Beyond Belief

I recently listened and watched a conference that has brought scientist and philosophers together to discuss the conflict between religion and science.  The code word for the conflict in the USA is the question of intelligent design versus evolution.  I am finding the discussion both interesting and intellectually challenging.  The people are very concerned about the rise in fundamentalism in the world and the debate is what is the cause and what to do.  Many of the participants believe that science and reason are the answer.  Have a look at the site: 

Much of the discussion has been provoked by a book by Sam Harris called The End of Faith.

I learned much about the various points of view and how dogmatic belief in anything can be very dangerous.

A interesting debate is occurring between Harris and Scott Atran.   Scott Atran is Research Director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France, has experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature. He currently is an organizer of a NATO working group on suicide terrorism.   Sam Harris has authored the New York Times bestsellers, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason which won the 2005 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, and Letter to a Christian Nation. His essays have appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Times of London, The Boston Globe and elsewhere. He is currently researching the neural basis of religious belief while completing a doctorate in neuroscience.

Harris claims that fundementalist religion must take the wrap for the suicide terrorism.  Altran says there is no scientific evidence to support Harris’s claim.  They may use their religious authority to justify the action but he questions whether any research has verified that it is a the real motivation.  Harris says there is lots of evidence. 

I learned many things and saw some awesome pictures of the universe.  One picture taken by some space craft of Saturn with the sun behind it.  The rings are just beautiful and there is a little dot in one of the rings which is the earth behind Saturn.

I find it interesting that some people think that because they can find a chemical change in the body for a religious experience that it invalidates that experience.   Scientist seem to think if they can attach some physical explanation to an event it becomes "nothing but."   

  1. Graham Boundy Reply

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through Harris’s “The End of Faith”. I agree with some of his ideas and differ on others. While his premise might have some merit he ignores the challenge that Faith is part of Culture. When Change goes up against Culture, Culture wins every time. No matter how irrational some of our Faiths may be they are entrenched.
    Prior to reading Harris I was reading the Power of Myth (Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell). Interesting juxtiposition.
    Michael, I like your comments on science’s approach being limited by our/its own assumptions and observations. But it also introduces an interesting paradox — if we can’t rely entirely on our senses and reason what else do we have to rely on…oh yeah, faith.
    Mostly, I think Sam Harris is angry and frustrated that people don’t see his arguments as intuitively obvious and that all mainstream religion, and in his writings especially Islam, are leading us to utter ruin.
    And while anger is one of the 7 deadly sins I think the one we need to focus on more, and Harris ignores completely, is greed. It is the greed that we infidels idolize. It drives more of our troubles than faith. And if the truth be told it has hidden behind faith and used faith to hide its actions for millenia.
    “I didn’t expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition.” Graham Chapman
    “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Michael Palin

  2. Michael Reply

    I’m interested to read that Sam Harris is researching:
    “…the neural basis of religious belief”.
    If science can believe in the neural basis of any belief, they demonstrate the strength and depth of the ‘assumptions’ they view reality through!. The fundamental assumption upon which this kind of thinking is based, is the view that – only by viewing the evidence of the senses, can we know fundamental sources of the reality we expereince. This is a blind alley and science continues to march down it.
    Only when science sees through this flawed assumption, will it begin to understand what the source of reality is. Instead science studies the by-product and examines transient manifestations, believing they examine fundamental reslity. All this, derived from an assumption, that observation through the senses, allied with reasoned thought, can delineate what reality is. In this sense science is ‘wandering in the desert’ of its own assumptions, wondering where the next oasis is. Wake-up science!. Your assumptions are like quicksand!.

  3. Jim Reply

    Maida, you have a deal. Let me know when you are finished your book.

  4. Maida Reply

    History of God is next on my list. 🙂 Maybe if we finish around the same time we can swap books?
    I’ve also had Armstrong recommended to me; she’s a good voice in the “popular theology” domain I think.

  5. Jim Reply

    I have started a book called the History of God by Armstrong. I have just started it but it also has promise. I have so many things to read. I started reading Armstrong after I had read “Pagan Christ”, because a theologian friend of mine said it was better way to explore this issue. The material in “Pagan Christ”, he said, was 60’s stuff.
    Lots of food for thought.

  6. Maida Reply

    It sounds like a fascinating discussion.
    I’m currently reading “The Battle for God” by Karen Armstrong, which looks at the rise of and the roots for fundamentalist faith in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – although I’m only a chapter or so into the book, it’s really interesting so far. If you’re thinking about this kind of thing I would highly recommend it.

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