Is God necessary for morality? This was the question for the debate between Dr. William Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, and Shelly Kagan, Clark Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, on the evening of February 24, 2009, at Columbia University in New York City.
The debate, moderated by Dr. David Eisenbach from Columbia University, was conducted on the stage of the Roone Arledge Auditorium on campus and was the first of three consecutive nights of presentations that challenged the audience of mostly students to critically evaluate their worldviews.
InterVarsity Partners with Veritas Forum
These evening’s presentations were part of the ever-popular Veritas Forums, “university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.” The Veritas Forums at Columbia University were co-sponsored by nine campus groups, one of which was InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
InterVarsity staff and students help sponsor Veritas Forums on college and university campuses across this country. This Spring 2009 Veritas Forums will be presented on over thirty campuses; and on those campuses where InterVarsity has a witnessing community, we will participate in the Forums.
InterVarsity participates in Veritas Forums because their primary purpose accords with our vision to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed through a relationship with Jesus Christ. InterVarsity believes it’s critical to teach students and faculty biblical reasons for answering the most pressing intellectual questions of our day.
Veritas Forum Questions are Basic
In these days of global recession, when people around the world are recognizing again the fundamental relationship between good ethics and healthy economies, the question: Is God necessary for morality? has become more prominent. At Columbia University in the Roone Aldridge Auditorium that Tuesday evening, the debate about morality and God’s existence offered the audience different answers for discovering a good, flourishing life.
Dr. Shelly Kagan said that humans can experience significant moral acts without any belief in God. A moral wrong, asserted Dr. Kagan, is that which hurts another person. “Commandments don’t require a supreme Commander,” he said. Dr. William Craig, on the other hand, said that in the absence of God, moral behavior is merely a convention. “If God doesn’t exist, objective moral values don’t exist either,” he said.
Students Have Questions
After the debate between these two scholars, each one answered questions from the audience. The questions from students ranged from individual moral accountability to corporate ethical behavior. In short, for Dr. Kagan, rules of morality emerge from the values of a community; while for Dr. Craig, God is the author of morality for communities. The evening ended with each scholar giving closing remarks for his argument and offering words of thanks and respect for his interlocutor.
The following evening, Dr. Craig returned to the Roone Aldridge Auditorium to speak about evidences for the historical Jesus. Then on the third evening of the Veritas Forums, the audience joined the continuing conversation about morality by exploring the nature and value of humans through presentations of music, photography, and film.
InterVarsity is committed to the vision of the Veritas Forums. Indeed, one of InterVarsity’s core values affirms our commitment to “engage in learning and thoughtful biblical reflection in every area of life.” Additionally, InterVarsity Press publishes books in partnership with the Veritas Forum. Veritas Forum Books provide distinctively Christian perspectives about world-shaping ideas by providing readers with clear and intelligent presentations of biblical truth.
InterVarsity staff and students find that Veritas Forums on their campuses help non-Christian students see that a biblical worldview offers intelligent, authentic answers to the most difficult questions about human existence. InterVarsity believes that God values our whole person and that our minds matter.
Photo: Low Memorial Library, Columbia University. Photo by Jonathan Rice.