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Posted by on Jul 18, 2012 in critical thinking, epistemology, my appearances, philosophy, problem of evil, responding to arguments | 6 comments

Full audio and some text from my HACS talk

On July 17 of 2012, I appeared as a special guest for a philosophy class titled “Atheism and the New Atheism” for students at Holy Apostles College and Seminary – an evangelical Catholic university in Connecticut. I delivered an opening speech and participated in a question and answer session which followed. The entire event lasted one hour and thirteen minutes.

As promised, the full audio of the event was released and has been made available to the public thanks to Dr. Mahfood. Stream the audio here or download the ZIP file here. The audio is unfortunately spotty at points. I may release a re-mastered version of the audio at a later date.


A text version of my speech can be read here:
Holy Apostles College and Seminary Atheism and New Atheism Speech

(0:00 – 0:25)          Introduction by Dr. Mahfood
(0:25 – 0:47)          Opening prayer by Dr. Chervin
(0:48 – 1:50)          Introduction of Justin Vacula by Dr. Mahfood
(1:50 – 17:50)        Opening speech from Justin Vacula
(17:51 – end)          Question and answer session

Some of the questions and sentiments (paraphrased) in the question and answer session:
(18:13) Do you use science to determine what is true and false?
(20:33) What good reasons would be sufficient [for you to believe in God]?
(23:30) Do you only believe in something when all the contrary arguments have been resolved?
(27:06) Is there an objective standard for belief or do you have a personal standard?
(29:08) Do you believe something can be universally true?
(30:16) Are you dogmatically opposed, given your commitment to naturalism, to supernatural explanations?
(37:20) Would a supernatural experience lead you to belief in God?
(39:00) Are you looking for hard evidence to believe in God?
(40:52) What about faith?
(42:05) Discussion about the problem of natural evil and omni-attributes
(46:55) Theodicy: This is a fallen world/God’s goodness was evident, but is no longer
(49:20) Theodicy: There is a good that supersedes an evil world. Perhaps suffering leads to good beyond   this earth? Perhaps suffering is just a prelude to the afterlife?  
(52:00) Theodicy: Evil serves a purpose. We see examples in this world in which suffering is required to achieve certain ends.
(54:00) Omni-attributes seem to be a different matter from God existing.
(55:48) Are you an agnostic?
(59:40) Theodicy: Eternal happiness, in light of limited suffering in this world, seems not to be a problem.
(1:01:43) What about metaphysical arguments for God’s existence?
(1:04:00) Your philosophical studies seem to start with the Enlightenment. What about before that?
(1:10:45) How do you know that your reason without faith fulfills you?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Justin, My name is Eileen and I asked the first question after your above talk. Actually that first question of mine was asking you to draw out the distinction between you and Dawkins, who uses science to determine truth. Later in the talk you did mention “philosophical” as a criteria but that is still pretty broad. Could you refine that for me?

    • Thanks for commenting. I was having a tough time hearing you. I answered this one in the other thread:As far as Dawkins is concerned, he seems to think of God as a scientific hypothesis. In “The God Delusion,” he talks of God in this manner. I don’t find this to be helpful. While claims of religion may (and do) tread into the domain of science, God isn’t a scientific hypothesis. Science, as it seems, is concerned with the natural world and does not make claims about supernatural entities. If we start to talk about scientific explanations being better explanations than those given by religious persons, we then seem to be doing philosophy, not science. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens also receive criticism — and in some cases rightly so — of addressing ‘simplistic theology.’ I, though, make efforts to tackle some of what I see as the more compelling arguments and respond to more serious objections rather than what might be considered ‘simplistic theology.’

    • I am Dr. Ronda Chervin, Professor of Philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut. My parents, both atheists, met in the Communist party, but then left it because of the Hitler/Stalin pact. I became a Catholic at age 21. The story you can read on my web-site by clicking on free e-books and leaflets and scrolling down under leaflets to SAVED! I was part of the dialogue between Justin Vacula and our Atheism class participants. One comment I would like to make is this: A lot of atheistic literature goes into the subject of evils perpetrated throughout history by the Church. To become a Catholic from an atheist background I had to come to terms with this issue. Basically I thought “I live in the US and call myself an American even though we had slavery in our history and plenty of other crimes. Why? Because I believe that the Bill of Rights and Constitution is true, not because we have a pure track record of fulfilling the dream of our founders. In the same way, I believe in the Creed of the Catholic Church in spite of those, including myself,who do not live up to the teachings. The author of some 55 published books about Catholic truth, and a philosophy professor I do not defend these teachings on the basis of religious experiences but on the basis of reasoning.

    • Caias Ward

      But the Bill of Rights and Constitution are something we see in practice, a demonstrable road map to governance. It is a proven method, tested and retested. Meanwhile, the Creed is simply a statement of belief, and many of those statement of belief are begging the question.I think the evils of the Church actually support Justin’s view, in that why would a all-loving god allow such such suffering? Wouldn’t an all-loving god stop such an organization claiming its blessing?

  • Abby Hill

    Hi again, Justin. One thought has struck me as I continued to read your blog, and I might be off on this one so I wanted to just throw it out there and get your input and feedback on it. The thought gradually came to me that perhaps in some sense your atheism has become precisely that which you are trying to oppose: an organized religious system which seeks to propogate its ideas to others and incorporate them into civil society. Your battles to get Christian traditions out of the public square almost appear to me as a type of crusade… (and here I will add in Dawkins to this comment. As I read Dawkins there are many times where I would categorize his writing as a persuasive style, as opposed to unbiased syllogistic reasoning. I walk away from it with the impression that he is actively aiming to convert his readers.) Yet if we compare that to what I perceive as staunch atheism, your (and Dawkins’) seeming desire to spread your ideas is then a contradiction to your own system.As I’m reading over this comment I’m seeing it might be taken as a little accusatory — not intended! Just interested in your response to this thought. Perhaps I’m just mistaken in the premise that atheism is a disavowal of any set of beliefs and its propagation.Again, many thanks to joining in our discussions!

    • You know, I became an atheist before I got involved in any sort of pushback against organized religion or in any church/state efforts :)

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