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Beyond Belief & Enlightenment 2.0 Academic Forums




(1) Conference, Salk Institute, 31 October – 2 November 2007, titled

Enlightenment 2.0

The whole conference was videoed under the auspices of The Science Network

A range of academic speakers contributed.

This page takes you out to some of the speakers websites.

Deirdre McCloskey, professor of economics amongst other disciplines, quotes on her front page from Amélie Oksenberg Rorty:

Our ability to engage in continuous conversation, testing one another, discovering our hidden presuppositions, changing our minds because we have listened to the voices of our fellows. Lunatics also change their minds, but their minds change with the tides of the moon and not because they have listened, really listened, to their friends’ questions and objections.

No Double Standards blog has contributed thoughts to this and also lists briefly what each speaker was dealt with.

Sandwalk blog illustrates in the comments stream how confused things can get.

(2) TSN hosted another conference BEYOND BELIEF:Science, Religion, Reason and Survival also at the Salk Institute, La Jolla November 5-7, 2006, which was attended by many of the same academics.

The 2006 debate was divided into three section around three basic questions:

Should science do away with religion?
What would science put in religions place?
Can we be good without God?

It’s debatable whether this was really tackled. Most of the talks seemed to be set around each persons specialism, and were really about they had recently been up to. Though it was not to difficult to see where the subject matter fitted into the three questions. But it is really up to you to take it further.

So far there doesn’t seem to be much of an e-text/ transcript to go with the forum videos: watching the talks which go on for hours is not the quickest way to take on board the ideas. Two of the contributors were especially unhappy with the overall tone of the forum. Joan Roughgarden ( was reported later as calling it “an exaggerated and highly-rose colour view of the capabilities of science “) {2}. She is a biology and geophysics professor and Christian. Scott Atran (wasn’t happy either terming it “a neo-Christian cult”, by which he meant a scientist cult). He is amongst other things an anthropologist at CNRS (National Centre for Science Research), Paris. This dissatisfaction followed through into the second conference in 2007.

Melvin Konner, famous for his book The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraint on the Human Spirit (1982), (A must read by the way) took a rigorously analytical, yet conciliatory approach. The atheistic hawks such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris both with anti-God books out left no prisoners, attacking religion rather than defending science.

There is a subsequent Edge debate around Scott Atram’s contribution in 2006.

There are interesting personal stories which were revealed during the conference or will become apparent if the speakers backgrounds are examined with online material. I will write a dedicated post to a couple of these which are fascinating.

The posts here will concentrate on these two conferences for a while, with anything I find interesting or think important, though it is so vast if all the side issues are considered. Why isn’t there some sort of tight summary/synthesis by now.

The man in charge of both conferences is Roger Bingham, Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is a Brit with a sharp wit. His asides between the talks are entertaining in themselves. Quite a few good jokes and quotes. He explained at one point that he had been influenced early in life by Bronowski’s “The Ascent of Man” {2}TV programme, reading out the words from the famous scene where Bronowski stands in the pool at Auschwitz to scoop up a handful of wet ash:

It is said that science will dehumanise people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogmas. It was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
This is the Youtube of that section.

JB’s family perished in the holocaust. 18 January 2008 was the 100 anniversary of his birth.

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January 17, 2008 - Posted by | Bronowski, Enlightenment, Philosophy, religion, science | , ,

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