In a message dated 9/13/00 7:28:54 AM Mountain Daylight Time,
> I was asked by the Philosophy and Religion student organization on campus if
> I wanted to "debate" a professor of their department who is an atheist---I
> am supposed to represent the theistic point of view. I have accepted. Any
> comments or suggestions would be appreciated. Moorad
I have no direct experience in such settings, but I do have a few thoughts
much in line with what others have said:
1) I agree with Ted Davis that "debates" are likely to be unedifying. A
dialog, with each person explaining their position and thoughtfully
considering the arguments, would be more productive than each person trying
to "win". I think back to my days on the high school debate team, and my
preparation and approach to those debates, while successful in that realm,
were totally inappropriate for actually edifying an audience.
2) Don't go in trying to "prove" theism. All the standard "proofs", and more
recent variants such as ID, have weaknesses that a philosophy professor will
be familiar with. If you stake your position on being able to "prove" the
ontological argument, etc., he will be able to make you look bad. One can
make decent arguments (I like the anthropic arguments of Polkinghorne in
_Belief in God in an Age of Science_), but they are just *plausibility*
arguments, not absolute proofs. And if people come away thinking theism
(particularly Christianity) is plausible, that is progress in such a forum.
3) George Murphy had a good point that "What God don't you believe in?" is a
good question. Even if not for that professor, at least for many in the
audience. There may be those who reject Christianity for mistaken reasons,
such as thinking it requires them to reject biological evolution or to
believe in a 6000-year-old Earth or to embrace the politics of the "Christian
right". If you can correct such misperceptions of the God they are not
believing in, and inform them that Christianity is based upon Jesus and not
this extraneous stuff, that will be progress.
4) The impression of Christianity the audience takes away will likely be
governed as much by your deportment as by your arguments. If you come across
as irrational, anti-intellectual, judgmental, and unloving, you will
reinforce negative stereotypes they already have about Christianity. If you
model the character of Christ, that will speak volumes.
Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado | SteamDoc@aol.com
"Any opinions expressed here are mine, and should not be
attributed to my employer, my wife, or my cats"
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