Calladus (yes, ME!) to speak at Fresno Pacific University

I just got word today that Fresno Pacific University has agreed to host a discussion (perhaps a short debate?) between myself and New Covenant Church College Pastor Loren Pankratz. This came out of the first lunch discussion I had with Loren as something that might interest both of us.

The details are still being worked out – what I know at the moment is that this will take place on Thursday, April 3rd, at the Fresno Pacific University main campus located at 1717 S. Chestnut Ave. Fresno, CA 93702.

The time for our presentation will be limited – probably about 30 minutes for both of us . We're still discussing possible topics. However, since I'm not a biologist I've asked for evolution to be off of the table. (Although I might be tempted to speak on genetic algorithms, hardware evolution or cellular automata.)

There is seating available for up to 400 students – but at this point I don't know how many will be in attendance.

At the moment, I don't know if this event is open to non-students or not. As I find out, I'll post it in my blog, along with time and exact location.

Partly, I'm extremely excited about this event, and partly I'm seriously concerned. I'll be representing CVAAS and all of Atheism and Skepticism to as many as 400 really smart students who have spent the last couple of years learning how to refute Atheism at this private religious college. Although, I do have hope! FPU is an accredited college, and it does seem to use evolution in order to unify biological concepts.

Me, I'm just some guy, you know? While I'm well-read in apologetics and secular philosophy, I don't for a minute believe that there isn't someone (many someones!) who can stump me.

Suddenly, I have a great deal of sympathy for Daniel. Except I don't get the “pray to a friend” life-line!

1 comment:

Peter said...

I'm an FPU alum and pretty much shed my Christianity while I was there, though I don't think that's a common experience.

Many of the faculty are, in my opinion, closeted non-believers. So closeted, in fact, that they will not even admit it to themselves (which makes sense, of course, because they have jobs to look out for, you know). The students, on the other hand, are mostly naive kids who grew up in evangelical or fundamentalist churches.

The upshot is that the faculty are of that ilk that will dismiss atheists as misguided because they simply don't understand the ins and outs of theology (in other words, "Come join our club, devote a couple decades of your life to maintaining this religious superstructure, start drawing a paycheck from it, and then you'll be just as insanely dedicated to it as we are"), while the students are still at that passionate, adolescent, uncritical, "How can you live without believing in God?" stage.

It's a tough crowd if you're looking to actually convince anyone of anything. The students are mostly insusceptible to reason, while the faculty are mostly weasels who can always figure out a way to say, "Yes, you have a point, but..." and then leave you in an inconclusive position.

But honestly, you are not looking at "400 really smart students who have spent the last couple of years learning how to refute Atheism." Really, you are looking at a bunch of kids who just want to be teachers or missionaries or other intellectually softball kinds of things, who would have a hard time refuting just about anything. They're a very conciliatory bunch. FPU comes out of the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition, which is far more concerned with service and being a "light to the community" than with proselytizing and shoving dogma down people's throats. I suggest you check out "The Fresno Pacific University Idea, which is kind of their core mission statement. It's filled with weasely-worded statements like "All authentic knowledge and experience are unified under God" and "the Gospel transcends the limitations of all cultures and ideologies and that inclusiveness enriches community." There's a required freshman class that is built from that "Idea" statement. That's what you're looking at, in terms of what they're about.

They're also some of the nicest people in Fresno. It's an extraordinarily friendly campus.

My advice, preparation-wise, would be to keep the discussion more like an "interfaith" one, where you are just explaining what it's like to live without God, because people at FPU really dig that kind of thing. Diversity, and whatnot. Is your event going to be part of their "College Hour" series? ("College Hour" is the FPU version of mandatory "chapel" that many Christian universities have. If it's still the way they did it a few years ago, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are more like church services, while Thursdays are more like roundtables and academic presentations. Students have to attend a certain number, not all, of College Hours each semester.)

Also, you are right that evolution is part of the curriculum. While the new math and science building does include the goofy and annoying feature of having a Foucault pendulum juxtaposed with engraved Bible verses that give the impression that these people are not real scientists, my experience was always that they only teach real science in their classes.