Reviewing the Wilson Vs. Atheist Debate at TMC

On Saturday, Feb. 23rd, a couple of friends and I attended the annual creation symposium hosted by Master’s College. Every year in February, TMC invites a lecturer to come and speak on some area of science and a creationist worldview. This year, however, was slightly different. Instead of a lecture, a panel debate/discussion between Doug Wilson and two atheists was presented.

The panel discussion (it wasn’t really a formal “debate) arose out of the 2012 creation symposium when a local group of atheists came to hear the two presentations on textual issues in the Genesis flood narrative and Dr. Andrew Snelling speak on geology and creation.

After the 2012 symposium, some acquaintances were formed between the local atheist-freethinking group and Dr. Joe Francis, who teaches biology at TMC. He began attending the atheist group throughout 2012, and eventually the discussion we witnessed on Saturday materialized after Dr. Francis showed the members of the atheist group Doug Wilson’s and the late Christopher Hitchens’ documentary, Collision.

In his introduction to the audience, Dr. Francis explained how he wanted the evening to come across as a lively discussion between “good neighbors.” In fact, he used the word “neighbor” so much whenever he got up to facilitate the evening that I expected any moment for a little red trolley car to roll through the auditorium. Thus, in a neighborly fashion we had a neighborly discussion on “disagreements” between neighbors. But it wasn’t ecumenical just so everyone knows.

There were two atheists who presented and “discussed” with Doug Wilson. Each participant got a 5 minute opening statement and then the panel “discussion” would begin.

The first atheist, whose name escapes me and I feel bad not having written it down, is a marriage counselor and practicing psychologists in my local area. He opened with his five minutes making exaggerated claims that atheists are one of the most persecuted groups of people in all of the United States if not the world.

He relayed “testimonies” from folks he had counseled over the years who had been ostracized from family and friends to the point of being kicked out of the home, divorced from spouses, and even being fired from their jobs just because they came “out of the closest” as an atheist.  He then implored us, the largely Christian audience, to seriously consider the kind of personal harm we are doing by being opposed to atheists.

The second atheist to give us his opening remarks is a character actor by the name of David Leisure who is most well-known for his “Joe Isuzu” commercials back in the mid-to-late 80s or so and the t.v. show, Empty Nest.

I don’t recall him saying thing particularly profound in his opening 5-minutes except him using the word “ass” before a TMC audience when he talked about how a pastor friend of his described what was in store for him going up against Doug Wilson. Later, during the second part of the evening, he made a passing masturbation innuendo when he did an improve bit about Galileo and the pope looking through a telescope. Between the two atheists, he was the most well-spoken and of course he was highly entertaining with the quips and one-liners.

When Doug Wilson got up to present his opening remarks, he seized upon Dr. Francis’s “good neighbor” comments and explained that foundational differences motivate both the Christian and the atheist to be “good neighbors,” and something must justify one’s neighborly acts, like helping to put out a fire at another neighbor’s house. It was basically the “how does an atheist account for WHY he does what he does given the axioms of an atheist worldview.” Wilson also effectively tossed out his 2 soda cans fizzing illustration.

I am not a huge Wilson fan, though I have appreciated him indirectly introducing me to the writings of P.G. Wodehouse. However, this is a venue where he shines and he did so brightly this evening. As a friend of mine later noted, Wilson demonstrated how Christians can have an exchange with unbelievers while remaining humble and charming, yet while being pointed and direct when challenging their beliefs.

After the three gave their opening remarks, they moved to the panel discussion where we the audience got to listen.  The atheists came prepared with questions that ranged from “how do you deal with Christians becoming atheists” and “why are Christians hostile to atheists.”  David Leisure griped a little bit about the doctrinal statement of TMC that addressed biblical separation from the world and tried to tie that to bad attitudes Christians have against atheists.

One exciting moment happened about midway through their panel discussion when an older guy wearing a cowboy hat walked right up to where the three men were sitting on the platform and began shouting at Wilson that he was a liar. He ranted and raved and cussed about Wilson saying that a number of Christian doubters he had counseled as a pastor were people who had experienced gross hypocrisy in their family.  The guy eventually left the building and security escorted him off the property. I give kudos to the two atheists, who gave the impression that they knew the guy from their “freethinking” group, for telling him to get out if he didn’t like what they were discussing. I was just happy the guy wasn’t a Westboro Baptist type crank.

After a brief break, we came back and David Leisure did his Galileo improve bit I mentioned above.  Then the participants took questions from the floor. I don’t remember any one question that stood out to me, except for a guy who asked about why innocent people who never heard of Jesus are condemned to hell for never having heard of Jesus. It was a like a slow pitch soft ball lobbed to Wilson who knocked it clean out of the park with the answer he provided.

My friend, David Ice, who just so happens to be the youngest son of theologian, Dr. Tommy Ice, attempted to press the atheists to provide a grounding justification for their morals.  Honestly, I’m not entirely sure these guys had thought through that challenge because they kept concluding that folks were saying they as atheists had no morals, when in fact they were being asked about the epistemological grounding for their morals.

The psychologist-marrige counselor atheist, whose name escapes me, exclaimed at one point that atheists are not atheists because they hate God, but because they had no compelling reason to believe in God.  He then asked, “Does anyone here doubt that I exist?” I wanted to say no, but it is because he is revealing himself to us by communicating to the audience. God did the same thing with His redeemed people in the past and still does the same today in His Word.

Overall the debate was good. Wilson did a fabulous job presenting the Christian faith, even giving the gospel at a few points during the discussion.  I appreciated that he kept that opportunity in mind as he talked.

The atheists were also commendable.  I  appreciated that they didn’t spiral off into stupid, inane arguments we hear now-a-days from internet, blowhard atheists that say “Jesus never existed” or “Christianity is another borrowed myth from such stories as Mithra” or whatnot.  It was clear to me that they had never debated someone like Wilson who came from a presuppositional perspective.  I took it that most of their interaction with Christians has been with the William Craig/classic evidentialist type apologists, so hopefully they went away with a fresh understanding of the Christian faith.

If and when audio/video is put up, I’ll link it. It is worth the time watching.

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12 thoughts on “Reviewing the Wilson Vs. Atheist Debate at TMC

  1. Ditto what Justin said. Can’t wait. I always wonder how it is that atheists don’t expect the question “But *where* do your morals come from?” Seems to be the obvious first question. After all, if we are all just advanced molecules of evolutionary slime, what does it matter?

  2. I have to admit that I’m curious about one thing.

    What is your particular answer to the question about “why innocent people who never heard of Jesus are condemned to hell for never having heard of Jesus”?

  3. Thanks for the report Fred. Sounds like what I expected the night to be. What else could it be? Wilson (presuppositional apologetics) vs. Atheism, what can the Atheist say? Sorry to hear that the Joe Isuzu guy is an atheist.

    I’d love to catch it on video if it ever is released.

  4. David asks,
    What is your particular answer to the question about “why innocent people who never heard of Jesus are condemned to hell for never having heard of Jesus”?

    The problem with the question is that the inquirer typically makes a couple of axiomatic mistakes. First, he assumes there are “innocent” people. According to scripture, all men are guilty sinners in rebellion against their creator and they know they are. The picture of a “noble savage” is mythological, for there are none. Secondly, he assumes that men are condemned just because they never heard about Jesus. So it is erroneously assumed Christians are saying the 4th century AD Chinese woman in the lowlands north of Mt. Everest is condemned because she didn’t invite Jesus into her heart.

    All guilty sinners are condemned because they know in their hearts that they are rebelling against their creator. They recognize their guilt of their sin because they have concocted every false religion imaginable to assuage that guilt through rituals and whatnot and they will be judged according to those works. Other sinners attempt to suppress what they innately know to be true, that there is a God who will judge them so they develop various excuses to deny that accountability, but they will be judged just like those others who may be religious.

    The Gospel is that God has made a way for all sinners to deal with their guilt, receive the forgiveness of their sins and receive eternal life and that is through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

    Now, in a follow up, the inquirer will complain, “Well, people still need to hear the gospel in order to be “saved” and those who are geographically challenged as to that message are unfairly left to be condemned.” But this falsely assumes God “owes” everyone a “chance” when that is not the case. God owes no sinner anything. It is solely by God’s grace that the message of salvation comes to anyone.

  5. So, let’s see if I follow.

    Everyone sins. It’s inherent, it’s inevitable, it’s unavoidable. It’s as human as eating, breathing, etc.

    And the only way to deal with the guilt (avoid eternal torture, etc.) is to receive the forgiveness of their sins and receive eternal life and that is through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. That’s it, that’s the list, that’s the only way.

    Of course, millions of people will have lived and died, over thousands of years, with zero opportunity to know that the only way to avoid damnation is to receive the forgiveness of their sins and receive eternal life and that is through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Now, somehow, they’re supposed to magically “know in their hearts that they are rebelling against their creator” (I find this position questionable, but that’s another story). However, regardless of what they “know in their hearts”, they can’t do anything to fix it. The information is unavailable to these mortal men.

    Now, you can say that someone is (a) condemned for the sin as opposed to (b) condemned for failing to invite Jesus into their hearts, honestly, what’s the practical difference here if the solution to the sinning (invite Jesus into their hearts) is totally inaccessible? You can say that it’s the sin that get you condemned, but if the message of salvation is withheld or inaccessible, then for all intents and purposes, it’s the lack of access to the solution to the problem that really, ultimately gets one tortured for all eternity. In practice, people really are condemned to hell for never having heard of Jesus.

    But it’s all ok, right? You’ll cool with this, because God doesn’t have to give everyone a chance?!!

    God can condemn a person to eternal torture for something inherent in the species, a species that God designed and created. But God doesn’t have to offer that person the only way to avoid the consequences of the inevitable sinful act?

    This is a loving god, a just god? This is a god that one is supposed to love and worship? You really believe this?

    Fear, yes. That I can understand.

    Love and worship? Not so much.

    Well, ok, I guess it works for you.

    Suum cuique pulchrum est.

  6. Douglas Wilson said that people aren’t condemned for what they don’t know. They are condemned for they already know about themselves. He said if everyone had a tape recorder hanging from his neck, his own words would be his condemnation because his own speech would show his sinfulness. Men are condemned because they have no way to deal with the sin that separates them from a perfectly righteous God.

  7. Pingback: What About the Heathen? | hipandthigh

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