(CNSNews.com) - Two Christian evangelists and two atheist activists are squaring off in a 90-minute debate about whether God really exists - in a program to be shown on the ABC News website Wednesday afternoon, and an abbreviated version of the event will be broadcast during that evening's edition of the network's "Nightline" series.
"We are very grateful to ABC for taking this courageous step," said Ray Comfort of the "Way of the Master" ministry in a news release regarding the first "Nightline Face Off," which was recorded before a live audience of about 100 people in New York City on Saturday. "As far as we know, nothing like this has ever been done before."
The author of more than 40 books, the New Zealand native claims he can prove the existence of God, scientifically, without mentioning faith or the Bible.
He is joined in the debate by Kirk Cameron, who is best known for portraying young Mike Seaver in the long-running TV sitcom "Growing Pains." The actor converted to Christianity when he was 17 years old and is currently Comfort's partner in their ministry's television and radio programs.
"We are excited that the network has decided to do this because we have something very relevant to present," Cameron stated in the news release. "Most people think that belief in God is simply a matter of blind faith and that His existence can't be proven.
"We will not only prove that God exists, but as an ex-atheist, I'll show that the issue keeping so many people from believing in God -- Darwinian evolution -- is completely unscientific," he added. "It's a fairy tale for grownups."
Moderated by "Nightline" anchor Martin Bashir, the debate pits Comfort and Cameron against two members of a group called the "Rational Response Squad," which describes itself on its website as "fighting to free humanity from the mind disorder known as theism."
"We are dedicated to responding to irrational claims - such as the ones being put forth by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron that they can prove the existence of God scientifically," the atheists said of the debate. "We are here to prove that not only can they not do that, but it cannot be done using the scientific method and knowledge available to us today."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the organization began the year by launching the "Blasphemy Challenge," a campaign encouraging young people to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit.
Since then, more than 1,200 persons have visited blasphemychallenge.com and posted videotapes of themselves saying "I deny the Holy Spirit" on the YouTube website in defiance of Mark 3:29, the Bible verse that states: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
In addition, the group produces a weekly Internet radio show promoting atheism and denouncing religion from its headquarters in northeastern Philadelphia, Pa.
Because they have received death threats, the atheist participants in the ABC News debate have chosen to obscure their identities. Brian "Sapient" is using a false last name, and Kelly has asked that the rest of her name not be revealed.
Money or message?
The debate has its origin on March 17, 2006, when the late-night ABC News program "Nightline" aired a segment on the Way of the Master that described the organization as "a charitable trust created to educate and equip the church to preach the message of Christianity to nonbelievers."
The profile indicated that the ministry "has a weekly television show for which Comfort and Cameron literally hit the streets in the name of Jesus, challenging nonbelievers that their sins against God will lead directly to hell."
Nine months later, on Jan. 30, 2007, "Nightline" aired a feature on the "Blasphemy Challenge," which Comfort saw. He immediately e-mailed the show's producers to challenge the atheists to a public debate.
"Let's hear their best evidence as to why God doesn't exist, and let the audience decide whose evidence is based on faith and whose is based on fact," Comfort wrote.
E-mails and telephone calls seeking comment from the atheist debaters were not returned by press time. However, in a bulletin board message on the group's website, "Sapient" stated that while he doesn't believe Comfort and Cameron are lying about their belief in God, "they're just smart businessmen (substitute 'con-men' if you wish)."
"Sapient" also called the event "a wise idea" for the Christian debaters, because it has presented "a huge publicity opportunity so they could sell more books and tapes."
Comfort acknowledged that the ABC News website draws about 19 million visitors every month, "but with more than 177 million people in the U.S. who call themselves Christians, we are sure that [the debate] will draw an even larger viewing audience."
Still, the evangelist said that his reason for participating in the debate is not the money he hopes to make but the message he wants to convey.
"Is there actually evidence for God?" he asked. "That's the most important question any of us will ever consider."
See Earlier Story:
PBS TV Stations to Air Three-Part Documentary on Atheism (April 30, 2007)
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