Makes Me Wonder

If you haven't read the article I linked to in my last post, you really need to! If you know me at all, you know that I tend to err on the side of simplicity and pragmatism. So, even though I was fascinated by the conversation between Rick Warren and Sam Harris, I found myself frustrated at the whole thing. Here's why:

- Rick's core belief is that God created man. For him, everything flows out of that.
- Sam's core belief is that man created God. For him, everything flows out of that.

Since theism and atheism are both faith-based belief systems, how do you prove the other guy wrong in a debate?


Chris said...

Are we supposed to be "proving the other guy wrong?"
What good does it really do to start a debate with someone that is not following Jesus? I guess I just don't really see where debate or proving a point modeled for us in the Bible.
Yes, Paul did make a great argument for God at the aereopogus, but that was a place where people expected to get into conversation about and where very open to new ideas.

Anonymous said...

A debate, especially this one, was a situation where they were expected to get into conversation.

I have to admit, I hate getting into debate about petty things, but I also believe that some people learn best from debate, that is their learning environment, they are alive in it... definately not mine though!

James said...

I think Rick summed it up nicely though (and frankly, I think he owned Harris with this statement) when he said:

"We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble."

I can't think of a more eloquent way to reconcile the two points of view in to one simple sentence.

Paul C. said...

I guess will will no someday who was right. I enjoyed hearing both sides discuss their beliefs. What is amazing to me is how two highly intelligent, well educated people could have such different core belief systems.
I guess that is the genius behind "free will".

Rob said...


I guess I have a hard time with your rationale...I guess ultimately Rick's rationale. That feels quite a bit like fire insurance. For many many many people who are wading and searching through spirituality intellectually, to simply say that you are going to believe because it is the best "bet" doesn't get very far. And ultimately I don't think that is what God intends it to come down to.

Jeff said...

James - That is simply a variation on the Pascal Wager. While you may feel that Rick owned the interview with that one comment, I can assure you that every single Atheist who saw that said "that's the best he can do?" and laughed. They recognize it for what it is, a non sequitur.

The simplest (but certainly not the only) argument against it is that it really doesn't apply to Christianity, but to God in general. But which god? Without any extra proof or information provided, it applies equally well to the flying spaghetti monster as it does to YHWH. Since there isn't anything to distinguish separate religions, and some religions don't require righetousness for eternal life, the wager isn't an either or, but rather multiple choice. The Atheist will choose none of the above pending more solid evidence.

James said...

Guys guy guys...I fear you've misunderstood the cut of my jib, the groove in my step, the mayo in my turkey sandwich.

By no means am I suggesting that the 'Pascal Wager' approach to defining a belief system is the way to go. It lacks the depth to acknowledge all the variables of this world (which we know is cursed), nor does it have the width to embrace the many characteristics of God and our faith in Him (which allow us to live so blessed in the aforementioned cursed world). However, read what I said. Rick's statement reconciles the two arguments in one sentence. It doesn't attempt to persuade. It doesn't attempt make a case. It simply brings simplicity to two stances of a debate. Kurt did it too with his 'God created man vs. man created God' thought. I love the simplicity in that, but the reality is that the two sides of this particular debate are far more complex than that. I'm not an intellectual, far from it infact, but what makes sense to me is what makes sense to me, and the beauty of our diversity is that it might not make sense to anyone else.

I'm not saying that either Rick's or Kurt's statements are good ways to define all the many differences between a belief that says 'God exists and Jesus died for us and lives again' and a belief that says 'No God at all, when we die, we die', but to attempt to reconcile two points of view and sum them up in to one single sentence, I think both Rick's approach and Kurt's approach hit the nail completely on the head.

Kurt Johnston said...

Chris, I agree that a debate is not an effective way to bring people to faith. But since this was a debate forum, it does set the stage for a 'winner' and a 'loser' and I'm not sure that was possible in this setting because it really wasn't a debate of facts as much as it was a debate on two different belief systems. But it's great fodder for water cooler discussion which is a good thing.

rob, jeff and james: Don't lump my amazingly simple, yet profound statement in with some dude named Pascal who likes to wager. I'm way out of his league! :)

Rob said...


I loved the "debate" or conversation. It was thought provoking and interesting. There wasn't personal, character attacks. It was simply an intellectual debate between two great minds.

I simply had a hard time with the "I think he owned Harris with this statement" comment. I don't think it was a debate intending to have a winner and loser and if it was that statement sure wouldn't have declared Rick the winner.

That is all.

Thanks for helping us think.

Chris Rosebrough said...


You ask a GREAT question. This is one that we all should have a 'ready' answer for.

Believe it or not the answer is simpler than you think. The reason it is simple is because the Apostles gave us the example in the book of Acts.

First off, how do we Christians know there is a God?

Answer: Because God once became a man, in Jesus Christ and proved His claim to diety by raising Himself from the grave 3 days after Pontious Pilate had Him crucified.

This is exactly how the Apostles argued their case.

They argued 2 things.

1. Fulfilled Prophecy
2. The Physcial Resurrection. (Read 1 Cor 15) - If Christ is not raised our faith is in vain.

Here are some relevant verses

Acts 9:22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 17:2 And Paul went in, has was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.

There is a great book out there that lays this out simply and concisely. It is called History and Christianity by John Warwick Montgomery. I think you'd find that book very helpful. Gary Habermas also uses this technique in his debates with atheists and he has been extremely succesful with it.

Kurt Johnston said...

Thanks, Chris R. for the good insight.

Brett Moore said...

I'll be completely honest. What good does a debate like this do for a non-Christian? Is he/she supposed to read/ hear this and then kneel and pray on the spot? Or would he/she stop and call up a friend and ask them.."Why haven't you ever dropped the [if i'm wrong/if you're wrong] cliche? I really like what Paul says in 1 Cor. 11. Let's judge those inside the church and not those outside.