The Polemics of Disbelief: An Atheist, an Agnostic and a Catholic Priest

“I want to believe,” says Fox News’ John Stossel.  “I see the peace and purpose it gives most of you who believe—and I tried.  I just can’t.”

Born of Jewish parents, then raised Protestant, Stossel is not steeled against religion—he just hasn’t experienced the spark of faith in his own life.  By his own admission, he’s gone to churches and temples; but he just hasn’t been convinced that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

In the video which follows, Stossel discusses the question “Does God exist?” with two men who have each considered the possibilities, and who have arrived at two very different answers.  One is Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine.  The other is Catholic priest and Fox News correspondent Fr. Jonathan Morris.

Who wins the debate?  I believe that Father Jonathan is the hands-down victor.  His clear, graced elucidation of the evidence for a benevolent Creator is compelling.  To my thinking, this affable and keenly intelligent priest is a great gift to the American Church.

And I was impressed, too, by Stossel’s openness to inquiry, and by his respect for his guests.  Apparently, his demeanor was appealing to his viewers, as well; while the Internet is frequently aflame with critics armed with word-darts, Stossel’s commenters are courteous and respectful.  The first comment I read is a case in point.  “Thervor” says:

John we don’t dislike you or hate you for your skepticism or disbelief. We won’t stop watching you.

We applaud your honesty. We appreciate your tolerance. We support your searching heart.

Most of all we pray for you. Dear Heavenly Father, please fall fresh upon John Stossel, reveal yourself to him, such that he may know You. And, come to know, trust, love, and accept Your Son Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Amen

God Loves you and so do I.

Take a few minutes to watch this lively exchange.  I think you’ll like it.

  • David

    Pray a rosary for John Stossel today. He’s close.. And as we know “all who seek find..”

  • Cal

    You could have at least spelled Shermer’s surname correctly.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      At least. That’s what you get, coming from a Schiffer.

      • ogden lafaye

        Ms.Schiffer,

        I don’t think you understand the layout of the land in this, the year 2013. Its the 21st century and you are going to have to start questioning the “statistics” that you glean from the Catholic Press. Things are not as they appear. Ath eists, agnostics, spiritual and secular humanists, free thinkers and non-believers in general are stepping “out of the closet” and into the media stream of consciousness. It may alarm you but we far outnumber Catholics in America if you take into account the “undeclared”.

        We are not thieves, liars and cheats with no morals, as Christianity has always described us. We are intelligent, moral, principled, loving people that get along fine without the crutch of religion or the fear, guilt and shame religion attempts to instill in the not so bright. Best of all, we usually know more about your religion than you believers.

        Catholic educators tried to beat Catholicism into me from an early age but I was wise and perspecacious to an extraordinary degree, throwing off your chains and fears at a very early age.

        You will have to come to the realization that you can no longer complacently preach to the choir and ignore the dissent. What you are preaching and spreading are well demonstrated LIES of coercion and fear and an ignorance that has no place in the 21st century.

        If you very carefully research and prepare to debate this group, sans platitudes, circular arguments and empty faith, we have every confidence you will come over to our side.

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  • http://www.brandonvogt.com Brandon Vogt

    As someone who discusses these topics with atheists and agnostics every day, I’m not sure I agree. I think Fr. Morris did a poor job on the first two topics (God’s existence and the problem of slavery). It’s difficult to show how the capacity to love proves God, and his argument was very unclear. He should have appealed to St. Thomas’ five proofs, especially the argument from First Cause.

    On “slavery in the Bible,” there are plenty of intelligent explanations to appeal to but instead. Fr. Morris just basically says, “that’s old news so let’s forget about it.” What he should have said was that God never objectively endorsed slavery but, given the context and culture, accepted it for the time being. Also, Biblical “slavery” is far different than what we mean by that term. In Biblical times, all Jewish slaves were released after seven years of servitude. The slaves also had definite rights under law, including the right to marry and to own property. It was more indentured servitude than slavery.

    Anyways, Fox really should have invited a philosopher like Dr. Peter Kreeft or Dr. Ed Feser who has background in atheist apologetics. I love Fr. Morris, but he was out of his league here.

    • Ismael

      Oh man… I’d LOVE to see Feser in a debate. Or Peter Kreeft or John Haldane!

      Unfortunately most pop ‘skeptics’ and ‘atheists’ often refuse to debate these people (Dawkins even refuses to debate W.L. Craig) in favor of more mediocre targets like D’Souza.

      • ogden lafaye

        So many fools, so little time to debate them.

    • ogden lafaye

      I don’t see how a “god” would have to accept anything.

      • Thomas R

        God being omnipotent yeah he can do anything. So “accept” might not be the right word. However human societies having a level of independence, even if that means they will do some evil, might be better than the kind of micro-managing God I’ve seen some atheists almost act like they desire.

        • ogden lafaye

          Atheism: No magic books and spells, no tithing, no church, no dogma, no ministers, no smoke, candles, mirrors, scapulars, spell inducing rosaries, magic waters and oils or bribes to be paid.

          Atheism: No God !

    • Thomas R

      It’s interesting that during the lifetime of Jesus, more or less, China tried to ban slavery. Or at least strongly restrict it. (It seems like I’ve heard conflicting stories, in some they just heavily taxed all slave-owner) The ban/restriction was part of the reform efforts of the usurper Wang Mang who interrupted the Han Dynasty. At that time in history the Han was the other major Empire existing on Earth. Either as big or bigger than Rome. The effort to curb or end slavery failed and, although mostly for other reasons, Wang Mang was killed due to an uprising. China was not, I don’t think, quite as dependent on slavery as Rome but abolishing it was still virtually impossible. If one believes Jesus is the Son of God, as Christians generally do almost by definition, than he might have had the wisdom to know ending slavery was not yet even possible. Although in time Christianity kind of did helped lead to a decline of slavery as Christians were often leery of enslaving other Christians. (Exempting the enslavement of convicted criminals, which continued in US prisons for many decades after the Civil War and still exists in several nations) The disquiet with enslaving fellow Christians, though not ideal so don’t think I’m somehow mild to enslaving non-Christians, somewhat declined in the Americas as masters converted their slaves or would buy slaves who were already Christian.

      I haven’t seen the video.

      • Aeolus13

        I certainly think it’s debatable that getting rid of slavery was any more impractical for the Hebrews and Romans than it was for the Confederate south, but let’s ignore that. When has the impracticality of something stopped God before? Getting rid of slavery is certainly more practical than getting rid of theft, murder, and covetousness, but God has enshrined the latter three in the Ten Commandments. This is a moral issue that’s as black and white as they get, and the supposed perfect word of the creator says nothing against it. “Slavery is bad. Don’t do it” That’s all it would have taken. God really couldn’t fit those six words into his manuscript?

        You can go on some tortuous explanation for how God’s relationship with the Israelites was different back then and society wasn’t ready and slavery really wasn’t so bad and if you squint and take certain parts of the Bible metaphorically and out of context you can make it look like God doesn’t like it, but why bother? The answer’s right in front of you, if you choose to see it. The Bible is a collection of the writings of Bronze-age barbarians who used their religion and their holy book to justify their abominable treatment of their fellow men and women. It is not magical. It is not the best guide for how to live. It is an anachronism, and we have a much better idea of how to structure a happy society now.

  • ogden lafaye

    Ohhhh, “leave a comment” eh? I left one and you didn’t like it…continue to preach to your choir…laughter, lots of laughter

    Your faith can’t take the heat? Must be something phony about it.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      You are a man of discerning wit, I see, Ogden. But here’s the thing: You can’t use my pulpit for obscenity or rabid criticism. It’s my house–admittance is with my permission. If you want to discuss moderately and with respect, I’m on.

      • ogden lafaye

        Obscenity? There was no obscenity…the only obscene thing about my post was your attempt to get the world on your side at my expense. As to “rabid” criticism I laugh. Any criticism is rabid as far as you are concerned.

  • http://datechguyblog DaTechGuy

    The “slavery” argument is a red herring.

    The fact Israel and ancient cultures had slaves is independent of the existence or non-existence of God in fact the argument “the bible ‘endorse’s slavery” is in fact an inherent argument for the existence of God because the secularist is not saying “God is bad because the bible ‘endorses’ slavery”. One can’t say “Bad God!” without pre-supposing the existence of God.

    • Kieran

      Absolute baloney. The bible’s position on slavery is clear, and it makes the bible an evil book whose words are ruining lives to this day. If it was written by a divine being, he isn’t benevolent. In fact, if there is a god as described in the bible, I will cheerfully declare my allegiance for the honourable opposition.

      Far more likely is that the book was written by a bunch of primitive and self-serving men. Obviously, the observation that the bible is a tnoroughly despicable book is not evidence for the exisfence of a god, much less a benevolent one.

      • ogden lafaye

        Kieran speaks well and factually. The god of the Bible is a malicious, blood thirsty, evil god…He is the god of Christianity.

      • Joshua

        If the Bible’s position on slavery is clear, Kieran, do you think you can summarize? I’m predicting at least one massive misrepresentation.

        Ogden, as Proverbs says, even a fool who is silent seems wise. I suggest you follow the implicit advice of that passage, since you’re apparently incapable of anything other than ad hominem attacks. I’ve yet to meet anyone more foolish than the guy who says his opponents are fools and proceeds to give no reasons.

        • ogden lafaye

          Fools are not known for humor, character or recognizing their foolishness.

          • Kathy Schiffer

            Ogden, I have deleted one of your comments again, and I’d like to explain why.

            I do permit disagreement, provided it is respectful. You like to throw stones–to hurl insults and accusations, call all Catholics “sex abusers,” resort to innuendo. Look: This is a Catholic blog. It’s MY blog. If you want to spit on the Church, go get your own blog.

    • Jones

      The slavery arguement is only an arguement against a morally perfect God. A God who was the ultimate good being would not allow his chosen people to practice slavery. God in the bible gets very angry about people worshipping statues or being given the wrong sort of sacrifice. However, he doesn’t smite anyone for slavery, which is argueably a much greater evil. So, the God of the bible is not a morally perfect being.

      That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist, of course. The slavery arguement and the rape arguement* are arguements against God’s goodness, not his existence.

      *rape is never explicitly condemned in the Bible and in some stories the Israelites are given permission by God to rape their enemies virgin women.

  • Steve

    Apparently talking over & otherwise interrupting someone, then failing to address any criticisms in a coherent manner qualifies as a successful debate strategy. Speaking louder and faster isn’t a sign of intelligence.

  • Jones

    I think it’s cool that Fox is allowing a debate like this to happen. I didn’t find the priest’s arguement that convincing. First of all he seems to be saying that other animals can’t love, which seems like a big claim when you see them with the children, or with other members of their pack or herd. He also kept interrupting the skeptic guy, which is a bit rude.
    The problem with these debates is that the same points come up again and again. And when people talk about their personal experience with god, it’s just not something that can convince anyone who hasn’t already experienced it.
    Father Morris claims that if God showed up in the studio, it would take away people’s ability to follow him. I don’t think that’s true. Meeting people in the flesh does not mean that you have to do whatever they say. According to some Christians, Lucifer lived with God in heaven and still chose to rebel agaist him. Adam and Eve were said to have been with God in Eden but they still ate the apple. The Israelites saw God part the red sea for them but they still worshipped the golden calf. Judas saw Jesus’s miracles but he still betrayed him. So, I don’t think the priest’s explanation for why God won’t appear in the studio actually works.
    It’s good to hear Father Morris say that atheists can be just as good as religious people.
    I’m not sure Shermer answered the question about morals very well.
    Thank you for sharing the video, it was interesting.

    • ogden lafaye

      “The same points come up again and again” Quite true. These arguments have been proposed by Christians and defeated by logic and common sense, not to mention lack of evidence…over and over again, but the next generation of programmed tools bring these moldy arguments up once again.
      There is no magical, invisible god with a zombie son flying about in the sky, watching you all the time (which is a perversion in and of itself) I imagine the author will remove my post not realizing that heresey only applies to those who believe…and lets face it folks, Heresy is a “victimless” crime.

  • lolz

    I believe…that Stossel is a worthless hack. I used to know the ghostwriter of his books. He happened to be a pretty brilliant and sarcastic gay liberal, who had nothing but contempt for his idiot boss. He said that one time they went to a little-league game with the crew of whatever bullshit “news” program Stossel was working for at the time, and deliberately ginned up a fight between some of the parents. Your basic rube-riling scum of a pseudo-journalist.

    But all that said, at least he has the right idea about religion.

  • expatpatriot

    Whoa. They needed to get someone with a bit of depth to sub for Father Morris because he came off about as substantive as a summer camp counselor. The ability to love = the existence of god? Ouch. His basic premise is this: because I feel it, it must be so. Utter poppycock.

    Shermer was not attempting to play in the rah-rah world that the good Father bounces around in, but simply stated the rational point of view crisply and cleanly.

    I’ve seen debates between the late Christopher Hitchens and religious intellects ten times the size of Morris’ and the religious always lost them, too.