Posted in: Apologetics

The 2002 Great Debate: Atheism vs. Christianity Testing the Case: Which View Prevailed?

Copyright 2002 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino

On December 8, 2002, atheist Michael Newdow and Christian Cliffe Knechtle participated in “The Great Debate: Atheism vs. Christianity.”

The debate was held at Rolling Hills Christian Church in Sacramento, California and was broadcast live via satellite to around 1,500 churches and other Christian organizations, sponsored by Church Communication Network (CCN).

Pastor Jeff Bigelow hosted at the church, and hosts for the CCN program were Christian authors and speakers Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg.

Bob and Gretchen Passantino, have sponsored and moderated many debates and have participated frequently as debaters. They watched and evaluated this debate and will discuss which side prevailed both from a technical standpoint (who engaged the rules of debate the best) and from a content standpoint (whose case was more compelling?). In addition, they’ve listed some answers Christians can use when they find themselves debating the truthfulness of Christianity, whether informally with a non-believing friend, or in a more formal setting such as that of this debate. They submitted this report, which we share with you in the hope it will enhance your viewing of this debate video.[2]

The final vote tally was 92% in favor of the Christian position as the winner of the debate, with less than 8% in favor of the atheist position.

The Passantinos’ comments appear in italics interspersed throughout the summary below.

We believe that the Christian side prevailed in this debate, both technically and by content. We are evangelical Christians and have spent 30 years in Christian apologetics, or giving reasons for faith. Despite our personal convictions, we have attempted to approach our analysis objectively. We believe there is enough evidence in the summary and our comments to support our conclusion. Because we are convinced Dr. Newdow lost the debate, it is reasonable that our comments on his portions of the debate are more numerous, critical, and lengthy than our comments on Pastor Knechtle’s portions. Note: Because there is so much repetition during the debate, and because so many issues were dealt with adequately in the debate, we have not attempted to include our own thoughts on each point of each part of the debate. The representative sampling presented should encourage you to do your own homework to address issues we do not augment.

Summary of the Debate

Usually a formal debate argues positively and negatively on a central proposition. For example, a good debate resolution would be “Does God Exist?” This proposition can be answered positively or in the affirmative by a Christian, and negatively or by denial by an atheist or agnostic. The resolution presented for this debate gives both sides more latitude than normal and allows each side to present as strong a case as he can for his own world view.

Opening Statement – The Case for Christian Theism: The Evidence Points Toward Christianity

Pastor Knechtle began by summarizing what each debater should be able to produce in defense of his position. He said that Dr. Newdow should present a positive case for the atheist viewpoint. Pastor Knechtle was prepared to present a positive case for Christian theism.

Pastor Knechtle offered 5 arguments for the truth of Christian theism:[3]

  • Argument 1: The origin of the universe demands an uncaused, timeless, very, very powerful Source that we call the Christian God. He proposed three alternatives to explain the existence of the universe: (1) Something came from nothing; (2) The universe itself is eternal; or (3) The universe was created by something (or someone) eternal. Pastor Knechtle argued that whatever begins to be has a cause; the universe began to be; therefore, the universe had a cause.

    This is called the cosmological argument for the existence of God. There are various forms of this argument used by different philosophers, the Thomistic, the Leibnizian, and the Kalam.[4]

  • Argument 2: The intricacy and complexity of the universe on both a macro and a micro level indicates an Intelligent Designer. Pastor Knechtle pointed out that if oxygen levels on earth were higher or lower, animal, human, and plant life couldn’t exist. If the earth were closer to the sun it would be too hot to support life; if it were farther away it would be too cold. He argued that the inter-dependent complexities of the cell, the human eye, and the eco-system displayed intelligent design that could only come from an Intelligent Designer, such as the Christian concept of God. He gave the classic analogy of the watch: If you find a watch on the sidewalk, you assume it was made by a watchmaker, that it did not come to be as a product of accidental combination of atoms over time. In the same way, the universe displays even greater evidence of design, so we can logically infer an Intelligent Designer (God).

    This is called the teleological argument for the existence of God. The focus on the exact conditions necessary for human life is often called the anthropic principle.[5]

    There is a new movement among scientists called the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement. Articulated by retired law professor Philip Johnson,[6] the view held by the ID movement says that the specified complexity of the physical world cannot be explained adequately by the naturalistic theory that mere matter and energy in motion over time can produce the “irreducible complexity” observed in biology or the “specified complexity” necessary to produce Earth and life on Earth.[7] For example, biology is unable to account for the information communicated by DNA. It is important to distinguish the “stuff” or matter of DNA from the information of DNA. “Stuff” is genetic material, atoms in motion; information is the rational communication of what might be on the material, producing what becomes to be. By analogy, when we refer to the encyclopedia, we’re not referring to the matter of wood pulp, dye, and glue, but to the ideas represented by the wood pulp, dye, and glue. One could (theoretically) “explain” the material stuff of DNA naturally (although that explanation would inevitably run head-on into Pastor Knechtle’s first reason, the cosmological argument). One cannot naturalistically explain the information that governs the material stuff and produces a walking, talking, thinking person like, for example, Michael Newdow.[8]

  • Argument 3: The existence of moral absolutes (such as justice, truth, good, etc.) can only be explained by an infinite Moral Lawgiver, or God. Pastor Knechtle argued that ethics are not merely a matter of convention, agreement, intuition, or genetic programming, but instead reveal the existence of a Moral Lawgiver whose ethical nature provides an adequate foundation for moral absolutes in human society. He argued that, for example, the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews was not merely subjectively wrong or evil, but objectively and absolutely evil. He argued that individuals might consider it evil through intuition, societies might judge it by its social destructiveness, and communities might agree that it is evil because the majority of people agree; but none of those subjective, human-based ethics can adequately account for the absolute ethic that it is always and absolutely wrong to do these things – or, for example, to torture innocent children. Such absolute ethics are not dependent on human thought or conscience, but on the Moral Lawgiver who is beyond the limits of the universe in which we live.

    This is called the moral argument for the existence of God. The moral argument can be used not only to show that God must be the source of absolute ethics, but also to justify the Christian understanding of why there is injustice, evil, and suffering in the world. One can apply moral absolutes grounded in God to justify our outrage at the injustice we see in the world around us. At the same time, since moral absolutes are grounded in God, we can be assured that there is meaning in suffering and that justice will ultimately prevail in God’s provision for the future.[9]

  • Argument 4: Humanity’s desire for meaning and value in life presupposes the existence of God. Pastor Knechtle argued that every human society throughout history and around the world has a belief in God, even though their understanding of God may differ. He argued that our innate desire to experience the transcendent, to have value and meaning even after death, can only be accounted for if there is a God who implanted these beliefs and desires in us. He quoted the early Christian church father Augustine, who said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their meaning in God.”

    Pastor Knechtle contrasted this search for significance with the atheist world view in which life has no transcendent meaning and there is no significance beyond the biological. He quoted the existentialist Camus, who argued for existential meaninglessness. Pastor Knechtle characterized the atheist world view as “life is nothing more than a cosmic joke.” Pastor Knechtle used the analogy of the headstone: between your birth date and your death date is the sum total of your life: a mere dash between life and death. On the contrary, he argued, we are created for the purpose of knowing and loving God, and God loves us so much he sent his Son to die for us. In the atheist world, according to Pastor Knechtle, atheist Michael Newdow’s love for his daughter is nothing but a bio-chemical reaction, it cannot be justified or grounded as a real value without God.

  • Argument 5: The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is so verifiable historically that it passes any reasonable test for history or ancient literature. It can be accepted as not only reasonable, but a true historical event.[10]

    This argument ties in with the previous four arguments in two ways. First, it is itself an argument for the existence of God because it argues that only God could do what Jesus did, raise himself from the dead. Second, the one who rose from the dead has demonstrated the credentials necessary to tell us that God exists and what God is like. Now Jesus’ words in the New Testament document become more than just historical statements. They have risen above or out of mere history to be revealed as God’s words speaking about reality.

    Pastor Knechtle continued, if Jesus rose from the grave, then this validates his claims to be the Son of God, and we can know that God exists, that he loves us, and that we can have a relationship with him because of Jesus Christ.

    Pastor Knechtle argued that our first accounts of the bodily resurrection (found in 1 Corinthians 15) date from within 20 years of the actual event.

    At this point, Pastor Knechtle is using the New Testament books as historical documents reporting an historical event. Elsewhere he shows the historical reliability of the documents that make them valid historical sources. That the New Testament is God’s Word is an entirely different issue that goes beyond the scope of this debate. Interestingly, while Pastor Knechtle gives a range of 20 years, even some liberal scholars agree that the content of the opening verses to 1 Corinthians 15 represent material adopted by the first Christians within a decade of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

    This account of the resurrection appearances relates that more than 500 people were eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. He provided the evidence that Jesus actually died on the cross and that the tomb was empty after three days. He argued that the resurrection accounts have the ring of authenticity, especially in that those who became believers had started out as disillusioned disciples who were not expecting a resurrection. There is also a ring of authenticity in the record that women were the first witnesses of the resurrected Christ. Since women in that time were not considered reliable witnesses, someone merely inventing a resurrection would not have concocted their story in a way that had the risen Jesus witnessed first by those who could not testify in court. Because of the physical demonstrations the risen Christ made and the life-changing impact those had on his followers (whose hopes had been dashed at his death), we can be assured that this resurrection was physical and bodily; it was not an illusion, mysticism, wish fulfillment, or spiritual projection.

    British scholar and Christian author C. S. Lewis noted, “If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it isn’t. We can’t compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We’re dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has not facts to bother about.”[11]

    Pastor Knechtle used the apostle Thomas to represent the contemporary “empiricist,” who will only believe what he can verify with his senses. In Thomas’s case, Christ appeared and challenged him to touch his body and his wounds to verify empirically that he was the same Christ, that he had been dead, and was now alive. He reminded the audience that Jesus’s disciples didn’t die only for what they believed, but for what they actually saw – the resurrected Christ. He also argued the contrary – people may die for what they merely believe to be true, but they won’t for what they know to be false.

    In apologetics, or the defense of the faith, this fifth argument is often referred to as an evidential argument for the truth of Christian Theism. The evidence for the historical Jesus, his teachings, miracles, and resurrection from the dead, is so overwhelming that it places Christianity far above any other world religion. What distinguishes Christianity from all other religions is not its morality – Buddhism promotes moral behavior, not its longevity – Judaism and Hinduism are older, but its claim that God became man and redeemed the world by his own sacrifice. This is Christianity’s strongest attribute, since it can stand the test of history and historical empiricism. We can prove what others only theorize, meditatively conjure, or feel. It is also Christianity’s greatest vulnerability, because if one could disprove Jesus and his resurrection, one would disprove Christianity itself. As Sir Norman Anderson remarked, Christianity is, truly, “the witness of history” – its original followers died not for a system of rituals or list of behaviors, but for the empirically verifiable and historically preserved fact of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul said, “if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain and we are of all people most miserable.” [12]

Conclusion: Pastor Knechtle concluded his Opening Statement by arguing that his five points provided the reasons and evidence that Christian Theism is true, and that, therefore, Atheism cannot be true. He said that his points showed that there is an uncaused, timeless, powerful Intelligent Designer who provides moral absolutes, meaning and purpose for human life, and who meets the test of history and literature as the resurrected Jesus Christ of the first century.

Pastor Knechtle’s Opening Statement was strong both technically and in content. He clearly outlined what each debater should produce to have his case prevail. He clearly delineated five arguments in support of his own case. He was careful not to use theological or philosophical vocabulary that would be new to his audience. He clearly understood that for his case to prevail, he must prove not only that God exists, but that the Christian God exists. His first four arguments argued for Theism, his last argument for Christian theism. Although entire books have been written with rigorous academic standards, Pastor Knechtle presented his case as simply as possible to reach his general audience.

Opening Statement – The Case for Atheism: The Evidence Points Toward the Reality that There Is No God

Dr. Newdow began his presentation by noting that this is not his area of specialty; that he is a medical doctor and an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues. He is more familiar with arguments about removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance than he is with arguments against the existence of God. He said he had no background in philosophy, theology, or religion. He said that if he did not do well in the debate, the audience should look toward other, more capable atheists for better arguments.

From a tactical viewpoint, this was a poor opening. Even if the debater is afraid he might lose, he shouldn’t want his audience to entertain the notion that he is unprepared and likely to lose. Additionally, he casts doubt on his own commitment to present the best case he can for his world view. If he is so ill-prepared, why did he consent to debate the issue? Since he had several months to prepare, why didn’t he spend the time and energy necessary to research a strong case? He may be complimented for his candor and honesty, but he loses the respect of the audience by appearing unprepared.

  • Argument 1: Dr. Newdow’s first argument was to dismiss the terms of the debate and claim that he had nothing to prove since he was not making a statement about existence, but about non-existence. In other words, he argued, the burden of proof is on the one who affirms that something or someone (in this case “God”) exists, not on the one denying such an existence. He declared that he could not be construed to have lost the debate simply because he could not prove that God doesn’t exist.

    Both debaters agreed on the resolution to be debated, Atheism vs. Christianity, (and the question of which way the evidence points) several months before the debate. Now is not the time for Dr. Newdow to attempt to change the resolution. Surely he came to do more than testify that he personally lacks belief in God. The very act of signing up for a debate on Atheism vs. Christianity indicates that one is convinced he can give positive reasons for one’s own position. Dr. Newdow indicated this to be the case in an interview in the Sacramento Bee newspaper published prior to the debate, in which he said he hoped to win over those who “are on the fence.” Clearly, he was trying to convince them, not that he lacked belief in God, but that there are strong reasons they shouldn’t believe in him, either.

  • Argument 2: Dr. Newdow’s second argument was to make a new debate resolution: Using empirical methods alone, the existence of God cannot be established. Dr. Newdow declared that the only evidence he would accept for the existence of God would be empirical evidence, that is, evidence that can be tested by the senses, such as is done in scientific experiments. “Show me God,” he said, “and I’ll believe in him.” Based on these two premises (he doesn’t have to prove anything; and any existence can only be proved empirically), Dr. Newdow declared that he had no evidence that God exists and so he has won the debate by default.

    Dr. Newdow tried to limit areas of proof to the empirical, as though empiricism is the only way to affirm the existence of anything. But it is reasonable for the Christian to argue that the existence of God, who is non-material and not part of creation, should be affirmed by evidence appropriate to his Being, not merely or only by evidence that is by definition limited to the material world.

    Dr. Newdow (at least implicitly) believes that there are things that are real that are not material. He believes in the laws of thought or rules of logic (the system by which we test the reasonableness of any hypothesis – the very elements he is attempting to apply in this debate). He believes in the absolute nature of truth (which is a value that can be applied to the material world but is not itself material). He believes in the existence of his own self-consciousness and rational mental processes (he is not merely a brain – matter and energy in motion).[13] He believes in historical events (which may have been empirically testable by those who were present at the time, but are not empirically testable by us today) such as the adoption of the Bill of Rights amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Christians would add that we also believe in the reality of absolute ethics (the difference between good and evil, right and wrong); of aesthetic values (such as art, music, and literature, which are expressed empirically but which communicate non-material ideas and thoughts); of relationships such as love, hate, and indifference; and of non-material beings like God, angels, and demons. Whatever is abstract, invariant, and universal cannot be contained wholly in material reality but stands above material reality and affects material reality (e.g., the principles of mathematics tell us that 2+2=4, a non-material expression of relationship that can be applied to the material world to count the total number of material apples if there are two apples in each of two baskets).[14]

    In conclusion, Dr. Newdow has betrayed his agreement to the debate proposition by trying to change it, he has illogically restricted acceptable test methods to the material, and he has forfeited any ability to defend the reality of anything not material that he actually believes exists, such as thoughts themselves or his love for his daughter.

    Dr.Newdow then modified his approach by saying that he didn’t need comprehensive empirical proof, but at least reasonable and probable proof. He used the analogy of trying to prove that cows exist. Someone might not be able to produce a cow on request, but he should at least be able to prove that there are cud-eating, double-stomached, grazing quadrapeds with cloven hoofs before others would be persuaded to believe that cows exist. Turning back to the debate issue, Dr. Newdow asked, “What level of evidence do I have for believing in God?”

    Dr. Newdow’s sleight-of-mind trick here is obvious: he seems to be open to reasonable evidence for God’s existence, when, by his very pretense, he has valued empirical evidence as not only the best, but the only acceptable evidence for God. Although this is not the place in the debate for Dr. Newdow to respond to Pastor Knechtle’s opening statement, Pastor Knechtle’s opening statement not only showed the reality of non-material things and appropriate tests for those things, but also provided tangible, empirical evidence for the existence of God. For the empirical tests he provided (1) the existence of the contingent, non-eternal, came-into-existence universe; (2) the existence of an ordered, complex universe imprinted with the image of the Intelligent Designer; and (3) God manifest in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who proved his identity by the empirical event of the bodily resurrection. For the reality of non-material things and the tests for them he provided (4) the existence of universal, abstract, and invariant ethics and (5) aesthetics.

    Following his demand for empirical evidence, Dr. Newdow brought up an analogy to illustrate his belief that research and scientific data are necessary to determine any fact. His analogy concerned the drug DES that used to be given to women to help prevent miscarriages. He related that the medication was in use for years and thought to be effective by personal anecdote rather than by any statistical sampling. When the FDA began testing for its effectiveness, however, it was discovered that it was no more effective than a placebo.

    This analogy only has value for the present debate if it is the case that Christians believe in God totally apart from any rational inquiry or evidence. Since it is not the case that Christians believe in God without warrant, the analogy is meaningless. The Christian could turn the argument on its head by asserting that Dr. Newdow has embraced the “no-God” world view without testing it to see if it really has validity. It is also interesting that Dr. Newdow seems to dismiss any historical value for truth (relying entirely on empiricism for the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ), but here he urges us to believe that the historical accounts of the DES discovery and administration can be trusted.

  • Argument 3: Dr. Newdow reviewed what he considers to be the necessary elements of a good scientific test: (1) randomness (test subjects must be of a great enough number over a wide enough spectrum to allow for random results dictated by the sample pool rather than the medication); (2) control conditions (nothing extraneous to the experiment can be introduced); (3) double blind (neither the subjects nor the experimenters can know who gets the drug and who gets a placebo); and (4) prospective (it must be repeatable with future testing).

    Applying these four criteria to the existence of God, Dr. Newdow says God fails. In other words, he concluded, there is no scientific data establishing the existence of God. One can’t use statistical abnormalities to prove one’s case. Evidence for God is a case of statistical abnormality; His existence is not actually supported by the evidence.

    Again, Dr. Newdow is failing to answer the question at hand. The elements of his version of a good scientific test are irrelevant if what is needed is a good historical test, or a good logical test. And it is also true that Dr. Newdow’s belief in logical minds, rational inference, and coherent communication are not testable according to his scientific test. Even his assertion that the universe “just came to be” is not testable scientifically.

  • Argument 4: Belief in God, according to Dr. Newdow, is as credible as belief in faith healers, UFOs, crop circles, astrology, psychics, or the miracle fat-burning product available on cable TV. Belief in God is as supported by the evidence as belief in any other mythical creature such as the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

    Although Dr. Newdow presented this as an argument, it is not actually an argument at all. In logic this is called guilt by association. If Dr. Newdow can associate Christianity with things that everyone agrees are imaginary, mythological hoaxes, or fairy tales, then Christianity becomes nothing more than that. But Christianity is not the same class as Santa Claus, crop circles, and As-Seen-On-TV miracles, as Pastor Knechtle has already demonstrated. Dr. Newdow evidently should keep his categories straight and not compare apples to donkeys or God to Santa Claus.

  • Argument 5: Dr. Newdow pointed to a variety of factors to account for why so many people believe in God: (1) they respect their elders or previous generations; (2) they feel better if they believe in God and it seems to give their lives transcendent meaning; (3) they twist the data to serve their belief; (4) they are gullible and believe what they want to believe, regardless of the data; (5) they re-interpret every event as supporting belief in God, whether it does or not (e.g., if Aunt Mary recovers, God healed her; if Aunt Mary dies, it must have been God’s will); (6) they continue to believe what they have been raised to believe (e.g., Muslim children grow up to Muslims, Buddhists to be Buddhists, etc.); (7) they enjoy the social and personal benefits they receive from believing in God; (8) they are unwilling to criticize or closely examine what they already believe.

    It may be the case that some people believe in Christianity for any or several of the reasons listed in this argument. As a matter of fact, many people are atheists for the same or similar reasons. However, the fact that some believe for inadequate reasons does not determine whether God exists or not. For example, one could believe that mail appears in our mailboxes because little elves live in small nests at the bottom of each mailbox post manufacturing our mail on their little printing presses, after which they climb the posts and deposit the letters inside the mailbox. Even if Dr. Newdow were to prove the little elves don’t exist, that would not mean mail doesn’t really appear in our mailboxes. The postal carrier will continue to deliver our mail whether we believe in him or not, and whether we have our own fanciful story to explain his deliveries or not. Similarly, some Christians might believe in God because their parents did, or because it helps them cope with life – but this does not negate the fact that God really does exist.

Conclusion: Dr. Newdow posed a challenge to the mostly Christian audience: How many of you pray? How many of you believe God hears your prayers? How many of your believe God answers your prayers? When most people raised their hands to all of the questions, Dr. Newdow said, “Then all of you pray right now that God will appear to me on this stage so that I can believe in him.” He waited a few seconds and concluded, “God didn’t appear, so I guess he doesn’t exist.”

This was Dr. Newdow’s main point and he returned to it repeatedly throughout the debate. He really seemed to believe that if God did not appear to him as commanded, he had won the debate. Nothing could be further from the truth. This argument is raised so often by skeptics that responses to it are many and powerful.

First, if God did appear to Dr. Newdow, Dr. Newdow would probably not believe it anyway – he would chalk it up to a clever special effect by the Christians, hallucination on his part from some bad mushrooms he ate before the debate, auto-suggestion from the extreme mental pressure he endured preparing, an imposter posing as God, etc. Such individual, subjective experience is not valid.

Second, if God had appeared as Jesus Christ to Dr. Newdow, neither Dr. Newdow nor anyone else would be able to verify merely by looking that this was the same man who walked in Galilee nearly 2000 years ago. There are no eyewitnesses with us who can testify that “Yes, this is the carpenter’s son. I followed his ministry for three years, lost my faith when he was killed, and was restored to faith when he appeared to me after he had been in the grave for three days.” The Bible itself tells us not to believe anything without corroborating evidence (see Deut. 19:15-17 and John 5:31). That is why the New Testament evidence is superior to a Dr. Newdow-provoked appearance. Second Peter 1:16 declares, “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”

Third, God has no moral responsibility to appear on command. Imagine this: we met Dr. Newdow earlier in the fall. He was pleasant to talk to and agreeable about talking in the future. Now let’s say hypothetically that one of our students doubts we talked to the real Dr. Newdow. In fact, the student isn’t even sure if a Dr. Newdow even exists. Maybe he’s simply the Passantinos’ caricature of an atheist. So we give our student Dr. Newdow’s phone number, and he dials it, getting the doctor’s voice mail. Here’s his message: “Dr. Newdow, I doubt if you even exist. I don’t believe the Passantinos actually met you and talked with you. I think you’re just a figment of their imagination, their wildest wish fulfillment of atheism. I demand that you call me back right now and prove to me you exist. I’ll give you 60 seconds to return my call.” Even if Dr. Newdow had received the message and had the ability to return the call within the time limit, he would be under no obligation to satisfy our student’s demand. In fact, he could reasonably refuse the student’s demand as rude, inconsiderate, and presumptuous. And we would all chuckle as our student runs around the country saying, “Michael Newdow doesn’t exist because I’ve never seen him. And he didn’t call me back.”

Fourth, God chose to manifest himself in the incarnation in a culture that was best able to test his claims. If he appeared today, not only would we immediately think “special effects,” but we would be capable of producing an imitation “God appearance” much more readily than could people of a pre-technological culture (e.g., Did you see the video footage of President John F. Kennedy talking to Forest Gump?). Our post-Christian culture doesn’t even consider the possibility of a true manifestation of God, much less does our culture have reliable methods of testing a God manifestation. In the culture of Jesus’s day people believed that miracles were possible, but they also knew they could be tricked. (See, for example, the story of the apostle Paul exposing the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-13.) For this reason they had tests outlined in the Old Testament and affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament. Today one can start a religion just by claiming to be Jesus Christ. In Jesus’s day one’s own testimony was not good enough (Jesus even said his own testimony apart from corroborating evidence was invalid – see John 5:31ff). One had to have corroborating evidence (in Jesus’s case, the predictions of the Old Testament prophets, the endorsement of John the Baptist, the correspondence between Jesus’s teachings and those God already gave in the Old Testament, the voice of God and appearance of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’s Baptism, the miracles he performed, his prediction that Jerusalem would be destroyed 40 years in advance of Titus and the Roman army’s successful attack, and his own resurrection from the dead).

God manifested himself in Christ to those who were unbelievers or doubters who did not expect him to rise from the dead, over a period of 40 days, in a variety of circumstances, to a variety of people, in a climate where the eyewitness testimony could be challenged. He came to a culture where accurate memory was trained into people and tested repeatedly as a normal form of preserving facts and events. He was also followed by associates who performed the same kinds of miracles he had performed.

Again, the resurrection appearances were over a 40 day period, not just a one time appearance on a debate stage. Therefore God couldn’t simply appear to Dr. Newdow and preserve God’s own much higher standard of testing for truth. God’s biblical standards for believing any testimony are much more rigorous than Dr. Newdow’s simple “show me.”[15]

To use Dr. Newdow’s own vocabulary, a chance appearance on the debate stage could be a mere statistical abnormality, nothing on which to base one’s eternal destiny. On the contrary, Jesus’s appearance in time and history with, as the New Testament says, “many infallible proofs,” is far superior to Dr. Newdow’s isolated experience. It provides overwhelming “data” of the kind to which he ought to give careful consideration.

Fifth, if God were to appear specially to Dr. Newdow on December 8, 2002 in Sacramento, California, that would be insufficient to convince anyone who wasn’t there or at any later date. God would have to appear every day everywhere, perhaps causing the sun to perform figure eights in the air in order to convince everyone all the time. But if God did that, then his miracles would become everyday manifestations of nature and we would probably still resist believing in him.

In fact, God gave us the best proof by appearing at a point in history as Jesus Christ, providing both followers and unbelievers with many infallible proofs, not only during his natural lifetime but over a 40 day period after his resurrection – to those who had known him and recognized him (cf. Luke 24:39 and John 20:28) and to those who had not known him before (cf. Acts 9:1-19). Jesus Christ provided a witness that launched a true and life-giving religion and gave us evidence for all time to believe in and trust God.

Dr. Newdow finished with questions directed to Pastor Knechtle:

  1. If God is all good, why is there evil in the world?
  2. If God is all powerful, why are humans all messed up and imperfect?
  3. Why did God forbid Adam and Eve to learn by banning them from the tree of knowledge?
  4. Where is God? I don’t see him, hear him, touch him, taste him, or smell him.
  5. By what empirical means can you show me God?
  6. Why does God have to resort to heaven and hell? Couldn’t he have just made us perfect?
  7. Why is God jealous?
  8. Why are there so many conflicting religions?

These eight questions resemble a shotgun blast of various issues about God rather than a rifle shot to the heart of the issue of the debate. The shotgun blast covers a large area with small pellets, and even though it might not cause much damage, it takes a long time to locate and remove each small pellet. The eight questions fall into two categories: (1) things Dr. Newdow doesn’t understand about Christianity and (2) a rephrasing of his central theme: God must appear to me bodily and immediately or I won’t believe in him. The second category has already been covered.

The first category only has significance if Dr. Newdow agrees that the Christian God exists, because they are not questions about God’s existence but questions about his character or his abilities.[16] If Dr. Newdow would jump the hurdle of God creating the heavens and the earth, the small matters he lists here are inconsequential by comparison. If Dr. Newdow were willing to grant that God exists, then we could discuss whether or not he is good, kind to animals, a war monger, the source of the Bible, etc. For example, if Dr. Newdow were to concede the debate to Pastor Knechtle, then we could go to the next step and discuss with him why God allows evil. It may be exactly what the Bible says: God allows (but does not cause) evil because he has given humans moral responsibility and the ability (but not necessity) to sin. God will not always allow evil and rebellion against him. The day will come when God will punish those who persist in evil in a place called hell, and provide a perfect, sinless existence for those who trust Christ and forsake evil for good. Similar responses could be given for the rest of his questions.

The Opening Statements of each debater should have demonstrated two kinds of arguments: (1) evidence that the opponent’s position is false, and (2) evidence that the debater’s position is true. Based on the opening statements, Pastor Knechtle successfully addressed both issues. Dr. Newdow focused almost all of his attention on evidence against the opponent’s position and consequently ignored his burden to affirm his own position.

Rebuttal – Each debater has 10 minutes to respond to the Opening Statement of his Opposer.

Pastor Knechtle made the following points:

  1. Dr. Newdow has failed to give evidence that God does not exist, the terms of the debate;
  2. Dr. Newdow has not supported his own case for atheism with evidence;
  3. God won’t show himself to you because you are not humble. He has no obligation to meet an antagonistic demand. If you were humble, you would allow God to choose his own way to reveal himself, and he has, in Jesus Christ.
  4. The problem of suffering is more difficult for the atheist than the Christian. In our worldview, suffering and death has divine purpose and is ultimately met with divine justice. Also, when Pastor Knechtle’s brother suffered the death of his daughter, he realized that he had lost his daughter to an accident, while God could fully empathize with him since he sent his own son intentionally to die on our behalf.
  5. Sin, sickness, and death are the natural consequences of the bad or sinful choices made by Adam and Eve, who were given the freedom to disobey God in the Garden.

    Points five and six presuppose the biblical doctrine that all of humanity was represented by Adam as our progenitor, so that the consequences of his actions bear on all humans descended from him. In the same way, the penalty for our estrangement from God is paid, not by each of us individually, but by the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ, known because of his representative role as the “Second Adam” (cf. Romans 5:18, 1 Corinthians 15:45). If Dr. Newdow is asking for a Christian explanation for these issues, that is the basis for the Christian answer. Dr. Newdow may prefer no answer or reason for suffering and evil instead of to the Christian answer, but most people recognize the Christian answer as at least consistent with the Christian world view and, we would argue, ultimately the most satisfying.

  6. One cannot indict the justice of God on the basis of a fallen world. He did not cause it to be fallen, but he works within it to bring redemption to those who believe.
  7. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, we can count on him even when we are not good.
  8. Every time Jesus during his ministry encountered sickness and death, he healed and raised up people as a foretaste of the ultimate reconciliation that will come when God remakes the heavens and the earth.
  9. Even though there are many religions, there is only one that is verified by historical inquiry, which leads us to the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus passes every test for a true Son of God – all the other religions’ founders are dead and still in their graves; Christ is resurrected and his tomb is empty. His resurrection sets him apart from any other religious leaders.
  10. Adam and Eve were excluded from the Garden of Eden for disobeying God, not for desiring knowledge. God did not forbid knowledge, but experiential knowledge of evil. His command protected them from evil; they left his protection and chose to disobey.

In his rebuttal, Dr. Newdow made the following points:

  1. There is no empirical evidence for God such as I outlined before.
  2. I do not have to prove God does not exist because it is not possible to prove a universal negative.

    It is important to note that when a skeptic says, “It is not possible to prove a universal negative,” that he is, himself, asserting and hoping you will accept that statement, which is, itself, a universal negative. Either he has argued in a circle, using what he is attempting to prove to prove what he is already using, in which case his argument is self-defeating and useless, or else he has some way to prove it, in which case it cannot be true that one cannot prove a universal negative (because he just did). As a matter of fact, it is difficult, but not impossible, to prove some universal negatives. Each assertion should be weighed on its own merits, not simply dismissed as impossible.

  3. The Bible is a document 2000 years old, written between 20 and 80 years after the events recorded. As such it is completely unreliable as evidence. Additionally, the Bible is full of contrary data (“it’s all over the place”). Nevertheless, just because I do not know the cause of the universe, that doesn’t mean God is the cause.
  4. I do not accept Pastor Knechtle’s argument for the origin of the universe because, “there may or may not be any origin to the universe” and “who knows what a beginning even means?”
  5. I wonder how Pastor Knechtle’s acceptance of a “Big Bang” event billions of years ago coincides with the Bible’s age of the universe at 6,000 years ago.

    Dr. Newdow spent less time attacking the Bible than most skeptics do, but he couldn’t resist in certain cases. This is one. Contrary to what many skeptics and Christians believe, the Bible does not explicitly declare the age of the universe – at 6,000 years or any other age. (Some publishers of the King James Version of the Bible insert 4004 BC above Genesis 1:1. This was their own seventeenth century interpretation printed on the page. It was not something written by the author of Genesis.) There are many Bible scholars who fully endorse the absolute truthfulness and inspiration of the Bible who hold differing views on the age of the universe. The Bible is primarily a book about redemption. It is not primarily a science textbook. It should not surprise us, then, that the little science that is referred to in scripture is referred to in general terms (“God created” rather than specific terms (“God created on such-and-such a day,” etc.).

  6. People believe in God because they don’t know all of the answers to the “why” and “how” questions, so they just attribute it all to God. When we were unsophisticated in science and religion we said Apollo and his chariot pulled the sun through the sky every day. Now that we are more sophisticated we understand the rotation of the earth. The day will come when even religionists will be forced to agree that the “whys” and “hows” are better answered by science than by God.

    Christianity is not like any other religion or ancient mythology. This subject has been studied carefully by scholars of religion, theology, and history. Those who try to compare Christianity to other religious mythologies do a disservice to both categories.[17]

  7. One cannot argue from design for God, because design is present in nature as in the unique and regular features of snow flakes, ice crystals, and rock crystals. And beauty is in nature, too, so we don’t have to attribute design and beauty to God.

    This begs the question. While the regularity of flakes and crystals may result from natural law, coherent information cannot be accounted for without a Designer.[18]

    Arguments for order go far beyond mere patterns, such as those seen in snowflakes and crystals, to actual information such as discussed earlier in the example of DNA. The repeating patterns in salt crystals, for instance, might be represented as ABABABABABABA. However, DNA contains information equivalent to sentences that have meaning. When we find information, we can infer it came from an intelligent source. Another example would be the ripples that Pastor Knechtle imagined seeing in the sand on the beach. Yes, that represents a pattern, but one that we would logically conclude was the result of the natural processes of the waves. But if we were to see the words, “John loves Mary,” that obvioulsy constitutes information and we would automatically conclude there was an intelligent being behind the creation of those words. Thus, Dr. Newdow’s reliance on crystals or snowflakes fails to shoot down the conclusion of intelligent design that we can legitimately draw from examples like DNA.[19]

    Often atheists add to this response that arguments from design break down because there is so much deficiency in the natural world – an engineer, for example, would design a much more efficient leg for the horse so that horses could run faster with less effort and less chance to break down. If there is a God, he is not very good at what he does. We’re glad these atheists aren’t God and didn’t get assigned the design job. Their “more efficient” horses’ leg effectively robs the lion of his much-needed meal! God, in fact, designed everything to work harmoniously and, to borrow a popular phrase, to be “environmentally integrated.” He was the ultimate in “Gaia” design (the whole earth and all of its contents in living symbiosis). Certainly there are genuine corruptions in the natural world, but Christian theism explains that: human sinfulness had material consequences on the whole earth. On the other hand, strict materialism doesn’t have an answer for corruption in the natural world. If everything is a product of inexorable mindless matter in motion over time, with the fittest surviving and reproducing and the unfit dying out, then we should see more and more perfection in the world and less and less corruption – if any at all. The contrary is the reality we live with. The world is full of degeneracy (literally and morally), just as the Bible declares.

  8. I do not accept Pastor Knechtle’s argument about the unique complexity required for human life, including distance from the sun and available oxygen, as observations after the fact. If conditions were different, a different sort of life would have evolved within those different parameters.

    Dr. Newdow could have amplified his rejection of the argument from design in points 7 and 8 above in this way: Pastor Knechtle’s “watchmaker” must not be a very good watchmaker since the “watch” of the universe is nowhere near perfect. At most Christians have a little god who doesn’t create very good watches; at best I can point to all the flaws in the universe to nullify your apparent design. Also, you can’t argue probability back from the product to the cause. For example, by probability, the chances of dealing a royal flush in poker are minute. But occasionally it happens. If I were to deal you a royal flush, you couldn’t argue back that it must happen all the time because it happened to you. We may have what appears to be a highly ordered, complex, designed universe today, but that doesn’t mean we can assume that design – and its designer – are the ordinary order of the day. You are reading into the world what you want to find.

    Christians can respond to this amplification of Dr. Newdow’s answer in several ways. While design can be recognized and distinguished from randomness (chance) and natural law (necessity), thus indicating an intelligent designer behind the design, the quality of the design cannot properly be evaluated apart from considering the designer’s purpose in creation and the needs of the situation involved. Furthermore, there is no such thing as “perfect” design. In principle, you could never look at a watch and conclude, this is the perfect watch, because (even apart from inherent limitations that physical matter itself places on precision in measurement), one could always imagine a different set of conditions that would require changes in the watch (e.g., a watch intended for fashion at the dinner table could come in any number of styles, or one meant for deep sea diving would be made to different specifications than would one meant to run in zero gravity in outer space). So, for a critic to come along and say, as many do say, “Boy, the Creator did a lousy job designing the human eye because he placed the optic nerve on the wrong side of the retina, causing the blind spot in peripheral vision,” is invalid without considering the Creator’s purpose and needs of the situation in creating the eye the way he did. Design is clearly evident in the eye, but attempting to evaluate just how close it is to some ideal eye is fallacious.[20]

    First, if we accept the existence of God, then we are open to his explanation of the disorder in the world – it is a consequence of human sin and it will one day be corrected. Second, the skeptic cannot account even for his very own mind with which he is thinking about the idea of the perfect watchmaker. Like Pastor Knechtle’s argument from desire, we can argue that the generation and exchange of ideas and concepts presupposes the ability to think abstractly, apart from the material evidence around us. That abstract thinking ability – not just brain function – can only be derived from the ultimate Thinker/Creator. In other words, the skeptic cannot account for his own mind and his thoughts without God, who alone can cause minds that have thoughts. Third, it is the skeptic himself who is applying probability to the universe as an effect of mindless matter in motion over time, not the Christians. It is the skeptic who applies probability to the universe and all it contains by presupposing that it got that way merely through chance. If the universe and all it contains is a result of an Intelligent Designer, we would expect the after-effects of the Designer to be displayed in the world he created. The irreducible complexity and specified complexity we see does not lead us to probability and chance, but to God. It should not surprise us that the skeptic who introduces chance into his equation should find chance as the solution to the equation. The skeptic must have “blind faith” to believe a universe created by chance will be predictable, that is, that the future will be like the past.

  9. There are no moral absolutes. If morals were absolute, there wouldn’t be different standards of ethics all over the world. Ethics certainly weren’t absolute to the Nazis, who changed their ethics to allow for genocide as a good act.

    Dr. Newdow has completely misunderstood what Pastor Knechtle (and all those who discuss ethics) mean by “moral absolutes.” “Moral absolutes” means that you believe that morals are universal, abstract, and invariant. In other words, “right and wrong” are not mere individual opinion, social convention, or a biological survival mechanism; they are applicable to all people all of the time, whether people recognize them or obey them. An example is the moral absolute “it is always wrong to murder innocent people.” People may disobey this law, or disagree about what it means to murder, what constitutes innocence, and who should be considered persons, but all agree that the principle is true. Moral absolutes are universal “oughts.” They are the conscience of all moral agents. Dr. Newdow implied that the Nazi’s pursuit of the Holocaust was right because everyone is entitled to his own idea of right and wrong, who are we to judge?, and at least they thought they were right, and intention is all the matters. On this matter Dr. Newdow pontificates his own observation as accurate and absolute, with no evidence. This presupposes his world view. But this illustrates the point! If there is not God, then there is no ultimate basis upon which to declare that what the Nazis did was really wrong. We are left with the conclusion of atheism, which is that there are only preferences – that it may be distasteful for you and me to murder a whole race of people, but for them it was okay. Yet our hearts and our minds tell us this can’t be right! That’s because woven into the very fabric of what it means to be human is the awareness of certain moral absolutes. But for absolute right and wrong to exist, there must be an absolute source capable of generating morals that are then binding on us. For the same moral standard to apply to all people all of the time everywhere, it must have its justification in something or someone greater than any person or groups of people bound by it. That someone is God.

  10. Life is meaningful and valuable simply because it is. One doesn’t need a God to find meaning in life. Life is just life. We’re genetically close to mosquitos, but we don’t assume that mosquitos must have a “God-shaped hole,” without which they view life as meaningless. We are more like mosquitos than we are like God.

    Dr. Newdow could have added what some skeptics affirm: True nobility is recognizing that you are nothing special but acting well anyway. That’s why atheism is a superior philosophy to religious faith. Atheists are good just for the sake of being good, not because they think they’re destined for it or out of fear of hell. In other words, atheists are good for goodness’ sake, not to save their own hide.

    To this Christians could respond that the skeptic has still “borrowed” from Christian theism to adopt some standard of “good.” Why is it noble to act against reality? Wouldn’t it be more honest to act as if this life is all there is and we only have the illusion of thought, morality, and duty? Why is it “good” to act “good”? If it is merely the skeptic’s opinion, we are free to reject it. If it is the consensus of public opinion, it is only as good as collective agreement can make it. What if everyone agreed that being good meant becoming a Christian. Would the skeptic become a Christian just out of altruism? If it is only convention, then we are free to reject convention for a more liberated, realistic viewpoint. If “good” is self-defining or self-affirming (just a fancy way of saying it “just is,”), then the skeptic seems to be acting in blind faith that good is good and that it is good to be good. But, if Christians say God “just is,” they are mocked by the same skeptics who say morality “just is.” In fact, one cannot affirm any standard of “good” that is universal, abstract, and invariant without a source of goodness outside of this specific, concrete, and changing universe of molecules in motion. Again, that source is God.

  11. The Bible cannot be trusted any more than any other 2,000 year old diary. Eye witnesses make notoriously untrustworthy evidence. If you can get people to believe they see the face of the Virgin Mary in the side of a tree, you can get them to believe in a resurrection.

    Perhaps Dr. Newdow is less than forthright with this wholesale dismissal of eyewitness testimony. He is an attorney and attorneys appear in court. Eyewitness testimony is the bedrock of our judicial system and for Dr. Newdow to expect success in his courtroom forays on behalf of atheists burdened by religion in the public square, he undoubtedly calls witnesses for his cases. The same science that uncovers unreliable eyewitnesses can affirm the testimony of reliable eyewitnesses. The New Testament eyewitnesses would more than pass any reasonable test.

  12. The people in Jesus’ day were unsophisticated and dependent on their poor ways of thinking. They lacked a scientific approach and so were unable to explain life without God. Today we are not hampered in that way.

    As discussed earlier, non-technological cultures have some advantages that our culture does not when it comes to testing or experiencing the supernatural. Dr. Newdow is committing the common informal fallacy of “chronological snobbery” – anything old is bad; anything new is good. On the contrary, things, events, people, testimony, and evidence are good or bad on their own merits, whether new or old.

  13. I dispute Pastor Knechtle’s assertion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the testimony to it would stand up in a court of law. In fact, it would never be permitted in court and it is nowhere near a compelling case.
  14. Pastor Knechtle’s observation that I should be humble if I want to see God is just a game to get out of the fact that God failed to appear.

Closing Statements – Five minutes each

Pastor Knechtle concluded by noting that there are reliable tests for affirming that the New Testament is valuable eye-witness testimony to the reality of the resurrection. It meets four tests for authenticity:

  1. internal (It makes sense; the books present a consistent message; there are no contradictions);
  2. literary style (it meets the test as an historical account, not a fairy tale or myth);
  3. archaeological evidence overwhelmingly supports the historical accuracy of the New Testament;
  4. manuscript evidence (the numbers of copies and fragments of copies and the time span between the writing and our first complete copies) is overwhelming for the correspondence between the text we possess and what was written originally.

Describing Dr. Newdow as a cynic instead of a skeptic, Pastor Knechtle noted that a skeptic is willing to be convinced while a cynic is unwilling to be convinced, but is little more than parasitically feeding on the body of the evidence. It is easier to be a cynic, he noted, because one can dismiss everything out of hand; it is more difficult but more rewarding to be a skeptic, who evaluates the evidence and follows where it leads.

Finally, Pastor Knechtle concluded by reminding the audience of his five positive arguments for Christian theism:

  1. The universe must have been caused by an uncaused, timeless, powerful Creator;
  2. The universe in all of its complexity must have been created by an Intelligent Designer;
  3. Absolute moral laws – universal, invariant, and abstract – necessitate an ultimate, absolute Moral Lawgiver;
  4. Man’s search for meaning and purpose points to the God who created us with these needs, and who alone can fulfill them;
  5. Jesus Christ proved to be God manifest in the flesh by his historical, physical, bodily resurrection from the dead.

Dr. Newdow concluded by making the following assertions:

  1. just because many people believe in God, that does not make him exist;

    And, we might add, just because many people disbelieve in God, that doesn’t make him imaginary!

  2. there is no scientific data for God’s existence;
  3. he would rather live for truth than mythology;
  4. Pastor Knechtle’s evidence for God is all in his mind;
  5. internal consistency in the New Testament documents at most proves they colluded to produce a unified story;
  6. beautiful literature can be about anything, even about the non-existence of God, so literature cannot prove God exists;
  7. the existence of archaeological evidence doesn’t prove God exists any more than the existence of the Empire State Building proves the existence of King Kong;

    Dr. Newdow is confusing two completely different kinds of literature. The pertinent portions of the New Testament are written as historical narratives while King Kong is filmed as a fiction adventure story. One expects historical narratives to record what actually is (or was); one expects adventure stories to spin a good yarn. Again Dr. Newdow is confusing categories, comparing God in history to a gorilla in a movie.

  8. Dr.Newdow doesn’t trust his own memory for events of last week, so he will not trust the memory of disciples writing 20-80 years after the fact;

    Is Dr. Newdow being candid here? Just a short while before this he trusted his memory of the failure of DES to prevent miscarriages to be accurate and that was describing decades of historical events and information, not merely the last two weeks of Dr. Newdow’s life. In fact, as we documented earlier, the memories and writings of the New Testament writers were highly trained and experienced, and were confirmed through multiple sources.

  9. it is much easier for Dr. Newdow to believe a bunch of people got together to make up a story than to see or understand all of the Christian’s “mysteries” as proving God;
  10. Genesis is incomprehensible to a scientist looking for evidence of the beginning of the universe;
  11. if the Bible really contained the word of God, it should contain all of the discoveries of science, such as DNA. Instead we find a book that seems limited to the knowledge of pre-scientific people thousands of years ago;
  12. it is possible to feel good about yourself and meaning in life without believing in God;
  13. the God view is to world views what the Dark Ages were to science – hopelessly ignorant and false.

From a technical perspective, Pastor Knechtle won the three main parts of the debate: the Opening Statement, the Rebuttal, and the Closing Statement. He won because he stuck to the debate resolution; he addressed the main points raised by his opponent, and his conclusion summarized all of his main arguments. Dr. Newdow lost all three main parts of the debate because he replaced the resolution with his own, failed to stay on topic, ignored significant arguments raised by his opponent, and his closing statement was not really a coherent statement but more of a “laundry list” of problems he had with Christianity.

Questions from the Audience and Summarized Answers by Dr. Newdow and Pastor Knechtle

Question for Dr. Newdow: “Do you believe in toothaches even though you can’t see them, feel, them, or touch them?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: But they are empirically testable with the dentist’s X-rays, little mirrors, and drills. Subjective experience and emotions don’t prove anything.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: Toothaches are empirically testable, but some things that we agree are real are not, such as the existence of God. For example, we would all agree that Dr. Newdow has a rational mind, but we cannot empirically verify that mind. We can only see the effects of that mind as they are played out in his physical expressions. In the same way, we can believe in the existence of the invisible God because of his effect in the universe and in our lives.

We would add that reason is not material. We are not talking about brains with electrons, protons, and neutrons, we are talking about the ideas brains think about. When you think about a brown bear, you do not have a piece of matter in your brain that looks like a brown bear. You have a non-tangible idea of a brown bear expressed through the tangible brain. Mind and brain are not the same thing. Perhaps the questioner meant to ask how Dr. Newdow could account for the experience of pain, which is the mind’s reaction to the physiological event of stimulated nerve receptors communicated to the brain. That experience of pain is not empirically observable, but can be provoked empirically. If anything this is an indication that the mind is non-material and acts through the brain, which is material.[21]

Question for Pastor Knechtle: Liberal Biblical scholar Bishop Spong notes that the gospel of Mark ends with the empty tomb, not with the resurrection stories. How do you account for this contradiction between Mark and the other gospels?

The questioner is referring to the fact that many of our handwritten manuscript copies of Mark omit verses 9-20 as produced in most of our translations. Some say this means 9-20 was added at a later time and was not original to Mark. Others argue that it is authentic and that its absence is a textual omission rather than its presence being a textual interpolation. Nothing in 9-20 is unique from other statements in the New Testament and nothing in 9-20 contradicts any other New Testament statements.

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: Mark’s shorter ending does not contradict the resurrection stories. It affirms the empty tomb but is silent on the resurrection stories. Arguments from silence prove nothing. In fact, Mark does include the empty tomb, and for the empty tomb to be significant, and a cause of the religion about which Mark is writing, Mark must have assumed the resurrection.

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: We shouldn’t be surprised that made up stories contain contradictions.

On the contrary, made up stories generally avoid all such issues and questions. The fact that there are different perspectives and varying degrees of detail in the various gospel accounts points strongly to their historical validity and trustworthiness.

Question for Dr. Newdow: There are four alternatives to believe about Jesus: that he was a legend, a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Which do you think he was?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: I don’t even know if he existed, much less which role he would fill. I have no scientific evidence that he was a supernatural being.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: Not all things that are real are testable by the scientific method. Historical evidence is not scientific evidence, but it does tell us what happened in the past. The best historical evidence we have for Jesus Christ is that he was God manifest in the flesh and resurrected bodily from the grave.

Question for Pastor Knechtle: Don’t miracles contradict science?

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: If miracles didn’t contradict science, in one sense, they wouldn’t be miracles at all, but some manifestation of natural law. In another sense, miracles don’t contradict science, the observation of processes; but they contradict naturalism, the presupposition that God cannot intervene at any time. Naturalism is a world view or philosophy; science is a procedure. If God exists, then miracles – God’s direct action on or to his creation – make sense.

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: Science works, prayer doesn’t. If it’s not random, controlled, double blind, and prospective, it’s not science. And miracles pass none of those criteria.

Question for Dr. Newdow: How do you respond to reports of miraculous cures, where the doctors say there is no hope, and someone is healed, and doctors can’t explain it?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: Those so-called cures are very uncommon, and the ones that can’t be explained away as wish fulfillment, or psychosomatic mental suggestion, etc. are simply statistical abnormalities. Data is great stuff. If you get enough data to bear on the situation, you will find that almost everything leads us to believe in natural law. A few anomalies don’t overturn the vast weight of the data.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: For Dr. Newdow to use his rational mind to evaluate evidence for and against the miraculous, he must believe that his process of reasoning is an accurate path to truth. However, in his naturalistic world view, the non-personal, non-rational process of atoms in motion over time somehow must produce the personal and rational. Dr. Newdow’s mind and his ability to reason come from an Intelligent Designer, who alone can account for minds and reason. Christians can apply reason to data because we believe our minds are more than monkey brains.

Question for Pastor Knechtle: What proof do you have that God does exist?

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: God provided empirical (sense-oriented) data to Thomas by appearing before him and inviting him to touch his wounds and see that he was a real, living human being and not a ghost. Although this is evidence, it is not proof in the sense that proof (compelling anyone and everyone to believe) is impossible. Evidence in favor of – indeed, beyond a reasonable doubt – is there in the historical record. We can use the reasonable man test. For example, how do you know for sure that your mother is not fattening you up so she can put arsenic in your tea tonight? You might not be able to prove it, but you trust your mother enough not to bring a chemistry set to the dinner table every night.

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: Again, other than a 2,000 year old dubious document recording people’s stories, I see no evidence that God exists. I can explain everything by natural law.

Dr. Newdow has boxed himself into a corner where he is limited to current material realities as the only things he can know absolutely. By limiting all proofs to the scientifically or empirically verifiable, Dr. Newdow has forfeited the ability to know all kinds of things that cannot be known by empiricism alone. In actuality, different kinds of truth claims are tested in different ways. You test whether the sun is out by going outside and looking up. You test whether your spouse loves you not merely by observable behavior (a robot could be programmed to always please you), but by an intangible emotional intuition; you test whether justice has been served by applying the empirical factors in the case (who did what to whom?) to an intangible standard of right and wrong, good and bad. You test whether a math theorem is valid by (non-material) rational inquiry, etc. In the same way, you test the existence of a non-material, infinite, eternal, personal God by the appropriate means – not necessarily, or merely, empirically. Even here God has given us more than we need. He actually provided the tangible, material evidence in the incarnation and resurrection. Dr. Newdow is left with this conundrum: Is modern human society a result of blind chance and mindless matter over time, or does it betray purposeful planning and guiding?

Question for Dr. Newdow: Which society would be better and more productive? Atheist or Christian?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: The best society is a society of skeptics who challenge dogma and follow the evidence.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: Atheism promises nothing. There is no good reason to live a good life, to help others (in fact, in the survival of the fittest mode, it might be better not to help the weak and disabled), to create art and other intangibly valuable things.

Question for Pastor Knechtle: If proving God exists can’t compel my belief, why should I believe in God or Jesus?

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: Because it will change your life, give you hope, meaning, and assurance of final justice and the resurrection to life eternal.

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: Believing in something that is unbelievable is intellectually dishonest and hardly noble or good. You can’t believe just to hedge your bets, that’s dishonesty.

Question for Dr. Newdow: What kind of evidence would be evidence you would accept for God’s existence?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: I accept all the evidence that we shouldn’t believe a 2,000 year old book of mythology. You and I both believe we shouldn’t believe the mythology of Greece, why believe the mythology of Christianity? Also, God can just come down, appear right in front of me, dance around, and let me test his existence with all of the science I have at my disposal.

Over and over again Dr. Newdow relies on his fallacious demand for an immediate audience with God. He repeatedly states that the only “scientific” way to prove anything is empirically – by the senses. Although he might not have the philosophical background for his view, he is using something known as the empirical verification principle. For Dr. Newdow, one should only believe what can be empirically (or by the senses, in the material world) verified. In addition to the other responses to this view given by Pastor Knechtle and us in other places, Dr. Newdow has an insurmountable problem to overcome before we agree to his premise: Can he prove that only that which is empirically verifiable should be believed? If he could empirically prove his statement, he would win on this point. But it is impossible to ever empirically prove his statement, because you can never prove a universal claim like this via empirical examples. If he proves his statement with something other than by empirical verification, then there is at least one thing (the principle itself) that should be believed without empirical verification, thus disproving the universal statement itself. There is no way logically that Dr. Newdow can affirm the verification principle by the verification principle. His view fails logical consistency and coherence.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: God did come down in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ gave plenty of evidence to the skeptics of his day that he was God manifest in the flesh. He was tested as to his lifestyle, his ethical teachings, his friendships, and finally by the historical event of his resurrection from the dead.

Question for Pastor Knechtle: How do you know we haven’t been tricked by the resurrection stories?

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: Those who witnessed the resurrection were not believers in Christ’s immediate resurrection. They were doubters and skeptics – some of them were not even his followers during his lifetime, such as he brother James – and they tested his resurrection appearances as rigorously as a scientist would. They saw him, touched him, observed him eating and drinking and talking and relating to them as only a long time friend would relate.

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: We can know nothing about the resurrection story other than they were good story tellers, able to convince many people they were telling the truth.

Question for Pastor Knechtle: Who created God?

Answer from Pastor Knechtle: In my argument, I stated that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. God did not begin to be, so he doesn’t need – can’t have – a cause. I would again challenge my opponent, you are defending the position that God does not exist. As an atheist you must have evidence that God does not exist. If you simply don’t know, you are an agnostic, not an atheist. Which is it?

Rejoinder from Dr. Newdow: The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is irrelevant. Both positions say there is insufficient evidence to believe in God. Christianity is nothing but ancient mythology that has managed to survive in the minds of gullible people.

We would add to Pastor Knechtle’s answer the following: either something is eternal, or something came from non-existence. Something coming from non-existence is both formally (logically) false and scientifically false (from nothing, nothing comes). To argue that something finite came from something else finite doesn’t answer the question. It just moves it back one, two, or a million places. You’re still stuck with: either something is eternal, or something came from non-existence. Since nothing comes from nothing, and what we have is something, not nothing, then we must accept that something is eternal. One you overcome this hurdle, and admit that something is eternal, you’re 90% of the way to theism. Now, could the something eternal be the universe itself – the whole show in potentiality or actuality? No, for the whole show, no matter how big or how small, is nothing but a collection of finite, contingent things. There is nothing in a collection of contingent things that can produce a non-contingent thing; and nothing in a collection of emergent things that can produce an eternal thing. Since you now see that both logically and scientifically you must ascribe the whole show to something eternal, now maybe you’re ready to see how that eternal thing has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ.[22]

Question for Dr. Newdow: What about the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, documents from Jesus’ day that were only discovered 50 years ago but which support the Bible?

Answer from Dr. Newdow: The age of a discovery doesn’t impress me. I don’t believe a lot of stuff old people tell me – like my mom telling me about the tooth fairy.

When Dr. Newdow disbelieves his mother, he’s not disbelieving her because she is old, but because what she is telling him is unbelievable. He probably does believe a lot of stuff old people tell him, such as his mother when she tells him to watch before he crosses the street, or his medical school professors when they share their medical wisdom with him, etc. The question is not “Should old things like the Dead Sea Scrolls be believed?” but “Should the contents and consequences on manuscript integrity from the Dead Sea Scrolls be believed?” In this case, Dr. Newdow’s presuppositions that God does not exist and Christianity is false compel him to conclude that the Dead Sea Scrolls and inferences from them must be false. He has not given us any useful information about or method of dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Pointing to their age is a mere smokescreen to hide his presuppositions.

Rejoinder from Pastor Knechtle: The manuscript evidence for the entire Bible, including manuscript evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Old Testament, provides us with powerful and persuasive evidence that the text of the Bible we have today is what was written so many centuries before.

– This Concludes the Debate –

Further Observations Follow

Only Two Choices

This debate is Christianity vs. Atheism. Which is true? If one is true, the other cannot be true. If no god exists, then:

  • The universe is not coherent, consistent, and orderly. It is mere mindless matter in motion acted upon by chance over time. There is no rhyme or reason for existence over non-existence, much less any particular existence.
  • There is no genuine moral sense, duty, or action, only mindless matter in motion manifesting itself as human behavior, masquerading as genuine thoughtful values.
  • There is no genuine rational thought, including rational inquiry, the laws of logic, the apprehension of truth, or even the exchange of ideas, such as in this debate forum. There is mere mindless matter in motion over time displaying its inherent properties, aspects of the struggle of the fittest to survive.
  • There is no genuine, altruistic love between moral agents, but mere mindless matter in motion over time manifesting a particular brain state that masquerades as subject-object altruistic affection when it is really only an untrustworthy survival mechanism.
  • There is no consistency in the scientific method (the method itself is a brain state masquerading as an idea, hypothesis, or theory), since the effect (human minds) would be greater than the cause (mindless matter in motion over time).
  • There is no validity to the scientific principle of predictability or natural law since what chance creates it may just as easily and quickly destroy.

In other words, Dr. Newdow has conceded the debate merely by agreeing to appear at this debate and engage in rational discourse. In order to participate in the debate as a genuine exercise in truth finding, and not merely a chance encounter between bundles of genetic matter, Dr. Newdow assumes that the universe is coherent, consistent, and orderly; that there is genuine moral duty; that there is genuine rational thought (and communication of ideas); that there is genuine care and concern for others (those he hoped to persuade); that there is consistency in the scientific method (the effect, other minds, comes from a sufficient cause, the One mind); that predictability and natural law actually govern the processes of the universe. In short, he has assumed a theistic world view without acknowledging it – that God exists, created us, and created the world in which we live and dialog.

Do Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Proof?

Dr. Newdow did not explicitly use an argument we often encounter from skeptics, especially skeptics who claim to be “scientifically oriented:” Christian theism and its beliefs are extraordinary and therefore require extraordinary proof. You claim the New Testament is better attested than any other piece of classical literature, but I can’t believe that makes the extraordinary events recorded in the New Testament believable. Extraordinary statements require extraordinary proof. Christian theism can’t produce it.

There are at least three responses to this argument. The first response: Who says extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs? That’s an extraordinary claim, a claim that seems to be universal, absolute, and invariant. What extraordinary proof do you have that your claim is true and valid? You can’t respond that “it only makes sense,” or “everyone understands this,” or “how could it be otherwise?” All of those are mere assertions. They are not reasons or proofs at all. In fact, you can’t adduce extraordinary proof for your extraordinary claim about extraordinary claims. Even in your own system, there is no reason to believe you.

The second response: It is far more reasonable to say that any claim should be backed up by proof that is adequate and appropriate to the case. Even a very ordinary and mediocre claim such as “Eating green beans is healthful” should only be believed if there is adequate and appropriate evidence to support it. The claim “Eating green library paste is healthful” only sounds extraordinary because we intuitively don’t believe it. It is of the same kind, however, as the first claim and can be proved (or in this case disproved) by the same kinds of proof. In the same way, “Jesus Christ is God” is of the same kind of statement as “Michael Newdow is God.” What sort of proof would affirm or deny each of these claims? Well, one would think that God would be able to do miracles, would have an impeccable character, would demonstrate power over matter, and would demonstrate his ability to overcome normal mortal demise. Well, when we apply the same standard of proof to each claim, we find that the claim for Jesus Christ is affirmed by the evidence, while the claim for any other mere mortal is denied by the evidence.

The third response is to apply the skeptics’ principle to their own denials. It is an extraordinary claim to say this vast and complex universe came from nothing and was caused by nothing. It’s an extraordinary claim to tell us the incredible order we see throughout the universe was caused by blind chance. It’s an extraordinary claim to argue that the innate sense of right and wrong that all of us share – even when it condemns our own actions – came about by non-moral mindlessness or mere human consensus. It’s certainly an extraordinary claim to say that a man who has all of the character and credentials to back up his claim to be the Son of God – and who rises from the dead to prove it – is really a self-deluded fool or, worse yet, a deceiver. In conclusion, no, the evidence is far too weak to believe the extraordinary claim of atheism that there is no God behind these things.

The proper “golden rule” of evidence is not that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proofs, but rather that any claim should be testable by appropriate methods to that claim. (Historical claims are not tested in the laboratory, but in the libraries, archaeological digs, artifacts, and present consequences of human life. The healthful qualities of green beans are tested in the laboratory and field trials. The deity of Christ is tested in his life, death, and resurrection – and through the eyewitness accounts and historical documents that powerfully declare these things to be true.

What Does “Winning the Debate” Produce?

Although we believe the Christian won the debate by both technique and content, that does not mean that Dr. Newdow would agree with our assessment or that he would become a Christian even if he did agree. In thirty years of debating and moderating debates, we have never known a debate participant to admit defeat and be persuaded – certainly not on the platform, and in nearly all cases not later on account of the debate itself. However, we have talked to many people who have listened to debates and been persuaded from a position of doubt or even outright opposition to a position of assent to the fact, closely followed by believing faith. Pastor Knechtle’s primary focus at the debate was not to persuade Dr. Newdow, but to convince those in the crowd who were open minded toward the facts he presented.

From the Voices of the Experts

“According to the big bang theory, the whole matter of the universe began to exist at a certain time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.” – Atheist Anthony Kenny

“If life on earth is a product of blind, purposeless natural causes, then our own lives are cosmic accidents. There’s no source of transcendent moral guidelines, no unique dignity for human life. On the other hand, if life is the product of foresight and design, then you and I were meant to be here. In God’s revelation we have a solid basis for morality, purpose, and dignity.” – Nancy Pearcey, Author, The Soul of Science

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” – Albert Einstein

“There is no sense in which atheism is enforced or established by science.” – Nobel prize winner and biologist Christian de Duve

“Through my scientific work I have come to believe more and more strongly that the physical universe is put together with an ingenuity so astonishing that I cannot accept it merely as a brute fact. There must, its seems to me, be a deeper level of explanation.” – British physicist Paul Davies

“The vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. If find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.” – Dr. Werner von Braun, father of space science

“DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software we’ve ever created.” – Bill Gates, Microsoft

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that Materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” – Harvard geneticist Richard Lowentin

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.” – Sir Fred Hoyle

“The truth claims of atheism simply cannot be proved. How do we know that there is no God? The simple fact of the matter is that atheism is a faith, which draws conclusions that go beyond the available evidence.” – British philosopher Alister McGrath

“If Christianity should happen to be true – that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe – then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true. All things not only may have something to do with the Christian God, but must have something to do with Him if He lives and reigns.” – G. K. Chesterton

Unanswered Questions

Literally hundreds of questions were handed in or E-mailed to the debaters during the debate. Only a few were answered at the time. We have reviewed most of them and have selected a few to answer that were commonly asked or that showed a common area of concern or interest.

(For Dr. Newdow) Were you raised a Christian or “religious”? If so, what event happened in your life to lose this faith?

Passantinos: The Bible tells us in Romans 1 that the creation itself bears testimony to the existence of God, and Romans 2 tells us that when people obey their conscience, they betray an innate knowledge of God. People who are not Christians and do not believe the Bible is God’s Word reject this view and say they don’t believe because belief in God is unbelievable. Regardless the subjective experience one has regarding faith or belief, the evidence must stand or fall on its ability to tell the truth. One could reject belief in God for a fallacious reason, and it could still be the case that God does not exist. One could believe in God for a fallacious reason, and it could still be the case that God does exist. Personal experience unsubstantiated by corroborating evidence or testimony is valid for the person experiencing it, but it is useless as a test for truth to others.

(For Pastor Knechtle) I’ve heard atheists challenge God to appear on the stage before. Usually they go further than Dr. Newdow did and say that because they mock God, hate God, and reject God, God should strike them dead if he really exists. They seem to think that their continued existence proves that God does not exist. How would you answer this?

Passantinos: This twist on Dr. Newdow’s challenge is common. We invited an atheist to speak to one of our classes and he brought out this version of the challenge. The famous atheist orator from the late 19th century, Colonel Robert Ingersoll, made a similar challenge, giving God 30 seconds to strike him dead. The story goes that one time the opposing debater came to the podium and mused, “It amazes me that Colonel Ingersoll thinks he can exhaust the patience of the infinite God in 30 seconds.” Let’s look at this challenge a little more closely. Suppose an atheist were to make the challenge, and a slightly deranged religious person were to rise, pull a gun, and say, “God is telling me to shoot you!” Would the atheist then believe God had answered his challenge and repent? Or would he run for his life and press charges, accusing the deranged believer of being psychotic? And what if Dr. Newdow just coincidentally dropped dead of a heart attack after his challenge. Would everyone left alive immediately assume God exists and convert to Christianity? Not likely! Whether in this strong form or Dr. Newdow’s weaker form, the challenge for God to appear was answered 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ.

(For Dr. Newdow) Many viewers were concerned about life after death. They seemed unable to understand how someone could believe that you simply cease do exist when you die.

Passantinos: The desire for and belief in life after death seems a fundamental human experience not easy to deny. Nevertheless, the honest atheist will answer that he has no hope, no expectation of final perfection, no confidence in ultimate justice prevailing. A Christian philosopher was once challenged by an atheist who mocked him for trying to explain to the mother of a slain child that there was meaning and purpose in her child’s suffering and death, that God would ultimately see that justice was done. The Christian responded to the atheist by challenging him to console the mother with the “good news” that her child’s death was completely meaningless, served no higher purpose, and that justice would never be served. It is difficult to throw off the innate longing for meaning God places within each of us.

(For both Pastor Knechtle and Dr. Newdow) Many viewers were concerned with end times issues. Some wondered why Pastor Knechtle didn’t point to the current world events they think have been prophesied in the Bible. Others wondered how Dr. Newdow could deny the existence of God when they believed prophecies were being fulfilled continually in our contemporary world.

Passantinos: This is not a helpful argument to use with skeptics for at least two reasons. First, one must believe God exists to be impressed by supposed prophetic fulfillment. If it is the case that God does not exist, then whatever the prophecies may look like they are not evidences of God. They may be shrewd guesswork, coincidence, etc. Second, most ideas about the end times have little to do with what the Bible actually says and mostly to do with what one’s own subjective interpretations are. For 2000 years Christians have attempted to fit prophetic scriptures to current events, and every attempt has come short. Christ did not tell us what it would be like at the end so that we could make a count-down calendar, but so that we can be assured that when we suffer in this life we can be comforted with the fact that even in the most extreme circumstances of human history, God is there to protect, comfort, and embolden his people. It is better to focus on what God has already shown us in Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection than on what God has promised for the future but not yet fully fulfilled.

(For Dr. Newdow) How many atheists are there in the world?

Passantinos: Might doesn’t make right, and numbers don’t determine the truth or falsity of a view. However, it is an interesting question. For the amount of public attention they receive, one would think skeptics (atheists, agnostics, and other non-religious people) compose a significant percentage of the population. There are not accurate statistics available since the group is generally amorphous and doesn’t have a way of keeping records such as are kept by organized religious groups. Most skeptics get their numbers by counting individual subscriptions to skeptical periodicals. This is not very reliable, since one person may well subscribe to more than one publication and so be counted twice or more; some subscribers are not skeptics (we ourselves subscribe to six different skeptical periodicals); and certainly there are non-religious people who don’t subscribe to any skeptical periodicals. Using subscription numbers and limited polling results, most skeptics agree that the percentage of completely nonreligious people worldwide is around 1%, perhaps as much as 3% in the most secular nations of Europe and North America.

(For Dr. Newdow) Why not believe in Christianity anyway? If you do and you’re wrong, you’ll just cease to exist. If you do and you’re right, you get to go to heaven.

Passantinos: This argument is sometimes referred to as Pascal’s Wager and refers to the idea that when faced with alternatives, the alternative with the most attractive consequences should be chosen; or the alternative with the worst consequences should be avoided. In our opinion, one must be pretty sure of himself if he thinks he can out-gamble God in the Roulette Table of life. God makes it very clear in the Bible that those who have faith, who repent of their sins, and who sincerely ask for forgiveness will be saved. God created us to love, worship, and obey him, not to calculate the odds and join the winning side. If one were to “believe in Jesus” (whatever that means under the circumstances) just to hedge his bet against eternity in hell, he would be disqualified anyway. It is much easier to gamble than it is to think through the evidence and arguments and then be willing to set aside one’s own selfish desires to come to know Jesus Christ. But the harder way is the better way, and the way that leads to eternal life.

(For Dr. Newdow) Many viewers were surprised that Dr. Newdow seemed unfamiliar with the Bible, with Christian beliefs, and with the common atheist and Christian arguments. They felt that he did not take the debate or Christianity seriously.

Passantinos: Both atheist and Christian viewers shared this opinion. With no disrespect to Dr. Newdow, we can all learn a valuable lesson from the aspect of the debate. To show respect and courtesy to the one you are debating, as well as to your audience, you have an obligation to study both sides of the issue as well as you can so that you make an informed presentation and persuade people with the truth rather than mere subjective, emotive experience. Careful preparation and serious study has personal benefits as well. You may discover new information and highly valuable truths along the way!

We hope these thoughts and the further evidence we’ve presented will be helpful to you in your spiritual journey. We’re convinced, as we hope you are convinced or soon will be, that the facts point overwhelmingly toward the truth of Christianity. We’re confident that the deeper you look, the more convinced you’ll be that Jesus really is the risen Son of God, and that there’s nothing better you can do in this life than to follow and serve him. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Bob and Gretchen Passantino

  1. Bob and Gretchen Passantino are the directors of Answers In Action ( and have spent more than three decades in Christian ministry, sharing the gospel with non-believers, defending the Christian faith, and educating Christians. They both have Master of Divinity degrees from Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary. Other articles of interest are available on their Web site.
  2. The summary is not meant to be complete or word-for-word. It highlights the main points made by both debaters.
  3. These arguments and others have been used by Christians for many centuries. They are neither disqualified for being old, nor automatically valid because they are old. They have stood the test of time. Atheist responses are inadequate to overturn the value of approaches like this. For more information on arguments for the existence of God, we recommend Philosophy of Religion (Second Edition) by Norman Geisler and Winfried Corduan (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988) and Scaling the Secular City by J. P. Moreland (Baker Book House, 1987). We reviewed these and other arguments for God’s existence, including the transcendental argument, in two articles posted on our web site: “Imagine There’s No Heaven” and “Religion, Truth, and Value Without God.”
  4. More information on the differences in the forms of the cosmological argument are found in Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City, 15-42. The entire book presents various arguments for the existence of God.
  5. A comprehensive form of this argument is in Hugh Ross’s The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO: Nav Press, 1993), Chapters Fourteen through Sixteen. Also see Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City, 51-57.
  6. See Johnson’s books, including Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), Reason in the Balance: The Case against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education (InterVarsity Press, 1995), and The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (InterVarsity Press, 2000).
  7. Books from leading scientists in this field like Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996) and mathematician William A. Dembski’s Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999).
  8. See Scaling the Secular City, 44-57.
  9. God and Evil is discussed in C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain: The Intellectual Problem Raised by Human Suffering Examined with Sympathy and Realism (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962). We discuss the disharmony between atheists who hold moral absolutes without God and atheists who reject moral absolutes in order to avoid believe in God in our “Imagine There’s No Heaven” article (referenced before), where we also note that the first kind of atheist has no adequate foundation or source for his kind of absolute morals.
  10. For further information see another debate, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Fiction? between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann (InterVarsity Press, 2000), edited by Paul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli and Gary Habermas’s The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (College Press, 1996).
  11. Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God (London: The Centenary Press, 1944), 9.
  12. Further information on this is available in Gregory A. Boyd’s Cynic Sage or Son of God: Recovering the Real Jesus in an Age of Revisionist Replies [Baker Book House (Bridgepoint Books), 1995) and in Gary Habermas’s The Historical Jesus.
  13. For fascinating scientific evidence that the mind is not the brain, see Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley’s The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (New York: Harper Collins, 2002). For a philosophical approach, see Arthur C. Custance’s The Mysterious Matter of Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae’s Body & Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics (InterVarsity Press, 2000), and Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland’s Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), Chapters Two and Three.
  14. See the debate between the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen and the late Dr. Gordon Stein, available in a paraphrased transcript at, Real Audio version at or order a cassette copy from Covenant Media Foundation at This is also discussed in our article, “Religion, Truth, and Value without God,” at
  15. Many authors have covered these issues extensively. For further discussion, see Boyd’s Cynic Sage or Son of GodJesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Willkins and J. P. Moreland (Zondervan, 1995), Paul Barnett’s Is the New Testament Reliable? A Look at the Historical Evidence (InterVarsity Press, 1993) and Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity (InterVarsity Press, 2002), Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (InterVarsity Press, 1987), or Gary Habermas’s The Historical Jesus.
  16. Further discussion along these lines is available in Geisler and Corduan’s Philosophy of Religion and Ronald Nash’s Faith and Reason (Zondervan, 1988) and in Paul Copan’s That’s Just Your Interpretation: A Response to Skeptics Who Challenge Your Faith (Baker Book House, 2001).
  17. Information on the differences between mythology and Christianity should read Geoffrey Parrinder’s Avatar and Incarnation: A Comparison of Indian and Christian Beliefs (London: Oxford University Press, 1982), Sir Norman Anderson’s Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism (InterVarsity Press, 1984), Edwin Yamauchi’s Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History? at, Ronald Nash’s The Gospels and the Greeks (Eerdmans, 1986), or J. Gresham Machen’s The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1921).
  18. See Dembski’s Intelligent Design.
  19. See Scaling the Secular City, 51-52.
  20. See William Dembski’s Intelligent Design, 261-264.
  21. See Footnote 12 for good resources on this subject.
  22. For further discussion using this approach, see Richard Purtill’s Reason to Believe (Minneapolis, MN: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), especially Chapters Three and Four. For those who are familiar with philosophy, this is not a fallacy of composition [see Norman L. Geisler’s Christian Apologetics (Baker Book House, 1976, 254-255)] and Geisler and Corduan’s Philosophy of Religion, 201-202.
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