Freethought Nation

Founding Fathers (Michael Allen Smith)

In the months leading up to the start of Fall semester, the Roanoke Times opinion pages hosted an illuminating exchange over the cultural dispositions and motivations of the Founders and the role of prayer in U.S. government. Bob Crawford began the discussion with a review and rebuttal of some of the most common arguments made in support of (by definition state-sanctioned) official prayer at government meetings, including an argument from tradition or precedent, an argument from founding principles, and an argument from neutrality or inclusivity (that is, the case for open-access prayer, which is currently sanctioned by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, as opposed to non-sectarian prayer, which the similarly-situated Forsyth County, NC, to which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a sternly worded end). Crawford concludes,

It is time we all understand that it is only by prohibiting our government from prescribing or supporting any religious position that our Constitution secures our freedom to hold our own religious views.

Comment on Crawford’s editorial here.

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What do we want from a Viewpoints on Social Science and Religion panel?

Old Rugged Cross (flickr)

Last semester, Free@VT hosted a panel entitled “Viewpoints on Science and Religion”. As faculty co-advisor–to-be Zack Lewis explained in his opening remarks, one main purpose of the panel was to illustrate, for the largely student and resident audience, how people who are not philosophers or theologians can engage in a respectful and critical exchange about their disagreements on religion. By this measure the event was quite a success. A review by Ryan Pfeifle in the Collegiate Times described the event as “a fantastic opportunity to listen to the opinions of several of our own professors discuss a very divisive topic”, and went on to highlight the importance of such events:

In a world so polarized in views, we need to have rational discussions or debates like this to serve as a model through which our own debates can also take shape.

These discussions open a window into the rationality and thoughts of those who may feel differently from our own convictions, which helps in the understanding of other stances.

They also have the fantastic potential of tackling some of the subjects that make most individuals uneasy and ideas that most would prefer not to debate about at all.

We are now in the early stages of planning a sequel event. Rather than return to the science–religion discussion with new faces—while it is something we may eventually do—this time we plan to bring together faculty in the social sciences to discuss their views on religion, how these views intersect with their disciplines, and the questions they have for each other.

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