(The previous blog details the open letters that Dawkins and Boteach have sent each other – this is more my comment on it)
The 1996 debate at Oxford University with four participants, with Dawkins on one side and Boteach on the other “Do we need God to be good?” is available on Youtube. And a friend of mine was there at the debate. Dawkins has admitted that he does not remember the debate, but that such evidence would show that it took place and that he only forgot about Boteach being other than a chairperson.
But as Dawkins remarks:
But my point is, WHO CARES? What does it matter? It is no big deal exactly how many times you were chairman and how many times you were a debater. It is no big deal whether a debate took place in St Catherine’s at all.
Dawkins says at the end:
If we really did have a debate in St Catherine’s I am happy to apologise for forgetting it, although I don’t think it is much to apologise for. I hope you will look in your heart and decide whether there is anything you should be apologising for.
What though is more at issue is when Dawkins remarks on the tone of voice that Boteach uses when he talks:
I was astounded by what I heard. Gone was the urbane, humorous, polite Shmuley that I had known at Oxford, and with whom I had had lunch. What I heard over that loudspeaker was a shrieking rant, delivered with an intemperate stridency of which Hitler himself might have been proud. [emphasis added] As I listened, I was shocked by your lamentable, but vocally confident ignorance of Darwinian evolution. And even more shocked by your shrill and vicious attack upon me.
That comes out even more during the Oxford University debate – Boteach really is shouting out when he becomes passionate when talking, and his voice does become shrill. It is an annoying style. However Boteach does find that comparison with Hitler rather uncomfortable:
Perhaps it was providence that your letter was posted on your website on World Holocaust Remembrance Day. Are you really so callous? Have you developed such uncontrollable loathing to people of faith that you would equate a Rabbi who was your friend and who hosted you at his home and at so many public forums and debates to a monster who killed six million Jews and bombed the people of England mercilessly?
Here I would say that from a PR viewpoint do not mention an opponent who is Jewish as having any feature that is similar to Hitler. If only because your other comments will be drowned out in the shrill chorus that will come at you. And it is a below the belt reference that a top intellectual does not need to make to thrust their point home.
However Dawkins is not saying that Boteach is Hitler or in all details is comparable to Hitler. As Dawkins replies:
I did not say you think like Hitler, or hold the same opinions as Hitler, or do terrible things to people like Hitler. Obviously and most emphatically you don’t. I said you shriek like Hitler. That is the only point of resemblance, and it is true. You shriek and yell and rant like Hitler. Not all the time, of course. You also tell very good jokes, and tell them brilliantly. You deservedly get lots of laughs, as a good comedian should. But throughout your speeches you periodically rise to climaxes of shrieking rant, and that is just like Hitler. Incidentally, Dinesh D’Souza yells and shrieks in just the same way. I suppose it impresses some people, although it is hard to believe.
There are so many things that need to be discussed – the state of science education, the secular state, the significance of religion in public and private life, and how evolution works. When it ends up becoming a “I said you said”, “I am so hurt”, “learn something” it makes for good chair throwing but the issues get missed as people duck.