Devadoss, White debate the role of God and religion in a liberal arts education

Last Thursday, the Veritas Forum hosted a discussion on religion in Griffin Hall titled “Does God Belong in the Liberal Arts?” The conversation, moderated by Professor of Physics Frederick Strauch, featured former College math professor Satyan Devadoss, a Christian, and Professor of Philsoophy Alan White, who is non-religious.

Devadoss began the discussion with a presentation, arguing against the widely-held perception that math and science focus on truth and objectivity while humanities focus on subjectivity and emotion. “The world is tilted to think math and science have a monopoly on truth,” Devadoss said.

He continued to argue that all disciplines have an equal claim to reason and truth, before explaining his reasoning for believing in God. A Christian God, he claimed, did not add another element to reality that severely complicated the world but rather made the world simpler in a way that is difficult to see. He then clarified that his Christian faith did not stem from a desire to be emotionally satisfied but rather only from his desire to better understand reality.

In addition, he argued that Christianity acknowledges the chaos of the world in a way that other religions do not.  “I think the Christian faith captures the mess of reality,” Devadoss said.

White, who grew up in a Christian family but quickly became non-religious, first became fixated on the idea of God’s role in a philosophical context when he began searching for a systematic philosophy. In 2003, he began collaborating with Lorenz Puntel, a well-regarded German philosopher, in the hopes of finding a singular philosophical framework that can explain reality. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that the presence of God could actually make the explanation of reality simpler. This realization, he said, caught him off-guard as someone who had been non-religious for most of his life.

Still, White said he does not believe that the Christian God fits within the framework of this philosophical god and has yet to find any type of god that would. Specifically, he does not believe that there can be an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent god at the same time that so much evil occurs on a regular basis.

“Many of the narratives of the Bible, I find immensely disturbing,” White said. “When I’m trying to find evidence of a God in the Bible, I’m tempted to say that the Old Testament is a different God.”

Devadoss countered that God’s seemingly violent actions in the Bible are consistent with him being a loving God. “The fact that God is trying to do these wrathful things is to me a sign of love,” Devadoss said.

Later in the event, Strauch contributed to the conversation by laying out a common counterargument to the necessity of God. “One of the traditional arguments against [the idea] that God is a creator is that the laws of physics could be used to describe creation,” Strauch said.

Devadoss responded that he believes that even within the framework of modern phys-ics, the existence of a Christian God can better explain reality.

Following the moderated portion of the conversation, Strauch invited the audience to ask the speakers their own questions. In response to an audience question about the falsifiability of each of their beliefs, both speakers contended that sufficient evidence could lead them to change their outlook on religion. They both contended, however, that this advance would be very unlikely since any evidence would likely have to be historical.

Later in the question-and-answer session, White had the opportunity to address one of his fundamental arguments against the notion that God has to exist for there to be morality. “We don’t have to think about God to get to moral truths,” White said. “It’s not just people that grew up in Judeo-Christian communities that are rational; it’s people all over the world.”

At the conclusion of the event, which lasted approximately 90 minutes, representatives of the Veritas Forum collected feedback from students and invited the audience to a reception, giving them an opportunity to interact with the speakers and ask them questions in a more informal setting.

  • Augustine25

    I think my views are closest to those of Alan White. I think he is naive, however, in thinking that atheists can make good decisions. Atheists killed millions of people in the last century, in large part, because of the deadly combination of loose moral strictures, utopia ideals, and stone-cold utilitarianism. Push comes to shove, atheists have proven themselves to be quite dangerous. An atheist, after all, created Marxism. Ultimately, I feel safer in Satyan Devadoss’s world than I do in the world of Frederick Strauch.