Because of the passion it inspires, religion is a topic that seems inherently given to controversy. While such controversies can evolve into full-scale violence -- consider sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a in the Middle-East as an example in modern history -- religion can also provide rich material for intellectual debate.
Religion vs. Science
Debate topic: Can religion and science co-exist, or are faith-based (religion) and hard evidence-based (science) standards of belief ultimately irreconcilable?
In the modern technological and scientific age, discovery is inevitable. Things about the world and universe that didn’t make sense for thousands of years become better understood in the face of key scientific discoveries. For instance, the Bible teaches that an omniscient God made the world in seven days. However, with Charles Darwin came the Theory of Evolution, which is now the accepted theory among scientists for the origin and development of life on Earth.
Religion and Politics
Debate topic: Is religion an appropriate basis for political belief or does voting based on religious conviction ultimately impede the religious freedom of others?
When drafting the U.S. Constitution, America’s founders saw fit to include the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment. These two clauses prevent Congress from making “any laws respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In a letter to the Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson spoke of a “wall of separation” between church and state. However, in spite of this wall preventing the legislation of religion, religious belief still finds its way into the debate over issues such as gay marriage and abortion. When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, a great deal of media attention was given to voter perception regarding his Mormon faith.
Morality and Religion
Debate topic: What is the nature of morality outside of religion? Can it exist independently, or is religious belief necessary to cultivate it?
According to the Psalms, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” In essence, according to Christian scriptures, there can be no morality without belief in God. Indeed, religion does serve as a moral guide for many people, but is it the only path to morality? Atheist intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens claimed that, not only was morality possible without religion, but religion can actually provide bad moral guidance.
Religion’s Role in the World
Debate topic: Is religion a positive or negative force in the world?
One of the most fundamental questions regarding religion pertains to what kind of role it plays in the world. Proponents of religious belief may point to some positive achievements of religion (such as the Catholic Church’s role in ending English slavery or preserving art forms like theatre and literary works through the dark ages) to show that it has a positive impact on the world. Opponents of religion may point to the Crusades or modern sectarian violence in the Middle East as indicators that religion has a negative impact.
- BibleGateway.com: Genesis 1
- Live Science: What is Darwin's Theory of Evolution?
- UMKC.edu: Introduction to the Establishment Clause
- Library of Congress: Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists
- Washington Post: Video Revives Debate Over Mitt Romney’s Mormon Faith
- BibleGateway.com: Psalm 14
- Hoover Institution: Hitchens - The Morals of an Atheist
- The Richard Dawkins Foundation: Bioethicist Richard Dawkins: Morality, Society Can Be "Intelligently Designed"
- Christianity Today: The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery
- CWU.edu: European Theatre and Drama in the Middle Ages
- Allison Shelley/Getty Images News/Getty Images