Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Big Debate

Well, the Big Event (Debate in Village Hall- 'Did Man Make God') has come and gone; no blood was shed and everybody escaped unharmed and happy. We had no idea how many people would turn up, and the population of our village is only about 300 but in the end we had a congregation of 60. The Vicar was pleased since he normally addresses a congregation of about 15 people.

The debate was good-humoured and sensible, since the audience included a number of philosophers, biochemists, headmasters and assorted clerics, as well as the regular church-goers and some village agnostics who normally keep quiet.

The two most aggressive arguments from the audience came from the opposing ends of the spectrum of views.

The religious aggression came from a man said that in his view there can be no such thing as an atheist, as you can't prove there is no God, and moreover all the most wicked people like Ghengis Khan, Hitler and Stalin were all atheists. Hmm! Just run that past me again. On second thoughts, don't.

The aggression from the atheist end came from a man who began by asking the vicar if he believed his personal God is All-Powerful and Benevolent. The vicar sensed a trap, and tried to avoid the issue by saying it depends on what you mean by All-Powerful and Benevolent. I sympathized with the vicar, as I am very familiar with that sensation of intellectual unease, having been questioned in court by barristers when I have acted as an expert medical witness. They have a nasty habit of asking you a string of simple questions with easy and perfectly obvious answers,and having led you round the houses in this way, they introduce a string of different but devious questions, before pointing out that you now appear to be contradicting what you said earlier. The vicar could see that this line was going to lead to difficult questions about cruelty in Nature, human suffering etc. and tried to side-step, but his tormentor wouldn't let go, until he had to admit that of course God is All-Powerful but He doesn't have to be all the time, so sometimes He isn't and of course He is Benevolent, but He doesn't have to be all the time and sometimes He seems not to be. To us humans, who don't understand. The atheist agreed he didn't understand the vicar, which was understandable.

I think I emerged relatively unscathed, unless you count being compared to Hitler and Ghengis Khan as a slight scathe. I did have an awkward time afterwards though, when the debate was over. Three young Catholic ladies approached me and asked for my medical opinion about miracles. I assured them that in 50 years of medical practice I had never seen any recovery that could be described as truly miraculous. St. Winifride, for example, in Wales had her head chopped off and it reattached itself simply by prayer. Today's miracles are more akin to the American pastor who prayed to the long-dead Cardinal Newman for relief from his back pain, and after an operation which is known to relieve back-pain, the back-pain disappeared, so now Newman can be beatified and is well on his way to Sainthood. The three young Catholic ladies seemed surprised at my lack of medical experience since all 3 of them had personally witnessed unrelated miracles.

As the vicar and I both know, you win some, you lose some!

Our debate did make people think though, and it does seem to have bonded the village. We both recommend it.


  1. I wish i could have been there to hear it. This sort of thing isn't really possible over here. You would have had to have a body guard.

  2. Legend- I can imagine! I was foolish enough to take part in a televised debate on thalidomide once.

  3. John - did you sell any books?!

    BTW - have you read the Conn Iggulden books - the Conqueror series - about Genghis Kahn? Bloody brilliant. Would recommend to anyone who likes a ripping yarn. That Iggulden boy can tell a story!

    Glad to hear all went well in debate. You had 60 people - that's pretty good imo.


    PS - sorry about e-mail not arriving yet, been hellish busy and had sore eyes as well. :-/

  4. Well done you! I wish I had been there too.