The debate took place at the University of Minnesota, hosted by the Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists. Assistant Professor Nichols moderated and began by introducing the two speakers. First, he identified Todd Friel of Way of the Master Radio, after which there was much applause and cheering from the audience. Then Professor Nichols introduced Dan Barker, co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and there was even more cheering and applause. Barker had this to say in his book, "Godless":
Todd is a funny guy, a former stand-up comic with lots of punchy one-liners. When he was introduced, there was a huge response of cheering and applause from the audience, and I could see how happy he was to be among his friends and admirers. Then, when I was introduced, there was an even louder burst of applause and cheering, for just as long, from the atheist and agnostic students who were not about to be outdone by the believers. You should have seen the look on Todd's face when he realized, 'This is not my crowd.'
Friel gave the first Opening Statement, and after a joke about opening the debate in prayer, he began by retelling the Biblical story of Naaman who suffered from a skin disease akin to leprosy. He traveled to Israel on rumors of a prophet called Elisha who could heal him. Elisha wouldn't see Naaman, but sent his servant to tell Naaman to dip seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman was furious and stormed away, arguing that there were cleaner rivers in his home country of Persia. Naaman's servant stopped him, arguing that doing what Elisha said couldn't hurt. Naaman relented, dipped in the Jordan River seven times, and according to the story, God healed Naaman completely.
"That's the missing information," said Friel, "to help you decide if God exists or not."
Friel explained that the audience would hear "two stories tonight." Calling a debate about the existence of a supernatural deity a pair of "stories" is an old tactic that's been in use for millennia. In an older, less skeptical age, audiences judged a speaker not based on his argument or evidence but on his authority and ability to tell a story. Speakers who were dynamic and forceful were more likely to be believed over those who spoke rationally and with reason.
Dan's story, continued Friel, is Atheistic Evolution: "Nothing blew up and became Something. That's foolish."
Right away we found out that Friel has a naive understanding of the Theory of Evolution. Evolution is at its simplest the explanation of genetic changes in living organisms over time. Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of a God or supernatural world. Calling Evolution atheistic is also puzzling given the millions of believers in God who accept the theory of Evolution. Traditionally, those who call Evolution Atheistic identify themselves as Young-Earth Creationists, the small subset of Christians who interpret the opening chapters of Genesis literally, asserting that Jehovah created the entire Universe in six 24-hour days around 6,000 years ago. This assertion is backed up by no scientific evidence whatsoever, and is rejected by an overwhelming percentage of scientists *and* Bible-believing Christians. To say that Evolution is "Nothing blew up and became Something," also conflates Evolution (which only concerns living organisms) with Cosmology and Stellar Evolution.
However, Friel said that the second story also appears foolish: "Something created Something out of Nothing." Foolish, that is, said Friel, without the missing information called Naaman. Friel said that the story is an allegory for the Gospel (meaning the message of Jesus Christ). Peter at Pentecost stated that Jews crucified Jesus according to God's prearranged plan. Plan for what? For God's glory. Friel stated that God created a perfect world for two humans (Adam and Eve) knowing full well that they would use their free will to choose to disobey. God did so because he knew that he would in the future die so that "we would say what a good, kind, amazing God he is." According to Friel, both stories of how the Universe came to be until you know the missing information--namely, God has to have the credit, and if we will humble ourselves before him God will accept us since then he gets all the glory.
By this time, Friel's allotted time for Opening Statement is more than half over, and he has yet to offer a single piece of evidence that God or any supernatural being exists. Instead, he only gives a description of God. Of course, fictional beings can be described, even in great detail. If someone said that Santa Claus was fat and jolly and would give you a lump of coal if you weren't a good boy or girl, would anyone accept that as evidence that Santa Claus exists?
Friel admits that he skipped a lot of steps, assuming what he was there to prove. Perhaps now we'll hear some evidence that God exists?
"Of course he does," says Friel. "Of *course* he does." He then states the Argument from Design by declaring that since the microphone he was holding had a designer then everything must have a designer, which he called "God's cosmic Duh."
Next Friel invokes the human conscience as proof of God's existence. "If you have a brain you should say, Hey, there's a creator, I've done wrong, I better figure out what to do to be made right with him." Friel then commits the Fallacy of Arguing to Emotion, by asking if we've ever done anything wrong, then one day we will have to face God, whom he describes as a "wrath-filled God and he will have his day in court with everyone in this room." This was followed by disturbing chortles of laughter from the Christians in the room, the idea being that everyone (except them of course) will one day be really sorry they didn't believe in God.
Friel ended his Opening Statement with what by all appearances was an emotional-filled altar call: "Combine his creation with your conscience and if you call out to him He . . . Will . . . Save you."
Overall, Friel's Opening Statement left little hope that any evidence for the existence of God will be explored. Friel seemed to think the debate was to argue about the nature of God or what sort of attitude should people have when approaching God. Friel contradicted himself by saying that God was both loving and amazing by dying on our behalf, but also filled with wrath because we aren't perfect. Ethically this is horrific. God both is so furious with us because we aren't perfect, but also loves us so much to commit suicide on our behalf to satisfy his code of justice, but only if we all give him all the credit due to his fragile ego. Why any being who acted this way would qualify to be called God is sadly left unexplained by Friel.
Next: Dan Barker's Opening Statements