Would the World Be Better Off Without Religion?

Jan 28, 2012

NPR presents an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate about religion's role in human history.

In the words of Blaise Pascal, mathematician and Catholic, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction."

Does religion breed intolerance, violence, and the promotion of medieval ideas?

Or should we concede that overall, it has been a source for good, giving followers purpose, while encouraging morality and ethical behavior?

Before the Oxford-style debate, moderated by ABC News' John Donvan, the audience at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts voted 52 percent in favor of the motion and 26 percent against, with 22 percent undecided. Afterward, 59 percent of the audience agreed the world would be better off without religion, while 31 percent disagreed — making the side arguing for the motion the winners of the debate. Ten percent of the audience remained undecided.

A journalist, screenwriter and director, Matthew Chapman is the co-founder and president of Science Debate, an organization seeking to get political candidates to debate important science policy issues. The great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, Chapman is the author of two books, Trials Of The Monkey: An Accidental Memoir and 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, OxyContin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania. His most recent film, The Ledge, was accepted into competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and deals with the ultimately fatal feud between an atheist and an evangelical Christian.

A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher and professor, has written more than 20 books on philosophy, religion and reason, including Against All Gods and The Good Book: A Secular Bible. Previously a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, Grayling is now master of the New College of the Humanities, an independent university college in London. For nearly 10 years, he was the honorary secretary of the principal British philosophical association, the Aristotelian Society, and a trustee of the London Library.


Dinesh D'Souza is president of The King's College and author of What's So Great About Christianity. A former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, D'Souza served as an Olin fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and as a Rishwain scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Since releasing What's So Great About Christianity in 2008, D'Souza has gone on to debate atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Peter Singer, Daniel Dennett and Michael Shermer.

David Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has been named the No. 1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek. He teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles, and previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, and Hunter College. He is the author of seven books, including Why Faith Matters.