A new course on atheism is being brought in to help rebuild St. Thomas University’s Catholic Studies department next semester.
Matt Dinan, the 2006 STU graduate recently appointed to the St. John XXIII chair in Catholic studies, said he is attempting to talk about the things students are interested in with the new atheism and Catholicism class.
“The quality of the debate (between theists and atheists) is not good because the people that get into the debate are the people who do not see the other side,” he said. “The most probing atheist writers or Catholic writers actually ask a lot of the same questions.”
Dinan was technically a Roman Catholic his whole life, but found his faith at STU while taking philosophy courses and reading the great historical texts of religious authors like St. Augusta.
“Writers who were smarter than anyone I had read, who were open to the idea of faith as a way of knowing,” he said.
Atheism and Catholicism in Dialogue looks at whether morality can exist without God, an idea scrutinized by St. Thomas Aquinas and atheist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Both writers believe morality doesn’t end with God.
Questions like, “Is God dead?” and “Why do we suffer?” will be asked, but answers will not necessarily be provided.
“It’s a good liberal arts course because it’s about questioning in this way,” Dinan said. “We would lose an awful lot if everybody agreed on these things.”
Second-year STU student Adam Blanchard said he will either become a religious studies or Catholic studies major.
“(Dinan) wants to show people he wants to be open to questioning and the Catholic faith can be a part of those questions,” Blanchard said.
While he is a devoted Catholic, he is interested in learning from the atheist perspective, especially historical atheists.
“Atheists during the enlightenment were responding to religion. They took religion seriously, and offered their own response to it. Now people are just dismissing the idea,” Blanchard said.
Dinan has the course focused on the great thinkers on the topic of atheism and skepticism towards religion.
“If I am an atheist it doesn’t do me any good at all to argue with the Westboro Baptist Church, just like as a Catholic you’re not going to learn anything from listening to Richard Dawkins,” Dinan said.
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