Wow! I would like thank Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) and Secular Student Alliance (SSA) for hosting and Professor Suzanne Stangl-Erkens for moderating last night’s debate between August Berkshire and Joe Boot on whether God exists or not. Mr. Boot argued in the affirmative, while Mr. Berkshire argued in the negative. The turnout was spectacular. There were 700 seats set out in the Atwood ballroom and an additional 200 were brought in to accommodate the influx of people. Even then, there were still people standing, so attendance was close to 1,000 people. That’s way more than I think anyone was expecting. This is clearly a subject many people are interested in, including even for college-aged students. In most of these types of events on campus, there is usually a high ratio of older adults to college students. I didn’t notice that here. It did seem to me that God-fearing Christians outnumbered the secular nonbelievers in the crowd, but that would be consistent with the broader demographic, though there was still strong support for Mr. Berkshire. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any polling beforehand to gauge the beliefs of those in attendance, though I did notice more people went towards SSA’s table than to Mr. Boot’s near the entrance of the ballroom. I think free material enticed people more than books for sale. 😉
As for the debate at hand, I cannot make much of a reply to Mr. Boot’s positions, as my knowledge on metaphysics is not very strong. I do, however, like how he took a philosophical approach and touched on some epistemological issues. Philosophy is one of my favorite subjects and I find it very interesting, so I do not take for granted his appeal to many philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Indeed, I believe it is only through these types of arguments that anyone can ascertain the existence or non-existence of God or a god. Moreover, I thought Mr. Berkshire was rather calm, straightforward, and concise, while Mr. Boot always seemed to be yelling and went over the allotted time on several occasions. At the same time, though, the debates were on quite different levels. By that, I mean they took very different approaches to their arguments. Mr. Berkshire was very concrete and straightforward in his arguments, in my opinion, whereas Mr. Boot was much more philosophical and abstract. Mr. Boot, for example, argued that the existence of God is necessary if we are to make any intelligible sense of the world, whereas Mr. Berkshire referred to this line of thinking as “God of the gaps”; Mr. Berkshire contended that since Mr. Boot could not find any natural explanation for certain phenomena (e.g. natural laws), that he was merely trying to fill the void (in knowledge) or gap with the invention of a god. So Mr. Berkshire’s argument was that there lacked any compelling evidence to lead him to believe in the existence of a god, whereas Mr. Boot argued that such an existence is logically necessary.
Who had the stronger arguments? Me being a member of SSA, I’m naturally inclined to say Mr. Berkshire did, just as I’m sure most of the Christians in the crowd would say Mr. Boot did. Did anyone in the crowd change their mind? I don’t know, maybe a few (as I said, there was no polling to objectively gauge this). For those coming in unsure, I hope either debater helped clarify the positions so that informed and educated decisions could made. I very much enjoyed the debate. It was great to hear from Mr. Boot a new perspective that I had not heard before. Mr. Berkshire also brought interesting arguments that I also had not heard before, which helped me solidify my beliefs. I do have to admit though, one my favorite quotes from the whole thing was from Mr. Berkshire: “According to Christian theology, God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.”
In the end, I think the debate was very constructive. Open, intelligent, and civil discussion serves an important function in liberal democratic societies. The fact that we’re able to hold discussions on such topics is a testament to progress of society, even within the past few decades. Where just a few decades ago atheists were relegated to second-class citizenship who should not be “considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots” according to the then-Vice President Bush, I am pleased we are able to discuss the topic rationally, respectably, and with impunity. While I do think much progress is left to be made in this area, I appreciate greatly the time and effort both Joe Boot and August Berkshire gave to bring this great experience to SCSU. I would again like to thank CRU, SSA, and Professor Stangl-Erkens. I would also like to thank all those in attendance who also took time to listen to perspectives they may have disagreed with it. In all, I believe there was a positive outcome.