An atheist philosopher, a Christian theologian and a roomful of Stanford students converged at the Stanford Faculty Club yesterday evening for a discussion about the meaning of a well-lived life.
The event featured Professor of Philosophy Kenneth Taylor, who co-hosts the radio show Philosophy Talk, and N.T. Wright, a leading New Testament scholar who teaches at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, in an examination of the assumptions underlying atheistic and Christian worldviews. Dean of Religious Life Scotty McLennan moderated the discussion.
The event opened with Taylor’s and Wright’s views of the importance of human identity. The discussion quickly progressed onto differences between the speakers’ views on the capacity of science, the nature of history and the role stories play on societal and individual levels.
Amanda Reeves ’17, a member of Christian fellowship group InterVarsity, spoke to the importance of the discussion.
“I think it’s really important we’re having this event so we can ask these fundamental questions about who we are, why we’re here, what it means that we’re here…in an environment where we can see multiple viewpoints and be able to make informed decisions about what we believe,” Reeves said.
“It’s not very obvious, but if you look in the dorms or between friends these conversations happen,” said Rachel Lim ’17, another InterVarsity member.
Taylor and Wright went on to cover immediate elements of the atheist and Christian worldview, including morality, faith and the role reason plays in the “good life.”
Taylor said that he has never experienced revelation despite growing up in a religious environment, emphasizing the centrality of reason in his approach of the world.
Though Wright also spoke to the capacities of reason, he added that God has played a different role in his life.
“For me, God has never been an explanatory system. It’s almost been the other way around,” Wright said, citing Jesus as the human manifestation of Christian love.
Though Taylor and Wright disagreed on a range of subjects, both proposed that students should do their own research and think critically about how to live in the world.
“Read the gospels slowly and thoughtfully—get the whole sweep of the story,” Wright said.
Taylor posited that students should “never accept simple stories.”
“Be a participant in the building and making of the world,” Taylor said. “Be a part of this human endeavor to make the world.”
The event closed with audience-submitted questions concerning the application of the speaker’s worldview to issues of politics.
Bruno Babij ’17, who does not identify as religious, said he felt the event was especially important at a university like Stanford.
“I think it’s a failure of so many at Stanford to dismiss out of hand the Christian perspective, to not even entertain that,” Babij said. “So I think it’s definitely a good thing that we heard from a theologian tonight.”
Reeves added that she appreciated the public nature of the discussion.
“In the dorms, these conversations will always happen. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been up until 3 a.m. talking to my dormmates about these things,” Reeves said. “This is the first I’ve see these topics covered in an organized fashion.”
The event was co-sponsored by many campus religious groups—including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Reform University Fellowship, Cardinal Life, Chi Alpha and the Veritas Forum—as well as the Department of Philosophy, the ASSU and the Graduate Student Council.
Contact Madeleine Han at mhan95 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.