ARLINGTON — On the subject of religion, Francis Barden and Heinz Lycklama’s opinions could hardly be further removed, but as an estimated audience of 250 attendees watched the two debate the topic “Does the God of the Bible Exist?” at the Atonement Free Lutheran Church of Arlington on Feb. 26, the spectators came to a surprising realization about the guest speakers.
“My wife heard one lady in the crowd turn to the other and whisper, ‘I’ll be darned, they’re actually friends,’” Barden laughed.
Barden and Lycklama met three years ago as fellow members of the ROMEOs — Retired Old Men Eating Out — in the Gleneagle neighborhood, and as each man delivered oral presentations during various meetings of the group, they came to realize that their views “are on opposite sides of the street,” in Barden’s words, but in contrast to the vitriolic political conversations so often broadcast by the media, the two men’s disagreements only deepened their developing friendship.
It was during one of their spirited regular exchanges at Haggen’s Food and Pharmacy that Barden, a skeptic, suggested to Lycklama, a self-described Christian apologist, that they should take their debates to the public.
“I suggested the Atonement Free Lutheran Church as a venue because I know Pastor Rick Long, and because it’s not First Baptist, which is our church, so it’s neutral ground,” Lycklama said.
“I like Rick, which is why I was concerned for him, because I feared exposing his congregation to ideas which they might be opposed to, so I was thinking maybe we should have gone to the Unitarian church,” Barden said. “Rick said he had no problem with us doing it in his church, though, and both sides who spoke up during the question-and-answer portion impressed me with their open-mindedness. I hold Rick in the highest regard for hosting us.”
While Barden was raised as a Roman Catholic, and even spent two years in a monastery, his 40 years of research into the histories of various civilizations has led him to view religions more as cultural constructs and amalgamations of inherited traditions, although he noted that he does not approach them from an atheistic standpoint. Lycklama, on the other hand, believes that Christianity is validated not only by scripture, but also by the evidence of nature.
“It’s scientific law that every effect has a cause,” said Lycklama, who holds multiple degrees in physics. “My contention is that God is the first cause. It’s also the watchmaker argument — if you find a watch in the wilderness, the complexity of its design, like that of the cells in our bodies, is itself an argument that it didn’t happen by chance.”
Lycklama has delivered lectures on creation versus evolution, Christian apologetics and the Biblical worldview around the world, and he sees this process as a key component of his own faith.
“You need to challenge what you believe to be true, to find out if what you believe matches up to reality,” Lycklama said.
One area on which both men agree is how warmly they were welcomed by the crowd, whose numbers included many more young people than either of them had expected.
“Whether they were on my side or not, they were all asking very intelligent questions,” Barden said. “I was very impressed.”
“I’ve given talks at Everett Community College on similar subjects that have had less than a hundred people show up,” Lycklama said. “They’re the next generation, so it’s wonderful that they care enough to ask these questions.”
Barden and Lycklama are already considering a follow-up debate, but in the meantime, they’ll continue to argue at Haggen’s and during their ROMEO meetings.
“We can have these discussions and still remain friends,” Lycklama said.