Saturday, June 02, 2007

Beyond Belief 2006: Summary

Every weekend for 4 months I have been commenting on the presentations at the Beyond Belief 2006 conference. I have now covered every presentation.

The main reason why I selected this project is because I was concerned with what I might have missed in the years since I left graduate school. Though I have tried to keep up on the subjects that interested me, this is simply far harder to do than it was when I did not have to divert so many hours to a job outside of my field of interest.

Beyond Belief 2006 brought together many of the best minds in or near the American academic tradition to discuss just the topics that interested me – morality (and, in particular, morality without God), meaning, and value. If I had been missing something important in my attempts to keep up in these fields, these sessions should have revealed that lapse.

My question was whether a person who watched the sessions and reads my commentary would be better off than the person who merely watched the sessions. Could I contribute something of value?

Ultimately, I am not going to answer whether I succeeded or failed. I’ll leave that up to the reader.

(1) Steven Weinberg Faith: A Defect of Desire

(2) Lawrence Krauss: Selling Science

(3) Sam Harris: The Tone of Political Discourse

(4) Michael Shermer: The Art of Political Compromise

Note: Michael Shermer wrote in eskeptic magazine:

I recently found this blog summary of my lecture at the Beyond Belief conference at the Salk Institute November 5–7, 2006. I wanted to call it to your attention because this is the only account I have seen thus far that understood what I was saying about the necessity for compromise between science and religion if we have goals beyond the scope of the realm of these two enterprises (which I do). All of the press accounts of the conference simply quoted the most extremist positions in short sound-bites, missing out entirely on much of the subtle discussions that went on. —Michael Shermer

(5) Neil deGrasse Tyson: Intelligent Design

(6) Discussion: Public Relations"

(7) Joan Roughgarden: Evolution and The Bible

(8) Richard Dawkins: Missing Religion

(9) Discussion: Desire, Value, and Meaning

(10) Carolyn Porco: Awe and Wonder

(11) Stuart Hameroff: Rational Ignorance and Platonic Moral Forms

(12) V. S. Ramachandran: Brain States

(12) Paul Davies: Levitating Superturtles

(13) Stephen Nadler: Spinoza

(14) Patricia Churchland: The Biology of Morality

(15) Susan Neiman: Religion and Science

(16) Discussion: Susan Neiman's Science and Morality

(17) Loyal Rue: The Nature of Religion

(18) Elizabeth Loftus: False Memories

(19) Mahzarin Banaji: Bugs of the Mind

(20) Richard Dawkins Part I: Consciousness Raising

(21) Richard Dawkins Part II: Morality and the Selfish Gene

(22) Scott Atran: Is Religion to Blame?

(23) Sir Harold Kroto: Communicating Science

(24) Charles Harper: Scientism

(25) Ann Druyan: Popular Science

(26) Sam Harris: Morality and Religion

(27) Jim Woodward: Empirical Study of Religion and Harm

(28) Melvin Konner: Hope, Benefit, and Prohibiting Religion

(29) Discussion: Faith as a Vice

(30) Paul Churchland: Rawls' Theory of Justice

(31) Daniel Dennett: Thank Goodness

(32) Richard Sloan: Medicine and Religion

(33) V. S. Ramachandran: Cognitive Illusions

(34) Neil deGrasse Tyson: Meaning

(35) Terrence Sejnowski: The Miracle of Science

I sincerely hope that you find this useful. I certainly found it an educational enterprise. And, as I said at the start of the series, I immensely enjoy listening to intelligent people having a discussion. It is, for me, one of my more basic pleasures.

Beyond Belief II is scheduled for November of this year. I will likely try to do the same thing. In the mean time, I guess I need to find something else to do with my weekends for a while.


Anonymous said...

I have a question completely unrelated to the topic.

How does desire utilitarianism approach the topic of moral responsibility? What I mean is that since humans don't have a magical 'free will,' and our desires are basically an accumulation of factors in our upbringing, are we to blame for our actions or desires?

Hume's Ghost said...

Thanks for compiling this into a post, Alonzo. I missed a lot while I was gone and look forward to reading through the whole series as I get the time.

And kudos on the e-skeptic mention (I'm a subscriber to the letter but I had quit checking it during my hiatus.)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if Beyond Belief II is going ahead? There is no news on the web site, and time is running out (I'd like to book a flight!)