1 of 5
1
Beyond Belief 2006
Posted: 22 November 2006 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

Over 15 hours of video from a conference attended by Dawkins, Harris, Weinberg, Tyson, Shermer, and others.

Here is also an article from the NY Times.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 22 November 2006 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

Beyond Belief 2006

Over 15 hours of video from a conference attended by Dawkins, Harris, Weinberg, Tyson, Shermer, and others.

Here is also an article from the  NY Times .

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 November 2006 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

A clip form the veeeeery long (and veeeeery interesting) conference.

LOL

Profile
 
 
Posted: 23 November 2006 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

Watching these videos is making me think that before trying to find a “solution” to the problem of the co-existence of religion and science, we need to find why the problem exists to begin with. And the fundamental problem, I believe, is the globalization of our planet. Today’s societies follow four major ideologies: Christianity, Islam, communism, and, I not sure what to call the forth one, rationalism (?) humanism (?) scientism (?). I include communism because China corresponds to one third of the world’s population.

So what do we do? How do we consolidate these different beliefs into one?

When we look at the history of Europe we often criticize the period between the fall of the Roman Empire in the fourth century and the birth of the renaissance in the fifteenth century. We call it “The Dark Ages.” Well, I think there was a very good reason why Europe hadn’t made any progress for over thousand years: Europe was busy trying to unite itself! And this had to be done through the unification of the peoples’ ideologies. Roman Empire was loosing its control and most of Europe’s tribes at that time were being influenced by their own beliefs. Every tribe was following different pagan gods, hence different types of ideologies and life itself based on these ideologies. Europe felt the need to become one, and the only possible way to accomplish this was through the unification (and elimination) of the different beliefs. Abracadabra: Christianity was born!

In the present times we might see something similar taking place in the Middle East. People are fanatical about Islam, blowing themselves up, and beheading each other, just like we used to burn “the witches” and “the heretics” six hundred years ago. Unfortunately, we cannot let the Islamic world “to do what they need to do” because their lands contain oil. And we need the oil. We also need to try to unite everybody (including the Muslims), otherwise we might just not make it as a human kind.

So it seems to me that the problem is not religion, but religions. Let’s pick ONE! (And, God, please, let it be atheism!:wink:)

P.S. I’ve now lived in Canada long enough to speak perfect English, which I don’t. This post (and my other ones) probably (certainly) contains more grammar errors than it should, for which I apologize.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 November 2006 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15343
Joined  2006-02-14

George, thanks for the link—can’t watch it now, but when I get some time next week I definitely intend to take a look. The NYTimes had a decent article on the meeting, with particular kudos to Neil deGrasse Tyson for his role. Neil’s a great guy and quite an inspiration.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]So what do we do? How do we consolidate these different beliefs into one?

Well, I don’t think that’s possible. First of all, it will never happen that everyone agrees on anything. So part of the problem, clearly, is to reduce the impact of the fundametalists. That took several hundred years of bloodshed in Europe to happen between the Catholics and Protestants. Who knows? Maybe after a few hundred years the same could happen in Islam.

The only really unifying belief system, however, has to be secularism, as it gives no pride-of-place to any irrational revelation-based information.

[quote author=“George Benedik”]So it seems to me that the problem is not religion, but religions. Let’s pick ONE! (And, God, please, let it be atheism!:wink:)

I’m sure you’re being facetious, but just do want to repeat for the record that atheism isn’t a relgion; neither is secularism. This MATTERS in the US because if atheism/secularism were a religion, it would be disallowed in public schools.

Of course, atheism is no more a religion than is not collecting stamps a hobby. (Not my example, but excellent).

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 November 2006 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

I was probably wrong to imply that we might find the answer to why religion exists in our history. The reason why people believe in god will be most likely answered through the study of neuroscience.

I just finished watching the (excellent!) fourth part of the video where Dr Ramachandran speculates that atheists are basically mutants who haven’t acquired ‘something’ that would allow them to be religious.

I believe that neuroscience and evolutionary psychology will resolve and clarify most of these answers; it is only logical that Sam Harris feels the need to study neuroscience.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 November 2006 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Member
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  124
Joined  2006-03-19

I’m up to session 7. Too bad we have to wait till next November for the next one.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 27 November 2006 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

Another great   clip from the conference, if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 30 November 2006 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15343
Joined  2006-02-14

Conference Reactions

OK, I’ve listened to the entire conference now. It is long, but deserves a full hearing, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the question of the intersection between science and religion. It is definitely worth the effort.

That said, it was a pretty rocky event. There were highlights, such as Neil Tyson’s impact, talks by Caroline Porco, Mahzarin Banaji (on human irrationality), Paul Churchland (on John Rawls), Ann Druyan, Elizabeth Loftus (on how we can distort memory), Steve Nadler (on Spinoza), and Steven Weinberg, and even Loyal Rue (two-time Templeton award winner) gave an interesting talk about religion and a potential scientific replacement for it. There were several people who directly attacked the views of Dawkins and Harris who had good points to make, such as Scott Atran and some of Melvyn Konner.

The conference pretty much ended up as a heated debate between Harris and Dawkins on the one side and various religious and atheistic detractors on the other. There are a few things that should be said about this. (I will refer to Harris-and-Dawkins as “HD” because they appear to agree on all the essentials).

(1) Harris was out of his depth at this conference. He is not (yet) scientifically trained, and is not particularly philosophically trained either. This led him, when confronted, to resort to some very nasty rhetoric. I imagine that the problem really is that he is too young and inexperienced, and it is questionable whether he should really have been at this conference. His books are fine for a general audience but his views are not nuanced enough yet for a more pointed and sustained confrontation.

(2) HD’s books are more effective for an atheist or fence-sitting audience than for religious believers, as Dawkins himself admitted. Their importance is more rhetorical and sociopolitical than scientific, in that they provide backbone for atheists, arguments for them to use, and pride that their position has public defenders willing to stand up and say what’s true. They provide evidence that there is a core of active and committed secularists willing to defend secular ideals with all the necessary evidence. This is particularly important given the political realities of today. And for this they should be lauded. But however good they may be, these books are relatively thin, and should not be confused with any sort of scientific research program, or even a particularly sophisticated and complete understanding of the relevant problems and issues.

(3) I was disappointed that, in the main, HD’s talks and reactions were substantively little different from their talks to the general public on these matters. It seems to me that a forum of this sort of high-powered company should require some further work and deeper analysis. Put another way, this is not Fox Radio.

(4) Harris’s ethics is little more than a sketch, and he should be referring to more fully developed utilitarian theories rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. He hasn’t the time or background for it.

(5) There was some disagreement about what the aim should be for the scientifically inclined atheists. HD’s hopes and wishes notwithstanding, it is clear that religion is never going to be eliminated (Konner made this point well), and that likely the asymptotic limit of religious belief is somewhere around the level of the members of the Academy of Sciences—around 10-15%. But 10% isn’t zero.

(6) I was particularly disappointed with HD’s reaction to one line of constant questioning by people at the conference. That is, there was a lot of commentary (by Atran, Konner, James Woodward and others) about the thinness of the data on religion. What are the causes of religious belief? Woodward made the point that religious violence varies, and yet the content of the texts is constant, so there must be other relevant variables acting as well. What are they? Clearly they are sociopolitical, and we need more data on what they are. (Atran believes that religious violence is, at least in part, a result of group dynamics). What are the causes of good vs. bad religious actions? Clearly some religious people act morally and others immorally. Further, what makes non-religious people bad? Is there some common cause for the bad acts of religious and non-religious people? And Atran and others brought out a separate and very important point which is that clearly not all religious beliefs are amenable to rational de-conversion. Atran asked, “How do you rationally change an irrational world?” All of these are worthy points, and should have been taken by HD in the spirit they were intended: as ways to expand and deepen their program. But instead, HD rejected such points as religious apologetics, which clearly they are not. Harris in particular fell into this trap, and his repeated, intemperate, and even offensive reactions to pointed questions for further evidence for his views reflected poorly on him. While Dawkins had a more sophisticated approach than Harris, he did not take up the mantle of holding back his colleague. And that reflected poorly on him as well, I am afraid.

(7) There was heated rhetoric and egotism on both sides of this debate. Atran came across in one outburst as every bit the equal of Dawkins and Harris on that regard, basically claiming that nobody in the room but he was qualified to even approach the questions of the conference, since only he had the relevant data.

(8 ) There were caricatures of opponents’ positions on both sides of this debate. As I’ve said before, HD caricatured opponents as religious apologists. Konner caricatured HD’s position as one of banning religion entirely, or of forcing parents to raise children atheistically. Atran and Woodward made other similar caricatures, which HD largely caught and responded to.

(9) In Konner and Woodward’s interaction with Harris, it came out that Harris should have been calling for an end to “dogma” rather than religious faith, in that there are atheist dogmas as well, like certain 20th c. totalitarian political views. This is a good point, one that Harris conceded, and that deserves some deep and extended thought. Is it perhaps that the problem is not religion at all, but dogma? What is dogma? How is it fostered? Etc.

(10) It was universally held in the conference that religion plays certain crucially beneficial psychological and social roles, e.g., providing the support of a group of ready friends, ritual celebrations, etc. (Loyal Rue called this “personal wholeness and social cohesion”). To what extent are the same ends achievable from within a responsibly scientific context? Carolyn Porco suggested enlightenment-inspired celebrations like a holiday called “Day of Great Awakening” where we celebrate knowledge of the universe. Should we aim for such ends, or grander ones? How would we achieve them without fostering dogmatic, doctrinal or totalitarian views? These were not dealt with much in the conference, although Rue did a small sketch of a program.

(11) Although the moderator, Roger Bingham, did an excellent job keeping the conference moving along smoothly, I did sometimes get the feeling he was aiming more for heat than light. One might fault him for calling quite so often on HD for their responses, although that could perhaps be justified by the fact that HD were invoked more than others. However, I was really hoping that Bingham would catch onto the fact that HD were really not so far distant from the views of certain of their detractors, and with a judicially aimed question he could have perhaps bridged their differences. For example, he could have said something like: “While you HD appear to see religion as, let us say, 95% bad, and you (Atran, Konner, Woodward, etc.) see religion as, perhaps, 60% bad, let us focus on the mutually agreed upon bad parts and try to figure out how we ought to approach those.” Instead he made no attempt to find common ground, which is a shame.

(12) Neil Tyson once again showed why people refer to him as “Minister Tyson”, with his soaring and very Saganian approach to science as an essentially spiritual enterprise. It is always a pleasure to listen to him speak. It is worth listening to the two clips linked to above. We are lucky to have him in NYC.

(13) Stuart Hameroff’s work with Roger Penrose on ‘quantum consciousness’ was basically laughed off the stage. Apparently it is bad physics (Laurence Krauss basically called it garbage, and Templeton award winner Paul Davies disavowed it in his talk) as well as bad neuroscience. (One neuroscience grad student pointed out that the same sorts of phenomena are elicited by quinine as Hameroff believes happen when we lose consciousness ... yet quinine clearly is not an anesthetic).

(14) There were a few genuine religious apologists on the speaker’s rostrum, most pointedly Charles Harper from the Templeton Foundation (who gave a very self-serving picture of the Foundation’s aims) and Joan Roughgarden. One has to give Roughgarden a measure of praise for showing up and sticking to her guns, although her fixation with the issue of non-religious morality struck me as odd, given the clear fact that we have an over two hundred year history of non-religous morality in the english philosophical tradition, and going back to Aristotle and Plato, one that stretches back millennia. It seems a simple thing to say this but for some odd reason nobody did.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 30 November 2006 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9292
Joined  2006-08-29

Excellent review, Doug! I am still on session 7 and I obviously need to finish watching the whole thing to get an objective opinion on this conference.

I certainly agree with you when you said that “Harris was out of his depth at this conference”. I found it surprising that Harris didn’t know about the existence of the Christian suicide bombers. You are probably right when you said that

I imagine that the problem really is that he is too young and inexperienced

OTOH, I must disagree with you when you said that

it is questionable whether he should really have been at this conference

I am tempted to think that one of the reasons why this conference took place was Harris’s (and Dawkin’s) recent success with their books.

What did you think of Ramachandran’s speech? Do you think the study of the consciousness will help us to answer (at least) some questions regarding the existence of religion?

P.S. Was Stuart Hameroff in that horrible What the (bleep) do we know? I only watched about ten minutes of that idiotic documentary, but I think I remember seeing him there.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 30 November 2006 04:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15343
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“George Benedik”]OTOH, I must disagree with you when you said that

it is questionable whether he should really have been at this conference

I am tempted to think that one of the reasons why this conference took place was Harris’s (and Dawkin’s) recent success with their books.

Absolutely; also Harris is a neuroscience grad student. I understand why they decided to include him, but let’s face facts: he’s too inexperienced. His claim to fame is writing bestsellers. This is a scientific conference. I am not stating categorically that he shouldn’t have been there, only saying that it is ... so to say ... “questionable”. 

And I am generally a fan of Harris. (But not at this conference).

[quote author=“George Benedik”]What did you think of Ramachandran’s speech? Do you think the study of the consciousness will help us to answer (at least) some questions regarding the existence of religion?

I love Ramachandran—he’s wonderful, and a great speaker. But I’ve heard his stuff a lot before, and I’m not sure how relevant it is to issues of religion. Perhaps the stuff he does on ‘confabulation’ could be relevant, but he studies it in the context of perceptual illusions, where it isn’t clearly related to religion.

I would like to get more of his opinions on consciousness per se, but he didn’t elaborate much on that topic.

(BTW, he’s also completely right about the origin of base-10 numerals, including zero. They originated in India, not Arabia).

[quote author=“George Benedik”]P.S. Was Stuart Hameroff in that horrible What the (bleep) do we know? I only watched about ten minutes of that idiotic documentary, but I think I remember seeing him there.

Haven’t seen the documentary but it wouldn’t surprise me given his approach. It appeared awfully close to pseudoscience.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 December 2006 02:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  196
Joined  2006-02-09

Religion and Secularism

:D
Hi Doug!  As usual you are the epitome of reasonableness and insight.  It is again good to read your postings.  Your commentary is excellent and again I find myself in agreement with you.  :D

The subject of this thread is Religion and Secularism yet Religion and Science are discussed (you mentioned that the conference under discussion was “scientific”).  Is Secularism the same as science?

After a too long hiatus, Wes

ps: Each thread has a Moderator?  Things have changed in the CFI Forum over the last 9 months.

 Signature 

Fairness is Justice

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 December 2006 02:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15343
Joined  2006-02-14

Thanks Wes. The Moderators still moderate everything. There isn’t one for each thread. What made you think so?

The subject of the conference is religion and science ... so it could be filed in the “Religion” folder or the “Science” folder, I suppose. Six of one, half a dozen of the other ...

When I was referring to Harris as neither scientifically nor philosophically trained, I should (of course) have added that he has no significant background in religious history or practice, either. He has some background in Buddhism, but that really isn’t sufficient. I suppose I should have said, “This is a scholarly conference” rather than a “scientific” conference.

But at any rate, this is more for explanation of his intemperance at the conference than anything else. Had he behaved exceptionally, one wouldn’t have needed to bring up such lacunae.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 December 2006 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  196
Joined  2006-02-09

Doug:

Thanks for the clarification.  My assumption of one thread-one moderator was made out of ignorance.  I had only looked at 2 threads and both had a different moderator.  Back in February, when I was regularly posting, you were not a moderator as far as I knew.  :D

I did not mention Harris in my post but generally concur with your impression.  He is unschooled in many ways.  I am not a fan.

:D Here is a thought for you.  Leaving out all the fine structure normally in such debates, science is a method.  It is a method to discover facts about the physical world (observation, reason, experiment).  It is largely self correcting and independent of belief systems.  I suggest that, in the general sense, religion is also a system or method related to the physical world.  It is a system dependent on interpretation (observation and reason) without experiment, without self correction.  As a non-self correcting system it has created all the myriad hypothetical beings, realms, codes, and actions we experience under the banner of religion.
:D

Warm regards, Wes

 Signature 

Fairness is Justice

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 December 2006 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15343
Joined  2006-02-14

[quote author=“wesmjohnson”]Thanks for the clarification.  My assumption of one thread-one moderator was made out of ignorance.  I had only looked at 2 threads and both had a different moderator.  Back in February, when I was regularly posting, you were not a moderator as far as I knew.  :D

So far as I know, it’s always been the case that every thread and folder was open for moderation by every moderator. But perhaps it was different awhile back.

[quote author=“wesmjohnson”]I did not mention Harris in my post but generally concur with your impression.  He is unschooled in many ways.  I am not a fan.

I actually enjoyed his books. Mostly. The first book is more ambitious and had more problems with it, the second is simpler and less problematic. He is playing an important role within the skeptic/atheist community now, and generally I have lauded his forceful argument technique. But as you say, he’s unschooled.

It’s good that we have people willing to argue at different levels to different audiences. But just as a careful scholar would be a disaster on Fox News, Harris was less than stellar at a scholarly conference.

[quote author=“wesmjohnson”] :D Here is a thought for you.  Leaving out all the fine structure normally in such debates, science is a method.  It is a method to discover facts about the physical world (observation, reason, experiment).  It is largely self correcting and independent of belief systems.  I suggest that, in the general sense, religion is also a system or method related to the physical world.  It is a system dependent on interpretation (observation and reason) without experiment, without self correction.  As a non-self correcting system it has created all the myriad hypothetical beings, realms, codes, and actions we experience under the banner of religion.
:D

That sounds pretty good to me, although Atran and other scholars of religion would say that there’s more to religion than the cognitive (observation and reasoning) elements. There are also elements of emotion, ritual, narrative, “personal wholeness and social cohesion”, etc., which are non-cognitive in character.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 01 December 2006 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  196
Joined  2006-02-09

Doug:

You wrote: <That sounds pretty good to me, although Atran and other scholars of religion would say that there’s more to religion than the cognitive (observation and reasoning) elements. There are also elements of emotion, ritual, narrative, “personal wholeness and social cohesion”, etc., which are non-cognitive in character.>

:D Atran and others can say anything they please.  They are unrestrained in their scholarly activities.  They generally obey laws of logic but not the laws of nature.  Yes, there is more to religion than cognitive elements.  I do not restrict observation and reason to only cognitive function.  Observation and subsequent behavior can be completely innate like hot surface avoidance and sexual response.  Observation can be colored with emotion and level of ignorance.  Observation and reason can posit all manner of emotional premises limited only by human imagination.  Certainly ritual and myth and social elements are part of religion.  All those elements are for me fine structures.  That is they are not fundamental to the method.  The fine structures are those things that come to dominate science-religion debates.  Science and religion are different methods that I find cannot be reconciled.  :D

Warm regards, Wes

 Signature 

Fairness is Justice

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 5
1