Tonight’s the Night

 

Is there any point to all this?
(Click to enlarge.)

 

I’m giving the lecture at 7 PM tonight, in the Joseph Smith Auditorium on the campus of Brigham Young University.

 

Details can be found here.

 

This is it.  This is what you’ve been waiting for.  Don’t hate yourself when it’s too late.  Spare yourself a lifetime of regret.

 

 

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  • RaymondSwenson

    Along with many other folks out here in the LDS hinterlands, I would greatly apporeciate someone recording this presentation so we can see and hear it on YouTube r t east get a transcript someday. Given the state of modern technology, there is no reason why this should not be recorded and transmitted.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Humans weren’t around for 99.9999% of cosmic history. Our universe contains billions of galaxies. Life must be everywhere in the cosmos. If humans survive long enough, they will look back on religion as a period of thought on the arc of evolution. Why would anyone be sad about such an outcome?

    • DanielPeterson

      LOL. It’s always fascinating to read sincere expressions of faith, Lucy McGee.

      • Lucy Mcgee

        I’m more interested in facts, LOL. I’d consider it wish thinking to believe that a 14.7 billion year old universe was created so that one specific human religious sect or other could lay claim to absolute truth or absolute morality, despite what religious impetus prompted the discovery. One should realize that many centuries were dominated by the Church. Anything outside the belief system foisted on the masses could result in ones’ death. This, to me, epitomizes a belief system centered on power and control and submission to authority. How strange.

        As you know, there are well funded research projects looking for earth-like planets in near earth solar systems and beyond. A tally is kept by scientists. Cosmology is in its infancy and yet, has produced the most amazing collection of data from the NRAO. all without one hint of religion.

        Our radio waves have only penetrated 100 light years of a 100,000 light year in size galaxy (0.1%). Think about the billions of galaxies millions or tens of millions of light years distant. There are an almost infinite number of places for life to occur. It isn’t all about us.

        I totally disagree that science and religion are converging. Religion is static (excepting that a new religion or messiah pops up, as happens occasionally like a Sathya Sai Baba). Name one miracle of religion, one miraculous religious intervention, one positive humanitarian advance made on earth which could be shown to be supernatural in the last century. In contrast, how many scientific advances can you think of during the same period?

        People often speak of a finely calibrated universe. What else would one expect? Humans have derived mathematical constants as observers of our surroundings. So what? There could well be places in the universe which don’t conform to our mathematical observations. We can’t be there to measure them. There is much we don’t know and probably never will; the universe is too vast and too old. Science admits that. Religious prognosticators, offer doctrines and dogma based on the musings of humans who have convinced others they held or hold some truth, none of which can be verified.

        When you proclaim that some believe the universe has “mind”, I’d counter that the universe isn’t i nterested in us. If it were, there wouldn’t be indiscriminate death by disease, war, murder, environmental catastrophe or accident.

        One would think this “mind” would have something in mind, other that randomly killing off a percentage of the earth’s population each year for no particular reason. There is no denying indiscriminate death.

        So to wax poetic that there is a grand purpose for life on planet earth seems very self serving for those who claim knowledge they do not possess. After all, these various humans, although chosen by a mass interest, are totally fallible and just as ignorant as the rest of us. If God were to speak through humans, you’d at least think God would offer some true magic to attract the attention of the masses. Nothing of this sort has ever happened.

        • RaymondSwenson

          Sounds like you are looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ, which will finally give you an excuse to acknowledge the existence of God.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I have zero belief in supernatural dogmas so not only do I never expect such a thing, but believe that human life on earth has an infinitely greater chance of experiencing a catastrophic asteroid collision or massive volcanic eruption of the scale which formed the Yellowstone caldera.

            It is always interesting to read surveys which show belief in Christ’s return any time now. It is highest among those least educated. Superstition probably plays some role here. I’ll throw in with the majority of scientists who have no personal belief in God, and the vast majority of the NAS who hold no belief in God, or Jesus returning to earth.

          • DanielPeterson

            Who cares what the majority of the NAS think? I mean, really. When were they anointed philosopher-kings? A lifetime of counting fruit flies or studying the mating habits of newts doesn’t, in and of itself, qualify one to pronounce upon The Meaning of the Cosmos.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I don’t know, you’re the one always bringing up intellect and accomplishment. How many times have you written that you once thought about a career as a mathematician or cosmologist? How about Mormon Scholars Testify? Should one just discount that entire venture because these people have achieved prominence many never will? What makes their testimony any more impressive than a pimply faced Elder?

            The NAS is an esteemed body of the most prominent scientists in our nation. The 2000 members are leaders in MANY fields. I did notice that BYU has no NAS members.

            Get real Dr. Peterson. If you were among the NAS membership working in the frontiers of astronomy, particle physics, chemistry, biochemistry, cellular biology or at the NRAO, you’d most certainly be proud of your accomplishment and singing a different tune methinks. I can even see you wearing a little NAS button on your lapel. That these esteemed scientists don’t buy into wish-thinking dogmatism is important, while the least educated, especially in the American South, are looking at the sky awaiting Christ’s return. Again, I’m with the NAS scientists.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy McGee,

            I don’t read Dan as denigrating the actual achievements of NAS scientists in their actual fields; if you do, then feel free to point out where he does so. However, the simple fact remains that they aren’t NAS scientists because they are more cosmically intelligent than all non-scientists everywhere; they are NAS scientists because they know how to do certain kinds of work, they do it well, and they have been noticed.

            Like others who have reached the top of all fields of endeavour, they tend to be heavily focused on their careers, heavily immersed in a particular cultural milieu, and therefore reflect its views. Put bluntly: NAS scientists are no better placed to pontificate about matters outside their specialised area of work than anyone else. Indeed, given the extreme degree of specialisation that takes place in the sciences today, they are even less able to talk about matters of science outside their own speciality than many non-scientists are. IOW, a high school biology student probably knows more about plant biology than an NAS astronomer. So when you genuflect before the white lab coat as the vestments of a new priesthood, you are expressing a very deep — and ultimately entirely irrational — faith.

          • DanielPeterson

            Precisely. kiwi57 got it.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            And when you gunuflect before a group of old guys calling themselves prophets, aren’t you expressing an even deeper irrational buy-in to dogmatic belief where your submission to authority is required? I’ve listened to one complete general conference, the first and last I’ll ever view. I’d rather listen to NAS scientists all day long.

            If I want to know about the universe, I’ll pay attention to astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists, and not theologians who are still trying to convince the planet that they have the ultimate answers to all questions. If I want to learn about the cosmos I’ll pay attention to scientists and not some conservative preacher who believes the universe is 6000 years old or that the end of days are coming any time now.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy Mcgee:

            “And when you gunuflect before a group of old guys calling themselves prophets, aren’t you expressing an even deeper irrational buy-in to dogmatic belief where your submission to authority is required?”

            No more irrational than yours, no. And I’m not submitting to authority any more than you are.

            There is, of course, nothing wrong with “submission to authority.” We all do it, every day, and in hundreds of ways; whether it’s drinking flouridated water, renewing our car insurance, catching a bus or even using an ATM, we are submitting to someone else’s authority. And as you have demonstrated with your loyal (if not outright idolatrous) veneration of specialists opining outside their specialities, atheists submit to authority not a whit less than anyone else.

            Eminent LDS physicist Henry Eyring (father of a current member of the First Presidency) used to like to tell a story of an experience he had when he was at Princeton. It was during WWII, and people were planting “victory gardens” all over the place, including on college campuses. While walking about one day with one of his colleagues, he came across one of those gardens in which beans were growing. Dr Eyring turned to his companion, Albert Einstein, and asked what variety of beans they were. Einstein answered that he was a physicist, and didn’t know much about vegetables.

            IOW, Einstein didn’t know beans.

            If I want to know about the physical universe, I’ll certainly pay attention to astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists, as long as they are talking about matters they are qualified to talk about. But I’m not so mindlessly submissive as to unquestioningly accept their opinions about subjects they are not qualified to talk about.
            Like the existence of God. Or the meaning of life.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Last year the City of Portland wanted to fluoridate our water. Plans were in place even though a majority didn’t want it done. So it went to a ballot measure and was voted down. So much for authority. In the secular world authority can be questioned and held to account.

            Isn’t that fundamentally different than in the religious world where authority reigns? How often have living LDS Church Prophets been questioned in a public venue? Can the LDS Church faithful vote out the Quorum of the Twelve, or challenge their authority? What happens when people in Islamic nations question the Prophet Muhammad? What happened to heretics during the centuries when the Church was in power? Obviously, religious authority isn’t what it once was in the West and is yearly losing its grip.

            Science has no idols although it has heroes. It is always possible and probable that work in the sciences be challenged or enhanced. It is fluid and far reaching and includes those with all sorts of political and religious leanings from someone like the atheist Craig Venter to the religious Francis Collins.

            I don’t worship at the alter of the NAS members but find it very revealing that they, as well as the majority of all scientists have no belief in a personal God or the belief that Christ is going to return to earth any time now. That, along with the fact that I personally find religion to be a terrible predictor of anything, was my original point.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy Mcgee:

            “Last year the City of Portland wanted to fluoridate our water. Plans were in place even though a majority didn’t want it done. So it went to a ballot measure and was voted down. So much for authority. In the secular world authority can be questioned and held to account.”

            And rejected even when it’s right.

            Oh well.

            “Isn’t that fundamentally different than in the religious world where authority reigns? How often have living LDS Church Prophets been questioned in a public venue? Can the LDS Church faithful vote out the Quorum of the Twelve, or challenge their authority? What happens when people in Islamic nations question the Prophet Muhammad? What happened to heretics during the centuries when the Church was in power? Obviously, religious authority isn’t what it once was in the West and is yearly losing its grip. ”

            And the devotees of scientism are rushing to fill the vacuum. We are now awash with people who are willing to claim that religious believers are mentally ill, that they should not be allowed to vote according to their beliefs (if they are allowed to vote at all) and that the state should take their children away and “educate” them without parental “brainwashing” — for their own good, of course.

            “Science has no idols although it has heroes.”

            Hero worship is another name for idolatry.

            “I don’t worship at the alter of the NAS members but find it very revealing that they, as well as the majority of all scientists have no belief in a personal God or the belief that Christ is going to return to earth any time now.”

            And I find it highly revealing that you are so inordinately impressed by a culturally and socially conditioned shared outlook, among participants of a common professional milieu, on subjects in which they have no actual expertise.
            The Brave New World of Aldous Huxley was based upon the notion that Scientists Know Best. It is an extraordinarily dystopian vision. Scientists do indeed know best — about their own narrow specialities and nothing else.

            To assume otherwise is the purest idolatry, par excellence.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            To write that scientists know “nothing else” outside their “own narrow specialties”, is being very presumptive of you methinks. How do you know what they know? Have you queried each of them? How do you know, for example, what someone like a Dr. Michael Coe, member of the NAS since 1986, knows about religion or what he might think about Joseph Smith, for example? Are you aware of his biography, or the biographies of the thousands of other NAS members? These people are thinkers and innovators and excel in their various fields and yet they are as diverse in their knowledge as any group would be.

            Rather than focus on the work of individual scientists in their respective fields, we can each look at the vast body of knowledge aggregated by millions of lifetimes of work, accomplished over the centuries. That’s much more exciting to me that organizing my life around a book of scriptures, written by humans who knew little of the world, and much less or nothing of the universe and who offered up predictions based on zero evidence.

            Of course there are still many who discount evolution or
            the age of the universe or that cling to Biblical inerrancy and who would rather home school their children, than have them exposed to the blasphemous theory of evolution. C’est la vie.

            And by the way, scientists don’t worship idols or each other and I certainly don’t worship any of them, although I’m very interested in what they have to say.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy Mcgee:

            “To write that scientists know ‘nothing else’ outside their ‘own narrow specialties’, is being very presumptive of you methinks.”

            Good thing I didn’t write that then.

            Please read again what I wrote. I said that they only know *best* what falls within their own narrow specialties. And that’s just a fact of modern scientific education: the only way anyone can become an expert on anything is to specialise, and very narrowly.

            So is it your position that they really know nothing at all if they don’t know it “best?” Just how binary a world do you live in?

            “How do you know, for example, what someone like a Dr. Michael Coe, member of the NAS since 1986, knows about religion or what he might think about Joseph Smith, for example?”

            An excellent example, if I may say so; thank you for mentioning him. Dr Coe is one of the foremost living Mayanists. In the area of his actual expertise, he is second to none. But he knows little of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, and is unfamiliar with the actual contents of the Book of Mormon. But that doesn’t stop the devotees of scientism from worshipping at his feet whenever he offers a throwaway opinion on Mormon things.

          • DanielPeterson

            I’m not sure, Lucy McGee, why you’re suddenly awash in slogans and caricatures. Has somebody else stolen your computer?

            Personally, as I think my speech the other night demonstrated, I’m quite willing to listen to astronomers, cosmologists, and physicists, as well as to prophets.

            It’s not an either/or for me, as it plainly is for you.

            And it’s okay that you disdain my church and general conference. Stupid and ignorant people like me, though, still find a great deal of value in it. Please show us a little compassion, or, at least, conceal your contempt for us from us. It hurts our feelings.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Because I’d rather listen to scientists than a group of powerful aged white men doesn’t mean I have disdain or contempt for those of your faith. I just don’t “get” some parts of your faith, or how it can be predictive of anything to do with the physical universe.

            You are of course far more educated and knowledgeable on many subjects than I, as I’ve spent most of my life far away from academia so it’s always silly when you write such things. I doubt if I could hurt your feelings too much because I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard it all before; probably many, many times.

          • DanielPeterson

            You write as if I have to choose, somehow, between listening to scientists and listening to prophets.

            I can’t fathom why you imagine that.

          • kiwi57

            Lucy Mcgee:

            “Because I’d rather listen to scientists than a group of powerful aged white men doesn’t mean I have disdain or contempt for those of your faith.”

            The fact that you need to resort to adjectives about age, gender and race does show both disdain and contempt.
            Either that or it shows a combination of ageism, sexism and racism.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I could have said exactly the same thing about many Supreme Court Justices, early State and Federal legislative bodies or Catholic Ecumenical Councils, for example.

          • DanielPeterson

            A fairly silly and insulting response, Lucy McGee. You generally do better than this.

          • Lucy Mcgee

            So you wouldn’t wear an NAS lapel pin?

          • brotheroflogan

            Lucy,
            From your post, I believe that you dislike old people and white people.

          • Guest

            I’ve recently read a long series of posts on several websites where strong opinions were voiced. I’m truly wondering what types of “worlds” mere humans would reign in, given all our proclivities to not get along so well in this world? To me, this seems like some bizarre dream experienced by a man at the end of his reign of power and control as he offered those faithful his King Follett sermon.

          • DanielPeterson

            Fortunately, I know of no religious faith expecting that mere humans will reign over worlds.

            Some atheist ideologies still expect it, though.

        • brotheroflogan

          Lucy,
          You have clearly not read the Pearl of Great Price or you would know that Mormons do believe that life exists on countless other worlds.
          I also think that you do not do justice to the teleological or cosmological arguments for the existence of God. I recommend you google William Lane Craig for talks and debates where he explains those arguments really well.

        • Bernard_Gui

          There is a fundamental connection between belief in God and belief in man (science). Both are based on faith.

        • DanielPeterson

          I addressed several of the claims that you make above, Lucy McGee, in my remarks on Thursday, and would have addressed one or two others, at least, had I had the time.

          (Not, to clarify, that I drew on your comment for them; my speech was already written out when you posted your comment. They’re commonly raised objections.)

          • Lucy Mcgee

            I’m truly happy to be able to raise any objections, given that not so many centuries ago, Christians would lock you up, torture you or kill you for public expression of unbelief. How nice of them.

            I’m looking forward to reading your presentation transcript when available.

          • kiwi57

            And not too many decades ago, under an ideology that officially called itself “scientific atheism,” Christians could be locked up, tortured or killed for public expressions of belief.

  • Stephen Smoot

    If I ever invent a time machine, I’d want to send Lucy McGee back in time so she can meet with guys like, I don’t know, Isaac Newton, or Gottfried Leibniz, or Gregor Mendel, or Georges Lemaître, and have her personally tell them, with her perennially charming sanctimoniousness and condescension, how they’re a bunch of superstitious boobs for believing in God.

    Who knows? Maybe she’d be able to go far back enough and, with her stunning and irrefutable powers of reasoning, convince young Mendel and Lemaître from ever entering the Priesthood, lest they ruin their scientific credibility by becoming committed clerics! After all, clerics can’t be scientists. Least not respectable ones.

    Or at least that’s what the prophets and evangelists of the New Atheism tell me.

    • Scott W. Clark

      Don’t you know that the latest is the most advanced so that you can discard anything that came before today as simpleminded drivel from a bunch of ignorant clingers. After all, Dawkins has proven that God does not exist and he’s I’m sure a charter member of the NAS. But what’s more, he’s now, Newton is so 1600s.

      The past is just old.

      So we can just disgard anything that came before yesterday as outdated and wait expectantly for tomorrow for something more advanced, more progressed, more, shall we say, sophisticated and worthy of our attention.

      I will say it and it will label me but so be it. I think science doesn’t deserve the preeminent place it has in society and culture. But it is the only ideology standing that fulfills the self referential requirements of modern society–it gives me stuff. (Though engineers might scoff at that.)

      Cheers.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      Of course if you’d read past comments, you’d know that I would never consider telling anyone in a perennially charming sanctimoniousness and condescending way, that they are boobs for believing in God. Those are your words Mr. Smoot, and to put them into my mouth in unsanitary.

      I fully acknowledge that the world of science we enjoy was built in part by those with varying degrees of religiosity. But one could also cite cases where religion dampened scientific exploration because of the power religious dogmas foisted on those who dared think differently. Hypatia of Alexandria, an early astronomer, philosopher and mathematician was murdered in 416 by Christian zealots. Galileo was found guilty of heresy, forced to recant, and confined for life in his home. And consider the dampening effect some Islamic beliefs have had on the sciences. How many Muslim Nobel Laureates are there in the sciences, one, two?

      Today, we have people who believe Biblical Creation should be taught in our schools, that the germ theory of disease is a hoax and that vaccines are bad science. Recently, smallpox is making a resurgence in communities, both religious and new age, where it is taught that vaccinations do more harm than good. They discount the science to their, and our detriment.

      Lastly, if you bother to actually listen to prominent atheists or agnostics, you’ll discover that few deny that religious people can’t do amazing science, many just don’t believe that a supernatural belief has any meaningful role within science. There’s the 2006 ten part

      Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival (part 1 below):

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKyFkAfmwFA&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PLCE8BF6B97FDDA910

      It might help you understand a bit more about what some critics of religion within the sciences believe.

      • Stephen Smoot

        Lucy,

        A few things.

        1. Your attitude has been condescending and sanctimonious. Three individuals (Dan, “kiwi57″, and I) have noticed it. I’d suggest you do something about that.

        2. Even if you didn’t use the phrase “superstitious boobs” (that was, I admit, my own cheeky usage) to describe theists, it’s pretty clear from your condescending attitude (see #1 above) that you believe as much. I mean, how many times did you reiterate that you’d rather listen to “scientists than a group of powerful aged white men” in your recent posts? What are we poor theists supposed to take from this sort of rhetoric other than “Listening to prophets = dumb. Listening to scientists = smart”? (And this isn’t even getting into the fact that such a contrast is a silly double standard.)

        3. You write: “But one could also cite cases where religion dampened scientific exploration because of the power religious dogmas foisted on those who dared think differently.”

        True enough, there are some cases of dogmatism (both religious and secular) impeding scientific progress; although I think atheists, especially the New Atheists, have, by and large, overblown the isolated examples of religious fundamentalism hampering science.

        For example, you cite Hypatia of Alexandria and Galileo as two examples of intrepid scientists whose lives and work were cut short by religious fanaticism standing in the way of scientific advancement. This has been a popular resort of proponents of the “Conflict Model” of the relationship between science and religion for some time, but it’s very faulty.

        Instead of taking up space here to just rehash their views, might I suggest you pursue the writings of David Bentley Hart (see Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies [Yale University Press: 2009], 45-48) and Maurice A. Finocchiaro (see Finocchiaro, “Myth 8: That Galileo was Imprisoned and Tortured For Advocating Copernicanism,” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed. Ronald L. Numbers [Harvard University Press, 2010], 68-78) on the subjects of Hypatia and Galileo.

        4. You state, “Consider the dampening effect some Islamic beliefs have had on the sciences. How many Muslim Nobel Laureates are there in the sciences, one, two?”

        Since he’s the Islamicist, I’ll let Dan tell you all about the allegedly negative impact Islam, especially medieval Islam, has had on preserving and perpetuating science and scientific knowledge.

        5. Along similar lines, you also write: “if you bother to actually listen to prominent atheists or agnostics, you’ll discover that few deny that religious people can’t do amazing science, many just don’t believe that a supernatural belief has any meaningful role within science.”

        No theist scientist, philosopher, or historian of thought that I’ve ever read has claimed otherwise. What they usually do is combat the bogus views of fundamentalist atheists like Dawkins (or yourself, apparently) that you have to choose between either science or religion. I certainly don’t turn to the examples of Newton, Mendel, and others to somehow prove that religiosity is necessary to do good science, but rather to show how, contra the New Atheists, religion and science are compatible, as seen in the lives of many great scientists both dead and living.

        So this is a straw man. I’d suggest you discard it.

        • Lucy Mcgee

          Religious fundamentalism always hampers science and always will. Wasn’t it fundamentalist Rulon Jeffs who taught that the moon landing was a scam? And just what are fundamentalist Christian and Muslim opinions about science? Fundamentalists teach dogma and do not accept challenge to authority. They would rather leave their followers ignorant than to be challenged. Spin it as you wish, this is a fact. I’ve debated with fundamentalist who believe in Biblical inerrancy who will go to their graves ignorant about the world and the universe. Too bad for them.

          • Stephen Smoot

            Lucy,

            You’re not going to find me defending religious fundamentalism. In fact, I’d say I’m as critical of religious fundamentalism as just about any atheist.

            What I will defend, however, is theism, particularly the form of theism I happen to adhere to (i.e. Mormonism), which is completely different than fundamentalism, and which I see unfairly and unduly attacked by many an atheist these days who are indeed zealous, but not according to knowledge.

            As such, your comments are somewhat bizarre. But whatever…

          • Lucy Mcgee

            Thank you, I resemble that remark!

  • Eric Ringger

    I would like to venture to say that in Lucy’s posts I hear skepticism but also sympathy and curiosity that brings her back to Dan’s blog frequently. For what it’s worth, I encourage a gentler rhetoric.

    I am also looking forward to Dan’s transcript.


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