Monday, September 28, 2009

Noted scholar David Myers to give Oct. 7 lecture on why God is good and faith isn't evil

Psychology professor's essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post


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Throughout the millennia, skeptics and believers alike have asked the question "Is God good?" often while confronting horrors and tragedies that might lead them to answer with a resounding "No." David Myers, an award-winning social psychologist and researcher who received the Gordon Allport Prize for his studies of group influence, will relate religiosity to human flourishing in his lecture, "A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists: Musings on Why God Is Good and Faith Isn't Evil." The lecture will take place Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. in the Robinson Teaching Theatre in Weyerhaeuser Hall at Whitworth University. Admission is free. For more information, please call (509) 777-4263.

"David Myers will present a timely message on positive psychology, a topic that is well-suited to the integration of faith and learning that Whitworth cares so much about," says Noelle Wiersma, Whitworth professor of psychology and department chair.

Myers, a Whitworth trustee and a 1964 alumnus, is a professor of psychology at Hope College, in Holland, Mich. His lecture at Whitworth will be based on his 2008 book of the same title, published by Jossey-Bass/Wiley, in which he responds to arguments posed by "new atheists," who assert that all religions are not only false, but dangerous. The new atheists offer stories of atrocities committed in the name of religion. They also point to studies that indicate that countries with the highest rates of happiness, life expectancy, and education are also relatively secular.

Myers confirms that surveys have shown that countries, and U.S. states, where most people say religion isn't an important part of their daily lives, tend to be places where people also report a high quality of life. He also documents that religiously-engaged individuals tend to be happier, healthier, more generous, less crime-prone, and less often involved with premature sexuality and pregnancy. They also have much lower divorce, smoking, and arrest rates, and they more often volunteer with the infirm, poor and elderly.

Myers says these consistent findings likely owe to factors such as religion-related healthier lifestyles and the help-giving mandates found in all major religions. While there are certainly examples of cruelties committed in the name of religion, he says, the worst examples of anything, whether it’s politics, science, religion or atheism, can make that institution look evil.

Myers cautions that these data don't validate theism, because the benefits of faith are irrelevant to its truth claims, but, he says, they do challenge the anecdote-fueled new atheist argument that religion is a force for evil.

Myers, who has been a Whitworth trustee since 1995, is a Seattle native whose writings have examined topics such as happiness, intuition, sexual orientation, social psychology, assistive listening, and ESP. He has penned 17 books, including foundational textbooks on psychology that are used by roughly 1,000 colleges and universities and have been translated into 12 languages.

Myers’ scientific writings, supported by National Science Foundation grants, have appeared in academic periodicals including Science, the American Scientist, the American Psychologist, and Psychological Science. He also has interpreted psychological research for the public through articles in publications such as Scientific American, Christian Century, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and on the Newsweek/Washington Post religion blog.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Contacts:

Julie Shanholtzer, program assistant, Speakers & Artists Series and psychology department, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4263 or jshanholtzer@whitworth.edu.

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or eproffitt@whitworth.edu.