1. Lots of interesting news on the how-can-we-be-sure-God-exists front. We’ve had our own part of that conversation, highlighting our own favorite Atheists and the hip trend of flogging Dawkins (dibs on Flogging Dawkins as a band name!). If the patterns are to be believed, it seems that the trajectory is toward a more humble, less aggressive atheism that acknowledges its own non-rational presuppositions. And humility is good for everybody, theist and atheist alike. Gary Gutting over at the New York Times sums up his series of interviews with religious philosophers, and while the ending seems disjointed (I’m an agnostic Catholic?), the middle is helpful:

G.G.: O.K., but at least aren’t believers who appeal to religious experience and metaphysical arguments admitting what popular atheism so insistently claims: There’s simply no evidence for God’s existence, and that alone warrants atheism?

g.g.: There’s no scientific evidence, but there are other sorts of evidence.

G.G.: I suspect that most atheists think scientific evidence — evidence that ultimately appeals only to empirically observable facts — is the only sort of evidence there is.

g.g.: That may be their assumption, but how do they show that it’s correct? It certainly isn’t supported by scientific evidence, since that tells us about only what is empirically observable. The question is whether there is anything else.

G.G.: Well, at least, atheists can try to show that the allegedly nonscientific evidence that theists put forward doesn’t support their conclusion. They can, for example, argue that the religious experiences are illusory and the metaphysical arguments are unsound.

g.g.: Agreed, but then they have to show that. They can’t just keep saying “there’s no empirical evidence” and think they’ve shown that a theism based on metaphysical reasoning or nonempirical experience is irrational. The core question is whether there is anything beyond the empirical — some transcendent reality we can call God. I think it can be rational to say there isn’t a transcendent reality. But to show that it’s irrational to say there is, you’d have to end the impasse in philosophical discussions of theism. That’s where atheism falls short and agnosticism is the preferable position.

Here what I’m saying about religion is what many rightly say about other strongly disputed areas such as ethics and politics: people on both sides can be reasonable in holding their positions, but neither side has a basis for saying that their opponents are irrational.

Similarly, over at the Atlantic, Crispin Sartwell outlines his own belief in an irrational atheism.

Religious people have often offloaded the burden of their choices on institutions and relied on the Church’s authorities and dogmas. But some atheists are equally willing to offload their beliefs on “reason” or “science” without acknowledging that they are making a bold intellectual commitment about the nature of the universe, and making it with utterly insufficient data. Religion at its best treats belief as a resolution in the face of doubt. I want an atheism that does the same, that displays epistemological courage.

The vibe both columnists arrive at is charitable: the religious and the irreligious can look at the same set of data and arrive at different conclusions. Still, there are points of data that we’d like to see examined more (like that one time two-thousand-some years ago where 500 people saw a dead man walking around again), but the conversation seems to be losing some vitriol, Thanks Be To God.

2. Speaking of the sacred-meets-secular-sans-vitriol, Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel Lila continues to receive high praise.  The “G”-word is all over the reviews. From The Chicago Tribune:

No writer can see life whole. There’s too much of it, too many sides, to be comprehended by a single vision. But some books give us a sense of such wholeness, and they are precious for it. “Lila” is such a book. In one of their first conversations, John Ames, the “old man,” says to Lila, “I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a deep mystery.” Then he adds, “You can probably tell I’ve said these same words too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” To which I would say, Amen.

And then this from Book Forum:

In telling Robby his story, beginning with the begats, Ames inexorably moves toward the mystery at the heart of life, that of God’s grace. “You never do know the actual nature even of your own experience,” he writes, remembering (or misremembering) taking communion from his own father’s hand.

Illustration via Slate’s Alec Longstreth

And one more from The Atlantic:

The eternal world also shows up as a reminder of mortality itself: “the sorrow of his happiness” whenever an aging Ames takes pleasure in his newborn son. So perhaps his sermon isn’t entirely true. Sorrow casts its shadow, and joy lives under it, surviving in its shade. This bleed between joy and sorrow doesn’t mean happiness is impossible, or inevitably contaminated; instead it reveals a more capacious vision of happiness than we might have imagined—not grace will never deliver you from this mess, but grace is this mess. Or at least, grace is in the mess with you.

Have you picked up Lila yet? Is it really that good? Let us know in the comments!

3. Even now, if you’re in the Houston area, it’s not too late to walk-in for our Fall Conference! If you can’t make it to Houston, you can follow live updates on Twitter and Facebook via #MbirdHOU14. As always, post-conference weeks are a little slow, so give us a few days to return to our normal blogging pace. Here’s the schedule again in case you’re in town and want to stop by!


4. In the social science front, perhaps you’re familiar with the infamous marshmallow self-control experiment, where Children who could resist eating one marshmallow in exchange for two future marshmallows are more likely to succeed in life? Turns out the guy running the experiment on self-control was a chain smoker. This profile from The New Yorker deals sympathetically with those lacking self control:

And yet, even if you’re a self-control guru, sometimes there are hot spots that never quite cool. Mischel has never met a chocolate cake (flourless, these days) that he didn’t like. And there’s the impatience that has followed him throughout life: in research (he admits to calling his graduate students at two in the morning to check on study results); in lines (he can’t stand waiting in one); in eating (he usually finishes his meal far ahead of his dining companions, even at the most formal of dinner parties). He’s also aware that his temper is infamous among his friends and colleagues. He has every tool at his disposal, and yet these outstanding problems remain. Why? “My motivation to change them hasn’t been strong enough,” he says. “And areas like temper control, that I know I have to manage—it still hasn’t become automatic. I’ve become more aware of it; I’ve just allowed myself to have some slack on it.”

5. This week in TV: Walking Dead is back with a bang! The show seems to be wrapping up everything from the Terminus plotline, even giving us a glimpse of how the sanctuary became a bustling hive of insanity. Without giving away too much, let’s just say the show supposes that you and I could become murderous cannibals too given the right set of circumstances. Also: forgiveness happens.

6. We talked about it on social networks already, but it’s worth mentioning that PZ was over on Key Life Radio with Steve Brown this week. If you need to refresh your quiver of gospel-centered one-line zingers, run, don’t walk.

7. This week in Music: Patti Smith, of “Jesus died for someone’s sins, but not mine” fame, discusses with Rolling Stone the biblical lullaby she composed for Aronofsky’s Noah. The hook: “Religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition.”

8. This week in The Onion: Man Thinks People Care Enough About Him to be Let Down by His Failures, and this Onion-esque bit from The Guardian: “If I were King for a Day”. In the taking-control-to-new-levels-category, there’s this news out of the sandwich shop world.

9. Finally, this gem from Buzzfeed: If Coach Taylor Quotes Were Motivational Posters

See you next week! #MbirdHou14