Deep spiritual hunger evident at packed PE campus debate

A panel of four professors — two Christians, an agnostic and an atheist — who participated in a debate about the existence of God, in a crowded auditorium at NMMU (PHOTOS: Afrika Mhlophe).

Does God exist? This was a question for a debate that took place last week at Nelson Mandela University.

This unprecedented event was a collaborative effort between some churches in Port Elizabeth and Ratio Christi (Latin for ‘The Reason of Christ’) — a global movement that equips university students and staff to give historical, philosophical, and scientific reasons for following Jesus Christ.

The debate formed part of an apologetic conference which covered diverse and contentious topics such as atheism, traditional African beliefs, Islam, cults, the reliability of the scriptures, etc.

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I was privileged to be part of the team organising this event, but I went to the debate last Thursday night not sure what to expect.

Worshipers of Baal
But what I encountered there reminded me of an incident in the Bible relating to Jews who were worshippers of Baal.

Jehu, who was the king over the tribes of Israel, lured these Jews to the temple of Baal, but only to kill them and thus destroy Baal worship in Israel.

Well, the event I was part wasn’t held under false pretexts, and also didn’t seek to cajole people into to becoming followers of Christ.

Regarding the attendance, I would like to refer you back to the incident with Jehu and the worshippers of Baal. 2 Kings 10:21 says: So they came into the temple of Baal, and the temple of Baal was full from one end to the other.

Indeed people came to the university and the South Campus Auditorium was full from one end to the other.

We had people standing, sitting on stairs and jamming both doors of the terraced venue.

On the debating panel were professors Richard Howe, Bert Olivier, Henk Stoker and Martin De Wit.

Each of these panel speakers was initially given 10 minutes to present a case for or against God’s existence.

First up was Richard Howe, a professor emeritus of philosophy and apologetics at the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both his masters thesis and doctoral dissertation focused on the issue of the existence of God.

Existence of God
Dr Howe is also the vice president of the International Society of Christian Apologetics (ISCA). He gave the audience a philosophical and logical position for the existence of God.

Next up was Bert Olivier, who presented an agnostic argument. Dr Olivier is an extraordinary professor of philosophy at the University of the Free State. He has published widely in philosophy, psychoanalysis, cultural and social theory, philosophy of cinema, architecture, literature and media.

He argued that existence of God is only a matter of faith and thus cannot bear with objective scrutiny.

The next panelist was Henk Stoker, an apologetics and ethics professor at the Faculty of Theology of North-West University, as well as at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches in South Africa in Potchefstroom.

Dr Stoker refuted the idea that Christianity has no logic and scientific basis. He poked holes in the theory of evolution by showing that it cannot fully sustain the idea that an impersonal and disorderly force can create the order we see in creation.

The last to speak was Martin De Wit, a professor of earth stewardship science and science director AEON-ESSRI (Africa Earth Observatory Network — Earth Stewardship Research Institute) at NMMU.

African spirituality
Professor De Wit is a chartered geologist who has held research positions and professorships in universities around the world. He is an atheist with an interest in African (spiritual) stories and heritage.

He was born in Holland and educated in Ireland and the UK. He caused a stir during the debate for associating Christianity with colonisation, and displayed a clear bias towards African spirituality.

All in all, it was a wonderful debate that was held in a spirit of mutual respect among the different speakers and audience participants.

The event revealed a deep spiritual hunger in people who are believers, non-believers, skeptics, and seekers. And many left asking us for more such events in the future.

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  1. I considered it a great privilege to be able to attend such an event and would love to enjoy more similar events in the future.
    The debate certainly attracted a huge crowd of interested people. Well done, to those who organized the evening.

  2. Ah … Wish I had known about this beforehand! I went to a similar meeting about 10 years ago And it’s was just as packed! Yes, people are hungry … but for a more reasoned and measured, as opposed to dogmatic and emotional, take on things spiritual.