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TED Tuesday: Ideas worth spreading for the week of 4/6

April 6th, 2010

A new feature I’m going to hopefully get going on the site is linking a couple of lectures from TED that I find worthwhile watching.  First up is going to be a few pieces on Science, Free-thinking and Religion.

The subject was  sparked for me by tuning in to a TED talk by Sam Harris two weeks ago on morality and religion, or rather taking morality from our understanding of science, instead of religion.  Filmed at TED2010 in February 2010, Long Beach, CA.

I will admit that I’m not 100 percent on board with Harris’s talk.  I think that the idea of scientific forces driving moral behavior has some validity, but it’s far from a universal truth.  On the converse side, one can also equally argue that religion has been at the forefront of both acts of kindness and true villainy.  Where Harris does hit home, however, is in the idea that science can guide what is good — or rather the affirmative answer to the question posed by Harris: can a fact about how reality is provide an idea of how something should be.  Harris will lose some fans in that he is elitist and somewhat dismissive of the more religious of the red states.

In any respect, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and Julia Sweeney, after the jump.

Richard Dawkins is a lot easier to understand as he’s pretty much as bold and stark a character that you’ll find in the science vs. religion debate.  Dawkins is not only an atheist, but a militant one at that and he lectured way back when on why people should be militant atheists.  TED 2002, February 2002, Monterey, CA.

He is both arrogant and witty, engaging and obnoxious.  He is this way in just about all settings, even on the written page.  I’m still waiting to draft up my review of his book, The God Delusion, which I think quite highly of.  He’s very well aware of his position in the debate and he has most certainly accepted it in full battle regalia.  This talk was quite the entertaining talk, though this is admittedly true only if you’re a member of the choir, or at least a skeptic.

Speaking of skeptics, the man that Dawkins associates with and yet must certainly be disappointed with is Michael Shermer — professional skeptic.  Shermer spoke to TED2006 on why people follow strange beliefs and believe in rather ridiculous events and things.  February 2006, Monterey, CA.

Unlike Dawkins, Shermer is engaging to pretty much anyone on both sides of the aisle, so long as you’re willing to laugh at both others and selves at times.  He’s like a conciliatory, less credentialed version of Dawkins with a better sense of humor.  He puts that humor on display in this talk, though some of his literary work (such as Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design) is decidedly more serious and intellectual.

Shermer’s humor leads quite well into the final talk in this TED Tuesday, SNL alum Julia Sweeney, who talks about letting go of God.  TED2006, February 2006, Monterey, CA.

Her anecdotal journey through her religious awakening (or shutting out, I should say) is very entertaining and enjoyable.  It’s also a reminder that TED is a real in which Christianity truly is fair game for humor… though the comedian is easily the least mean spirited in her criticisms thereof.

Ultimately, as I’ve journeyed into the realm of the [religion/science/agnosticism/atheism], I’ve realized that there is validity to the idea that coastal elites do have a mean-spirited view of religion and those who hold Christ dear.  As someone who attended Easter services for the first time as a true skeptic (if not atheist) this past week, I couldn’t help but wonder why so much vehemence was directed toward those who followed (and not necessarily profited from) religious [faith/perversion/indoctrination].  I resolved that a good deal of this comes from feelings of superiority, pangs of jealousy over those who can take comfort in faith, and (most importantly) the concern that the beliefs of others are driving into the lives of families of free-thinkers.

This last bit is sort of where I come down.  I do believe that our schools have become a battleground, and not just because Richard Dawkins says they are.  It’s also because the religious right does as well.  The classroom is not the only front line, though.  Secular society is also battling the tyranny of the majority in the ballot box, the doctor’s office, the bedroom and many other places.  I do hope to use this site to set forth some of my thoughts on those very many topics.

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