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Beyond Belief 2006

In the comments to another post on Beyond Belief 2006 Bruce points to a segment in Session 4 where Ann Druyan responds to Darren Schreiber one of the few 'scientists of faith' in the audience. The clip begins with Darren's 'testimony' followed by Ann. I agree with Bruce's description of Ann's words "as one of the most poetic descriptions of the majesty of scientific discovery that I have ever heard." Ann is the coauthor of The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God a bit of Carl Sagan from beyond the grave, a review from Scientific American explains that this is an edited version of his 1985 Gifford Lectures in which Sagan, asks why, if God created the universe, he left the evidence so scant. He might have embedded Maxwell’s equations in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Ten Commandments might have been engraved on the moon. "Or why not a hundred- kilometer crucifix in Earth orbit?… Why should God be so clear in the Bible and so obscure in the world?" He laments what he calls a "retreat from Copernicus," a loss of nerve, an emotional regression to the idea that humanity must occupy center stage.

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that is beautiful. that is the sort of thing that is infinitely more helpful than what dawkins (et al) has to say. absolute truths need to be torn down, that is the dangerous part of religion. silly beliefs never hurt anyone, absolutism has. that is why religion is against progress and is intolerant to other religions. it is also responsible for shutting down questions, including questions towards those in positions of authority.

this is a point i think is neglected by atheists too much. i dont think ive ever heard it put so succinctly, perhaps this is something that should be posted and reposted.

One thing that struck me was the way in which Darren described his experience of God. It sounded a whole lot like the way I would describe a science-based 'epiphany.'

I've experienced several times the joy, excitement, and, honestly, fulfilment of making a dramatic realization after meditating on facts. I suppose I could (and do) call them advancements in my personal understanding or perception of the world.

I am confident enough to assume that there are certainly a fair number of scientists driven in large part by these special moments.

I love how Ann said that scientists live 'in the unknown'. there are still infinite facts that surround and inspire and amaze us. Sprawling landscapes, the seemingly infinite cosmos, human interaction and emotion...

The Unknown truly is a satisfying environment to live in when you realize that it should be (and can be, and is!) the question - not the answer - that drives us.

One thing I have some trouble with is the idea that there is one correct workable way to deal with these questions.

It apears among the scientists and the rest of of.

I understand that some people do not respond well to Dawkins. Some don't respond as well to the more poetic speakers.

Ann Druyen and Neil deGrasse Tyson are both excellent public speakers who are good at speaking to the proverbial masses. Tyson is awe inspiring.

But, the one I can listen to for hours and come away feeling like I've learned a lot of new things, is Dawkins.

My point is that there necessarily must be a variety of different voices dealing with the issues. There is no one way, no one method that apeals to and might educate everyone.

I think it is wrong to believe any one approach to communication is THE correct method.

That which speaks most clearly to one person may seem utterly obscure to another.

^ I agree with you!

"silly beliefs never hurt anyone, absolutism has."

Silly beliefs have hurt a many of folks. Like some Christians who believed in the passage that says if one is a true believer, that a snakes bite can/will not kill you.

Well, he died, he must of not been a True believer.

I think it would be more correctly put that absolutism is one of the largest contributing factor in 'silly beliefs' that lead to harming others or themselves.

A key component to religions 'sucess' - yes (What else in your life do they have to fall back on that is consistant/ not changing?) but not the only fuel that drives the beast.

That was an amazing retort. The world needs more people like Ann Druyan.


I have to laugh at Darren Schreiber. His claim that scientists lack humility is really pointless. Notice he says nothing of the substance of scientific discovery. He simply quibbles about stylistics -- and manages to be completely wrong in that regard as well.

He's standing there whining about religious beliefs not being respected. Sam Harris must have been exasperated with this clown.

What a coincidence, Schreiber. You experienced intense trauma from which you were desperate for relief. And you found it in the most well-marketed comic book of all time. How very unoriginal.

ThomasMcCay, it's very interesting that you should bring up that point. since my initial post above (i.e. within the last few hours), i have come to see the same point that you make.

I'm an atheist and personally believe that the negative influence of religion is a growing problem that requires dealing with (side note: I see the value in the positive influence, but that's another discussion :). Tonight I re-watched "Root of All Evil?" with a friend of mine who is a religious Christian and pursuing a Masters in Philosophy.

His first reaction was to Dawkins' seemingly vitriolic presentation. We stopped the documentary a few times and discussed how we felt about it. The heat of the debate got about as high as it can get without becoming offensive, but by the end we came to an unexpected, but satisfying agreement.

I was arguing that the benefits of religion can be found by other existing means, so let's 'get rid' of religion to remove its negative influence from the world. My friend was arguing that Dawkins was presenting his case in such a way that nearly any topic could replace religion as the "root of all evil" (as the title appears to imply).

our realization was two-fold: first, we saw we were arguing two separate points! :P Second, we realized that during our respective defenses of 'opposing' beliefs, we made the most progress (or were nicest to each other) when we allowed ourselves to simply accept the possibility that we could be wrong. i had to see that i might be wrong and he had to see that he might be wrong and then we could see that we were both wrong.

sort of.

Sounds a lot like the scientific method to me - observe, repeat, and try to prove each other wrong. This methodology that science is based upon seems to be an extremely effective (and safe!) way of solving problems that face humanity. And many enlightened scientists feel a sense of excitement when shown wrong. They celebrate the advancement of knowledge.

My friend takes critical analysis of God to be an extremely important component of his faith. So while I personally, at this point in my understanding of the world, believe there is no God, I can still completely respect my friend's belief system - he's against blindly believing something, and so am I. And we feel this way because we see the harm that dishonesty (in this case intellectual dishonesty) can cause.

In the second half of the documentary, and increasingly towards the end of the film, we saw Dawkins meet with people who seemed more similar to Richard than to extremist leaders, but who still strongly disagreed with him. These people presented their views quite well, and it seemed the ones who were most convincing (IMHO) were the ones presented the most threatening rebuttals to Dawkins' claims.

However, what I did see in those who seemed to best defend their beliefs was a rejection of things that are proven "false." In other words they are focusing on the more profound and fundamental questions that religion provides guidance for, and they're rejecting benign claims like the world being 6000 years old and other falsehoods.

What came out of all of this for me was a realization that science is a field (well, many, many fields) of study that can show people truths about the world they live, such as the fact that we are all humans and race or gender are absolutely nothing to be afraid of or discriminate against.

Many, many religious people agree that race and gender discrimination is a bad thing. Science deems the concept ridiculous. What we need to realize is that the two should work together with all fields of understanding as opposed to... well, opposing each other.

So to conclude this lengthy rant, I'll try and make my point. :P I agree that there is no one way to make every type of person understand your side of any particular argument. And I think that the best way to spread peace is to teach people to listen to each other. I think that the scientific method presents one of the best ways to enable or even force people to understand each other.

If we can spread the scientific method of proving falsehoods, then more people will rigorously debate ideas and start to accept the possibility that they are wrong. And that's when we can get back to this silly question of how we got here.

I love Ann. She's so humble and lovely. You should listen to her interview on Radio Lab. She tells a story about "the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space."

well, the absolutism is the reason for people uncritically reading the bible. silly beliefs never hurt anyone, silly faiths have. doubt is absolutely necessary, even if you believe something you should have the power to doubt it. if you have a bit of doubt, youre not gonna test yourself with poisonous snakes. and neither are you gonna burn the heretics.

this clip is valuable more for the point than for her speaking style, though i like that too. i like dawkins also, i just dont think he puts the focus on the right thing. i would like to see him attack faith more than religion. in this clip i believe she explicitly says that she has no quarrel with those who are searching for god, she only has quarrel with those who think they have found him, and found all the answers.


Ann Druyan! She is the authoress of "Acquiring Genomes," which establishes her in my mind as one of the few Big Thinkers, from whole-ly within Biology. When she talks, one's ears perk up. By the way, the term "religion" is so inadequate. Just as Greek has multiple words for "love" (eros, agape, etc.), we need more words. Spirituality, Atmospirituality, Atmospherituality,...?

Goedel says "Religions are bad, religion is good." But what does he really mean?

Maybe we could acquire some cultural Genome(Memenome?) from Tibet or somewhere, but until we do Science is it, Jack.

And religion, by whatever name, is so much trash, icthys-wrapping paper, if it has something contradictory to Science inside, it's garbage, and needs to be taken out before it starts to smell. Even when it comes to Psychology.

Humility. Yes, humility. The humility to acknowledge that there is nothing more to your faith than there is to pastafarianism.

May his noodly appendage bless you.

Anns is eloquent but her final words end up to be untrue and somewhat unliveable. She uses metaphysical language to get her point across to people who diligently disreguard spirituality and metaphysics. Which is it? Do you believe that we are spiritual as well as physical? Or is our spirituality a result of the physical? In that case why even evoke spirituality as a legitamate entity. The idea that absolute truths need to be abolished is silly. There are absolute truths and they are beyond our control. You can live in denial all you want but the reality of the situation is that, in this world, truth does matter. Especially when you are on the receiving end of a lie. I think we need to realize that absolute truths are not a bad thing, despite what you may have been lead to believe in college.

And how do you define absolute truth? Is the purview of science absolute truth? I would argue that pure rationalism leads you away from a concept of "absolute truth." Science is the search for facts about the universe, not truths.

I think we need to realize that there is a difference bewtween a "fact" and "truth." Facts add up to subtantiate truth. Take a rape case. All of the scientificly proven facts lead to one person as a perpetrator. If you or I are the victim then we are inclined to want to know the truth of the matter. But the truth is neither created or destroyed by us. But yet we seek for an absolute. We fear absolutes but they really are freeing in the end. I hope this makes sense, am typing really quickly over lunch.

The identity of the rapists may be substantiated by the facts of science. But it still requires human interpretation of those facts to decide guilt. That is why (I feverently hope) juries will never be replaced by computers.

Science is equipped to produce knowledge, not to discern truth. It provides a paradigm with which to model the physical world, but we must not forget that it is still just a model, highly successful in some areas but not in others.

Right, so we use scientific facts to determine guilt. Which in turn reveals truth. Truth that can not be changed by our own doing. So I guess my quetions then is why do we need to take the extra step of discerning truth?


after you have decided on who the rapist is, and you have decided that is the truth, do you really want to be at a point where you can no longer question if it really was the rapist? thats what absolutes do, they shut down questions. absolute truths are "freeing" in that they free you from the responsibility of uncertainty and the unknown, they free you from freedom (which is genuinely scary, even to lovers of freedom such as myself). probably you would like to be at a point where questioning the truth is inconceivable, that is quite attractive, that sense of security and certainty. but it is dangerous. questioning the truth is how progress happens. humanity just needs some humility, as was said in the video. we just need some doubt, it is healthy.

and by the way, the "...despite what youve been lead (sic) to believe in college" is merely an example of the way you assume truth is derived. that is how absolute truths are spread, by leading people to them (if people came to them themself there would be discrepencies, and even small contradictions mean the truth is not absolute). my ideas are created by doubt, by questions. even if they are ideas created by other people, my acceptance of them is predicated on questioning them. you have a very sad opinion of truth if you must be led to it.

dfsxvcdv, Thanks for catching my spelling error. I dropped out of college. I hear what you are saying but what you say is really unlivable. After science derives for certain who the rapist is then the truth is known. What more truth can be found? Yes you can question whether or not it is the right person but the truth already answers that. Your pursuit is then just in vain. So yes, in this case, an absolute truth shuts down the need for questioning further. Like I said before....How is this a bad thing? Science is how progress happens not questioning the truth. Questioning the truth only creates untruths.

and by the way, the "...despite what youve been lead (sic) to believe in college" is merely an example of the way you assume truth is derived. that is how absolute truths are spread, by leading people to them (if people came to them themself there would be discrepencies[sic], and even small contradictions mean the truth is not absolute).

I don't assume truth is derived from college, I feel it is one of many places where it is taught. Your assumption that truth comes from us is incorrect. Please just take some time to ponder where truth comes from in the rape scenario. We acknowledge the facts but we have know way of controlling or altering the truth of the matter. And in our world the truth does matter. I guess I will go one step further and pull out the fundamental argument about absolute truth claims. Isn’t your assertion about there not being absolute truths an absolute in and of itself? So in essence you are saying, "the truth is, there is no truth?"


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