Tonight!: Livestreamed Intelligence-Squared Debate on God and Woo with Deepakity Chopra, Michael Shermer, Heather Berlin, and Anook Kumar

Lucky you! Tonight you get to watch, for free—and it costs $40 to attend live—a debate at this website, which runs from 7:00 to 8:45 pm this evening, Eastern US time. Just click here or on the screenshot below to see the livestreamed fun.

Here’s the topic, which is just plain weird:

Does God have a place in 21st century human affairs? For many, the answer is an unapologetic yes. Belief in a higher power, they argue, is the foundation of human consciousness and the soul of all social, political, and scientific progress. Further, some claim, humans are biologically predisposed to embrace religion and require faith to live moral lives. Others are far more skeptical. For them, adherence to faith and religious tradition serves only to fracture communities and prevent humanity from embracing a more enlightened, reasoned, and just social order. As we look to the future in uncertain times, should spirituality and religion play a central role in human evolution, innovation, and discovery? Or has God become obsolete?

On the “no” side we have Michael Shermer, whom most of you have heard of, along with Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist and science popularizer. Defending the need for God we have Deepakity (I’ll be curious to see what kind of “god” he conceives of) along with Anoop Kumar, described as “a board-certified emergency physician practicing in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where he also leads meditation gatherings for clinicians.”

Were I on Shermer and Berlin’s team, I suppose I’d start by asking them at the outset to demonstrate that God exists. If they can’t prove that to the audience’s satisfaction, then there’s no need to consider whether God’s become obsolete. Unless, that is, Deepakity and Kumar take the position that it doesn’t matter whether God exists, but that we need some form of a “higher power” to sustain human existence. But dragging in “human evolution” seems totally irrelevant, as our ideas are evolving far faster than our genes.

Or Shermer and Berlin could just say “Scandinavia, Q.E.D.” and sit down.

UPDATE: Shermer was apparently going to use this strategy, as he noted in a tweet:

“Estimable”! I like that!

h/t: Frank


  1. ChrisH
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    That topic is tooth-pullingly awful.

  2. glen1davidson
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    It’s like asking, do we need woo in our lives?

    If it exists, perhaps you can get it. If it doesn’t, well, too bad (or maybe good).

    Suppose that belief in God is good for us (for the sake of argument), are we justified in believing it? Do we have the right to believe nonsense, and, much more importantly, do we have the right to teach and preach nonsense?

    Glen Davidson

    • Posted March 27, 2018 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I think we don’t have these rights, even if belief would be good for us. When I talk with a child who has lost a parent, I wish I could say that the deceased is in Heaven, but I cannot, because I don’t think it is true.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      The Deepakity has enough woo for all the rest of us. Like Jesus dying so we could keep on sinning, the Deepakity is the embodiment of woo, woo made flesh, so the rest of us don’t need to bother with it, ever.


  3. Posted March 27, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    I’m probably in a tiny minority with this here, but think debating Chopra is even less wise than debating Ken Ham or William Lane Craig. It will merely promote his style of woo, which his followers all understand but which is impenetrable for skeptics unless they have personal experience with meditation.

    Sam Harris debated him brilliantly, but no one else has that kind of background among prominent atheists. At that debate physicist Leonard Mlodinow tried to correct Chopra on his physics, but got so bamboozled by him he wound up co-authoring a book with Chopra. So Mlodinow has co-authored books with Steven Hawking, and with Deepak Chopra. That’s rather an own goal for rationalism.

    Shermer unfortunately has the added disadvantage of thinking he can debunk ideas he doesn’t understand, and winds up walking straight into the most basic traps.

    Note also that Chopra already has the organizers wrapped around his little finger. The title of the debate is pure Chopra — that’s his definition of evolution, not the biological one. The title is meaningless to anyone who uses the normal definition, but well formulated and deeply meaningful to those using Chopra’s definition. The high ground has already been ceded to Chopra before the debate has begun.

    • Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Well, if Shermer and Berlin do their stuff they will realize that Chopra is a subjective idealist, and one really *can’t win* against a person who thinks the world is in your head (or god’s, in the case of Berkeley).

      So I agree- this does seem futile.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      I admit that I hadn’t thought about such considerations and I take your comments to heart (or more properly, “to mind”), also substantive remarks by other commenters. I think that you’re right re Chopra controlling the framing of the debate (these “Big Idea” folks tend to be taken in by intelligent sounding woo; and I think your take on Schermer is also on the mark.

      However, I’m still going to watch the program. This is my kind of reality TV, so I’m going to make a big bowl of popcorn and kick back.

      For anyone who wants to watch, but can’t watch the livestream, they can go to and watch later. On the FAQ page it states that “All debates can be watched directly on the AUDIO/VIDEO section of each individual debate page. Video is typically available 1-2 weeks after each debate.” For podcasts: “You can download or stream the edited radio broadcast (as heard on NPR) or the unedited audio from the AUDIO/VIDEO section of each individual debate page…Debate audio is usually available one week from the live event.” There are other interesting debates on this site.

  4. Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Shermer must be bit a bit more thick skinned than I would be!

  5. Mark R.
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Scandinavia, Q.E.D.

    Yep, no need to waste much time or energy on the topic…the data is there.

  6. Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible that the “evolution” in the title and topic description is meant by the organizers to be cultural evolution, not biological? Perhaps that might be a good first question to ask the participants. Perhaps they’ll all agree to leave biological evolution out of it.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I picked up on that rite away – define what type of evolution is being discussed.

      • Posted March 28, 2018 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I felt a small pang of pleasure when that question was addressed right at the beginning.

  7. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Just like the diamond encrusted Chopra – Kumar is also a consciousness = quantum-something-or-other-blather-blather proponent. Not watching, but will read the reviews for a laugh.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      Where will you find the reviews? I’d like to read them.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        I’ll link here tomoz if Mr. Google has any worthy ones to show me.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted March 27, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink


  8. Liz
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    This conflicts with the Reiki session I have this evening. I might be able to catch the last 45 minutes.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      See my reply to “Yakaru” above. You can watch the video later, or hear a podcast.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink


        • Michael Fisher
          Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          I’m thinking Liz is being ironic, but I’ll have to check with my tea leaf readings later to confirm.

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted March 27, 2018 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            I hope. And reading her response below, I take it to be so. “…like a massage but they don’t actually touch you…It’s like energy healing or something like that.” I live in Berzerkely, so tend to gloss over such declarations. Then I realized the venue.

            • Liz
              Posted March 27, 2018 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              Ohh. Thought you were asking what reiki was. No reiki appointment. I’ll be watching either tonight or at some point.

              • Jenny Haniver
                Posted March 27, 2018 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                Sorry. I should have realized immediately that you were speaking tongue in cheek; but as I said, I live in Berkeley, where skeptics have no problem with rieki and such, so I tend to pass over such declarations without a second thought.

                I must say that I love your definition of rieki.

                The debate just ended. I need to watch it again. I experienced buffering problems with the livestream on the group’s website, then turned to Facebook, and it was better, but I’d already lost a lot of continuity (and consciousness) because of the infuriating gaps. Perhaps buffering constitutes the gaps where God (and Deepak Chopra) is to be found.

              • Liz
                Posted March 27, 2018 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

                I have to watch it again also. Absolutely no apology necessary. It’s somewhat difficult to bear Deepak but I’ll watch the whole thing.

        • Liz
          Posted March 27, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          I believe it’s like a massage but they don’t actually touch you. I believe they are at regular spas for about $30 less than a basic massage, but again, they don’t actually touch you. It’s like “energy” healing or something like that. I don’t have an appointment for that. Thanks for the info. about how to watch!

  9. Christopher
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    A bit off-topic here, but about Shermer…while trying to read up on the nature of the recent accusations against Lawrence Krauss, I kept reading about the “well-known” issues with Shermer. Has anyone else heard anything about him being touchy-feely? I have issues with only hearing it from a certain type of media without any confirmation from other, less reactionary, less regressive outlets.

    • Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      I would almost always dismiss claims of “well-known issues” without any clarification or indication of relevance to the current subject. Whoever says this usually has some complaint against the subject that they know would not stand scrutiny or would be otherwise be disregarded.

  10. Posted March 27, 2018 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Each of the “pro”s should be expected to define “God” first and then be asked if they agree with one another. I think there are as many definitions of god as there are believers, which refutes any organized effort on their behalf.

    As to the “proofs” they would probably get embroiled in philosophical arguments which cannot prove anything yet would be a waste of time.

    I am rather looking for novel approaches to these debates and look to somebody (Anybody!) who will address whether the behaviors of the Christian god are at all congruent with the description. The mere fact that he has “helpers/minions” (angels, cherubim, seraphim, demons, satans, etc.), belies that fact that he is all-powerful. Surely the effort to explain what is needed to be dome by some minion is less than it would take to do it himself, no?

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Well, Chopra maintains the position that the moon doesn’t exist when no one is looking at it, so one should ask him if God exists when no one is praying!!

    • Posted March 27, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      If no one has actually seen God, perhaps it doesn’t exist either.

  12. Posted March 27, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I would think that the starting point for such a ‘debate’ is which entity are they talking about? Where is it?, what kind of thing is it? what are it’s politics? does it wear clothes? what kind of music does it listen to? Besides the question of whose version is it?
    And it can’t exist is a non-physical world because the Standard Model of modern physics shows that such a state is impossible.

    Maybe a debate about Frodo’s hairy feet would be more profitable.


  13. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I can’t watch any debate with the Deepak in it. It’s like wading through glue. His ability to conjure up pseudo-technical word salad and his bullet-proof immunity to rational argument reduce me to frustrated incoherent swearing within five minutes and that’s just watching.


    • Steve
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for that. I haven’t laughed so hard in a while!

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 27, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I tried, but have a finite tolerance for arrant bullshit. About 10-minutes’ worth.

    • Liz
      Posted March 27, 2018 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I watched the last half.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted March 27, 2018 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        After watching that, I’m in need of a transcendental massage (rieki), and a good bonk on the head.

  15. Posted March 28, 2018 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    In the event it was no contest. Deepak and partner were serving up concept salad and the audience was groaning in response. His definition of consciousness was virtually content-free and, besides, the question wasn’t about consciousness anyway. Several questions from the audience, as well as from the moderator, were intended to push them back on track. Unfortunately, they weren’t having it. In fact, they kind of had to agree with much of Shermer and Berlin’s argument.

    Although the moderator did an outstanding job, if he had any part in choosing the question or Deepak and partner, he failed big time. They didn’t really want to debate that question and, when pushed, admitted they pretty much agreed with the other side.

    I still can’t decide whether it was worth watching. It was a bit like reality TV. One is drawn to watch but is left wholly unsatisfied at the end.

  16. Posted March 30, 2018 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I feel dumber after having listened to Chopra and his partner. Their definition of god doesn’t align with the beliefs of most religious people on the planet, and as far as I could tell is completely non-falsifiable. It reminded me of a common criticism directed at atheists, that we are trying to make ourselves god, or some such nonsense. Deepak’s claim that consciousness is god, and since our consciousness is subjective, means that we are god.

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