(CNSNews.com) - A debate between two Christian evangelists and two atheist activists on whether God exists has drawn mixed reaction, with a humanist leader Thursday calling the event a "lopsided victory" for atheists, while a nonbeliever in the audience praised the evangelists for doing a "good job."
The ABC News "Nightline Face Off" pitted preacher and author Ray Comfort and former child star Kirk Cameron -- both from the "Way of the Master" ministry -- against two unnamed members of the "Rational Response Squad." The atheists obscured their identities, because they said were afraid of reprisals.
Although the debate was videotaped before an audience of 100 people in the Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan on Saturday, it wasn't posted on the ABC News website until Wednesday, and an abbreviated version of the event was shown on Nightline on Wednesday night.
After watching the debate, Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, told Cybercast News Service on Thursday that he "was surprised, actually, that the TV coverage made the debate seem a lot more balanced than it was when you watched it online."
From that perspective, "the Rational Response Squad made it quite clear that there's no way you can argue scientifically for the existence of God," Speckhardt said.
"Given that this was a debate between Comfort and Cameron -- who essentially are professionals at what they're doing -- and some people who are essentially volunteers on the other side, that was a surprisingly lopsided victory for those with the atheist perspective," he added.
For their part, Comfort and Cameron say the most encouraging response they've received from the program was an email from a member of the audience.
"Good job," the viewer wrote. "Although I received my invitation to the show via the atheist camp, I must confess that I was impressed with the two of you (and that I was embarrassed by at least two atheist audience members, whose hostile questions bordered on heckling -- I admired your calm and courteous responses).
"I find the 'design means there was a designer' argument to be perfectly logical," the writer stated.
That concept was used by Comfort in the early stage of the discourse as evidence that God does indeed exist.
"When I look at a painting, how can I know there was a painter?" he asked. "Well, the painting is absolute, 100 percent scientific proof there was a painter.
"And exactly the same applies with the existence of God," the evangelist said. "Creation is 100 percent scientific proof there was a Creator."
"We see a painting, we know there was a painter," one of the atheists, who calls himself "Sapient," conceded. But, he added, "We can call the painter, we can call the paint maker - but we can't call God to go visit his universe factory. Can Ray take us to God's factory to watch creation in action?"
The atheist also charged that there was "a huge, gaping hole" in Comfort's argument. "Simply put, if all creations need a creator, then what created God?"
Comfort replied that God "exists out of time" in a manner beyond human comprehension, "just as we accept the idea that the universe is infinite because we aren't able to chart its boundaries."
For his part, Cameron focused on "the issue keeping so many people from believing in God" - Darwinian evolution, which he called "a fairy tale for grownups" because of what is called the "missing link."
"Science has never found a genuine transitional form that is one kind of animal crossing over into another kind, either living or in the fossil record," he said. "And there are supposed to be billions of them."
"Sapient" replied that evolution is ongoing, and "we are all transitional life-forms."
When debate moderator Martin Bashir asked the atheists what would happen if they're wrong about God, "Kelly" had a quick answer: "I would rather go to hell than go to heaven and worship a megalomaniacal tyrant."
In his final comment, Sapient said that "religion is a force for good when you take out the murder, mass genocide committed by God as documented in the Bible, religious wars, burning witches at the stake and Ted Haggard," - reference to an evangelical leader accused of engaging in extra-marital homosexual trysts.
Cameron ended his part in the debate by stressing that "if someone insists there is no God when creation clearly demonstrates that there is a Creator, the problem is not an intellectual one, it is a moral one. It is not the problem that you can't find God, it's that you won't find God."
After the event, Comfort released a statement indicating that he believed "the debate went wonderfully" even though "we were taken aback by the aggressive nature" of some in the audience, which was evenly divided between believers and atheists.
"The believers were very polite and quiet, while the atheists were extremely vocal" and even "nasty," he said. "We felt like a couple of goldfish in a pool of hungry piranhas and were getting a sense of what the early Christians must have felt in a Roman colosseum."
While the atheist debaters have not released a statement on the debate, they have set up a discussion forum on their website entitled "The Official RRS Defeats Way of the Master."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the debate was the result of a challenge from Comfort, whose "Way of the Master" ministry was profiled in a "Nightline" segment in 2006.
After seeing a feature in March on the RRS and its "Blasphemy Challenge," the evangelist e-mailed the show's producers to go face-to-face with the group and its members' belief that the existence of God cannot be proven scientifically.
See Earlier Story:
Blasphemy Site 'Playing Texas Hold 'Em With Eternity' (Feb. 5, 2007)
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