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Articles concerning the existence of God.

The Debate of the Century: Part 3 - Conclusion



(Program begins with man in audience)

I think it’s a tremendous conquest for Christianity. Anyone who comes, whether he has really studied the philosophical arguments or not, cannot help but notice that the case that is being presented by Brother Warren is a rational case…

Ray Mooney: (Voice over interview) This man is talking about what was called “the debate of the century,” the Warren/Flew debate that was held at North Texas State University in Denton, Texas. The subject was the existence of God. This is Part III and the conclusion of our special series on this very important confrontation between two philosophers, Dr. Thomas Warren, Christian, and Dr. Anthony Flew, atheist. Thank you for joining us. My name is Ray Mooney and I’ll be back in just a moment.

(Interview voice up) … the greatest rational thinkers that I’ve ever met. His case is unbelievable. No one could leave this debate who came here as a Christian without being built up and strengthened in his faith.

Announcer: This is “Insight”, a program examining current issues that affect our lives and offering practical solutions for your consideration. Now your host, Ray Mooney.

RM: On the first program of this series our guest was Dr. Anthony Flew, head of the Philosophy Department of Reading University near London, England. He’s an atheist and he signed the proposition in the debate stating that, “I know God does not exist.” Last week our guest was Dr. Thomas Warren, professor of philosophy of religion and apologetics at Harding Graduate School in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Warren’s position in the debate was, “I know God does exist.” Who won in this confrontation between these two respected scholars? I talked with many people at this four night debate. There’s no doubt in my mind and I’m really trying to be as objective and fair-minded as possible. I know of no exception in the audience including believer and non-believer alike, all would say Dr. Warren’s arguments completely devastated Dr. Flew’s position.

It was the third evening of the debate that I recorded the personal feelings of a number of people who were there and had heard the position of each man. It wasn’t possible for me to talk to people following the close of the debate which would have been better for evaluation. However, since I heard the arguments presented on the last evening as well as all the others, I’m quite confident no one’s attitude would have changed from what these people had to say on the third night. The question simply, “Your feelings about the debate.”


Person #1: Real good. The only bad part about it is Dr. Flew is not answering any of the questions and won’t give a statement. But Dr. Warren is giving an apologetic statement and defending his point of view.

Person #2: I think it’s a tremendous conquest for Christianity. Any one who comes, whether he has really studied the philosophical arguments or not, cannot help but notice that the case being presented by Brother Warren is a rational case. It’s a well thought out and researched case. It, and not the man is devastating the atheist position. But as he’s said nightly, Anthony Flew is probably the most capable man in the world to defend the atheistic viewpoint. But he can’t offer a case if there’s no case to offer! I’ve studied under Brother Warren. He is one of the most outstanding logicians and one of the greatest rational thinkers that I’ve ever met. His case is just unbelievable! No one who came here as a Christian could leave this debate without being built up in strength in his faith. We really don’t realize what a case we have. When something like this happens you say, “I didn’t know all that.” My gracious why are we crouching in the corner?” Then the atheists have complete swat on the college campuses, on the radio and TV. Why isn’t this being said to the world? If we could only get people to realize what we have, we could stand up and flex our muscles and say, “Listen, we have a case and atheism has no case.”

Person #3: When I was at the University of Chihuahua, Mexico, I had one debate with one fellow studying there. I will leave Denton and I will go to my place in Mexico with my faith more great in God.

Person #4: I think things have been going quite good for Dr. Warren and he’s been expressing his views quite adequately.

RM: Do you think then that Dr. Warren is winning hands down?

Person #4: I would believe so. He’s expressing his views quite well.

Person #5: Yes. I’ve been impressed with them very much. I think it’s wonderful that we have this opportunity. I have been a little disappointed in the side that Dr. Flew has taken. It may be my lack of understanding but I’ve been a little disappointed in that. I think all in all they’ve been conducted in a marvelous way.

RM: I think the attitudes have been tremendous, don’t you?

Person #5: I really do. I think it’s been very good.

Person #6: Well, I think it’s going real fine from a believer’s point of view. But the atheist has certainly not stayed with the proposition that he signed, the point he would try to prove. When he was in the affirmative, he did not put forth anything in the affirmative. He only put forth negative arguments. Now that he’s in the negative, he’s attempting to put forth affirmative arguments which is not in line with what they agreed to debate on. Since he is a scholar, he certainly knows better than this.

Person #7: Oh, I think they’ve been good so far. Dr. Flew has done a pretty good job, but I think Dr. Warren has done real good with his speeches, talks and everything. I’ve enjoyed them very much.

RM: Do you think this type of debate is good? Can it really change people’s minds?

Person #7: I don’t know. It could. I don’t think it’s changed my mind any. But some people might have believe differently. I guess I really don’t know. Possibly it could.

Person #8: I think the atheist isn’t real sure what he is. Whether he’s an atheist or an agnostic. In that light I don’t think the debate has been real good because I think we’re one-sided.

Person #9: I am a member of the Church of Christ so I have to admit I’m prejudiced somewhat. But I’m rather disappointed that Dr. Flew hasn’t seemed to come up with some really strong arguments. I was expecting something really strong. Of course, I was expecting that Dr. Warren would come back with good responses and definitely prove Dr. Flew wrong. But I’m just disappointed that he hasn’t come up with anything better than he has.

RM: He has been billed as one of the foremost debaters and foremost philosophers in the world. Obviously that’s true but it’s your opinion that that hasn’t come across?

Person #9: Yes. I have a high opinion of him as a scholar. But I think one of the problems is that in the past he has debated against Calvinistic views and Dr. Warren has none of these whatsoever. I don’t know if Dr. Flew expected this but I doubt it. I think he knew though that Dr. Warren was definitely not Calvinistic but I think he’s accustomed to fighting and writing against this kind of view.

Person #10: I think Dr. Warren has the situation well under control. The world will be able to hear what the truth is, that the atheistic view is absolutely false.

Person #11: I’ve been here all three nights so far and I think it’s going real well. I’ve really enjoyed it.

RM: Who’s winning?

Person #11: I think Brother Warren is without a doubt.

Person #12: I think it’s going really well. At times it was kind of hard to understand, considering myself as a layman. You have to really listen closely but again I agree with Brother Warren. I think he’s coming out on top again and presenting a more precisive argument than Dr. Flew.

RM: Do you think this type of thing is good, this type of debate?

Person #12: I think it’s very good. People can come, hear both sides of the story and perhaps widen their own horizons of understanding.

RM: To widen our horizons of understanding it is a worthy goal for everyone. Especially those of us who wish to be serious about Christianity. Many of these people with whom I spoke were university students. It was especially appropriate, in my opinion, that this debate was held on a university campus. It was appropriate obviously because of the natural intellectual curiosity that’s present on such a campus. But also because of the excellent exposure that rational Christian logic received among college aged people who were there.

One of the people with whom I spoke a moment ago presented a basic point that’s very much worthy of mention. I think, perhaps, it is the major point of the entire debate. That’s the fact that we as believers actually do have the total weight of logic and reason on our side in sustaining the position of the existence of God. A person grounded with well thought out logic, sober emotion (as opposed to fanatic hysteria), and a knowledge of Scripture has absolutely nothing to fear from even the most sophisticated atheistic argument.

One of the most destructive arguments to Dr. Flew’s atheistic position in the debate was when Dr. Warren introduced the subject of moral value. Dr. Flew had stated before that the debate that there was no moral value before any human being existed on the earth. Now if that’s so, then the obvious conclusion would be that moral value, or what’s right and what’s evil, would be nothing more than that which is in our minds, purely subjective and relative. When interviewing Dr. Warren for last week’s program, a part of the interview (incidentally you didn’t hear it because of lack of time), I referred him to a historical fact he used in the debate to illustrate that morality cannot be merely subjective. He discussed the killing of the six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II. I asked him to explain this point he raised in the debate. Dr. Warren.

Thomas Warren: Among the allied nations were Great Britain and the United States. Of course, Dr. Flew is from England and I’m from the United States so both of our nations were involved in that. In the prosecution of the Nuremburg trials, they were faced with this defense by the Nazis who had been charged with these heinous crimes. I don’t think that I’ve ever encountered anybody except the Nazi who was making this defense, who didn’t recognize that these were truly heinous crimes. They had determined as a matter of policy to exterminate the Jews, not only kill them, but to make them die agonizingly. In other words, not just to kill them in a moment, but to make them suffer before they did. Such things as coating boxcars with quick lime and putting those box cars on sidings where people would remain for four or five days until they died from the excruciating burns from that quick lime. Now in their defense, the Nazis did not say they didn’t do it. It was a matter of record. They even had the German papers, records of their conferences, reports and plans of what their actual purposes were. So that was not really up for grabs. But their defense was, “Look we are Germans. We are in one nation. We are amenable to German law. We are not amenable to English law. We are not amenable to American law and so we were obeying our commanders.” Given the positivistic view of law would mean that whatever is the law of the nation is what they must obey. So they were saying, “You’re trying to try us by the law of another nation, the values of which we do not accept. We were acting in a way that was in harmony with our needs and our desires.” It’s a matter of no little significance to note that Dr. Flew sought to try and establish a moral system on the very two points of needs and desires. In other words, it means that, in effect, in principle he adopted the Nazi approach to morality. Now they were saying in effect you are trying us on a law that is after the fact. Here we operate under the law to which we were amenable but after we’ve done this act you now try to pass another law and make us guilty of that. Robert Jackson, was at that time a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and one of the prosecutors. I believe he was the Chief Prosecutor. In his closing address he indicated that they were being tried not by German law, not even by some international law but a higher law which transcends the provincial and the transient. Now a higher law which transcends the provincial means that it is a law that is not merely the law of a single geographical area. To say that it transcends the transient means that it transcends the law that was passed by human beings just during a certain period of time. So this higher law could be nothing more than the law which relates to the ultimate good who is God. This of course proves the existence of God. It is a matter of fact, a thing that we all recognize. We know that we ought to act in a certain way and we don’t. The fact that the Germans acted in a way they did was recognized around the world as being guilty of even capital punishment.


RM: Dr. Thomas Warren. When I interviewed Dr. Flew on our first program, I asked him if he rejects the view that there are objective moral values that are separate and apart from our human judgments. His response again.

Dr. Anthony Flew: No, I think … of course it depends a little on how you describe this. No, I think it makes perfectly good sense to talk of what’s right and wrong independent of the wishes and desires and so on of any individual or any particular group. But it seems to me that nevertheless, these standards, independent of any particular individual or group preference are in some sense a function of human desires. That’s to say, it wouldn’t make sense to talk of value in a world with no conscious beings. It’s a tricky situation here but I don’t think it’s the sort of situation from which the theist can get any comfort as opposed to the atheist. Because it seems to me that both of us presupposed, and I think rightfully presupposed, some standards independent of our desires and so on. It’s only by reference to these standards that the theist can describe his own God as the just and so on. It’s not because the true standards are just what God said, it’s that they’re independent and capable of assessing God as well as man.

RM: The origin of these standards is really the point of my question.

AF: I think there are great problems here which no one has solved. But just to go on with what seems to me to be clearly established, I do believe that there would not have been any values or any standards of value without conscious beings. On the other hand I don’t think these standards of value are just a matter of the say so of any individuals or groups. I don’t think they are or could be a matter of the say so of God because if you’re able to say that God is just and to mean more by this than He does what He likes or there are certain things He says that are just on His say so, you’ve got to have an idea on justice which is logically independent of God’s Will. And I think everyone who praises their God and thinks they’re saying something does have this and that it’s independent of the Will of God and of man, at least it’s independent of the direct say so.


RM: The higher law to which we’re accountable is certainly independent of man. But to say it’s independent of God one would have to be omniscient or all knowing, having in possession all knowledge in order to logically make such a statement. For me or Dr. Flew to say moral value is independent of God, we would indeed have to be God to realistically make such an assertion. And I would hope that neither one of us would undertake to assume that role.

In the debate, Dr. Flew would admit to the existence of a higher law but would not attribute its origin to God. But without pietistic haughtiness, we would ask Dr. Flew, if not God, then from whom or what did we get this higher sense of right and evil.

After Cain killed his brother Abel, this is recorded in the book of Genesis, God asked Cain where his brother was and Cain replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s keeper?” Why didn’t Cain simply reply, “Oh, I’ve killed him.” But he didn’t say this because he knew he had sinned and he’d broken the law of God. And it was a law that was beyond his own moral code that he devised for himself. He felt he had to try and lie to cover up his t he KNEW it was wrong. Now it would be centuries and centuries before God would state in the Ten Commandments, “Thou Shall Not Kill.” Cain’s action was wrong because it was in opposition to the very nature of the Creator of all good, and all human life by their Creator. God is the author of this higher moral value to which the Court at Nuremburg appealed. He was the author of the moral standard Cain was created to live by, but didn’t. Don’t you agree, that considering the innocence of the time of Cain, human life was just beginning, if there weren’t an objective law beyond Cain’s own judgment when God asked where his brother was, he very likely would simply have said, “Oh, I’ve killed him, why do you ask?” But the higher moral law was there, and he felt the urge to lie to cover up his breaking this law. This higher moral law always has been and always will be objective, if not subjective.

The debate held in Denton, Texas really was the “Debate of the Century.” But in fact it’s been the debate of every century and it will be the debate until the end of time. God does exist but His existence doesn’t depend on our recognizing His reality. He is whether we accept Him or not.

Dr. Warren, by the consent of all who were in attendance, won the debate in Denton. But obviously God didn’t become reality because philosophic reasoning showed Him to be real. This reasoning is a way to see Him of course and He gave us life, and He gave us a mind through which we can perceive Him and respond to Him.

Someone said one time, “There are at least three kinds of atheists: There are pseudo atheists who believe that they don’t believe in God but who in reality unconsciously believe in Him because the God whose existence they deny is not God but something else. Then there are practical atheists who believe that they believe in God and who perhaps believe in Him with their brains, but who in reality deny His existence by every one of their deeds. Then there are absolute atheists. Absolute atheism is in no way a mere absence of belief in God. It is rather a refusal of God and a fight against God.” I think those words have a lot of merit.

Jesus was talking with His disciples one time and this particular incident is recorded in the 14th chapter of John. He said, “If you’d have known me, you should have known my Father also. And from here on you know Him, and you’ve seen Him.” Philip, one of the disciples, understandably was a little confused, and he said, “Lord, show us the Father.” And Jesus said, “Have I been so long a time with you Philip, and you’ve not known Me? He that has seen me has seen the Father.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we can recognize or come to realize the existence of God through rational philosophic principles. But we can only respond to God, or obey Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No person comes unto the Father except by Me.” The New Testament reveals the way to Christ, and through Him, unto fellowship with God.

Life is so difficult, and the battle for our minds and our attitudes and our life is being fought by Satan with every waking moment. But he cannot win unless we let him pull our commitment and our allegiance from God’s Word. And incidentally, concerning Satan. One thing about him is very sure, he’s not an atheist!

. . . .

Announcer: This has been “Insight,” a weekly, national broadcast presented by the Druid Hills Church of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia and is supported by churches of Christ and interested individuals. For Ray Mooney, I’m Greg Oliver.

[The above conclusion of this three part series aired following the Warren-Flew Debate on the Existence of God conducted September 24-27, 1976.]