Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, June 13
The Indiana Daily Student

Panel debates atheist morals

Students and community members filled the Woodburn Hall auditorium Monday for a debate about the controversial Bloomington Transit bus advertisement, which says “You can be good without God.”

The debate featured Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who discussed the merits of the atheist ad campaign with Dan Waugh, pastor of Adult Ministries at the Evangelical Community Church in Bloomington.

“There is no absolute moral guideline in the Bible,” Barker said in his opening remarks. “If you are motivated to be a good person because of the promise of heaven, that shows how little you think of others.”

The debate was highlighted by varying moments of humor and tension. Barker drew surprised gasps from some audience members when he called out Waugh for practicing faith in vain, calling his God a “petty, vain, insecure, egotistical being.”

Barker’s arguments centered around the idea that morality is a human trait, defined by the goal of minimizing harm. He said that there is no purpose of life, only purpose in life.

Waugh responded by saying “good is a function of purpose. If there is no God, then all that is left is nature, and nature cannot communicate meaning or purpose.”

The debate, which was co-sponsored by the Secular Alliance of IU, the Evangelical Community Church and the Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign, centered on the moral question posed by the bus advertisement rather than the reasons for or against running the ad.

“I’m not against the campaign at all, I welcome it,” Waugh said. “It allows for this debate, it is not a threat.”

The mood changed when Barker asked Waugh a question.

“If God told you to, would you kill me?” Barker asked.

The question drew laughter from the audience and a pause from Waugh.

“If there was a specific verse saying Dan Waugh should kill Dan Barker, then I would have to consider it,” Waugh responded, drawing more laughter and applause from the filled auditorium.

Joe Hughto, president of the IU Secular Alliance, was pleased with the choice of both Waugh and Barker to participate in the debate.

“The whole point of this ad was not to convert people. It was to start this debate,” he said. “We wanted to make it balanced, we wanted to find people with strong convictions who wouldn’t back down from their views.”

Hughto was also pleased with the full crowd turnout.

“I thought we had a good mix of people, both secular humanists and believers,” he said.

Eoban Binder, co-founder of the Secular Alliance, also appreciated the direction and tone of the debate.

“The discussion, debate and argument about this topic can sometimes degrade into something unproductive. Everyone has a lot to gain from this debate,” he said.

Get stories like this in your inbox