PAUL SMITHS - Dylan Kirk and Dane Riva tackled some heavy material Thursday night.
The two Paul Smith's College students argued over whether God exists in a debate in the college library's Adirondack Room that drew a standing-room-only crowd of students and other members of the college community.
Riva, an atheist, said he's passionate about the topic, and he started going to the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group on campus and challenging the students in the group on their beliefs. Kirk, a member of the group, came to Riva and challenged him to the debate when he heard that the college's library was inviting students to present in a Student Speaker Series. Riva said he was glad Kirk did, because he had been thinking about doing the same thing.
Paul Smith’s College students Dylan Kirk, left, and Dane Riva argue over the existence of God in a debate Thursday night as part of the college library’s Student Speaker Series.
(Enterprise photos — Jessica Collier)
It took place on the night when non-orthodox Christians celebrate Holy Thursday and when Jews celebrate Passover. Kirk and Riva gave opening statements, had time to rebut each other, then gave closing statements.
Riva argued with the idea that God is the designer of the universe, saying it isn't made to fit humans well, with two-thirds of the Earth's surface uninhabitable, mass extinctions and diseases. He said human beings are imperfect, with problems like poor vision, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
"So is this universe made for us?" Riva said.
He also argued that while many creationists say that there is beauty in the grand design of everything, they overlook bad things like hookworms crawling into a child and making him or her suffer.
Riva argued that the Bible, a book written by a number of people, can't be taken literally as the word of God. If it is taken literally, then homosexuality shouldn't be allowed and beating children should be.
He argued that some of the most religious countries are statistically the worst off, in terms of happiness and general well-being, and some of the least religious countries are in the best condition, and the most generous as well.
"It's a myth that atheists are somehow immoral," Riva said.
He said primates have been found to do selfless acts, showing that morals are created through evolutionary terms, not through religion.
He said atheists are generally perceived by the general public as worse than rapists, according to some statistics.
So, "probably not the best thing to tell a girl on the first date," he joked.
Riva argued that religion causes much strife in the world and that people need to be able to transcend religion if they are going to solve the world's problems.
Kirk argued that existence couldn't have happened by chance. Humans have survived while the majority of other life forms on the planet have gone extinct, and we can see and hear and are able to dominate the planet, which shows that God has a plan for us, he said.
He argued that atheists take things on faith, just like religious people do - things like the Big Bang.
"The atheists make up a lot of stuff, too," Kirk said. "They take it on faith that the Big Bang happened. You weren't there, however, many billion years ago. You have evidence, and we have evidence. I know you don't like our evidence. It's all right."
He said morals don't exist in an atheistic world view, while religion creates an objective set of morals.
"Theists believe that genocide is wrong the same way that two plus two equals four," Kirk said.
He said atheists often attribute morals to gene perpetuation and reciprocal advantage, but that fails to explain other common actions like the U.S. giving aid to foreign countries that will likely never repay us, donations to poor people from anonymous donors and decent treatment for prisoners and people with mental and physical handicaps.
"If just one of these values cannot be proven through subjectivity, then there are objective morals," Kirk said. "If objective moral values exist, then there is a standard by which we judge right and wrong. If there is a standard, it is a logical assumption that someone set the standard. Thus, if there are objective moral values, they were established by a creator."
He said representatives from many of the world's religions have come together in several parliaments over the years and have agreed to a list of shared morals.
Once Thursday's debate was finished, Riva said he was happy with how it went.
"I think the passion came out when I was talking," Riva said.
Student Speaker Series
The college library's Student Speaker Series also included a session on "Writing a French Children's Book," given by the students of the college's French 102 class, held on Wednesday afternoon, and a workshop called "Restoration Agriculture for Resilient Agroecosystems," given by Brandon Angrisani after "the God Debate" on Thursday evening.
College Public Services Librarian Meggan Frost had the idea for the series when she started work at the college last year.
"I wanted to give our students a venue to share their expertise and interests with the community," Frost told the Enterprise in an email. "Students come to college to learn, but they also come with strong skill sets and interests that aren't necessarily addressed by higher education. The idea is to give them the opportunity to develop their presentation skills and while sharing their expertise with the rest of the community."
Students who were interested in presenting had to go through an application process like a traditional conference, Frost said. Students had to meet with her to discuss mutual expectations before giving their presentations.
She noted that presentations like this can be valuable on a student's resume.
"Developing a workshop and presenting it in a professional space is a skill that all employers want because it shows initiative and the ability to speak publicly no matter the subject matter," Frost said.