“This house believes that God does not exist”
So stated the proposition of this week’s debate at our school. The society that held the debate is a philosophy society that had chosen to host a debate, rather than a debating society that had opted to debate a philosophical question.
I had been asked to speak (in opposition – i.e., stating the case for God’s existence!) and accepted the invitation with some trepidation. I’ve never actually been involved in a proper debate before, so didn’t really know the form (I struggle to remember the two or three I went to back in my Durham days). There were three of us to speak for the opposition, with three speaking for the proposition.
The first issue was to decide who spoke in which slot. One of number volunteered to take the last slot (which includes responses to the arguments of the other side). I said I’d speak first, which left our school chaplain as the second speaker and a history teacher to wrap things up for us.
I decided to speak about revelation. One of those speaking for the proposition is a scientist, and I figured there was a danger of getting bogged down if we merely entrenched ourselves in the ‘science vs religion’ debate (which is a bit daft, because they’re complementary, rather than contradictory).
Before the debate began, we had a show of hands to establish what the audience believed. Suffice it to say that it didn’t look good for those of us who were on God’s side of the argument 🙂 (Apart from the fact, as I’d mentioned to the opposition, we were fine because we had God on our side)
I started by pointing out that, if we were take a fairly classic view of God as creator, then He would be outside His creation (or ‘nature’, if you don’t believe He exists!) and therefore to assume that we could ‘study’ God using only the tools which we use to study nature (i.e., scientific method) would be flawed. Logically speaking, whilst these tools might aid our study, they would not be able to offer us a complete understanding of God (any more than scientific method affords us a clear view of historical events – other tools are needed).
This being the case, I argued that the best way of learning about God would be if He were to reveal Himself to us. At this point, I asked if anyone believed that there was a duck in the room. No-one put their hand up (no surprise there!). I then showed a few people a duck (ok, so it was a frozen one, but a duck nonetheless) that I had brought along in a shopping bag. After this, there were some people who could say with certainty that there was a duck in the room. At this point, I argued, those who were sat at the back and were unable to see the duck could no longer catergorically say that there was not a duck in the room. Because some people had had the duck revealed to them, there was no longer the option to say that the duck wasn’t there, only to say that they hadn’t seen it. I then tied this in with God, saying that if God has revealed Himself to one person, then no-one else can categorically deny His existence. They can only claim that they haven’t themselves witnessed the revelation. (They can, of course, question the revelation and argue that it didn’t happen…)
I almost pointed out that this was an analogy, and requested that those speaking for the other side refrained from attacking any aspect of the analogy other than its sole purpose – to make a point about revelation. I wasn’t, after all, arguing that God is on a par with a frozen duck. Sadly, I didn’t say this, so they did attack the analogy, pointing out that the duck was not self-revealed, and suggesting that perhaps I was claiming to be the only one who could reveal God. (It was a weak point … we let it slide)
I then posed the question of how God has revealed Himself, and pointed people to the Bible and the person of Jesus. I pointed out that the New Testament is actually a trustworthy historical source. If we can trust the source, then we can trust the message. I said that I don’t find it particularly odd for people to believe in God; indeed, billions of people do. Rather, I find it extraordinary the God we find in the Bible. God is not simply creator, but a God who loves His creation and sacrifices for what He has made.
Anyway, up next for our side was our chaplain, aka ‘The Rev.’ He was stunning. He started with a hilarious introduction along the lines of, ‘We all know who God is: A big white man, with a big white beard, who sits on a big white cloud, and he has a big black book. And he writes in his book the things you’ve done wrong. And when you cast your vote tonight, if you vote against him, he’ll write it down and wait. He’ll wait until judgment. And then, he’ll have a big fork, and he’ll heat up his fork …’ The Rev. then said, ‘they were the good old days, weren’t they? When preachers preached hellfire and damnation’ He went on to speak about how God works in peoples lives. God changes people. He spoke of a friend who, following a near-fatal car crash, had an experience of God which changed his life. The Rev.’s contribution made me wish the debate had been recorded.
(I’m not going to go into any more detail about the rest of the ‘speech’ bits of the debate, but feel free to ask in the comments if you want to know more. Just make sure that you ask soon, as my memory isn’t up to much these days)
The question time threw up some interesting points, with people quizzing both sides of the debate. I was asked why God had revealed Himself only to a few people. I pointed out that, according to the Bible, He has revealed Himself far more widely. Take the classic, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands’ as just one example of this. There are pointers to God in all of our lives; we can choose to follow them or ignore them.
Over to you:
What do you think is the strongest argument either for the existence of God, or against the existence of God?