Celebrated atheists debate the ethics of non-believers

The age-old question of whether there is a God went unanswered last night at a discussion on atheism, as most attendees sought sanctuary in their previously-held beliefs.

The “Ethics of Atheism” debate between Italian philosopher Paolo Flores D’Arcais and Boston College political science professor Alan Wolfe examined views on atheism and ethics for about 30 in the School of Management.

D’Arcais argued for the study of religion as a human creation without acknowledgement of whether it is true. He said whether God exists is irrelevant because it is human nature to create a common norm, and “any norm will do as long as it works.”

He said politics should essentially be atheist because religion interferes with public policy. D’Arcais said people should be able to choose euthanasia if they are extremely ill, but the law prevents it because it is considered a religious sin.

Wolfe called D’Arcais’s analysis and stance on religion “all too fearful.”

“It is not true that any norm will do as long as it works,” he said. “D’Arcais fudges what it means ‘to work.'”

Wolfe said religion has no place in science because its presuppositions can interfere with proper knowledge gathering.

Wolfe, a self-proclaimed atheist, said he recognizes the importance of being open to religious ideas.

“We shouldn’t just tolerate religious voices,” he said. “We should welcome them because they bring something to the public square that I think we need.”

Institute of Human Sciences Executive Director Irena Gross was in charge of organizing the evening, and said she chose the speakers based on their extensive backgrounds and knowledge in the subject.

“There is a growing role of religion in public life, and because of this issue, which is very important, I reached out for him, and he was eager to speak to us about it,” Gross said of D’Arcais.

John Mrosczzyk, a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student, said he had had previously heard of Wolfe’s work and was interested in hearing what atheists have to say about ethics, but thought a third opinion would have added interest to the debate.

“I would have liked to have seen a believer in God up there as well,” Mrosczzyk said.

Mrosczzyk said he preferred Wolfe’s ideas to D’Arcais’s.

“His ideas were more persuasive though the other speaker presented ideas I had never thought of before,” he said.

Zachary Bos, Boston Atheists director and a state representative for American Atheists, was in attendance and said he had his own views on the ethics of atheism.

“Being atheist does not imply anything about someone’s ethics,” Bos, a College of Arts and Sciences Core Curriculum administrative coordinator, said. “I would hold the position that no one’s ethics come from religion.”

Bos said he thinks people’s ethics to come from their culture and the way they were raised.

“It is a case of special pleading to suggest there is a special truth available to someone who believes in God,” Bos said.

People are often surprised to find many atheists are open-minded, he said.

“There is a lot of stigma attached to non-believers,” Bos said.

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