Beyond Belief conference

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The Beyond Belief conference "is an annual meeting organized by The Science Network (TSN), which brings together a community of concerned scientists, philosophers, scholars from the humanities, and social commentators to explore the human quest for the Good Life. The Science Network shares Carl Sagan’s vision of science as a candle in the dark. TSN is committed to enlarging the constituency of reason by making programs about science. More programs, more candles, more light."

Beyond Belief #1

Took place in 2006; no other information at present

Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0

Took place October 31 - November 1, 2007


2007-10-31 Wednesday

  • Session 1 (2:48:08) (intro has an interesting quote from the 10th century)
    • 0:04:20 Darrin McMahon: is "Enlightenment 1.0" in need of an upgrade?
    • 0:25:38 Margaret Jacob: some historical background on the Enlightenment, focusing on the 1680s
    • 0:40:54 Edward Slingerland: more historical background –: the real Confucius (Enlightenment 0.5); gets into psychological issues behind the persistence of religion-based thought; shows how some of the current criticisms of humanism are echoes of criticisms from over 2000 years ago in China; highly relevant to Issuepedia human nature page.
    • 1:21:25 Don Rutherford
    • 1:51:07 Daniel Dennett: responds to claims that the books by the "Four Horsemen" (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens) are insulting, abrasive, offensive, and do more harm than good. Proposes mandatory religious education in the US (including private & home schools), covering all religions -- just the facts, not any judgments. "Toxic religions depend on enforced ignorance of the young." Responds to David Sloan Wilson's writings.
    • 2:19:16 David Sloan Wilson: "What Happened to the Enlightenment?" and other questions. Addresses secular creationism and postmodernism, rational choice theory, evolution of human preferences; "Stealth Religions". Finishes with a list of key questions about religion, and says Dawkins claims utter disinterest in all but the first question; claims that Dawkins and the other "new atheists" actually do care about those things, and need to be more scientific about their approach to religion (which is the whole of his complaint -- not that they are "abrasive, rude" etc.).
  • Session 2 (4:14:18)
    • 0:00:30 Jonathan Haidt: Enlightenment 2.0 requires Morality 2.0; broad scientific consensus on existence of God(s)...

2007-11-01 Thursday

  • Session 1 (4:04:02)
    • 0:04:30 Peter Atkins: "Science as Culture"; cosmology
    • 0:40:10 Sir Harold Kroto: Galileo is turning in his grave; issues a challenge to The Templeton Foundation; plays part of a Pat Condell video; more indictments of the Templeton Foundation;; Michael Shermer defends Templeton, Kroto concedes a point; more discussion of Templeton
    • 1:20:18 Scott Atran: mainstream news follows a power-law distribution -- most news comes from very few sources, and those sources have a 30-40% error rate. Religion is neither inherently good nor bad, though it is capable of extremes of both. Religious education is actually a negative predictor of religious extremism and violence. Atran's group actually did a study of every terrorist incident, to find out where they came from; only a very small number originated with Madrassas. Al Qaeda is no longer an existential threat to the US; it is decimated. The internet "provides the greatest impetus" for terrorists to make connections with each other, though they also hatch plots at weddings and restaurants (not in mosques). Seems to be making the case that terrorism is due to excessive testosterone and male bonding over soccer. (What about the women who say they want their sons to be jihadis?) Humiliation is negatively correlated with suicidal violence. Moral outrage is correlated. Ends with some fairly specific suggestions.
    • 2:00:15 break
    • 2:00:55 Lee Silver: defining religion; some examples of actual street-beliefs around the world. Survey for "who should control life before birth": #1 God, #2 nobody, #3 parents, #4 doctor. Looks at attitudes towards "biological meddling", especially supposedly secular New Age views.
    • 2:27:00 Greg M. Epstein: humanism as a progressive life-stance, as a necessary part of E2.0
    • 2:51:38 Ronald de Sousa: religion and science both seek imperceptible things as explanations for perceptible things; science, however, doesn't require that these things be agents (i.e. have a will), and demands evidence for any explanation
    • 3:12:00 Patricia Churchland: neuroethics -- ethics as a biological and cultural phenomenon. Much of what we call reason isn't inductive or deductive but pattern recognition. A questioner addresses the issue of bonding over the internet.
  • Session 2 (3:43:58)

2007-11-02 Friday

  • Session 1 (4:03:24)
    • 0:02:40 Sam Harris: dislikes the term "atheism"; argues that religion and science are necessarily in conflict because (e.g.) they disagree about the nature of physical reality; the myth of "non-overlapping magesteria". In the question session, he introduces (in passing) the concept of "rhetorical punishment".
    • 1:04:50 Daniel Lord Smail: apparently the public schools in NYC teach history as beginning in 4000 BC -- conveniently not contradicting Young Earth Creationism.
    • 1:49:42 Jeff Hawkins: a quick thought about entrepreneurs and getting things (specifically, E2.0) done
    • 1:56:18 PZ Myers speaks from the audience, in response to questions
      • 2:01:08 Sam Harris responds to one of Myers's points: different contexts call for different approaches; Myers replies, and a consensus seems to be reached
    • 2:03:34 [ break in continuity ]
    • 2:09:15 moderator dialogue with Dennett
    • 3:31:29 moderator dialogue with Sir Harold Kroto (seems to cut off a bit prematurely)