Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 24, 1953

The Hardeman-Dewey Debate

Bill J. Humble, Kansas City, Missouri

An interesting and significant debate was conducted in the South Lincoln church, Urbana, Illinois, December 1 and 2, between Pat Hardeman and Dr. Richard Dewey. The debate concerned the reasonableness of Christian supernaturalism, and it was strikingly similar in many respects to the famous Alexander Campbell - Robert Owen debate of 1829.

Brother Pat Hardeman preaches for the South Lincoln Avenue church in Urbana and is working toward a PhD. in the University of Illinois. Dr. Dewey is a professor of Sociology in the university, and he had had two similar debates prior to this one, one with a Catholic priest, the other with a Lutheran preacher.

The Issues. The fundamental issue in the debate was the truth or falsity of the Christian religion. Dr. Dewey, a self-confessed agnostic, defended naturalism and centered his argument the first night in science and the scientific method. He affirmed that everything in reality may be discovered and observed by the scientific method and concluded, "There is no freak or miracle in nature." Furthermore, Dr. Dewey took a position of complete determination, arguing that man's every action is determined by the many forces of his heredity and environment, so that man does not have a "free will." Dr. Dewey made such extreme statements as, "We could not possibly do other than as we do," and, "Even the thoughts we are thinking tonight are the very thoughts which we have to think." Thus he argued that man is a creature of his surroundings, without freedom, without the ability to choose. (This is the identical position taken by atheist Robert Owen in his debate with Campbell.)

Brother Hardeman argued forcefully that while there is a natural realm which science may explore, there is also a supernatural realm, over which God is sovereign and which is revealed in the Bible. The case for the supernatural origin of Christianity was built around the prophecies of the Old Testament and the person and resurrection of Christ in the New Testament. Throughout the debate, Dr. Dewey refused repeatedly to consider these evidences for the truth of the Christian religion (the same tactic used by Robert Owen). Dewey's only reply was, "Before this debate began, a clergyman friend of mine warned me that I was meeting a bright young man who knows his Bible and that I had better stay out of a discussion of scripture. And that is exactly what I am going to do."

The second night the discussion centered in moral standards. Brother Hardeman argued that if man is not responsible and cannot possibly do other than as he does, the very idea of moral standards is without meaning. Moral standards presuppose that man is responsible for his conduct. Brother Hardeman asked Dewey whether, according to deterministic morality, there was any sense in which it could be said that Carl Hall should not have murdered Bobby Greenlease. Dr. Dewey answered that he should not have, but his "should not" was from the standpoint of society's good and not from the standpoint of Hall's responsibility. (Shades of Robert Owen!)

The Results. Much good was done by the debate. Many college students, most of them skeptics or atheists, attended the sessions; some Illinois U. professors were present. Both men conducted themselves in a splendid

manner, and the best possible feelings prevailed throughout the debate. (Here again, we were reminded of the spirit during the Campbell-Owen debate.) As a reflection of this friendly spirit, Dr. Dewey called Hardeman "a gentleman and a scholar" in his last speech. Also, he said in one of his speeches, "Now I can tell people around the university which religious group is really tolerant and will stand up for what it believes." There was no ill will whatsoever, even during the thirty minute question period which followed the four speeches each evening. After the second night's session, Dewey and Hardeman went to a restaurant together for refreshments.

When debates are conducted in the spirit which prevailed throughout this one, and when men debate issues rather than personalities, no critic can possibly say, "Debates never do any good."

My own personal reaction to the debate is best stated in the words of Dr. Dewey. The first night after Brother Hardeman had spoken, Dr. Dewey began his speech by remarking, "I feel very much like a New England zephyr in the wake of a good midwestern tornado."