Conservative Christian Tony Perkins and Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist sparred over survey findings that Americans value family over religion, along with the definition of gender.
Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, appeared with Mehta in a Fox News segment on The Ingraham Angle on Friday, where the two gave their opposing views on a number of controversial topics.
Segment host Raymond Arroyo brought up a survey by Pew Research Center from September 2017, re-released last week, that found that 69 percent of Americans say that they find a sense of meaning in family.
Only 20 percent voted for the "Spirituality and faith" category in the open-ended question, below those who pointed to money, at 23 percent, and careers, at 34 percent.
Arroyo asked Perkins whether the results show that America is indeed seeing a dwindling of faith, to which the conservative leader replied:
“Actually I'm thrilled by this, that family is so high ranked in this survey, that people say that family is where they get their sense of meaning. That's actually a positive revival of family if you will. I think if you look at how the United States economy is doing; the unemployment is low; it's not surprising that religion actually drops down lower.
He added: “In this list it's still 4th. That's actually still pretty good, considering what's happening in other industrialized nations. When there's a downturn in the economy, when things start to fall apart, that's when people turn to religion."
Perkins insisted that “from a sociological standpoint, I think this (survey) is accurate, [but] from a theological standpoint it is a bit troubling.”
Mehta agreed that the results should indeed be “troubling for religion.”
“It doesn't surprise me one bit that people find meaning in family. What actually surprised me the least about this is when they looked at young people specifically, I think faith became less of a meaningful experience for people who were younger than the age of 30.”
The Friendly Atheist blog-runner continued: “So it shows that faith has a lot of trouble moving ahead in the future, regardless of what the economic situation or our social situation is.”
Perkins agreed with Arroyo that a number of other studies show that faith usually comes later in life for people, however.
“What Jesus taught in Matthew [chapter] 6 was ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things will be added unto you.’ That's what I was referring to from a theological standpoint, because when you set your eyes on the things on this earth you miss the bigger things, and as you live for those things that are transcendent, then all the other things fall in a place.”
The FRC president positioned that people often start turning toward religion when they consider what happens after life, and want to “make sure they make the right decision.”
Mehta argued, however, that it is a “very optimistic spin that has no merit” to claim that young people who already find more value in family will resort to religion later in life.
Arroyo then turned over the discussion to the transgender rights debate in America, and questions on how gender is to be defined.
He pointed out that the prestigious Nature magazine came out with an editorial in October against U.S. President Donald Trump's Department of Health and Human Services proposing to define gender legally based on the type of genitals someone is born with.
“The proposal — on which HHS officials have refused to comment — is a terrible idea that should be killed off. It has no foundation in science and would undo decades of progress on understanding sex — a classification based on internal and external bodily characteristics — and gender, a social construct related to biological differences but also rooted in culture, societal norms and individual behaviour,” the editorial argued at the time.
“Worse, it would undermine efforts to reduce discrimination against transgender people and those who do not fall into the binary categories of male or female.”
Mehta positioned that the Trump administration “has shown us since day one [that] they don't care what science experts have to say about anything involving science.”
“They would rather trust people like Tony who base their entire knowledge of science on the Bible,” he claimed.
Perkins hit back by saying that “this is what happens when people can't defend their position. They begin attacking the opposition."
“Look, the reality is that we base law and policy on fact, on science, on biology, not subjective feelings. What the Trump administration is doing here is re-establishing what was in place for probably fifty years through the 1964 and 1972 non-discrimination acts, where sex is based on biology.”
Mehta said that “we learn more when time goes on,” and contended that he doesn’t need “an education from someone who is known for rejecting it all the time.”
Watch the full debate between Mehta and Perkins below: