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Follow-up Apologies for the Post on Dinesh D’Souza

I was completely taken aback when I got up this morning (I’m in London – five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time) to check my blog and Facebook pages to find that I caused a bit of a firestorm by my comments on Dinesh D’Souza when in yesterday’s post I introduced the video of the debate that I had had with him a couple of years ago.  That was not my intention at *all* and I’m non-plussed, surprised, and embarassed.   All sides of the political spectrum have reacted strongly – rabid liberals hee-hawing and rabid conservatives fuming and others weighing in one way or the other.   Woops.  Not what I had in mind.

Now that I re-read my opening comments, I see how they are being read, and they are not being read in the way that I meant them.   But I need to apologize to Dinesh and to anyone else I have offended.  My intention was *not* to badmouth Dinesh, whom I like on a personal level even if absolutely not on the political.  I have changed my comments on the Facebook page and the Blog in light of these reactions.

There may be little point, but let me explain what I was thinking when I wrote up this introduction to my debate.

Most of the people I debate are fantastic debaters who know a lot and are rhetorically very effective.  But they are not household names.  Dinesh is.  He is very well known in lots of circles for lots of reasons.   I thought it would help show the significance of our debate  (why it was significant to me if to no one else) to point out that Dinesh is such a prominent figure in American culture just now.

His prominence is because of his peaks and valleys, and I tried to indicate a little bit of the highest peaks and lowest valleys.  But this was not in order to trash him or to take any cheap shots.  What I reported was simply what I myself had read in the New York Times and other national media outlets.  I wasn’t letting a cat out of the bag.   Anyone who reads the news knows everything that I said.   The things that are negative are things that Dinesh himself has talked publicly about and admitted to (or at least that’s what’s reported in the newspapers: I don’t have any personal contact with him.)

So, in any event, my purpose was simply to show that it was interesting that I was debating a high profile figure on an important topic.  But now that I’ve seen the reaction to the comments I realize how they would look to anyone else, and have changed them.  My bad.   Full apologies.

Let me close on a more humorous note.   In my first debate with Dinesh a year or two earlier we were at my university, UNC at Chapel Hill.  A Christian organization on campus had organized the debate and wanted to go BIG with it, and so, against my inclination, they rented out the largest facility on campus, Memorial Hall, an auditorium that seats 1400 people or so.   I thought this was a huge mistake.  By my calculations, there might be 300 or 400 people interested in a debate on suffering that involved an outsider and someone they could simply take a class from if they really wanted to hear him speak.

I was nervous going into the debate.  I had never met Dinesh before, but had seen a televised debate with him and Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens, as you may know, was absolutely phenomenal as a thinker and intellectual, very quick on his feet, master of masses of information, and quite intimidating.  Dinesh held his own with him in that debate, was not intimidated in the least; he really went at Hitchens and the topic with wit, intelligence, and gusto.   And so I thought I was going to get crushed.  I had no idea what he was going to say to defend his views and to attack mine – but given how smart he was, I was sure it was going to involve points that I had no ability to answer, and I would look like an idiot.

So I was rather happy that only 300-400 people would be there to see it happen – on my own turf.

Before the debate Dinesh and I met backstage and talked for a bit about things of mutual interest (not politics!).   When it came time to go on stage, we emerged from behind the curtain and WHAM!   The *entire* auditorium was PACKED.   Oh my God.   Now I’m going to get crushed in front of 1400 people.   I later found out that there were overflow rooms with closed circuit TV.   Good grief.

Well, we had the debate, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared.  I felt like there weren’t any complete Zingers of arguments that he leveled that I had never thought of before.  The debate was cordial and lively and interesting, and people there were on both sides of the issue.  A good experience.

Afterwards we’re taken to tables in the foyer to sign books – about 20 feet away from each other.   My wife Sarah had come to the debate (she never comes to my talks; and I never go to hers; we just don’t have time.  But she came to this one) and was standing next to my while I’m signing books.   One of my graduate students came up to me, grinning, and leaned over and said, “Oh man, you CREAMED him!”   And Sarah, my own wife and love of my life, leaned over and said,  “Uh….  I’m not so sure….”

Thanks dear.   🙂

Ideas for Raising More Money on the Blog
My Debate with Dinesh D’Souza on the Problem of Suffering



  1. Avatar
    Rosekeister  August 3, 2014

    I think you could have truthfully said much worse about Dinesh D’Souza. In any case, anyone who has read your books and blog would have recognized your sense of humor in every line. The graduate student reminds me of the search engines for the internet. Did you know that if you start to type “Bart Ehrman” in Google or Bing, one of the suggestions they will give is “Bart Ehrman Refuted”? Those are the YouTube videos where the poster thinks you got “creamed.” When viewed, the only people who think you have been “Refuted” are those who don’t really understand the arguments because they go into the debate with the mindset that the Bible is inerrant based on eyewitness testimony or at least basically true. So when you speak, these listeners are running over proof-texts in their minds and believe you have been refuted. Does it bother you that there are so many people who will never understand higher criticism because they are taught to combat it with inerrancy beliefs and proof-texts? People aren’t born with these beliefs. They are taught this way of viewing the Bible and religion systematically and methodically by conservative scholars, very intelligent, highly educated scholars who dedicate their lives to teaching mythology as fact.

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    madmargie  August 3, 2014

    Personally, I didn’t see a thing wrong with your remarks. You explained quite well about who he was and what he was about (I had never heard of the man before).

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    Kabir Mahe  August 3, 2014

    Hello Bart,
    In the debate there seems to be a little hitch from your reference to the Book of Amos, there you actually refer to chapter three while you seem to be reading chapter four.

    You really did great, I specially like when you talk to depend your words from being misquoted in your present.

    good job!

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    Wilusa  August 3, 2014

    I admit I’d never heard of the man. And I’m afraid I won’t have time this weekend to look at the debate. But I know, of course, which party I’d agree with!

    In general, I don’t think “religious” people who believe all humans are “sinners,” have “original sin” on our souls, or whatever, can ever be convinced that an omnipotent, supposedly moral deity wouldn’t permit all the suffering we see in the world. They think we deserve it, and God is being magnanimous when things go well for us.

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    Hana1080  August 3, 2014

    I hadn’t read about previously Dinesh given the dearth of reading materials where I live and so thought it was a rather mangy cat being let out of this bag (this is my attempt at being humorous). Regardless, don’t worry. It appears that even geniuses make mistakes and are also humble enough to admit it.

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    rrogers  August 3, 2014

    I don’t know what you said originally, Bart. But apparently there are eyes on you. As for Dinesh, no one is perfect (but for our spouses, of course). Everyone is fallible. Many of us are morally corruptible. Thank goodness for forgiveness and forgiving people. The problem for some popular figures, however, is the distance between what they say in public and try to get away with in private. It is that awful thing called “hypocrisy”! Sometimes we get caught and have to face the music. I suspect Dinesh will rise from the ashes of his mistakes, perhaps to create new scandals. (I’m sorry to say, I have many family members who love his latest movie and are oblivious to his troubles.) As my wife says (though more politically liberal than I am), “after all, he is a cute guy.” Her attitude reminds me of that episode on Seinfeld, where Elaine does not want to know the political down-side of her new boyfriend. Some Evangelical Christians (probably some religious skeptics, too) are a little like that when it comes to the morality of their heroes and defenders. A few sites that may interest readers to get caught up on the story (I think Colbert was a little tougher on Dinesh than on you):








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    Matilda  August 3, 2014

    When someone is debating a topic like religion they come to the floor on shaky ground to start with. If people are honest and rational they will admit that religious beliefs are just misguided opinion twisted and turned to suit the religious argument. Arguing religion is just slight-of-hand that sounds like it makes sense, but in reality is just a shell game and a con. Bart, you bring common sense to this kind of discussion and you do a good job. You can not lose your argument when you come from a place of rational and educated thinking no matter how slick the religious argument seems. Keep up the good work.

  8. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 3, 2014

    Question do you know
    Xavier de guillebon
    If so is he married so you know just a follower of his and fan of his ?
    Just wondering is all ?

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    RonaldTaska  August 4, 2014

    I enjoyed and appreciated the personal anecdote about the UNC debate. I will email you a review I wrote about the “America” movie in case you have not yet seen it. I did not read your blog before you revised it, but it is fine the way it is now.

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    Wbmfishman  August 4, 2014

    Takes a big man to know he was wrong and an ever bigger one to publicly acknowledge it and apologize. My hat is off to you Dr. Ehrman.

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    shakespeare66  August 4, 2014

    I watched the debate you posted and I found it to be the very best debate I have ever seen on the world views of a Christian and an agnostic. I came away thinking that there are plausible explanations on both sides of the matter ( suffering), but that ultimately, it is very hard to accept the argument that Dinesh poses that suggests that man’s reason is just not capable enough of questioning HIS ways ( so then why did HE create us in his image–imago dei?) It was there that I thought a separation in the two arguments, and it gave the edge to you/Bart. Certainly it was one of the most entertaining debates I have ever seen. Is there a video of your first debate with him at Chapel Hill?

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    Xeronimo74  August 4, 2014

    This will probably not be posted but Dinesh is a douche, based on what he’s been doing and saying over the years!

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    maxhirez  August 4, 2014

    In a way you kind of “own” the topic of suffering in this context. No one else addresses it quite the way you do in “God’s Problem.”

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    prestonp  August 4, 2014

    the moral teachings of Jesus provide no support for – indeed they stand as a stern rebuke to – the historical injustices perpetrated in the name of Christianity– D’Souza

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2014

      I have trouble reconciling that statement with his claims justifying slavery and the slaughter of native Americans (for starters)

  15. Fearguth
    Fearguth  August 5, 2014

    Forget D’Souza. You’ve met John Cleese.

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    rivercrowman  August 5, 2014

    Bart, it appears your followers cover a wide political spectrum. … Keep up the great work.

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    mary  August 5, 2014

    Maybe I missed something, but you have nothing to apologize for as far as I can see. It is your blog correct?

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