by JOHN SIKOS
Dial-an-Atheist, Michigan Division, American Atheists
When WMUZ Radio, “Praise FM” in Detroit, aired this debate with Frank R. Zindler, an Atheist, and John P. Koster, a Christian, Dial-an-Atheist fans throughout Southeastern Michigan heard it. Having “tipped off” our telephone listeners in advance with “Dial-an-Atheist broadcasts” (as we like to call them), it was our intention to guarantee that rational, thinking listeners would fill the audience.
Our Dial-an-Atheist blurbs, however, may well have had an additional unanticipated effect. The program host, Al Kresta, turned out to be exceedingly cordial, a truly rare phenomenon in the all-too-sparse history of Atheists guesting on radio and television! Could it be that our “promo,” which forewarned Dial-an-Atheist fans that the host was not expected to be particularly nice and that Atheists may wish to call in to add “balance” to the program, motivated the station to put forth its Sunday-best Christian “testimony” of the Matt. 7:12/Luke 6:31 variety?
Judging from earlier experiences with radio and television hosts, of which Frank Zindler speaks in his introductory remarks, I think that my explanation is plausible. The host himself (speaking to a Christian caller after the 90-minute debate was over, a caller who had chastised the station for permitting an Atheist who “made a lot of sense” to influence weaker WMUZ listeners) cashed in on his “do unto others” strategy when the following dialogue took place:
“Eric,” caller: If he’s hitting at the foundation of Christianity, and then there’s [sic] people out in the audience who may not be as strong as you or I or a lot of people who’ve been in the faith a while, they deserve that [better arguments be used against the Atheist], because intellectually what Frank was saying made a lot of sense!
Al Kresta, host: Eric, they can tune in here every day between one and three and hear a biblical world view. This was a case of just plain fairness to two guests who deserve to be treated as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. It was grossly unfair for me to put a two-on-one situation on Frank Zindler. That was agreed before we went on the air.
“Eric,” caller: I understand that. But, Frank had total run of the conversation: one, because he had concrete facts, and two, John [the Christian debate opponent] didn’t. . . . So basically, the debate . . . was more confusing to the weaker brethren than it was edifying, because Frank had his stuff together.
Although this dialogue reveals that, from the Christian perspective, debates with Atheists are better rare than often (because such debates need to be “balanced” with a wholly one-sided “biblical world view” on every other day of the week, at a ratio of many months to one hour, in order to keep secret the fallacies of religious apologetics), it is nevertheless refreshing to see a host as cordial as this one was.
In the days immediately following the program, Dial-an-Atheist in Detroit, which can be reached at 313/272-1981, received comments from many of those who had heard the WMUZ broadcast. One noted that Frank Zindler “kicked the other guy’s ass.” Another wanted to buy a tape of the show, just “knowing” that we would have it.* Other callers contented themselves with pointing up either flaws in John Koster’s arguments or the fact that Koster simply did not respond to many of Zindler’s points. Not one of our Dial-an-Atheist callers thought that Frank had lost the debate.
By far the greatest number of responses came from individuals who were bothered by the half hour from 2:30 to 3 p.m., after both Zindler and Koster were no longer on the air, after the debate was over, when callers were allowed to bash the Atheist viewpoint – fully confident in the knowledge that an Atheist was no longer present to defend himself. While two, and to some extent, three, religious callers implied, if not stated, that Frank had won the debate, I have found it necessary to include that portion of the WMUZ broadcast because of the subtle Atheist-bashing that took place in the guise of an objective look at the Atheist perspective. I am particularly delighted in the opportunity to present Frank Zindler’s observations on this post-debate analysis in the form of footnotes. Christians may have thought that Frank Zindler was gone; but, in fact, he was there “in spirit,” and that “spirit” will now haunt them!
I do not know much about John Koster. But I can tell you that he wrote The Atheist Syndrome, a book which apparently espouses the view that Atheists are mentally ill. (Frank Zindler, to whom the book was express-mailed at the latest possible moment – one night before the interview – expounds further in his introductory comments.) I had assumed, therefore, that program host Al Kresta would set up a debate on the intriguing question of “Are Atheists Mentally Ill?” Perhaps the host knew that Zindler would blow Koster away if that were the question to be debated. So, alas, the official topic and title have come down from Al Kresta’s mountain, “Does God Exist?” As it turned out, Zindler won the debate on the “God” topic anyway!
Both guests, Frank R. Zindler and John P. Koster, were interviewed by telephone, Zindler from his home in Columbus, Ohio, and Koster from New Jersey. At times it was difficult for the two guests to hear each other, usually, but not always, because more than one individual was speaking at the same time. The please-repeat-what-you-just-said type dialogues (on Frank Zindler’s part, usually a simple “I’m sorry?”) have been left intact in this transcript. The ever-annoying “uhs,” and “ums” are deleted. Where it was necessary to preserve the sense of statements in which certain words were emphasized by the speaker, I have italicized those words. The spelling of proper names, such as WMUZ personnel given credit on the air, are my best guesses. Consistent with the American Atheist magazine style manual, I have decapitalized the word “god” whenever spoken by a person who appears not to hold theistic beliefs (except at the beginning of sentences), but have capitalized it when spoken by those who appear at least to respect theistic arguments. In the debate transcript, all footnotes were inserted by Frank Zindler unless otherwise noted in brackets. Also, please note that only one WMUZ listener (of course a Christian who knew not even the basics of science) was permitted to call in during the debate itself. Many Dial-an-Atheist fans, hoping to achieve airdom, expressed disappointment with that fact. A few more callers, none of them Atheists, of course, were aired after the debate.
All in all, this was a worthwhile broadcast. I hope this transcript of it will prove enlightening to readers.