Religious beliefs are not fixed, argues professor

Associate Professor of Philosophy Dennis Potter explains what's wrong with the new atheism. Courtesy of Jacob McMillan
Associate Professor of Philosophy Dennis Potter explains what's wrong with the new atheism. Courtesy of Jacob McMillan

UVU Associate Professor of philosophy Dennis Potter took on the so-called new atheists in a Philosophy Colloquium in LA 112 on March 10, arguing against their stated reasons for the persistence of religion.

Reading from his paper, “What’s Wrong With the New Atheism?” which was prompted by a disagreement with a colleague, Potter criticized prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris for their tendency to hold religion to the same standard of verification as science.

“The new atheists assert that scientific beliefs do conflict with religious beliefs, and since the former are very well confirmed, the latter must be rejected,” Potter said. “But then this raises a problem. If religion is irrational, then why do people believe it? The new atheists’ answer is that religious people are irrational. I want to argue that religious belief has indefinite meaning, and this fact better explains the continuing existence of religion.”

Drawing on the philosophies of Frega, Russell and Vickenstein, Potter challenged the very notion that ideas such as belief in religion could be accurately defined. “Their [the new atheists’] understanding of why religious belief sticks around is wrong,” he said. “It sticks around because religious belief is by its very nature, indeterminate.”

Following the presentation, Potter took questions from the audience, which afforded him the opportunity to put his arguments into more accessible terms. He explained that the essence of his position is that “science can do certain things and theology can do other things. They are different things.”

Attendance exceeded the room’s capacity to the point where audience members were sitting on the floor.

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