There are about ten different things that I need to (and therefore should be) doing right now, but I have to talk for a moment about the debate I saw tonight. My roommates and I went to go see a debate, sponsored by Campus for Christ, between William Lane Craig (a well-known Christian apologist) and Christopher DiCarlo (someone who I had never heard of before, but an atheist professor at a college in Ontario). The debate question was, “Does God Matter?” and before the debate even began, I thought it was somewhat of a useless question. I think it is a secondary question after the question, “Does God exist?” As it seems to me, if God exists, then he matters, but if he does not exist, then he does not matter. I think that that conclusion was reaffirmed throughout the debate.
Overall, I felt that the debate was pretty bad. I mean, both debaters were competent, and I think both made very good points, but ultimately there was little to no dialogue between the two. Both gave their opening statements, and then there were supposed to be two rebuttals – but their rebuttals primarily consisted of them saying the same things over again. Neithe really even brought up the other person’s points to assess them, other than Craig mentioning that DiCarlo claimed he was committing the genetic fallacy (something which was never addressed again by either person after that point). After these “rebuttals,” they had half an hour of questions and answers from the audience, and these were, for the most part, fairly unintelligent questions. It sounded like nobody really knew what the debaters meant, and it seemed that the debaters didn’t ultimately know what the significance of the debate topic was. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a fiasco, but it was certainly a let-down. I suppose I got what I paid for it, though, since it only cost $2 for UW students.
At any rate, Craig brought up a very good point that under an atheistic worldview, nothing ultimately matters. If God does not exist, then everything is doomed to the eventual heat death of the universe, all humans will eventually die and cease to exist, and life therefore is meaningless and purposeless. I think that these are valid, large-scale conclusions. He quoted several existentialists, nihilists, and atheists to prove his point, and I think it is a valid one. DiCarlo took a very different tactic, and one on later analysis I think was a great strategy. It took me a little longer to figure out what he was trying to say, as his presentation was fairly disorganized, but essentially he said that since there are many possible gods with followers that all say that they are following the “real” one, then we cannot be certain that we’ve found the right one. I think that, to a certain extent, everyone would agree with this – even if one is a confident Christian, if he is honest with himself, I think he would have to say that he cannot be 100% certain he is right. So, based on this premise, if we cannot (and I must emphasize that we are unable to) be certain about which God exists, then why does the question matter at all? He gave a surprisingly good analogy to illustrate this.
Imagine that in the auditorium, we turned out all the lights so it was pitch black. He then told everyone that there were 20 metal bars under their seats – some were silver, some brass, some lead, etc., but there was only one gold bar. All of these bars were the same weight and same size, and all of them smelled and felt the same, so there was no way to tell which one was the gold bar. We could pass them around and let other people feel them and try to figure it out, but at the end of this exercise he would say, “Now who’s got the gold bar?” Obviously, under these circumstances, no one would know for sure. Thus, even if there was truly a gold bar, why would the question matter? If we are unable to determine the answer, then why does the question matter to begin with? Similarly, we are living in conditions where we have the possibility of there being any one (or more) of a multitude of gods. They all have competing religions to discuss the differences, and yet at the end of the day, we are living in a situation where no such definitive proof exists that would prove one correct and the others false. It can’t be done. There is no deductive logical proof that can prove God’s existence with certainty. So in these conditions, if we are unable to answer the question, then why does the question matter to begin with?
I find this an ingenious analogy. Now perhaps at some level it breaks down. It is operating under the assumptions that we truly cannot know for sure what God (if any) exists. Some would disagree with that, and cite personal experience or direct revelation. But even these are not definitive – personal experience can be wrong, like an optical illusion, and direct revelation can be false. If there were definitive proof for a specific God, then somehow I think we’d have figured it out by now, and we’d all be following that particular one. I found DiCarlo’s argument to be very persuasive, even though I would still argue that the pursuit of the answer to the question, if one can be found, is an important one. Ultimately, then, his conclusion is that we all live our lives to the best of our abilities, and come to common agreements on moral issues where agreements can be reached. If the question of God’s existence cannot be answered, then we might as well accept that we’re all we’ve got and get on with life.
So who won the debate? I think they both did. I found both answers to the question to be compelling, though I found Craig’s interpretation of atheism to be overly pessimistic. On a large scale view of the world, perhaps all we do is ultimately meaningless. But should that stop us from enjoying life on an individual and societal level? I don’t think so. I don’t know who I heard this from, but I like it – “Do we stop dancing and cry just because we know the song will end?” Of course not. We are still able to enjoy the song while it lasts and make the best of it, whether that song of ours ends in 8 years or 80 years. And moreover, which will cause us most regret as we near the end of the song – that we danced to the meaningless song, or that we failed to? I’m not claiming this as an intelligent answer to the question of “Does God Matter?” but perhaps I’ve given you some food for thought. Hopefully so.