Tag Archives: Michael Shermer

That beautiful debate

It is a beautiful thing to have a debate about God and faith, right in the heart of the University of Toronto campus. That’s what happened just this past Friday night.

The topic of the debate was “Is God a figment of our imagination?” and the guests were Dr. Alister McGrath (the renowned Christian and prolific author) and Dr. Michael Shermer (the renowned atheist/skeptic and very popular author).

Dr. Alister McGrath and Dr. Michael Shermer at the “Is God a figment of our imagination?” debate, moderated by Faith Today’s Karen Stiller.

Faith Today was one of the sponsors of the debate, and I was the moderator, although I preferred the word “host,” and made sure I used it in the introduction. Words matter, after all. So, when I use the word “beautiful,”  here, I don’t mean what was actually said, but the fact that it was said at all. The dialogue was at times challenging, sometimes funny, at other moments frustrating. The guests were sometimes locked into each other’s points, sharing their insights, a smooth back and forth contrasting of ideas as befits two authors of their stature. At other moments, they talked past each other, which happens.

If you came into the debate a Christian, or even just a theist, I’d guess you left the same. If you entered Convocation Hall or tuned into the livestream as an atheist, you likely still think that way. Such is the nature of debates.

So, how was it beautiful?

In church yesterday, in that sacred space, with crying babies and communion, preaching and prayers, faith is nourished and nourishing. That matters. But in the debate arena, faith is stretched and challenged and survives. Yes, faith is strong enough to be debated. It is intellectual and rigorous. It is not a crutch. It has legs. And our atheist friends want to talk. They have good questions. There are good answers. They make good points and we should be bold enough to youtube and livestream how we respond to them for all the world to hear.

I like that Faith Today is a sponsor of the Religion and Society Series. I applaud Wycliffe College, the evangelical Anglican seminary on campus who started the whole thing and does the majority of the heavy lifting. I feel a solidarity with the other sponsors of the event, both Christian and non-Christian. These are people who aren’t afraid to talk, with no guarantee how it will all turn out. I really like that.

This is what Wycliffe says about the series: “The Religion and Society Series seeks to generate critical conversations on matters of faith, society and public interest. The purpose of the series is to play a catalytic role in helping shape discourse around topics that deeply matter to individuals and society.”

And that kind of talking really is beautiful.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. You can watch Religion and Society Series events online

Is God a Figment of our Imagination? The debate is coming…

So far, it is Alister McGrath: 2, Michael Shermer: 1. That’s not actually a score, it’s my book tally as I prepare to moderate a September 15th “Is God a Figment of our Imagination?”debate at the University of Toronto.

In the last month, I’ve read McGrath’s Inventing the Universe and The Passionate Intellect, and I  finished The Believing Brain by Shermer. Now I’m reading Shermer’s The Moral Arc. And it’s a very big book.

Join us in person if you are in Toronto, or live stream anywhere around the world.

What have I learned so far? That my book tally will be the only real score kept surrounding this event. Both of these authors and thinkers are leaders in their field. And they are both very respectful of those with whom they disagree. I think this will be less of a debate and more of a deep dialogue.

As I picture Convocation Hall filling up on that night, and groups around the world live-streaming the evening and then launching into discussions, I think that everyone – whether Christian, a person of another faith, or a person with no faith at all – will be challenged. I know we will all learn something new and have to rethink something old. I have already just through my reading.

It is such a privilege we have in our society to disagree openly, to debate loudly, to interact and exchange ideas with those with whom we share the most important and fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the universe, and with those with whom we do not. So, come to this event if you live in the area. Or live-stream it with a rowdy group of friends. Engage in this conversation.
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