It seems about as constructive an argument as debating whether aliens would prefer Mozart or Kenny G. Yet, last night the entire Edmund Burke was filled with people ready to watch two distinguished philosophers debate over the question you’d normally only ask yourself at 3am when you can’t sleep – does God exist?
Apparently, in Dr Daniel Came’s view, there’s a three-quarter chance he doesn’t.
Presented by the TCD Christian Union, in conjunction with the Metafizz society, the attendees were an eclectic mix, ranging from Christian to agnostic to followers of Richard Dawkinism. It was not immediately apparent whose ‘side’ members of the crowd were on, and a standout theme of the event was the legitimacy and respect the opposition gave to each other during the debate. In fact, one of the features of Dr Came’s introduction was the mention of his recent criticism on the lack of academic standing and name-calling between atheists and theists in modern debating. Dr Daniel Came is a lecturer in Philosophy at Hull University in England, with B.A. and M.Phil. degrees in philosophy from the University of Cambridge and a D.Phil from Oxford University. He has a special interest in Nietzsche (of the ‘God is dead’ variety) and other post-Kantian German philosophies.
Dr William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He is recognised for his contrubution to the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, and has authored many books and articles on philosophy and theology.
The debate opened with Dr Craig presenting five arguments which, in his view, were good arguments for theism and bad ones for atheism. Speaking with an American twang, he reasoned for the Kalam comological argument, a beginning to the universe (which implies causation), the fine-tuning of said universe for life, the ressurection of Jesus and the existence of objective moral values, all within the space of about twenty minutes. Dr Came’s argument, more focused on morals, was reduced to two main points: the hiddeness of God from “non-resistant non-believers” and the existence of pointless evil.
Dr Came made an interesting formula of sorts, claiming that a natural “evil”, such as a tsunami, has one of 4 possibilities: lead to a greater good, lead to a good which is less than the evil, be neutralised by a good of equal amounts or have no good come of it at all. Only the first of these outcomes is consistent with the philosophy of an all-loving God, and as the outcomes may be beyond our comprehension or perception, we can only assume that there is a one-quarter chance that God exists.
The rebuttals followed afterwards, where various points made by either side were expanded upon or challenged. Points of discussion included the nature of God’s relationship with the individual, evil’s compatability with God and whether theism should be treated as a physical theory, judged under the same parameters as any other scientific hypothesis.
Perhaps the greatest point of contention during the rebuttals were moral values and the question of their objectivity, with either side drawing on multiple schools of thought and perspectives.
Dr Craig proved himself to be a skilled orator, engaging the audience and conveying complex philosophical concepts to a crowd that was otherwise growing restless. His arguments and viewpoints as a Christian apologist, as he has been labelled, were absolute, and in his words “unapologetic”.
Dr Came, on the other hand, preferred to rebuke rather than state as Dr Craig did. He tended to use more logical, jargon-loaded philosophical reasoning, which unfortunetly had the effect of alienting the audience, the majority of whom did not seem to have a background in philosophical thought. During the rebuttals and debate itself, neither side seemed to be a clear winner, with both sharing strong and, in Dr Craig’s words, “fallacious” points. However, it was clear during the question and answer session that many in the audience held a point of contention with Dr Craig, particularly on the subject of evil and suffering.
Although I, and presumably most of the audience, did not filter out of the lecture hall converted into martyrs or cross-burning heretics, it was nonetheless a thought provoking, refreshingly respectful discussion which will no doubt provide more fodder for 3am ruminations.