Christians vs. Atheists Debate Hurts My Soul

Last week I talked on Church Marketing Sucks about an upcoming debate between Christians and atheists on Nightline. The debate was between a rather vocal group of atheists (they issued the ‘blasphemy challenge’, encouraging people to commit the ‘unforgiveable sin’) and Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron and evangelist Ray Comfort of Way of the Master (you know, the banana guy). I labored a bit over the entry, wondering if I should really be so hard on two fellow Christians (a sentiment echoed in the comments on the post).

We Christians are always beating on each other and I didn’t want to contribute to that. Sometimes there’s a need for criticism, but you have to be careful with it. Well, I went ahead with the post and after seeing part of the debate I stand by my criticism.

It aired on Nightline last night and you can watch portions of it online. If it’s any consolation, I think both sides come off looking like jerks.

Why the Christians Looked Dumb
Comfort claimed ahead of time that he could scientifically prove God exists without using faith or the Bible. In 13 minutes, no less. In reality, he used the Ten Commandments as one of his three points, and then used personal faith experience as another of his three points. Neither of which is a scientific proof.

You can’t say you’ll do it without the Bible or faith and then rely on the Bible and faith. At one point the experience argument came down to just believe it and you’ll see that it’s true. Why does that sound like some Kool-Aid argument? Just drink my Kool-Aid and you’ll see! On some level I think that’s true–you need to experience faith to really believe it. But something tells me that’s not the argument you give to an atheist. It might be helpful for someone riding the fence who’s curious, but it’s not very helpful in a debate.

At one point Comfort said the Bible proves itself. I just don’t get that logic. Yes, there is evidence that the Bible might be what it claims to be. But there’s no straight-up proof that the Bible is the Word of God. It’s got a lot of confusing, messy stuff in it. At some point you have to take it on faith.

And that’s where I see Comfort and Cameron’s downfall. They’re trying to argue for Christianity by logic when you just can’t do it (which is why their argument was so lame). You can make some convincing points, but it’s not an open and shut case. Somewhere along the way you need to take a leap of faith.

Why the Atheists Looked Dumb
I’m actually surprised the atheists came off looking as poorly as they did. They had the high ground and consistently gave it away by taking pot shots, mean-spirited comments and simply belitting their opponents. They were jerks about it.

They also got dragged into so many side arguments. At one point they went to the Bible to disprove Comfort–but wait, I thought we weren’t going to use the Bible? They also let the evolution debate continue. Proving or disproving evolution doesn’t say anything about God’s existence. And using Occam’s razor? That’s not exactly a proof of anything.

The moderator, Martin Bashir, did a great job keeping things balanced and calling them out. I think the atheists could have convinced a lot more people if they stopped worrying about scoring points and tried to honestly debate the issues. You have to tackle your opponent’s strongest position, not take potshots at their weaker points. And both sides were guilty of that (Cameron’s duck/crocodile comes to mind [Which, again, gets us away from the point. So what if Cameron was right and he just smoked evolution. Yeah for him. But that doesn’t prove God exists.]).

Why Debating Hurts My Soul
And that’s why debates are so dumb. Because you don’t actually debate the issues. Instead you throw jabs back and forth trying to score points, trying to get the people who already agree with you to cheer. It’s not about actual point/counter-point, it’s about who can zing the other guy. It’s not about convincing anyone, it’s about rallying people who already agree with you. The arguments themselves are meaningless.

And that’s true with any debate. That’s why political debates are so frustrating. You can get away with throwing out some questionable fact or disputed source because it’s just about scoring a point. It doesn’t matter if your argument holds up over time, it only matters if you can gain a momentary victory.

5 thoughts on “Christians vs. Atheists Debate Hurts My Soul”

  1. So how do we build some kind of community (online or not) where the real issues can be discussed logically and fairly, so that those seeking truth can find some actual nuggets of good thought?

    Is it possible?

  2. I think it’s pretty difficult. The best bet is probably online, where you have nearly infinite space and resources to address the different sides of a debate.

    On the other hand, face to face in a relationship tends to be a little nicer. It’s harder to get mad at someone and say something mean when they’re sitting across from you.

    So maybe a combo? Some kind of debate Meet-Up or a Facebook for debate? I don’t know.

  3. Hey guys –

    I don’t think normal debates are actually that bad of an idea. In high school I was on the debate team. On that team I was required to debate both sides of an issue — even when I was staunchly morally and personally against the issue. I cannot tell you how that helped me develope a “fair” worldview, and to sharpen my thinking skills.

    When debate is done by the rules, and the debaters are encouraged — possibly by a knowledgable moderator — to stick to those rules and address stated points, then debates are a wonderful way of getting at nuggets of truth. If done correctly, the conflict forces outsiders to consider both sides. There are a variety of debate templates, like cross examiniation, or lincoln/douglas etc… These can be used very effectively.

    mike hosey

  4. I appreciate your conflictedness in all this, and I’m right there with you in it.

    I think debates are done, finished, over. TV has caused that. People want to be entertained, not provoked to think. They’re looking for the soundbite, or the witty quip, not truth. That’s true for everything from politics on down, and it has infected every debating venue.

    I think the solution here is to tell engaging stories, not set up artificial oppositions. (That’s why I prefer reading blogs than watching debates!). It seems that documentaries employing well-crafted interviews with articulate people is the place where you’re most likely to get a good read of beliefs, opinions, personality, etc. As an example, Kindling’s Muse recently did a very even-handed panel interview with several openly gay Christian filmmakers. It did more to shape my perspectives than any amount of debate ever could.

  5. These arguments were painful to watch. Neither side debated well, neither side brought actual facts into the debate. From the parts I watched (and I admit I didn’t watch the whole thing, it was just too painful) neither side cited their sources and it appeared as though they weren’t prepared for any spontanious questions, they just kept saying the same things over and over.

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