Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"A Free-for-All on Science and Religion"

......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.”

She displayed a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn and its glowing rings eclipsing the Sun, revealing in the shadow a barely noticeable speck called Earth.

There has been no shortage of conferences in recent years, commonly organized by the Templeton Foundation, seeking to smooth over the differences between science and religion and ending in a metaphysical draw. Sponsored instead by the Science Network, an educational organization based in California, and underwritten by a San Diego investor, Robert Zeps (who acknowledged his role as a kind of “anti-Templeton”), the La Jolla meeting, “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival,” rapidly escalated into an invigorating intellectual free-for-all. (Unedited video of the proceedings will be posted on the Web at

A presentation by Joan Roughgarden, a Stanford University biologist, on using biblical metaphor to ease her fellow Christians into accepting evolution (a mutation is “a mustard seed of DNA”) was dismissed by Dr. Dawkins as “bad poetry,” while his own take-no-prisoners approach (religious education is “brainwashing” and “child abuse”) was condemned by the anthropologist Melvin J. Konner, who said he had “not a flicker” of religious faith, as simplistic and uninformed....

Dr. Weinberg, who famously wrote toward the end of his 1977 book on cosmology, “The First Three Minutes,” that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless,” went a step further: “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.”

...“I am utterly fed up with the respect that we — all of us, including the secular among us — are brainwashed into bestowing on religion,” (Dawkins) 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.”

“Persuasion isn’t always ‘Here are the facts — you’re an idiot or you are not,’ ”(Tyson) said. “I worry that your methods” — he turned toward Dr. Dawkins — “how articulately barbed you can be, end up simply being ineffective, when you have much more power of influence.”

...“What concerns me now is that even if you’re as brilliant as Newton, you reach a point where you start basking in the majesty of God and then your discovery stops — it just stops,” Dr. Tyson said. “You’re no good anymore for advancing that frontier, waiting for somebody else to come behind you who doesn’t have God on the brain and who says: ‘That’s a really cool problem. I want to solve it.’ ”

“Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,” he said. “Something fundamental is going on in people’s minds when they confront things they don’t understand.”


My response:

It is an interesting conversation. I think that Harris and Dawkins and their followers become SOooo anti-religion that they are offensive and people shut them out.

I thought it was interesting that some of the people who were so anti-religion would go to the UU church. While UU's do not necessarily believe in God (it can be more like that "alternative church" that Porco mentions) - and while people can think/believe a variety of things- I still think of it as a religion. And just as people who do go to Christian churches actually believe a variety of things also - like whether they believe the virgin birth and such to all sorts of things in the Bible that some think are important/true and others do not.

I think that the Bush Administration, etc. anti-science stance has been part of what has fueled that anti-religion stance. I think that a lot of people could tolerate the Christian "role" or whatever in society as long as it didn't step on the toes of science. But with them becoming SOoo anti-science - whether for economic reasons (like if the oil industry
wants people to disbelieve global warming so they keep consuming) or whatever - it's just too much.

On the other hand - I think that science without an appreciation and love, even, of nature - is a very empty thing and can also lead to bad choices. Like some people who seem so people-centered that they would do anything to improve the comfort-level of people while destroying the planet - as if we don't need it. I think that that is really short sighted/wrong-minded. There is the necessity for values and priorities in science as in any endeavor..

Mostly it's the profit-centered, greedy people (who tend to be focused on the "business model") who are the biggest problem - that are out of touch with the consequences of their actions - the consequences of over-consumption by an over-populated planet.

I think that more than whether people attibute unknown forces to a God or Goddess - that the important thing is a respect for life - however it came about. Including a repsect for life in the future. And there is this new thing that people in the past didn't have to worry about so much - and that is life as whole - the earth as ecosystem and how we and our lifestyles affect it. If I were to start an "alternative church" - it would be focused on that.

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