On Saturday, November 21st 2015, AFT President, David Rand and I attended an “interfaith” symposium organized by the religious community, and our hosts, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at, whose slogan is “Love for All, Hate for None.” We were also accompanied by David’s friend, Alain, who agreed to staff a table just outside meeting hall to collect signatures from anyone interested and to offer our t-shirts for sale. We thank him for this contribution. The symposium, for its part, was held in Lindsay, Ontario, a distance of a little more than five hours from Montreal by car. We completed the round trip within a single day.
The theme of this symposium was the question “GOD: Fact or Fiction?” In addition to David who represented us and spoke for atheism, there were three other panelists:
- Pastor Andrew Stuart, representing Christianity;
- Mr. Krsnadasa Zajchowski representing Hindouism;
- Mr. Ansar Raza representing Ahmadiyya Islam.
We were very cordially welcomed at our arrival and given a light meal which did us a world of good after our long road trip.
The symposium got underway about 1:15 pm. There was a prayer in Arabic and English and a minute of silence for the victims of the recent attacks in Paris. We were served an appeal to tolerance and mutual respect, and were reminded that, according to Ahmadiyya Muslims, Islam in incompatible with such acts of violence. However, that did not prevent our hosts from reminding us as well, in their prayer, that there is only one god and that god is theirs—as if this did not in any way contradict the message of tolerance which they had just expressed only seconds earlier. The master of ceremonies, Mr. David Jeanneret, introduced each of the panelists and then each came to the podium individually to express his point of view. Each was given twenty minutes to do so. In the hall there were some sixty persons, including about a dozen women.
The first to speak was Pastor Andrew Stuart. One of his arguments was that Antony Flew, a famous atheist philosopher, converted to deism shortly before his death. However, the pastor neglected to mention that Flew was probably suffering from reduced mental faculties at the time the book announcing his conversion was written. Furthermore, the arguments for deism presented in the book had apparently been refuted by Flew himself in writings from his youth.
Next Mr. Krsnadasa Zajchowski spoke to us of Hinduism. Here we were treated to a very colourful character—one might even say esoteric. He explained to us that god was like this or like that. In his speech he presented no verifiable references.
It was then David’s turn to speak. The basis of his talk was that one must pass through several preliminary steps before claiming to act in accordance with the will of god. Indeed, one must first demonstrate:
- That god exists;
- That god has a will;
- That we have a reliable way of knowing this will.
David also mentioned that morality does not depend on god because morality is a quality naturally acquired through the evolution of our species. As a result, atheists are at least as moral as believers, perhaps even more so. David’s complete talk is available on line: see the references below.
The last to speak was Mr. Ansar Raza on behalf of Ahmadiyya Islam. His argument was that Muhammad must necessarily have received divine revelation, for otherwise he could not have made, by himself, all kinds of predictions which turned out to be valid. In my heart of hearts, his talk reminded me of Jules Verne who predicted the rocket and Star Trek which was able to predict the electronic tablet. Apparently god has spoken to us rather often…
These four formal presentations were followed by a period of questions put forward by the people in attendance. The questions often dealt with cosmology and were addressed more often to David than to the others: mainly questions about the nature of the universe and for which science does not yet have answers. One of them I found to be strange indeed and went something like this: “If God does not exist, then how can two people who are debating come to any agreement?” Apparently some people have great difficulty imagining that one can think and discuss without constantly appealing to god.
At the end of the event, the attendees left the hall and a light meal was served to participants at the exit.