Minister and 'agtheist' face off in argument about religious roots
MATHEW McCARTHY, RECORD STAFF
Christopher diCarlo and Scott Wilkinson debate God's existence.
WATERLOO (Feb 13, 2006)
After more than three hours of debating the existence of the Christian God, the pastor concluded the existential smack-down with a parable.
It was a story about a man who insisted he was dead, but his buddies tried to convince him he was alive.
The confused man conceded that dead people don't bleed so his friends pricked his finger, said Scott Wilkinson, the pastor telling the tale during the public debate at Wilfrid Laurier University on Saturday.
The confused man looked at his wound and said, "Well, whadaya know? Dead men bleed!"
Wilkinson, pastor of the New Creation Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kitchener, was illustrating a point.
"I can give all kinds of empirical evidence and, if someone is pre-committed to their world view, it won't change them."
Wilkinson went on to say that anyone with an adamant, non-godly view of the world wouldn't be swayed even if he or she witnessed a miracle.
The pastor made the point to nearly 400 people packed into a WLU lecture hall.
Some travelled from Toronto, Hamilton and Collingwood to hear the sparring match about whether the God of the Bible exists.
The forum pitted Wilkinson, a former atheist turned Christian pastor, against Christopher diCarlo, a former Roman Catholic altar boy turned "agtheist" (against all organized religions, but doesn't know for sure if the universe was intentionally created).
DiCarlo, who holds a PhD in philosophy, lectures on critical thinking at WLU. Wilkinson has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in divinity.
The event was staged after Wilkinson's church proposed the debate to the Kitchener-Waterloo Cambridge Guelph and Area Humanists, the co-sponsors.
It was a debate where both opponents invoked rules of logic and reason in discussing creation, evolution, the concept of free will, sin, homosexuality and -- in large measure -- morality.
Wilkinson argued that without God, there is no objective justification for what is and isn't moral.
He said people who don't believe in God are not immoral, but without God as a base, morality is just man-made preference.
"In the materialist world view . . . there is no objective standard for right or wrong," Wilkinson said.
DiCarlo countered that acting morally is a product of evolution because the act of co-operating is beneficial to peoples' survival and ensures that their genetic material survives by procreating.
DiCarlo also zeroed in on the God of the Bible by arguing that the more narrowly someone defines God -- such as being all-knowing, benevolent and all-seeing -- the easier it is to point out flaws in the characterization of God.
DiCarlo argued that a truly benevolent God would make life easier for humans -- especially innocent children who are tormented by terrible diseases or who suffer in natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.
A benevolent God also wouldn't exclude non-Christians from heaven.
After Wilkinson confessed he believes Muslims worship the wrong god, diCarlo drew the biggest applause of the night by taking him to task.
"Isn't that the type of thinking exactly what's so screwed-up . . . the mess in Iraq in the first place?"
But neither Wilkinson nor diCarlo seemed to land a knockout punch.
Wilkinson's parable about the bleeding "dead" man was meant to illustrate that someone with a non-godly world view cannot be swayed by evidence.
But he could also have been talking about devout Christians.
Audience member Alex Lin of Toronto said he converted to Christianity two years ago.
As he packed up his Bible and headed for home, Lin said Wilkinson's arguments strengthened his faith.
"It gives me (a) new opinion of my beliefs."
People on the opposite side of the existential divide also found comfort.
Laura Dowding, who studies geography and global studies at WLU, said the debate opened her eyes.
Dowding said she's not a religious person and diCarlo's arguments reaffirmed her non-religious views.
"It definitely strengthened my beliefs -- or I guess, non-belief."