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Why Attend a Debate About the Existence of God?

I recently purchased six tickets to the Christopher Hitchens vs. William Lane debate1Craig Debate being held at nearby Biola University. The main auditorium has sold out, but overflow tickets are still being sold for the Whittier Area Community Church. Apparently, this is a hugely popular event. But what’s the draw? Debates between Christians and atheists have been going on forever. What makes this one so special?

For one, both men are highly respected spokespersons for their positions. Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything is pushing 100,000 sold. He has appeared on numerous talk shows and is an articulate, witty representative for the atheist position. Likewise, Craig has written many books on the validity of the Christian faith, and regularly debates some of the world’s leading atheists. So both men bring significant cred to the event.

The debate is being held at a Christian university so, I guess, that partly explains the draw for believers. After all, this is on “our turf.” But it appears many atheist groups are mobilizing contingents, which should lead to a rousing atmosphere. Contemporary atheism has recently become more offensive — as in on the attack — what with advertizing campaigns and outspoken apologists like Richard Dawkins and Phillip Pullman. So in this way, both the popularity of the combatants and the issue’s cultural relevance have conspired to make this something of an event.

Someone recently asked me why I was going, and it struck me as a reasonable question. You already have a position, they said. Are you going just to root against the bad guy? If I’m honest, my mind IS already made up. Nothing Hitchens can say can persuade me otherwise. But really, how many of the attendees will genuinely be open-minded? 10%? 33%? 75%? I’m guessing most people are attending in the hopes of having their beliefs reinforced, and to hear those beliefs articulated in a public forum. Yes, it’s helpful to see such antithetical ideologies engage in civil debate. Still I wonder that most people attend these contests to see their existing convictions advanced, not to reach conclusions. Am I wrong?

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Elaina Avalos March 18, 2009, 10:28 AM

    I wish I could go. I found out about it too late. I don’t want to purchase tickets for the overflow.

    Why would I want to go? In this case it’s actually to hear what Hitchens has to say. A character in my novel abandons belief in God. I’ve talked with one atheist but I’d like to hear some of Hitchens reasons not to believe. It’s hard for me to write that as it doesn’t come naturally.

    I went to Biola and took theology and Bible classes. And was in Sunday School and Awana and went to Forest Home, etc., etc. That’s my frame of reference. Hard to step away from that. My talk with Mr. Atheist helped but I’d love to hear a little more.

  • Dayle March 18, 2009, 1:32 PM

    I’m gonna try to see them this weekend at the book expo in Dallas.

    I personally, just enjoy listening to Hitchens even when I disagree with him.

    I’d really like to see him and Ann Coulter go at it.

  • JeffR60 March 18, 2009, 3:16 PM

    I imagine most people will attend to witness the battle and feel good about their side’s best shots. I don’t know that that is bad, but the only way the debate makes it out to people wrestling with the existence of God is if it gets out on YouTube or a podcast where people can snag it and give it a try. The culture warriors will snap up the tix immediately.

    I’m glad to see Hitchens debating Craig. His debate with Rev. Al Sharpton was cringe inducing. It reminded me of a debate between Paul Kantner and a puffed up, showboating, small time preacher back in the 80s. It was a real embarrassment.

  • Mike Duran March 18, 2009, 5:26 PM

    Dayle, Coulter and Hitchens would be a riot. Not sure how philosophically sound it would be, but the collision of those two egos alone would be entertaining. And Jeff, from what I understand, the debate will be broadcast live and rebroadcast, as well as available online (details HERE). I wasn’t aware of a Hitchens / Sharpton debate, but it sounds like an odd combo. I hope Sharpton was not the primary defender of Christianity. In that case, I’d probably have rooted for Hitchens.

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