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‘Philosophical Fight Club’ debates God and the good

| Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Tuesday night, students from philosophy class “God and the Good Life” hosted “Philosophical Fight Club” at 8 p.m. in DeBartolo Hall. The event featured a debate between philosophy professor Meghan Sullivan and theology professor Fr. Kevin Grove, and functioned as a mid-term project for some 20 students in the class ranging from freshmen to juniors.

Sullivan, who teaches the class, said the assignment was an open “campaign” for the students.

“They’re just supposed to do something good and then talk about the philosophical argument behind it,” she said.

Sophomore Joe DelleDonne said the group planned this event as their campaign project because they wanted to mirror the debate format of the class.

“We do this kind of structured debate for our God and the Good Life class, and we really love them. People get really into them because they’re always centered on topics related to our daily lives,” DelleDonne said. “If you take a step back, it’s all sort of one-sided. We’re really curious about what our professors think, and specifically how they think.”

Sophomore Nicole Skora said she is excited for the different perspectives from the two professors.

“It’s one thing to see them lecture on it, but it’s another to see them debate their own craft,” she said.

The central question of this debate was originally raised in a Platonic dialogue during the Golden Age of Athens regarding the Greek gods and adapted to Christianity: are good things good because God prefers it, or does God prefer it because it is good? Grove presented the former argument, and Sullivan presented the latter. Each made opening statements, followed by rebuttals, and then opened the discussion to questions from the audience.

Sullivan opened the discussion with her argument, saying that God adheres to a moral code.

“Being a good judge means you have reasons for the sentences you hand down, and those reasons are based on morally relevant facts,” Sullivan said. “They’re not just based on your whims at a particular moment.”

She said that following a moral code does not mean God is any less powerful.

“These principles, they’re not things like rocks or trees or even people. They’re necessary laws. And there’s no meaningful sense in which you can create a necessary law,” Sullivan said. “We already believe that there are some facts that could not be otherwise, because all the facts about God are exactly those kinds of facts.”

During his opening statement, Grove argued that God is the standard for moral codes.

“We have to start this conversation with the question of where goodness comes from,” Grove said. “There’s a temptation to define the goodness of God through some other thing: some property, some exertion. What’s the problem with that? It makes the other circumstances greater than God.”

Grove said that the Biblical example of the story of Abraham and Isaac helps show God as the true basis for morality.

“If we don’t vest goodness in God’s own self, we miss that shining moment in the story of the binding of Isaac in which Abraham was able to rise above his own self-interest to be governed by the covenant for which he was created,” he said.

In the rebuttals, each professor addressed weaknesses in each other’s and their own arguments. In reference to Grove’s argument for a God who does not need to follow a moral code, Sullivan said that is not what is looked for from God.

“Surprises are great, but I don’t want moral surprises from God,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Grove said that there were issues with Sullivan’s position on how to define good.

“The temptation for Abraham is to try and micromanage his covenant, to forget trusting God and take it over himself. This is my worry about Professor Sullivan’s position: that we, by defining the good outside of God, take over the management under the auspices of our own reason.”

During the open forum section of the event, topics for questions ranged from the Eucharist to the transfiguration of humans, and even to whether using the term “good” makes this discussion a false question.

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