2016 Conference Abstracts


Irony of Atheism and Religion in Video Games by Ms Erin Archer from Concordia University of Edmonton

It does not take much to realize that the gaming community tends to attract many atheists. A simple look at my Facebook feed would indicate as much. Many of my friends consider themselves to be both gamers and atheists. Similarly, the Christian community can be reluctant to allow video games to be a part of every day life for young people. This is understandable due to the intense and graphic violence found in a large number of games, as well as sexual themes and questionable morals. However, this paper will attempt to examine the irony and accuracy – or inaccuracy – of these stereotypical positions by exploring and questioning various aspects of video games. Can video games be used to teach morals? What examples of Christian themes and symbolism can be found in video games? How do video games mimic the real world and how might this be a useful tool for working through real world issues of morality, sexuality, and identity in a safe, essentially consequence free environment? Is the divide between atheist gamers and Christian gamers necessary?

Unobservable Entities and the Problem of Divine Hiddenness by Mr Ali Aziz from The University of Alberta

In this paper, I criticize the most robust version of atheistic argument from hiddenness formulated by Schellenberg by bringing into play the epistemology of unobservable entities from philosophy of science. My aim is to demonstrate that according to both scientific realism and scientific anti-realism approach, science could not provide us with any indubitable belief about the existence of unobservable entities posited by the natural sciences. I particularly highlight the limited epistemic capability of those who are committed to natural sciences as their exclusive epistemic enterprise with respect to the external world. Then, I focus on how this idea affects the argument from hiddenness advocated by Schellenberg, specifically when one of his conditions of eligibility to believe in the existence of God with absolute certainty is ‘capability of meaningful conscious relationship’ with Him.

The Modal Argument Against Naturalism by Mr Andrew Brigham from the University of Ottawa

Imagine a possible world, W1, such that the inhabitants (a) believe that naturalism is true, and (b) always act in accordance with their belief that naturalism is true. I argue that W1 compromises creaturely well-being; that is because both (a) and (b) taken together permit inhabitants to rationally believe that they can act anyway they choose, for good or ill, out of duty, or not. Thus, in W1, there seems to be a conflict with affirming both (a) and (b), while at the same time promoting the maximization of creaturely well-being. If this is right, then it may count against naturalism in the actual world. I consider this argument in detail and examine and respond to objections throughout.

Atheism and Biblical Morality by Mr Chris Christiansen from ACTS Seminary

This paper will be about the objection of atheists that we cannot get morality from the Bible. Richard Dawkins calls the God of the OT, “the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.” Sam Harris asserts that “the Bible never teaches us to be kind to children but does give us instructions on how to beat them.” Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have similarily low opinions of Biblical morality and actually blame it for causing believers to act in irrational and dangerous ways. The methodology would involve looking at troubling laws within the Old Testament such as the ones about disciplining and even killing your children, stoning adulterers, and laws concerning rape. Secondly, it would consider the text of Deuteronomy where God commands the genocide of the Canaanites. Finally, it would look at the teachings of Jesus and Dawkins assertion that the only thing that made him tolerable was that he ignored the Old Testament. The Purpose would be to show Christians that the Bible does teach valuable morale lessons and how to share those with our atheist friends and relatives.

Does a Delayed Origin for Biological Life Count as Evidence Against the Existence of God? by Dr Travis Dumsday from Concordia University of Edmonton

Many have argued that physics provides evidence for theism, as the laws and constants of nature display evidence of having been fine-tuned to allow for biological life. (See for instance Barr (2003), Collins (2009), Lennox (2009), Leslie (1989), McGrath (2008; 2009), Ross (1991; 2008), and Swinburne (2004).) Others have objected that this evidence needs to be weighed against the conflicting evidence that life is a late phenomenon in the universe. For if God really wanted the universe to contain life, such that He specifically designed it with this in mind, why would He have set things up in such a way that it took billions of years to appear? To state the point a bit more formally:

Premise 1 If the universe was designed by God, then biological life would have emerged very early in its history.
Premise 2 But it is not the case that biological life emerged very early in its history.
Conclusion Therefore, it is not the case that the universe was designed by God.

Arguments of this sort have been employed by Everitt (2004, ch. 11) and Philipse (2012, pp. 187-188 and 276-278), among others, for whom the falsity of ID then feeds into a larger argument for atheism. Theists have in their turn suggested various reasons why the delay might have adequate justification, such that premise 1 is false (e.g., Evans (2010), Haught (2013), and Ward (2006)). In what follows I review and assess these suggestions, then present several new avenues of reply.
The remainder of the paper is structured as follows: in the next section I clarify further the nature of what I will label ‘The Delayed Life Argument,’ distinguishing it from certain related yet importantly different arguments. In section three I review and assess some of the existing theistic replies, then in section four turn to the development of some novel responses. The fifth and final section consists of a brief recap and suggestions for future work.

The Irish Funeral as Political/Theological Statement: Comparing the Funerals of Joyce and Heaney by Mr Michael Gillingham from the University of Alberta

Allan Hepburn, in his article “The Irish Way of Dying: ‘Ulysses’ and Funeral Processions” published in the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, argues that the “…Irish way of dying involves processions, publicity, and pictures. Especially at the turn of the twentieth century, the death of Irish revolutionaries had heightened significance because of the political uses to which a funeral could be put.” The unique political and religious environment of Ireland conflates questions of politics and religion in these very public events.  Hepburn, in his article, compares these public, historical events with Joyce’s depiction of Paddy Dignam’s funeral in the text “Ulysses”.  I am interested in applying Hepburn’s work to the public funerals of celebrated Irish writer James Joyce and the celebrated Irish poet Seamus Heaney.  Questions of politics, religion, Christian faith, and atheism are raised and addressed in both funerals. Joyce’s status as an outsider to Ireland and to the church is affirmed in his funeral while Heaney’s status as a son of Ireland with conflicted political loyalties and his relationship to the church and faith of his family are affirmed in his funeral.  I am interested in the uses both writers make of this final opportunity to make a personal, political, and religious statement.

Extinction and Eschatology: An Unlikely Hope by Mr Tyler Hamilton from King’s University College

This presentation will interrogate two contemporary yet divergent philosophical movements, both of which are implicitly atheistic and represent two different responses to the question of God in the 21st century. The first is movement to be examined will be the postmodern “weak” theology of John D. Caputo, with his critiques of traditional theology that seek to open pathways toward a God that does not exist but is revealed in excess as an insistence which calls forth responsibility to that event. This path denies the existence of God in the traditional and metaphysical sense but calls for a “saving” of God as the undeconstructable call towards responsibility to the other, placing the name of God directly in our experience. On the opposite end is the new movement known as Speculative Realism, as represented here by Ray Brassier, which seeks to overturn the phenomenological and postmodern insistence on our experience in the world as the center of philosophizing and move towards a recognition of the importance of a philosophy that takes account of the universe before us and what will come after extinction. Brassier seeks to establish nihilism as a challenge and an opportunity for philosophy, explicitly denying both religious faith and the importance of correlation. While Brassiers project seeks to undermine the Christian faith, so to does it seek to undermine the project of postmodern theology. After examining these two movements as exemplified in these key thinkers, we will then move towards a critique and creative synthesis that will create space for thinking of the Christian faith outside of the “saving” work of the Postmoderns and a towards a renewal of eschatology as against Brassiers emphasis on extinction.

Why Divine Self-Disclosure is Not Desirable by Mr Ataollah Hashemi from the University of Alberta

If someone seriously thinks about God and the attributes traditionally ascribed to Him, she might ponder that why God is hidden if He exists. The question that might pose serious concerns is that why God does not reveal Himself in the universe, why there are serious doubts regarding His existence among some rational and inculpable people, and why He does not reveal Himself in order to settle the worries regarding His existence. If God is loving and benevolent, He must not withhold this worthwhile and crucial relationship from His creatures –at least from those who are seeking it.  These questions have been matter of discussion from different aspects.  J. L. Schellenberg recently has developed an important argument for atheism based on them.  The argument is known as the problem of divine hiddenness.

The goal of this paper is to cast doubt on the model of divine self-discloser (i.e. God must be apparent for all the people who are eager to have relationship with Him) that Schellenberg thinks there would happen if there was God. Schellenberg argues God must indubitably reveal Himself in the universe in order to pave the way for a flourishing and positive relationship with willing people. I will show that this model of revelation has inevitable negative consequences increasing the possibility of shaping bad and negative relationship with God. I will show that if God revealed Himself, in this manner, the conception of God would be misconceived and the relationship with Him would be misused, and the fact regarding the existence of Him would be trivial, and consequently there would be negative relationship with Him and most of people.  So it is possible that there are non-resistant non-believers, but a loving God is not apparent in the universe as Schellenberg demands.

In this paper, first, I will try to illustrate the problem of divine hiddenness and Schellenberg’s argument. After briefly reviewing the discussion between some of the critics of this argument and Schellenberg’s response, I will show the unflavored consequences of Schellenberg’s model regarding the existence of God and the relationship with Him. The conclusion will be that since there would be inevitable considerable negative and unflavored consequences for God’s revelation at all the time in rational and indubitable manner for everyone, God refrains from revealing Himself in such manner because no relationship with God is better than a bad and negative relationship.

Perceived Religiosity and Moral Appraisal by Ms Courtney Hunt from Concordia University of Edmonton

The purpose of this study is examine the stereotypes associated with identifying as being non-religious and the tendency for morality to be associated with religiosity. Forty students between the ages of 18- and 24-years old were recruited from an introductory psychology course and from the cafeteria at Concordia University of Edmonton. The participants were recruited in order to examine the relationship between perceived religiosity and moral appraisal. I hypothesized that participants would view individuals identified as being religious as having higher morality than individuals identified as being non-religious. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of two groups – the Religious Group and the Non-Religious group. Participants read a description of a fictional university student, with the Religious Group receiving a description where the student was identified as a devout Christian and the Non-Religious group receiving a description where the student was identified as being an Atheist. The participants were then asked to rate the student on a scale of 1-10 in terms of morality, and filled out the five-item Duke University Religion Index (Koenig & Bussing, 2010) to measure their own religiosity.  A t-test  analysis found no significant difference, t(38) = 1.25, p = .11, between the morality scores of the Religious Group (M = 8.05, SD = 1.43) and the Non-Religious group (M = 7.45, SD = 1.61). A Pearson’s r analysis found no significant relationship, r(38) = 0.04, p = .40, between the morality scores  (M = 7.75, SD = 1.51) assigned to the fictional student and the religiosity scores (M = 12.63, SD = 5.61) of the participants. My results contradicted those of the existing literature, and this may be due to the restricted population being studied, the limited measurement of morality, and the potential for response bias.

The Moral Culpability of Choosing to Believe (in God) by Dr David Kyle Johnson from King’s College

Clifford argued that faith is always wrong. James argued that, in religious matters, one often has the right to believe what one chooses. It seems that they were speaking to moral (and not just epistemic) questions, but they said little about the “dangers” of faith and religious belief and the moral culpability that might accompany it which drives many to reject religious associations today.

Suppose one admits that the evidence for and against God are a wash. Is it morally acceptable to choose to believe God exists anyway if some are harming others in the name of God? To what extent is one morally culpable if a group to which they have chosen to belong is harming others?

Suppose one admits that there are no good answers to evidence or arguments against God’s existence, but chooses to believe that God exists anyway? Is it morally acceptable to choose to ignore the evidence when others doing so promotes pseudoscience and irrationality that fuels climate change denial and anti-vaccination campaigns?

Or suppose one admits, as Kierkegaard did, that faith in God is absurd but that one should still embrace it because it is the only way to attain a higher good. As an example of faith done right, Kierkegaard used the story of Abraham and his call to sacrifice his son Isaac. From a rational standpoint, Kierkegaard admitted, such an act would be immoral—one should simply ignore such concerns and take the leap of faith. But does this not mirror precisely the reasoning that an abortion clinic shooter, a suicide bomber, or an ISIS jihadist would employ to justify their actions?

Given such concerns, I will build and evaluate the case that choosing to believe in God by faith is immoral. I will conclude by replying to objections and also suggesting that my argument can be applied to religious belief more broadly.

The Power of Myths to Speak to Pre-Theoretical Religious Commitments by Mr Stefan James Knibbe from The Institute for Christian Studies

Why is it that debates about God’s existence or character so infrequently result in real changes of opinion?
In this paper, I draw on the work of C. S. Lewis and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven to argue that our worldviews are not only the result of reflection. Rather, our most revelatory experiences of the world make themselves known in deeply felt religious commitments. These revelatory experiences do not reveal the facts of existence (in the scientific sense). Rather, they speak to the meaning or value of the universe, and might be expressed in religious commitments like: the world is cruel and unfair, life has meaning, the universe is indifferent, etc. Only then are the broader beliefs formed (individually and communally) to express, expound upon, and justify these experiences.

If we simply try to argue our case, without speaking to our discussion partner’s experience of the world, we will not be met with success. Revelatory experiences typically go too deep to be extricated by mere logic. Pushed too far by argument, most people will abandon their belief in reason before denying the truth of such experiences.

If Christians and atheists really wish to speak to each other’s most powerful experiences of the world, we must do so through myths and stories. The power of myths, be they pagan, Christian, or secular, is that they can present the world as we experience it, and allow that presentation to speak to the experiences of the recipient, drawing out aspects that were present, but unacknowledged, and putting others new contexts.
A book like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe does not argue the case for Christ. It asks the reader, is this too, not the world you are living in?

Evil – Nature – God: Three Critiques by Dr Nathan Kowalsky from St. Joseph’s College, University of Alberta

The problem of natural evil can only be articulated within the context of certain unexamined presuppositions about evil, nature, and God. First, evil is assumed to be equivalent with suffering or pain. Second, nature is assumed to be at least partially evil because it systematically inflicts pain and suffering onto sentient beings. Third, it is assumed that God is morally required to eliminate the pain or suffering of sentient beings (all else being equal). I dispute these three axioms as follows. First, it is not a foregone conclusion that the suffering of individuals is fundamentally “the unjustifiable” (Nabert), that which “absolutely should not have occurred” (Dews). Second, environmental ethics makes it clear that the value of nature does not reduce to its instrumental value for individual beings. Third, the concept of the holy (Otto) and the critique of onto-theology (Heidegger) place the divine outside any creature’s intellectual or moral demands. With these alternative premises in place, the problem of natural evil collapses.

“I’ll Give Him Time”: Archbishop Rowan Williams on The New Atheism by Dr Stephen Martin from The King’s University

When Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, it caused waves of excitement among Christian intellectuals. Here was “a formidable theological intelligence” taking a significant office not only in the Christian church but in an increasingly skeptical English society. But Williams had the (mis) fortune of becoming Archbishop during the most contentious moment in the history of the Church of England, and at a time when, fuelled by the September 11 attacks, a newly militant atheism was asserting itself in public debate. Much has been written about the former challenge. How did Williams handle the latter challenge? This paper focuses on Williams’ with Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (2006), and focuses on the Archbishop’s integral and spiritual, rather than simply intellectual, response.

The Religion of Atheism: The Wrath of Man Against God’s Unrighteousness by Mr Andrew McDonald from Concordia Lutheran Seminary Edmonton

It’s become increasingly common for theists to call atheism a religion—and atheists hate hearing this claim. Proponents of atheism are quick to dismiss this idea, often with skewed definitions of religion and faith. But is there anything to this claim? And if so, what kind of religion is atheism? In this paper, I argue that one can call atheism a religion, but only if we use a broad understanding of that term. I do so by drawing on dictionary definitions of religion, as well as popular understandings that atheists and theists use in their writings. I also examine some problems with the way atheists tend to define faith.

I then pose the question: if atheism is a religion, what sort of religion is it? I conclude that it is a peculiar religion, since it defines itself by its opposition to traditional religions. Drawing on the writings of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Ricoeur, and Alister McGrath, I argue that atheism sees god (and religion) as the great enemy of humanity. By exposing religion as fraudulent and evil, it hopes to set people free from its poisonous influence. Atheists hope that by doing so, they can improve the lives of others, and help civilization progress. While theists reject this overall message, there is something admirable about its “moral seriousness,” as McGrath calls it. I then conclude with some appeals to Christians who wish to dialogue with atheists.

Is God Even Possible? Leibniz’ Modal Proof for the Existence of God by Dr Alan McLuckie from the University of Alberta

In the Philosophy of Leibniz, Bertrand Russell examines Leibniz’ proofs for the existence of God, calling them ‘the weakest part of Leibniz’s philosophy, the part most full of inconsistencies’ (Russell 172). While Russell’s criticisms of Leibniz’ proofs are legion and often overlapping, I evaluate Leibniz’ version of the Ontological Argument in light of Russell’s two main criticisms. First, Russell accuses Leibniz of illegitimately employing existence as a predicate in establishing God’s existence. Against Russell, I show that Leibniz’ version of the Ontological Argument is meant to mathematically delineate what properties God has, one of which is necessary existence, rather than simply adding existence to the idea of God. Nevertheless, while Leibniz accepts that God’s existence follows from his essence, he recognizes an incompleteness in the Ontological Argument, claiming that if the concept of God is internally incoherent, then the Ontological Argument fails to get off the ground. Thus, Leibniz seeks to amend the issue by supplying a modal proof which demonstrates God’s possibility, thereby grounding the Ontological Argument. Russell’s second criticism of Leibniz’ Ontological Argument is that the reasoning that supports this modal proof ‘belongs rather to the cosmological proof’ (Russell 173). In this circumstance, Leibniz’ so-called proof from possibility would be nothing more than a causal proof masquerading as a modal proof. This diagnosis notwithstanding, Leibniz’ insistence on providing a mathematical demonstration for the existence of God seems to indicate that he is offering something quite different than a causal proof. I will suggest a reading of Leibniz’ modal proof as demonstrating the ontological grounds for any possibility whatever while neutralizing the appeal to a posteriori reasoning.

Nietzsche: Master of Suspicion or Mastered by Suspicion?  (Reclaiming Hermeneutical Suspicion) by Mr Jahdiel N. Perez from Harvard University

Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud are the fathers of modern atheism, the apostles of unbelief. Few people have critiqued religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, more incisively than they. Marx argued that Christian faith was “the opium of the people,” one that serves the interests of capitalism. Nietzsche lambasted Christianity as a herd religion of weak and slavish resentment. And Freud diagnosed belief in God as a psychological crutch, a projection of an all-too-human wish fulfillment for paternal security. For him, “the whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality.”

Despite their deep methodological differences, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud wield a common weapon against the Christian faith: a hermeneutics of suspicion. In his 1970 Freud and Philosophy, Paul Ricoeur first and famously calls them the “masters of suspicion.” In this paper, I will focus on the middle member of our triad: Nietzsche. My purpose here is to delineate some structural features of hermeneutical suspicion, specifically in Nietzsche’s thought, in order to observe how it was, is, and will continue to be weaponized against Christianity. Hermeneutical suspicion is a source for countless possible criticisms of the Christian faith. It operates in feminist, black, LGBTQ, decolonial, postmodern, and religious critiques of Christianity, to mention a few. As such, the Christian faith cannot hope to respond to its various objectors and opponents without addressing the hermeneutical source of their criticisms. As I will demonstrate, there is nothing essentially atheistic about hermeneutical suspicion. Atheists have hijacked it and effectively wielded it against us. It is time for Christians to reclaim a hermeneutic of suspicion and begin to use it against our cultural critics, like the “New Atheists”, in the field of apologetics. Doing so enables us to demonstrate that far from being a “master of suspicion” Nietzsche was mastered by suspicion.

Silly Things We Apologists Say: 4 Bad Arguments Against Atheists by Mr Jahdiel N. Perez from Harvard University

“There are four very basic moves we Christian apologists make in engaging our atheist that seem bad, brittle or unsatisfactory to me. The first is captured in the increasingly popular expression, “I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist.” This witty phrase communicates a distorted view of faith and reason, which is counterproductive to the purposes of Christian apologetics. Second is the common rebuttal against postmodern skepticism, which has factored into the atheism debate, that to say something like “There is no truth” is necessarily self-refuting and self-defeating. This assumes a naïve philosophy of language. A simple semantic distinction made by the Polish logician Alfred Tarski can lend sense to claims like “there is no truth.” Nietzsche has hermeneutical and philosophical resources to motivate it as well. Third is the common quip that a particular philosophy or worldview is false or less true or untenable if it is unlivable. This response misses a fundamental point our interlocutors are trying to make. Lastly, apologists invoke logical fallacies often. It is common to call upon the “genetic fallacy” to refute claims, reinvigorated by Richard Dawkins, that Christians believe in the Gospel not because it is true but because we were raised in a Christian context and socially conditioned to believe accordingly. Had we been born in India, we would believe Hinduism is true. As I will show, it can no longer be taken for granted that a fixed category of formal or informal logical fallacies can always authoritatively distinguish right from wrong ways of thinking, irrational from rational thought processes in particular discourses. I trust that calling attention to these weak links will invite further discussion that will ultimately improve and empower apologetics it to fulfill its God-given task more effectively, to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I am not in any way offering a destructive critique of Christian apologetics or apologists, as if I did not belong to this community myself – far from it. My hope is that in raising and addressing these concerns we can subsequently improve apologetics, be better prepared to engage atheism in pop culture, and fulfill our God-given task more effectively, to the glory of our Lord.

The Representational (Metaphysical) Limitation of Science and its Implication for Thinking about God by Mr Finney Premkumar from Truth Matters International

What does science and especially the laws of physics tell us about the cosmos we inhabit?  From Lavoisier’s quantitative chemistry experiments that showed the conservation of matter and Faraday’s introduction of the notion of forces down to Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, science seems to provide a special sort of privileged access to reality. This presumed access is in turn often utilized as a framework for denying the existence of God by many Atheists.  However, can this access or metaphysical reach which has been historically assumed by the “received view” be sustained? Can the ‘empirical claims’ of science lead to ‘existence claims’ or Truth such that science can be shown to have the requisite representational power that has customarily been attributed to it? If not, what are the implications for Atheists and Christians and how both communities think about God? This brief paper will, first and foremost, discuss the nature of science (especially physics) and its rigorous methodology in an effort to show that it is not necessarily truth-conferring i.e., get us to what Richard Rorty called a ‘final vocabulary’ or truth. While satisfaction of a given theory by the rules of method might warrant acceptance of the theory, it is not thereby truth conferring since its reliability or confirmation does not exemplify nor explain why it conduces to truth in a non-epistemic sense.  Accordingly, I will argue that the non-representational and therefore non-truth conferring status of science undermines its usage by Atheists as the foundational paradigm for denying the existence of God. As such, I will conclude by re-describing the boundary lines for limited Atheistic deliberations about the existence of God and by re-directing the kinds of bold extensions Theists can make in their case for God, in light of the non-representational status and limited methodology of science.

Atheism and the Pale Blue Dot by Dr Randal Rauser from Taylor Seminary

Many people believe that the universe’s great size, age, and hostility to life support atheism. In this presentation I analyze and critique this common assumption. I begin by distinguishing between formal arguments for atheism based on suppositions of the kind of universe an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being would create, and a general incredulity. This latter response appears to treat observations about size, age, and/or hostility as an occasion to form the properly basic belief that the universe was not created by a benevolent and omnipotent deity. In response, I offer a critique of one form of the formal argument by claiming that we lack grounds to believe that the universe as it currently exists is unlikely given the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity. Finally, I conclude that the greater challenge for theism is the latter approach which is rooted in a general incredulity.

The Ontological Proof Fails – For the Love of God by Dr Charles Peter Rodger from the University of Alberta

The proofs for God once commanded the serious thought and attention of the greatest of philosophical minds. Today by contrast, particularly in the company of atheistically inclined philosophers, one is liable to hear these arguments dismissed on the basis of formulaic and thoughtless platitudes. The aim of the present paper is to reawaken us think through the rich philosophical significance of the ontological proof.
In the first part of the paper, extending the argument presented in Terrance Penelhum’s “Divine Necessity,” I argue that the consequences of rejecting the ontological proof are far greater than is usually thought. In particular, if the ontological proof is in principle impossible, then (a) the principle of sufficient reason is false, and (b) the project of philosophy as traditionally conceived is fundamentally unintelligible.

My aim, however, is not to provide a reductio argument for the ontological proof. To the contrary, in the second half of the paper I suggest that the ontological proof ought to be rejected insofar as it does not lead to but excludes the Christian God. Following the late Schelling, I argue that kind of God that can be thought and affirmed within the confines of the ontological proof is merely the God of the philosophers, i.e., a God that is ultimately identifiable with Reason. By contrast, at least on Schelling’s account, precisely in thinking through the failure of the ontological proof, the space is opened up for philosophy to genuinely and positively think of a personal God who is not irrational but suprarational, that is a personal being and personality who acts in excess of reason, namely from love.

Locke and Natural Religion by Dr Elliot Rossiter from Concordia University of Edmonton

There has been a great deal of speculation about the religious commitments of John Locke, beginning with the controversy generated by the first publication of his major works in the 1690s and leading up to the present day. Some argue that he is a fairly orthodox Anglican, while others maintain that he is heterodox in various ways, perhaps even that he is an atheist. I argue that while Locke was quite guarded about his religious commitments, he nevertheless was quite clearly committed to the project of natural religion. I begin by briefly explaining what natural religion is in the context of late 17th century England. Broadly understood, natural religion consists in what can be known about God and our duty by natural reason, independent of revelation. I then show how some important themes in Locke’s major works make sense in light of his commitment to natural religion. I conclude by exploring some ways that the project of natural religion supported by Locke contributed to the process of secularization in Western Europe during the enlightenment.

Wineskins Without Wine: Religion for Atheists? by Dr Dale Schlenker from Concordia University of Edmonton

The development of the classical tradition in the social sciences, specifically Sociology, is replete with contributions from atheists and agnostics who point to the influence of religion as an inadequate base to modern industrial society.  In a recent work – “Religion for Atheists” (2012) – Alain de Botton references the seminal contribution of French Sociologist Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who many credit as being both the Father of Positivism and the Father of Sociology.   Comte is well known for his “Religion of Humanity”, modeled on the hierarchical structure of Catholicism, purporting that science must replace the supernatural and fulfil the evolution of human intellect in order to achieve a stable modern social order.  De Botton, like Comte, maintains the need for the communal dimension of religious institutions, its virtues, rituals, symbols, architecture and art, to inspire the modern soul in a secular age.

While not embraced by all sociologists, the role of atheism, and for some agnosticism, is reflected in many of the early contributions to the development of the discipline.  Comte, Marx, Durkheim, and Pareto, to name a few, declared a reduced, symbolic, or nonexistent role for supernatural belief in an ascendant industrial society. However, this declaration of independence from religion, evidenced in the European tradition, was not as enthusiastically endorsed with the migration of the social sciences, especially Sociology, to American institutes of post-secondary education.  Two renown Sociologists at Harvard University – Pitirim Sorokin and Talcott Parsons, proposed the indispensable and requisite contribution of religion to the ongoing functioning of the social system. Parsons, in particular, points to the pivotal role of religion in sustaining the “latent pattern maintenance” of the social system, flagging the issue of the consequences of the decline of religion in contemporary society.

This paper, apart from reviewing the atheistic emphasis in the development of Sociology, provides a preliminary empirical exploration of the “consequential dimension” of religion versus no religion, utilizing data from Canadian National Election Study of 2011.

There Arose Another Generation: Learning from Atheistic and Agnostic “Nones” Who Have Left the Church by Dr Cory L. Seibel from Central Baptist Church of Edmonton

In recent years, a flurry of publications has been dedicated to analyzing the growing number of people who identify as “Nones” within North American society. Various studies have demonstrated that, while this is not exclusively a generational phenomenon, a large proportion of Nones is concentrated in the post-Boomer, postmodern generations. Understanding this data can be challenging for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the “Nones” descriptor is actually a rather imprecise category encompassing a broad range of postures and attitudes toward faith. Some Nones consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious,” while others simply are not particularly interested in spiritual matters. Some Nones are devout atheists, while others would be more comfortable identifying as agnostic. This paper explores one subset of the Nones population: those individuals who were raised within the church, but who now describe themselves as atheists and agnostics. This paper summarizes findings from various studies to account for why individuals fitting into this category have chosen to leave the Christian faith behind.  The paper concludes with a series of recommendations about what the church might learn from the experiences and insights of this group of atheistic and agnostic post-Boomer Nones. Constructive proposals are advanced regarding how these insights could inform congregations’ faith formation efforts among rising generations. Drawing predominantly upon social-scientific and theological sources, this paper makes a positive contribution to the conversation on intergenerational ministry by helping churches understand factors that have led their sons and daughters to reject the faith and by proposing changes that could help to enhance their faith formation efforts in the future.

Why Atheists Should be Anti-Natalists: The Argument from Evil and the Ethics of Procreation by Mr Matthew Small from the University of Western Ontario

While many atheologians regard human suffering as detrimental to the proposition that a loving, omnipotent God exists, few see it as a serious challenge to the proposition that we are morally justified in having children.  My paper establishes the inconsistency of this position, by underscoring an unnoticed overlap between the hidden premises of the argument from evil and the explicit premises of anti-natalist argumentation—exemplified by David Benatar (2006).  This overlap binds proponents of the argument from evil to the view that procreation is morally objectionable. This should trouble atheists such as Richard Dawkins (2006), Christopher Hitchens (2007)…etc., who regard the abandonment of theism as a life-affirming, humanistic move.  The first section of my paper discusses the logical and evidential arguments from evil, and follows Eleonore Stump (2010) in bringing the Thomistic definition of love to bear on the problem.  However, rather than defending a Thomistic theodicy, I use the definition to illuminate assumptions undergirding the claim that human suffering contradicts the existence of a loving God.  If love means “desiring the good of the beloved,” then human suffering will contradict the existence of a loving God, only if it impedes the human good.  To insist upon a contradiction between suffering and a loving God is therefore to imply that the good is rendered unattainable by suffering.  And this supports Benatar’s claim that procreation can never be for the sake of the resulting child.  The second section deals with a weaker argument from evil, which claims that God is blameworthy for subjecting us to pain.  I point out that if this is explained by the maxim (central to Benatar’s anti-natalism) that “it is wrong to subject others to unnecessary suffering,” then parents are equally blameworthy.  I then critique several methods of resisting the moral symmetry between divine and human parenthood.

Theism, Atheism, and the Ethics of Hope by Dr Jonathan Strand from Concordia University of Edmonton

Among philosophers and others, it is commonly thought that religious beliefs are instances of “wishful thinking” (believing beyond what the evidence justifies, because one wants it to be true). It is also commonly believed that one ought not engage in such believings; they are, broadly speaking, unethical.

This presentation will argue that even if (for the sake of argument) religious beliefs involve having more confidence in those beliefs than the objective evidence justifies, those beliefs may still be ethically justified or even obligatory.

The argument will begin with the observation that in “situations of possible tragedy” people are often more optimistic than is epistemically justified. When a loved one has just gone missing, people are often more confident that their loved one is still alive and well than an objective consideration of the evidence will bear. Yet we are rarely critical of people for doing this.

An analysis and explanation is offered: People in such situations face an ethical dilemma; no matter what they do they will be doing something which violates some prima facia ethical duty. But a person who did not respond with optimism—“holding out hope” in such a situation—would be violating an even weighter duty. So they are not doing something ultima facie wrong. In fact—because it is the ethically-best option—such optimism could even be obligatory.

The presentation ends with the observation that life seems to put us all in such a situation. If there is no God or afterlife, when we die we lose everything, there is no justice in the end, there is no hope for murdered children, etc. It is ethically justified, then, and perhaps even ethically obligatory, to be optimistic and respond with hope—even if this involves believing beyond what the evidence alone justifies.

Tell No Stories: Atheism in French Phenomenology’s Theological Turn by Mr Nathan R. Strunk from McGill University

In his book Experience and the Absolute, Jean-Yves Lacoste writes, “The disquieting hypothesis of a humanity that is content to live ‘without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12) must then be taken seriously. Atheism is not a theoretical problem, it is first of all an a priori of existence” (128). Borrowing directly from Lacoste, Emmanuel Falque structures the Metamorphosis of Finitude accordingly: “From immanence (chapter 1) to temporality (chapter 2), and from temporality to atheism (chapter 3), we do best then to stick to what is most basic…as belonging to the ‘world’, to ‘time’, and as ‘simply man’…waiting to be transformed or metamorphosed by the resurrection” (40). With all the recent debate surrounding the status of French Phenomenology’s “theological turn”, its adoption of a heuristic or methodological atheism has largely gone unnoticed even though it offers a third possibility for situating the “theological turn” among the disciplines; namely, in the field of philosophy of religion. The following paper begins by tracing the origins of this methodology to Heidegger’s prohibition to “tell no stories” in Being and Time and, in its support, his strikingly Augustinian conception of Dasein (“mihi quaestio factus sum”; Confessions 10.33.50). Next, the paper briefly evaluates the application of this methodology in Lacoste and Falque. The paper then concludes by considering various characterizations of French Phenomenology’s “theological turn” such as “apologetics” before turning to Jean Greisch’s tripartite distinction between philosophical theology, religious philosophy, and philosophy of religion. The paper argues that French Phenomenology is closer to philosophy of religion at least in its methodology and the atheistic horizon it accepts as a normative “a priori” even though it ultimately appropriates theological doctrines from a specific religious tradition.