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I was invited by Pastor Tim Harlow to join him in a discussion at his Parkview Christian Church a little over a month ago. As they were spending some time talking about the Da Vinci Code and the issues raised by the book/movie, it seemed like the topic of “Doubt” was an important one and who better to help talk about doubt than an Atheist?

So, we decided we would have a discussion on stage. Not a debate. Very informal. I’d ask a question, he’d ask one, and we’d go back and forth until time ran out. Parkview is a (rapidly) growing church and it currently holds three services, one Saturday night and two on Sunday. Tim and I wanted to hold different dialogues each time (so it wouldn’t be scripted for any session).

I must admit: it was a bit nervewracking. Not only are thousands of people who disagree with me watching me, but I’m still a rookie at best responding to tough questions. I did what I could and I’m still doing a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking… but the audio can be found below. Judge for yourself:

Session 1: Saturday night’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

Session 2: Sunday morning’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

Session 3: Sunday afternoon’s dialogue. (wma) (Realplayer)

A DVD should be available soon, and when it is, it’ll be posted here.

Some thoughts on the weekend (and for future reference):

  • I received *many* emails from Atheists who said I was living out their dream in talking to a pastor in front of his congregation. They sent me Bible verses they wanted explained (“Look! It says the punishment for working on the Sabbath day is DEATH!”), questions that were rude in nature, and links to logical fallacies. Those things are often pointed out in a debate to show how wrong the other side is. The point here, though, was not to beat each other. It was to ask questions we sincerely want to know about the other side… things that don’t get talked about in debates. If you’re going into a church with the mindset to “beat” the pastor and not go in with an open mind, they have no reason to invite you.That’s doesn’t mean I didn’t ask hard questions. I did try to do that. But they went beyond logical fallacies that every Christian has heard or trying to catch Tim in some mistake.
  • There were a lot of points I should’ve followed up on which I let slide. I asked Tim what he thought about Pat Robertson when he said crazy things like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 happened because of rampant lesbianism (or what have you). He responsed–and I’m paraphrasing–“Even if I believed that stuff, which I don’t, I would never say that out loud.” I needed to follow up with why it would even be okay to *think* those thoughts in the first place. (Session one)Similarly, I asked if Gandhi was going to hell for not being Christian. Tim spent a while answering the question… perhaps to soften the blow of the answer. I needed to reiterate the point for the audience: “So you think Gandhi is going to Hell?” That would’ve had a stronger effect, but I didn’t think to do it. (Session 1)Ditto with the social issues like putting Ten Commandments in the courthouse and “Under God” in the Pledge. This should’ve been an easy point for me to make, and I don’t feel like I made it strong enough. (End of session 1)And my own points against Creationism should’ve been my strongest, but I know I didn’t explain Evolution as strongly as I should have. I let the creationist/Intelligent Design view get by with too much credibility. Richard Dawkins would be so disappointed with me… (Session 2) This upset me more than anything all weekend. So I’ll post a much longer critique of points Tim made about Creationism later this week. But some things I would appreciate a better (quicker, more effective) response to:– Teaching only Evolution is like throwing out the number 4 and asking what 2 + 2 is. If you take out a possible explanation, isn’t any answer not correct?

    — Michael Behe’s book is brilliant.

    — Proof of evolution (Yes, there are long answers to this. What are some short, quick ones?)

  • Some questions I wrote down, but didn’t get a chance to ask:– What would you do if one of your daughters became an Atheist?– What problem does the church have with gay people?– When scientists say they have found a 3.4 billion year old microbe, how do you reconcile that with the idea of a 6,000 year old Earth? (Or if you don’t believe in the Young-Earth theory, why do you believe the scientists when they say this but not when they say something about Evolution?)– What a better thing to do when we die: Get buried as we are, or donate our organs or bodies to Science? Similarly, on an event like the National Day of Prayer, should we pray or donate blood?

Anyway, I mention the negative parts because they stood out in my mind the most. But there were a lot of positives, too, and if you listen to the audio, I hope you hear them. I think it was important for everyone to hear from Tim that the Bible is not word-for-word perfect. I think it was good for the audience to hear from me that Atheists don’t say “There is no God,” but rather, “I don’t believe in God.”

I’d love to read your thoughts.

And now, I really can 🙂 Please comment below.

[tags]Creationism, Parkview, atheism, Christian, Harlow, National Geographic, Darwin, Evolution, Da Vinci Code[/tags]