Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Reflections on the UofI Debate
05/03/2009 - James White
I wanted to take a few moments to write down some thoughts on the debate with Dan Barker at the University of Illinois on Thursday evening, April 30th, 2009.
When I first began involvement in apologetics in my early 20s I had the opportunity of engaging many atheists on our local talk station, KFYI. Dan Barker was one of them. This was before I had become consciously Reformed or had encountered any meaningful apologetics materials. When the ministry began, we were focused upon Mormonism, and from that point onward my emphasis was primarily upon "religious" apologetics, not upon atheism. Though I had to deal with basic worldview issues in debates with men like Barry Lynn and John Dominic Crossan, most of my debates have been with theists of one sort or another.
I am committed to the idea that debates are meant to glorify God through the proclamation of His truth. I am seeking to edify the saints, and evangelize the lost, and hence I must "do my homework" as best I can. I have to show respect for the audience and for those who have brought me in (in this case, that was pretty much myself, as A&O provided my transportation, hotel room, rental car, etc.). So, for this debate, I spent many hours listening carefully to Dan Barker's debates, often listening to them multiple times. I purchased and marked up his books. I knew my opponent's arguments and could have made his opening presentation myself. Indeed, I had responded to the vast majority of his argumentation on the Dividing Line in the weeks prior to the debate.
Mr. Barker did not read any of my books, listen to any of my debates, etc. Indeed, I do not believe he even Googled my name. Like so many before him, Mr. Barker believes his arguments unassailable, and hence does not believe it necessary to prepare for debates. He can just repeat his last debate notes and all will be well. In fact, the debate notes he used were the ones he used with Kyle Butts. With all due respect to Mr. Butts, he and I are not exactly on the same theological or epistemological page. Evidently, for Mr. Barker, it is a "one size fits all" proposition.
Now don't get me wrong: I have debated folks when I only had a general idea where they would be coming from. Sometimes you debate folks who have not published in the field, and have not produced audio or video presentations. But that was not the situation here. Anyone who wants to know what I believe, thanks be, can find out very, very easily. I haven't been quiet about it.
In any case, I attempted to craft an opening statement that would lay a solid foundation for a consistent, biblical defense of the Creator's rights in His creation. I used a KeyNote presentation. I felt that was most appropriate given the venue. The younger generation is very much visually oriented. I laid out the issue of worldviews and made the argument that by simply walking into the debate this evening Mr. Barker had lost, for his worldview is incapable of justifying his expectation that we would use laws of logic and reasoning, given his dogmatic materialism and his functionalism.
Where some may fault me (based, I believe, upon a misunderstanding of presuppositionalism) is in my presentation of "evidence" in my opening. I presented information that, given a meaningful worldview, is clear indication of the existence of an intelligent, purposeful Creator. I placed this information in the proper context: I did not claim that this was a neutral fact from which we could reason to the Creator. I presented it as a fact utterly incompatible with Barker's materialism, and one which would help us to see how his worldview would preclude him from dealing with the facts honestly. I used an animation of the F1 ATPase structure in the mitochondria. Here is a video of this tremendous structure:
I did not have time to go into detail, obviously, but I gave the highlights of the enzyme and its structure. It is so obvious, so clear, that a structure that has purpose, and is designed to accomplish that purpose, is by the very definition of the issue beyond the mere random actions of atoms banging into each other. The herculean effort of the materialist to deny the plain design of such miracles of nature is a fulfillment of Romans 1:18-20 to be sure.
I was also intent on guarding biblical truth, at the risk of offense, for I included the following statement:
Let me be very clear tonight on one thing. While our debate places you, the audience, in the position of judging, I would be remiss in a most severe way if I did not reject in the strongest possible terms the idea that we as creatures have the right to judge the existence of our Creator. The verdict of this debate was given when God said “Let there be light.” The issue tonight is whether we will live in accord with that verdict or not.
The fact that Dan Barker pressed on with the very same opening statement he used in his previous debates after hearing my opening is telling. While he surely senses the "differences" between debating Reformed men like Manata and Wilson, he really doesn't get the point they are making. He thinks his arguments remain valid, despite the epistemological chasm that separates the consistent Reformed apologist and the standard Arminian.
Rich tells me that he intends upon getting the video of this debate out very quickly, and I will be discussing it on the DL on Tuesday morning. I will go over some other last minute additions I made to my presentation thanks to the providential input of my good brother from London, Roger Brazier.