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McGrath vs. Dennett on the future of atheism

This year’s Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum pits Alister McGrath against Daniel Dennett (last year’s pitted me against Michael Ruse):

The Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum in Faith and Culture is a pilot program of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The Forum is designed to provide a venue in which a respected evangelical scholar and a respected non-evangelical scholar dialogue on critical issues in philosophy, science, religion, and/or culture from their differing perspectives.

This year’s forum will feature Alister McGrath of Oxford University and Daniel Dennett of Tufts University in dialogue on the future of atheism.

Alister McGrath

Daniel Dennett

SOURCE: www.greer-heard.com

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17 Responses to McGrath vs. Dennett on the future of atheism

  1. I’m kind of surprised it’s still on. Dennett had aorta replacement surgery in October. That’s some major crack your chest open stop your heart surgery. February is only 4 months recovery.

  2. Yes, but any guy who resembles Santa comes into a debate about 10 points up, so he has the advantage if his doctors let him go. ;)

    Hope Dennett has a speedy recovery.

  3. McGrath is a person who I hold great respect for, although (I think) he accepts Darwinism :D.

    This is going to be interesting.

  4. The future of atheism is bleak, because humans are aware of their mortality, and are programmed with an ineluctable sense that their lives must have some ultimate purpose and meaning — otherwise, life is absurd. Despite claims to the contrary, atheism peddles nihilism as its ultimate product, and most people intuitively recognize this.

    This is a tough sell. In addition, as Antony Flew finally figured out, atheism doesn’t comport with the evidence.

  5. “Yes, but any guy who resembles Santa comes into a debate about 10 points up”

    I’ve always thought Dennett looks like Darwin.

  6. The future of atheism is bleak, because humans are aware of their mortality, and are programmed with an ineluctable sense that their lives must have some ultimate purpose and meaning — otherwise, life is absurd. Despite claims to the contrary, atheism peddles nihilism as its ultimate product, and most people intuitively recognize this.

    This is a tough sell. In addition, as Antony Flew finally figured out, atheism doesn’t comport with the evidence.

    Well said. :)

  7. Yep, Dennett looks like Darwin, or at least he tries to look like Darwin by copying his beard. It is an outward manifestation of his inward adulation of Darwin.

  8. These guys already debated at least once: at the RSA in London last year on the topic “is religion a natural phenomenon”.
    http://www.rsa.org.uk/events/t.....ReadID=710

  9. I’d like to think that the future of atheism is bleak–except for the annoying tendency of human beings to believe whatever the hell they want to believe.

    Darwinism is a case in point. There is scant evidence FOR it, mountains of evidence AGAINST it, and yet well-educated, intelligent people still hold it to be true, and are willing to castigate all doubters and dissenters as “ignorant, stupid, or insane” (to quote Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker.)

    This is why I often say that logical positivism never had a prayer of working. All evidence, regardless of what it REALLY is evidence of, has to be INTERPRETED. Since the ontological value of any bit of evidence is closed to us, interpretational values are bound to vary from one individual to another.

    This is not to say that all evidence says whatever we want it to say, but merely that the tendency to believe whatever one wants to believe is a profoundly HUMAN tendency–and thus, atheism, however poorly supported, will never be eliminated. Too bad. It takes much more faith to be an atheist than to be a theist.

  10. Funny this should come up here at this time. I’m just finishing up reading McGrath’s book “Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.” And I’m approaching the final chapter in which he discusses the future of atheism. The book is a fascinating history of atheism from the perspective of a Christian (and former atheist) scholar. He covers several major atheist movements starting with the French Revolution, and includes 18th/19th century German atheology, atheism in Victorian Britain, Soviet Communism, etc., and discusses contemporary atheists such as Dawkins at several points.

    The most surprising point in the book is where he draws a causal connection between the rise of Protestantism and the rise of atheism. According to this thinking, one of the many ways that early Protestant thinkers distinguished themselves from their Roman Catholic forbears is that they divorced the supernatural from everyday life, which gave rise to the thought patterns anticedent to radical atheism. (BTW, McGrath is himself “unashamedly” a Protestant–I presume Anglican, given his location and position) He also indirectly applauds the Charismatic movement for re-injecting a sense of the everyday supernatural into religious belief.

    It’s a good read and I recommend it to theists and atheists alike.

    (BTW, on McGrath’s web site he states that he has challenged Dawkins to debate in the past and Dawkins has refused)

  11. Oh, and @ TerryL, your assessment of atheism’s future being bleak is consistent with McGrath’s assessment in his book (hence the “and fall” part of the subtitle).

  12. Amadan

    As like you, I do not wish to hijack this with an atheism vs theism debate, so I will make a quick point. The problem with Europe’s post-Christian society is that the non-muslim citizens have a negative birth rate. You probably know this better than myself. I have read many articles about the decline of secularization in Europe. The decline does not have anything to do with a rise in Christianity, but a rise in Islam. I think that atheism probably has peaked out in the 20th century.

  13. I’m just suggesting that as the popular concensus tends towards atheism,

    People who believe that the ultimate purpose of existence is self-fulfillment don’t make the necessary sacrifices required to further their society and their way of life dies, and their works are inhereited by ones who are working for a purpose beyond themselves (the “meek” if you will).

    Attempts to create an artificial state-religion is an old trick (the root word of culture is “cult”) and of course leads to intellectual stagnation and oppression.

    Our country’s Founders got it right. No state church, read the Bible, and follow Jesus.

    And it’s a “Creator” who endows us with rights.

    the state could co-opt the forms and structures of religion to give a formal affirmation of that worldview

    That’s exactly what communism (and the Nazis and L. Ron Hubbard) tried.

  14. the state could co-opt the forms and structures of religion to give a formal affirmation of that worldview

    And the French revolutionaries, and the Romans and a whole host of others.

  15. amaden

    The idea behind God-given rights is that governments exist not to grant those rights but only to protect them. It’s meant to limit the powers of government.

    In the United States that’s a pervasive, fundamental concept that explicitely appears in 45 state constitutions as well as the Declaration of Independence.

  16. Did this debate happen? Any info on it? Transcripts?

  17. [...] McGrath vs. Dennett on the future of atheism | Uncommon DescentJun 19, 2006 … By Daniel C. Dennett. (June 16, 2006). In his critique of my recent book, Breaking the Spell, Alister McGrath is pounding on an open door. Yes … [...]

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