McGrath & Shermer at U of T: Is God a Figment of Our Imagination?

In by Mark McEwan0 Comments


Event Details


Wycliffe College, Faith Today, Power to Change, RZIM, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Network of Christian Scholars, and the CSCA present a dialogue on God’s existence between two major voices.

Is God a Figment of Our Imagination?

Convocation Hall, U of T

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Description

Paul Dirac, the British theoretical physicist, famously said, “If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination.” The question remains, in an age of scientific reason, whether or not claims of God merit our attention and whether or not there is any coherence with reality. Is religious belief a vestige of a past age, destined for extinction, and are the many religious adherents of the world, merely ignorant and misguided? Or is there within the theistic framework a resonance with reality that presses the notion of God beyond the mere subjective musings of those that claim it to be so?

Our dialogue brings together two leading thinkers who have thoughtfully wrestled with this question, each not only having embarked on a personal pilgrimage, but each bringing a lifetime of erudition, experience, and insights to bear on this theme. Alister McGrath, the atheist who would become a theist, and Michael Shermer, the theist who would become an atheist. Join us at Convocation Hall, University of Toronto or live on YouTube for what will surely be one of the most engaging two hours of thoughtful dialogue on one of history’s greatest questions. (source)

The Speakers

Dr . Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991). In addition to teaching a critical thinking course at Chapman University titled “Skepticism 101,” he has been a college professor since 1979, also teaching psychology, evolution, and the history of science at Occidental College (1989-1998), California State University Los Angeles, and Glendale College. As a public intellectual he regularly contributes Opinion Editorials, book reviews, and essays to the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Science, Nature, and other publications, along with over 200 consecutive monthly columns in Scientific American, where he has been a regular contributor since 2001. He has appeared on such shows as The Colbert Report, 20/20, Dateline, Charlie Rose, Larry King Live, Tom Snyder, Donahue, Oprah, Lezza, Unsolved Mysteries and other shows as a skeptic of weird and extraordinary claims, as well as interviews in countless science and history documentaries aired on PBS, A&E, Discovery, The History Channel, The Science Channel, and The Learning Channel. Dr. Shermer was the co-host and co-producer of the 13-hour Family Channel television series, Exploring the Unknown.

Dr. Shermer’s next book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for Immortality, the Afterlife, and Utopia. His latest book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. His previous book is The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. His book, The Mind of the Market, is on evolutionary economics, behavioral economics, and neuroeconomics. He also authored Why Darwin Matters: Evolution and the Case Against Intelligent Design, and Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown, about how the mind works and how thinking goes wrong. His book The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Share Care, and Follow the Golden Rule, is on the evolutionary origins of morality and how to be good without God. He wrote a biography, In Darwin’s Shadow, about the life and science of the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. He also wrote The Borderlands of Science, about the fuzzy land between science and pseudoscience, and Denying History, on Holocaust denial and other forms of pseudohistory. His book How We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God, presents his theory on the origins of religion and why people believe in God. Dr. Shermer’s most famous book is Why People Believe Weird Things, on pseudoscience, superstitions, and other confusions of our time.

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Michael Shermer is a beacon of reason in an ocean of irrationality.” And in the words of the late Stephen Jay Gould (from his Foreword to Why People Believe Weird Things): “Michael Shermer, as head of one of America’s leading skeptic organizations, and as a powerful activist and essayist in the service of this operational form of reason, is an important figure in American public life.” (Source)

Dr. Alister McGrath was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1953. He grew up in Downpatrick, Co. Down, where he attended Down High School. In September 1966 he became a pupil at the Methodist College, Belfast, majoring in pure and applied mathematics, physics and chemistry. He was elected to an open major scholarship at Wadham College, Oxford University, to study chemistry from October 1971, where his tutors included Jeremy R. Knowles and R. J. P. Williams. He gained first class honours in chemistry in June 1975, and began research in molecular biophysics in the Oxford University Department of Biochemistry under the supervision of Professor Sir George K. Radda, FRS, who is presently head of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University.  He was elected to an E.P.A. Cephalosporin Research Studentship at Linacre College, Oxford, for the academic year 1975-6, and to a Domus Senior Scholarship at Merton College,Oxford, for the period 1976-8. He also spent three months as a European Molecular Biology Organization visiting fellow at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. During the years 1975-8, he carried out scientific research, leading to the publication of a number of peer-reviewed research articles, alongside studying for the Oxford University Final Honour School of Theology. In December 1977, he was awarded an Oxford D.Phil. for his research in the natural sciences, and he gained first class honours in Theology in June 1978. The interaction of Christian theology and the natural sciences has subsequently been a major theme of his research work, and is best seen in the three volumes of his Scientific Theology (2001-3).

McGrath left Oxford to work at Cambridge University, having been elected to the Naden Studentship in Divinity at St John’s College, Cambridge (1978-80). He also studied at the same time for ordination in the Church of England at Westcott House, Cambridge. In September 1980, he was ordained deacon, and began work as a curate at St Leonard’s Parish Church, Wollaton, Nottingham, in the English east midlands. He was ordained priest at Southwell Minster in September 1981. In 1983, he was appointed lecturer in Christian doctrine and ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Oxford University Faculty of Theology. McGrath spent the fall semester of 1990 as the Ezra Squire Tipple Visiting Professor of Historical Theology at the Theological School, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. He gave the Bampton Lectures at Oxford University in 1990, in which he explored the factors which lead to the origins of doctrinal statements in Christianity.

McGrath was elected University Research Lecturer in Theology at Oxford University in 1993, and also served concurrently as research professor of theology at Regent College, Vancouver, from 1993-7. In 1995, he was elected Principal of Wycliffe Hall, and in 1999 was awarded a personal chair in theology at Oxford University, with the title of “Professor of Historical Theology”. He earned an Oxford Doctorate of Divinity in 2001 for his research on historical and systematic theology. In September 2004, he resigned as Principal of Wycliffe Hall to become the first Director of the newly-established Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. In October 2006, he was elected to a Senior Research Fellowship at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, where he began directing a major new research project on natural theology, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2005.

In September 2008, McGrath took up the newly-established Chair of Theology, Ministry and Education in the Department of Education and Professional Studies at King’s College, London. He also served as the academic leader of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture, and was involved both in theological research and the professional development of clergy from a range of Christian denominations.

In 2013, McGrath accepted the Andreas Idreos Professorship in Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. He took up the new post on 1 April 2014.

As a former atheist, McGrath is respectful yet critical of the movement. In recent years, he has been especially interested in the emergence of “scientific atheism”, and has researched the distinctive approach to atheist apologetics found in the writings of the Oxford zoologist and scientific populariser Richard Dawkins. He regularly engages in debate and dialogue with leading atheists, and is presently researching the iconic role played by Charles Darwin in atheist apologetics, and the appeal to the controversial and problematic concept of the “meme” in recent atheist accounts of the origins of belief in God.

His main research interest at present is the area of thought traditionally known as “natural theology”, which is experiencing significant renewal and revitalization at the moment. He addressed this theme in detail at his Richardson Lectures at the University of Newcastle-upon Tyne (2008), his Gifford Lectures at the University of Abedeen (2009), and his Hulsean Lectures at the University of Cambridge. The Richardson Lectures have been published as The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology (Blackwells). His Gifford Lectures were published as A Fine Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. His Hulsean Lectures has been published by Wiley-Blackwell, entitled “Darwinism and the Divine: Evolutionary Thought and Natural Theology”. (source)