170 Renowned Academics Talk About Why They Disbelieve, or Believe, in God

Whether we choose to affiliate with any sort of atheist movement or not, many people raised in theistic religions came over time to see God as a literary character in ancient mythologies and historical fictions, as a placeholder for human ignorance, or as a personification of humanity’s greatest fears and desires. The notion that such a personal super-being actually exists has become for many of us, in William James’ terms, a “dead hypothesis.” As physicist Lawrence Krauss puts it in the video above, “there’s absolutely no evidence that we need the supernatural hand of God” to explain the universe. Religions give us fanciful stories, illustrate ethical (and unethical) principles, and enforce tribal loyalties, but they do not describe reality as it is.

We all come to hold our beliefs, or lack thereof, about religious claims for an irreducibly complex variety of reasons that are intellectual as well as moral, political, and emotional. Can we demonstrate, however, that “the more scientifically literate, intellectually honest and objectively sceptical a person is, the more likely they are to disbelieve in anything supernatural, including god”? Such is the thesis of Dr. Jonathan Pararajasignham’s documentary 50 Renowned Academics Speaking About God, which consists of edited clips from interviews with “elite academics and professors at top institutions, many of whom are also Nobel Laureates.” The claim appears on the screen in each of the three videos above and below, framing the interview clips as mounting evidence for the convincing case that disbelief is strongly correlated with, if not necessarily caused by, scientific literacy, intellectual honesty, and skepticism.

Since his first video, Pararajasingham has expanded his series to include 100 more “Renowned Academics Speaking About God.” (See Parts Two and Three of the series above.) On the videos’ Youtube pages, he anticipates a ready objection, writing, “I do not claim that this video demonstrates there is no God. It is not an argument against God in itself, so there is no argument from popularity and authority.” If you’ve already arrived at the conclusion, you’ll find it confirmed many times over by a cast that includes physicists like Krauss, Richard Feynman, and Steven Weinberg, philosophers like A.C. Graying, Bertrand Russell, and John Searle, and far too many more illustrious thinkers to name. (See a complete list on the Youtube pages of each video.) In addition to well-known atheist writers like Daniel Dennett, the series also features academics like anthropologist Pascal Boyer, whose book Religion Explained makes a novel and very persuasive naturalistic argument for why humans have believed in the supernatural for thousands of years.

Believers may counter with their own list of smart people who do believe in God, and who also work in the hard sciences and academic philosophy, including renowned figures like Human Genome Project director Francis Collins and physicist Freeman Dyson. Whether or not they’d wish to claim failed presidential candidate Ben Carson or religious apologists Dinesh D’Souza and Ravi Zacharias as examples of “intellectual honesty and scientific literacy” I couldn’t say, but all of those people and more are included in the video above, 20 Christian Academics Speaking About God, which Pararajasingham produced as a counterpoint to his 50 Academics series. Find the complete list of names for this video, along with links to complete interviews, on Youtube.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Sollipsist says:

    In a scientific study by scientists, 9 out of 10 scientists preferred to use science when doing science! Next up, we go to an art school to ask a bunch of artists which is better: art or tax preparation? The results may surprise you…

  • Luke says:

    Dear Solipsist, you’re missing the point: science is not a subject, is not a collection of stories facts and theories. Science is a collection of methods to understand the world as correctly as possible and as coherently as possible. A god might or not might exist and science might or might not come to a conclusion about that. But there are many religions in the world and they disagree among themselves: which one should we believe in? How can we decide? Ask a bunch of Christians: is Christianism true or is it Induism? Ask the same question to Induists. All religions claim to be true, but they can’t all be true. Religions disagree also with what we have discovered through the methods of science; methods that have proved effective in understanding what surrounds us and improving our lives.

  • Cecil says:

    How does inconsistency among religions and their beliefs prove that there is no God? You are acting under the assumption that if all religions aren’t 100% “correct”, then they all must be 100% incorrect, and therefore there can be no God.

  • Luke says:

    I did not say inconsistency among religions and their beliefs prove there is no God, but they do prove that religion cannot be 100% correct. However, religions claim to be 100% correct: how can we trust and believe in something that claim to be 100% correct but it clearly isn’t? Further to that, how correct do you think they are? How much agreement is there, for example, among Abrahamic religions and Indian religions, even ignoring their internal disagreements and inconsistencies? What about the evolution of religions, the rise of new ones and the demise of old ones? How can we get a guidance on anything from religions when within religions themselves there is no effective method to get closer to the truth? The main basis for a religion are beliefs: something static that is supposed to give you already the truth. Too bad that there are the aforementioned inconsistencies.

  • Wayne Hoss says:

    The Lords Blessing

    Because you came to me before the end
    Now it is for your soul that I will send
    You have realized your sin’s and that is good
    You are sorry for sinning against your brotherhood

    In the end you were no longer fighting Life
    You finally gave in to its strife
    You finally realized that I wanted you to love me by faith not fear
    That is why you couldn’t see me but knew that I was here

    At first you hated life and its demands
    Until you reached out for my loving hands
    Tell your family, “Please do not grieve!”
    For I promised eternity for he that would believe

    Tell them you will be waiting in the Promised Land
    Someday together you will play in the sand
    Tell them to go after that one that went astray
    Bring them closer, don’t push them away

    Work together, stay by their side
    Teach them my love, but don’t insult their pride
    Show them my love, raise their spirits high
    Tell your family I needed you here in heaven up high

    Tell them please do not shed a tear
    Before long they will join you here
    Tell them that I have forgiven you for all of your sin
    Tell them I also opened heavens gate to let you in

    Be a good friend and a good host
    Show them the way to the Holy Ghost
    Be there when they fall to lift them high
    Do all these things and they join you in the sky

    By: Wayne Hoss

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