If you have any interest, clips from the big Nightline God debate are now online at the ABC News website. Mostly what you’d expect, though I think things went a bit better for the atheists than I had anticipated.
Representing the forces of darkness and ignorance were Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. Having seen their staggeringly dopey infomercials on television, I was not optimistic that they would have anything intelligent to say here. They are, however, very polished in their presentation, which made me worry they might come off as persuasive. As it happens I needn’t have worried.
The subject of the debate was whether the existence of God could be proved scientifically. Comfort claimed he could provide such proof without making any reference to the Bible. The surprising thing is that very little of his presentation even attempted to make such an argument. Instead he spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the ten commandments, and about how we all need God’s grace to save us from our wrteched, sinful existence. Not exactly what they were there to discuss, as the atheists subsequently pointed out.
Comfort began with an especially simplistic version of the argument from design. A painting requires a painter, a building requires a builder, the universe requires a universe maker. QED! You don’t need theology, just eyes that see and a brain that works! (That was his frequent refrain). From there it was just a lot of nonsense about the absurdity of thinking that Coke cans are the products of evolution or that the human body is a far more impressive machine than any car. Then he was off on the Ten Commandments stuff.
When Kirk Cameron got up to speak, he merely told the story of his own conversion. Moving, but totally irrelevant to the subject of the debate.
Representing sunshine and puppies were Brain Sapient and a woman who identifies herself simply as “Kelly.” They are the founders of The Blasphemy Challenge, in which people make You Tube videos of themselves dissing God. In their presentation they pointed out that the idea that a building needs a builder and so on runs afoul of the question of who designed God. They also spent some time discussing the nature of science, some places where the analogy between buildings and people breaks down, and on the fact that the nature of one’s religious beliefs seem inextricably linked to the society in which one is raised. Overall I’d say their presentation could have been a bit more polished, but their arguments were solid and to the point.
The most interesting exchange in the clips included online came when the moderator challenged Comfort and Cameron to explain who created God. Comfort gave the familiar answer that God is eternal and therefore does not need a creator. Sapient then responded that this proves that Comfort does not believe his own argument. He says that buildings require builders and paintings require painters and so on, but then makes an exception to this rule for God Himself. The moderator went back to Comfort and Cameron. They had no answer. Literally! They sat there in awkward silence. Finally Cameron muttered that you have to accept that something is eternal, since you can’r keep asking “And who made that?” Kelly replied simply that if God could be eternal why couldn’t the universe be eternal? They had no answer.
So, overall, I’d say the atheists acquitted themselves well, and Comfort and Cameron basically made fools of themselves by relying on evangelization rather than argumentation. The audience seemed decidedly on the side of the atheists, despite the fact that the debate was held in a church.