The Great Debate of 2016
Gilmore vs Rosenberg
Forty years ago this coming September, America was engaged in presidential debates prior to the general election of 1976. During that same time another debate, the Warren-Flew debate on the existence of God, occurred on the campus of a Texas university. Although the 1976 presidential debates, as always, were significant, a good case can be made that the Warren-Flew debate was even more significant. In fact, some have called it “the debate of the century.”
This year (2016) America is facing another presidential election which some are suggesting will be one of the most unusual, and most significant, in U. S. history. The first 2016 general election presidential debate is scheduled for Wright State University, Dayton, OH, Monday, September 26 (all of these presidential debates will be held on college and university campuses in America).
Tuesday, September 27, 2016, the night following the first general election presidential debate, a different kind of debate is scheduled to take place on the campus of one of America’s most influential universities—The Ohio State University. This debate, the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate on the existence of God, will be a crucial event. I wish not to minimize the significance and value of the 2016 presidential debates. However, I do want to emphasize to our readers that there is a sense in which the upcoming Gilmore-Rosenberg debate is of even greater significance. The following are some of the reasons why it is the case that the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate possibly will be THE great debate of 2016.
The Propositions. The issues to be addressed in the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate involve the most important fundamental question of human life. Mortimer Adler says in The Great Ideas (i.e. The Great Books) Syntopicon that more consequences for thought and action follow from affirming or denying God than from answering any other basic question. The late atheist Christopher Hitchens said, prior to his death, that the God question is the most powerful and urgent question confronted by humanity. The intellectual battle to be waged at Ohio State on September 27 between Christian theism and atheism remains the most important duel in the world, as William F. Buckley, Jr. put it in the magnum opus of his early years—God and Man at Yale.
Unlike many recent debates on the existence of God both debaters in the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate have agreed to affirm and defend a precisely stated affirmative proposition. Dr. Alexander Rosenberg will affirm the following: “Since I know that there is vast human and animal suffering, I know that a benevolent, omnipotent God does not exist.” Dr. Ralph Gilmore will deny. Following the discussion of Rosenberg’s affirmative proposition, Professor Gilmore will affirm and defend his affirmative proposition: “The use of suffering as moral criticism against God implies the absolute moral law of God; therefore, God exists.” Dr. Rosenberg will deny.
The Participants. The two disputants in the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate are well qualified to debate the above propositions. Dr. Alexander Rosenberg, an atheist, is the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, Durham, NC. He also has secondary appointments in the biology and political science departments at Duke. He has served as a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, University of California at Santa Cruz, and Oxford University. He received his doctorate in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University. Rosenberg is the author of several books including The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (2011). He is co-director of Duke’s Center for the Philosophy of Biology.
Dr. Ralph Gilmore, Christian theist, is Professor of Bible and Philosophy at Freed-Hardeman University, Henderson, TN. Gilmore received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He was an honor student in apologetics and philosophy of religion at Harding Graduate School of Theology, studying under Thomas B. Warren for whom Warren Apologetics Center is named. Professor Gilmore is editor of Kingdom, an online academic religious journal published by Freed-Hardeman University College of Biblical Studies. Dr. Gilmore has appeared in numerous discussion and debate forums on biblical and philosophical issues.
The Place. The site of this high level academic and philosophical adversarial discussion will be Columbus, OH, on the sprawling campus of the third largest public university in America. The Ohio State University had a total Fall 2015 enrollment of 65,184 students. The specific OSU campus location for the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate is Mershon Auditorium, a premier venue with precise acoustics, spacious seating, and sightlines that make any seat the best in the house. Mershon has a seating capacity of 2,500.
All things considered, is there a greater place on Earth to have a credible high level debate on the most fundamental question of human existence—Does God exist? While he was with us, Dr. Warren often called attention to the fact that the growth of skepticism and the rejection of Christian theism are occurring because Christians are asleep to this danger and so many colleges and universities have become “hotbeds” of unbelief. Since great colleges and universities train teachers, businessmen, writers, political leaders, entertainers, judges, etc., they can play an obvious role in promoting skepticism. We simply must not underestimate the strength and ability of the skeptical world nor be complacent toward it. Rather, we must be unafraid to carry the battle to the best the skeptical world has to offer. When this is done in a correct fashion (cf. Colossians 4:2-6; 1 Peter 3:15) by Christians properly prepared, there are great possibilities.
The Possibilities. When high level discussions between qualified participants occur, such as that planned for September 27, the possibilities are numberless. Following his debate with renowned atheist Dr. A. G. N. Flew, 40 years ago, Thomas B. Warren wrote Professor Flew and pleaded with him to obey the gospel and become a great defender of the faith. To our knowledge, Dr. Flew did not become a Christian, but he did publicly announce, nearly 29 years later, that he was no longer an atheist but had come to believe in God. His 2007 book, There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, is remarkable.
Again, there are the young people who are being lost because they have never heard the rational case for God and Christian faith. Once asked why he debated atheists, Dr. Warren replied, “I want young people to see that there is another side” to the great question of God. They are out there by the millions. Following the Warren-Flew debate, 40 years ago, one of them was a 15 year old boy “silently struggling with [his] belief in God.” Now he is a successful preacher of the gospel of Christ and located in Alabama. He recently wrote the Warren Center to say:
It was reading the Warren-Flew debate that solidified my faith that God absolutely exists. I will forever be grateful to him for this though I never met him [Warren]. It thrilled my heart when I heard that Flew changed his mind! I can’t help but believe that [Thomas B.] Warren had a part in that.
We believe that he is right about the Warren-Flew debate, and we believe there exists similar potential possibilities with the Gilmore-Rosenberg debate September 27 at The Ohio State University Mershon Auditorium. Be there! Do not miss this event! It can be THE great debate of 2016.
-Charles C. Pugh III