Ahead of a keystone Christian holiday, megachurch pastor Rick Warren defended the existence of God against the intellectual probe of best-selling atheist author Sam Harris in the latest issue of Newsweek.
Harris, a doctorate student of neuroscience and author of "The End of Faith," challenged Warren with a number of conventional arguments in the Apr. 9 issue including the Bible's Old Testament morality, evil done in the name of Christianity, unanswered prayers, and scientific proof of evolution.
Yet during several segments of the four-hour long symposium moderated by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, the debate moved into more uncommon territories and touched on issues such as altruism and the human spirit.
Harris, in response to Warren's comment that he would not "waste another minute" being altruistic if there was no afterlife, questioned The Purpose-Driven Life author on how he accounts for the atheist's altruism.
"You have common grace," responded Warren. "Even in people who don't believe in God, there is a spark God has put in you that says, 'There's got to be more to life than just make money and die.'"
Warren noted, in reference to an earlier conversation point, that altruism probably did not come from evolution.
During the discussion, the atheist advocate also used the term spirit but said he is unsure if there is an eternal soul. He does, however, approve of spiritual activities such as meditating and contemplating the mystery of the universe and the power of love.
"Can you have spirituality without a spirit," Warren posed in the Newsweek issue.
"You can feel yourself to be one with the universe," responded Harris.
"OK, then why can't you just take the next step? Because right now you're talking in extremely nonrational terms," said Warren, observing that Harris is more spiritual than he thinks.
"You just don't want a boss," concluded the senior pastor of the 25,000-membered Saddleback Church in Orange Country, Calif. "You don't want a God who tells you what to do."
Warren also defended that Christianity's benefits to the world far outweighed its evil deeds. He said it was Christians who help abolished slavery, achieve women's suffrage, lead the civil-rights movement, and drafted the Bill of Rights.
On the other hand, more people have been killed through atheists than all the religious wars put together. Warren pointed, as examples, to the Inquisition and to those that died under atheist leaders such as Mao Zedong, Stalin and Pol Pot. He also highlighted the current suffering in the atheist country of North Korea.
"I don't know any atheists who want to go there," commented Warren. "I'd much rather live under Tony Blair, or even George Bush. The bottom line is that atheists, who accuse Christians of being intolerant, are as intolerant…"
According to a recent Newsweek poll, 91 percent of American adults say they believe in God and nearly half reject the scientific theory of evolution. Moreover, 82 percent identify themselves as Christian. Similarly, Time magazine also recently reported that the majority of Americans (66 percent) say that they have no doubts God exists while 11 percent believe in God but has some doubts.
Meanwhile, only 6 percent say they don't believe in God at all, and a mere three percent describe themselves as atheist, according to the Newsweek poll.
"When I look at history, I would disagree with Sam: Christianity has done far more good than bad. Altruism comes out of knowing there is more than this life, that there is a sovereign God, that I am not God," concluded Warren.
"We're both betting. He's betting his life that he's right. I'm betting my life that Jesus was not a liar. When we die, if he's right, I've lost nothing. If I'm right, he's lost everything. I'm not willing to make that gamble," he added.