Upcoming philosophy events

1. S.H.A.F.T. MEETING: The first Secular Humanist Atheist FreeThinker meeting will be Thursday, 9/18, from 6 to 7, in TSC 335.

2. PHILOSOPHY CLUB / PHI SIGMA TAU initial meeting: Thursday, 9/18, 7-7:20, Main 326. If you’d like to come and brainstorm over events to have over the coming year, please do. After a very brief meeting, we will go to the German film (see below).

3. GERMAN CLUB FILM: “The Counterfeiters,” an Academy-award winning film about moral dilemmas faced by concentration-camp laborers. Thursday, 9/18, Library 154, 7:30. Brief introduction by Professor Felix Tweraser.

4. S.H.A.F.T. SOCIAL: Friday, 9/19, from 6 to 7, in TSC 335.

5. KLEINER AND HUENEMANN DEBATE THEISM: Thursday, 9/25, from 4 to 5, ENGR 108. And with a twist: Kleiner will argue for atheism, and Huenemann for theism! Each side hopes to lose.

15 thoughts on “Upcoming philosophy events

  1. Mike

    “And with a twist: Kleiner will argue for atheism, and Huenemann for theism! Each side hopes to lose.”

    Awesome. Will there be a lot of silence in this debate?


  2. Doug

    Wow, that will be an extarordinarliy awkward debate. Imagine if John McCain and Obama debated that way!!

    Also, I love the name: Secular Humanist Atheist FreeThinker; although everytime I hear or read the word SHAFT…I just hear synthezied 70’s music followed by a deep voice saying” he’s a bad mother, shut your mouth”!


  3. Kleiner

    I told Charlie I am planning on drinking heavily before the debate in order to give the atheist a particularly bad showing.

    Surely the founders of SHAFT came up with the acronym first, then filled in the words later! I think I might start a Christian group, and tailor make our activities to the acronym. Maybe this:
    Friendly Unpretentious Christian Kayakers On Freezing Fjords


  4. James

    It was actually “SHAF” for a little bit until someone realized that “free thinkers” isn’t one word, and it allowed the acronym to actually form something.


  5. Jon Adams

    Doug: I helped name SHAFT and Isaac Hayes’ song was undoubtedly an inspiration ha ha. Another reason we used the acronym was that we originally wanted to do a “give your faith the SHAFT” campaign–or something similar.

    And I’m glad that “The Counterfeiters” will be getting an audience. I saw it a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it.


  6. Jon Adams

    I’ll be very brief and perhaps flesh out an outline later.

    Kleiner pushed the problem of evil. He did a fantastic job, but I think he was wrong to concede that free will adequately solves for moral evils. He did best in explaining the problem of natural/physical “evils” and in disarming Mormon responses to the problem of evil. At the end, he was asked to explained how he reconciles his Catholocism with the problem of evil. His theodicy was the Fall–that all evils, moral and physical, are borne of original sin–and the redemptive power of Christ.

    Huenemann argued that divine experiences, divine creation, and divine providence are all possible and may speak to theism’s truthfulness, and that theism had more existential power than atheism. From what I could gather, some theists in the audience were disappointed by Huenemann’s case for theism. They wanted the more traditional, metaphysical arguments. But I’m glad Huenemann didn’t make these arguments–they would have rung hollow coming from him, an atheist. Moreover, those traditional arguments carry too much religious baggage. The power of Huenemann’s case was in its simplicity.

    Both Kleiner and Huenemann, I think, stayed honest to their actual beliefs in this debate. Kleiner could sincerely advance the problem of evil because he does recognize it as a problem. And Huenemann could sincerely argue his case, because he does think that theism is possible (as most atheists do) and he is gripped by existential concerns (as all humans should be).

    So the debate wasn’t contrived; it wasn’t an exercise in sophistry. It was surprisingly honest, and I really appreciated that.


  7. Alexei

    I agree that I found Huenemann’s argument suprisingly strong in its simplicity. At the same time, it seemed like this made it so that Kleiner and Huenemann were arguing on a slightly different topic. Huenemann showed the possibility for theism and then appealed to reason, on non definitive studies showing a longer lifespan and higher quality of life for theists, to show that theism is the rational choice.

    Meanwhile, Kleiner’s argument, as he pointed out repeatedly after being badgered on it, was not an argument against the existence of a god, but rather the existence of the traditionally conceived God of the Abrahamic religions. That argument of course being the problem of evil.

    To me, both arguments were interesting on their own; however, there was no debate between both speakers. Huenemann’s argument was too general to go against Kleiner’s, and in turn, Kleiner’s too specific to counter Huenemann.

    For that matter, it seemed funny to me that Huenemann’s argument could more than likely be easily countered by his own reasoning. While there is the possibility of a divine being exisiting, one that we cannot perceive and operates outside our traditional framework of understanding, it is equally likely that it does not exist. Herein Faith comes into play–are you willing to believe in a possibility that can never be proven to be right or wrong, or do you rather choose to, appealing to reason, go assign your “faith” to the fact that since the existence of said divine being cannot be proven, in order to believe in it you’d have to forego reason: How exactly do you believe in something that cannot be, given Huenemann’s simple conditions, understood or proved either through science, reason, or philosophy while saying its an appeal to reason?

    At the same time, Kleiner’s argument is so specifically driven towards a particular god that it doesn’t so much argue against theism but rather against a particular form of religion–to put it in his words, it disarms the belief of a particular religious person rather than counter the existence of the divine.

    Anyhow, those are my thoughts on it. I found it quite interesting, but I’m off work now so I’m cutting it short.


  8. Kleiner

    Thanks for the kind remarks, Jon. I think the debate went really well, and we had a great turnout and lots of questions (mostly good ones too) from students. Kudos to SHAFT for organizing such a nice event.
    Before we continue with the discussion, I would like to concede defeat – Huenemann definitely made the better argument! :)

    Perhaps I did concede the moral evil point too quickly. There are certainly arguments one could make there, and I chose not to make them. Strategically, I think the problem of unnecessary physical evil is far more severe, so I focused my efforts there. But perhaps I gave the impression that moral evil can be very easily brushed off by the theist, and that would be a mistake (I think it can be explained more easily than physical evil, but it still requires some mental gymnastics).

    Since Huenemann and I took such different tacks, there was a sense in which our arguments did not neatly square off (as Alexei suggests above). That said, I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to tie the problem of evil to the more psychological argument that Huenemann advanced. I did so by arguing:
    The only good and principled reason to believe anything is because it is true. If a belief (or set of beliefs) is incoherent (contradictory, impossible, etc), then one ought not believe it. Huenemann was arguing that we should risk belief for the sake of the good effects that a life of faith can have (enhanced and wider experiences). But the belief he was ‘risking’ (I presumed and I think Huenemann would grant that it was a God traditionally understood) committed him, according to the problem of evil, to an incoherent series of propositions (that God exists, is all-good, is all-powerful, and that there is evil in the world).
    In other words, even if I cede his point that there are beneficial effects from believing, for those of us that are passionately concerned with the truth this is not a sufficient reason to believe. In fact it seems, more than anything else, to be an indication of psychological weakness on the part of the person that flees to the religious belief (an inability to handle the truth).

    Of course, some true beliefs might well have welcome symptoms when you believe them, but I am inclined to say that your beliefs should be motivated by truth rather than the consequences of the belief. Now I suppose one could respond by saying, ‘Well, who cares about the truth? This works for me, makes for a strong family and community, and that is all that matters.’ (Actually, I hear that basic line of reasoning with some frequency around here). I don’t really know how to respond to someone like this who simply doesn’t value having true beliefs (as opposed to just useful ones). Obviously they won’t be moved by argument so they’ve almost opted out of the philosophical discussion. To be perfectly honest, I tend to both ignore and look down on such people – they’ve opted out of active membership in the community of reasonable persons, and in so opting out have opted out of being taken seriously.


  9. Huenemann Post author

    I think the debate was a big success. A little after 5, we gave people the chance to escape, but half or more stayed for more discussion. It’s true, though, that our presentations didn’t address one another neatly, since we prepared them independently. Still, they were certainly close enough to connect.

    But I think I failed to make my argument clear. I wasn’t saying, “Give up on truth and reason in favor of the good feelings religion offers.” I was saying, “Pursue truth and reason to their limits. Then, when you still see the possibility of theism, seize it, since it will lead to a richer vision of experience.”


  10. Kleiner

    I didn’t mean to mischaracterize Huenemann’s argument, he was not arguing for a mere ‘this feels good’ theism. That said, even though he had shown that it was possible, once you pursue reason to its limit, to think of God (and religion) as a possibility qua creation and providence, he would still need to disarm the problem of evil in order to have his belief be rational. I don’t think he tried to do that in the debate. He argued for the rational possibility on his own terms, but not qua the problem of evil.

    So, Huenemann – Let’s assume that I, as an ‘atheist’, grant the arguments that you presented. I grant that there it is at least possible that God had a role in creation (in some manner or another) and that God providentially interacts with our world. I grant that if we seize on this possibility we will live a richer life. But I still keep pressing the problem of evil.

    How do you respond? That is, since you have not given up on truth and reason, how do you handle the problem of evil – which seems to show that the set of beliefs a theist has are incoherent (belief in all-good and all-powerful God while there also being moral and physical evil in the world)?

    Absent a response, my attack in the debate turned increasingly to something like this: ‘Since Huenemann seems to have no response to the problem of evil, but he keeps insisting on how much better it would be to believe, then he really has given up on truth and reason (no matter what he might say) since he is believing something incoherent merely for the sake of the effects of that belief. This is evidence of some kind of psychological weakness.’


  11. Huenemann Post author

    you’re right — as a “theist,” I better have some reason for not regarding the problem of evil as a total repudiation of the possibilities I advertised. I guess I would point to the possibility of divine providence: that, even with all of the suffering in the world, there still seems to be largescale moral and political progress over the centuries. It is possible that the seemingly huge losses we suffer along the way do contribute to the value of the whole. Not of course the happiness of the whole, but a deeper and more significant value. A victory won without serious hardship isn’t as valuable as a difficult struggle, etc. Moreover, it seems to be human nature to find some way of moving beyond losses and finding value in life once again — this may be an indication that God’s love is present even in horrific hardships.



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