By Sarah Seeley
Feb. 13, 2014
Will Thompson sat in the crowded auditorium and listened to the man at the front of the room rattle off arguments for the existence of God.
The second-year UPEI biochemistry student didn’t believe a word of it.
“I would say faith in God is not reasonable. I’ve heard so many arguments about why God exists, but I have yet to see one that remains logically consistent. It boggles to me to think people believe they are coherent arguments.”
Thompson is one of 7.8 million Canadians with no religious affiliation, according to the 2011 National Household Survey.
It’s an age-old question. Does God exist?
UPEI held a seminar called Is Faith in God Reasonable? on Jan. 26 to explore the topic. The presentation featured Andrew Bannister, a world-renowned theist and Canadian director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Malcolm Murray, the head of UPEI’s philosophy department.
UPEI religious studies professor Brenton Dickieson said people believe in God because of the influences of those around them.
“For most people, it comes down to an experience they’ve had in the community or heard God speak. They’ve grown up in the faith or discovered it on their own.”
Bannister said there are several arguments for the existence of God. The existence of reason is one of them.
“The conclusion is this. If God does not exist then reason and rationality, thoughts and minds simply aren’t possible. Nonetheless we have to rely on reason every day. Unless God or something like God exists, reason is meaningless.”
Murray said it is irrational to believe something because people have believed in it through history.
“Religion has been around for centuries in many different cultures so it seems reasonable to believe in it. But then again so has racism.”
Theists believe a superior being created the universe, but Murray said people have no memories or experiences with a supernatural being.
“To make that argument work, we need to have prior experience of God creating the universe. That is what makes the religious inferences so unreasonable.”
Morality is a difficult concept for atheists to explain, said Bannister.
“Despite an atheist’s brave attempts, I don’t think morality fits in an atheistic universe. Without God, there can be no definition of the good life or purpose, merely individual preference.”
Thompson said the perception of morality is unnecessary.
“If I would give you a reason for my own concept of right and wrong, I would say it’s because of my environment. Morality is not dependent on faith, it can be completely explained by biology.”
Dickieson said suffering and the existence of evil are two stumbling blocks to faith in God.
“When it comes to believing in God, I think the hardest part is the tough stuff that happens in life. If God is powerful and God is good, then why doesn’t he keep the terrible things from happening? That’s a personal doubt of mine and I think it’s a doubt of most people in our generation.”
UPEI music student Emily Proude was raised in a Christian home, but she never took it seriously until after the death of her grandfather when she was 10.
“It was a kind of grieving I have never experienced before. Through that experience, I was able to come to a place where God wasn’t a concept, but a personal being.”
However, even people with the strongest faith still have doubts, said Proude.
“Doubts are a natural thing. I feel like Christians are not exempt from that. I know so many who have doubts on a regular basis.”
Proude has also had moments of uncertainty.
“If I have doubts, I take a step back and acknowledge it rather than pushing it aside. I do some research and seek the truth.”
Doubt was an issue even in the early days of Christianity. But the first Christians put their doubts aside and stepped out in faith, said Bannister.
“For two thousand years Christians followed Jesus, not because the ontological arguments stand, but because of trust in a person and the evidence that he was who he claimed to be. I believe in God because he is more than something to be argued for, but someone who can be encountered. A God who is not merely a premise, but a presence.”