I listened to the debate between Dan Dennett and Dinesh D'Souza at work today (I have my own office, so I have the luxury of being able to listen to such things while working). Richarddawkins.net has a link to all of the segments of the debate here.
I am not going to comment on the entire debate, but rather focus on a couple of things D'Souza said that cut to the heart of the problem that I have with religious faith. Conveniently enough, D'Souza's troubling comments appear at the beginning of both of the clips below, the first during D'Souza's formal debate with Dennett, and the second in response to a question from one of the audience during the Q&A segment.
D'Souza's argument is one that I have heard before. When disbelievers such as myself ask for concrete evidence of the existence of God, we are told that God is something that lies outside of the realm of our ability to comprehend. Our understanding of the cosmos is limited by our five senses. D'Souza basically is saying that we can't expect to see God, smell God, touch God, taste God, or hear God (at least in the sense that we hear sounds with our ears) because God is greater than the power of these senses to detect him.
But here is my problem with that. Fervent believers feel they can make claims on the rest of us based on their religious faith. A Bible thumping Christian or a Quran waving Muslim can tell me with 100% confidence that I will burn in hell in the afterlife if I do not submit to a belief in their particular religion, but when I ask for tangible evidence, I am told that God doesn't work that way. As the young man questioning D'Souza at the beginning of the second segment provided above says, that is just way too easy and convenient.
I am perfectly willing to admit that given my limited human powers of perception, it is possible that there might be some intelligence that created the universe. I don't think it is likely, but it would be arrogant of me to claim with 100% certainty that there is no greater power than us in the universe. I don't know if that makes me a weak atheist or even an agnostic. But just as it is arrogant to claim with 100% certainty that there is no possibility of a creator, it is equally arrogant in my opinion for a true religious believer to claim with 100% certainty that there not only is a creator, but that they know what this creator expects from us, and that there will be penalties for not complying, while simultaneously arguing that the existence of this creator is something "that is beyond the sphere of human experience."
I'm sorry, but if a religious believer expects me to accept on faith that the creator of the universe impregnated a virgin in the Middle East some 2,000 years ago and that I will suffer for an eternity in the afterlife for the crime of not believing it happened, then I can't take that seriously without some really strong evidence to back it up.
Let me put it this way. If you got into a scuffle with someone and then was told from a third party that the other person was in the Italian Mafia, you would be justified in being at least a little worried that either your life or the life of your family was in jeopardy. If you did some investigating, you might even find out the wiseguy's name, what family he works for, what crimes they have committed and so forth. But if instead you were told that the person you tussled with was a bigshot in the Finnish Mafia, would you take it seriously? You could do some searching for the Finnish Mafia and not find any records of any ethnic Finn mobsters or any articles or reports about any ethnic Finnish crime families operating in the United States. Granted, it wouldn't definitively prove that there was not a Finnish Mafia, but it would make its existence highly unlikely. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that the person who told you the information was either seriously mistaken or he was playing a joke on you.
As far as I am concerned at present, the God of the Bible and the Quran is about as real and scary to me as a Finnish mobster. However, if I wake up one morning and find a bloody horse's head in my bed with a Nokia phone shoved up one of its nostrils, I guarantee you I will be afraid of the Finnish mob!