On March 31st TCNJ’s Secular Student Alliance and Protestant Bible Fellowship teamed up to bring Atheist author Christopher Hitchens and Christian theologian Frank Turek to campus to debate whether theism or atheism better explains reality. It was a fairly interesting debate, but neither side really brought anything new to the table. Turek put forth several standard cosmological and teleological arguments for the existence of God, and Hitchens cited numerous instances of the problem of evil and said essentially that we cannot truly know either way, but that atheism is the best and most probable of available explanations.
In the end, neither speaker could agree on a grounds upon which to argue. Hitchins insisted on talking about ethical issues associated with religious belief on earth, at one point challenging the audience to think of a single moral action exclusive to religion that an atheist could not do, and then rattling off a list of immoral acts committed in the name of religious beliefs. Turek, on the other hand, invariably returned to a teleological argument for intelligent design on a cosmic scale, citing the precise calibration of the physical constants that create the possibility for human life, and the low probability of their arising as they have at random, as evidence for an intelligent first cause.
For me, the more arguments for either side I hear, the more agnostic I become. Either side can be argued for eloquently and soundly, but in order to have any real conviction one way or the other, it seems that either faith, or something like it perhaps, is required. I have yet to meet anyone who holds a belief in God with absolute certainty who does so based on reason alone. Generally, such a belief is based on a religious experience, and while one who holds it will of course attempt to verify their view logically, the ultimate source of his conviction is not in the logic, but in the experience. Similarly, empiricist beliefs that deny God require faith that one’s senses are veridical, that the world can indeed be adequately explained solely by observation and quantification. Without real conviction that this is the case, it would be very difficult to practice science sincerely. As Turek pointed out in the debate, not only is faith required to believe that a God created the universe and perfectly calibrated it for human life, but it is equally necessary for the belief that the everything we know has fallen into place at random.
Some interesting quotes from the debate:
“A good man left to his own devices will do good, and an evil man will do ill, but if you want to make a good man do evil, make him religious.” – Christopher Hitchens
“Even though Christopher says in his book, ‘there is no god and I hate him,’ God says ‘there is a Christopher Hitchens and I love him.’” – Frank Turek
And one awful one:
(On why there isn’t more debate about theism from an Islamic perspective) “…because people don’t want to have their heads cut off.” – Frank Turek