Unbelievable Project: Atheist and Christian bloggers discuss

As part of the Unbelievable Project, I am taking notes and “arm-chair” responding to each of the Unbelievable podcast episodes satisfying a set of simple rules.

For a full RSS Feed of the podcasts see here.

Description of Episode

  • Full Title: Unbelievable? 18 Aug 2007 – Atheist and Christian bloggers discuss – 18 August 2007 — Two bloggers discuss God, faith & Church – Ian Thorpe & Jenni Hutchinson

    Ian Thorpe is an atheist and Jenni Hutchinson a Christian. They got chatting about faith after bumping into each other on the internet. They discuss whether the church is having a beneficial effect on society, Ian’s concerns over “fundamentalism” and whether you need to believe in God to be good.
    See Ian’s blog athttp://machiavelli.blog.co.uk/See Jenni’s blog athttp://vieira.blog.co.uk/

Download mp3.

  • Justin Brierley – Christian Moderator
  • Jenni Hutchinson – Christian
  • Ian Thorpe – Atheist


Ian – He’s concerned about the rise of Fundamentalism, and feels that you don’t have to be a theist to be good.

Jenni – Jesus as an icon (like clicking Excel – it leads to you to Excel). It is easier to be good when one is in a community , get support, etc… Also one should take the lesson from Jesus, and not act superior or shun those that are sinful but engage them in dialog and offer help.

Me – religions have had hundreds of years of constructing communities and support structures that just aren’t there for atheists. humans need community, and you get a lot of those benefits from being in a religious community.

Justin – I believe that we have an innate selfishness. Theologically we attribute this to the Fall, and it comes out very early on. Hopefully society helps to inculcate us with some values, but it does seem as if this selfishness is getting worse. What’s the solution to that? Can we help ourselves, or do we need someone else? I would say that as a Christian that Jesus Christ is what makes the difference, that’s where you have a hope of seeing change.

Me – It might turn out that, for some people, they need to believe that there is someone there even when the isn’t anyone there. This, however, does not speak to the truth of it. I’d ask, would a Christian have the same positive attitude if you replace Jesus Christ in the above with Allah – would you be supportive of more Islam in your community, because of the positive influence it has on youth, turning them around, because they come to recognize the power of Allah? It seems to me that this is another case of “if you agree with me, I want more of you, otherwise, no thanks.”

Perhaps, knowing this about human psychology, we could figure out a way of getting the benefits without all of the superstitious nonsense.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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2 Responses to Unbelievable Project: Atheist and Christian bloggers discuss

  1. Steven Winsor says:

    I see your making progress, Brian. You’re seeing that one of the benefits to religion is ‘community’, which humans seem to have a strong need for. It’s surely survival trait-related. You want the ‘superstitious nonsense’ gone…yet I think you know this is about as impossible a task as one could ever set out to achieve. It’s never going to happen. Some large percentage of the human population has a need to believe in ‘superstitious nonsense’. I don’t…but only because I’m not human. 🙂

  2. brianblais says:

    ” about as impossible a task as one could ever set out to achieve”. I can’t agree. For example, witchcraft has been part of every society, has many parallels with traditional religions, and yet it has been truly marginalized in every modern society without having to enact any laws against it. All you need is a form of conversational intolerance – free reign to criticize any ideas.

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