Concepts of God first topic in new public seminar series

Published 16 February 2011

peter-forrestA philosophical examination of concepts of God will be the inaugural event in a new series of public seminars in the University of New England’s School of Humanities.

This first seminar, titled “In defence of anthropomorphic theism”, will be presented by Professor Peter Forrest at 9.30 am on Friday 18 February.

“By ‘anthropomorphic theism’ I don’t mean the thesis that God has a humanoid body, but rather that God is literally an agent and literally has knowledge and power,” Professor Forrest said. “In academic circles that conception of God is often dismissed as outmoded and naïve, and I’ll be considering – and replying to – seven objections to anthropomorphic theism.”

The first objection that Professor Forrest will address in his seminar is “that anthropomorphic theism is idolatrous”. In replying to this, he concludes that “the conception of God as an agent without any limitations to power and knowledge” is not the mere “construct” implied in some accusations of idolatry, and that “worshipping such a God is not idolatrous”.

Peter Forrest (pictured here) is an internationally renowned philosopher whose books include The Dynamics of Belief (Blackwell, 1986), Quantum Metaphysics (Blackwell, 1988), and God Without the Supernatural (Cornell University Press, 1996). In his most recent book, Developmental Theism (Oxford University Press, 2007), he provides an explanation – and defence – of the idea of “divine development”, giving an account of God as a being who has changed from an impersonal God to the God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Holding doctoral degrees in mathematics (from Harvard University) and philosophy (from the University of Sydney), his chief research interests are in the philosophy of space and time, and the philosophy of religion.

This Friday’s seminar will form part of a celebration of Professor Forrest’s distinguished academic career, marking his retirement after holding the position of Professor of Philosophy at UNE for almost two-and-a-half decades. “The value of academic philosophy is in helping us think in a more systematic and reflective fashion on disputed questions – for the sake of understanding,” he says. “Hence academic philosophers are primarily ‘facilitators’ – or, to use Socrates’ metaphor, ‘midwives’.”

Seventeen seminars in the School of Humanities Seminar Series have been scheduled for the first half of 2011, on subjects ranging from mass violence in the Roman world and early Buddhist texts, to international relations in the Pacific and social change in New England. They will all be on Friday mornings at 9.30 am in UNE’s Arts Building (Lecture Theatre A3), and everyone is welcome. Dr Andrew Piper from the School of Humanities said that the seminar series aimed to communicate something of the breadth and depth of research within the School to all interested members of the University and Armidale communities.

The seminar series will be launched this Friday by UNE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Annabelle Duncan. For full details of the series, contact Dr Andrew Piper on (02) 6773 2764 (e-mail: apiper3@une.edu.au).