The independent news organization of Duke University

Professors debate existence of God, nature of theology Thursday night

<p>Alexander Rosenberg (right) is an atheist, while&nbsp;Paul Griffiths (left) is&nbsp;a renowned Catholic theologian.&nbsp;</p>

Alexander Rosenberg (right) is an atheist, while Paul Griffiths (left) is a renowned Catholic theologian. 

Does God exist? Two professors took on the much-debated question Thursday night. 

The Duke Philosophy Society hosted a discussion between Alexander Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole professor of philosophy, and Paul Griffiths, Warren professor of Catholic theology in the Divinity school, on the existence of God and the nature of theology. The event, held in Gross Hall, was standing room only.

Rosenberg classifies himself as staunch atheist who “denies God for roughly the same reasons that [he] denies the existence of Santa Claus,” while Griffith is a renowned Catholic theologian who has published more than 10 books.

Rosenberg began the talk by noting that most people are raised to avoid arguing about politics and religion.

“One of the reasons we are brought up not to discuss politics and religion is because it’s personal," he said. "The way in which people define what they believe to be meaningful about [God’s existence] often eludes the standards of precision with which philosophy can only precede."

Griffiths disagreed, arguing that theology is quite precise and clear in answering questions about God's existence. He quoted American philosopher Robert Nozick as saying, “[The argument for God’s existence is] the kind of argument that, when you’re faced with it, you have only two options—once you understand, either you accept it or your head explodes.” 

Throughout the talk, Griffiths agreed with Rosenberg but offered his own take on the matters at hand. 

“It’s true that few, perhaps no, actual human beings come to conviction about whether the Lord of Christian confession should be worshipped or not, responsibly to argument of the kind [purposed by Dr. Rosenberg],” Griffiths said.

Much of the conversation revolved around definitions and misconceptions. In response to the question of what God is, Griffiths said that “much of the debate about that question, seems to me, largely beside the point.”

"On both sides of the question being discussed, there is almost no resemblance to the God I believe in,” he said. 

Rosenberg and Griffiths agreed that God is not a Zeus-like character, throwing lightning bolts down from Olympus or a creature like Superman. 

“There is not a univocal predication,” Griffiths said. 

When pressed further to define what God it is that he believes in, Griffiths responded with a paraphrasing of the Nicene Creed.

Throughout their discussion, Griffiths and Rosenberg defined for themselves and the contested one another’s definitions of theism and God. They also disputed each other’s stances on philosophical and theological concepts like the argument for evil, the cosmological argument and the purposes of petitionary prayer.

By the end of the debate, it was clear that neither Rosenberg nor Griffiths had not swayed the other's opinion, but they did provide a lively discussion for the audience.

Correction: Griffith has written more than 10 books as a sole author, not just on the topic of God's existence. The Chronicle regrets the error.