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Anticipation growing for religious debate

Students attending tonight’s University Lecture Series (ULS) will hear more than tales of rising stars and practical advice. They may walk away with a new perspective on life.

Experts Dinesh D’Souza and Michael Shermer will host a religious debate in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater, and attempt to answer questions like, “Is religion a force for good or evil?”

D’Souza, who was named president of New York’s King’s College in August, has written nine books with titles such as “What’s so Great About Christianity,” a work his website calls “the comprehensive answer to a spate of atheist books denouncing theism in general and Christianity in particular,” and “Life After Death: The Evidence.” D’Souza was listed as one of the “top young public-policy makers in the country” by Investor’s Business Daily, and the New York Times Magazine has elected him as “one of America’s most influential conservative thinkers.”

Shermer has written 11 books, including “Why Darwin Matters” and “How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God.” He is the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and adjunct professor of economics at Claremont Graduate University.

To keep the debate on track, Kristie Gerber, director of Student Activities, will serve as moderator.

“There will be two debaters and a moderator, and the debate will be guided by audience questions,” Gerber said. “We will collect questions before the debate and then go through them. That way, there isn’t a long line of people in front of the microphone waiting to ask questions.”

Some students already have questions in mind.

Senior Gabriela Perico, a 20-year-old elementary education major, identifies herself as an agnostic atheist.

“I’d like to hear them answer questions regarding their stance on religion in the classroom, like creationism, for example,” Perico said. “Being a future educator, I feel like that’s appropriate.”

Cody Likavec, a 21-year-old majoring in statistics, said he considers himself more skeptical than religious.

“When it comes to Darwinism, if science can’t explain the missing pieces, then what can?” he said. “Is it just that science hasn’t been figured out, or is there something else?”

Considering the broad, far-reaching topic, Gerber said she expects many seats to be filled.

“I’m hoping for (300) or 400 people to attend,” she said. “We’ve reached out to the spiritual groups on campus, so hopefully, they’ll attend the debate.”

There are no tickets for the event and, in the event of a wait, students will be allowed into the theater first. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the event beginning at 7 p.m. Both debaters will sign books after the event ends at 8:30 p.m.