Over at the New York Times blog The Empire Zone, there’s a fascinating play-by-play of last night’s debate at the New York Public Library regarding the existence of God between rapier-tongued author Christopher Hitchens and, of all people, the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The question under debate (“Is God great?”) and the speakers — two men who are often depicted in harsh caricatures by their critics — might have caused some to expect something like a circus. Perhaps surprisingly, it turned out to be the public intellectual event of the evening, a bit like Bertrand Russell vs. C. S. Lewis. Taking the atheist position was Christopher Hitchens, the journalist and author of a new book arguing that “religion poisons everything.” In defense of God was none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton, a man of the cloth who is perhaps even better known for his political and civil rights activism than for his training as a preacher.

Al Sharpton as C.S. Lewis? I can see the right-wing hair standing on end from here.

Update: sharp-eyed CP news writer Greg Hambrick just reminded me that  tomorrow actor Kirk Cameron (TV’vs Growing Pains) and author Ray Comfort (God Doesnt Believe in Atheists) will square off with two atheists — the creators of last year’s famous Blasphemy Challenge — with moderation by Martin Bashir. The debate, for which Comfort asserted he can prove the existence of God without using the Bible or any reference to faith, took place last Saturday, but will air in its entirety on ABC.com on Wednesday, May 9 at 2 p.m. EST. A shortened version will air on Nightline at 11:35 p.m.