Hundreds of questioning minds filled Memorial Hall on Wednesday night, searching for the answer to one question: Why, if there is a God, is there suffering?
The debate, titled “God and the Problem of Suffering: A Debate,” pitted UNC professor Bart D. Ehrman against conservative political and religious author Dinesh D’Souza.
The two speakers, who have both published extensively on the topic of religion, discussed whether the existence of suffering refutes the existence of God.
But despite the disparity in beliefs and the gravity of the topic, both panelists brought levity to the debate, which was co-sponsored by the Fixed Point Foundation and Christian Apologetics of Carolina.
“How many of you are here to see me get creamed?” Ehrman asked after noticing the majority of students said they belonged to a Christian organization.
After the jokes, Ehrman, who has published books on his agnostic views and has appeared on “The Colbert Report,” quickly launched into the debate by analyzing the debate from a biblical standpoint.
“There are lots of answers about why people suffer in the Bible,” he said. “And many of these answers are at odds with one another.”
Emphasizing the question’s role in his own middle-aged conversion from a theologically trained, Evangelical Christian to a self-professed agnostic, Ehrman said the God of the Bible does not exist because he does not intervene to prevent suffering.
“If God exists, he is not the God of the Bible,” he said.
D’Souza countered by arguing that Ehrman’s perspective was limited by his confidence in his own perspective.
“It is part of reason to recognize the limits of reason,” D’Souza said.
D’Souza addressed Ehrman’s refutation of God’s existence based on the problem of suffering.
“The issue of suffering does not raise a question about the existence of God, it raises a question about the nature of God,” he said.
Ultimately, God’s plan is beyond the realm of human understanding, D’Souza said.
Despite their disagreements, both speakers agreed that the issue of suffering is a complex one worth exploring and debating further.
Both grounded their arguments with graphic anecdotal descriptions of historical and hypothetical suffering, ranging from the Holocaust to losing a child to sickness.
Sophomore Daniel Sircar said the debate encouraged him to avoid accepting simple answers to the problem of suffering.
“It’s a life journey,” he said. “It’s something very personal that we have to wrestle with. It’s not just an intellectual issue.”
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