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I Debated a Darwinist

February 14, 2014

Because of unusually icy conditions on the road here in Tennessee, school has been cancelled, and it’s a good thing for me personally.  My body has been utterly gobsmacked with the flu and as I sit here at the keyboard, I am miserable. I ache all over.  My head hurts. My eyes hurt.  Even my teeth hurt, for crying out loud.  Good thing I have the weekend for recovery.

While I sit here pouring coffee down my throat and staring out the window at the pre-dawn ice formations on the back deck, my mind wanders around to a very important day for me as a teacher, oh, about eight or nine years back.

imageA young student made it all happen.

Gayle was a delightful student who impressed me with her tenacity not only in New Testament Survey but also in every subject at school.  She was not gifted with an innate grasp of the classroom knowledge being dispensed;  she worked hard for those B’s and C’s and an occasional A.  You had to admire her for it, and I certainly did.  Gayle never complained at the workload, and I can recall her bright smile and happy demeanor every time she came into class.  She was, quite honestly, one of the happiest students I have ever had the privilege of teaching.

But I noticed the smile had been missing the last few days.

“Gayle,” I asked, “is everything okay?  You seem a little sad lately.”

“It’s my uncle,” she replied.  “He comes over every evening when I’m at the kitchen table doing my homework.  He chats with my mom while I’m going through Algebra and Science and stuff.  But as soon as I start studying my notes on the New Testament, he starts … well, he starts heckling me, Dr. Zockoll.”

“What does he do?”

She shrugged and frowned.  “He starts going on about how he’s this militant atheist and the Bible is a total myth – stuff like that.  Jesus never existed, the Bible is all poetry and forgeries. Extreme Darwinism is the only way…” She heaved a huge sigh.  “It’s been like that every night for the past week. He quotes Nietzsche and how man is all-supreme…”  She looked at me.  “He said he would love to debate you and if he did, at the end of the debate they would have to take the word ‘Christian’ out of the name of the school.”

This went on for days.  It stretched into weeks.  I prayed for her and tried to encourage her, but still you could see that she was deeply troubled.

It went on for six weeks, with her regaling me of stories of how her uncle Jim would brag about how he’s a committed Darwinist, that man is merely an animal, and the beginning of the universe is eternal, along with some sharp, mocking barbs at Gayle for being a Believer. He was all over the place, sitting down each evening with a coffee, quoting Nietzsche and adding a whole litany of insults.

She came in exhausted and told me of the latest round of harassment.  She looked up and said, “He told me again that he would love to debate you.”

I looked at the now-haggard Gayle and decided it was time.  “Okay, then, let’s do it.  Get me his e-mail and I’ll arrange it.”

And so we did.  The gentleman agreed to meet me at the school and face me for a formal debate behind podiums and in front of a televsion camera for a broadcast throughout the school’s system.

He sidled up to me before we walked in.  “Are you sure you want to go through with this?  This could be embarrassing for you.”

Realizing the power of prayer of the students and the old school rule of doing a lot of studying, I nodded.  “Let’s go.”

The judges were seated and the camera was turned on.  Jim and I exchanged rounds, with so much to say that there is not enough room here to go into detail, obviously.  The height of the debate, however was in the third round.  Jim  opened up the round, pointing at me.  “He can’t explain God fully, so how could his belief make any sense?  It’s all myth,” he said, raising a finger.  “I grew up in a home where the Bible was shoved down my throat.  When I got the freedom to think for myself I became a full-fledged Darwinist. Survival of the fittest, that’s the future of mankind.”  He finished with some other comments and stood facing me, awaiting my turn.

I put aside my notes and turned toward him as the judge started the stopwatch.

“I’m going to step away from my previously planned discourse on this round and deal with what Jim had just mentioned,” I said.  “And I want to tell you a story and then have him answer me in the next round…”

“When I was a teacher and youth pastor in Arizona, one of my students was a bright young lady named Susan.  Sue was a happy-go-lucky girl gifted by God with a great singing voice.  I moved back to Tennessee before she graduated from high school, but her parents kept in touch with me and let me know how things progressed with Sue.”

“One day I received the news: Sue had been in a terrible accident.  She was traveling with a singing group, coming all the way to the Atlanta area from Arizona, when late one night the van driver fell asleep at the wheel.  The result was that the van and its trailer flipped and Sue was ejected from the vehicle, thrown dozens of feet high in the air and landing face-first on the hard Atlanta freeway.  She broke scores of bones and suffered injury all over her body, including her shoulder, eye socket, cheek bones and even her throat.  The operations were numerous.  Sue had been under extensive care, lying in a hospital bed for weeks on end.  The care will never stop. Sue will take medication and have therapy for the rest of her life.  She will never have the energy she once had.  She will always need help.”

I turned toward Jim.  “She will never be ‘fit.’ She will need the care of the government as well as people around her … for the rest of her life.” I paused.  “Now, Jim, you say you are a true Darwinist, repeating often that only the fittest should survive.  I’m going to ask you right here and now: if you were in that hospital and had the authority, would you stop the medication?  Would you tell the parents that their child is no longer a help to society? In fact, I’m going to take you one step further.  Why not shut down all the cancer wards and nursing homes?  Those people are a drain to society, according to your own beliefs. ‘Survival of the fittest’ as crowed by Darwin and Nietzsche – only the strong shall survive.”

“So I’m going to challenge you right now:  either admit that you would stop any assistance to Sue, the cancer patients and the nursing home residents, or admit that you are not a true Darwinist.  Your Nietzsche theories sound good at a kitchen table, but when you  step into real life, they collapse.  Your humanistic banner cannot fly in the face of this reality.”

Jim looked away.  In the next round he ignored the challenge.   In fact, he ignored it for the rest of the debate.   I kept hammering away at it, but he side-stepped it each time.

At the conlusion of the debate, my closing remarks were clear:  “Jim has never addressed the Darwinist challenge.  His call for ‘survival of the fittest’ will not stand up to the compassion needed in our society today. My Jesus calls for compassion and even sacrifice when necessary.  Nietzsche thought that was repulsive.  What really is best for people today?”

The debate was over.

Afterwards he walked over to me and nodded. “Okay, then.  Let’s continue this.”

“All right,”  he said.  “Let’s get away from the public eye.  How about a one-on-one tomorrow night at a coffee shop?  No holds barred.”

“Starbucks on Cedar Bluff, tomorrow night,” he replied.  I nodded.  It was set.

I will tell you about that in tomorrow’s blog.

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  1. Neil Horlock permalink

    Most of the atheists we debated on American Family Association Face Book page when confronted with the question, “When was the last time you helped someone in need?”, or “have you ever helped serve at a local soup kitchen?” Usually said they couldn’t remember or “no” or simply ignored the question, as did your “uncle”. Looking forward to “the rest if the story”. Neil

    • Neil,
      Thanks for your input. Many of the atheists I have encountered also get stuck with the same question. In addition, I have met quite a few fine fellows among the group, but the question I most often bring up lately is “Why are you so angry?” Lately the conversations stay less with research and source citing, and more on name-calling, which is sad to me. I really want to discuss, and, as the Lord says, “reason together.”

      • Neil Horlock permalink

        Most people respond with personal attacks when they realize they’ve lost the argument. Most attempts to right the derailed argument elicits even more vitriol.

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