Let the debate begin

  • January 18, 2014

TORONTO - The eternal questions of life will be hashed out when the archdiocese of Toronto launches the Chesterton Debate Series.

Sponsored by the Office for Catholic Youth and the archdiocese of Toronto, the series promises not to shy away from the big questions. Take, for instance, the first debate, to be held Feb. 7.

“Is there a God?” is the title of the debate that will see Fr. Philip Cleevely presenting the Catholic position versus Justin Trottier defending the atheist view. The moderator will be CP24 host Stephen LeDrew.

Cleevely is an Oxford- and Cambridge-educated philosopher who is now a professor at Toronto’s St. Philip’s Seminary. Trottier is the founder of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, which advocates for secularism and skeptical inquiry.

The series was “an idea that was cooked up based on the pastoral plan of (Cardinal Thomas Collins),” said Fr. Frank Portelli, OCY director. Its goal is to engage young adults in their faith, he said.

Its goal is also to “ensure the voice of faith is in the public square,” according to an archdiocesan press release.

The debate series is inspired by G.K. Chesterton, the 20th-century English Catholic writer.

Portelli said that sometimes, when you have an atheist debating a Christian, “you get a philosopher versus a person who’s extracting from the Bible. That’s a very different way of speaking. The philosopher atheist is going to say, ‘I don’t accept the authority of the Bible.’ Or sometimes, he says, ‘One party, no matter how intelligent, may not be trained well in the art of debate.’

“We wanted to have a fair battle,” said Portelli. “We wanted two people that would be seen as legitimate representatives for the position they’re hosting.”

For the first debate, each side will present and, having seen the other’s materials prior to the debate, go ahead with their rebuttal. Then there will be a back- and-forth portion and an opportunity for audience members to ask questions or challenge positions.

“When it comes to defending atheism as a justifiable world view, when it comes to the case that you can live a full, a hopeful and a positive and a moral life as an atheist, we think that it’s important to engage in those kinds of debates,” said Trottier.

Cleevely wants to debate to stay focussed on God’s existence. He says, “atheism arises when we refuse to follow reason through to the point at which it must affirm what it cannot understand.”

The 2011 National Household Survey shows that the number of Canadians that do not identify with a faith tradition has doubled from 12 per cent to 24 per cent since 1991, but Project Canada research demonstrated that almost two-thirds of adults who hardly or never attend religious services are open to becoming more involved.

The debate will be held Feb.7 at 7 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 93 Charles St. W. Its success will determine the demand for future debates. Tickets cost $10. To register, visit www.ocytoronto.org.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.