I had the pleasure of attending the debate held at Messiah College on October 2nd with Dinesh D’Souza and Dan Barker, Keynote Speaker Dr. Ravi Zacharias, and moderated by Dr. Christopher Perrin.
Dinesh D’Souza, President of The King’s College in New York City, is an author, debater and speaker, and recently released the film “2016: Obama’s America”.
Dan Barker is Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and is a musician, atheist activist, and a former evangelical preacher.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias is a prominent Christian speaker, apologist, and author. The vision of his ministry is to evangelize and support the Biblical mandate to set apart Christ in our hearts as Lord and always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us, with gentleness and respect, all for the glory of God
The debate began with a question posed to both D’Souza and Barker. They were asked, “What is the most compelling evidence for the existence or non-existence of God?” Barker went first, stating that it is the lack of evidence, and the existence of evil in the world. He stated that believers have failed to make their case, and that the burden of proof is on them. He claims Adam and Eve are metaphors, and that Dinesh D’Souza agreed on this point at a previous debate, as well as the fact that evolution is true. Barker questioned, then, why can’t God be just as fictional as Adam and Eve? He went on to claim that 59% of humans are religious, while 41% are non-religious, therefore the existence of God isn’t obvious- it’s just faith and demands evidence. He pointed out the fact that there’s not even any agreement among believers about the nature of God. He stated that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist- or at least not a good God. As evidence he suggested we walk into a children’s hospital, or examine all the contradictions in the Koran or Bible.
D’Souza followed and stated that he believed Adam and Eve were real people, and that he’s not a Creationist in the sense of the earth being young. He Agreed that God’s existence isn’t obvious because he can’t be seen, but that our experience of God in our lives is proof of his existence. He went on to provide scientific evidence, pointing out that scientists have concluded the universe, as well as space and time, has a beginning, and this was first described in the Bible, but not discovered by scientists until the 1950’s. The universe is fine-tuned rather than random, which is an inference for intelligent design, and a signature from God.
I was a bit disappointed with D’Souza’s response because he didn’t provide satisfactory answers and didn’t rebut all of Barkers points (perhaps due to time restraints). I was curious about Barker’s claim that D’Souza didn’t believe Adam and Eve were real people, but were metaphors, and that evolution was a fact. I had hoped to inquire further after the debate because Barker was pretty emphatic. If these two men are correct, then what does that say about the reliability of the Bible’s claims that Adam and Eve were historical figures, and that God created different kinds of animals (Genesis 1:24-25), and created man in his image (Genesis 1:26-27)? The genealogies in Genesis 5:1-32 provide evidence that real people were related to Adam and Eve, and there are other Biblical references supporting Adam as a real, historical figure (Hosea 6:7, Luke 3:21-38, Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:22).
I gave the first round to Barker, who came out firing. D’Souza came across as defensive and was fairly agreeable with Barker’s claims that God’s existence isn’t obvious. I disagree with both of them; according to Romans 1:20, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen by man so that we’re without excuse. D’Souza made a valid argument that the universe has a beginning, and this was first recorded in the Bible. The fine-tuning argument is also valid, although atheists would never accept this evidence. I would have answered the question a bit differently by stating that Biblical prophecy is the most compelling argument for the existence of God. Of course atheists will accept no evidence for the existence of God because they’ve already concluded that he doesn’t exist and that there’s no evidence to the contrary. I would have addressed Barker’s problem of evil by explaining that evil is the result of man’s sin as explained in Genesis three, and then rebut his claim that God is evil (for all the atrocities he committed in the Bible and for commanding others to do so). D’Souza could have pointed out God’s righteousness, justice, and hatred of sin. God’s actions, commands and wrath are the result of man’s sin and wickedness, and can only be paid for by the ultimate penalty- death. Secular man doesn’t recognize the depravity of sin, but God tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and with Jesus’ death and resurrection he demonstrated his love and compassion for mankind by offering us the gift of eternal life. Lastly, I would like to have seen D’Souza counter the claims that the Bible is full of contradictions by asking for a specific example, and then rebutting it with facts.
I’ll summarize some of the other points Barker made:
- Barker stated D’Souza didn’t provide any real evidence.
- The fine-tuning argument doesn’t work since the universe could be tuned in any number of ways as long as it was counter-balanced.
- Atheism is an absence of belief in God, not an absolute denial of God.
- He asked the audience to consider the complexity of a snowflake in an effort to counter D’Souza’s claims of intelligent design. Snowflakes are complex, but not designed.
- Claims that God himself would need a designer.
- Concluded that D’Souza was using strawman arguments and circular reasoning.
- Rejects the design argument.
- Laws of nature are not prescriptive. Laws describe how things work and don’t have intelligence imbedded in them.
D’Souza made the following points:
- He compared the claims of atheism with the existence of aliens- he’s open to life on other planets since he can’t prove otherwise, and suggested he’d have to be omniscient in order to emphatically declare that life on other planets doesn’t exist. He likens this to atheism and insisted there are no real atheists, which is an emphatic denial of the existence of God. To be a true atheist one would need to be all-knowing to substantiate their claims.
- D’Souza denied that God would need a creator.
- Universal laws require an explanation that can only be answered by the existence of God.
- The language of mathematics is evidence for the existence of God.
- The hand and signature of God can be viewed and discovered.
I disagree with Barker’s claim that D’Souza didn’t provide any real evidence. I think it would be more accurate to say that Barker didn’t accept D’Souza’s argument from personal experience, and rejected the relevance of the Bible’s claims that the universe has a beginning, as well as the fine-tuning argument being evidence for the existence of God (although he admits the universe is fine-tuned). Secular scientists do offer alternative explanations for those arguments without relying on the existence of God, but the existence of such explanations doesn’t negate the arguments as evidence for the existence of God. It just means that atheists reject any evidence supporting the existence of God.
Personally I don’t believe in life on other planets. Quite honestly, I’m not open to that possibility, and I don’t need to be omniscient to take that stand. God, on the other hand, is omniscient, and if he created life on other planets I believe he would have revealed that in Genesis, or at some other point in the Bible. I simply happen to believe there’s no Biblical support for alien life. But it’s true that atheists would need to be all-knowing in order to be true atheists. Barker and D’Souza offer different definitions of atheism, and both are correct, however Barker contradicted his own definition by emphatically declaring that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, and by declaring that there’s a lack of evidence for the existence of God. If there was such a lack of evidence, there would be no theists. In order for Barker to conclude that there’s such a lack of evidence, he would need to turn his back to all the evidence available.
When D’Souza replied to the idea that God must have a creator or designer, I think he would have done better by explaining that only things which were created need a creator. God was neither created nor designed; therefore he doesn’t need a creator or designer.
The next question asked was, “Is everything permissible without God’s existence?” I’ll summarize the rest of their responses:
- D’Souza stated that an atheist’s moral compass comes from God- just as it does for a Christian.
- He claims we all believe in absolute morality, and if there is absolute morality, then there is a God.
- Barker reasoned that everything is permissible if there is a God because the atrocities committed by God and his followers in the Bible are the opposite of morality.
- He stated that our instincts and morality are built into our genes and were passed down from our ancestors.
- He explained that morality is a concept, not a thing, and that there’s an objective basis for it.
- He suggested that humans can live without harming others by using reason, and, according to his philosophy, humans should seek to minimize harm.
- D’Souza agreed with Barker that morality doesn’t come from the Bible. Instead, he claims, morality is built into us by God and has nothing to do with evolution.
- Barker maintained there is evolutionary evidence for morality being passed along in our genes and referenced Richard Dawkin’s book, The Selfish Gene.
- To further refute the existence of God he pointed out that theists don’t agree with each other.
- Barker questioned God as a role model for moral decisions and asked, “Would you kill me if God told you to?”
- D’Souza responded, “Yes,” and then asked Barker why he’s so angry at a God that doesn’t exist, and suggested there was some wounded theism under his atheism. He claimed there was something else is going on inside him, and asked, “Do you believe in Jesus teachings?”
- Barker answered, “No”, and said it’s a good thing Christians aren’t living according to Jesus’ words because most of his teachings are evil.
- He quoted Matthew 10:34-36 where Jesus said that he came to divide families and bring a sword.
- Barker pointed out that Jesus never denounced slavery and spoke of a lake of fire, hell, and gnashing of teeth.
- He states that Jesus offered a morally bankrupt system in a divisive book.
- D’Souza countered by explaining that the Bible had arguments on both sides of slavery and offered a factual and historical response.
- Barker wants us to believe that atheism is reasonable, meaningful and fulfilling, and that the God of the Bible is cruel.
- He points out that belief is not the same thing as knowledge, so just because we believe in God doesn’t make his existence real.
- He tried to show that the Bible is wrong, and that atheism is the cure for evil.
D’Souza made a good point that an atheist does have a God-given moral compass, even if they deny it. However, if we assume there is no God, then I’d argue that everything is permissible. Animals, for example, have no morals- they kill without remorse and have no concern for those they hurt or kill. A shark kills a fish or human without contemplating if it’s right or wrong. I’ve seen cats toy with mice and eventually kill them (though not eat them), but we’d never accuse the cat of wrong-doing. So if there is no God, then humans are no different than animals- there would be no right or wrong, and they may kill, hurt and steal for whatever reasons they choose. But the fact that humans do know right from wrong and can contemplate morality is evidence that there is a God. Genesis two and three, in fact, tell us how man learned good and evil. It makes more sense that morality is from God rather than evolved. If morality comes from God, then morality is real. But if morality is evolved, then it’s only a concept that needs to be adhered to as much as a chimpanzee would adhere to it.
I think D’Souza could have done better with the argument that morality doesn’t come from the Bible. Sure, we don’t possess morality because the Bible imparts it to us or tells us what is moral. But the Bible is the Word of God- it provides a basis for morality, explains where it comes from, and contains God’s laws. According to Genesis two and three our knowledge of good and evil came when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Barker claims evolution is responsible for man’s knowledge of good and evil, but doesn’t realize that a belief in evolution and a denial of God doesn’t negate the Biblical explanation of good and evil. His belief in evolution is not evidence that man evolved the ability to learn right and wrong from our ancestors over millions of years. The evidence Barker speaks of is circular reasoning- starting and ending with his worldview and denial of God. D’Souza should have pointed out Barker’s circular reasoning.
In my opinion D’Souza’s best response of the night was when he replied to Barker’s question, “Would you kill me if God told you to?” He answered ‘yes’, and then, recognizing the trap, went on the offense and questioned Barker’s apparent animosity toward God. If God commanded us- as Christians- to kill someone, it would be wise to be obedient to God as Abraham and Joshua and Caleb were, as well as others in the Bible who were blessed for such obedience. It may not be a politically correct answer, but it’s no different than a general who takes his troops into battle and orders them to attack the enemy; of course they will obey the general’s order- that’s their job. So why would we disobey God, who is the ultimate authority? Would we rather appease the enemy than please God? Should we disobey because we place our morality and wisdom above God? Such disobedience would be a mistake and bring about undesirable consequences. It’s also worth noting that we live in a New Testament age in which God has called us to love our enemies. This means atheists should welcome Christian morality.
I don’t think D’Souza’s response toward slavery was very compelling because it didn’t provide a defense of God’s Word. A stronger response would have explained that God isn’t as concerned about a person’s class or status as he is about their salvation, obedience and character. Whether or not a person is a slave or free has nothing to do with their place in heaven; in fact the Bible tells us that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 19:30). So in God’s kingdom those who were slaves on earth, yet lived with Christ-like humility will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. In other words God’s justice will be greater than Dan Barker’s justice, who is more concerned with a person’s earthly status than their heavenly status. D’Souza should have jumped on this opportunity.
Overall I think D’Souza could have had a stronger debate by using scriptural evidence. I think his responses were watered down and weak because he believes in evolution rather than the Biblical account of creation and the existence of a historical Adam and Eve. There were a lot of arguments Barker made that were not responded to (why there’s evil and suffering in the world or why there’s no agreement to the nature of God), or were responded to weakly, inadequately or incomplete (why God doesn’t need a creator). He should have taken opportunities to explain God’s character and love. He made some mistakes by agreeing with Barker on topics he should have disagreed with and didn’t clarify certain issues, like Adam and Eve and evolution, and he was on defense for most of the debate. D’Souza ended up leaving once the debate was over due to illness, so perhaps his performance would have been stronger if he was healthy, and I can accept that. He also didn’t have nearly enough time to give an adequate response to all of Barker’s charges.
As for Barker, he came across as the winner in my opinion. He was on the offensive right from the beginning, and brought up points D’Souza wasn’t able to adequately answer.
I do have a number of issues with Barker though. Being that he was a former pastor, I find it amazing at his own lack of understanding of scripture. I can’t help but wonder if he ever believed anything he ever preached. As a pastor I think he should have understood many of the issues he raised and should have known Biblical answers to his own questions. I can’t help but wonder if his belief in evolution helped drive him away from Christianity.
Ravi Zacharias concluded the evening, and his speech was by far the highlight of the evening. He gave his testimony and explained how he came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He had lived his life as an atheist, and then tried committing suicide at age 17. When he was in the hospital he had no interest in his atheistic teachings, so when a Christian worker gave him a Bible, he read it, and after reading John 14 he committed his life to Christ.
Ravi defined atheism as the deliberate denial of the existence of God and called this is a logical impossibility. Such an absolute denial would require infinite knowledge. He addressed Richard Dawkins’ teaching that there is no evil and discussed the influence of Nazi philosophy. He concluded that there is no meaning with atheism, and denied moralistic relativism in which morality is determined by our feelings. Lastly he pointed out the intrinsic worth to human life and called the audience to faith in Christ.