Journalist Susan Jacoby, philosopher Colin McGinn, and theologian Denys Turner explore questions such as: Is humanism another kind of religion? Is it religion's evolutionary future, rather than just one of several alternatives? What light does the recent scientific study of religion throw on these possibilities?
How do the new humanists compare to the new atheists? Can an atheist identity be shaped by a positive ethic, or must it be primarily an anti-religious sentiment? How will the persistence of belief and disbelief, as well as the tension between them, shape thought and culture in the 21st century?
Susan Jacoby is the author of Never Say Die and The Age of American Unreason. She began her writing career as a reporter for The Washington Post, and has been a contributor to a wide range of periodicals and newspapers for more than 25 years on topics including law, religion, medicine, aging, women's rights, political dissent in the Soviet Union and Russian literature.
Jacoby has been the recipient of grants from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2001-2002, she was named a fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Jacoby's other books include Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004); Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1984, and Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past.
William P. Kelly
William P. Kelly was appointed president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on July 1, 2005. From 1998 through June 2005, he served as the Graduate Center's provost and senior vice president, a tenure that was marked by the recruitment of a remarkable cadre of internationally renowned scholars to the school's faculty.
A distinguished American literature scholar and an expert on the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Dr. Kelly's books include Plotting America's Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales (Southern Illinois University Press), and a work in progress, Exhibiting Nature: Scientific Culture and The American Museum of Natural History.
His numerous articles and reviews have appeared in a broad range of publications including the New York Times Book Review, The American Scholar, and the Journal of Western History, and he is the editor of the Random House edition of The Selected Works of Washington Irving and the Oxford University Press edition of The Pathfinder.
Dr. Kelly graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1971, where he won the David Bowers Prize in American Studies. He was named Outstanding Graduate Student in English at Indiana University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1976. Dr. Kelly also holds a diploma in intellectual history from Cambridge University and in 1980 received a Fulbright Fellowship to France, where he subsequently became visiting professor at the University of Paris.
He was also executive director of the CUNY/Paris Exchange Program and, in 2003, was named Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the French Ministry of Education in recognition of his contributions to Franco-American educational and cultural relations.
Colin McGinn (B.Phil., Oxford University), joined the University of Miami Philosophy Department in 2006, having taught previously at University of London, University of Oxford, and Rutgers University. He was the recipient of the John Locke Prize at Oxford University in 1973. His research interests are in philosophy of mind (particularly consciousness, intentionality and imagination), metaphysics, ethics and philosophical logic.
He has published many articles, and is the author of 20 books, including Mental Content (Blackwell, 1989), The Problem of Consciousness (Blackwell, 1991), The Character of Mind (Oxford 1997), Ethics, Evil and Fiction (Oxford 1997), The Mysterious Flame (Basic Books, 1999), Logical Properties (Oxford 2000), Consciousness and Its Objects (Oxford, 2004), Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning (Harvard, 2004), and Shakespeare's Philosophy (Harper, 2006).
Gustav Niebuhr is an associate professor of Religion and the Media, director of the Religion and Society Program, director of the Carnegie Religion and Media Minor, and co-director of the Luce Project in Religion, Media, and International Relations at Syracuse University.
Over a twenty-year career in journalism, most recently at the New York Times and, prior to that, at the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Gustav Niebuhr has established a reputation as a leading writer about American religion. He is a frequent guest blogger on the Washington Post's "On Faith" column, and he also does occasional commentaries on religion for the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered."
His most recent book, Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America, will be published in August.
Denys Alan Turner is a British academic in the field of philosophy and theology. He is currently Professor of Historical Theology at Yale University having been appointed in 2005, previously having been Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. He earned his PhD in Philosophy from Oxford University.
He has written widely on political theory and social theory in relation to Christian theology, as well as on Medieval thought, in particular, mystical theology.
Any belief, method, or philosophy that has a central emphasis on the human realm. The term is most commonly applied to the cultural movement in Renaissance Europe characterized by a revival of Classical letters, an individualistic and critical spirit, and a shift of emphasis from religious to secular concerns. This movement dates to the 13th century and the work of the Florentine scholar-statesman Brunetto Latini. Its diffusion was facilitated by the publication of Classical ideas, both in the vernacular and in Latin.
The reason 'atheist' is regarded as an impolite term is because people deeply fear atheism. While nobody is going to blatantly call atheism scary or act fearful in proximity to it, they will often behave as though it's simply rude to be Godless in public. An atheist is akin to a communist . Moreover, they are in the same category of social being as a homeless alcoholic to the average person. Atheism represents a set of personal convictions that, although they really aren't contagious per se, they are tantamount to a viral failure of character... no one wants to risk lengthy exposure to such spiritual sedition for fear that it's 'catching'.
I know a blind man who claims to have never heard a good argument for the color 'red'. What evidence of redness can we show him?
See the point? It's not an arguable hypothesis since it lies outside the domain and range of science.
Man! You are 100% correct, sir. I'm impressed with your 'call' on non-overlapping magisteria .
That phrase is so cool. I love to use it whenever I can. It sounds like some Civics class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!
An atheist I am, but that is in no way shape of form a preexisting condition in determining my morality (or lack of) since morality is defined and agreed upon by a community of society, not the commands of being in higher planes of existance than our own. For many religious believers, 'morality' is predefined by (their choice of) god, but there is no possible way to prove the exact paraphrase of god's command in the rightful context let alone god's existance in the first place, thus it would be horrendously wrong to suggest that the high command is what distinguishes between 'good' and 'evil' behaviours. As a result, the sense of morality can only come into existance when civilizations progress enough to the point where the individuals within the communities share a common sense of decency based on childhood upbringings, daily experiences and common sense.
I thought it was a lot more pleasant than the debates I see Hitchens and Dawkins having against Christians. Nobody seemed to gain much ground as far as debating goes, but I don't think that was really the point. What they did do is find some common ground and give some clear thinking on the different variations of belief and mostly of non-belief, which I guess what the title said!
As far as arguing for or against theism, those kinds of arguments always seem beside the point to me. This is reaching way out of my field of expertise, but I don't think God is a very useful question to science, and I don't think scientific questions are very useful to people's religious lives except for their need to incorporate reason and discernment in a process of mediation between superstitious religious belief and the genuine goldmine of wisdom contained within the world's traditions.
I do think a whole lot of atheists get distracted by religious caricature and never end up understanding subtler religious concepts of God as actually meaning things like 'the ground of all being' or 'ultimate reality' (and these concepts weren't simply backed into in order to make religion harder to argue against after originally making scientific propositions about the origins of the universe without evidence, as if to improve something primitive). I think it's much more useful to deeply and honestly inquire into what the word "God" is pointing to which is something more like is-ness itself, rather than thinking of God as a posited scientific proposition. Noooo.
To paraphrase a Christian theologian, Paul Tillich: If, when you use the world "God", you are referring to a posited super-being as a means of scientific explanation which may or may not exist, then you are not thinking of God.
I agree with natdatil, ethorson, and chris tapp. Susan Jacoby effectively prevented any actual discussion from taking place. Arguing about semantics that much is no great help to anyone of any level of understanding. It is a rhetorical defense mechanism used to avoid saying anything about the actual ideas behind the words. Granted, I value accurate and clear use of words, but at some point (in a very short panel discussion about very large issues) one _has_ to move beyond semantics and actually tackle the issues at hand. Language will always be imperfect, but we care about the ideas, not the terms. Her interjections sometimes seem to be meaningless torrents of terminology. Further, she is inconsistent in this passion: she nitpicks about "atheist" and "agnostic" but paints with shamefully broad strokes when she uses terms like "fundamentalist," "liberal," "conservative."
to CommonLink, I offer this observation: Jacoby, in all her discussion of terms and her term-dropping, said very little, while McGinn and Turner introduced and explored ideas using _very few_ terms. They expressed the ideas directly and were much easier to understand.
Jacoby was abrasive, arrogant, and mean-spirited, all the while derailing the discussion and seemingly oblivious to the civil, thoughtful conversation being had by the two professors.
In sum, I feel as though an opportunity for a great discussion among brilliant minds has been lost.
Diosibundo...I totally agree with your comment on Dawkins. It seems believers and some atheist speak of Dawkins as if he ever claimed that there is no possibility of a god or supreme being. Dawkins goes to great pains to show where he stands on that issue. However, folks have to act as if he did not in order to paint him as irrational as believers.
I personally could care less about what people believe if it did not bleed over into public policy and public education...Especially in America!
I think the discussion could've been more lively had the moderator allowed for a bit more debate. It appeared that he always attempted to change topics when it came Susan's turn to speak to avoid the exchange.
Really? I find her kind of obnoxious, but I like hiow she slapped around the pro-faith guy in the beginning when he was putting down Dawkins caliming he was "as dogmatic as the religious fundamentalists".
Natdatil, what did you find interesting about the discussion?