Why We Christians Always Lose Debates with Atheists–Thank God

Why We Christians Always Lose Debates with Atheists–Thank God June 8, 2007

debateThe other day I read the recent Newsweek piece in which Rick Warren (Purpose-Driven Life—like you didn’t know) debated the eminently rational and mind-bogglingly articulate Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation). In that “debate,” I thought Mr. Harris waxed the floor with Mr. Warren. For one, nobody out-rationalizes Sam Harris. The guy has a brain the size of Europe—and all of it is connected to his mouth. He also seems entirely compassionate and utterly Pro-Human, two qualities I know I enjoy in a person. I think Sam Harris stands as pretty much the ultimate example of what a person can be and think when they insist that rational thought, above all, should be respected. And I can respect that. It’s certainly not the worst thing for a person to stake their claim on.

The capacity for rational thought being core to all humans means that sooner or later every human must decide whether or not there’s a God. Everything is either created by some sort of Divine Overseer, or the universe is the result of purely mechanistic coincidences. Those are our two choices. It’s not like there’s a third one. (Unless you count the decision not to decide whether or not there’s a God—which, to my mind, is a “choice” entirely too spineless to take seriously.)

There either is a God, or there isn’t. And everyone definitely wants to know which of the two it is. Not a one of us wants to exist in a system that’s grounded in pure unknowable mystery.

So people do what they must: They choose either God, or No God.

We Christians, of course, have chosen God. It’s what our hearts tell us is true. More: It’s what God tells us is true. To be perfectly accurate, we didn’t choose God at all. God chose us.

But we Christians have got to understand that once we decide, for whatever reason, to Vote God, we necessarily mark ourselves, in the eyes of someone who’s gone with option No God, as extraordinarily irrational. At that point we can’t help but seem to them as fundamentally (so to speak) bonkers.

Which is not to say that we cannot fully justify our faith: My first book, Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang, proved (if I say so myself) that the entirety of the Christian belief system is nothing if not rationally supportable. Once anyone decides there is (or must be) a God, Christianity makes as much sense as opening an umbrella in the rain. It’s actually difficult to posit a God, proceed logically from that assertion, and end up anywhere but at the Christian cross.

God became human to right us with himself. It’s … well, perfect.

But as rationally sound as the Christian theological system is, the essence of what makes Christianity real and alive is a mystical, deeply personal phenomenon that has no more to do with reason or logic than fins and gills have to do with koala bears.

Rick Warren lost his Newsweek debate with Sam Harris because Sam Harris can take rational thought and language all the way down to the base of what he believes, while Mr. Warren, struggle though he might, can only take rational thought and language down to the point at his belief where language become useless.

So Rick Warren lost his debate with Sam Harris. Big whoop. In the end, we Christians will always lose the debate with atheists. Because they’re using the language of logic. And there are no words for the essence of the Christian experience. And there never will be, thank God.


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  • ramdin

    The final result of the debate will be forever decided when the Son of Man comes again. In the mean time, let’s not waste our time to prove the existence of God to atheists and rationalists like Sam Harris. They will never believe anyway because they have already rejected the only means of knowing Him, through faith.

  • Malachias Invictus

    "Once anyone decides there is a God-which, since there either is or isn’t, is necessarily as rational as deciding there’s not."

    Not really. You forgot the whole part about evidence. The existence of any given thing does not default to a 50/50 chance.

  • No, not of any given thing. But I would definitely argue that any given person, starting from scratch, just looking around and at himself,

    is half as likely to assume there's some kind of divine, overseeing creator at work as he is that there isn't. The phenomenal complexity of life coupled with most people's innate sense of the divine within them generally, for any given person, renders the reality of a God at least as likely as the world being purely the result of mechanistic coincidences. Also, consider the actual relationship between how many people DO believe in God–a God, any god–and how many don't. A third of the people alive right now, for instance, believe in the Christian God. They can't all be stupid.

  • Really nice site you have here. I've been reading for a while but this post made me want to say 2 thumbs up. Keep up the great work

  • Thank you! I really appreciate it.

  • Ryan

    I would like to call myself a rational christian. I came to Christ from atheism through rationalism and the following of the laws of logic and thought. Christianity, as do all beliefs, requires both faith and reasoning. I would also like to add that there is a slew of reasoning christians in the relm of christian apologetics who can hold their own in the debate arena, esspecially since they represent the one and only truth. I challenge you to google "christian apologetics" and then have fun studying.

    1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

  • My first book, "Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang" is an apologetic.

  • Kieran

    If you're going to decide that a god exists, because he might or might not, you might as well go the whole hog and declare the existence of leprechauns, unicorns, dragons, the Celestial Teapot, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The argument for them is just as strong, which is that there isn't any evidence at all.

  • Wow. I'm convinced. Thanks for clearing that up.

  • Vanessa

    Personally I can't see how the atheist won the debate if he is still lost in Sin. Is he brilliant? In whose eyes? I'm sure God is quite bored with his brilliance. But He is long suffering, loving and kind. If He were not where would many of us who are Christians be today? I'm ever grateful He is patient.

    On the other hand, we tend to spend a lot of time trying to make God relevant to the world. But Jesus Christ being crucified on the Cross, dieing for an ungrateful human race, being raised from the dead to give us Eternal life is as relevant as God is going to make Himself.

    Though highly unpopular, there is a day of reckoning coming. Jesus isn't trying to convince anyone to be saved. He is searching out his own sheep and knows us by name. We hear His voice and come to Him. Some now, some later. But every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story ends.

    Years ago a pastor from Brazil visited the church I was attending. I'll never forget theses words in his message,

    "If they have no thirst leave them no water. "

  • Kent Perry, AZ.

    Sam Harris brilliant? I don't THINK so.

    in fact Harris intellectual snobbery, his cookie cutter copy pasted quotes he invokes like a conditioned response are easily anticipated during debates I have seen him in and he never fails to fall for his own hubris. He certainly has more sophistication than the vapid vocal and vodka laced vitriol of Christopher Hitchens where all one has to do is let Hitchens pontificate long enough and you go selectively deaf just listening to the intentionally condescending stuck up tone that one usually gets the impression he is covering for some deep resentment he has of Christians.

    It's as if as a child it were a Catholic School yard bully who used to beat him up for his milk money and he isn't quite able to get over it. Someone like Vox Day might remind him of the kid who stole his bike as a kid.

    It's the attitudes of both, albeit polar opposites in style, the methods of attack are all the same. Harris uses a much more subtle blend of ridicule and mockery. He is however, is as dogmatic as any hell fire brimstone baptist zealot I have ever seen. It is also a trait, just as easily exploited as an unwillingness to consider facts that don't necessarily prove God unequivocally but give a real sense of why dismissing the concept of a creator is growing ever more irrational from both a logical and scientific position as well as a philosophical one.

    I have been in the trenches debating atheists for many years and see it as a great exercise in getting better at one thing. Arguing with atheists.

    If that is what you want to aspire to become good at, then have at it. You will be well on your way to one of the biggest wastes of time I can think of if you are in need of any external positive affirm but if you want to learn how the Satanic slippery semantics of the author of all lies and the language of legion, you can't find a better pitri dish for that kind of bacterium than the world of angry atheism. NOTHING could be more irrational than atheist's with a chip on their shoulders and an axe to grind.

    The knee jerk tricky quickie comebacks like atheism is a religion like NOT collecting stamps is a hobby , gets the usual high fives from the atheist peanut gallery as they all shake their pom poms with that typical sardonic grin on their puss, but it is when we take the phrase and pull it outside right from it's inside out position we see the ridiculousness of atheism's desperate approach to use such trickery to win at any cost using any means necessary.

    We examine the behavior of the atheist where the very word "atheism" itself is like all the other words using the letter "A" before them such as, "A-typical" "A-social" "A-symmetric" "A-sexual" etc,.

    Words that denote having issues with being imbalanced without symmetry, problems with social aptitude, sexual identity and just plane not normal as in "a-typical". This is where they define "atheism" as having something to do with a lack of belief where it is MUCH MORE more than merely a lack of belief. These are people obsessed and actively disbelieving in a God they claim has no evidence for its existence while in the same voice believe in so many things they can't see, touch or smell much less verify using the scientific method but will excuse as scientific speculation in-lieu of throwing an entire theory away because it is (in their own view) the ONLY one we have.

    How ridiculous is it that a segment of society, engage in a movement of angrily arguing with Stamp collectors whose God is the stamp. They would be swarming the chat rooms claiming to know more about stamp collecting than any hobbyist collecting stamps. They would create websites that fuel their anger toward stamp collectors where the entire content of those websites is completely devoted to hating stamp collectors as they tell each other exaggerated tales of being the victims of fundamentalist hobbyists who quite literally "shoved their stamp books down their throats. They would be constantly attaching every single evil that has ever befallen mankind on the hobby of stamp collecting all the while not seeing themselves engaged in this their own time consuming hobby at all irrespective of whether they believed in stamps or not.

    They would devote months of their efforts industriously writing books such as "The Stamp Delusion" or "Stamps are not Great" or "The end of Hobby's" as the assumed author and "A-hobbyist" Sam Harris would most likely be.

    That is of course, if being completely pre-occupied with hating religion and religious people, attacking them at every turn with extreme prejudice while actively hating and disbelieving God, is some kind of satanic hobby, like engaging in all that because you don't believe in it.

    is not a Satanic Religion

  • Kent Perry, AZ.

    Ya know, one of the things I love about America, is this:

    If someone wants to believe in unicorns or flying teapot's and compare that to evidence of archaeological discoveries that substantiate ancient texts as the historical records of people that actually lived while no such evidence for tea pots and unicorns exist, much less ancient texts or digs. If you want to diminish that into some childish mockery, cheaply enhancing your ego by belittling others, I suppose you can do that but for one caveat.

    If you want to see yourself as rational for saying that, don't be surprised when you say it to someone in person, they don't see you, as just another child of the grave, another punch in the face waiting to happen. Then you can use it as more violence done in the name of religion but I doubt anyone would not see it as understandable. You see, if you're like most of us, people see right through that kind of ridicule using clock and dagger subterfuge like that.

    They just figure, someone like that, usually has it coming to em.

    That isn't a threat by the way, you Godless Wonderboy.

    it's just real GOOD ADVICE

  • Autumnsheart

    I know this comment is coming a bit late and all, but… I really couldn’t resist to address the moronic statement that was something alone the lines of: “If you believe in God than you need to believe in the flying spaghetti monster.” How silly! and elementary, and unoriginal an atheist argument this is! First off, we have a 100% rational basis to show that the “flying spaghetti monster” does not exist! Basically, meatballs and spaghetti are culinary human inventions. Thus it it is simple logic that – a creation cannot create its creator. However, God can because God would be the creator of all that we know. Besides, has the Flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, or dragons had such a strong impact over thousands of years in the way that God has? Do any of these things evoke such strong human emotions, or inspire change in believers, or create self-sacrifices such as missionaries? No! Try a new argument!

  • Dave Day

    You missed the whole point of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Your ‘God’ is no more sensible to believe in than the former pasta beast. You’re making it more complicated than it actually is and missing the whole point in the process!

    Islamists blow themselves (and others) up by strapping explosives to themselves, flying planes into tall buildings, etc. They show at least as much faith in their ‘god’ as any Christian, missionary or otherwise. Does this mean that their ‘god’ is as valid as yours? If not, why not?

    Whichever way you read it, Genesis and the creation story doesn’t match what we can prove scientifically. Much of the bible has been proved to be heavily edited and often erroneous from the outset. Jesus didn’t say many things he’s supposed to have done and for these reasons atheists just look at Christians and say “You don’t believe in Allah, Baal, Thor, Isis, Osiris, Zeus’ and all those other ‘gods’… you just need to go one ‘god’ further!”