Debates Videos

Is Belief in God Reasonable? Debate with Gary McLelland

This debate took place at Glasgow Uni. Gary McLelland is an official of the Humanist Society and is a warm, likeable and open person whom I have a great deal of respect for. It was good to discuss with him. If you take this debate and the two with Matt Dillahunty and Ted Ammon, you will see the different approaches taken and you will also see why the Gospel is more than able to stand against all the philosophies of this world.  Please note this video is in four parts…

For Ted Ammon – go to

And for Matt Dillahunty –


  1. I’m fascinated by something that has come up in a couple of your debates recently David about what you have said about limitations and intuition.

    May I start by quoting you? You opened by engaging with the question “Is belief in God reasonable” by saying “it is obvious, the answer is yes”. When Mat Dillahunty said that the killing of Jews in concentration camps was “obviously” wrong, you criticised him by talking about it not being obvious to someone who was raised believing Jews were rats. We know that the camps were described as “the final solution to the Jewish problem”. And then saying it depends who the “we” is,

    So arguing similarly, it is not obvious that belief in God is reasonable, it depends who the we is that we talk about as to whether it is “obvious” or not.

    I do like what you say about human limitations, intuition and humility. Therefore it is an advantage to have awareness of limitation be welcoming intuition and employing humility as we engage in discussion and debate with that premise. No human system or structure can ever provide real security!

    I increasingly find comfort rather than fear acknowledging limitation and being open to intuition. You may not remember this David, but we had a conversation a year ago where you mentioned “I suspect any prophets in Scotland today are more likely to be stoned by the church (accusing them of being unloving etc) than anyone else!” and “stand-up comedians have become the prophets of our generation”. This was a tremendous encouragement to me, more powerful that you I’m guessing you will know at a tough time I was going through with church. One charismatic pastor had said i have a “prophetic anointing” that was until I said something that he didn’t like, at which point, apparently I had misunderstood him previously about what he had said. Go figure. So what you had mentioned plus the counsel of others, one saying I am creative and another saying I would find belonging in creative environments was an antithesis to the tough times I had been going through in church and healing.

    So – I took up stand up comedy, and studied humour in Christ ministry for a master’s dissertation. I remember Billy Connely saying once that he doesn’t understand humour or words to that effect, he is just delighted when it turns up. I realise I am being selfish in talking about my expereinces, but I hope also that has been an encouragement to you David with what you have said about intuition, the limits we have as humans and what we might do with that whether in debates for you or in comedy for me. And perhaps be some encouragement for anyone else who is reading?

    A comedy tutor once told me comedy like other art forms is about alchemising pain to passages of great beauty. Charlie Chaplain in his film “The Great Dictator” says in his speech at the end of the film “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor… In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man”… You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure”. Sounds not dissimilar to what Christ said about coming so you may have life in its fullest?

  2. I am a Christian, but have struggled with the question that I think Gary posed, which I don’t think you really answered. In my own words, it is this: ‘If we have a soul and my soul is the real ‘me’ how can that be changed by damage to my brain through accident or illness, when my brain is only the material unit through which my soul expresses itself.’ As I understand him he lost his faith when he realised that a personality can be completely changed by damage to the brain. You said lots of good things, but I don’t think you answered that question. Unless I missed it.

    1. Thanks David. I’m not sure Gary did ask that question. Maybe I missed it. I would deny the basic premise of it – I don’t think your ‘soul’ is damaged by brain damage. When your brain dies your soul is not destroyed. Personality can be changed by many things – that says nothing about the soul..

      1. If Gary lost faith because “he realised that a personality can be completely changed by damage to the brain” and “that says nothing about the soul” then isn’t Gary losing his faith over personality, not soul?

        Does this not go back to what you were saying David about the limitations of human understanding?

        I recall the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards saying that he had lost his faith because it was no longer working for him after retiring from competition. I find it helpful to consider Fowler’s stages of faith. In stage 4, he describes

        “person must face certain unavoidable tensions: individuality versus being defined by a group or group membership; subjectivity and the power of one’s strongly felt but unexamined feelings versus objectivity and the requirement of critical reflection; self-fulfillment or self-actualization as a primary concern… Disillusionment with one’s compromises and recognition that life is more complex … press one toward a more dialectical and multileveled approach to life truth”.

        It seems to me to give strength to what you posit David about limitations, intuition and the need for humility. I recall some falling away from Jesus, with the belief that following him was too difficult and him turning to his disciples asking if they would fall away too. The answer “where would we go”.

        I’ve found I have been tempted away at times. What comes to my mind when I do is what is the alternative. My mind goes back to a beautiful sunny day before I cam to faith, having everything I could want humanly speaking and yet not being satisfied, always wanting more. In Christ, I am content and fulfilled whatever my circumstances.

  3. Thanks for posting this, David. I work at GCU and wanted to get along to the debate but I was overtaken by events. I’m pleased you got a bit of support there and, as ever, you conducted yourself well.

    I thought you got most of your points across. Perhaps you could have made more of the iPhone/table analogy Gary was using. I presume Gary doesn’t believe the iPhone or the table came out of nowhere. Multiple tables and iPhones with same or similar design all over the world would indicate a common designer. Argument from design.

    Gary did demonstrate that you can disagree without being hostile. This is not to say he was ‘soft’ or ‘easy’. I did think the one question he ‘landed’ – the one mentioned above about personality change/soul – was probably the one you didn’t answer fully.

    There are variations of the question, of course – people will have multiple personality disorders, for example. I think the mistake Gary made was to think that our personalities will be mimicked in Heaven, that who we are now is a perfect reflection of who we will be in Heaven. I wouldn’t expect my personality, with its sinful nature, desires, behaviours, to be acceptable in Heaven. It will need to undergo some spiritual transformation to be acceptable. And, indeed, that’s what the Bible promises – we will all be changed. The Bible promises a perfect restoration of what God wants not simply a continuation of our own sinful nature.

    Please keep up the good work. I enjoyed The Dawkins Letters and have just purchased Magnificent Obsession.

    1. Thanks for your comments – very helpful – I agree with your critique as well. I think the main issue here is whether ‘we’ are just a brain. I don’t think we are.

  4. I believe we are our Spirit. We reside, during our mortal stage, in a physical mortal body. At so called death, we leave our physical body and reside in a spirit realm until our resurrection when or we are re-united with a physical but immortal body. Never to be separated from it. We will then be flesh and bone, but animated by spirit, not blood. The only question is “where” we will then spend eternity.

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