Debating God's existence on campus

By  Brunelle Lewis, Youth Speak News
  • October 16, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Campus for Christ, a worldwide Christian campus organization that has a group at Ottawa’s Carleton University, organized its second debate in four years to debate the question many have pondered over the years.

The recent debate “Does God Exist?” drew more than 100 students.

Campus for Christ paired up with the secular campus group Free Thought and the Centre of Inquiry in Toronto to bring in two speakers to face off. Representing Campus for Christ was Evangelical Rev. Joe Boot, while atheist professor Ronald De Souza took the Free Thought position.

The two men argued back and forth about the existence of God; the atheist claiming that all religions were “a load of rubbish” since they voided each other out, while the theist Root argued that God was an “essential pre-condition (of) existence.”

When De Souza said all existence was by chance, Boot said that existence was too complex to be by chance. When De Souza said that evolution and the Big Bang explained our creation, Boot said that only God was responsible. The two did not see eye-to-eye on a single issue, though they remained civil. The heated exchange lasted for nearly two hours.

“(All) you can do is imagine a morality, imagine a meaning, imagine a truth and imagine a debate can be had, because there is no debate to be had based on (De Souza’s) worldview. He’s borrowing from my worldview to have a debate. He’s saying there is rationality, there’s structure, there’s morality. But he doesn’t want to ask the question how those things are grounded. He’s totally side-stepped the challenge,” Boot said.

De Souza replied, “God is not a solution to the mystery. That is just pretending to have an answer, when all you have is a word. (God) is a contradiction. (He) explains everything and therefore nothing.”

In asking whether or not God existed, the debate also asked whether or not atheism could exist. Boot said, “Strict atheism is impossible because God might exist in a sphere beyond your immediate experience …. Only an omnipresent person could know that God did not exist. Since God is omnipresent, only God could know that God did not exist.”

The two academics voiced their beliefs in a formal and structured debate format, moderated by fourth-year political science student Andrew Lawrence.

Once the debate had ended, there was a short question period in which both men clarified and defended themselves on several issues. Many students were eager for a chance to have their opinion heard. The debate proved effective in engaging the students, when small groups gathered outside the debate hall to discuss (and argue) the question themselves.

The students generally believed that the debate was a tie, since both men argued well.

Phillipe Blais thought Boot elaborated on his answers more so than De Souza, and therefore had stronger arguments. He was also upset by the contradictions De Souza made in his argument, giving the example: “It’s not a good thing to choose one religion over the other. That’s why you should choose atheism.”

Catholic student Ashley Croke thought this too. While she did not agree with Boot’s views on evolution and thought some of his arguments were slightly confusing, she found that he had a lot of substantial evidence. However, while she also agreed that all the points made by De Souza were valid and correct, he was simply “missing something.”

Josh Logan disagreed, saying that De Souza’s arguments were more logical.

Seanna Watson, Free Thought representative and president of the Humanist Association in Ottawa, said the debate was held because “We’d like students to consider their option to think.”

Peter Onate, a student organizer of the event from Campus for Christ, added that it was a great way to kick off the year because it would allow the students to start asking the big questions early on, so that discussions could be fuelled year round.

“(We’re) making a big splash (to) get the discussions going,” Onate said.

(Lewis, 18, is a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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