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Mysteries of the Delphic Oracle: Ancient Religion, Modern Science
by Dr. John R. Hale on March 31, 2011
The Delphic Oracle was the most influential religious site in the ancient Greek world. Speaking from a tripod in a crypt under the temple of Apollo at Delphi, the priestess called the Pythia acted as a medium for the god, and spoke the divine prophecies while in a state of trance or possession. The testimony of eye-witnesses linked the oracle's prophetic power to geological features in the rock under the temple: a mysterious chasm or cleft, a natural vapor or gaseous emission, and a sacred spring. Although long doubted by modern scholars, these ancient traditions have recently been put to the test by an interdisciplinary team of researchers -- a geologist, an archaeologist, a chemist, and a toxocologist -- with surprising results.
Gorillas and God: The Evolutionary Roots of Religion
by Dr. Barbara King on September 22, 2010
Anthropologists routinely seek evidence for the primate origins of human technology, language, and culture. In this illustrated talk, anthropologist Barbara J. King reviews the findings to date from the search for an aspect of our primate past even more elusive: the deepest roots of human religiosity. Using modern African apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees as a guide, she reflects upon the earliest evolutionary manifestations of compassion, imagination, thinking beyond the here-and-now, and ritual. She traces the first evidence for spirituality in human material culture by consideration of archaeological sites such as the Chauvet and Lascaux Caves in France, and Gobekli Tepe and Catalhoyuk in Turkey. King reflects as well on how we may, via a focus on the plasticity and contingency of our becoming-human trajectory (instead of on a heavily biologized account of our past), come to grasp more fully when it means to be human.
For Friends and Faith: Understanding the Paths and Barriers to Political Violence
by Dr. Scott Atran on March 25, 2010
Many creatures will fight to the death for their close kin, but only humans fight and sacrifice unto death for friends and imagined kin, for brotherhoods willing to shed blood for one another. The reason for brotherhoods-- unrelated people cooperating to their full measure of devotion--are as ancient as our uniquely reflective and auto-predatory species. Different cultures ratchet up these reasons into great causes in different ways.
Call it love of God or love of group, it matters little in the end... especially for young men, mortal combat in a great cause provides the ultimate adventure and glory to gain maximum esteem in the eyes of many and, most dearly, in the hearts of their peers. This century's major terrorist incidents are cases in point.
Creationism Goes Global: From American to Islamic Fundamentalism
by Dr. Ronald L. Numbers on October 2, 2009
Despite growing evidence to the contrary, evolutionists in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries clung to the belief that creationism could be geographically contained.
In 2000 the usually reliable American paleontologist and anti-creationist Stephen Jay Gould, assured foreign audiences that creationism was not contagious. "As insidious as it may seem, at least it's not a worldwide movement," he said reassuringly. "I hope everyone realizes the extent to which this is a local, indigenous, American bizarrity."
Although Gould remained oblivious to it, the worldwide growth of creationism by 2000 had already proven him utterly wrong. Antievolutionism had become a global phenomenon, as readily exportable as hip-hop and blue jeans. In the past few decades it has quietly spread from America throughout the world and from evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Judaism, and, especially, Islam. This lecture situates the Islamic embrace of creationism in the larger global story.
Religion after Darwin?
by Dr. Philip Kitcher on April 2, 2009
Many people believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection poses a threat to religion (specifically to Christianity). I shall suggest that, taken on its own, Darwin’s work can be assimilated by many world religions and many versions of Christianity. There is, however, a deeper problem.
The scientific approach that underlies Darwin’s achievements is inimical to all but the most liberal forms of religion. Once this point is appreciated, it is tempting to believe, as the militant Darwinian atheists of our time triumphantly proclaim, that religious practices should simply be eradicated.
I shall argue that this is incorrect, and that a genuinely humane secularism – a real Secular Humanism – should absorb some characteristically religious attitudes. We need to discard the myths offered by supernaturalist doctrines, but we also need what Dewey called "A Common Faith".
Origin of the Laws of Physics
by Dr. Paul Davies on November 20th, 2008
Orthodox science treats the laws of physics as timeless, immutable and universal mathematical relationships that were imprinted on the universe from birth. The origin and form of the laws is considered to be beyond the scope of science.
Recently, however, some physicists and cosmologists have puzzled that the laws of physics seem to be weirdly well-suited for life, in the sense that even small changes would not permit the existence of living organisms and hence observers. One attempt to explain this “fine tuning” of the laws is to invoke a multiverse of universes, each with its own laws.
In my lecture I shall critically examine the multiverse theory, and other responses to the enigma of our 'Goldilocks universe.'
Two Ships at Night
by Dr. Lawrence Krauss on October 23, 2008
At best , science and religion have very little to do with one another. At worst, they are completely incompatible. And what little connection between the two even in the best of cases involves a one-way street. Science may enrich faith, but not vice versa.
Dr. Krauss will discuss modern misunderstandings of this limited connection, coming both from science as well as religion, as well as modern abuses that demean both science and faith. The origin and evolution of the universe will serve as a good (or bad) example.
The Dance of the Fertile Universe
by George V. Coyne on March 28, 2008
Did we come about by chance or by necessity in the evolving universe? Did God make us? Can we conclude that there is Intelligent Design to the universe? To what extent can the natural sciences address these questions? As to chance or necessity the first thing to be said is that the problem is not formulated correctly. It is not just a question of chance or necessity because, first of all, it is both.
Furthermore, there is a third element here that is very important. It is what we might call the 'fertility' of the universe. So the dance of the fertile universe is a ballet with three ballerinas: chance, necessity and fertility. What this means is that the universe is so fertile in offering the opportunity for the success of both chance and necessary processes that such a character of the universe must be included in the search for our origins in the universe.
In this light I am going to try to present in broad strokes what I think is some of the best of our modern scientific understanding of the universe and then return to the questions above.
Islam and the Transformation of Greek Science
by George Saliba on March 6, 2008
This illustrated talk examines the often repeated characterization of the role of Islamic science as preserving the Greek scientific legacy.
It will demonstrate with concrete examples the extent to which Greek science had to be transformed in order to respond to ritual and cultural requirements of Islam, thus critiquing that science and eventually replacing it with a science that was more scientifically consistent. It was this transformed Islamic science that inspired later on the Renaissance scientists.
Doubt - Where You'd Least Expect It
by Jennifer Michael Hecht on October 25, 2007
The recent "God wars" hide how long these issues have been around. On both the religious and the atheist side, no one seems to know the history of religious and philosophical doubt. Indeed, they think it doesn't exist. But in fact, there has been doubt throughout history.
There are instances of complete and lasting rejection of the idea of God or an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible, in the medieval Moslem world, among Western scholars during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The idea of a past wherein people could not imagine a world without God is essentially wrong, a 20th century misunderstanding of the contribution of the Enlightenment.
Doubt is older than most faiths and full of paragons of bravery, intellect, and character. Also, in history, doubters have a much better sense of humor than do today's famous atheists. Hecht will get us thinking, talking, and especially, laughing.
Creationism and Evolution: A Historical Perspective
by Eugenie Scott on September 27, 2007
Since the early part of the last century, American society has been witness to a very public dispute between those who deny the evidence for biological evolution and the scientific community that has been responsible for working to unearth and interpret that evidence.
The public image presented by those who reject evolution has taken many forms over the years, from a reliance on the Bible as an inerrant text, to the more recent formulation of "intelligent design," which attempts to present the creationist argument as one of scientifically equal weight to that of evolutionary biology.
Dr. Scott will discuss the history of these controversies and offer her thoughts on the future tactics of the creationists.
Nature, Belief and the Supernatural
by Lawrence Principe on April 12, 2007
In the popular press and daily conversation we often hear events casually described as miracles. This abusive use of the term, however, leads us to forget that the word has a precise and highly-restricted theological meaning that was developed over centuries of scholarly investigation, particularly in the Latin Middle Ages.
This lecture illustrates how precise discussions of miracles opened up crucial questions about the way the world works and the way in which human beings are able to study and understand it using the method we now call science. Indeed, several current science/religion issues are illuminated or resolved by a careful consideration of the miracles.
Evolution and Religion
by David Sloan Wilson on March 8, 2007
Evolution and Religion are perennially in the news, but not for the right reasons. On the one hand we have debates about creationism and intelligent design. On the other hand, we have attacks on religion by evolutionists such as Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion.
Both of these are sideshows compared to the main event: The serious study of religion as a natural phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. I will review the nascent field of evolutionary religious studies and what it means for the more general study of cultural evolution, evolutionary psychology, and the quality of everyday life.
Posters designed by David Jonathan Ross.