Life, said Satyan Devadoss, is like ice cream. They’re both “messy and gorgeous at the same time.”
Devadoss, an associate professor of mathematics at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., explained to more than 1,000 Ohio State students gathered in the Archie M. Griffin Grand Ballroom at the Ohio Union on Wednesday night that college was the time to focus on the big questions in life.
“What is the truth? Is there God? What is the meaning of life? And to me, most importantly, why are Ugg boots so popular?” Devadoss said, evoking laughter from the audience.
He said most people shy away from the mess of life, but he advised students to “get messy in life” by thinking deeply about hard questions and embracing struggles.
Devadoss’ talk was part of “What is the Meaning of Life?” an event sponsored by multiple groups including Real Life, a Christian student organization on campus, and The Veritas Forum. The Veritas Forum is an organization that helps create events where students and faculty engage in life’s hardest questions.
Aaron Badenhop, an OSU alumnus and staff member of Real Life, said eight OSU student organizations partnered with The Veritas Forum to sponsor this event.
The second speaker of the event, associate professor of philosophy at OSU Kevin Scharp, said that instead of accepting certain beliefs and values without questioning them, people should think critically about them.
“Coming up with a stable factual set of values that are your own is the best way to assure meaning in life,” Scharp said. “If you come up with objections to your views that you cannot shove off or find good replies, then that is an indicator that you should probably change those views.”
The speakers each had a different take on the topic. Devadoss focused more on the mess of life and explaining that it is OK to not necessarily agree with everything in the Bible as we are not perfect human beings.
Scharp focused on our biological significance on this earth and how moral theories are not based on God or a higher power. He told the audience that one who does not believe in God still has morals and recognizes right from wrong.
Badenhop said he thought these different views helped keep students more engaged.
“We want everyone to think critically, and we also know that for a lot of students on campus, it is helpful for them to engage in a topic if they know that there will be multiple views presented,” Badenhop said.
Natalie Hendel, a third-year in history, said she attended the event because she wanted to gain a better understanding of different perspectives about the meaning of life.
“I came from a Christian household, and I heard a lot about one side and coming here, what I have learned is that not all people are like that,” she said.
Scharp said The Veritas Forum identifies and invites people who have different viewpoints to come and speak.
“It so often happens that groups of people only want to listen to other people who have the same viewpoint and I think that is very unfortunate,” Scharp said. “I wanted to support an organization that is willing to reach out to people who disagree with them radically and give them an opportunity to present their views.”
But regardless of views, Scharp said beliefs should be scrutinized so that they can become more firm.
“Subject your beliefs and values to critical scrutiny so that you can make yourself a reflectively stable batch of values for the course of your life,” he said.