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Believe in doubt
How a critical mind poisons nothing
cover story Sam George

Human beings have an innate need to believe dialogue in our culture and decided to fill it with Fixed Point’s mission is what interests me, in
in something. We are capable of achieving things, well-founded argument. “I just felt like, that in that it stands firmly in the surety of its belief, but
great things, things well beyond our means, if some way the academic world was a microcosm rather than denouncing opposing arguments that
only we believe that it is possible. Conversely, we of what is happening in American society overall challenge them, they have chosen to open their
can be drawn into some of the most reprehensible and that there is very little sustained development views up for criticism by some very well respected
behavior mankind is capable of by belief. Some of and exchange of ideas on things that affect all of thinkers. “We as a society are becoming increas-
the greatest humanitarian acts and gravest human us. Instead what we have and what is passed off ingly fragmented and fractured and unwilling
atrocities have been caused by certitude. The as dialogue is really something like Crossfire, or to expose our own views to any kind of scrutiny,”
power of belief has brought sick people back from Hannity and Colmes—where we put you in the says Taunton. “I’m of the view that if Christianity
the brink of death. Sleep-walkers who believe that middle, and we shout at you, literally and figura- is true, then let’s be confident about it, let’s put
their dreams are true can leap through closed sec- tively, from the right and from the left. Where no it out there, let’s talk about it. I don’t have all the
ond-story windows, hit the ground and keep run- one’s mind is changed. It’s the O’Reilly thing— answers. But I think that we should be willing to
ning. In fervent defiance, monks can sit calmly in you get the last word but really I don’t give you the submit the Christian faith. Let’s take it out into the
the midst of the fire that destroys them. last word. I felt a real conviction that there was world, a confident, muscular Christianity. And
The dialogue about belief and faith here in need for someone to take interest in this, specifi- let’s discuss it.”
Birmingham, especially religious faith, tends to cally in our case, issues of faith and culture, into Taunton didn’t always feel so confident in his
be a bit one-sided. Sure, there are a number of the marketplace and have a reasonable, rational foundation. “When Fixed Point was started in
religions practicing here, but I think we can all discussion about how these things affect us.” 2004, it was really just me working out of the
agree that Christianity is the dominant force in When selecting speakers for debates, Taunton house, and I had a gracious board, a bunch of guys
Birmingham’s religious culture. There is very little tries to choose representative speakers that most who believed in what I was doing. More than I did
room for questioning, for dissonance. Very quietly, would agree are worthy of holding up their respec- maybe, because I really wasn’t sure that I’d stay
one Birmingham think-tank has been laboring to tive ideologies. “If I’m debating an issue,” says employed. I just thought, what have I done? I’ve
change that, though not for the reasons you might Taunton, “I want to choose someone that I think gone from a job working a paycheck to one where
Fixed Point founder Larry
think. you will feel is a fair representative of your view, I’d have to raise support. And is there really a need
Taunton will moderate Tuesday’s debate
The Fixed Point Foundation, a Christian orga- and that I haven’t just set up a straw man, some- for this? And it quickly became clear that we had
between Hitchens and Berlinski.
nization that according to their mission statement one who’s easily knocked down, or someone who struck a chord in the culture, that people across
is “committed to publicly defending Christianity is on the fringe, someone that you would say to me, the spectrum were interested in the things we
through education, events, and the development look, that guy, he’s milquetoast, he isn’t anyone Scientific Pretensions”, an agnostic secular Jew were doing.”
of innovative resources that empower Christians who really represents me.” who is one of the chief proponents of Intelligent In particular, Christian-affiliated Republican or-
and challenge skeptics,” was founded in 2004 by Design.
Fixed Point’s current executive director Larry
Taunton. You probably haven’t heard of them.
They’ve kept a purposefully low profile. “Only
recently have we really made an effort to get our We as a society are becoming increasingly fragmented and fractured
name out there,” says Taunton. “Otherwise, we
sort of stayed below the radar just a little bit, and
that was really just because I didn’t want it to be and unwilling to expose our own views to any kind of scrutiny.
about us promoting ourselves, per se. I wanted
it to be more about issues or the speakers or the
events themselves.” Fixed Point’s latest attempt at such a meeting Fixed Point loves Christopher Hitchens ganizations began to extend overtures to Taunton,
It’s understandable for Taunton to want to ac- of the minds, which Taunton will moderate, is in particular, having brought him to speak but he is careful to remain separate from political
cent his speakers and events. In the last six years, a showdown between Christopher Hitchens, a many times, though this time his appearance ideals. “I think that Christianity in America
the Fixed Point Foundation has managed to put self-proclaimed “anti-theist”, and author of the is clouded by his recent diagnosis of deadly has become so heavily politicized, and I always
together a series of debates that have featured bestseller “God is not Great: How Religion Poi- esophageal cancer. Says Taunton, “Immediately find every time I wanted to exchange, to enter a
some of the superstar intellectuals of religious and sons Everything,” and Parisian David Berlinski, after he was diagnosed with cancer, and before discussion with someone that didn’t agree with
atheist thought, including Richard Dawkins and author of “The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its it became public, he told me that he had the me, that the moment you use particular words
John Lennox. Taunton saw the absence of real cancer and that he was planning to keep his they immediately think you’re coming at them
engagement and I was really surprised by both with an avalanche of republican political ideals,
of those pronouncements, particularly when he and I constantly found myself trying to separate
told me just how grave his diagnosis was. I said, my faith from some of the baggage that had been
Christopher, maybe you want to think on that attached to us in the culture.”
just a little bit, because your attitude may change
once you start the chemotherapy. He has been The Hitchens/Berlinski debate, which I’m sure
adamant since the diagnosis—no, I am going to will be eminently entertaining if nothing else, is en-
keep my commitment to you, I am going to do titled “Does Atheism Poison Everything” and will
this event, I want to do this event.” be held on September 7 at the Sheraton Hotel in
Hitchens’ illness also poses an interesting Birmingham at 7 p.m. There will be a pre-debate
dilemma for David Berlinski, who according to luncheon and book signing at 11:30 and a reception
Taunton is “a savage debater. The guy is one of at 5 p.m. Tickets to all three together are a prohibi-
the wittiest, and most articulate people that I’ve tive $125, but Fixed Point is a 501c3 without a huge
ever met. But David is in an awkward position. endowment, so at least you know they need the
And he has said to me, ‘You know Larry, I don’t money. Individually, the luncheon/book signing
know how I feel about debating a guy who’s as is $50, the reception is $75 and the debate is a
sick as Christopher Hitchens is.’ So David’s very relieving $25. So, the debate alone is not out of the
aware of Christopher’s health, and mindful of it means of your everyday inquiring intellectual with
in an appropriate way, and I think it’s his desire to a need to argue. For more information visit www.
engage Christopher in as friendly a manner as he fixed-point.org.
can. And for Christopher’s part, Christopher said,
‘Look, don’t tell him I don’t want him going easy Sam George is the managing editor of Birming-
on me at all. It will make me mad if he does.’ So it ham Weekly. Send your comments to editor@
Eminent skeptic: Atheist and polemicist Debating by design: David Berlinski, should be a very interesting evening.” bhamweekly.com.
Christopher Hitchens will argue for secular a secular Jew and agnostic, is a major
society at the Sheraton Hotel on Sept. 7. proponent of Intelligent Design.

september 2 - september 9, 2010 B I R M I N G H A M W E E K LY