The amazing thing about this past weekend’s Imagine No Religion 2 conference at the Kamloops Convention Centre is that it happened at all.
A few short years ago, it would have been, well, unimaginable in this community. Time was if you were asked, “Are you a Christian (or ‘religious,’ or ‘spiritual’) person?” and you could not answer yes, you were regarded as unworthy.
Now, the theist-atheist debate is on, and neither side has a monopoly on righteousness or wisdom.
Friday night’s debate — “Does a God, or Gods, exist?” — started things off for the conference and I was fortunate to have been invited to moderate it. The evening lived up to expectations, as philosophy instructor Michael Horner and ethics prof Paul Chamberlain debated for the “Yes” side, and humanism activist Christopher DiCaro and atheist Matt Dillahunty for the “No” side.
They were worthy adversaries, if that’s the word, though the debate was waged without the hostility and verbosity that sometimes characterizes the issue. In my view, the most effective debater was Chamberlain — not because of the views he expressed but because of his ability to speak and question forcefully. During the cross-examination, he relentlessly pursued Dillahunty, who seemed frustrated at times in not being able to shut him down with a zinger.
That’s as far as a neutral moderator (and a neutral observer of the issue itself) will go with analysis of the debating techniques, and overall neither side won on either the question or their sum-total success in the argument.
Inevitably, though not by direct reference, the debate wasn’t just about theism and atheism, but about the very meaning of life. A few quotes:
Chamberlain: “You cannot judge a viewpoint by its neglect.”
Dillahunty: “You cannot solve a mystery by appealing to a bigger myster.”
Horner: “The universe is not eternal.”
Chamberlain: “There is no good reason to believe God does not exist.”
DiCarlo: “”Just because the universe had to have a beginning…. This just happens to be the universe that succeeded. That doesn’t mean it got a push from a big god.”