3. Is it right to suggest, as many have, that atheists and agnostics are somehow less moral when the numbers on crime, divorce, alcoholism and other measures of social dysfunction show that non-believers in the United States are extremely under-represented in each category?
Let's move on to the other candidates and the third panelist.
1. Do any of you think God speaks to you, only to Gov. Huckabee, or to none of you? And, if I may, does God have a tax policy, a health care policy, a policy on Iraq, Iran, gay marriage, Guantanamo or the Riemann Hypothesis?
2. How would you suggest that we reason with someone who claims that his or her decisions are informed, shaped, even dictated by fundamental religious principles, which nevertheless can't be probed or questioned by those who don't share them?
3. I think we can all agree that a candidate who thought that we ought to outlaw interest on loans or revert to a barter system would not be a good steward for our troubled economy. Would you also agree that someone who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Noah's Ark is an event in zoological history would not be an effective leader on issues such as stem cells, climate change, and renewable resources?
The debate concludes with a few more general queries about religion from the fourth and last questioner.
1. Do you see any danger of a kind of theocracy developing in the United States? And, if I may sneak in an extra question, do you think that American religiosity has (or could) threaten American dominance in science and technology?
2. How literally do you take the Bible or other holy book? Do you subscribe to any argument(s) for God's existence other than the one that God exists simply because He says He does in a much extolled tome that He allegedly inspired?
3. For many, religion has been a source of ideas and narratives that are enlightening, of ideals and values that are inspiring, of rituals and traditions that are satisfying. It has also led to hatred, cruelty, superstition, divisiveness, credulity and fanaticism. What can you do to further the former and minimize the latter effects?
The questioners would then breathe a sigh of relief, thank the university and the candidates for making the discussion possible, and wish them all Godspeed in their continuing campaigns.
John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, is the author of the best-sellers "Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper," as well as of the just-released "Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don't Add Up." His "Who's Counting?" column on ABCNEWS.com appears the first weekend of every month.