Thoughts on the Meaning of Life… Todd Helmkamp

A Rather Disappointing Debate

Posted by Vogeler on April 4, 2007

Before you scroll down, read this article first.  Its a debate between Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church and a renowned atheist, Sam Harris.

I was rather disappointed by Pastor Warren’s performance (not that I think I would’ve done much better).  First, he failed to address many issues raised by Harris, for instance the validity of evolution.  Harris’ entire worldview is based upon the THEORY  of Evolution, and Pastor Warren’s on the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible.  Sam Harris several times questions Warren’s belief in the validity of the Bible, yet Warren never once questions the validity of evolution.

Another disappointment was that Warren allowed Harris to fully dominate the conversation.  Indeed, Warren was reactive during much of the debate, rather than proactive.  And, Harris was using philosophy, logic (albeit flawed), etc. to make his points, while Warren seemed content to answer with opinions and experiential evidence.  While both are important, they failed to neutralize or even begin to counter Harris’ assertions.

Although Pastor Warren makes some excellent points, such as on the bottom of page four, he allows Harris to carry much of the debate.  Were I scoring this debate, Harris would be the clear winner (although I believe he is desperately and eternally wrong).

This wasn’t so much a debate about whether or not there is a God as it was a debate about the validity of Christianity, or religion in general.  As such, I would have expected more depth and reasoning from Pastor Warren’s responses, and a greater familiarity with the philosophical concepts used by Harris.

In my opinion, Pastor Warren came off not as a skilled apologeticist, with a “ready defense”, but as  one whose only recourse when faced with difficult questions is to retreat to the realm of accusation.  This may serve only to reinforce the belief that many non-Christians hold that Christianity is only for the backward, uneducated, and superstitious. I felt that had Pastor Warren presented a more reasoned, philosophical response, citing evidence, etc., then atheism might have received a significant blow.  As it was, atheism has possibly been reinforced.

Stand To Reason also posted about this on their blog, but with a different take.

What are your thoughts?

(Disclaimer:  my disappointment with Pastor Warren’s responses are in no way an indictment of his spiritual life, sincerity, or genuine call from God as a pastor.  They are simply my reaction to an instance in which an atheist proved to be superior at debating a pastor.)


9 Responses to “A Rather Disappointing Debate”

  1. anon said

    Todd I think you’re forgetting that according to the article, this debate lasted about four hours. There was NOT four hours worth of debate listed in that article. Not only that, Newsweek is a secular magazine that I have no doubt put whatever ‘spin’ they wanted to on it. How do you know for certain that he didn’t say the things you wish he’d said? Perhaps they were cut out. Perhaps Pastor Warren’s as disappointed in the article as you are.

  2. @Anonymous: those are good considerations. I suppose that the editors of Newsweek would be intelligent enough to realize how much of an uproar there would be if Rick Warren said the article was a poor representation of what was actually said, but maybe not.

  3. SLW said

    Don’t you think that today’s culturally relevant ministers debate more forcefully with opponents within the Kingdom than they do with those outside. Maybe he just didn’t want to make potential seekers uncomfortable. Ah, I probably just blowing smoke.

  4. the could have easily been the most frustrating thing i have ever read. i mean, from where i saw it, the reporter was just keeping the conversation heated, and the evolutionist was BEATING THE CRAP OUT THE OF CHRISTIAN. no one has a problem with that in today’s society.

    i foresee this country brought to ruins. i mean, there’s total anarchy in the government. the next president (i think) will be barack obamma, who is probably a secret mormon. you can say whatever to that, but just watch. he’ll assume presidency, and in a year or two, the US as you know it will cease to exist. i think that’s why a country such as ours isn’t mentioned in The Revelation. i think i want to get away from here.
    i really hope you people who believe in mid-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture are ready for a surprise.

    that’s a little off-topic, but i just sense something in my spirit saying that the political standing of this country is getting really bad, really fast.

    im a little scared, to be honest.

  5. SLW said

    I’m going to post a series on Evolution/Creation soon. You can all let me know how well I debate a straw man. 😉

  6. Mark H said

    I read the article via an atheist’s weblog where I lurk – I learn a lot from those guys.

    I realise I sometimes sound like a broken record, but I make no apology. The transcript (and accepting that there may be a lot more to the discussion that wasn’t in the transcript) just tells me how much we need the supernatural work of our loving Father that he so wants to bless us with.

    At one point in the conversation, Rick offers evidence of the existence of God in terms of answered prayer. He gives a pretty compelling example and says that this is the norm not the exception. But Sam still dismisses it in terms of how we tend to see pattern in coincidence and how we focus in on the positive experiences and forget the negative experiences. Fair play. We’re never going to prove the existence of God by debate, or by second-hand evidence.

    I highly respect Rick and I read all his stuff, but, man, how the world needs to experience the “suddenlies” of God. I myself was totally agnostic until I experienced one such “suddenly” in my late teens. I have the utmost admiration for those who believe without such experiences (they must have far more faith than me) but God’s lost children need HIM, not dialogue. Sam needs a “suddenly” (and I accept that he may still choose to reject the evidence, such is the incomprehensible love of our Father).

    Having said all this, I thank God for Rick, and I believe Holy Spirit will brood over many as they read the article. There is a place for this kind of debate.

    I’ll climb off my soap-box now and go and cry some more.

  7. SLW said

    I’m with you , Mark. Absolutely. I used to say that apologetics had zero practical evangelistic value, and then I met a professor of Mechanical Engineering who came to Christ from atheism because of the work Duane Gish, et al. I had to rethink my position, but not much. Apologetics help those who have made the leap of faith under the conviction of the Holy Ghost, more than they will ever help someone find Christ. So when I begin posting next week about creation, it will be more for the edification of the faithful, than to convince the unbelieving. Signs, wonders, Holy Spirit conviction, and the living epistles the faithful are have to carry that load. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt any of us, to do some weaping for the lost. May many this weekend be visited with the suddenness of knowing they just can’t avoid the living Saviour any longer.

  8. Mark H said

    Great point. I remember when God suddenly opened my eyes that I was very grateful for some help with understanding that science need not contradict the Bible (I was studying engineering at the time).

  9. Good stuff, guys. I was in a battle with an atheist friend/coworker this morning (I lost, but only because he kept interrupting me. I couldn’t get a “shot” off 🙂 ), and I realized that what SLW said is true. Apologetics are very helpful with one who has the seed already planted, or to plant a seed in ready ground, but if the ground is rocky or barren, no amount of “watering” is gonna make it grow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: