The September issue of the Gospel Advocate carries notice of, “The Great Debate 2016” (p. 17). A debate concerning the existence of God is to occur between Ralph Gilmore and Alexander Rosenberg. It is slated to be held in the Mershon Auditorium at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio on September 27th. It is worthy of note, for the purposes of this article, that both disputants are professors of philosophy at Freed-Hardeman University and Johns Hopkins University respectively.

Many of our readers will remember that the late Thomas B. Warren was especially known for his debates with atheists in the mid-to-late 1970’s. His discussions with Antony G. N. Flew (1976) and Wallace I. Matson (1978) were monumental. In 1983, the Baldwin church of Christ in Milledgeville, Georgia (where I was preaching at the time) along with fourteen other congregations in the middle Georgia area had arranged for Dr. Warren to debate the humanist professor of biology at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Dr. Kenneth S. Saladin. Dr. Saladin, who earlier that year had sued the city of Milledgeville to have the word “Christianity” removed from its 1807 city seal, found himself challenged to debate the issues of God’s existence and the origin of mankind.

On July 9, 1983 we ran a full-page ad in Milledgeville’s newspaper, The Union-Recorder, challenging Dr. Saladin to debate Dr. Warren. The ad read, in part, “We kindly and lovingly challenge Dr. Kenneth S. Saladin to meet in a four-night debate (comprised of two hours and ten minutes each night) Dr. Thomas B. Warren, using the following propositions as a basis for the debate:

  1. Resolved: I know that God does exist and that all human beings now living on earth owe their ultimate origin (as human beings) to the creative activity of God (Affirm: Dr. Thomas B. Warren; Deny: Dr. Kenneth S. Saladin);
  2. Resolved: I know that God does not exist and that all human beings now living on the earth owe their ultimate origin (as human beings) to evolution (by purely naturalistic, non-purposive, non-intelligent, non-living materialistic forces) from non-living matter (Affirm: Dr. Kenneth S. Saladin; Deny: Dr. Thomas B. Warren).

We felt that this degree of newspaper exposure was very effective in letting the public know that we were serious about the proposed debate. I still have the actual propositions for public oral debate that I personally delivered to the hand of Dr. Saladin. Whereas these propositions were personally signed by brother Warren, Dr. Saladin merely wrote “Debate Rejected-KSS.”

On July 23rd we ran a half page ad in the newspaper being an appeal from Dr. Warren to Dr. Saladin with revised propositions. Saladin declined the first set of propositions saying that the question of God’s existence was not debatable (even though his colleagues in unbelief, Flew and Matson, apparently felt that it was a debatable question). He also declared that he was not really an atheist, but that he merely held the non-existence of God as an opinion, and nothing more. Brother Warren noted in the appeal that Dr. Saladin had admitted that for all he knew, God does exist. Brother Warren said, “This is a crucial admission on his part.” A slight alteration of the propositions to the ultimate origin of all human beings rather than the existence of God changed the focus of the debate. The second set of propositions was likewise refused.

Saladin said in The Union-Recorder (7-12-83) that I and churches of Christ were trying to get him into a debate with Warren on theological questions instead of scientific questions. Dr. Saladin’s final ploy was to insist that Dr. Warren was “not a scientist” but that he was “a theologian.” Also, in Saladin’s mind, the fact that brother Warren had a Ph.D. degree in philosophy from Vanderbilt University, meant that he was not a scientist. Warren’s not being a “scientist” meant that Saladin had disqualified him as a viable disputant. Dr. Saladin’s allies in the press characterized Warren as “a theologian from Tennessee.” We did not feel that brother Warren’s education in philosophy and his Bible teaching skill diminished his ability to debate, but by the end of July 1983 our efforts were ended.

In the upcoming debate in Columbus, Ohio both participants have their doctorates in the field of philosophy. Added to that is the fact that Ralph Gilmore is a professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. These considerations do not seem to be a hindering factor in the willingness of either Rosenberg or Gilmore to debate the existence of God. Why was it the fly in the ointment of the proposed Warren-Saladin debate in 1983?

We felt that Dr. Saladin well knew the status of Dr. Warren as a skilled debater and wanted no part of it. He recognized a Goliath, and he was no David. In The Union-Recorder (7-27-83), Dr. Saladin said that he would be interested in debating Dr. Warren on the subject of Scientific Creationism. He claimed to have issued to Warren his own counter-proposal: “Resolved: Creationism is not scientific and has no justification for being taught as a science in the public schools.” In actuality brother Warren received no signed “propositions,” or, “resolved” statements from Dr. Saladin.

A few months later, March 25, 1984, Dr. Kenneth Saladin debated Dr. Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research on the campus of Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. Such is the story of the Warren debate that never was.

by Dennis Gulledge