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Atheist author Hitchens, apologists debate God
Atheist author Hitchens, apologists debate topic of God at Dallas' Christian Book Expo
12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, March 22, 2009 By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News
Best-selling atheist author Christopher Hitchens took on four Christian apologists Saturday in a civil but spirited two-hour discussion as part of the Christian Book Expo.
Photos by REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor Hitchens challenged Christianity on a number of fronts, including questioning how a loving God could allow so much suffering in the world and be "capricious" enough to delay sending Jesus as savior for thousands of years.
The Rev. Jim Denison, theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said God grieves for the suffering of humans, but gives them free will.
"So you know the mind of God?" Hitchens asked Denison.
"I know what God has revealed of his mind," Denison answered.
The first Christian Book Expo – which ends today at the Dallas Convention Center and is aimed at fans of evangelical Christian authors and books – has drawn a disappointingly small crowd overall.
But on an afternoon with no shortage of diversions, including lovely weather and March Madness college basketball on TV, several hundred people crowded into a ballroom to hear the British-born Hitchens take on the four defenders of Christianity.
Theologian William Lane Craig joined Lee Strobel – a former atheist whose best-selling books include The Case for Christ – in arguing that compelling evidence exists for the truth of Christianity.
Denison made a different argument.
"Faith in God is a relationship," he said. "All relationships require a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating."
Another theologian, Douglas Wilson – who has become Hitchens' regular sparring partner and has co-written a book with him based on their debates – held that morality comes from God, even if humans throughout history have failed to measure up.
"Because I'm a Christian, I have a standard I can fail to meet. ... The atheist has no basis for objecting to any kind of behavior," he said.
Hitchens began by noting that after the publication of his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, he asked his publisher to send him on a different kind of promotional tour, one that would guarantee discussion with people of faith. And he said he had been impressed by the willingness of evangelical Christians to debate him, and by the respect and courtesy they'd shown him while doing so.
With that out of the way, Hitchens argued with verve for the implausibility and undesirability of religious faith. He described as "totalitarian" the idea of a God who created the universe, knows all of our thoughts and compels obedience while allowing human suffering.
"I don't like it," he said of faith in such a reality. "You can like it – if you like."
Among those in the crowd was Jim Shafer, a Christian who described Hitchens as a "well-seasoned combatant," but one whose arguments about Christianity don't hold up.
"Christ said the truth would set you free," said Shafer, who came from California for the expo. "He didn't say the truth will put you in prison."
But for Geoff Henley of Dallas, author of the book Beyond Reasonable Doubt: A Lawyer's Case for Disbelief in God, Hitchens exceeded expectations and showed restraint by not answering back more sharply at some points.
As for the event itself, Henley was upbeat.
"I wish Dallas did more things like this," he said. "We don't do enough to bring serious thinking to our city and our state."
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