Friends debate God’s existence

ARLINGTON — Heinz Lycklama is a churchgoer. Francis Barden is not. Barden started questioning religious doctrine in childhood. Lycklama is a devout Christian. They have chatted about their differences for years, over coffee and via email. And yes, they are friends.

Both live in the Gleneagle community, and belong to a mens group that meets weekly at the Gleneagle Golf Course clubhouse. The group is called ROMEO — for “Retired Old Men Eating Out,” Barden said.

“We’re a bunch of guys, 25 of us, who meet every Wednesday,” said Barden, 77. “It became obvious that Heinz and I are on the opposite side of the street. So he and I started meeting at Haggen in Arlington, having coffee and debating.”

On Feb. 26, the two friends took their debate public with an evening presentation called “Does the God of the Bible Exist?” at Arlington’s Atonement Free Lutheran Church.

“We’re guessing we had around 250 people,” said Pastor Rick Long, leader of the church. Long said one family drove from south of Tacoma for the program that lasted more than two hours.

Long, who served as moderator, did get a few laughs when he opened the program with a disclaimer. “It should be said that though this question is being debated in this setting, it’s not really a question to this congregation,” Long told the audience. “We do have firm confidence that the testimony of the Bible is true, and the God of the Bible does exist.”

What the crowd heard from Lycklama and Barden certainly didn’t solve the question. And if people came expecting rant-and-rave arguments over social issues or the intersection of politics and religion, they were surely disappointed.

In long statements and rebuttals, both men used the delivery style of a college lecture. They made their points touching on ancient history, archaeology and biology as much as on biblical teachings.

Lycklama, 69, argued for existence of the biblical God. He has bachelors degrees in engineering and physics and a doctorate in nuclear physics from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. He worked in the research division of Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey before moving to California to work on development of Unix operating systems.

His scientific knowledge never rocked his faith. “I’m a devout Christian. I believe the Bible is God’s word,” he said.

In fact, Lycklama said it is because of the intricacies of the universe and the human body that he believes so strongly in a divine creator.

“The complexity of the universe, the complexity of life can’t happen by chance,” Lycklama said. He also said that while many statements in the Bible are “clearly literal, in some places it uses poetry and allegorical language.”

“You have to look at the context,” he said.

Lycklama, who doesn’t believe in evolution, differs greatly from Barden in how he sees the earth’s age. Lycklama believes the earth is no older than 6,000 to 10,000 years old. Yet Barden, in his argument, spoke about human beginnings in what is now Africa more than 200,000 years ago.

Barden made a point to say he is not an atheist. He was raised in Seattle as a Roman Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and even considered the priesthood. “I’m not saying God doesn’t exist,” he told the crowd. “I’m not ready to make that kind of statement.”

Much of Barden’s argument centered on his studies showing that the nature of God, as portrayed in the Old Testament and New Testament, borrows elements from gods of earlier religions and myths. He used the example of God, with a long white beard, as painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “That’s not God, that’s Poseidon,” he said. ” … That’s what God looked like to Michelangelo.”

Barden also claimed that no archeological evidence has been found of exiles and migrations described in the Bible.

For Lycklama, what can’t be explained is a matter of faith. “Some things we don’t understand,” he said. His knowledge has boosted his belief in God. “My view on DNA, that information in our cells didn’t just happen by chance. It’s very structured information, and clear evidence of design.”

When Barden had doubts as a child and nuns advised him to “accept on faith,” that only fueled more questions. In his view, “we are basically all energy.” That pure energy, he said, may be the force that is called God.

Their theological differences are great, but the men clearly respect one another.

At the end of Lycklama’s presentation, Barden said “Oh boy, that’s a big act to follow.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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