God At University College Dublin -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 07:2 (Jul 2009)
Article: God At University College Dublin
Author: John Warwick Montgomery


God At University College Dublin

John Warwick Montgomery

Editor, Global Journal of Classical Theology1

Abstract

An account of the successful defense of the rationality of belief in God in public debate at University College Dublin. Arguments ranged from the cosmological to the humanist, from First Cause to Incarnation.

On 8 October 2008, the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin sponsored a debate on the motion “That this house finds it irrational to believe in God.” In the 19th century, philosopher and lay theologian Søren Kierkegaard warned against such occasions; in his Concluding Scientific Postscript he asked whether raising such a question was not like standing in the presence of a mighty king and demanding evidence that he exists.

Nonetheless, I accepted the Society’s invitation to head the “God side” in this debate. Why? For one thing because of the prestige of the Literary & Historical Society. It was founded in 1855—before University College itself—and by no less a personage than the great Christian apologist John Henry Newman. The Society remains the largest and most distinguished university society in Ireland—comparable to the Oxford Union and Cambridge Union debating societies in England. Among notables who have been invited to speak at the Literary & Historical Society: W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, every President and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland since the founding of the Republic, Noam Chomsky, John Mortimer (of Rumpole fame), J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne, and Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam. It seemed to me that in that context God deserved a proper hearing—particularly in light of the secular reactions to a legalistic Roman Catholicism which have driven many Irish (for example, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett) to radical unbelief.

There were to be three invitees on each side of the debate. Supporting the proposition: Dr Sean M. Carroll, a theoretical cosmologist, currently senior research associate in the physics department at the California Institute of Technology; Fred Edwords, executive secretary of the American Humanist Association; and Dr Lewis Wolpert, English developmental biologist and Fellow of the Royal Society (who, the day of the debate, notified the Literary & Historical Society that, for reasons of health, he had to cancel; he was replaced by a substitute from University College).

I chose in support of the opposition Dr Angus Menuge, professor of philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin and fellow and diplomate of the International Academy of Apologetics, Strasbourg, France; and Dr Alistair Noble, chemist...

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