Ann vs. Darren

I’ve been watching lectures and Q&A from the 2006 Beyond Belief conference. Highly recommended. One short exchange between Darren Schriber and Ann Druyan really caught my attention. You might remember Ann as Carl Sagan’s biographer.

Darren employs a personal religious experience as a platform to make some larger points in the religion-science conversation. Ann’s reply is nothing short of brilliant. This video has just 3,000 hits in four years on YouTube? Maybe we could add a cat playing the piano, or a baby biting Ann’s finger? More people should view this, as it speaks to heart of fundamentalism, reductionism, and tribalism.


6 thoughts on “Ann vs. Darren

  1. Ann’s reply is nothing short of brilliant?

    Uhh… I think you need to get out a little bit more. This is the same 400 year old casuistry that materialists have been launching at supernaturalists since before the enlightenment.

    Here’s the issue. One side says that all that exists is what can be detected by the physical senses. The other side says there is a realm of existence that can only be perceived through our spiritual “senses.”

    The first side, the “scientists” have not proven their most basic assumption, but with the ardor of true fundamentalists, still wish to impose it on everyone else. Unable to prove this assumption about the basic nature of their universe, they point instead to the great benefits their faith, and that is what it is, has wrought for mankind and the evil tolls that the supernaturalists have exacted from man.

    Unable to empirically prove their most basic point they turn instead to propaganda: The supernaturalists are, as your “brilliant” expositor stated in a little over four minutes of time: intolerant, murderers and hurters of others, infantile, mentally unhealthy, and narcissistic. Well that’s pretty humble and scientific.

    The supernaturalists unable, by definition, to prove the existence of the supernatural to the satisfaction of those who assume all existence must be susceptible to perception by the natural senses, rely on the testimony of individuals who have experienced the supernatural, and to testimonies of the supernatural worlds influence on the natural world.

    This is a war between competing religions and Ann Druyan is a committed partisan.

    Thanks,

    Greg Marquez

  2. Greg, thanks for writing.

    You write “One side says that all that exists is what can be detected by the physical senses.”

    I know of no scientists who hold this position. If anything, the scientists I know, many of which also make claim to a spiritual life, take the position of Isaac Newton, who said “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

    You infer that Ann holds religions as “…intolerant, murderers and hurters of others, infantile, mentally unhealthy, and narcissistic.”

    Actually, what Ann said was “My argument is not with people who search for God. My argument is with people who think our understanding of God is complete. Those are the people who make so much of our existence on this planet a hell.”

    The reality is that (according to the Encyclopedia of War), religion is directly responsible for 17% of the wars throughout history. While that’s not an overwhelming number, it justifies Ann’s contention that religious thinking (what I would call fundamentalism) has fomented its share of murder and hatred. I’m not sure the same could be said about science. Nor does it reflect the spirituality embodied by Jesus when he said “love your enemies.”

    Indeed, there are some who hold a militant materialist position, what you call scientism. I agree with you that such a position becomes its own kind of fundamentalist religion. I know of very few in this camp, but I do know some. You will find it to be a small minority (just as there is a tiny minority of scientists who find merit in “creationism”). The fringe does not represent me, nor you (I hope).

    I believe Ann is correct in saying that “science tolerates the unknown in a way that religion doesn’t.” I think a healthy understanding of spirituality must learn how to live in this profound mystery, acknowledge it, wrestle with it, and remain ever hopeful in spite of it.

    I do think Ann’s little impromptu talk is brilliant. Here’s more of what she said,

    “The methodology of science is not permitted these kinds of ‘absolute truths’ that religion pretends to have… yes, scientists do terrible things and have biases, just as religious people do terrible things and have biases. But intrinsic to science is the corrective that says we must always be aware of our biases – a corrective that is rarely found in religion… Science is weaning us off of our infantile need for centrality – a centrality that is the essence of so many religious formulations… science enables us to wean ourselves off that spiritual narcissism which compelled us to be at the center of everything. When it comes to a tolerance for ambiguity and the unknown, science is most comfortable in that place of not knowing.”

    I would offer that the crux of spirituality, and the central gravity of Judeo/Christianity, is learning how to die to our air-tight religious certainties, to lean not into our own trivial understanding, to eschew the dead text in favor of the expansive spirit, to allow the unfathomable realities of an infinite creation to overwhelm us with childlike awe and wonder and hope and dreams. I think science can inform religion in these basic starting points. Alas, I see science and religion as two sides of the same reality, each with unlimited potential for healthy contribution to the Grand Story.

  3. Encyclopedia of War? Not finding it on Google so not sure what to make of that.

    17%, even you seem to be a bit embarrassed by that number. Less than a 1/5th of wars are entered into by religious parties? Hardly seems like a reason for singling out religious fundamentalism as an important source of war, especially since some religious don’t think of war as a bad thing.

    You say, “…it justifies Ann’s contention that religious thinking (what I would call fundamentalism) has fomented its share of murder and hatred. I’m not sure the same could be said about science.”

    Geez… you need to hang out with a less select group of intellects. Zyklon B… , mustard gas, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientific socialism, eugenics, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, German human experimentation in the death camps, the Khmer Rouge, Marxist depredations,. These are all the work of scientists and intellectuals, people who hated fundamentalist religion as much as you do, and you’ve never heard of them?

    Do fundamentalists ever consider themselves to be fundamentalists or just the enlightened? Imagine that I wrote about Darwinism what you wrote above:

    The essence of science “is learning how to die to our air-tight scientific certainties, to lean not into our own trivial understanding, to eschew the dead text in favor of the expansive spirit, to allow the unfathomable realities of an infinite creation to overwhelm us with childlike awe and wonder and hope and dreams.”

    Would those be considered acceptable guidelines for childhood education in evolutionary science by the majority of scientists you say are not materialists?

    Thanks

    Greg Marquez

  4. “mustard gas, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, scientific socialism, eugenics, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, German human experimentation in the death camps, the Khmer Rouge, Marxist depredations,. These are all the work of scientists and intellectuals.”

    Most of this is the work of politicians and military-industrial power brokers. Yes, nuclear power was developed by scientists. It can be used for peaceful or military purposes (like religion). Personally, I wouldn’t be second guessing those scientists at the Manhattan Project. They were given the choice of Hitler or Roosevelt with nuclear weapons. Put yourself in their shoes and see if your arguments carry the same weight.

    “Imagine that I wrote about Darwinism what you wrote above:”

    The difference here is that Darwinian evolution is as much a “theory” as quantum tunneling or gravity. Just as we can’t “see” a billion years of evolutionary history, we likewise can’t physically “see” the source of gravity: but the overwhelming evidence tells us that both are real.

    The last 15 years of genomic research has moved any remaining questions away from evolution back to the origin of RNA itself. I highly recommend a recent lecture series called Evolutionary Christianity (http://www.evolutionarychristianity.com/). Of particular interest are Polkinghorne (Templeton), Townes (Nobel – Templeton), Philips (Nobel), Gingerich, Barbour (Templeton), and Miller. In a recent major survey of scientists with professed religious faith, less than 5% considered “creationism” or “intelligent design” as legitimate (and I would guess that most of that 5% is a result of job security at religious colleges). If you take the time to listen to the above lectures, you’ll understand why creationism is a deep fringe element in the conversation.

    “Would those be considered acceptable guidelines for childhood education in evolutionary science by the majority of scientists you say are not materialists?”

    Absolutely! Some names that come to mind are Stuart Kauffman, Neil Degrasse-Tyson, Marcelo Gleiser, Stuart Hameroff, Ann Foerst, Bob Pollack, George Ellis, Ursula Goodenough, Harold Koenig, Bill Hurlbut, Michael Ruse, and just about any of the 38 participants of the Evolutionary Christianity interview series, along with 1,000’s of others who sense the infinite and awe inspiring spirituality reflected in cosmic evolution.

    Seriously, go listen to Bill Philips and Ken Miller, then come back and we can continue the conversation.

  5. You say:
    “The difference here is that Darwinian evolution is as much a “theory” as quantum tunneling or gravity.”

    But fundamentalists always believe that their faith is actually fact. Isn’t that exactly what you are doing here. I have questioned one of your “fundamentals” and you insist it is a fact, and as proof of its facticity (Is that a word?) you reference other fundamentalists. I guess it’s true that you become that which you hate.

    My point in this series of posts was to try and point out that you are a fundamentalists, but like all true fundamentalists you insist that you are just a seeker after truth.

    Thanks,

    Greg Marquez

  6. Greg, virtually anyone who has the ability to grasp the fundamental science of genomics recognizes that biological evolution is an indisputable fact. It has been happening on earth for hundreds of millions of years. Sometimes the fundamentals of science leave us no choice but to follow the facts where they lead.

    I think religion is harmful when it makes faith claims that are contradicted by scientific evidence, such as teaching a young, geocentric earth in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary (like biological evolution). I think a FAR more interesting conversation today is the actual origin of life, the origin of RNA and proteins.

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