Monday, April 09, 2007

Debate: Is God Necessary for Ethics?

DEBATE: Is God Necessary for Ethics?

YES: Mark Hausam, Elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City,
Instructor of Philosophy, Utah Valley State College

NO: David R. Keller, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Utah Valley State

MODERATOR: Deen Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of

WHERE: Orson Spencer Hall Auditorium, University of Utah
WHEN: Friday, April 13, 7-9 p.m.

After the formal debate between Hausam and Keller, the audience is invited
to join the discussion!

Cosponsored by the Christ Presbyterian Church and the Humanists of Utah
Free and Open to the Public

For more information:
Christ Presbyterian Church (801) 250-5403
Humanists of Utah (801) 486-4209
Debate over God and Ethics Comes to Utah
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune

For centuries, people have been asking what God has to do with morality. The
question has become even more urgent in today's pluralistic world, where
religious groups vie with one another and with their secular counterparts
over what is right. Recent books have fueled the simmering controversy.
Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian
Nation critique religion, while Francis Collins' The Language of God, as
well as books by Alister McGrath, defend its importance and validity in the

Next week, the debate comes to Utah. Mark Hausam, elder at Christ
Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, will square off at the University of
Utah against David Keller, professor of philosophy at Utah Valley State
College in Orem, on the topic, "Is God necessary for ethics?" The debate is
co-sponsored by Christ Presbyterian and the Humanists of Utah. Hausam, who
also teaches philosophy at UVSC, believes ethical standards could not exist
without God.

"Without God, there can be no objective standard of morality, no real,
objective right or wrong, good or bad, no such thing as human rights,"
he argues. "Nothing, including human beings, has intrinsic value. We are
left with only our own human needs and desires, combined with the
circumstances and consequences [social, physical, etc.] of this life, in a
world without design, without purpose."

Theists look to sacred texts such as the Bible to offer God's perspective on
life's thorniest questions - when does life begin, when is it right to end a
life, what is sex for, how should men and women relate, how should we care
for the Earth, etc.

Humanists, on the other hand, believe that taking God out of the equation
makes ethical choices more, not less, valuable. "If theists adhere to
standards of morality, they do so for reasons extrinsic to morality itself,
that is, God's will," Keller says. "If atheists adhere to standards of
morality, they do so for reasons intrinsic to morality itself, that is,
because doing so is valuable in and of itself."

There are unethical theists, and ethical atheists, Keller says, but if two
people act exactly the same way, the behavior of the atheist is more
laudable, he reasons, because he's doing the right thing for its own sake,
not to please God.

The only value of religion, he says, is to use notions such as "fear of
divine retribution" to motivate those who are not capable of acting
ethically on their own.

Deen Chatterjee, philosophy professor at the U., will moderate the debate
from a neutral perspective. "It's an especially important topic right now,
because of the way the world is going," says Chatterjee, who has taught
several courses on God, faith and reason. "Long gone are the days when
separate religious groups could live in their own ways."

Theists and atheists agree on many moral values, he says, the question
involve methodology and sources. Who or what dictates right and wrong?

"Both sides will say the other side is dangerous," Chatterjee says. "I plan
to challenge them both."

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