Theo Todman's Web Page - Notes Pages


Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference

(Text as at 18/12/2010 12:00:00)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)

I attended the one-day conference on Religion and Naturalism and Heythrop on 12th June 2010. These events always promise more than they can deliver as far as settling (or even airing) the issues are concerned. However, it’s good to see philosophers and theologians in action, and – provided the event is properly followed up – is a good stimulus for further thought. What I think is fatal is just to pass on to the next thing; for then – in a few weeks – and lessons to be learnt will be lost.

In order to establish a jumping-off point, I’ve filched (part of) the programme notes from the Heythrop website. The original version, a generic link, has now disappeared.

Religion and Naturalism - 12th June 2010

  1. Motivating Introduction: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines ontological naturalism as the assertion that reality has no place for supernatural or other ‘spooky’ kinds of entity. Much of current philosophy operates within a naturalist paradigm, and therefore starts from a position that seems inherently hostile to traditional religion. How should defenders of religion respond to the naturalist challenge? Is naturalism a coherent outlook, or is it an illegitimate attempt to extend the scope of science to the whole of reality? Is a theistic worldview – in its implications for ethics, for psychology, for cosmology – on a collision course with naturalism? The distinguished speakers at this one-day conference, organized by the Centre for the Philosophy of Religion at Heythrop College, University of London, will be debating an issue that has become central to contemporary philosophy of religion.
  2. Programme: To encourage a lively and productive debate, each session has one speaker who is broadly sympathetic to the naturalistic outlook and one who favours a theistic position. In each ninety minute session each speaker will talk for thirty minutes and the discussion will then be opened to the floor for a final thirty minutes. To conclude the conference, there will be a round table discussion involving all six speakers, with the opportunity for further comments and questions from the floor.
    • Session 1: Naturalism and Metaphysics
      Paul Snowdon (Web Link ( Defunct) and Keith Ward (Web Link)
    • Session 2: Naturalism and Mind
      David Papineau (Web Link) and John Haldane (Web Link)
    • Session 3: Naturalism and Ethics
      Simon Blackburn (Web Link) and Fiona Ellis (Web Link)
    • Session 4: Reflections and Conclusions
      Round Table Discussion introduced by John Cottingham (Web Link ( Defunct)
I have to admit to having skipped the final round-table session.

There were four, as follows:-
  1. "Ward (Keith) - God and Metaphysics",
  2. "Papineau (David) - The Argument for Naturalism about the Mind",
  3. "Haldane (John) - Naturalism and Mind",
  4. "Ellis (Fiona) - Naturalism and Value (Take 2)".


I took notes, that started off more or less verbatim, particularly for speakers without hand-outs, but eventually I got tired:-
  1. Paul Snowdon1,
  2. Keith Ward2,
  3. Snowdon / Ward Q&A3,
  4. David Papineau4,
  5. John Haldane5,
  6. Papineau / Haldane Q&A6,
  7. Simon Blackburn7,
  8. Fiona Ellis8,
  9. Blackburn / Ellis Q&A9.

General Thoughts
  1. My comments (or intended comments) on the papers delivered can be found by following the links above. Here, I restrict myself to some general (and probably unsound) animadversions.
  2. The conference was conducted – and this was remarked upon by speakers on both sides of the theism / atheism divide – in a constructive and courteous manner. The atheists presented their case and challenged the theists to show that there’s more to it all. I was not convinced that the theists rose to this challenge very successfully.
  3. Except in the third debate, the contenders (on paper at least) would seem to be fairly evenly matched. The presentation style and clarity of the atheists was uniformly excellent.
  4. Unfortunately, it seemed to me that – despite his eminence as a theologian – Keith Ward isn’t a philosopher, and his talk was rather woolly.
  5. Also, John Haldane – despite being a distinguished philosopher (it seems) – gave the impression of overconfidence and of occupying the high ground. He didn’t follow his handout fully – skipping the bulk of it that allegedly contained his strongest arguments. If you weren’t up to speed on the arguments against physicalism in the philosophy of mind, you’d have had little idea what his objection was (or might be).
  6. I thought that Simon Blackburn’s talk on naturalised ethics was open to objection. There was a little bit of prodding as to just why he was justified in saying that certain things he agreed were wrong were indeed wrong (if the function of morality is only one of social cohesion), but the prodding stopped short of the Paxmanesque.
  7. Fiona Ellis was put in a difficult position following Gerry Hughes’s (Web Link) reference to her opponent as one of the most famous philosophers in the world. She read (the full version of) her paper quite clearly, but I couldn’t really fathom her message, especially as she ended up implying that she and Simon Blackburn were in substantive agreement.

Printable Versions:

Table of the Previous 4 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
13/06/2010 17:24:00 5560 Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference
13/06/2010 16:48:00 5443 Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference
13/06/2010 14:12:29 5296 Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference
13/06/2010 12:00:00 2785 Heythrop - Religion and Naturalism Conference

Note last updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
18/12/2010 12:00:00 None available None

Summary of Note Links from this Page

Blackburn - Naturalism and Ethics Blackburn & Ellis - Naturalism and Ethics - Q&As Ellis - Naturalism and Ethics Haldane - Naturalism and the Mind Papineau - Naturalism and the Mind
Papineau & Haldane - Naturalism and the Mind - Q&As Snowdon - Naturalism and Metaphysics Snowdon & Ward - Naturalism and Metaphysics - Q&As Ward - Naturalism and Metaphysics  

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

Summary of Note Links to this Page

Mike & Sylvia (29/12/2010)        

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note

Author Title Medium Extra Links Read?
Blackburn (Simon) Being Good - A Short Introduction to Ethics Book Medium Quality Abstract   Yes
Le Fanu (James) Doubts About Darwin Paper High Quality Abstract   Yes

References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Ellis (Fiona) Naturalism and Value (Take 2) Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Religion and Naturalism, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010 Yes
Haldane (John) Naturalism and Mind Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Religion and Naturalism, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010 Yes
Le Fanu (James) Doubts About Darwin Paper - Referencing High Quality Abstract Thomas Moore Institute Website; Seminar on Wednesday 25 March 2009 Yes
Papineau (David) The Argument for Naturalism about the Mind Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Religion and Naturalism, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010 Yes
Ward (Keith) God and Metaphysics Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Religion and Naturalism, Heythrop College, 12 July 2010 Yes

Text Colour Conventions

  1. Black: Printable Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017
  2. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - November 2017.Please address any comments on this page to output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this PageReturn to Theo Todman's Philosophy PageReturn to Theo Todman's Home Page