University Union hosts UMass faculty to debate existence of God

By Sarah Robertson

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)
(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

University Union, a Registered Student Organization that organizes debates on a range of issues will host a faculty debate on the existence of God at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9 in Mahar Auditorium.

Four University of Massachusetts professors and a guest speaker from SUNY Binghamton University will share and defend their views on the social, moral and cognitive benefits of affirming or denying the existence of God.

UMass speakers include philosophy professors Peter Graham and Louise Antony, history professor Daniel Gordon and environmental conservation professor Craig Nicolson. The off-campus speaker is David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biology professor of Binghamton University. The event is free and open to the public.

“We have five speakers who all think differently to show shades of belief and disbelief,” said Owen Wiggins, president and founder of University Union. “We want our events to appeal to a wide range of people and to set an example for how we should debate in our society because this year especially, we can see that our public leaders do not debate effectively and do not educate us.”

Wilson is the author of “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Natural of Society,” a book that explored an evolutionary theory of religion.

“I think [Wilson is] going to be a very interesting addition because he says no ‘God does not exist,’ but also argues that believing in God is an evolutionary adaptation and that it strengthens the individual and grants you access to certain social groups and benefits you wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Michael Maldari, vice president of University Union.

Last year, Wiggins and Maldari founded the University Union to educate the UMass community in opposing viewpoints on hot-button issues. The RSO hosted discussions on Israel and Palestine, affirmative action and even facilitated a debate between the student groups, UMass for Bernie and UMass for Hillary, last semester.

“Our goal is education. We don’t want the debates to be solely political,” Wiggins said. “We don’t think intellectual growth comes from just understanding an opinion but the process through which those opinions clash.”

The University Union models its debates after the Oxford Union’s chamber-style debate, which prioritizes informal, open discussion and audience engagement.

With over 40 registered members on Campus Pulse, the University Union meets a few times each semester to brainstorm and plan future campus debates.

“When you come to our events, you’ll notice we don’t vote so you don’t have winners or losers,” Maldari said. “It’s not about power or who is right and who is wrong.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @srobertson__.