Foundation co-president Dan Barker (center, kneeling), a former minster, participated in a debate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, on Dec. 8 on "Does Religion Benefit Society?" with Robert Osburn (right, kneeling) of the MacLaurin Institute. The event, which attracted hundreds of students and community members, was sponsored by Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists (CASH, cashumn.org) and the Mars Hill Students, a Christian group. CASH activities director Jacob Larson is pictured between Dan and Robert. The debate was moderated by Philip Sellew (behind Jacob), associate professor of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and a scholar in the Westar Institute (Jesus Seminar).
At far left is grad student Wendy Lyman, who organized a 2004 event featuring Dan in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Other students pictured are Andrew Buttler, Adam Birkholz, James Tabat, Burke Bourne, Jeremy Resler, Matt Kaul, Erin Ericson, Joseph Foley, , Mike Jones, and Jamie Nelson.
Barker pointed out during the debate that religion, on balance, does more harm than good to society: "You would not call a garden beautiful if it were overrun with weeds and trash."
The response cards collected after the debate show an average performance score of 4.46 for Barker and 3.60 for Osburn (on a scale of 1-5) and an average change of opinion from 3.06 to 2.84, or about 5% in Barker's direction. (Of the 14 who changed, 12 moved in Barker's direction.)
A DVD of the debate will be available soon through the student groups.