I missed it on Nightline, but I did catch most of it on the ABC News – Nightline page. The debate was between Kirk Cameron & Ray Comfort, the Christians, and Brian Sapient & Kelly, the Atheists. Kelly, by the way, has been kind enough to comment on an earlier blog post. Moderated by Martin Bashir, who did a fine job and through in a few good questions along the way, the debate was fairly interesting, but failed to deal with any of the real issues. My one unanswered question was, “why doesn’t Kelly use her last name?”
Everybody was respectul and well-behaved, except for one audience member who was obviously not concerned with overall suffering, just with cancer. She wouldn’t keep quiet until Comfort said he’d only use the word “cancer” rather than “suffering” in his answer.
The first point that needs to be mentioned is that Comfort totally failed to deliver in his promise to prove the existence of God scientifically, without resorting to faith or the Bible. I really don’t know what he was thinking, as his 3rd positive proof was based on the 10 Commandments. Sapient was quick to point that out, and suggested that 10 minutes or so into the program, it was all over and perhaps everyone should leave. Comfort’s other points also failed, showing he is not a great logician. For example, his proof that “a creation needs a creator” was oversimplified (although the atheist side still failed to defeat it). In fact, this segment is perhaps an ideal case study on bad logic…
Okay, here’s the problem: Comfort used 2 examples, the building they were in and a car, saying that it is obvious that they were designed; therefore, looking at creation we can also say it is obvious that it was designed. Now, granted, on one level that is true; however, it let Kelly seemingly trash the argument. She replied that we could talk to the builder and car manufacturer and see how it was made; we can’t see the creation factory. It was also pointed out that to use that argument for creation, we’d have to also show who created God. Now, I used to think that was a pretty good defeat of the “obvious designer” argument, but it actually fails miserably.
First, what is sometimes called the kalam argument says that “anything that has a beginning has a cause.” This is why the Big Bang theory shook up so many scientists and philosophers – it then presumed that there was a First Cause. God, being outside of creation, and presumably outside of time itself, did not have a “beginning” and therefore we cannot presume he needed a prior cause. Where the atheists still failed, however, is that just to say that the causation argument fails does not defeat the argument. You still are left with having to deal with the issue of causation. Once we establish the causation of creation, we can then deal with a next level of causation, if there is one.
The atheists used miserable logic all the way through, misrepresenting (or misunderstanding) Christianity, grace, and misstating evidence on the existence of Jesus. The atheists in the audience cheered loudly whenever they though a point was scored, showing that none of them were really thinking logically either. Sapient tended to rely on pithy sayings like “all life forms are transitionary,” which is really just a dodge. Overall, the atheist team was unimpressive.
Cameron and Comfort failed to keep their points scientific, didn’t do the best job of stating the arguments in favor of a Creator, but came off as thoughtful, caring people. The point was made (although not as well as I would have liked) that the decision to believe or not believe in God was not logical, but moral. The atheists as well came of as nice folks, but who have for the most part don’t understand the religions that they reject. It was a fairly balanced debate, and I doubt anyone who watched it changed their mind.
But, you never know.