Beyond Belief 2006

Hours and hours of video from Beyond Belief 2006, featuring Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, V.S. Ramachandran, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stuart Hameroff, Terry Sejnowski… and piles of scientific sorts. From yon site:

After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason? Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct beliefs, and experience empathy, fear and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies? Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what?

This is a critical moment in the human situation, and The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center brought together an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers to explore answers to these questions. The conversation took place at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA from November 5-7, 2006.

(Thanks, Brenden Simpson!)


  1. Can Richard Dawkins and Pat Buchanan show up in my neighborhood so I can curb-check both of them and their simple-minded ideologies on national TV?

  2. Can you really look at Dawkin’s’s work and say that it is “simple-minded ideology”? If so, I’d love to see a critique. A couple quotes from him:

    “If, by ‘God’, you mean love, nature, goodness, the universe, the laws of physics, the spirit of humanity, or Planck’s constant, none of the above applies. An American student asked her professor whether he had a view about me. ‘Sure,’ he replied. ‘He’s positive science is incompatible with religion, but he waxes ecstatic about nature and the universe. To me, that is ?religion!’ Well, if that’s what you choose to mean by religion, fine, that makes me a religious man.”

    “‘Religious’ physicists usually turn out to be so only in the Einsteinian sense: they are atheists of a poetic disposition. So am I. But, given the widespread yearning for that great misunderstanding, deliberately to confuse Einsteinian pantheism with supernatural religion is an act of intellectual high treason.”

    From his essay, “Why There is Almost Certainly No God” –

  3. Dawkins positing that, e.g. the only possiblities are either atheism or theism, that intolerance is inherent in religion, etc., buys into the idea that “religion” amounts to an intolerant monotheism that’s hung around since about Moses.

    Dawkins’ dogmatism approaches that only of the self-describe dantidogmatists who ape every word that falls from R.A. Wilson’s lips (listen to the R.U. Sirius podcast).

    Thirdly, Dawkins–and many scientists, like the ones I went to school with–insistence on debating the creationists and the “invisible man in the sky” crowd only grants them validity. It’s an identity issue, another goddamn ego-attachment in buddhist terms–speaking of which, would these losers call “buddhism” a “delusion”? or a “picture preference” according to the logical positivists. Speaking of which, Betrand Russell has mulled over this territory a good fifty years ago and did a better job with it. Dawkins might be hot shit for writing “The Selfish Gene”, but I have always been personally disturbed by the implications and the political ramifications of a great deal of “sociobiology”–it is often another way of saying “things are this way b/c they were the most evolutionary advantageous [i.e., “intended”]” and I had a neocon prof or two who just couldn’t get enough of that “moral animal” crap… Look to page two of this wired article for a cogent counterpoint: “”

    Lastly, like many scientists, Dawkins out of hand discounting of “supernaturalism”–the idea that science is the only possible means for exploring reality, and that all we’re aware of is all that is–has been dealt with in spades by the likes of Polanyi, Ken Wilber, sometimes Szaz, and a number of post-marxists… Scientists, particularly the ones who get lots of press, tend to be phillistines.

    But I am gradually turning into a tantric and antirealist fundamentalist unwilling to listen to anyone tell me the first and final prinicibles of reality until he’s spent five hours a day on a meditation mat for a decade. But I suppose advocating something effective makes me just another fascist. So much for double-binds.

    Maybe I’ll read Dawkins’s book, if he sends me a free copy or someone sends me a PDF.

  4. It may just be my own niche-defending speaking here, though. I think it’s far easier to “deconstruct” textual-critical style an idea of god or religion than it is to hang out in your laboratory and insist that you can disprove god exists through scientific understanding, when in fact it’s not possible to ostensibly prove, e.g., that “god does not exist.” But that might mean science nerds would have to hang out with chainsmoking english professors… I’m rehashing old territory. the problems with pseudoskepticism apply in a tangential way to “New Atheism” comes in handy here.

    Full Disclosure: I’ve used lots of drugs, had out-of-body experiences, and known sigillia and “spirits” to cause inexplicable effects beyond those science permits.

  5. I’m still not seeing the “simple-minded ideology” or dogma in Dawkins’s arguments. Or is the dogma just relying on critical reasoning to evaluate arguments? In which case, how can anyone debate anything? In the “Why There is Almost Certainly No God” Dawkins dismisses the usual arguments in favor of the existence of god with alternative, falsifiable, explanations.

    “Would these losers call ‘Buddhism’ a ‘delusion’?”

    I don’t know about Dawkins, but depending on your definition of Buddhism, I would. Check out and as starting points. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t valid points in Buddhism, or that meditation isn’t beneficial, but eastern religions are still harmful. So in other words, religion is not just “intolerant monotheism that?s hung around since about Moses” it also encompasses any belief system that promotes blind-belief in a higher power (including “karma”). If you drop the blind faith bit of a religion, and start picking and choosing what works for you, then you’ve pretty much dispensed with religion.

    I don’t think it’s atheists debating creationists that gives creationists validity, it seems to be religious nuts on school boards that give them validity. That’s the whole point – Dawkins is trying to strip them of their validity, and uses much of the ammunition provided by Russell.

    I haven’t read Polanyi or Szasz, and what I’ve read of Wilber hasn’t been convincing. What would you propose instead of science and critical thinking?

    Dawkins does not claim to have proved that god does not exist, only that god almost certainly does not exist, based on the evidence we’ve collected thus far.

    I too have had some… interesting, unreal, magical experiences. But to quote Manuel DeLanda: “I always strive to have a materialist explanation for what?s going on.”

  6. “…cause inexplicable effects beyond those science permits.”

    Science permits anything you can throw out there as evidence, provided that it is open to the possibility of being disproved by future evidence. Science is only a methodology, and so does not make claims to truth.

    If you believe your experiences are evidence for your beliefs, you are yourself applying the scientific method. Your evidence may be challenged, and potentially written off as disproved, but you are still basically applying the core method of science.

    Scientific theories do make claims to truth, which takes us to…

    Atheism is a label that says one thing, and one thing only: I do not believe in God. I doubt the evidence for God that has been presented.

    Why not just agnosticism? Agnosticism is not a statement about divinity, it is a statement about knowledge. It is the belief that there can be no certainty to knowledge; that is, knowledge is impossible, totally unattainable.

    Questions: If knowledge is impossible, can one be an atheist? Is the position of atheism necessarily drawn from the belief that knowledge is attainable?

    Which might make them all gnostics. I shouldn’t like to speculate.

    So, um… I doubt I’ve contributed anything, but that’s about all I can say to that for now.

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