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

This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we analyse Hector Avalos' book Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence in light of the recent clash between Ben Affleck and Sam Harris on Real Time with Bill Maher (see clip here). The question was whether or not one can critique religion, especially when it promotes bad ideas. Believing that one's religion holds the truth over all others will inevitably lead to conflict. Some see religious pluralism as a way out of this impasse, but according to Avalos, religious pluralism can be good only if it is subservient to secular humanist values. It is truly the only way to bring about non-violent global peace. But how do we contend with the fact that religions often oppose secular humanism's view of the world? Can we truly reconcile religious pluralism and secular humanism? We tackle these and other questions in this week's podcast.

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We continue our discussion of Hector Avalos' book, Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence. Scholars have a social responsibility to denounce false reasoning when it comes to religion and violence; expose lies which contribute to the detriment of humanity. For example, several biblical scholars and most Bible believers maintain the relevance of their sacred text through "hermeneutical gymnastics", by offering "new" interpretations of ethically questionable biblical texts despite the fact of misrepresenting their content. It is also often thought that scholars should not be critical when it comes to certain religious / theological beliefs and practices; but such a stance in the context of the university would be unique, since all scholarly fields should normally adopt a critical perspective in research. According to Avalos, biblical and religion scholars are responsible to "analyze how religion may contribute to the detriment or well-being of humanity based on verifiable facts and reason."

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In this last podcast dedicated to Critical Thinking, we tackle more common logical fallacies such as: Personal Incredulity, Burden of Proof, Tu Quoque, Reductio ad Absurdum, Begging the Question, Red Herring, Argumentum e Silentio, Straw Man, Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, No True Scotsman, and Appeal to Emotion. We wish to remind our listeners that you can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher, as well as on many other providers. Please take a minute to follow us on Twitter and "like" us on Facebook!

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As a follow-up to last weeks episode, we continue our discussion on the value of critical thinking. But one might ask: What exactly is critical thinking and what are the steps of inquiry needed to engage in such a practice? When tackling specific questions, people need to go beyond the descriptive and carefully analyse the topic at hand through the use of a coherent methodology, as well as to evaluate the outcome of any given inquiry. Failing to identify the implications of our reasoning is the most common mistake when attempting to apply critical thinking.

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At the start of the academic year, we decided to talk about the importance of critical thinking in the context of the university. Each semester, professors need to remind students that university life is designed to help them engage in the critical examination of a wide range of topics, some of which deal with various ways of thinking and diverse human experiences. This is especially true when it comes to topics such as religion and / or theological studies. In the context of a secular university, students are expected to learn how to think critically about different belief systems, ritual practices and experiences which are deemed religious. University classes are not to be faith-based, but rather fact-based. Critical thinkers are not afraid to have their preconceptions challenged. The university is a place where people can expand their minds and get a broad perspective on life.

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In this last episode on atheism, we critique Gavin Hyman's idea that today's atheistic discourse is a reaction to modern theological conceptions of God, as expressed thought the work of 14th century philosopher and theologian, John Duns Scotus. In reality, Scotus' theological language is not modern; rather, it is a return to biblical notions about God. Duns Scotus rejected Aquinas' doctrine of analogy and God's ontology in favor of the idea that "being" is univocal to the created and uncreated. In the end, is sophisticated theological discourse too virtual in nature?

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In our series on atheism, we continue our review of Gavin Hyman's article, "Atheism in Modern History." René Descartes' Cartesian model was the rejection of Thomas Aquinas' theological method, where human reason was subject to the authority of divine revelation. Aquinas emphasized God's transcendence through analogical language; he believed that this was the only adequate way one could speak of the divine. Many philosophers, however, insisted on using rationalism and/or empirical sense data, even in the realm of theological inquiry. According to Hyman, modernity brought with it a "domestication of God", where the divine was now defined in quantitative terms, rather than with qualitative language. But Hyman also sees the shift from analogical language to a more "hypostatic" and representational conception of God, as the result of theological speculation in the 14th century C.E.

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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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Embracing a Mind / Body dualism requires a leap of faith or a dose of magical thinking since one cannot explain how immateriality interacts with the physical world. But many people, nevertheless, hold onto such an illusion. For example, this is why some think that quantum physics has supposedly solved the "hard problem of consciousness". This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we briefly discuss the impact of Descartes' Cartesian dualism and its consequences for understanding the relationship between mind and body. We also notice that first-generation of Cognitive scientists (1950s-60s) adopted a similar perspective and but that a significant change was brought about by second-generation researchers (70s +): embodied realism. Our goal is to explore some of the philosophical and scientific assumptions behind common held beliefs about consciousness, scientific inquiry, quantum physics and the afterlife.

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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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