Sunday, April 10, 2011

Philosopher Denys Turner on the Difference Between an Atheist and a Negative Theologian

The commercials on KSKA (I know they call them sponsor messages or some other euphemism, but they are still commercials) announced that a famous philosopher would talk on "The Unknowability of God."

When Denys Turner came to the mic Friday evening in the packed room at UAA's library, he apologized. He'd prepared for a talk to maybe ten philosophers, not to a large crowd with lots of non-philosophers. And so he was going to read his paper which, he warned, would be a bit more dry than people might be expecting from the topic title.

Fortunately, the sound of the words rolling off his Irish tongue were a music all of its own, even if you didn't keep up with the lyrics. Basically, he was arguing that his adopted field - theology - was finally catching up with the rest of the academic disciplines (and some of their own medieval practitioners) in recognizing that some thing were simply unknowable, indeterminate.

This was the opening of the UAA Philosophy Department's 6th Annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference.

One of the issues that arose was the inadequacy of human language to talk about these topics.  I wondered whether it wasn't also the inadequacy of the human brain.  After all, dogs probably just don't have the mental capacity to a lot of things humans can do.  I'm guessing humans haven't evolved enough to grasp some of these things. 

In the video Turner is responding to a question: "How is a negative theologian different from an atheist?"

Fortunately, I didn't say anything snarky about the speaker to my wife during the talk, because it turned out that the woman we squeezed in behind in the packed room was Turner's wife with whom we had an enjoyable chat after the talk.

And one comment about the room. UAA's library addition has rounded corners and leans out toward the world. I've been to a number of talks and meetings in this room (Library 307) and I think its slightly amphitheater shape adds greatly to any talk in the room. For me, round rooms are wonderful spaces. This room isn't round, but it is at least rounded.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this topic. We were just visited by some Baptist Fundamentalist missionaries here in the Valley, which led us discussing in depth our Atheism. I've been told to "go to Hell" by those that don't wish to hear of my anti-theological beliefs. I always have to ask "which Hell"? When one does not choose to be a practitioner of organized religion or a believer in any "God" one is often seen as someone who is uncaring or not involved in the betterment of humanity. Such is not the case. Being a caring individual does not have to be an extension of practicing religion, in fact, if one is philanthropic in one's own right, then often times the true benefit reaches the people in need without a middle man reaping some benefit prior to the needy folks receiving their much needed assistance.

    Man evolved all over this planet. Associated genesis tales were spread through their communities either in written form or verbal tales. Death has always been a concern since we evolved to have large enough brains to understand cessation of life. Afterlife tales and rituals were propagated to explain the unexplainable. Once we evolved to become smart enough to question our existence and our surroundings we needed to create explanations. Why do many subscribe to the religions of the Middle East? Northern Hemisphere genesis tales, Judaism and Christianity being two that are very popular. The Aborigines in Australia were a society as many as 40,000 years before the first organized societies came into place in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia. Why do we now subscribe to the genesis tales of those that have been organized humans for much longer than the Middle East and subsequent European societies? Why does no one take into account the Asians that most likely came across the land bride into Alaska? They must have had some tales worth sharing and some God worth worshipping.

    People will often ask if science is "my God" but no. Our modern science has but scratched the surface of what it means to be human, on a planet a favorable distance from an average sun, in a small system of planets in a medium sized galaxy of billions of stars, with planetary systems of their own that we do not have the technology to visit.

    There are so many mysteries but I'm never willing to just write them off to "God" regardless of which one is referred to. Life is too fascinating to just leave it at that. There must be exploration and introspection. "God" is just to easy, and lazy.


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