 is where he called me out, it was one of those zen like reading experiences where the author was talking directly to  me and me only, even though we had never met and the book was a bestseller. Essentially he said, you are on the fence, I know how you got there, and I’m going to pull you off of it.

God Delusion Preface

3)

One summertime family dinner on the patio I had this 1 v 4 debate with my parents and grandparents as the sun was setting (erstwhile my siblings looked fairly uncomfortable).

http://www.nobeliefs.com/Tripoli.htm

I was not looking for an argument but if they insisted saying things that were patently false with me there…it was only a matter of time.

4)

All the proof you need:

5)

http://www.godisimaginary.com/

6)

Split brain patient: 1/2 atheist, 1/2 Christian

7)

This piece of ABC programming is a good representation of the debate today: the chosen ones, i.e. zealous writers and actors, making insipid attempts to stay one step ahead of those meddling scientists.

8)

Do you fear that you are going to isolate yourself from other people? Don’t worry, not all of them:

http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/

http://skeptoid.com/

ThoseOnboard will take your poor, your huddled masses…they just better be smoking hot though.

9)

TV Shows you can watch that will not alienate you:

Penn & Teller’s Bullshit

Derren Brown (watch anything from Derren Brown)

10)

My advice:  Do not try to think of all the people in your life and then try to devise a way not to piss any of them off. Your concern is never to worry that other people feel threatened by your views.  Allow yourself t come to your own understanding. Don’t forget to check the comments here, my cohorts will probably put up better links than I have. Feel free to post as well if you are new.

Categories: Life, Psychology, Science Tags:

Dawkins is at it again

I took a break from reading The God Delusion, flipped on the radio, and heard a familiar voice; Richard Dawkins was talking to conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager about his latest book that just came out The Greatest Show On Earth.  Soldier on, Dawkins.  Soldier on.

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