Professors debate God and the afterlife at leadership workshop

Nichole Danyla

Staff Writer

“Show me scientific fact that there is a God. Show me a fact that there is a heaven or an afterlife or something. I haven’t seen it. I’ve read about it here and there, but I don’t know if anybody’s proven it yet,” psychology professor John Ostwald said to the ten students who attended Monday’s leadership workshop, entitled “The Afterlife: What’s Really Out There?”

Ostwald was representing atheistic views opposite physics professor Jeffrey Schoonmaker’s Christian view on the question of whether there is an afterlife.

“Karl Marx, the famous theorist and political expert, many years ago called religion the narcotic of the masses. Basically saying that human beings created all of this religious stuff just because it’s comfortable and we like to believe in an afterlife and a God and all that stuff,” Ostwald said.

Ostwald summed up the atheistic view in three points: where is the scientific proof of God? People tend to change things, so how can we know any religious book or perspective is reliable?  Finally, people don’t want to believe in a God that allows so much suffering in the world. To punctuate the last point, he showed a video about ISIS members killing three teenage boys for watching a soccer game.

Then Schoonmaker opened the floor by asking if the audience had any comment about what Ostwald said. One of the students tried to explain why there was evil in the world by repeating what someone once told him: without evil and hardship, we wouldn’t need to have faith.

Schoonmaker responded, “Faith ought to rest, should rest, and ideally must rest on a foundation of some kind of pretty solid evidence. Faith should never be just blind. You shouldn’t just believe something because someone you like said so. It should have some kind of evidentiary foundation.”

“I’m not going to be able to show [Ostwald] the science, because there is no science that’s going to help us in discussing the afterlife,” Schoonmaker said. “Hard science is good for hard things. Hard science is good for that which is tangible. Science is out of its realm when it addresses … transcendence, that which is … eternal, science has nothing to say about that.”

Schoonmaker is interested in the afterlife because he always believed in God. “If God exists, then there is most certainly an afterlife, and if God doesn’t exist, then there is most certainly not an afterlife.”

He feels the most reliable, authoritative source of information about the afterlife is the Bible, because it was written by many people over a long period of time, most of the prophecies in it, in his opinion, have come true to the letter, and many of the historical facts in it can and have been corroborated.

When it comes to history, and religious history especially, Schoonmaker uses four tests to decide a source’s credibility.

The first test is reliability of the authors. Test two is if there is corroboration of the reported facts from other widely accepted sources. The third test is the presence or lack of contradictory evidence, and the final test is if the events reported are consistent with facts and events occurring at or around the same time.

According to Schoonmaker, the Bible passes all of those tests. Therefore, he considers it a reliable source of information.

“The last thing I want to address is the problem of evil,” Schoonmaker said. “There are many atheists who are atheists specifically because [evil] bothers them to their core. Their reasoning goes something like this: ‘God can’t possibly exist, because if he did he certainly would never allow such horrible suffering in this world.’ Let me ask you if you think this is a logical conclusion to draw or an emotional conclusion to draw.”

The three students who answered all agreed it was an emotional conclusion.

“[Schoonmaker] and I would disagree [about] this, he talked about one guy writing stuff, like Muhammad. I say there’s more chance of getting goofed up [in history] if there is more people writing it,” Ostwald said.

The audience got a surprise at the end of the presentation. Both men admitted to being Christians. Ostwald was just pretending to be atheist because he wanted to get the opposing viewpoint out.

Ostwald said he got into the subject of the afterlife because of his age, the fact that he was raised Catholic, attended a Presbyterian church for a while and looked into other religions, and is curious about what happens when we die.

“More and more students are agnostic or atheist, more than you might imagine, and more don’t practice any particular religion, so I think it is a great topic to discuss,” he said.

Ostwald was asked to come up with a total of three workshops. His next two workshops will be “Pedophilia, a Compassionate Look,” in March, and “Weed, the New Miracle Drug,” in April.


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