The Astonishing Ignorance and Dishonesty of Dinesh D’Souza

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 28, 2009 in General Atheism

There are moments in The Office when something I know Steve Carell’s character is about to say or do something so cringingly stupid and awkward that I literally have to pause the video (I only watch TV online) to prepare myself. I shield my eyes and clench my body up and then when he finishes his terrifyingly ignorant act I have to recover with a long groan: “Ohhhhhhhh Goooooooodddddd Nooooooooo…”

I have to do some of the same things to survive the onslaught of stupidity that is Dinesh D’Souza.

dineshI try to avoid writing about Dinesh D’Souza because his existence makes me despair for the human race. But writing a rant against Dinesh is just so damn easy, and all this philosophical writing I’ve been doing makes me tired. So let me shoot an apple in a barrel today.

One of the most vomit-inducing passages of D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity is this:

In sum, the death of Christianity must also mean the gradual extinction of values such as human dignity, the right against torture, and the rights of equal treatment asserted by women, minorities, and the poor. Do we want to give these up also? If we cherish the distinctive ideals of Western civilization, and believe as I do that they have enormously benefited our civilization and our world, then whatever our religious convictions, and even if we have none, we will not rashly try to hack at the religious roots from which they spring.

Dinesh thinks that only Western Christian culture has values of human dignity, a right against torture, and equal rights for women, minorities, and the poor. In one debate, Dinesh also said that Jesus invented the concept of compassion. Woah.

I see two possible explanations for this.

Perhaps Dinesh is just astonishingly ignorant and bigoted. Perhaps he has no knowledge whatever of other cultures. Perhaps he has no idea that human dignity, an aversion to torture, equal rights, and of course compassion can be found in many cultures around the world, including many that preceded Christianity (Jainism, Buddhism, etc.).

This is possible. His ignorance on other topics he claims to have studied is widely attested. For example, Dinesh claims to have studied Islam for 4 years and to have read the Qur’an, but in a debate it was revealed that he didn’t even know how the surahs of the Qur’an are arranged. If you merely skim the Qur’an or read its Wikipedia page, you notice that the surahs are arranged by length: longer ones at the front, shorter ones at the end (just like the letters of Paul in the New Testament).

He’s also one of many conservatives who apparently don’t realize The Colbert Report is satire. Appearing as a guest, D’Souza promoted his book The Enemy at Home, where he argues that liberals are responsible for 9/11.

Colbert began by asking:

I’ve been trying to figure this one out for a while. Walk me through it: How did the liberals plan 9/11?

The audience laughed, but D’Souza seems unaware it was a mocking question:

Well first of all, the liberals convinced Jimmy Carter to withdraw support for a valuable ally, the Shah of Iran… and who did we get? Komenini. Instead of a bad guy, we got the worse guy… [And] in the 1990s, the radical Muslims launched a bunch of attacks… President Clinton did absolutely nothing. Bin Laden said, ‘You know what? The United States is a bunch of corwards.’ And that’s why he says he was emboldened to strike on 9/11.

Colbert responds by parodying D’Souza’s position with an absurdity:

But is all the responsibility Carter’s and Clinton’s? Doesn’t some of it lie at FDR’s doorstep?

The audience laughs, but D’Souza takes it seriously:

Indirectly, yes, and here’s why…

The audience explodes with laughter, and Colbert says:

Okay, I can’t wait. Can I guess? Is it because we never got to see him standing up, so America doesn’t stand up for its principles?

D’Souza continues, oblivious:

FDR gave away Eastern Europe, then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Muslims had to fight back, that’s where Bin Laden got his start.

Um, yeah…

Dinesh is also astonishingly ignorant of American history. That would be fine, except that he makes significant claims of knowledge about American history. Here’s a clip from What’s So Great About America?

Let’s begin by asking whether the white man was guilty of genocide against the native Indians. As a matter of fact, he was not…

Allan Masri responds:

His extraordinary thesis: The American Indians were wiped out by epidemics, not genocide. But even a cursory reading of American history reveals numerous genocidal events, among them

  • 1637. Puritans massacre 500-600 Pequod Indians at Mystic Fort.
  • 1835. 4,000 Cherokee die during forced march from Carolinas to Oklahoma known as the Trail of Tears.
  • 1864. American Cavalry murders 134 at Sand Creek, Colorado Territory.
  • 1868. American Cavalry murders 103 Cheyenne at Washita.
  • 1890. American Cavalry murders 146 Sioux at Wounded Knee.

These events were genocidal under the definition established by the UN General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948.

Okay, so one plausible explanation for Dinesh D’Souza’s statements that Christianity invented compassion and that only Christian culture defends human dignity is that Dinesh D’Souza is stupid.

There is another possibility.

Perhaps Dinesh has visited other cultures and has read some history and he knows that Christianity didn’t invent compassion and that many cultures defend human dignity, and he is simply lying.

This also seems plausible.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Marco June 28, 2009 at 11:56 pm

Debunking Christianity has an article on him as well. John Loftus apparently received an invitiation to debate him. But I guess that’s what caused you to write this?

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Michael June 29, 2009 at 1:42 am

I think he must be lying. In several debates I’ve seen him say something like “evolution can’t explain X” (X being for instance altruism to people who AREN’T your kin). The opponent provided a decent explanation yet in other debates he asks the same question again implying that he’s open to the idea but has just never even heard of a potentially reasonable explanation.

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Silas June 29, 2009 at 3:26 am

That is hilarious! :D

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Rick June 29, 2009 at 6:44 am

During the run-up to the 2008 election, a interesting study was published about the effects of trying to correct misconceptions with proper information. In poorly informed or conservative test subjects, the presentation of corrective (and factually accurate) information contradicting a misperception actually led to a stronger misbelief than before. This is consistent with the thesis that in seeking to inform themselves about particular areas of life, one’s search is not impartial but goal-seeking: that in politics and religion, your typical adherant filters all information through a bias that tends to skew data in favor of the already held belief.
 
So if D’Souza insists on denying genocide and evolution, misinterpreting facts about the Q’uran, and holds fast to his belief that christianity is the last thread holding western society together, then we might also consider another hypothesis: That he’s suffering under the same psychosis as described above. When confronted with accurate information, instead of causing him to question his misperceptions, the data cause him to confirm them even more.
 
You can find the study here [duke.edu]. It’s an interesting read.

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Reginald Selkirk June 29, 2009 at 7:25 am

In sum, the death of Christianity must also mean the gradual extinction of values such as human dignity, the right against torture…

Because no one in the history of Christianity ever tortured, especially not during the inquisitions and the witch hunts, which were fueled by Christian power and doctrine.

FDR gave away Eastern Europe, then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Muslims had to fight back, that’s where Bin Laden got his start.

Note how he conveniently fails to mention which party was in power when the U.S. helped fund and arm those Muslims in fighting back. This is the sort of detail which helps one decide whether a writer so egregiously wrong is simply ignorant, or dishonest.
 

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lukeprog June 29, 2009 at 7:37 am

Marco,

I think I heard about the Loftus-D’Souza debate invitation, but this post was written months ago, so it’s not in response to that. :)

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Reginald Selkirk June 29, 2009 at 7:39 am

D’Souza on Galileo, the Flat Earth, and Heliocentrism:
The Great Flat-Earth Myth

Posted Nov 11th 2007 10:46PM by Dinesh D’Souza
Have you heard the one about how the dumb, ignorant Christians for centuries regarded the earth as flat until brilliant scientists like Galileo came along with their new telescopes and other inventions to show that it is round? This account of scientific progress can be found in textbooks and it has also cemented itself in the popular mind.

D’Souza is clearly wrong here on his history of science. Galileo fought for heliocentrism, not the round earth. D’Souza gets hauled up for this by commenters, and tries to regain the upper hand:

Postscript: No sooner did I post than the atheists were in there, seeking to divert attention from their Flat Earth myth by claiming that Galileo is actually famous for being the first to demonstrate the truth of heliocentrism. Even here, they are wrong on two counts: a) It was Copernicus who advocated heliocentrism more than a half-century before Galileo and b) Galileo’s proofs of heliocentrism were mostly wrong. For instance, Galileo argued that one reason we know the earth goes around the sun is because of the ocean tides. Galileo thought it was the earth’s motion that caused the water in the oceans to slosh around! Actually, the tides are the result of the moon’s gravitational force acting upon the earth. So Galileo was right about heliocentrism, but largely for the wrong reasons. Count on our “enlightened” atheists to keep getting their facts wrong.

Here D’Souza is less than gracious in acknowledging his initial error, then is very selective in relaying Galileo’s case for heliocentrism. Some of it was entirely correct and convincing; such as that Jupiter has moons which orbit it rather than the Earth, and that the phases of Venus are visible through a telescope, proving that it orbits the Sun and not the Earth.

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TK June 29, 2009 at 10:11 am

Do Ray Comfort next.

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Taranu June 29, 2009 at 10:26 am

Every time I see Dinesh I can’t help thinking about Mickey Mouse.

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Ben June 29, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I don’t normally approve of calling Christians liars since typically the evidence only indicates some of the many subjective things that go on with people who just disagree, but I must admit that Dinesh seems like a good candidate for the “pious fraud” category on occasion.  I noted that on his blog a while ago that he was willing to deliberately change the subject in a public debate with Hitchens, because he didn’t have a good answer to a question he asked.  He admitted it on his blog when he did have what he considered a good answer, but that makes me wonder what other kinds of things he’s willing to do to look good on stage.  Though it is also possible that he keeps that kind of thing confined to that superficial level of stage politics and not actual arguments.    Still not definitive.
Ben

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drj June 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head, Ben… he seems more about looking good on stage than anything else…. the few articles I have read from seem to be the same kind of posturing.
 
In debates he is bad about leaving points unaddressed, or pretending he has addressed points that he hasnt, changing subjects, attacking straw-men etc.   He does these things in a way that seems really blatant and obvious… but I suppose the strategy is to hope that his oft sermon-like rhetoric will carry the day for him, which I think it often does.
 

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Hylomorphic June 29, 2009 at 6:46 pm

We’re just scratching the surface of D’Souza’s misrepresentations. His objection to Hume’s argument against miracles is not only an ad hominem, but depends for its persuasive power on the reader 1) not having read Hume and 2) thinking Hume must have been stupid.
 
The mind boggles at how poor his explanation of Hume is. One has to conclude that D’Souza is either stupid or mendacious.

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Haecceitas June 30, 2009 at 2:38 am

I’m not a big fan of D’Souza, but it seems to me that every single one of the criticisms that you’ve made would find a parallel in certain atheist debaters as well. Surely you’re not going to claim that Christopher Hitchens, for example, never changes the subject, misrepresents the opponent’s arguments, exaggerates the evils done by religion, etc.

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Reginald Selkirk June 30, 2009 at 6:05 am

Haecceitas: but it seems to me that every single one of the criticisms that you’ve made would find a parallel in certain atheist debaters as well…

Nice attempt to turn a post about D’Souza into complaints about other people who are not D’Souza.

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Lorkas June 30, 2009 at 6:28 am

Haecceitas: I’m not a big fan of D’Souza, but it seems to me that every single one of the criticisms that you’ve made would find a parallel in certain atheist debaters as well.

So what? Luke criticizes them, too. A dumbass is a dumbass, regardless of their philosophy.

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Ben June 30, 2009 at 7:01 am

Haecceitas: I’m not a big fan of D’Souza, but it seems to me that every single one of the criticisms that you’ve made would find a parallel in certain atheist debaters as well. Surely you’re not going to claim that Christopher Hitchens, for example, never changes the subject, misrepresents the opponent’s arguments, exaggerates the evils done by religion, etc.

Well to defend my above contribution, the difference is that D’Souza admitted to *intentionally* changing the subject when he was stumped.  I’m sure just about everyone is guilty of inadvertently bad debate form on stage, but they don’t all necessarily do it on purpose.  Maybe they do and just don’t admit it (or I haven’t seen it yet) and that makes D’Souza just the honest one.  But I left the door open for that as well.
Ben

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lukeprog June 30, 2009 at 7:03 am

Haecceitas,

There are certainly atheist debaters who pull these tricks as well. Perhaps I shall cover the ignorance and dishonesty of some famous atheist debater, sometime!

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Haecceitas June 30, 2009 at 8:29 am

Reginald Selkirk
“Nice attempt to turn a post about D’Souza into complaints about other people who are not D’Souza.”

I’m only calling for balance. Luke’s attack on D’Souza seems just a little bit exaggerated, even though he has valid points.

Lorkas
“So what? Luke criticizes them, too. A dumbass is a dumbass, regardless of their philosophy.”

I admit that he seems very capable of self-critical and peer-critical analysis on points where many other atheists would just cheer for people who use bad arguments against religion. But do you think that he would call rhetorical point-scoring against the evils of religion by Hitchens or Harris as “vomit-inducing”? And do you think that he’d say that their existence “makes me despair for the human race” if they made the exact same amount of blunders and presented similar half-truths as D’Souza? Now don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously easier to react strongly to such things when they’re used to support a viewpoint that one disagrees with. For Luke to do that is only human. But it’s the fact that he’s displayed something better in the past that made me to comment on this.

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Martin July 1, 2009 at 10:28 pm

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Martin July 1, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Human dignity – you search in vain to find anything like systemic and institutionalized care in non Judeo-Christian cultures. Its not difficult to understand why – one reading of the Gospels should do it.
What would the world look like if everyone were a dedicated disciple of Jesus? People the world over striving to extinguish every last trace of hatred from their hearts, refusing to bow before the moral prudence of the social, economic and religious authorities, forgiving while tortured and murdered as an affront to that corrupt order.
What would the world like if every last trace of the memory of Jesus were extirpated? The knowledge that humans were made in God’s image and likeness and that that image was of a God of love. That humans were regarded so highly that God became one to save them all. The knowledge of who was one’s neighbor and what duties we have towards them. The call to universal charity and elevation of forgiveness over condemnation.
Prima facie its simply absurd to presume that secular analogues can be found for Christianity. Briefly Christianity provides the
Sanction: what happens to you if you don’t do the good – ultimate judgment.
Inspiration: why do the good? Salvation and eternal beatitude.
Content: what is the good? Jesus in word and deed. His affirmation and extension of the moral law as understood then and prohibitions on misguided takes on the moral law as then understood.
There is no concept of inherent human dignity found elsewhere. Certainly not in Islam, certainly not in Hinduism (the caste system is ample evidence here) and Buddhism’s history of social neglect  follows generally well from its creed.
Aside from Dinesh’s response to the anti-Christian polemics of the new atheists I think you’d find him quietly asking what gives such confidence that the future will be rosy with Christ? Certainly a cultural authority tasked with education that had to say ‘there is no such thing as right and wrong, but we must condition in you biological reflexes that produce emotions conducive to communal solidarity (contract keeping etc) but which are neither good or bad but must be seen as such’ is a poor substitute for the Gospels. Clearly the honest thing to do in that situation is rebel from such an absurd authority.
Dinesh would wonder really if you weren’t a utopian.
It seems to me before one can say with confidence how a new moral and cultural program will succeed without Christianity, one really needs to know what Christianity’s entrance into history actually changed. Then you can say properly what things would be like without it.
So the book “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies” by the very highly regarded David B. Hart, should at least be engaged with. An intro essay into some of the tracks the book takes is here:
http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/12/christ-and-nothing-28
You wouldn’t want to give the impression of conforming to that group of young men and women happy clapping their way into the Jesusless future Luke.
Mine was a brief visit but if you fit a pattern it is a very common one. It  presents as one in which  idols of a childhood faith have to be broken, by one who knows enough that an authentic love (of God) can’t be inherited. This does not mean, and this has deadly importance,  that this process needs to turn into public calumny – that looks much too much like suiting a certain “you know who” ‘s interests (I hope you have a good working definition of treachery and meditate on it – really). Particularly given it is exceedingly fortunate that the world view you have ‘discovered’ as true coincides perfectly with a preference for the prevailing standards of sexual propriety. Which are utterly permissive. Its appears from here pretty post facto. But I psychologize *shrug* forget all that – you won’t change, not until the plot is ripe, and a searing wisdom is visited upon you. I can only pray it becomes wisdom and not despair. We know who wants the latter for you.
Best wishes.
 

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Steven Carr July 2, 2009 at 4:16 am

MARTIN
What would the world look like if everyone were a dedicated disciple of Jesus?
 
CARR
Let us hope that not everybody in the world becomes Jewish.
 
Let us remember the wise words of Jesus, when he compared his God to the wickedest of human tyrants, who forgave somebody their debt and then had people tortured to repay a debt that he had declared no longer existed.
Matthew 18
In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
 
God is like a wicked tyrant who has people tortured.
 
Jesus said so….

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Reginald Selkirk July 2, 2009 at 6:07 am

Martin: Human dignity –

1) This seems almost entirely off-topic.
2) It is mostly a lengthy argument from consequences.
3) Your summary of the moral stance of various religions is hardly fair or accurate. No mention of the Crusades, or the witch-hunts. And everyone knows that Jainism is the best religion.
4) Your description of nontheistic ethics is nothing short of slanderous.

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Jeff H July 2, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Certainly a cultural authority tasked with education that had to say ‘there is no such thing as right and wrong, but we must condition in you biological reflexes that produce emotions conducive to communal solidarity (contract keeping etc) but which are neither good or bad but must be seen as such’ is a poor substitute for the Gospels. Clearly the honest thing to do in that situation is rebel from such an absurd authority.

This is a pathetic description of secular ethics, which has been around and developed for longer than Christianity has been. Just because the Gospels aren’t true does not mean there automatically is no right and wrong. Not to mention, is education not supposed to teach the truth? Oh wait, no, we just want to teach what keeps everyone in line, apparently…

Particularly given it is exceedingly fortunate that the world view you have ‘discovered’ as true coincides perfectly with a preference for the prevailing standards of sexual propriety. Which are utterly permissive.

Lol, except you’re arguing this from within your own moral guidelines. If it turns out that there really are no objective standards of sexual propriety, then what’s the problem? Should we invent them simply because they make us feel more holier-than-thou? Of course, I’m not saying that I believe there are no objective standards of such things, but you can’t argue that “I don’t like the fact that there are no moral standards, therefore there are moral standards.”

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Martin July 3, 2009 at 4:45 pm

should read “what gives such confidence that the future will be rosy withOUT Christ?”

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danielg July 6, 2009 at 4:47 pm

>> LUKE:  Dinesh thinks that only Western Christian culture has values of human dignity, a right against torture, and equal rights for women, minorities, and the poor.
No Luke, this is your problem with Dinesh.  He puts it in a less than favorable package for you, and you easily, if not willfully misunderstand.
What he really means is, as Alvin Schmidt (How Christianity Changed the World) and Rodney Stark often put it, the value of human life, of women, and abolition, never rose to prominence in any culture except that of Chrsitianity in modern history.  The Greeks and Romans valued human life very little, practiced slavery and infanticide, and the eastern and African cultures were not, and even today, are not much better.
He is rightly arguing that Christianity is the ideology that created all of these in our western culture, and in the world, as standards rather than one-off sects that had little influence on national or worldwide culture.

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Bill Maher May 7, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Danielg. Christianity only started valuing those things after it got beaten back in the renaissance.

Christians even after that still openly practiced lots of terrible things (slavery, no women or minority rights, the conquistadors massacre of the American Indians) and used biblical sanction to do so.

I live in the south and have heard klansmen quote the bible as justification for using terror against black people and have seen abortion clinics bombed for similar circumstances.

It is just a wrong assumption.

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