"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Atheism Tapes - Jonathan Miller and Denys Turner

As I’ve not been in a position to offer any real debate myself recently, I thought I’d do the next best thing and show some other people debating the issue of religion.

The clips below are from a BBC series called ‘The Atheism Tapes’, in which Jonathan Miller interviewed various individuals about atheism. One of the most interesting, and most relevant to this blog, was the interview he conducted with Cambridge theologian Denys Turner.

I find Turner’s theological arguments incredibly shaky, and I also disagree with his characterisation of atheism, but as a model of how to conduct a debate on religion (on any subject, come to that) it’s hard to fault either man.

Part One:

Part Two

Part Three:


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Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for posting that Matt. I really enjoyed their conversation.

8:31 AM

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Yeah, thanks for drawing my attention to these, they're excellent.

In response to the question of why all the magnificence in the world necessarily needs to be explained from a Christian perspective, Denys Turner says something that I think really nails a critical point home:-

"I'm not sure that I would actually succeed in getting a merely philosophical argument going, which demonstrated that this fact that there is anything at all is in the way of being a gift of a loving God. I think that would have to be revealed."

Theists, like atheists, resort to reason frequently in their everyday lives. However, faith is surely a separate entity from reason. It is beyond reason, although whether that is good or bad really depends on the theist. If someone derives hope from abstract faith, and seeks never to use that abstract faith as a justification to harm others, then Hitchen's accusation that religion is "poisonous" (which actually sorta contradicts the theory of evolution) can not hold true.

There shouldn't really be a conflict between reason and faith because the two concepts inhabit completely different spheres of personal reality.

4:21 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


There shouldn't really be a conflict between reason and faith because the two concepts inhabit completely different spheres of personal reality.

I think that only holds true for the deist-type position though. Most other types of theism rest not only on the idea that the theist has access to some higher level of reality, but also that this level also manifests itself through very physical events - miracles, holy books, etc. It's here that faith and reason conflict. Believing that there's 'something' out there isn't necessarily an irrational belief, believing that - contrary to all the evidence - the Earth is only 5000 years old or that Popes can cure incurable diseases is.

6:39 AM

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

I totally agree. I simply believe that it's possible for faith and reason to coexist, and that the problems (that you describe) arise because people try to use one to explain elements of the other.

That said, another thought I had along theological lines is that a theist could simply choose to believe that reason is God, and is a representation of His will. In which case, faith and reason do not come into conflict, because the one is simply an affirmation of the other. I think that's where Thomas Aquinas might have been heading, although I really need to read more of his works to confirm that.

9:09 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

a theist could simply choose to believe that reason is God

Surely you're then just mucking about with semantics though? If God is reason, then all you're doing is changing the definition of the word.

A: God exists!

B: No he doesn't!

A: Yes, He does - because God is my shoe, and my shoe exists, so therefore God exists!

12:19 PM

Blogger Alex said...

My shoe exists, therefore God exists.

Good stuff. Oddly enough, that's basically what the argument from "anything at all" comes down to.

12:31 PM


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