Peter Boghossian, philosophy instructor at Portland State University, spoke in Dillard auditorium May 1 at 7 p.m. About 120 people attended the free lecture, “Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions: Just Say No!” Photo by Connor Bennett
The Philosophy Club and the Free Thought Alliance are sponsoring a lecture by Peter Boghossian, philosophy instructor at Portland State University, on May 1 at 7 p.m. in Dillard 101. The lecture, “Jesus, the Easter Bunny, and Other Delusions: Just Say No!” is free and open to the public.
After members of the Philosophy Club invited atheism activist Peter Boghossian to speak, at least one student and her family objected.
“This girl who called me, she was essentially saying that she didn’t think that he should be able to speak here, and I said, ‘Well he has a right to do that.’ Everybody has a right to express their points of view, including controversial ones,” Nathan Jun, assistant professor of philosophy and Philosophy Club adviser, said. “Her father sort of got on the phone, kind of took the phone away from her, and basically he was not interested in having a discussion with me. He was essentially sort of trying to intimidate me into rescinding our invitation and not doing it, and I said, ‘Well no, I’m not going to do that,’ and he said, ‘Well then I’m going to raise hell,’ essentially.”
Edgar Shockley, history senior and Philosophy Club historian, said students in the club selected Boghossian, a philosophy instructor at Portland State University, because his qualifications embody the goals of the club.
“Boghossian was one of those speakers, one of the few speakers who had serious philosophical credentials. The Internet comic The Oatmeal was a potential speaker, but that’s not acceptable to the Philosophy Club in the same way that Boghossian was. So Boghossian was a really natural compromise because he’s a philosopher, he’s a critical thinker,” Shockley said. “The question Boghossian is bringing up is one of the central questions of philosophy, because how the world works turns fundamentally on the existence or nonexistence of a divine force. As philosophers we have to look at that from every angle.”
Shockley said although Jun is listed as the contact for the event, students of the Philosophy Club and the Free Thought Alliance chose Boghossian on their own.
“This is a student-driven thing. Dr. Jun of course is the adviser for the Philosophy Club, and to an extent to the Free Thought Alliance, but this was our doing. As far as he’s involved, his name is just on the paperwork,” Shockley said, adding that controversial ideas can fit the liberal arts mission of the university. “It’s important, whether you agree with the person doing it or not, to challenge preconceived notions. That is the purpose in a lot of ways of the liberal arts. Philosophy, sociology, history, psychology; all of these fields are challenging what was there before and making sure we’re discussing things and getting closer to the truth.”
Jun said all groups on campus have the right to invite speakers to campus as long as the speaker is knowledgeable.
“He’s a qualified speaker. He’s not just some hack or polemicist. He has the requisite expertise and authority. He knows what he’s talking about. So you might disagree with what he says, but you at least have to acknowledge that he knows what he’s talking about,” Jun said. “I firmly believe that that same right extends to people who have different views, so all of the different religious organizations on campus are free to have similarly qualified speakers of their own.”
Comparing the apparent outrage at Boghossian’s upcoming lecture to last May’s controversial graduation speaker Ben Carson, Jun said students and the public have the right to not attend the lecture rather than to disrupt it.
“When Ben Carson spoke, I exercised my right to not listen to him by leaving. That seems to me to be the most respectful way to deal with someone you have fundamental disagreements with, is just to not engage. If there are people who find the content of his talk or his message to be beyond the pale offensive that they would just express their dissent by not coming,” Jun said. “If you don’t like what he has to say, well you can either not go or you can go and listen and you can engage him during Q&A as long as you’re respectful of him.”
Jun said the difference between Boghossian’s controversial claims and Carson’s is that Carson attacked the people themselves.
“He said that gay people are like people who have sex with animals. He’s made statements that are personally offensive, or that attack people that belong to a particular group. All that Peter Boghossian is saying about Christianity is that it’s wrong, that it’s not true. That’s different from saying that Christians are terrible people or that they’re stupid,” Jun said. “That’s different from saying, ‘In the abstract I think that homosexual behavior is immoral or something,’ versus saying, ‘Gay people are no better than pedophiles and people who have sex with animals.’ That’s a different kind of claim.”