Atheist Samuel Porter Putnam vs. Baptist J.N. Hall debate

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Samuel Porter Putnam (July 23, 1838 - December 11, 1896) was an American atheist, critic and publicist.

In his article Debate with an atheist leads to revival Ben Stratton wrote:

The center of it all was the community of Golden Pond, which hosted an infidel club. There members would gather together for regular meetings, criticizing the Bible and challenging local believers to discuss the truthfulness of Christianity.

In 1892, the infidel club put up $500 and invited Samuel Porter Putnam of New York City to come to Golden Pond. Putnam was the president of the Free Thought Federation of America and the son of a Congregationalist pastor. Unfortunately, a term at a liberal seminary first turned him into a Unitarian, and then an atheist.

The infidels didn’t think any Kentucky preachers would dare meet such a powerful speaker as Putnam, but J.N. Hall of Fulton rose to the occasion. A Baptist pastor, evangelist and newspa- per editor, Hall was a skilled debater himself. A public discussion between the two men was set for Oct. 14-17, 1892, at the Golden Pond Hall.

Unforeseen circumstances forced Hall to miss the first day of the debate. Putnam gave an eloquent speech on infidelity and claimed he would stay in Trigg County for four days, “Hall or no Hall!”

The Christians were greatly discouraged, but at the end of the night, a young boy arrived with a message saying Hall was in Canton and would be present the following morning.

The next day everything changed. Taking Putnam aside and learning his arguments, Hall then spoke for two hours defending the inspiration of the Bible and the deity of Christ. Putnam tried to rally, but at every point he was con- fronted with Hall’s answers and iron logic.

By the end of the second day, the atheist an- nounced that he had pressing business back in New York and left Kentucky early.[1]

An online biography of J.N. Hall indicates concerning the Samuel Porter Putnam vs. J.N. Hall debate:

J. N. Hall, the greatest debater in the Baptist denomination, was born at Pleasureville, Ky., Feb. 5, 1849. At the age of seven years he went with his parents to Ballard county, Ky., where he grew to manhood.

Bro. Hall was reared in the country, and never received a college education, yet he is better educated than nine out of ten of those who have received diplomas from college or university. Like Spurgeon or D. L. Moody, he has risen above almost any of the college men, and, with his oratory and keen logic and personal magnetism, he is a great power before an audience...

The time for the debate came on and Mr. Putman was present, but Hall, being a very busy man, failed to reach the place at the hour the debate was to begin. The infidels were delighted, and the Christian people, of course, were in despair. The time to begin was at 7 o'clock p. m. A large congregation had gathered and Hall [was] not there. You can imagine, the situation better than it can be told.

Mr. Putman arose to speak and stated that it was just as he expected, that he had no idea Mr. Hall would meet him, but that it made no difference, as he was paid to come and discuss the questions at issue for four days, and that he intended to stay the four days, "Hall or no Hall." He spoke two hours, and, being both eloquent and able, the effect on the congregation was overwhelming. Infidelity was flourishing. But its prosperity was to be short-lived.

A boy came into the large building that was fitted up for the debate just before Putman finished speaking, and slipped up to the Baptist pastor and spoke some words. When Putman had finished speaking, the pastor arose and stated that the boy had come from Canton and had brought the news that Bro. Hall was there, and, being too tired to get further without doing himself an injury, would stay there and rest that night and would be on the ground the next day in time for the debate.

The next morning Bro. Hall was there. He took Putman to one side and asked him for the arguments he had made the night before, which were given him. Without any hesitation he walked to the stand, when the time for the exercises came, and made his speech in reply to the speech he had not heard. He spoke for two hours, and it was so overwhelming that the people forgot themselves and all the rest of the world for the time being and thought only of the great truths that were being expounded by Bro. Hall.

Mr. Putman never rallied again. He made some miserable efforts to meet Hall's arguments, and at every turn he was met by Hall's keen logic and lucid answers. At the end of tile second day he announced...that he had "pressing business in New York" and left, notwithstanding his boast that he had come to stay four days, "Hall or no Hall."

Bro. Hall, being left alone, finished out the time preaching the gospel, and his closing sermon was from the text: "What Think Ye of Christ ." At the conclusion of this great sermon he invited all who had been infidels or skeptics, and who now thought well of Christ and would like to become followers of Christ, to come forward and give him their hands. Forty-seven came forward! It was glorious! The backbone of infidelity was broken in that community, and it has never rallied since. Such have been the good results of these debates. He has he1d over ninety public debates, besides written discussions.[2]

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