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April 16, 2001


By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent

ORLANDO, FLORIDA (ANS) -- Earlier this year, Ron Barrier, the national spokesman for American Atheists, Inc. asked if Christian author Ray Comfort had the courage to face him in a debate in front of 300 atheists in Orlando, Florida, at their national convention. That debate took place on Good Friday, April 13, 2001.

"Quite a number of folks have been wanting to know how the debate went with Ron Barrier at the American Atheists' National Convention in Florida. So here's what happened," said Comfort after the event.

"Ron Meade (one of my associates) and I arrived at the hotel in Orlando and were surprised to find a large bowl of fruit in our room, with a welcome card from American Atheists. After I removed the plastic, Ron picked up the grapes, put one in his mouth and said, 'Wow. and I didn't think that atheists were such ni....' Suddenly he grabbed his throat, choked, and fell to the floor (he was just kidding). It was a blessing that they gave us fruit, because that's why we were there -- to see fruit," Comfort said.

"The next day, about 40 Christians showed up from around the country, including the editor of Bridge-Logos Publishers, and a film crew from Cross TV. I was concerned that my permission to videotape the debate was a bit flimsy. It was a letter from Ron Barrier that simply said, 'I don't care what you do!' said Comfort.

When the crew crept into the convention hall to set up, a security guard asked them what they were doing. She turned out to be a Christian and told them that she would be in prayer for the whole thing. "We then went into the atheist's bookstore and they kindly gave me a table upon which I could put copies of, 'How to make an Atheist Backslide,' ''Comfort recalled.

"While we were in the store the president of AA approached me, introduced herself and asked if the three large cameras in the convention hall were mine. When I said that they were she replied, 'Good. We will make sure we give you plenty of time to set up.'

"A short time later, Ron Barrier and I shook hands and the debate began. Each of us had 15 minutes, then 10 minutes, 8, and a close of 5 minutes. It was like a dream come true. Not only had I been given permission to fill their convention with Christian literature, but I was presenting my case for God's existence to 300 atheists as well as being broadcast live over their website.

"They laughed at my humor, and although there was unified mockery at some of the things that I said, I was able to go through the Ten Commandments, the fact of Judgment Day, the reality of Hell, the Cross, and the necessity of repentance, and no one stopped me," said Comfort.

After the initial debate (during the question times), one man stood up and challenged Comfort to eat some arsenic-laced peanuts he had in a box, based on God's promise in Mark 16:18. "I told him that if he could find the word 'peanuts' in the verse, I would eat them. The powerful intellectual incident climaxed their arguments against God's existence. Nuts," said Comfort.

"After the question time, Ron Barrier came over and we shook hands. He even let me give him a hug. They then had us co-sign two of my books. When he saw that I hade put '[That] idiot book! Ron Barrier, American Atheists, Inc.' on the cover, he was delighted. Some angry atheists came up to the platform afterwards and spat out sarcasm, while a number of others asked me to sign books for them, which was weird," Comfort said.

"The experience was a blessing beyond words -- to not only preach the whole counsel of God, but to give out scores of copies of our new booklet 'Scientific Facts in the Bible,' as well as free copies of my book.

"But here's what I am most excited about, Comfort said. "The video of the entire debate, which is called 'BC/AD: Barrier/Comfort Atheism Debate' should be available within a week or so through  I think that this will have tremendous evangelistic potential. It's the sort of thing you could give to your neighbors because it was hosted by American Atheists, rather than some 'church.' The audio will be available for free downloading through the website in the near future, and will also be available as a low-cost tape.

"Thank you so much for your prayers -- a special thanks to those who prayed and fasted (one lady fasted for a week)," said Comfort.

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Michael Ireland is a British freelance journalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A  former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST NEWS SERVICE of Garden Grove, CA. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in Sept., 1995. He is married with two children. Michael is a frequent contributor to United Christian Broadcasting, Europe, Radio, a British Christian radio station. E-mail:

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