Jerry Johnston Interview Jonathan Lanman Regarding Virtual Reality in Religion

Bloomberg Businessweek asked Apple CEO Tim Cook, “You’ve talked a lot about augmented reality at the heart of the company’s future. How do you see AR moving forward?” Cook replied, “I think it is profound. I am so excited about it, I just want to yell out and scream. The first step in making it a mainstream kind of experience is to put it in the operating system. We’re building it into iOS 11, opening it to developers – and unleashing the creativity of millions of people. Even we can’t predict what’s going to come out.” (June 19, 2017, p. 54) 

Very soon virtual reality headsets will be a common possession and extraordinary experience! No one can quite calculate the impact VR is going to have on society and religion. So, Cristie Jo Johnston and I traveled to BelfastIreland to film with Jonathan Lanman, Assistant Director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University. His work on atheism and secularization aims to provide an account of why some individuals become theists and others become non-theists, why some nations have much higher proportions of non-theists than others, and why some non-theists engage in anti-religious social action. Lanman is one of the four principal researchers in the John Templeton Foundation project, Understanding Unbelief.” We a most interesting, thought-provoking conversation in our nearly two-hour filmed interview.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Lois Lee – Founding Director of the Nonreligion and Secularity Network

Lois Lee had just arrived back in London, England after her honeymoon when Cristie Jo Johnston and I filmed with her. She is quite unique and very articulate. Lois writes: “I joined the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kent in 2017 as a Research Fellow, and will take up my post as lecturer in 2019. I am Principle Investigator on the Scientific Study of Non-religious Belief project (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies) and the Understanding Unbelief programme (Religious Studies, University of Kent), both majorly funded by the John Templeton Foundation.  I have a strong interest in working with research communities in the wide dissemination of research. I am founding director of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN), co-editor of the journal, Secularism and Nonreligion (S&N) and co-editor of the NSRN book series, Religion and Its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion and Secularity (De Gruyter). I also work with community groups as well as national and local media to disseminate my own and NSRN research outside of academia.” 

NONES are the third largest religion? An “increasing large population”? People attend “atheist” churches? What’s going on? If anyone understands secularity and non belief Lois Lee does. Listen to this clip. Lois refers to “doing a lot of studies with psychology students in the U.S.” – and then she adds, “so a lot of what we know about the atheist mind is really the atheist mind of some students in the U.S.” (United States). Whoa! That is a bit puzzling. Again, Lois is one of the world’s foremost leaders in secularity.

That is why Cristie and I am on an investigative journey. Why is there such an alarming high number of university students from Christian backgrounds who leave the church after their years in college? There seems to be an easy check-out system going on. It is time to drill down and discover why.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Miguel Farias – Nones Researcher

Four scholars are researching, in four different countries, profiling nones. A compilation of their landmark research, along with other researchers, will be presented in Rome in 2019. Why are people religiously disaffiliating? What is the difference in non-believers in Japan as opposed to Denmark, or Brazil in contrast to the United States? What are the actual catalysts of unbelief?

There is obvious diversity in different nations around the globe. The John Templeton Foundation project, Understanding Unbelief, will attempt to answer the causes and characteristics of unbelief. A psychologistanthropologistsociologist, and theologian will travel to different countries and cultures and profile nones. Interestingly, it is the same journey Cristie Jo Johnston and I have been on for nearly three years.

Christian denominations are in decline in the United States, including the Southern Baptist ConventionMainline denominations have witnessed a precipitous drop of at least 30 million people in the last several decades. Leaders seem to be scratching their heads and asking why.

Miguel Farias and I met in Oxford, England. I asked him which countries the principal researchers of the Templeton project were headed. Dr. Farias was a Departmental Lecturer and Deputy Course Director of the MSc in psychological research at the Department of Experimental Psychology, at the University of Oxford, having previous held a lectureship at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and several postdoctoral research fellowships at the University of Oxford. In 2014, Miguel joined Coventry University to lead the BrainBelief and Behaviour research group. With philosophers and neuroscientists, he pioneered research on the analgesic effects of religious beliefs and the stress-buffering effects of science beliefs.

We look forward to work with these scholars in the days ahead.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Philosopher Richard Swinburne

The unreported good news: the past 50 years have been an incredibly fruitful period in the philosophy of religion. Now, established theists teach in many of the most renown universities of the world. The catalyst of the movement — Richard Swinburne, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Over the last 50 years, Swinburne has been an influential proponent of philosophical arguments for the existence of God. Swinburne made a dramatic impact on Antony Flew who set the agenda for modern atheism with his 1950 essay, “Theology and Falsification.” Antony Flew shocked the academic world when he renounced the atheism he had both embraced and espoused and became a believer in God as Creator. He then wrote, “There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” 

Cristie Johnston and I had two interesting days in England … one filming with Richard Dawkins and the next day filming with Richard Swinburne. Swinburne wrote the classic book, “The Existence of God” in 1979. He told me every questioning believer should read his popular book, “Is There A God?” (1996) He has a remarkable intellect and received us warmly in his home.

Yes, there has been a revolution in Christian philosophy. William Lane Craig reminded me of the many philosophers in the world who have deep faith: Dean Zimmerman at Rutger’s University, the late William Alston who taught at Syracuse University, and the notable Alvin Plantinga at the University of Notre Dame who recently was awarded the 2017 Templeton Prize, among many others.

Swinburne emphasis to me was on the necessity of critical thinking. We left his home deeply impacted.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Cristie Jo Johnston asked Richard Dawkins about Psalm 14:1

Professor Richard Dawkins, English ethologist, evolutionary biologist, author, emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford, continued his filmed interview with Dr. Cristie Jo Johnston, Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist Univesity. She asked a daring question, “The Bible says that anyone that says in their heart there is no God they are a fool.  What do you think about that?” Realizing @CristieJoJohnston was speaking to the world’s most well-known atheist, I froze in the corner of the room as we filmed @UniofOxford. First, I admired my wife for asking a reasonable question sourced in the provocative exclamation of David in the Psalms, “The fool has said in his heart,‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1). I know Cristie sincerely wanted Richard’s opinion on this volatile Bible text.

And, in that moment, I realized the atheist, who often decries God and the Christian faith would obviously have an answer ready for such a question. There was a long pause and Richard Dawkins responded as he and Cristie Jo stared into each other’s eyes, That’s ridiculous obviously.  I mean you’ve taken a verse from the Bible, the fool has said in his heart there is no God.  What am I supposed to say?  This is a random text written by some random scribe at some point, a few centuries ago.  So what?”

It was a thought provoking moment bravely asked by my girl who I have come to know for nearly four decades and who would never intentionally try to hurt anyone’s feelings, and, yet, has a knack for ‘getting down to business’ when we are discussing important issues. This is the tantamount argument university students face from scores of professors worldwide – “there is no god – get smart and get rid of your superstition.” There is only one problem with that scenario. There are equally brilliant men and women distinguished in their academic careers who do believe in God. The media does not equally promote or review their books as they are not provocative and “newsworthy.” Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

The recent Gallup Poll disagrees with Richard Dawkins and stated that 89% of Americans believe in God – a startling 9 out of every 10 Americans (June 29, 2016). I still make the argument to atheists:  why all the hoopla disproving a God you don’t believe in anyway. It doesn’t make sense to me. And, let me add one notable postscript to the burgeoning category of “nones” who have religiously disaffiliated – only a small percentage of “nones” claim to be atheists. Nones, in the vast majority still believe in some form of spirituality and many in God or a Higher Being.

We knew our investigative journey had to include some of the finest philosophers of the world. At one time “philosophy” in the universities omitted “theology,” let alone Christianity philosophy. Not anymore! Some of the finest, most brilliant philosophers in the world are Christians in many of the world’s finest universities. So we journeyed from our interview with Richard Dawkins to the highly respected, 50-year @UniofOxford Christian philosopher, Richard Swinburne, author of  “The Existence of God”. He doesn’t take Richard Dawkins too seriously. You will be keenly interested in his remarks coming your way very soon.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston asks Richard Dawkins, “Do you have a degree in theology?”

I asked Richard Dawkins permission when we were filming in OxfordEngland. He consented. Quoting his detractors, without the slightest bit of cynicism, I posed the question to @RichardDawkins“Do you have a degree in theology?” “Are you proficient in Hebrew or Greek?” Dawkins’ answered, “Of course not.” How then do you write an accurate critique of the theology of the Bible as expressed in his bestseller, The God DelusionI am not the only person with this query. Numerous Christian theologians, apologists, and philosophers, many who have spent years, even decades in the original biblical languages, backgrounds, cultures, eras, history, customs, etc., have told me that Richard Dawkins’ book is not intellectual and or remotely accurate. My third question to Dawkins, “So they would theoretically say how can Professor Dawkins who is not been theologically trained, technically trained in the original manuscripts, form conclusions about the biblical record?”

How would an evolutionary scientist, like Richard Dawkins, respond to a published book critiquing Darwin’s theory by a person with no scientific, academic credentials? That is a fair question. 

Richard’s added response, in my opinion, avoided the specific question. Dawkins said, “Are they trained in the religions of Africa, the Pagan religions, in Buddhism, in Hinduism, in the religions of South America.  There are thousands of religions; there have been thousands of religions. They’re not trained in those religions.   I’m just not trained in them either.”

Cristie Jo Johnston and I are on a transcontinental journey to discover the accurate reasons why adults, by the multiplied millions, are religiously disaffiliating. I reminded Dawkins, “You know when we take a text out of context we get a pretext.” Atheists, alone, are not guilty of this as they critique the Bible. Pastors and religious leaders, even Jim Jones and David Koresh, have often improperly quoted Bible texts to errantly prove a point, and, regretfully, manipulate people. Context is crucial. Context requires cognition – sorely lacking in too many sermons and homilies. There are plenty of kooks within the Christian movement. But, that would also be true of the atheist movement. We have to move beyond eccentricities and drill down to the facts, objectively. We invite you to follow us on this interesting journey.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston interviews Richard Dawkins

Maybe @RichardDawkins was right when he told me that his book, The God Delusion, among other similar titles of the same genre, is to be credited for the decline of Christian faith in America. Richard Dawkins met Cristie Jo Johnston and me on his bike at our hotel in Oxford, England recently. Together we walked to @spc_oxford @oxford_uni and filmed a sixty-minute interview. Did you notice what Dawkins said?

“So in countries like Sweden where there’s great welfare, social welfare, medical care and old age care and things like that, people tend to lose their religion. Whereas in countries where they don’t feel that kind of cradle of support from the state, people tend to be religious.” 

We see this illustrated in Scandinavia. Atheistic (or non-belief) percentages among the populations of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden average between 40 – 80 percent. Iceland, we learned, on our recent European filming registers 100 percent atheistic among people 25-years-of-age and younger, and yet there is a strong belief in elves.

Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, was released in 2006 and has sold 3,000,000 copies and printed in 30 languages.  I asked Dawkins:

“So borrowing from the Christian apologists that I’ve met here in Oxford, the Alister McGrath’s, John Lennox’s, all the people you know, the J.R. Tolkien’s, the C.S. Lewis’s, how do you explain their turn-from-atheism, and their embrace of faith? What about Antony Flew – how do we explain his turn from atheism?” 

Dawkins replied, “I mean I think he just didn’t really understand it. What else? Alister McGrath, well he says he used to be an atheist. Well that meant he used to be a Marxist. But he wasn’t, I think you gave him brownie points if you’re a religious apologist, if you can say I used to be an atheist like C.S. Lewis, like Alister McGrath. John Lennox, well I was astonished when I discovered that John Lennox doesn’t only believe in god in a sensical way, but John Lennox believed Jesus turned water into wine and walked on water and said things like that. But he is not a sophisticated theologian. He’s a naïve fundamentalist masquerading as a sophisticated theologian.”

There is no doubt the “new atheism” of the last decade in North America has made an impact. Perhaps the clearest illustration is young people, raised in church, who after attending the University, leave the church at a rate of 80 percent. It is time for us to reexamine the paradigm of discipleship – something is not working.

JERRY JOHNSTON:

What’s going on?  You’ve been all over America?

RICHARD DAWKINS:  You’re asking me a sociological question.  I’m not a sociologist.  The question to me is why isn’t it 100%?  Because religion doesn’t make any sense. I’m delighted that it is as high as it now is and I’m delighted that it’s climbing.  I’m delighted that America is finally catching up with Western and Northern Europe in that respect.  As for what’s going on, I would like to think that it would be, well books like the ones I’ve written and Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have written and Don Dennett.  I’d like to think we had something to do with it. There is some research suggesting that religious belief goes with social deprivation.  So in countries like Sweden where there’s great welfare, social welfare, medical care and old age care and things like that, people tend to lose their religion.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via transcontinental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.