Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faith and Science at the World Science Festival - 2010

Before the event took place there was much consternation abuzz on the blogosphere over the cast of characters chosen to speak at the Faith and Science event held as part of the 2010 World Science Festival.  Sean Carrol of Cosmic Variance being the first vocal critic with Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne re-posting Carroll's critique on their respective homepages. Other discussions of the event can be seen at Thoughts from Kansas, Uncertain Principles, and evolutionblog. The panel included evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, cosmologist and physicist Paul Davies, biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa.

Dr. Brian Greene - festival founder - kicked off the panel by getting in front of the audience and thanking his mother, brother, and two sisters - all in attendance -  for their shared life of cosmic discussions.  From this familial focal point he explained the purpose of the event - open discussion.  He described the array of religious viewpoints in his own family and how, despite their differences, they are able to discuss big questions with open ears. Dr. Greene also took time to thank the foundations that made the festival possible. 

This was my first time attending the World Science Festival as I signed up to volunteer months ago, otherwise I have no affiliation with WSF or any of the funding foundations. My thoughts are my own and I feel I am in a position to judge this event without bias. I have kept my finger on the pulse of the "new-atheist" vs. "religious apologist" debate for years and always come to the same conclusion. Talking about something controversial, whether it be  cold fusion, God, or intrinsically disordered proteins, is better than not talking about it. I am a biochemist and not religious but I do see great value in discussion, even among those diametrically opposed. One of my favorite philosophers, Dr. Bernard Rollin said in thanking his colleagues at the front of his book Science and Ethics "Plato is right; thought is dialogue, people in lively discussion, not Rodin's isolated Cartesian." Though I understand the criticism flung at this event, I feel an event whose mission is to bring science into the public sphere must include such a discussion, as religion plays such a prominent role in the lives of so many around the globe.

Bill Blakemore, decorated journalist of ABC News, moderated the panel. He began by asking each panelist to give an image and a musical composition they felt best displayed the intersection between science and faith.

As a full disclosure, the two scientists on the panel - Dr. Ayala and Dr. Davies are Templeton prize winners. This fact is given as reason for the preemptive criticisms from the blogosphere as the Templeton prize awards a scientist each year that takes "remarkable steps affirming life's spiritual dimensions." The new atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne have taken to boycotting anything receiving funds from said foundation which puts their blogging minions in a stir.  Despite the boycott the event did happen and there were some worthy morsels of dialogue though there were no fireworks. 

What follows is my transcription of the dialogue. I attempt to type out exactly what was said while inserting some thoughts of my own.

 Blakemore was quick to fire some poignant questions beginning with Dr. Fransisco Ayala. He asked "What are your feelings towards religion... are you religious?"

Alaya replied by saying "Whether I am religious or not it is very important for my family. But, for my public image I am not prepared to declare my position on religion."

Ayala chose El Amor Brujo by Manuel de Falla as his musical piece. The image he chose was painted in "a fit of manic energy" in protest by Pablo Picasso. Titled "Guernica" after the town in Spain. Guernica was a spiritual center for the Basques where the Biscayne assembly had historically met under a sacred oak tree.  Under command of dictator Francisco Franco, Nazi planes attacked the city of Guernica on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The day of the bombing 1,700 people out of a population of 7,000 were killed. Ayala used this painting to illustrate what science can and cannot do for human understanding. Science can tell us the physical descriptions of what Guernica is. We can know the pigments used, the coordinates of the brush strokes, but this austere description does not tell the story of Guernica. There is no meaning, no purpose in this dry description.

He reasoned that science simply deals with the composition of matter whereas religion gives things purpose and meaning. He described his view as science and religion as two different windows looking into the SAME world. Blakemore reiterated TWO WINDOWS. He neglected to reiterate SAME WORLD. This is a twist on the old NOMA philosophy, or Non-overlapping magisteria approach to the science and religion discussion promoted by prominent evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. The difference being, in NOMA, science and faith are mutually exclusive. Ayala described his personal academic journey from the study of physics to biology, specifically focusing on human evolution. Though Ayala was not forthcoming with his personal convictions on faith and God he was very clear about his feelings toward creationism. He took the opportunity to slam creationism as a fallacy comparing its teaching in public schools with teaching alchemy and witchcraft.
"There is no place for creationism in science classrooms."

I was glad to see Dr. Ayala take such a strong stance on at least one issue.  The fear many non-compatibilist atheists have is the old "give 'em an inch, and they'll take a mile" mentality.  Granted, when the lives of children are involved I can see where this fear is warranted.  If faith in God is considered higher than any human form of medical help and "faith healing" is given equal merit to proven medical procedures then we have a problem.  Watching Ayala put his foot down on creationism gives me hope that reason can rule the day in such instances.

Blakemore then asked "Does science give us hope?"

Ayala answered "I don't think so. Not 'hope' as we understand it in a religious context."

Next Blakemore moved on to Paul Davies who chose "Jupiter” by Gustav Holst as his musical selection and the Dirac equation describing the spin of an electron as chiseled into the floor of Westminster Abbey as his image. 

Blakemore: "Are you religious?"

Davies:  "No, not religious, but I am spiritual"

Blakemore: "Do you believe in God?"

Davies: "I believe in a meaningful scheme of things but I do not believe in miracles—So I agree with Fransisco."

Blakemore: "Why did you chose the Dirac equation for the spin of an electron as the image you see depicting the intersection of faith and science?"

Davies: "Simplicity, power, and elegance above all, Dirac's equation embodies the finest tradition of what we are trying to achieve. We are using mathematics as a hidden subtext of nature. We have to dig to a deeper level to uncover the mathematics that underpins nature. Theoretical physics is the only field that works like this. For example theoretical biology does not work like this. It is an act of faith in the idea that there is a law-like order in the universe. Faith, that the deeper we delve into nature the more we will see. Take the Large Hadron Collider as an example. We built it because we expect (via a form of faith) that there is a law-like order to the universe."

Blakemore: "Is there a sense of meaning? Do we need this?"

Davies: "No not really."

Davies then acknowledged his belief that there are physics at work that make a natural history.
"Look at how humans have evolved. Music Language, are part of the evolution of the modern human mind. Some scientists tend to think there are emergent laws or emergent rules that can be studied through emergent human behavior. Physicists are in two camps on this topic. Some prefer to adhere to the bottom-base laws and other think there can be, born out of those base laws, "emergent laws" which are meaningless at the level of atoms but completely meaningful in the context of human organization. These people think the emergent laws are as fundamental as laws such as the Dirac equation."

I wonder where Chargaff's rule, ribozymes, and protein folding fit in the "emergent laws" debate?

Davies then went into discussing the infinite regress that inevitably comes to be whenever anyone asks who made God - the first mover. He used the analogy of an infinite regress of turtles standing on each others' backs to support the world all the way back to a levitating "super-turtle" or a "necessary being."  But, he acknowledged, most heavyweight religious intellectual scholars have given up on postulating about this levitating super turtle. At the end of his time Paul Davies had refused to tell the world whether or not he believes in God (which he is totally entitled to) and had described in detail a failed argument for the existence of God. Nothing earth-shattering or controversial there. 

Moving on. Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University chose "Abyss of the Birds,” by Messiaen as her musical piece and an image that included the Leviathan monster from Hebrew mythology. My apologies as I was not able to catch the name of the chosen painting.

When asked if she were religious she told the audience she discovered herself as being "incorrigibly religious." Though I do not question her abilities as a historian it was hard for me to decipher much of what she was talking about. Though I am a scientist and am used to hearing things discussed in literal terms, that was the purpose of this panel - to get people who wouldn't normally talk talking. She said that science and faith represented different modes of of perception echoing Ayala's "two window" analogy.

To her credit she was probably the most forthcoming with her personal tales speaking of faith with scientists and her subsequent reflections. She mentioned how her father had told her at a young age that religion would eventually fade from public use and become irrelevant. Her early perception was that religion was a type of "poor man's science" and that if a person could not afford an education they had to make do with something inferior - an archaic system - religion. But she discovered this not to be true as, through her incorrigible religiosity, she discovered images and music that fascinated her about a whole other "dimension of reality."  She apparently revels in the fact that religious visions endure and strives to understand how faith and religion affect peoples lives. There was some discussion but little clarity on the topic of practicing a religion without faith - i.e. Martin Rees (an example given by Paul Davies later). Again and again she repeated that religion provides humanity with a "different dimension of reality." She said this was the reason religion had yet to die out as her father had predicted. 

When Blakemore asked Dr. Pagels -"What did the gnostics teach us about science and religion?"  She responded by saying that she was not focused on gnosticism but rather Christian history. Not answering this question she proceeded to talk about her most current book which will center around the idea of revelation, vision, and dreams. She describes this mode of understanding (revelation) as "pre-conceptual" and much more essential as "part of our dream structure—the way we imagine the universe—the way we imagine ourselves." She said she would love to see how religious experience affects human neurological response studied in a scientific manner - something Thupten Jinpa would touch on later. She ended her portion by saying that sometimes ideas of spirituality do not need to be expressed with language or words. She then said that she had once asked E.O. Wilson if he thought religion had a socio-biological function. She reported he thought it did but did not elaborate on what that function is.  But she thinks religion does have a lot to do with the way people connect and survive.

This statement struck a chord with me. Even though I had a secular upbringing and am agnostic,  I always remember that my parents met because they sang in church choir together.

The last person introduced on the panel was Thupten Jinpa - Buddhist monk and principle translator for the Dalai Llama for many years.  He chose as his image Buddha’s face with the atomic symbol in the third-eye position, accompanied by the avant-garde “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Pärt.

Thupten Jinpa seemed to plead with the audience, imploring us that thousands years' old tradition DO count for something.
"You can not act as if the accumulated human wisdom from thousands of years does not count for ANYTHING. The study of compassion and altruism does not start with a clean slate but has a rich history."
"Buddhist tradition has historically had no problem with empirical science of the day. When neuroscientists interpret the data that comes out as the result of scanning what you get is just patterns, but someone must interpret them. Scientists should be studying qualities like compassion and altruism as they are qualities that are so dear to our self-identity as moral beings. It is an ethical responsibility to acknowledge the insights that have been developed in the past and also what it could mean in the future."

I am interested to see the data resulting from scanning of people during meditation to see if there are quantifiable differences. In my superficial search for data on this topic I find there is some very preliminary data reported that cerebral blood flow increases by 7% in individuals engaged in meditative prayer. "Interpreting" scans like oracle bones is one thing while observable physiological changes is another in my opinion.

Blakemore then made the point that Thupten mentioned, in his notes, the idea of serving humanity.  From this point he asked the panel about the "problem of evil" (as catholic scholars have put it) "which seems to keep cropping up and is something that anybody serving humanity would try to overcome."

Dr. Ayala kicked off  the response by describing his book Darwin's Gift to Science AND Religion.  He explains how Darwin's theory of natural selection gives the world a mechanism by which to understand what we think of as evil and cruelty, inherent to life on earth.

Dr. Ayala went on to explain that 20% of all human pregnancy ends in spontaneous abortion.  From a creationist's world-view this is part of the definition of evil and cruelty. But having an understanding of evolution allows us to understand that -NO- these spontaneous abortions are not supernatural and are not evil but rather as natural as tsunamis and earthquakes.

Elaine Pagels chimed in here by saying it is all a matter of shared values. She quotes Freeman Dyson who said "I am a practicing Christian but not a believing Christian."

To me this seems like paying the price to be part of a club because you like the look for the logo but not actually buying into all the specific beliefs the rest of the members subscribe.

Paul Davies gives the example here of Lord Martin Rees president of the Royal Society. Rees is unique in that he is very open about the fact that he wants the full-on Christian burial and likes the christian tradition—BUT—is an atheist!

Lord Rees then acts an example of Freeman Dyson's quote.

Davies further explained how a colleague of his is an orthodox Jewess and  as a result can not answer the phone on Saturdays. This makes Davies' life difficult as he has to plan ahead for Saturdays so he won't need any information from her on Saturdays.  He called her out on this on one occasion and she said she does it for a sense of cultural identity and to build her self-discipline.  She was clear in that it had nothing to do with theology but it is all about cultural identity. Another illustration of  Dyson's quote.

Thupten Jinpa recalled his college days in the 1980's at King's in England. He pointed out that there was a visible tension among the divinity faculty over the idea of "belief." The reason he thinks he saw this tension was that "belief" was always taken in that context as a propositional—as in I believe THAT. Individuals in this mindset take individual facts about there religion and say I believe in this but not that and they believe in this but not that.  Whereas he explains in Buddhism there is a word Shrada (sanskrit) or Heba (Tibetan)—(not sure of the spelling) that basically means trust.  The concept of shrada implies an emotional trust in an entire category of ideas that fit inside a particular religion or tradition. The word shrada seems similar to faith but is perhaps even more diffuse and non-propositional. To Thupten the point is not to subscribe to the factual truth but to trust in tradition. In this way "belief" to Thupten should have a richer context as its roots are in spirit not fact.

Pagels interjected here by correlating Thupten's discussion of trust with the Hebrew word "emet"— which she says is about "trust."  However, all of my research on the word "emet"  indicates this word means truth.  It may have something to do with trust but ultimately my reading about the word in English leads me to the conclusion that there is a presumed certainty in this word that marks my main criticism of religion in general in that it presumes authority for authority's sake rather than evidence's.

To his credit Ayala took this opportunity to point out a major difference between faith and science that I would later ask about in a question. Ayala points out that there is a MAJOR difference in how science operates vs. religion is that each hypothesis is held up to a most rigorous scrutiny and subject to experiment and cross checking. This process gives the world more and more confidence in specific theories as they are corroborated more and more.  There is always the possibility in science - no matter how much evidence one has accumulated in favor of a particular theory - that there is another theory that accounts for those observations you have made AND MUCH MORE.

Next Blakemore made an attempt to open up space in the scientific world view for God to exist and operate.  This could be considered as the "God of the gaps" argument.

Blakemore postulated. "Science always leaves the door open that a better model, a better hypothesis could come. There is always a point in science where... God begins, what God is?"

You could see both Davies and Ayala squirm in their seats as the words left Blakemore's mouth.

Davies responded first by a decisive NO.
Davies said "Science is really about 'reliable knowledge' it is always progressing there is never a 'last word'—theories are never right or wrong they are just better and better approximations about the world."

Blakemore - "Then what is religion about?"

Davies - "See, you keep coming back to the word religion—religion, faith—all these are terrible words. What is interesting to me is 'is there any meaning' in this wonderful universe - we have all these equations, the majesty of the cosmos, and this beautiful universe and is it all just a meaningless accident, just something that happens to be, or are we uncovering some deeper scheme of things?"

Davies thinks - there is -  and to be a scientist you must think that there is a law-like order in the universe.
I disagree and would say there is inherent pleasure to be derived from the pure pursuit of understanding without expecting answers.

This next portion of the discussion seemed to me an announcement of manifestos.  Davies announced that in the western world (with the United States being the exception) people have "lost their way" spiritually. He describes Europe as a "post-religious society"  and he envisions himself a kind of scientific shepherd guiding people back to a sense of meaning via the march of science.

I would argue that presuming an answer and then investigating is as bad as being a straight-up creationist.
Elaine Pagels then enunciates her own manifesto in saying that her mission is to tell the world that religion and religious traditions are NOT just a meaningless mumbo-jumbo.

She quotes the poet Marianne Moore—"Poetry is imaginary gardens with real toads in them."
Implying that the stories within specific religions do not need to be taken literally for them to have use and merit.  This is a point I think new atheists would not disagree with.  The next sentence she uttered would however cause some problems with scientists - she then said "in these imaginary gardens that are our religious traditions there are 'realities' that we encounter."   This kind of statement is so weightless it makes no sense to an empiricist.

She gives the example of the Leviathan monster and its occurrence in dreams revelation all over creation stories of Babalyonia, Egypt and Israel as evidence for this "reality."

I would argue that stories of Santa Claus are all over the world too but we don't have to say he is real to appreciate them.

Next Blakemore and Pagels engaged in conversation about hope and it's utility  - Does religion give us hope/ do we need hope?

Pagels says yes we do and religion moves us towards hope. The reason we collectively need hope is that through hope we live.

Blakemore then correlates this functionality of hope to a Darwinin process for "keeping hope alive" - as it literally, through a "socio-biological function" keeps US alive.

Thupten seems to take some offense at this presupposition because he said he gets the feeling that when scientists speak of religion it is often their intention to explain religion AWAY. By attaching survival as the socio-biological function of religion Thupten fears this diminishes the significance of religion.  He goes on to express his belief that science and faith have separate roles.  By explaining this he is towing the line of the NOMA crowd.  He says if the world only has the lens of science to see through the picture will always be incomplete.

Ayala entered the discussion here by telling the audience the realms of human understanding he feels are off limits to science—these include moral, ethical, and aesthetic values.

Davies seems to say science can be used to try to understand some of this realm—namely the evolution of altruism.  Davies also seemed to express hope that there might be real progress in understanding human morality but expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of knowledge in that field.

Blakemore then asked  Pagels if she thought science can address morality but she declined to answer saying she would have to think about it.  She did state that she does not think that sceince and faith are NOT mutually exclusive.

Thupten Jinpa was clear that he feels a sense of right and wrong must come from somewhere other than science.   He said that shared moral intuition is one source.

Ayala took this opportunity to explain the huge difference between moral altruism and biological altruism which he believes are totally different.

In my opinion moral altruism operates on a much more rapid time scale. However, I do think moral altruism has its roots in biological altruism.

At this point the panel was opened to questions from the audience.
The first question was excellent but did not really spark any real dialogue.

"I was wondering if Ms. Pagels and Mr. Davies can find common ground in the primordial super-string that functions as your (Davies') super turtle, and the harmonics of the Pythagorean tradition that has its roots in Gnosticism."

Davies was the first to reply by saying that modern string theory builds on the notion that universe is built in a mathematical manner that goes back to the Pythagorean tradition, the Dirac equation being an example.  He then said that there may be a deep historical connection in gnosticism.

Pagels agrees with this "maybe" answer by saying that physics is all about mathematics and harmony.

The next question really drove at the heart of this panel.

"The real conflict is not between faith and science, but wouldn't you say that the conflict is between the certainty of either faith or science versus the trust or faith that both types of thinking can create?"

Ayala answered by denying a conflict between faith and science, the conflict, he says arises, when either faith or science oversteps their respective boundaries, when people take the narrative of genesis literally, as science, that is when there is conflict. Or on the other side, when scientists use science to deny the existence of God or religious values again conflict arises.

He asserts that not only are science and faith compatible but can support each other.  This bit of logic I have heard before when I interviewed Eugenie Scott last April.

Thupten Jinpa asserts that most conflicts between the scientifically inclined and the faithful arise when either side insists on certainty and also on the assumption of some kind of completeness of knowledge no matter the side. He assumes an instinct for seeking certainty and imposing one's own view as the totality but said it does not matter if it comes from the religious or no-religious side.

This comment prompted Elaine Pagels to bring up the case of a "certain elementary particle physicist who I won't name" who said in his book about the beginning of the universe "the more we know about about the universe the more we know it is pointless and meaningless."

In Pagels' view this is a complete non sequiter because physics does not address issues of meaning and purpose in that way.

Dr. Ayala then outed the unnamed scientist as Steve Weinberg who Elaine Pagels says plays the "village atheist."

Davies entered the conversation by saying people often take science for granted enjoying the fruits of science without appreciating the method from whence it came.  He then takes this point and morphs it into something like—but look at this thing (human being) who has come in existence through millions of years of evolution that not only observes and responds to the world around us (like cats and dogs, etc.) but can also make sense of it and understand what's going on.

Blakemore takes this statement and through it assigns will to the universe saying that because humans can be curious and understand these vast cosmological ideas, and because humans are part of the universe it is as though "the universe wants to understand itself."

Davies affirmed Blakemore's idea by saying that human comprehension is an example of this universe becoming  self-aware.

I would think this statement would be a spark to light some fireworks if an affirmative atheist were on the panel.

The next question was quite straightforward:

"Do you think that science will get to a point where religion is no longer necessary?  As Thupten said—Buddhism doesn't really perceive any God outside of what's going on, or what 'is.' Because science is the study of what "is" do you think eventually science can unify us as opposed to religion which mostly divides us?"

Ayala took the first swing at this question.

"Religion itself does not tell us anything about the meaning and purpose of life and about many other things, about moral values and our relationships with each other, but I don't think science is ever going to reach a point where religion and morality and other form s of knowledge will be unnecessary. I can keep describing the Guernica again and again—the physical details but I would still be missing what is interesting to most people science will never fill that void."

Paul Davies then answered by describing all the roles religion plays.  He says religion provides much comfort to people. He does not think science provides much comfort at the bedside of a dying person.  So religion has these social and psychological comforts. Science, he say,s is too austere to replace religion.

Here Blakemore brings up "universal moral law" as a unifier of religion and science.

Thupten Jinpa points out there are certain aspects of "old time" religion that may eventually become more and more obsolete, "but  in the end there will always be dimensions of human existence that will not be in the scope of scientific inquiry—values and so-on."

Then Thupten went into a riff about how humans are special because of our unique ability to be self-aware. "I don't think dogs wonder about why they are there."

 This is antithetical to the ideas presented at the begining of the panel discussion where Blakemore cites a new hypothesis proposed by Lynn Margulis that supposes animals DO indeed have self-awareness and do mimic a human-like awe and wonder about their place in the world.  To me Thupten's argument of humans being unique in the universe points out a major problem I see with many religious world-views and that is anthropocentrism and the sense of entitlement that idea begets. Like the geocentric model plaguing civilization before Galileo,this human-centered view of the cosmos gives us a distorted perspective about our place in the cosmos, specifically earth's environment. It lends itself to a presupposition of favoritism.

Thupten then expresses his awe and inspiration from the history of religion and its varied "old" roots and implies that age confers inherent wisdom. I wonder how much of the ancient "Bön" religion he has studied as it inter-relates to Tibetan Buddhism.  He suggests certain commonalities among world religions including human yearning to make sense of infinity.  "With our finite human brains we attempt to comprehend infinity. We try to conciencve timelessness." He thinks there are deep primordial instincts humans posses expressed through religion.  He can not imagine a future where religion is no longer practiced because of these deep roots possibly penetrating our genes themselves. 

Then came my opportiunity to ask a question :)

 Here is what I asked...

"Questioning authority, questioning paradigm and then having the generated hypotheses go through a sieve of natural selection is how the scientific method progresses science and technology forward. What I don't understand is what mechanism bowing to centuries-old traditions (like not answering the phone on a Saturday) uses to progress things like reducing human suffering."

I should have directed my question as it was aimed at Elaine Pagels, nonetheless Paul Davies stepped up to answer.

"Practicing religion is not about advancing science but rather maintaining cultural identity and discipline (as in keeping the Jewish Sabbath).  No one is saying you can't do good science while looking back and practicing religious traditions, but I'd like to provoke my colleagues by pointing out that the worldview that physicists adopt in doing their science is the worldview derived directly from monotheistic theology, because it is the idea of a created law-like order which you uncover by exploring the world. The early scientists like Newton and Galileo were deeply religious in their own way and they thought they were uncovering God's handiwork in the world and that the laws of nature are immutable, eternal, universal, absolute mathematical relationships which are transcendent.  They are imposed on the world from without.  They are the maker's mark stamped onto the world and cannot change. That is the worldview all of my colleagues adopt. That is the way they understand the world is put together. That is manifestly a theistic worldview and I'd like to say to them after three hundred and fifty years; hasn't the time come to question that. Though these scientists are no longer religious they are nevertheless adopting a theistic worldview.  We CAN question it.  The world doesn't have to be put together that way and I'm not sure that it is." said Davies.

And with that the formal discussion was over.

The utility of this panel became clear to me after it was over. While waiting to talk to the panelists I overheard one audience member say to Dr. Davies "I'm a layman, so to me all I hear in the faith/science debates are the loudest most vocal of the two sides."  This illustrates to me why calm discussion is necessary, it is through thoughtful and nuanced discussion that we move radicals away from the edge of zealotry, into a realm of moderation so discussion can continue. I disagree with many assumptions made in the discussion I just transcribed. I see no reason human beings can not derive "meaning and purpose" while maintaining a secular humanist world-view. I see no reason to invoke ancient traditions as necessary for maintaining cultural identity or having a rich understanding of significant historical events such as the bombing of Guernica. I do however see a real need for more, and wider, OPEN discussions such as this! Thank you for reading and thinking with me.

Newberg A, Pourdehnad M, Alavi A, & d'Aquili EG (2003). Cerebral blood flow during meditative prayer: preliminary findings and methodological issues. Perceptual and motor skills, 97 (2), 625-30 PMID: 14620252

Campbell CS (2010). What more in the name of god? Theologies and theodicies of faith healing. Kennedy Institute of Ethics journal, 20 (1), 1-25 PMID: 20506692


Marella said...

How does religion give 'purpose and meaning' if you know it's NOT TRUE!! Where's the purpose and meaning in a bunch of lies? Well the purpose obviously is to get your money off you but that's their purpose, not yours!! How can guidance come from bullshit?

tompainesghost said...

From John Kwok who asked me to post this for him as he does not have gmail or blogger accounts -

"Excellent summary and hope that World Science Festival links to it if it doesn't use all of it. Unfortunately, that session led me to an entirely different conclusion as to the necessity of having such a discussion. Reluctantly I have to agree with both Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne's condemnation of having this panel discussion, especially when last year's session - also moderated by Blakemore (Incidentally, he has moderated all three, including the first one in 2008.) - was far more informative in trying to determine how religiously devout scientists should comport themselves when working as scientists and then, in private, as devoutly religious adherents of their faith.

With the notable exception of Francisco Ayala - whom I might add is a prominent contributor to our organization, the National Center for Science Education ( - none of the commentary was as insightful or as noteworthy as the comments stated by last year's panelists; philosopher Colin McGinn, physicist Lawrence Krauss, planetary scientist - and Vatican Astronomer (and Jesuit brother) - Guy Consolmagno and cell biologist Ken Miller. By far Elaine Pagels was the worst, and her comments clearly demonstrated that she could not add much intellectual depth or respond effectively to the comments uttered by her fellow panelists.

In lieu of this panel discussion, the World Science Festival should instead, host a freewheeling panel discussion - which could be moderated by Blakemore - on how to deal with science denialism, with an ideal panel consisting of NCSE Executive Director - and physical anthropologist - Eugenie Scott, cell biologist Ken Miller, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and philosopher of science Philip Kitcher. Such a group could also delve into questions of faith as it pertains to science denialism. I also believe that their commentary would be far more interesting and insightful than what transpired for reasonable discourse at this year's World Science Festival Science Faith session."