Ohio State hosted event debates Faith versus Reason, pits Christian, atheist

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012

As a child, Wesley Cray was perplexed by the light in his refrigerator. It turned on when it was open, and off when it was closed.

Years later he related this fascination to questioning the idea of faith.

“I concluded, as any child might, that there was a little gremlin in the fridge whose job it was to turn that light on and off,” Cray said. “Now years later, I discovered that little (inside) button — spoiler alert.”

Monday in the US Bank Conference Theater at the Ohio Union, an event called “Faith and Reason: Friends or Foes?” gave students, faculty and staff the opportunity to watch a Christian and an atheist converse on the relationship between faith and reason. Though much of the event focused on differences, the organizers and speakers attempted to keep the talk a civil discussion rather than a debate.

The event, which lasted from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., was sponsored by the Christian Graduate Student Alliance, the Secular Student Alliance and Ohio State University Student Activities. It was also sponsored by the Veritas Forum, an organization that hosts events at colleges and universities to connect life experiences to Jesus Christ.

Christie McCracken, a member of the CGSA and a Ph.D. student in biomedical science, said the event was created when SSA approached her group.

“Basically, we just wanted to have a dialogue between an atheist and a Christian to kind of think about different world views,” McCracken said. “Both sides use reason and they can also have a discussion.”

McCracken said she was happy with the attendance, which filled almost all the theater’s seats. After both speakers were introduced to the audience, each had more than 15 minutes to speak to the crowd.

On one side of the stage was Tim O’Connor, a professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Indiana University. O’Connor used his time to describe the benefits of faith and its relation to reason. Responding to the belief that faith takes things on unquestioned trust, O’Connor claimed, similar to faith, reason is rooted in a kind of trust. He said people can’t get started examining the world without trusting the basic cognitive capacities that they have. He said this trust is how examining the world begins — even in science.

On the other side was Cray, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at OSU. He claimed the ways beliefs hang together, inform one another, can be called into question and stand up to evidence are what people call reason. Cray went further into his gremlin story, saying after he discovered the button, he could’ve easily believed there was a button and a gremlin, but there was no evidence of the gremlin despite its existence being compatible with what he believed at the time.

After making their cases, O’Connor and Cray questioned each other. When the two finished addressing each other’s comments, the audience asked them questions. Questions were also asked to the speakers via Twitter.

The question section of the event, however, didn’t see much time. At one point, some who were in line to ask questions were asked to sit down because the event ran over its allotted time. Nonetheless, some students said they enjoyed the event.

“I thought it was very civil, nice discussion,” said Charles Holbrook, a third-year in philosophy and political science. “Them actually confronting each other with the different intricacies of their argument was very cool.”

Holbrook said the event could have been improved if there were more time, referring to what happened with people waiting to ask questions.

Natalya Nazaryan, a Ph.D. student in molecular biology, said she has been to similar events at other universities and enjoyed OSU’s version, even though it needed more time.

“I think both made reasonable points, but it’s just really interesting that we needed an even longer discussion to get to the bottom of it,” Nazaryan said.

Despite the lack of time, O’Connor said he thought the event was a success.

“I like to see there being sustained, respectful dialogue between religious persons and non-religious persons in a university context,” he said.

Cray also said he believed in the idea of friendly dialogue.

“What I want to do is promote dialogue and have people think about their beliefs and have people reflect and justify their beliefs as best they can,” he said. “It’s nice to see people come together in a friendly manner … and just try to get along a little bit.”