This week, I, too, discovered Beyond Belief 2006: an inspiring, enlightening and thrilling meeting of human minds! So far, I have viewed the first four sessions. I found Joan Roughgarden, Stuart Hameroff, and Charles Harper sadly weak in their contributions.
Roughgarden got the story of Joseph wrong - he uses selective breeding techniques and only later attributes the inspiration to a God-given dream. Joseph does have mystical dream experiences, but these are in sequence in the narrative. The story about the inspiration for breeding his flocks follows the actual breeding, suggesting that it is a spiritual rationalization. I realize that stories that are part of the cultural tradition do have role when one is trying to convince another: the emotional acceptance attached to the story gets carried over to the new information, enhancing its acceptance. Ironically, Roughgarden said how important it is to read the Bible so that one can check up on the lessons that are drawn from it.
Overall, Roughgarden seemed to me to have intense preoccupation with matters associated with gender identity and interaction of the sexes, as well a need to bolster her own, relatively recently acquired (she says she returned to the church about 10 years ago), religiosity.
My reaction to Hameroff was that he used jargon borrowed from quantum mechanics to advance a pseudo-explanation of consciousness. I tried to temper my response by reflecting that I have only the most superficial acquaintance modern physics, so perhaps my ignorance prevented me from appreciating his contribution. After hearing the critique by a physicist in the audience, I felt that my bullshit meter was, after all, reliable.
I expect I will have more to say about Charles Harper (of the John Templeton Foundation) after his presentation. My antipathy to his remarks from the floor caused me to reflect on my own biases: am I rejecting him out of hand because I reject religion, or are the claims he makes truly groundless and irrational? I like to think reason prevails in my response, but I will try to stay on the lookout for bias and emotion.
So far, I have found Sam Harris to be reasoned and compelling in his statements. I noticed in earlier posting in this thread that his place in the conference was questioned because of his inexperience. I will withhold judgment until I see more of the presentations.
I have mixed feelings about Dawkins. I enjoy listening to him, he is first-rate debater, and seeing and hearing him perform gives me the same enjoyment that golf aficionados find in watching Tiger Woods. However, he appears to be stuck with The God Delusion and is not going beyond it.
Tyson, Porco and Ramachandran have given my favorite presentations so far. I first heard Tyson on Point of Inquiry and was impressed by how clear and informative were his remarks. What is it about astrophysicists that they produce the likes of Sagan, Tyson and Porco?