Latter-day Saint BYU student Kwaku El and Evangelical Pastor Jeremy Howard met at Payson Bible Church on Friday, Nov. 8 to debate the materiality of God. Audience members representing both view points filled the chapel to listen and ask questions.
The debate kicked off with opening statements from the two debaters, after which each gave a rebuttal. Following an intermission, the debaters questioned each other, then took questions from audience members.
El, a Youtuber and former cast member of BYU’s Divine Comedy, opened with an assertion that nothing immaterial can exist, except for ideas. El argued that since God exists objectively and is not merely an idea, He must be material, and to deny that would be to remove God’s identity.
El also cited Jesus’s ministry as evidence of God’s materiality.
“Jesus Christ is the perfect representation of the Father,” he said. “Christ is a man — so is our Heavenly Father.”
Howard, Payson Bible Church’s pastor, asserted that materialism denies God as he has revealed himself and aligns with an atheist worldview.
“He calls into being that which did not previously exist,” Howard said. “Yahweh is the God of creation. He establishes things out of nothing.”
Some members of the Payson Bible Church nodded along to Howard’s statement, murmuring the occasional “amen.” Among them was Andrew Rice, who said he attended the debate because of the immense importance of understanding God’s nature.
“I believe that logically, you have to begin with an immaterial creator,” Rice said. “We understand that something doesn’t come from nothing.”
Howard invited El to participate in the debate after reaching out to El and appearing as a guest speaker on his YouTube channel. Howard said they hoped to maintain a friendly atmosphere where they could each civilly discuss their beliefs.
“The free, open discourse of ideas is a benefit to all who are willing to listen,” Howard said. “Our goal was just to put forth an honest, fair dialogue where both sides were able to say what they wanted to say about this really important subject.”
El added that neither intended to convert or persuade the other. Rather, the debate was meant to be a fun, intellectually-stimulating experience.
Audience member Stephen Smoot, a Latter-day Saint and friend of El’s, said he found the debate engaging and lively.
“It’s crucial to understand each other from different perspectives — Latter-day Saints and other Christian denominations,” Smoot said. “I’ve understood this debate to be an evening of exploring competing conceptions of reality.”
Smoot also expressed appreciation for Howard’s articulate and passionate explanation of his beliefs, which Smoot said allowed him to learn from Howard despite their doctrinal disagreements.