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.