Online Audience for Hitchens vs. Dembski Debate Continues to Grow

Online videos of the debate between renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens and intelligent design proponent William Dembski over God's existence were in such high demand Monday that the school behind the event said it had to relocate the content to another server.

Mary Carl Finkelstein, special assignments coordinator at Prestonwood Christian Academy and organizer of the debate, told The Christian Post that over 5,000 viewers accessed the online videos Monday morning, causing the school to search for a different server to better host the videos.

Last Thursday, Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, sparred with Dembski, research professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, at Prestonwood Baptist Church over the question, "Does a Good God Exist?"

Despite being diagnosed with esophageal cancer this summer, Hitchens accepted the invitation by Prestonwood Christian Academy's Biblical Worldview Institute to speak at the public event.

Over 3,500 people attended the live debate in Plano, Texas, while the live streaming received over 19,000 views. Finkelstein estimated that well over 19,000 watched online since in some places schools broadcast the event to their students.

Providing one possible reason for the high interest, Finkelstein said of Hitchens, "He's canceled all his speaking engagements from here on. We may be the last engagement that he will be speaking at so that may be why there is so much interest."

She expects the video of the debate to be available by Wednesday on the school's website.

During the debate, Hitchens argued that neither the nature of the cosmos, human history, or make-up of human body offered proof for a designer or creator.

Siding with the Big Bang theory, Hitchens said it was hard for him to see any design in a universe that is "flying apart further and faster than we thought it was" and where stars randomly explode.

"I find it impossible to reconcile this extraordinarily destructive, chaotic, self-destructive process to find in it the finger of God, to find in that the idea of a design," he said.

The atheist author said he didn't think it was healthy for people to want there to be a "permanent, unalterable, irremovable, authority over them."

He said he didn't like the idea of a father who never goes away, a king who cannot be deposed or a judge that doesn't allow a jury or appeal.

Totalitarian temptation should be resisted, Hitchens asserted.

"I want you to consider emancipating yourself from the idea that you selfishly are the sole object of all the wonders of the cosmos and of nature," he urged the audience.

Dembski cited scientific evidence as he set about "deconstructing" Darwinism and the core arguments found in Hitchens' book.

"Getting from design and biology to theism is not a big stretch," he said.

The intelligent design proponent argued that most theists don't have a problem accepting some of Darwin's ideas, including small-scale evolutionary changes, but he said he objects to the "totalization of Darwin" where the theory is applied beyond its proper range.

"Natural selection certainly operates. It explains how bacteria will gain antibiotic resistance; it will explain how insects get insecticide resistance but it doesn't explain how you get bacteria or insects in the first place," said Dembski.

"That's the big claim. That's the whopper we are being asked to believe on materialistic grounds."

Dembski also addressed the debate question on God's goodness, saying that God is alone the standard of good and unable to violate that standard.

The existence of evil, according to Dembski, is one of the main challenges that most people face in believing God is good.

"Because we don't see the evil destroyed now and thus experience the suffering that evil inevitably inflicts, we are tempted to doubt God's existence and goodness."

Toward the end of the debate, Hitchens veered away from the main question of the night and went on to attack Christian theism.

He said the biblical view is that "you have to think of yourself as created incurably sick and then ordered under pain of death and eternal punishment to be well. This is no morality."

"We are sick, yes," responded Dembski. "I would say, not incurably so. The cure is there, according to Christianity: Jesus Christ."

According to Finkelstein, more than 700 students, grades 7-12, from Prestonwood Christian Academy listened to the debate. Another 1,000 students were from other schools in the area.

Finkelstein said the school believes that it is good to expose students to "conflict in a safe environment" since they will eventually encounter these issues.

"It was well worth every penny we spent," she said.

The school will follow up with students through small group sessions and use a study guide to help them address any questions that were raised during the debate, according to the debate organizer.

Finkelstein said she has received emails from people from the atheist point of view who said they were very thankful – and surprised – that this kind of forum was allowed in a Christian school.

"Their response was that we were letting Hitchens tell the truth but our response is that we are letting Dembski tell the truth."

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