Opinion: Honestly Confused
By Eduardo Wilner
Special to the Sun Star
Recently, the Socratic Society, in conjunction with the Philosophy & Humanities Department, sponsored a series of public lectures on objective arguments behind atheistic positions. Most notably, this summer we brought acclaimed Oxford Professor Richard Dawkins to deliver a public lecture that broke all previous records of attendance in the history of UAF (drawing a crowd of about 1,400 people to our campus).
There is a key idea in the previous paragraph that we would like to bring to your attention: that of objective arguments. Academic public lectures are not about opinions. We simply did not care about, for instance, what Professor Dawkins’ personal beliefs about religion were. We only wanted to hear how he objectively reasons this or that conclusion (in this case, about religion). We wanted to hear how, starting only from well-supported facts and reason, we (the public) must with him (the presenter) reach this or that objective conclusion. Academic discussions ensue if other authors challenge either the facts or the reasons. Now comes the problem.
After these lectures, the Campus Bible Ministries sponsored a series of presentations that, naturally, attempted to counter the atheistic lines delivered in the philosophy series. Their latest sponsored lecture, to be presented by Dr. William A. Howard (a UAF Associate Professor of Chemistry), bears the title “The Dishonesty of Atheism.” In his abstract, he explains that the Bible provides ample reasons for believing in God. Unless he is hiding his reasoning from the abstract, he seems to be arguing that what makes atheism dishonest is its refusal to follow Biblical demands (more precisely: that of believing in the existence of God in spite of critical reasoning and following exclusively the word of the Bible). Obviously, the conclusion of dishonesty does not follow. Dishonesty is not the result of sticking to reason. That is critical thinking, and one’s dislike of some piece of critical thinking does not make it immoral (e.g. dishonest).
We are surprised and disappointed by Professor Howard’s character attack in his title and abstract. Espousing our dear academic ideals, we would have welcomed healthy debate through reasoned arguments against our own. University lectures should not be used as venues to vent personal opinions (religious or otherwise). We hope that Professor Howard will provide us with an argument against atheism (instead of a demand to heed the Bible). If he does, he should modify his title to something like “The Unreasonable Nature of Atheism.” But if there is no objective argument in his presentation, then he should clearly announce that this is not an academic lecture. He should clearly announce that he is merely expressing his personal, religious views. Furthermore, if this is the case, he should also refrain from displaying his academic credentials. Displaying his professional title and field of expertise can mislead the unwary to believe that professional and academic constraints bear on the content of his presentation.
In the meantime, we will choose to believe that Professor Howard’s personal attack, calling arguments for atheism “dishonest,” was due to Professor Howard’s confusion, and not a non-academic disparagement for those that do not share his personal, religious opinions.
Department of Philosophy & Humanities
The Socratic Society
The Sun Star offered Professor William Howard the chance to write a column in support of his position. He declined to.