Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

In our series on atheism, we examine the question of non-belief in Antiquity. In the first part of this episode, we review Jan N. Bremmer's article in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism on the various ways certain philosophers spoke and defined atheism and/or agnosticism. We then discuss whether or not human beings can be moral without belief in god/gods. Are atheists immoral because of their unbelief? Is good behavior only possible for those who embrace religion? Can non-believers also live meaningful lives or is meaning only to be found through religion? Do people really need to rely on some kind of transcendent reality or supernatural entity(ies) to find true purpose? Ancient and modern critiques argue that morality and meaning do not require one to adopt a religious outlook on life.

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This week's podcast is dedicated to the social impact of atheism. Some people today are "coming out" as atheists and speak about how religion has negatively affected their lives. They also advocate for a complete separation of government and religion. In the past few years, we have seen the rise of what some call the "New Atheists". Often labelled as radical and outspoken, these individuals have made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions people through their writings; for example, just think of the influential works of the famous "Four Horsemen": Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. Many other prominent writers, bloggers, and vloggers have now followed their lead. But what exactly is atheism? How does it differ from theism and other forms of beliefs or non-beliefs? These are some of the questions we address in this episode.
 
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In this week's episode, we ask: How do people believe in the afterlife? It is an established fact that a person's culture and worldview shape their belief system and provides the language necessary to interpret and narrate cognitive experiences. Neuroscience has also clearly demonstrated - through a host of empirical research - that "mind" is not separate or distinct from body, but it is rather embodied. All experiences are thus lived out in the flesh. This is a direct challenge to Western philosophical thought which favors a mind/body dualism. Cognitive science understands "mind" to be an epiphenomenon of the brain; that is, people are not "souls" or non-material entities who will separate from their bodies at the time of death and live in the afterlife; rather, individuals are fully embodied; their minds (or being) are in the flesh. The current evidence shows that once the body dies and the brain shuts down, so does the mind. 


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A fundamentalist reading of the apparitions of Jesus tries to explain the conflicting accounts through harmonization; but the careful and critical reader quickly sees that this is simply an impossible task. These stories are not "historical" in nature, but rather "theological" (or ideological). The gospel writers clearly had an agenda; they wanted to convince people of their point of view. One way Christians sought to legitimize their claims about Jesus was through the use of the Hebrew Bible. In a sense, Jewish texts (but also other Greco-Roman stories) served as templates from which the gospel writers created their own stories about Jesus. In the podcast, we also try to understand belief in the resurrection from a cultural anthropological perspective, and briefly speak of how cognition and culture play a role in religious experience.

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Many people say they have received an answer to prayer at some point in their life. Some are convinced that God hears prayer. Christians even believe it can serve as a way to influence God. Through prayer, one can obtain financial success, experience salvation, heal the sick, and defeat the forces of evil. But how can we explain that people from different faith traditions – beliefs that are most often contrary from one another – all claim answers to their prayers? How can God answer different (and opposite) requests at the same time? Do Allah and Yahweh both answer prayers? What about unanswered prayer? Believers certainly pray that God would make the world a better place, but suffering and evil are far from being eradicated. Is there really a divine being listening to people’s requests?

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Many believers think their religion is the ultimate true religion. If people did not believe this to be so, they would probably just convert to another religion. This implies that other religions are wrong. Is there a unique true religion or are all religions true? How can one explain the different beliefs, practices and experiences of various religious traditions in the world? Can religion be understood in terms of culture? What is the role of culture, cognition and embodiment with respect to religion? How is religion to be defined?

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André Gagné and Brice Jones speak about their former religious backgrounds and escape from fundamentalism. Both discuss the social dynamics which shaped their former conversion experience and what has lead them to reconsider some aspects of their beliefs inconsistent with their experience of the world.

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We are happy to announce the launch of a new podcast entitled: Inquisitive MindsCritical Thinking on Religion, History, Culture and Science.

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