My kind of meeting

The NY Times is reporting on a wonderful meeting, "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival". I wish I could have been there, but at least there's the promise that recordings will be available. A meeting that is denounced by a spokesman from the Templeton Foundation is my kind of place.

It sounds like there was a great deal of vigorous argument, which also makes for my favorite kind of meeting. And then there were all the scientists plainly making these kinds of statements:

Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., called, half in jest, for the establishment of an alternative church, with Dr. Tyson, whose powerful celebration of scientific discovery had the force and cadence of a good sermon, as its first minister.

She was not entirely kidding. "We should let the success of the religious formula guide us," Dr. Porco said. "Let's teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome—and even comforting—than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know."

Dang it. That's the theme of the book I'm working on. I need to get cracking.

These two statements really sum up my feelings.

With atheists and agnostics outnumbering the faithful (a few believing scientists, like Francis S. Collins, author of "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief," were invited but could not attend), one speaker after another called on their colleagues to be less timid in challenging teachings about nature based only on scripture and belief. "The core of science is not a mathematical model; it is intellectual honesty," said Sam Harris, a doctoral student in neuroscience and the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" and "Letter to a Christian Nation."

That was just the kind of accommodating attitude that drove Dr. Dawkins up the wall. "I am utterly fed up with the respect that we—all of us, including the secular among us—are brainwashed into bestowing on religion," he said. "Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence."

I'm sure there will be another volley of comments here that bandy about the terms "proof" and "disproof", but that isn't what this is about: it's about a consistent pattern of unearned respect offered the failed paradigm of religion, and the need for scientists and citizens to honestly face up to the fact that there are no grounds for accepting the myths of your culture's favorite myths, other than the constant dunning bombardment of religious propaganda on developing minds.

There's another meeting in November 2007. I'm glad to hear the discussion isn't going to stop, and that the godless are getting more and more active.

More like this

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We've got another troll in the comments — she wouldn't necessarily be a troll, except for the dead giveaway of asking the same question a dozen times and running away from any answer any of the non-troll commenters might give. The question is, "Does evolution imply atheism?", and I'm going to have…
Last week, I was told that I have a "god-shaped hole in my heart." My first thought was to reply that no, I have a perfectly intact heart thick with good strong sheets of muscle, but of course, that would have proven his point, that I've willingly replaced the Holy Ghost with actin and myosin, and…
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Yes, you'd better get cracking on that book. With a side of calamari. Yum, looking forward to this. :)

By speedwell (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I heartily agree with the sentiments expressed, save only the idea that we should adopt the religious pedagogical methods. Making it harder to distingish between these two incompatible systems isn't the answer IMO - increasing the distinction while showing the superiority of science is.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

No churches of science, of course...but has anyone else noticed how "evangelical atheist" is used as a term of shame, while "evangelical Christian" is a prerequisite for running for political office, among other things?

I have heard Dr. Neil Tyson give a talk at the Hayden Planetarium on some of his points here; about Netwon and his "intelligent and powerful being", about Laplace and his not having a need for a god hypothesis, about ancient Baghdad, and the science that came the Arabic world until fundamentalism took over.

Dr. Tyson is a great speaker to hear in person. And he held his own quite well on the Colbert Report, too.

but has anyone else noticed how "evangelical atheist" is used as a term of shame, while "evangelical Christian" is a prerequisite for running for political office, among other things?

In general, the "evangelical atheist" insult isn't used by the sorts of people who like evangelical Christians, but by the sorts of people you call "tepid atheists" and moderate theists. The *whole point* of the insult is to compare people like Dawkins (fairly or unfairly) to evangelical Christians. It's not an insult if you like those types.

Crap! Crap! Crap!

I was in La Jolla when that was going on and I didn't know about. I even walked past the Salk Institue a couple times.

Dang it. That's the theme of the book I'm working on. I need to get cracking.

Too late! John Dewey already wrote How We Think back in 1910. From the Preface:

This book represents the conviction that the needed steadying and centralizing factor [in teaching] is found in adopting as the end of endeavor that attitude of mind, that habit of thought, which we call scientific. This scientific attitude of mind might, conceivably, be quite irrelevant to teaching children and youth. But this book also represents the conviction that such is not the case; that the native and unspoiled attitude of childhood, marked by ardent curiosity, fertile imagination, and love of experimental inquiry, is near, very near, to the attitude of the scientific mind.

By David Wilford (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

You'd better be quick, PZ. The Unitarian Universalists are already in the game! This was just up at DailyKos: "Thank God for Evolution". There's a website for The Great Story listed too, which seems to be their scientific "creation myth".

...

...

PZ, don't be pressured. Just write the book.

Religions compete. Science collaborates. Part of the reason science is so successful is because it isn't a competitive contest, it's a cooperative effort.

As we saw recently with "The End of Faith," "Letter to a Christian Nation" and "The God Delusion," the more the merrier.

If several sources turn out books at the same time on a similar theme, the concept will make even more of a public splash.

...

...

I continue to think of such claims as that religion is a "failed paradigm" as involving a mistaken assimilation of religion to science. But I'm not going to convince anyone here, as previous conversations have shown.

But anyway, I thought I'd take the opportunity to mention an issue of a philosophy journal entirely devoted to these kinds of issues, with representation of many different views including both the "godless" and the "godly," and some in-between. (By the way, PZ, mightn't it be better from your point of view to refer to us as the "godfull"?) The journal is Ratio, December 2006 edition. Table of contents (and papers too, if you're lucky enough to have an institution that subscribes) available at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/rati/19/4.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

Write that book PZ!

Cephalopodia to the fore.

Behind you all the way.

Once in a blue moon there is an effort that resonates with the needs. Heartening that it will continue.

Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University known for his staunch opposition to teaching creationism, found himself in the unfamiliar role of playing the moderate."

This is wrong though. Krauss seems to be a NOMA style apologist among scientists, regardless of his views on creationism. I can believe Dawkins ire.

Tyson had a nice take on the problems with religion, and it certainly seems supportable by the problems fundies, ID and NOMA together makes.

"evangelical atheist"

The problem here is that many similar terms are religious or military (not coincidentally), so it feels like double shame. "Driving" or "marketing" could be replacements to force on the shamers. The alternative is to embrace the epithet and make it ones own, like the gay movement did.

Which makes me speculate - the best alternative to religious style campaigns could be to push the awe/children experience route ASAP, as PZ's book may be about. (We have discussed games with science subjects earlier.) "Science pride" festivals does seem like a misguided act of desperation.

"godfull"

Yes. Or "godawful", whenever "evangelical atheist" is misused. :-)

By Torbjörn Larsson (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I agree, no science churches but I do like the idea of having kind of a Sunday Science Sermon. It would be great to have a talking point each weekend on the evolution of the universe or mankind. Plus kids respond to ritual so best fill it with something that will hopefully undermine the ritual impulse and plant a seed for critical thinking.

"I am utterly fed up with the respect that we--all of us, including the secular among us--are brainwashed into bestowing on religion."

Amen. I'm so tired of being respectful when that respect is obviously not returned.

Religion:

"I won't miss her at all," [Dawkins] said. "Not a scrap. Not a smidgen."

Not a jot... or a tittle. I feel a song coming on.

We need a Broadway musical for atheists. Along the same lines as The Producers. Something so fun that it will convert scads of people to atheism in one fell swoop.

Now who should play Richard Dawkins...?

"We need a Broadway musical for atheists. Along the same lines as The Producers. Something so fun that it will convert scads of people to atheism in one fell swoop. Now who should play Richard Dawkins...?"

Hugh Jackman!

"I'm so tired of being respectful when that respect is obviously not returned."

I think that misses the point. On its merits, it deserves no respect. I personally would go as far as to say it deserves disrespect.

NOOOObody expects the Atheist Inquisition!

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

"Not a jot, not a tittle,
No, not even just a little;
No, I will not miss religion when she's gone.
Not a smidge or an iota
When she's purged from all biota,
No, I will not miss religion when she's gone."

--from Godless! The Musical, coming probably never to a theater near you.

"I agree, no science churches but I do like the idea of having kind of a Sunday Science Sermon. It would be great to have a talking point each weekend on the evolution of the universe or mankind. "

Seems to me that many people who read this blog and the folks at the conference are trying to turn Science in to a religion!

"NOOOObody expects the Atheist Inquisition!"

What about the an Atheist Revolution? Oh what, that's already happened. The French Revolution killed more people in 18 months than the entire Spanish Inquistion.

This is great. What I love about this article is how the strident atheist voices drown out the inane bleating about how atheists shouldn't express themselves. The atheists are pithier and more convincing than the apologists. I think, contrary to the naysayers, that the more vocal we become the more effective we're going to be.

I agree with Jess.

"Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."

What a fascinating declaration lol

Let's see, they can't be 'bible thumpin'---no, not that lol Pulpit pounding? lol no not that either lol Wait, I get it now........they have just called for a JIHAD!

There you go folks! Here are the exact counterparts of religious extremists, fanatics and fundamentalists, only instead of 'faith without reason' it is 'reason without faith'!

I work in physics and least you believe otherwise much of the foundation of modern physics is based on unsupported belief, Higgs Boson, Standard Model, Big Bang even are unsupported by other than faith that the model is right.

Of course Atheists refuse to acknowledge that their conclusions also constitute a system of beliefs that are unsupported by evidence.

Didn't Dawkins show up as a character in that recent South Park two-parter where Cartman froze himself and awakened 500 years in a totally-Atheist future whose Holy Books were written by Dawkins et al?

The future with three Atheistic sects in a Holy War (each against the other two "heretic cults") to total extermination?

Anybody who thinks the French Revolution was in any way atheist (as opposed to anti-clerical) needs to be slapped upside the head with a heavy copy of Twelve Who Ruled.

Pete, my dear friend, I really do think you need to read up a bit on history. Atheism was grounds for beheading at the behest of Robespierre, who not only detested atheists but went so far as to invent his own religion of the "Supreme Being" for which he served as chief priest, until he lost his own head.

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

I work in physics

Thank you for keeping the lab floor clean and shiny!

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

TerryC wrote:

I work in physics and least you believe otherwise much of the foundation of modern physics is based on unsupported belief, Higgs Boson, Standard Model, Big Bang even are unsupported by other than faith that the model is right.

That, and the better part of a century's worth of experimental results, for the latter two anyway.

I have the strong suspicion that nobody who claims to "work in physics" would put the Higgs boson (a plausible model awaiting confirmation) in the same category as the Big Bang (confirmed out the wazoo). My anti-troll killfile just got one entry longer.

I wonder if one of you people could explain to me the philsophy behind "the rule of law" and it's relation to the politics of democracy.
I just got into an email exchange with a friend about someone whose pompous blather annoys both of us. Friend's comment: "Very low signal to noise ratio."
I was going to respond by telling him to pay more attention to the noise rather than the 'signal' that is to ignore the author's intention, but I didn't bother.

The notion of the rule of law began with religious law, and the interpretation of ambiguous but legally binding primary texts and documents. Believers and secularists alike still operate under such principles. Our secular justice system operates this way.
Why?

Rumsfeld isn't much of a churchgoer. How do Dawkins' ideas protect us from that sort of delusion?

You argue the rule of science by calling it the rule of reason without understanding that the rule of law is predicated on the assumption of our failure to guarantee that reason.
The function of religion which is not the same as the arguments of its defenders, [got that?] is that it grounds the rule of law for those who want some form of certainty. Most people need reassurance. Most of you seem to. You have faith in yourselves. You've replaced the foundationalism of the community -in religion- with the foundationalism of the individual. I prefer to defend the foundationalism of the community within itself and the rule of law: secular humanism as opposed to secular technocracy.

As a 3rd generation atheist, if I had to choose for company between an observant priest- observant in the sense of being aware of the world- and a libertarian chemist, I'd pick the priest.

I wish I could assume that most of the readers here understood the difference.

"You've replaced the foundationalism of the community -in religion- with the foundationalism of the individual."

Just to be clear: science as such is cumulative knowledge; wisdom is not. If it were we wouldn't repeat history so much, would we?
Wisdom is the hard part. And that's not your subject.

"Just to be clear: science as such is cumulative knowledge; wisdom is not. If it were we wouldn't repeat history so much, would we?"

You have that backwards - WISDOM is cumulative knowledge; Science is not.

Science is NOT cumulative knowledge. Rather, it is the result of the continous rejection of incorrect theories. Theories don't typically build on other theories -- they replace them!

It is wisdom that is gradually built up as the result of reflecting on prior knowledge.

"Thank you for keeping the lab floor clean and shiny!"

How ignorant! Assuming that anyone who dares to disagree with you must somehow be beneath you is just plain sad. (It also smacks of good old fashioned bigotry.)

Knowledge grows by open discussion, not by flippant dismissal of those with opposing opinions.

Correction: Informed opinions are worthy of discussion. TerryC's comment was nothing of the sort, even apart from being semi-literate. Do you have something to contribute?

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

"Data is cumulative."

Not necessarily. It's well-known in the philosophy of science literature that the kinds of data that scientists choose to consider (and gather) are affected by their particular theoretical view. Data that doesn't fit is often dismissed as "outliers" or being irrelevant; a famous example of this is the rings of Saturn and various moons of planets.
See Kuhn's book or (in psychology, Bill Brewer's work).

As a modern example, when's the last time you heard a cognitive neuroscientist try to fit phrenonlogy data into his/her theory. They don't because the modern theories of how the mind works doesn't view this old data as being relevant. (I don't think it is, and I don't try to get my theory to account for it either). So, even data isn't cumulative. We continually reject old data sets in favor of new ones.

"TerryC's comment was nothing of the sort, even apart from being semi-literate. Do you have something to contribute?"

I disagree...his/her point is that there are several aspects of current scientific theories that must be taken on faith. Even some of the leading scientists admit to that!

And just exactly which "leading scientists" are you referencing, jody? Name some names, if you'll be so kind (and if you actually know of any)...

Please realize that we'll be slightly more impressed with working biologists, as opposed to, oh, engineers, opticians, chiropractors, and "doctors of law."

By Steviepinhead (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

After enduring two days of talks in which the Templeton Foundation came under the gun as smudging the line between science and faith, Charles L. Harper Jr., its senior vice president, lashed back, denouncing what he called "pop conflict books" like Dr. Dawkins's "God Delusion," as "commercialized ideological scientism" -- promoting for profit the philosophy that science has a monopoly on truth.

Hey... I thought the Templeton Foundation was in favor of "rigorous scientific research and related cutting-edge scholarship" in order to make "breakthrough discoveries" at "the intersection of the natural sciences" and spiritual truths. The motto on their webpage is "Supporting Science -- Investing in the Big Questions."

You mean they're really just another bunch of apologists fighting scientistic intrusions into religion and trying to defend the idea that "there are other ways of knowing?" I am shocked.

Shocked I say.

A curious thought occurs: Maybe people don't really want to believe certain isms or dogmas; perhaps they, in general but demonstrably not exclusively, find themselves in certain social situations where the most reasonable response to a foolish or threatening declaration is good natured, harmless appearing agreement? This would seem plausible given human tendencies to be 1-cautious; 2-non-threatening; 3-trustworthy; 4-similar.
I can see how each trait could, given the endemic uncertainty of human relations, have survival value.
After all, you needn't convince a stranger that you are just like him, only that you are not a threat. Having done so, you and he are on your way to further interaction and either one of you may or may not have an inkling of what follows.
Hmm. Sort of like how most relations go, how most deals go, how most of our best laid plans go. Sort of like how evolution goes too.
Could there be a pattern here?

By Crudely Wrott (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

"And just exactly which "leading scientists" are you referencing, jody? Name some names, if you'll be so kind (and if you actually know of any)..."

Einstein, Hawkings (who's also on the Vatican's scientific committee, in case you didn't know), Newton, Bacon, Pauling, oh, and the head of the humon genome project, to name a few.

Hopefully you've heard of some of these people.

Thanks for pointing that out, Jody.

By the way, if the Vatican is really so anti-science as dawkins and his cronies want everyone to believe, then why the hell does it have Pontifical Academy of Sciences made up of 80 members of the top scientists around the world including many Nobel Prize winners?? Look at the evidence for yourself. The data demolish the myth that the church is anti-science! The Vatican also has one of the oldest observatories in the world.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/own/doc…

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/own/doc…

Wikipedia:
"...the existence of this Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which in its ancient ancestry Galileo was a member and of which today eminent scientists are members, without any form of ethnic or religious discrimination, is a visible sign, raised amongst the peoples of the world, of the profound harmony that can exist between the truths of science and the truths of faith."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontifical_Academy_of_Sciences#Nobel_Prize…

I have no idea what he is talking about. Sounds to me like a lot wishful thinking. Where exactly is the "profound" harmony to be found?

(looks at Jody's list) Let's see, out of six scientists we have four that are dead (two of them dead for hundreds of years), and therefore can't be considered "leading" scientists (note the present tense), and are therefore probably unfit to weigh in on "current scientific theories" (jody), let alone "the foundation of modern physics" (TerryC). And naturally, you haven't bothered to specify what any of these "current scientific theories" are.

Try again.

I hope this fixes the italicization.

The data demolish the myth that the church is anti-science!

BS, while not necessarily anti-science they are definetly anti-logic and common sense.

Any science or thought that contradicts their dogma is reviled.

You can't be definitely anti-logic and NOT be anti-science. Science is the activity of seeking data and applying logic to it.

More specifically, science has standards of evidence that exclude faith as a valid method for producing data. There are no "truths" of faith, because faith can justify anything. The particular things that faith justifies for particular people at a particular time may or may not "harmonize" with the truths of science depending on what they are. The truths of science, however, necessarily harmonize with each other.

By Caledonian (not verified) on 21 Nov 2006 #permalink

trying again.

I disagree...his/her point is that there are several aspects of current scientific theories that must be taken on faith. Even some of the leading scientists admit to that!

...

Einstein, Hawkings (who's also on the Vatican's scientific committee, in case you didn't know), Newton, Bacon, Pauling, oh, and the head of the humon genome project, to name a few.

Hopefully you've heard of some of these people.

Terry's point was a lot more specific than your paraphrase. He claimed that the standard model and the Big Bang are supported by nothing other than "faith that the model is right." No competent physicist agrees, let alone Hawking.

The data demolish the myth that the church is anti-science!

Which would be why the Pope told cosmologists they shouldn't try to investigate the origins of the Universe.

MartinM: references please.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

Theories don't typically build on other theories -- they replace them!

Hmph. Missed that one earlier. What a load of old cobblers. Anything that 'replaces,' say, GR or QM will undoubtedly contain one or both in the appropriate limits.

The notion of the rule of law began with religious law, and the interpretation of ambiguous but legally binding primary texts and documents. Believers and secularists alike still operate under such principles. Our secular justice system operates this way.

Do you have any evidence for that statement?

Our secular justice system (here in the English-speaking West) is based on English Common Law, which is any *but* religious.

I also note that the sources for our laws were peoples that did not have revelations or holy texts to be interpreted. There may be a case that revelatiory religions are anti-law. They are generally anti-democracy.

Martin M: Is it just barely possible that Hawking misunderstood what the Pope (John Paul II) said? Do you have any direct quotation from the Pope, or only Hawking's paraphrase? Hawking was obviously reporting from memory from some time past, as he made his claims in June of this year after JPII was already dead.

My guess is that what the Pope actually said was something more like: scientific investigation of cosmological origins is all fine, but you can't draw any conclusions from this about God's existence or non-existence, or the nature of divine creative activity. My guess is based on what I know of papal pronouncements on faith and science, which seems to me to be incompatible with what Hawking reports JPII as saying. As Hume pointed out in his argument against belief in miracles, I don't have to accept everything I am told, and in this case I think I have contrary evidence.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

Graculus- indeed, law in the full, systematic sense of the word in which we know it was first developed, of course, by the Romans- definitely not a "people of the book".

By Steve LaBonne (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

MartinM: Here are the Pope's actual words from the meeting that Hawking refers to (I was able to find this by googling, in about 30 seconds):

"Every scientific hypothesis about the origin of the world, such as the one that says that there is a basic atom from which the whole of the physical universe is derived, leaves unanswered the problem concerning the beginning of the universe. By itself science cannot resolve such a question..."

(This is an English translation that is quoted in several places on the internet. The Italian and French official versions can be found at
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1981/october/do…
and
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1981/october/do…)

The question is then how to intepret this claim, but I think it is open to the reading that I guessed at before. The claim is that the scientific study of cosmology will leave some questions unanswered, that there are meaningful questions that science cannot be expected to answer. Many here will disagree with that, and will suggest that such questions should be discarded. But the Pope's claim cannot be read as discouraging science from pursuing all questions that it can. You can either say: there are questions that lie outside the scope of scientific inquiry, and scientists shouldn't imagine that they are actually answering those questions; or you can say that there are apparent questions that are really meaningless pseudo-questions, and science can and should answer all the real questions, but shouldn't fall into the trap of trying to answer the phonies. Either way you haven't stopped scientists from doing anything they want to do.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

MartinM: A direct quote from the Pope, please, not hearsay statements.

Guy Consolmagno and others at the Vatican HAVE been looking at the origins of the universe in their research (see for example his series on BBC4), which makes it unlikely that the JPII actually said what Hawking's claims he said, so I think that Hawkings was either joking or exaggerating the truth.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/briefhistory.shtml

Also, on a different issue, it's worth noting that the Vatican does NOT support intelligent design (and indeed that "theory" was ruled out over a thousand years ago by Aquinas and others). Here's a modern statement about the issue from the Vatican press agency:
"VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican's chief astronomer said Friday that "intelligent design'' isn't science and doesn't belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate raging in the United States."

Graculus, Read wht I wrote again, slowly. The answer to your question is in there. Try again.

"The notion of the rule of law,"

Not the laws themselves. Simple.

"But the Pope's claim cannot be read as discouraging science from pursuing all questions that it can. "

Excellent point Michael! Thanks for posting the quote. Highlights the point that every prof has to make to each new batch of undergrads == never rely secondary sources, always read the original.

Clearly the JPII was NOT discouraging scientists from doing their work. It's said how the media and others have stereotypes about the Vatican that lead them to misinterpret (or, in some cases willingly misrepresent) the actual message.

Indeed the JPII and B16 have done a lot to promote the exploration of the the cosmos (a field pioneered by the Jesuits no less!!) Contrary to Hawking's blatant misrepresentation of the Pope's statement, the opposite is true!!

Just look at the Vatican observatory's reports and you'll see that it's full of research directed at the origin of the universe (as well as other topics).
e.g. "William Stoeger and Michael Heller, along with their collaborators, are pursing theoretical studies that could lead to a better understanding of the origin of the universe and provide insight into the universe's structure and evolution during its early phases."

Have you checked out The Edge? They have quicktimes of the conference and a wonderful set of essays on science and belief and the "Third Culture." http://www.edge.org/

ANF

God-nerds vs tech-nerds. Can't any of do better than this?

I had a root canal done in '04, going to the dentist's office once a week for 3 weeks. On the first visit I noticed that the man would cross himself before starting to work on my mouth. The second week I asked why. He said: "just to remind myself that there's something bigger than me." I nodded. I said that I was from a family of atheists and that for us history served the same function. He nodded. We understood each other. He's a damn good dentist.

You idiots are all so opposed to psychology that you are unwilling to look at any logic that isn't identifiable as intention. I spent most of last week arguing with economists who try to think of their field as a science. The ambiguities of the historical record mean nothing to them, because history is only known through the fog of language and memory and reason is reason. You're ignoring the data on religion because you're ignoring it's function, concentrating instead on arguments made in its defense. Perhaps you're afraid that by looking behind the intentions of your opponents and acknowledging their psychologies you'd have to face your own?

We are creatures of conditioned response. Reason is the struggle against it. You think that a taste for numbers and an advanced degree eliminates the problem, but it only makes it worse. You're seduced by the teleology of science. But it''s called Secular Humanism and you seem not to understand the implications of that second word.

I checked out the Edge and was amused to find an article about Dennett's recovery from a heart attack due to scar tissue left over from a previous surgery (a very low probability event!). What makes me chuckle is that the article is titled "Thank Goodness". For an atheist, what does "goodness" have to do with this? and why should it be thanked??
Very ironic title.

edj, Did it ever cross your mind to read the article? It's about thanking the people involved in his recovery rather than God. "Goodness" here referring to the goodness of people.

edj, did you actually read the Dennett piece, or just the headline? he is thanking the goodness of his doctors, the staff at the hospital, etc.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

Michael: thanks for the quote. If the translation is accurate, that's somewhat better than Hawking's rendition. It's not "don't study these things," but rather "study these things if you like, but you're not going to get anywhere." Still anti-scientific, but not authoritarian with it.

Jack, hos: I took a quick look at the Vatican observatory website. Lots of good work there, but nothing I saw that related to the question of origins, in the sense it's meant here.

Try again.

"The notion of the rule of law,"

Not the laws themselves. Simple.

Try agtain yourself, I didd not state that the laws themselves were based there, but the tradition of the l;aws was secular.

You made a bare assertion, do you have anything to back it up, as most laws, the very notion of laws, predate/ exist independently of anything resembling revelation or holy texts.

Man I should be amused but I'm not.
What's important is not the revelation itself but the interpretation of ambiguous texts. Ever gone to church? Sermons are discourses on questions of ethics and morality, led by scholars, based on readings from old books. Mysticism and revelation are called "esoteric" knowledge because they are secondary to the functions of religion which is as a giver of law. Our justice system and every other 'system' is based on this model of interpretation. Take a course on constitutional law. Take a fucking lit course while you're at it. Do you sit in front of your computer all day? Then read Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale. He's got a blog too.

Unless you're a Catholic reactionary like Nino Scalia this is basic stuff.
Basic.

I am not defending religion. I am describing how we all accept still, and rely upon, systems of formal argument that are based as religion is, not on our capacity for reason but on the inevitability of our failure to do so. If we were capable of reason at any moment then justice could be both ad hoc and just.

Law is not based on optimism, nor would any of you want it to be.
go back to school

By Seth Edenbaum (not verified) on 22 Nov 2006 #permalink

What's important is not the revelation itself but the interpretation of ambiguous texts.

Cart before horse.

The laws existed before anyone tried to "interpret" them. That's human nature (quibbling), not the exclusive domain of religion. It is also human nature to have rules, this is not, again, the exclusive domain of the religious or religion.

You have not yet backed up your assertion with anything resembling evidence. So why don't you try addressing the point instead of being an insulting prick and heading at increasing speed towards my killfile.

Bim-What's important is not the revelation itself but the interpretation of ambiguous texts.
Boom-Cart before horse
Bop- Only if you believe in god (and want to argue the point).

I don't argue with the faithful.
Put me in your kill file now G, please so I don't have to come back here.

Continuing my annoying habit:
Bim/bam/bop was too glib, but not by much.
I'm not going to get into a discussion of chickens and eggs.
Read up on your intellectual history.

"did you actually read the Dennett piece, or just the headline? he is thanking the goodness of his doctors, the staff at the hospital, etc."

Yes, I read it. His point about "goodness" is irrationale and illogical.

As a materialist and atheist, what's the point of thanking people for doing their job? It has nothing to do with "goodness" (which would be relative anyway).
It's like standing under a tree in the rain and thanking goodness for the tree being there (or worse, thanking the tree). Or thanking cookies for existing after someone bakes them for you.

Vitis01: That would be some what ironic, given that one of the people who worked hardest for "science for everyone" (especially children) was Faraday, who was a Christian, albeit of a heterodox and curious sect.

Thomas: The Catholics are simply inconsistent. Try being a congitive neuroscientist and subscribing to Catholic doctrine; or recall what a pope told Hawking. These are recent points of disagreement.

Michael Kremer: Hawking made the claim much earlier - it appears in his 1988 A Brief History of Time.

Keith Douglas:

Yes, my googling also showed me that Hawking had reported this in A Brief History of time. I didn't think it worth mentioning, since the quote I provided was from the 1981 meeting with JPII which he reported there. So the quote I provided is still relevant.

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 24 Nov 2006 #permalink

Googling quickly reveals:
* a "Catholic Neuroscience Center" at the Catholic University of Korea, Seoul, Korea
* an opening for an assistant professor with a PhD in neuroscience in the psychology department at the Catholic University of America (a much more resolutely Catholic institution than most historically Catholic universities)
* a Catholic priest with "a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Arizona" as well as "degrees in biochemistry, chemistry, molecular and cellular biology, and philosophy."
(for the last: http://www.salve.edu/salvetoday/archives/view_archive_public.cfm?archiv… perhaps you could write to him and ask him how he manages to keep his mind in one piece, as I'm sure he will tell you he does.)

By Michael Kremer (not verified) on 24 Nov 2006 #permalink