“Does the Universe Have a Purpose?”—A Debate in Mexico, November 13, 2010

November 13, 2010, Doug participated in a three-on-three debate on the question “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?” Location: Puebla, Mexico Venue: BUAP Benemerita Universidad Autónoma De Puebla Address: Vía Atlixcáyotl No. 2499, San Andrés Cholula. C.P. 72810. Puebla This debate was part of the third annual Festival Internacional de Mentes Brillantes (English: International Festival of Great Minds). The general theme of the conference was: “The Origins of the Future—A Life Experience: Rebirth.” Debate participants: Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins vs. Rabbi David Wolpe, William Lane Craig, and R. Douglas Geivett, with comments by Michio Kaku. Date: Saturday, November 13, 2010 Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. For program details, go here and here. The conference began November 11 and concluded November 13. Other conference speakers included: Malcolm Gladwell, Sheena Iyengar, Elizabeth Pisani, Nancy Lee Etcoff, David M. Buss, Steven Pinker, Nancy Segal, Jared Diamond, and others. If you plan to attend the conference, Doug welcomes the opportunity to meet you and to hear from you in the comments box of this post. Post-debate update: A couple of changes were made to the debate format. Richard Dawkins took the place of Michio Kaku on the atheist side, and Michio Kaku was given the opportunity to speak from the position of declaring the question of God’s existence “undecidable.” The entire debate can now be seen and heard on YouTube here (in English) and here (in Spanish). It’s estimated that some 3,000 people attended the debate. At the end of the day, the debate was broadcast on Mexican national television, with an estimated two million viewers. Doug looks forward to hearing from anyone who was at the debate or has seen it on television or YouTube. Please leave your comments in the comments box for this post! Post-Debate Reflections: I’ve recorded a number of my own reflections about the debate here. Other Posts about this Debate:

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

36 Responses to “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?”—A Debate in Mexico, November 13, 2010

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    I don’t know about a DVD. Maybe they have information about this at their website?


  2. JORDAN K says:

    Will this Debate be available on DVD soon ?


  3. Doug Geivett says:


    I honestly didn’t recognize you from your comment Avatar or contact info, so it’s quite a coincidence to find that I’ve complimented one of my past students on his writing!

    I want to know how the thesis progresses for you, and how things unfold from there.



  4. Andrew says:

    Dear Dr Geivett,

    Thank you very much for your encouragement. I learned a lot about writing from your epistemology class! I have left my comments over the other blog, though I probably won’t have time to reply to any objections as I am very busy finishing up my PhD thesis. May the Lord continue to bless the good work you are doing!



  5. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Clearly, you have thought deeply about these issues. You have a talent for writing clearly and cogently (and graciously). I agree with your six points. Do you know of my post where the debate and related issues are being discussed more fully? Go here. I’d like to post your comment over there!



  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Dr Geivett,

    I watched the debate and thought you and Craig did a great job. These are my comments:

    1. The topic of the debate is closely related to the question whether God exists or not, but no good argument was offered by the atheist side for thinking that God does not exist (the argument from evil was briefly mentioned in the first round, but it was not defended by the atheists after the theists’ rebuttals). The theist side offered about 10 arguments for thinking that God exists, and they defended them against the atheists’ rebuttals. While the format of the debate did not allow them to explain each of these arguments fully (the time for each speaker was too short), these arguments can be found in the books which they have published (see, for example, The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology).

    2. I’m surprised at how often the atheist side and the other people who were asked to comment on the debate (e.g. Michio Kaku) failed to listen carefully and respond to the arguments which William Lane Craig and Doug Geivett had presented.

    3. The atheist side and the other people who were asked to comment on the debate naively thought that science is the answer to everything, such that they thought that the question of the debate has to be decided by science. The trouble with their thinking is that it is self-defeating, because science itself cannot answer the question ‘what reason is there for thinking that science is the answer to everything’ (if you don’t believe, ask yourself this question, and see whether the answer you come up with ultimately has to involve philosophical thinking or historical evidence or not). Therefore, science is not the answer to everything. For answers concerning our universe, and in order to justify the enterprise of science, one would also need philosophical arguments, historical evidences, etc, and all these valid methods of inquiry have arguments based on them which point to the truth of Christian theism: For example, the Kalam cosmological argument based on the impossibility of an infinite regress of causes, the argument from the fact that the scientific laws of the universe can be understood in terms of elegant equations, the argument from the fact that we possess highly abstract and complicated true beliefs which are not necessarily advantageous for survival, the argument from the historical evidence of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. All these arguments, by the way, are (contrary to Dawkins) not ‘God-of-the-gaps’ argument, but are based on evidences (details of which can be found in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). Contrary to Dawkins, believe in God is perfectly compatible with hard work in the sciences and scientific progress, as the lives of many scientists (e.g. Newton, Francis Collins, etc) have demonstrated.

    4. Michio Kaku said that he predicted that 100 years later there will still be debate about the existence of God, and concluded that this issue is undecidable. The fact that there will still be debate in the future, however, does not show that there are no better reasons to accept theism. The reason is that the persistence of debate can be explained by other factors: Kaku mentions the ‘religious gene’, which might indeed exist (the existence of such gene is also compatible with the Christian worldview), but another reason would be original sin, the depravity of mankind which the Bible speaks about. This is manifested in the form of stubbornness of many who refuse to believe in God despite strong evidence for theism, and choosing instead to find irrelevant and invalid excuses to continue the debate. Dawkins etc demonstrated such stubbornness in this debate, and this demonstration is evidence that the Biblical doctrine of original sin is true. Of course, the question is undecidable by science, but theists do not say this question has to be decided by science (as shown above, to say that all questions has to be answered by science is self-defeating); there are other evidences (cosmological arguments, Jesus’ resurrection etc mentioned above) which can and does decide this question.

    5. The atheist speakers kept saying that we can create our own purpose for our lives regardless of whether the universe has a purpose. Of course, everybody (atheists and theists) can formulate their own purposes for different aspects of their lives (such as writing a book, loving his wife, etc) and sincerely believe in them. The trouble is that many atheists don’t realize the fact (as shown by Craig and Geivett in the debate) that their purposes and values ultimately have no adequate rational justification if atheism were true, and since they don’t realize this fact many of them still live their lives sincerely thinking that they have a purpose for life. This, therefore, is The Atheist Delusion.

    6. Therefore, it is more rational to believe that God exists, and more consistent to live our lives freely and joyfully according to His purpose for the universe.


  7. Doug Geivett says:

    Howard, I did enjoy all of my time in Mexico. I was impressed with the expertise of the interpreters, but I didn’t meet any of them, as far as I know. I hope they see this post and your commendation of their performance!



  8. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Gabriel,

    Kind of hard to miss the colorful bag, I know. It’s the perfect size. And I can see why it makes more sense to you after seeing the debate on YouTube.

    Thanks for introducing yourself at the EPS meeting in Atlanta!



  9. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for posting the link here for the English version of the debate on YouTube.

    I agree, it was a tremendous help to have David Wolpe speak to the personal aspects of the debate topic. At the debate, the audience responded very favorably to Wolpe’s presentations.

    I’m glad you noticed the point I made in response to Matt Ridley. I’m not sure why he didn’t respond to this objection.

    Thanks for commenting!



  10. David Parker says:


    I watched this debate with some friends last night. It is available without interpreter distraction here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6tIee8FwX8

    Your opponents would have benefited from someone like David Wolpe to balance them out, because their collective tone seemed very harsh and fundamentalist. Wolpe’s question to the audience, “What about you?” with regards to materialism, was very compelling to my skeptical friend who tends to be more postmodern.

    In your second talk, you made the point that Ridley’s optimism in scientific progress is inconsistent with his conception of pattern without purpose. To me, this was the best refutation of the night. It was also notable that no one responded to your argument that physical determinism is incompatible with choosing an existential meaning.


  11. Gabriel Akins says:

    Hello Dr. Geivitt,

    This is Gabriel. I am one of Dr. Cowan’s students at Southeastern Bible College. It was nice to see you at ETS in Atlanta. I am happy that I watched the whole video of the conference you recently attended in Mexico. By watching it to the end, I was able to make sense of where you may have acquired that wild and colorful bag you had with you at ETS. Bless you and thank you for your work.



  12. Howard says:

    Bravo, Dr. Geivett
    I listened to the entire debate last night, past my bedtime, and found it very interesting. You and the team did a great job of presenting the case for “Purpose In The Universe”. I was a little disappointed with Richard Dawkins and that team. Their fame was not legitimized by their performance, in my opinion.
    Something that really impressed me was the ability of the translators. A little might have been lost in the translation into “La Lengua Espanola”, but it was well done. I believe the first translator retired exhausted after about an hour and a half.
    Did you get to meet them? Did you enjoy your time in Mexico?


  13. Doug Geivett says:

    Thank you, Odette. This will be good news to many people who are standing by to see and hear the debate. Thanks for letting us know. Feel free to leave your own comments about the debate.



  14. Odette says:

    The three days of conferences and debates are currently being subtitled, so they will soon be available without the interpreters voices.


  15. Doug Geivett says:

    I’m encouraged to hear you say so, James.


  16. I eeked my way through the subtitles and heard bits and pieces of the English. What I heard was excellent! Go Craig and Geivett! I think you guys would make a great debate team.


  17. Dante says:

    Wow, Dr. Craig actually had a chance to debate Prof. Dawkins?

    Looking forward to a re-mastered version of the debate on Youtube.


  18. Doug Geivett says:

    That’s great, Joel. I’m happy that you found it. Do you know anyone else who saw it on TV? Where in Mexico do you live?


  19. Joel From Mexico says:

    Actually no, I just happened to be watching the Boxing championship and right after the debate came on… It was a great blessing, keep up the blessed work!


  20. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Tim,

    It’s great to hear from you here.

    Yes, I watched the debate on Mexican television and then last night on YouTube, and following it all is a problem for anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish. What you heard was the simultaneous interpretation/translation that was done for audience members during the event.

    I haven’t heard whether the audio will be re-mastered for an English-speaking audience. That shouldn’t be too hard to do, if the interpreter’s voice is on its own track. I’ll look into it. At the very least, it should be possible, eventually, to insert subtitles. And as a last resort, someone could transcribe all that was said into English and post it in a convenient location.

    It was puzzling to me that Michio Kaku made the remarks that he did. He may well have planned them prior to the debate. But he should have modified them while listening, so that they would more accurately reflect what actually was said—by our side, at least.



  21. Tim says:

    I was able to see some of this and (sort of) live-blogged it for some friends. Unfortunately, this involved a fair bit of lip reading since the translation was so much louder than the English — a problem everywhere except for your introduction, which they helpfully translated from Spanish into English!

    It seemed clear to me that Kaku’s remarks were prepared before he heard what the theists had to say, and you quite properly pointed out the disconnect between his description and the probabilistic arguments that your side had actually offered.

    Will there be a transcript of this event? Or a YouTube video without the translator’s voiceover?


  22. Doug Geivett says:

    Thanks, Tim, for getting the word out on this. I never really knew prices for tickets until your comment. The conference was an impressive media extravaganza. Inspiring musical performances and other entertainment were included. I think that university students paid less, if anything, to attend the lectures and the debate.


  23. Doug Geivett says:

    Hello Kyle,

    There was a strong information technology emphasis to the conference, and speakers were, for the most part, sympathetic with a naturalistic worldview. There were far more theists in the audience, however. And we on the theist side of the debate were treated with the warmest hospitality throughout the conference. For me it was a very positive experience.



  24. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Mikel,

    It was a little surreal to discover that they had arranged for the debate to occur in a boxing ring. This proved to be a significant media event in Mexico. It was televised following an long-anticipated boxing match, and that was probably the reason for the pugilism imagery. While it gave the event a unique flavor, it didn’t detract from its seriousness.



  25. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for commenting on this post. Did you know of the debate before it was televised?



  26. Joel From Mexico says:

    After the boxing championship in which millions of Mexicans tuned in we were treated to a powerful, thought provoking conference… I just finished watching it and it blew my mind… extra points for the C.S. Lewis finish!

    God Bless


  27. Mikel says:

    Hi Doug!

    Been a long time since I worked for you and J.P. in ’99. You guys looked great up there this morning and I think you and Dr. Craig did an awesome job. What a tremendous opportunity to represent our Lord on an international stage.

    But I wonder how it felt to show up and see they had a boxing ring set-up for your guys!

    Apologetics Guy


  28. G. Kyle Essary says:

    Here’s hoping that you brought the truth to Dawkins/Shermer/Ridley today (whether or not they listen). I’m sure Craig and Wolpe will provide plenty of support.

    This conference seems to have a pretty atheistic slant despite Mexico being one of the more religious nations on the face of the Earth. For the third straight year they have invited a new atheist contingent (they’ve had Dawkins, Dennett, Shermer, Harris, Pinker and Hitch now).


  29. Tim G says:

    I’ve got a bit more information, for anyone interested. The event will be at the Complejo Cultural, the performing arts center of the BUAP (the big State U in Puebla). It’s located off of Blvd Atlixcayotl, at the south end of town. The bad news is that tickets are pretty much sold out, and the worse news is that they’re really expensive. I don’t know what the going rate for these kinds of events is, but the whole conference goes for about $500 (6000 pesos) and it sounds like just one day (Saturday) would be more than $80 (1000+pesos). For a guy with a family to feed, that’s a lot!

    The phone number on the event website is useless; one of the organizers I talked to on site said the best thing now would be to show up early on Saturday and see if any tickets are available at a discount.

    The good news, for Doug, is that it looks like there will be lots of students there (they got a scholarship from the state gvt).


  30. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi, Tim. I’m happy you plan to be there. Maybe we’ll meet.


  31. Tim G says:

    I’m an occasional reader who just moved (back) to Puebla. I’ll do my best to show up and be a cheering section (or catcalls, or whatever else is necessary :). The website doesn’t have too much information about venue or tickets. Except a phone number.


  32. Doug Geivett says:

    I don’t know the name of the venue, Shelby. But it should be pretty large. It probably has information about that at the website included in this post.

    Thanks for letting your friends know. I hope they’ll come, and that they’ll introduce themselves to me after.



  33. Alex says:

    What defense are you going to use? Nickel? 6-4? Are you gonna be playing linebacker or the regular… defensive end? And the offense? I-backs in power formation, or t-bone and option, maybe a single back and some slot backs? Whose the coach, anyway?


  34. Shelby Cade says:

    Hi Doug,

    Looks like a great debate lined up. I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico in the past, so will tell all my buddies down there to show up if they get the chance. Do you know the name of the venue?


  35. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Robert,

    I think this one will be recorded. This is a pretty big event, and there are quite a few YouTube recordings of lectures from past conferences.


  36. Robert Kunda says:

    That’s quite a line-up. I sure hope the audio gets recorded!


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