Why are Kirk Cameron, a preacher, and two self-proclaimed atheists coming together in a church this weekend? Because Cameron and preacher Ray Comfort claim that they "can prove the existence of God."
They'll take on the atheists in the first "Nightline Face-Off," a debate to be moderated by "Nightline" anchor Martin Bashir.
Watch the Face-Off Wednesday May 9 at 2 p.m. on ABC News Now, and on Nightline at 11:35 p.m.
Following the Way of the Master
As Mike Seaver, the oldest son in the smash hit sitcom "Growing Pains," actor Kirk Cameron could make audiences roll with laughter. But now he wants to bring them to the Lord. And he's deadly serious.
In March 2006, "Nightline" profiled the Way of the Master, a Christian ministry headed by Cameron and itinerant preacher Ray Comfort. Operating as a charitable trust, its intention is to educate and equip the church to preach the message of Christianity to nonbelievers. Cameron says he is motivated by a literal fear of hell.
"I believe the Scriptures teach that there's a literal heaven and a literal hell, just like Jesus said," he explained. "And without forgiveness of sins that, yeah, the place of punishment is called hell."
The Way of the Master has a weekly television show for which Comfort and Cameron literally hit the streets in the name of Jesus, challenging nonbelievers that their sins against God will lead directly to hell.
"On the Day of Judgment," Comfort tells one man on the streets of New York, "God will see you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart. You have sinned against God. You need his forgiveness."
On occasions, things go badly wrong and the pair are attacked by members of the public. Comfort recalled one incident, saying, "While I was preaching the Gospel a gentleman came up and he started spitting on me. And he spat quite a few times." Comfort says he simply remained calm and moved on.
Neither Comfort nor Cameron has theological degrees nor any kind of formal training. But Cameron says he's convinced his new career is vitally important.
"I have no authority. I am simply trying to be faithful to the God who saved me, who changed me and who has commissioned me to tell you and those who are watching this interview … about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that it has the power to change people's hearts."
The Rational Response Squad
"There isn't any good reason to believe in God," so says Brian Sapient, a member of the Rational Response Squad, a group of atheists "Nightline" profiled in January.
What's wrong with God? "What's wrong with the tooth fairy?" asks Brian. "There's nothing wrong with something that most likely doesn't exist."
"Atheists are completely vilified. And it's OK," says Kelly, an atheist who works alongside Brian and also asks that her last name not be used.
"It's actually OK to hate atheists," Kelly says. "We are like the last group that people overwhelmingly agree it's OK to hate, because there's an absurd caricature of atheism out there."
While their theological views differ from the Way of the Master, their approaches are similar -- brash and in-your-face. The Rational Response Squad challenges people to take the Blasphemy Challenge in which they make videos of themselves denouncing or blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and then post them on YouTube.
One of the posts is by a young-looking man named Chandler. He says, "I've come to the conclusion that alongside the fact that there is no Santa Claus and there is no Easter bunny, there is also no God. So, without further ado, my name is Chandler and I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit."
Taking risks with your own soul is one thing, but the Rational Response Squad advertises for the Blasphemy Challenge on Web sites for teens, such as Tiger Beat (tigerbeatmag.com).
"They have already been targeted," Brian says. "So hopefully, they are at a point where they are not so indoctrinated and set in their ways that they can overcome this religious superstition that has been put into their brain unfairly."
At the end of the "Nightline" segment, Brian Sapient says, "If they [the Christians] want to come to the table and present their evidence, I will present my evidence. And we will see how much of theirs is based on faith, and how much of mine is based on fact."
Ray Comfort saw the piece on the Blasphemy Challenge and he immediately e-mailed "Nightline" to say that "We would like to challenge them to a public debate. … Let's hear their best evidence as to why God doesn't exist, and let the audience decide whose evidence is based on faith and whose is based on fact. We cannot only prove that God exists, but we can prove that the atheist doesn't."
The two sides have agreed to debate in the first "Nightline" Face-Off. Here's what they have to say about the debate:
Perhaps you think that anyone who says that he can prove the existence of God is a dreamer. Maybe, like most people, you believe that the issue is a matter of "faith." Then we must be dreamers, because we can prove that God exists, scientifically, absolutely, without mentioning faith or even the Bible. Do you find that hard to believe? Then watch the debate. - Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron
We are dedicated to responding to irrational claims -- such as the ones being put forth by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron that they can prove the existence of God scientifically. We are here to prove that not only can they not do that, but that it cannot be done using the scientific method and the knowledge available to us today.
- The Rational Response Squad
"Nightline" will air a segment that same night at 11:35 p.m ET.