To Believe in God (or Not), part 2

“To Believe in God (or Not)” – part 2 of 3
February 23, 2011
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.

As part of the second installment of the three session series “To Believe in God (or Not),” we’re excited to host a panel discussion Wednesday evening, February 23rd, featuring Dr. Peter Browning, professor of religious studies and chaplain at Drury University, and Dr. Andrew Johnson, professor of philosophy at Missouri State University. They will respond to questions like these:

1) Could you define the God you believe in, or don’t believe in? How is this God different (or the same) as the God described by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris?

2) How do you view morality? Where does morality come from? If it is related to Darwinism, then how do we explain acts of altruism? Is there a contingency to all of our ethical norms?

3) To Dr. Browning: “Do you think there is anything valuable in the critiques of Dawkins, Harris, etc.? If so, what?”

4) To Dr. Johnson: “Do you think there is anything valuable in religion? If so, what?”

We express our thanks to Peter and Andrew for taking the time to be part of this conversation. If you have questions you would like them to respond to, feel free to reply to this post and let us know what they are. We’ll try to get to as many as we can.

5 thoughts on “To Believe in God (or Not), part 2

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention To Believe in God (or Not), part 2 « Brentwood Christian Church --

  2. Sounds like an interesting dialogue! It prompts a few thoughts to swim through my head:

    Why Dawkins and Harris? Why not Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Attenborough, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, Bertrand Russell, or even Gene Roddenberry?

    Do Dawkins and Harris describe God the same way? If not, how so?

    Do Dawkins and Harris single out one image of God, or does one of them cover many varied images? Do they both?

    For a given description of God from Dawkins or Harris, are they describing their own image of God, a fringe minority image of God, or an image voiced by most American ministries? Does that impact the validity or invalidity of their theses?

    How do “-ism” words sustain popular usage, and how are they typically used in the media? Does using the word “Darwinism” frame the conversation with preconceptions, or objectively describe a scientific theory? (Conversely, why don’t we label ourselves “Aristarchus-ists” in regard to another religiously contentious idea from history—a sun-centered solar system?)

    By the popular description of evolution (centered on survival of the fittest individual organism), altruism does seem a counterintuitive result, and God can easily fill this gap. Would an evolutionary biologist’s description of evolution match the popular one? How would she explain altruism scientifically?

    Are Dawkins and/or Harris faithful representatives of their respective schools of thought? In what ways do they differ from most American or British atheists, if any? Would it be valid or invalid to draw parallels between them and equally well-known religious evangelists?

  3. I know I’m an outsider, but perhaps I can give you a bit to talk about (used to be a classmate of Alex’s) (ah that facebook). I agree with Alex in saying that the others he mentioned are at least a little less in your face about atheism. There’s really nothing that new in what “the four horsemen” (Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennett) are saying. They are just really in the public sphere.

    First, some definitions. Theist – believes in a god. Atheist – does not believe in a god (note that this in no way mentions that an atheist asserts that there actually are no gods, a really common misconception)

    1) Really good question. If you believe that god is the sum total of all the laws of the universe, then I believe in that god. Any further than that starts requiring some strong evidence and reasoning. And how does one dismiss other gods, if their definition is different than yours? Dawkins and Harris usually go after the fundamentalist types first, but rail on moderates as providing cover. For any atheist to argue against any god, the god must first be defined. In the cases of their books, they took the god of some of the worst troublemakers of recent history. So, of course that’s not YOUR god.

    2) I have a scientific view of morality. As we are social beings, we rely on others quite a lot. Genetic benefits are given from helping each other out, as we survive longer in that case. We have mirror neurons that fire both when we experience something and when we see another experiencing the same thing. Pleasure fires when you see pleasure, you cringe when you see pain. We see this in humans and our close relatives. It also falls off with respect to the evolutionary tree. When bugs die we have less of a problem than if a chimp does. Also note that morality can be damaged, like any other brain function. We also have classes of people, sociopaths, that do not connect with the suffering of others. Psychopaths actually have an even further dysfunctional effect of feeling pleasure when they see or even cause pain.

    3) Yes. I really dislike some of the attempts to brand theists as idiots. Intelligence is not an indicator of religiosity. There is, however, a slight inverse correlation of education level and religiosity. Another critique is that they are probably beating their chests at something that they will not be able to change much. Religion will exist as long as the fear of death exists. (if this upsets you, think of other religions in that context, Buddhism for example)

    4) Organized philanthropy. Social connections on a personal level. You’ve got this in spades. It’s been said that organizing atheists is like herding cats.

    Well, hopefully this generates some discussion, even if it is after your panel.


    • Thanks for your thoughts, even after the discussion — I do wish you could’ve been there! It was great. We’re working on getting it uploaded to YouTube…

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