Dawkins, Krauss have faith in ‘The Unbelievers’ | Globalnews.ca

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Thanks to Miranda for the link!


TORONTO — One of the hottest tickets at this year’s Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto is for The Unbelievers — Monday’s world premiere and three subsequent screenings of the film are sold out.

The documentary follows evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss as they travel the world promoting the importance of science and reason in the modern world.

The pair specifically targets religion and faith.

“If something is comforting, that’s great, but it doesn’t make it true,” says Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous atheist. “There are people who sincerely seem to think that because something is consoling or comforting that therefore it’s got to be true. That just isn’t logical.”

Appearing on Global’s The Morning Show, Dawkins quoted Canadian experimental psychologist Steven Pinker. “[He] said, ‘If you’re being chased by a tiger, it may comfort you to believe it’s a rabbit. But it is a tiger and it’s going to eat you.’”

Krauss, who was raised in Toronto, said the goal is not to make people feel bad about believing in God.

“We recognize that all of us need comfort in different ways,” he explains. “What we’re just trying to encourage people to do is get comfort from the real world.

“We’re not trying to take something away. We’re trying to add the wonder of reality, the poetry of the real universe, and say ‘you can get solace and wonder from the real world.’ It’s true, you can get comfort from religion but that doesn’t say you have to have religion to get comfort.”

 


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  1. There’s only 3 women on the list of 20 “…and more” on the film info. Why? Aren’t there more than 3 female “celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers”? There are a few men on the list whose names mean nothing to me. In science, academia, technology, business, art, music there are no women who could share top billing? I’m confused about what, if anything, this means?

    • I’m a female supporter, but unfortunately I’m about a thousand light-years from being well-known for any secular/humanist or scientific achievements. However, there are many, many accomplished female atheists. Maybe some of them should be better-known, and maybe we should make them better-known. But what about prominent female atheist authors like Ayaan Hirsi-Ali? Is she in this documentary?
      In reply to #2 by whiteraven:

      There’s only 3 women on the list of 20 “…and more” on the film info. Why? Aren’t there more than 3 female “celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers”? There are a few men on the list whose names mean nothing to me. In science, academia, technolog…

    • Whiteraven

      Perhaps you can help, why are there only 3 women? 15% seems low, are they lazy? I’m not sure where you are going or if you even have a point in any direction, could you clarify?

      I wonder how many men would be on the list if they had to give birth and breast feed! Is it them that are the lazy ones?

      I’m confused, it’s almost like I can’t draw a conclusion with so little information, both in terms of the ratio and your question. Unfortunately we might need someone who made the film to chime in before we can start pointing the finger, pity.

      In reply to #2 by whiteraven:

      There’s only 3 women on the list of 20 “…and more” on the film info. Why? Aren’t there more than 3 female “celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers”? There are a few men on the list whose names mean nothing to me. In science, academia, technolog…

    • In reply to #5 by wetbread:

      I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around this. Do you actually mean to tell me that there are morning TV shows in the world where the hosts are not idiots?

      Liza Fromer, host of Global TV, The Morning Show, is an outspoken Atheist.

    • In reply to #5 by wetbread:

      I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around this. Do you actually mean to tell me that there are morning TV shows in the world where the hosts are not idiots?

      It’s Toronto.

  2. why do commentators ( news show anchors etc) always talk about the “comfort” that belief gives people and point the finger at the likes of Dawkins & Krauss for threatening to take away that “comfort” . This ignores the billions of people world wide for whom belief is a) not a choice (i.e. is forced upon them) , and b) is anything but “comfort” as it subjects them to ignorance , mind numbing control and loss of free will, and , in the majority of cases , diminished life quality through poverty , and violence & hatred . If you don’t agree , go visit Iran, central africa etc etc

    • In reply to #6 by ipsos:

      why do commentators ( news show anchors etc) always talk about the “comfort” that belief gives people and point the finger at the likes of Dawkins & Krauss for threatening to take away that “comfort” . This ignores the billions of people world wide for whom belief is a) not a choice (i.e. is for…

      What else are they going to talk about? When comparing to science, there is no evidence to discuss; it has to be about feelings, deeds and imagination. That is all there is.

      God exists only because of the unanswered. The more we answer the less powerful god becomes.

  3. ” You can get comfort from religion, but you do not need religion to get comfort. “

                                                                                                           Lawrence Krauss
    

    Indeed. Reality is that which exists outside of our beliefs. So, comfort must exist within us.

  4. I’m not happy that these local screenings were sold out before I even knew about them, but pleased to see that these two thinkers were given an intelligent, non-hostile and uninterrupted showing on one of Toronto’s best programs.

    I hope their film does well, and I’m looking forward to seeing it at a local theater, or on-line…. Mac.

  5. Scientific findings are always subject to peer review and replications (in addition to double blind tests). This is why the cheaters will get caught sooner if not later. This is absolutely true.

    Superb interview. Thanks to both!

  6. Scientists are believers of science – don’t be mistaken. I love Dawkins and his contributions to science, but words like “truth” and “reality” deserve more caution.

    Any field, discipline, or discourse involves a set of axioms from which to establish communication. Mathematics is outright about this. In math, no axiom can be proven because axioms are defined to be claims which cannot be derived from or proven by other claims. Depending on which axioms one accepts, one can make different claims and use different methods of proof.

    Generally, axioms are supposed to be self-evident, but there are several commonly accepted axioms which are hardly so. Some mathematicians reject commonly held axioms because they are not logical or intuitive, consequently rejecting a vast portion of mathematical theorems ([1] see what is accepted and rejected by the constructivists, for example). Who is right? Which is the true mathematics?

    Because of the definition of an axiom, mathematics is transparent in its approach. It admits that the truth it finds is not absolute but constructed. Not all mathematicians feel that way, but simply ask them to prove an axiom and they must admit that they cannot. Mathematics, like any other discipline, is built upon assumptions which cannot be proven. Another term for ‘assuming without evidence’ is belief or faith.

    Science has its own set of axioms, sometimes called laws. Science believes in the validity of observation and logic. Most of science is based on our observation of phenomena or the effect of phenomena, but noone can deny the limitations of our perceptual systems and their potential for error. Likewise, try proving the validity of logic without first assuming logic. I dare you.

    Next, consider every causal relationship that is the assumed result of experiments. An infinite number of variables can be placed between cause and effect. Although our mind has a very large number of possible states and thus a very large potential of observations and inferences, the number is finite and discrete. Even if you consider the aggregate of these observations and deductions, the number is nonetheless discrete and countable.
    The world, however, is real and between any two points on the real line, lies an infinite number of points. As a result, every seemingly causal relationship can actually just be a coincidence with many variables in between. And our explanations which are based on languages with a discrete word set is never quite exact. Empiricists argued something similar to this a long time ago and logically (using the system of logic we scientists rely so heavily on) they are correct. Again, science believes in causality.

    Occam’s razor or the law of parsimony is a belief as well [2]. The more you analyze the scientific method, the more beliefs you will find. This all has been without even considering statistical and measurement error. All science believes that if its results were statistically significant, then they must be true. This again is a belief, but more interestingly it admits that there is a chance it may not be true. Not all science relies on statistics, but much of it does. Some fields accept 95% or 99% statistical confidence as significant. Let’s assume every study using statistics found results that had a 99% confidence interval. That would imply that 1 in every 100 results was due solely to chance, putting into question thousands of scientific ‘truths’. A recent study on psychology research determined that 18% of psychology literature was incorrectly reported and that 15% was incorrectly calculated. This is worse than chance and I assume it is because of the aforementioned human flaws (as well as the unmentioned human biases).

    Instead of offering truth, it seems that science is better at solving problems. Medicine works more often than prayer. The invention and development of war machines has defeated sacrificial rituals. Scientific theories like the big bang appeal more and have more predictive power over creationism. Pragmatism offers an operational definition for truth, but must never be confused for Truth. Truth is an asymptotic ideal that science slowly approaches. Sometimes it takes steps backwards through human fault, but generally, like the economy, there is a positive correlation.

    I choose to believe in logic, pragmatism, observation, Occam’s Razor, and thus the scientific method in general, but we should never mistake that these axioms are founded on belief. If you ever find yourself a believer in the truth of science, eat a slice of humble pie and try proving logic valid, or contradictions impossible, or that simple hypotheses are better than complex ones, or that our methods of observation and measurement are flawless, even when averaged across every available human being. I think you will find that even science does not have the answers, only temporary pragmatic explanations.

    References:
    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(mathematics);
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor;
    [3] http://wicherts.socsci.uva.nl/BakkerWicherts2011.pdf

  7. In reply to #19 by pablo.currea:

    Generally, axioms are supposed to be self-evident, but there are several commonly accepted axioms which are hardly so. Some mathematicians reject commonly held axioms because they are not logical or intuitive, consequently rejecting a vast portion of mathematical theorems ([1] see what is accepted and rejected by the constructivists, for example). Who is right? Which is the true mathematics?

    I agree that as the word was initially used and in non-modern philosophical writing its true that axioms are meant to be self evident but that isn’t the way I recall them being treated in set theory. An axiom is just something you don’t prove, you take it as a given.

    Science has its own set of axioms, sometimes called laws.

    I don’t agree. What I think of as scientific laws say the speed of light limitation or Newton’s laws of motion or Hamilton’s law, none of those are axioms. We don’t just take them as a given with no evidence. Quite the contrary, they are supported by mountains of empirical data. If something is an axiom, at least as I’ve always heard the term used, you don’t bother providing evidence that its true.

    • In reply to #20 by Red Dog:

      An axiom is just something you don’t prove, you take it as a given.

      Axioms being accepted as a given is exactly what I mean by assume or believe. Some mathematicians disagree on which axioms to choose (the axiom of choice and the law of the excluded middle, to name the ones I know of) while others have shown that by choosing different sets of axioms you can arrive at the same conclusions, like in set theory.

      What I think of as scientific laws say the speed of light limitation or Newton’s laws of motion or Hamilton’s law, none of those are axioms.

      You’re right about that. The laws I was referring to are more like laws of logic or philosophy, like the law of parsimony. I didn’t mean laws of specific sciences like physics or chemistry, but rather the laws that form science or scientific thought.

      My intent is not to trash science. As I said, science is very practical. But in the pursuit of truth, I think we should humble ourselves and acknowledge that we ‘know’ nothing and that, while we stand on the shoulders of giants, they stand on a foundation of assumptions and beliefs.

      • In reply to #21 by pablo.currea:

        My intent is not to trash science. As I said, science is very practical. But in the pursuit of truth, I think we should humble ourselves and acknowledge that we ‘know’ nothing

        If by “know nothing” you mean that we don’t have absolute certainty (the kind of deductive truth we can get with math and logic) about any scientific theory I agree. Science is inductive and its always probable truth not certainty. But I think when you put it that way its deceptive. It sounds like you are supporting the multicultural relativists who sneer at science as “just another system” and think its no more or less a guide to truth than other belief systems. That I don’t agree with at all.

        I do think you make a rather interesting point though and its one that I think many intellectuals — even Dawkins — don’t completely get. That for any system of knowledge there are always going to be some axioms that you take as a given and can’t prove. You use them as the foundation for everything else you discover so you can’t really prove them or it would be circular and the law of parsimony is a good example. To me that’s a mildly interesting truth about logic and epistemology. Its kind of like asking “what came before the big bang?” Maybe asking “how do we justify things like the law of parsimony” just doesn’t make sense. Or maybe one day someone will invent some new meta logic and show how it can all work together. But in the mean time its wrong to take an interesting fact about epistemology and somehow use that to suggest that all systems for finding truth are equal, that doesn’t follow at all IMO. Not saying that you are implying that, just saying IF you are…

        • In reply to #22 by Red Dog:

          It sounds like you are supporting the multicultural relativists who sneer at science as “just another system” and think its no more or less a guide to truth than other belief systems. That I don’t agree with at all.

          I wish I had your confidence in science, but honestly I have not found a rebuttal for the relativist point of view. I’ve concluded that the idea that “paradigms cannot be compared to other paradigms – that they are incommensurable,” is contradictory. It is, itself, a claim from one paradigm about other paradigms. From this I conclude that it is possible to compare paradigms, I just don’t know how. I don’t think “all systems for finding truth are equal” but I have no clue as to which method is better. If you do, please share.

          My approach has been conditional and pragmatic: if the goal is to save lives, a scientific (or medical) paradigm is better; if the goal is to build reliable products, engineering is better. But if your goal is to find truth..? I can’t think of which paradigm is the best. Again, your assistance here would be marvelous.

          Ultimately, I have fears for communities such as this one. I came here hoping to find a group of like-minded skeptics, but in this video and much of the comments I see fanatic scientism. You’ve agreed that science is founded on axioms that are unprovable. Without these axioms there is no science, right? Thus for science to exist we must believe in these axioms; scientists are believers, not un-believers. This is not just “an interesting fact about epistemology,” but instead is a limitation on all knowledge.

          • In reply to #23 by pablo.currea:

            In reply to #22 by Red Dog:
            This is not just “an interesting fact about epistemology,” but instead is a limitation on all knowledge.

            Its a limitation on all knowledge that’s the point, its not a limitation of science. I had the same argument with another user a few days ago. I can give you example after example of ways that science gives us truth. And not just practical truth but theoretical truth as well, my field of computer science is all about studying abstractions and information. Now give me one example of anything from any field that is not science that can count as a real finding. Something where there is consensus and people say “that question is settled and we can now use that knowledge to explore other questions” I doubt you can but I would love to see you try. So sure there are some interesting things about epistemology that show that you have to start somewhere. And its an interesting problem that maybe some day someone will resolve. But its insane in the mean time to look at the track record of science compared to the track record of religion or Freudianism or astrology or pick your favorite woo topic and say they are equivalent.

            One clarification when I say “science” I don’t just mean guys in white lab coats. In my philosophy a historian, anthropologist, economist, and even a philosopher can be scientific as well. If you’ve read any Nietzsche he felt the same way.

          • In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

            Sorry red dog, but I think the burden lies on you to show me those many examples. My stance is that all paradigms rely on belief, not that all paradigms can discover truth. Better said, no paradigm can claim to have found objective truth. Any truth they may find is constructed and conditional upon that paradigm’s axioms.

            So what are these truths that come from science? Do they rely on statistics? Experiment? An assumption of order? Are they not ultimately reliant on a pre-defined system of validity?

            Science is a practical system of devising succinct explanations for phenomena in the world, but whether those explanations are true is beyond the scope of science or any paradigm. But I might be wrong. And being a scientist, I would love to hear your perspective.

          • In reply to #26 by pablo.currea:

            In reply to #24 by Red Dog:
            Sorry red dog, but I think the burden lies on you to show me those many examples. My stance is that all paradigms rely on belief, not that all paradigms can discover truth. Better said, no paradigm can claim to have found objective truth. Any truth they may find is constructed and conditional upon that paradigm’s axioms.

            And I don’t disagree. My point is that your definition for objective truth is too strong. Or if you care about what words we use (I don’t) then don’t call it objective truth that’s fine. You can call scientific truth or inductive truth whatever you want. My point is that scientific truth has a track record that no other method can even come close to. Not just that its good for putting up bridges and building computers. But even when it comes to questions with no obvious practical value like how did the universe start or even highly abstract questions like understanding the difference between denumerable and non-denumerable infinite sets. If you disagree with that then you need to provide an example of some alternative method for finding truth that has actually, you know, found some! Come on is this really such a hard question? You claim that there are other ways to find truth besides science, OK fine, lets stop talking in the abstract, I always like to be specific give me some example, one example, of some non-scientific truth.

            But if you can’t then you have no legitimate point. You are really arguing the way climate change deniers or creationists do “here is one thing we don’t completely understand so therefor we don’t really understand anything” Nonsense.

          • In reply to #27 by Red Dog:

            You can call scientific truth or inductive truth whatever you want. My point is that scientific truth has a track record that no other method can even come close to.

            If you’re asking me to find a method with a track record for finding scientific truth that is not science, then you’re offering an impossible task. So, when you say scientific or inductive truth, I’ll assume you mean a method which yields affirmative or useful results.

            But does an approach that produces useful results produce truth? My definition may be too strong, but that definition is weak. Truth is different from results, and I think you’d agree. Just because a theory accurately explains phenomena does not mean it is the only explanation that can do so. Science has a unique methodology allowing for collaboration and a huge discourse that allows anyone to join, giving individuals the power to contribute. This is undeniable. I’d agree it has led to more useful discoveries than any other paradigm or set of axioms. I would even argue that the axioms of science appeal to our nature, though some might argue that theism does as well.

            Still, truth is a theological or metaphysical topic. It is irrelevant to science. Dawkins, as the militant atheist, is fighting an impossible battle with regards to truth because it is not a scientific debate. The two sides disagree on an epistemic level and this is where I feel the battle should be fought. A creationist origin story is clearly not scientific, but science cannot say it is false.

            You wanted an example, this is it. Theistic religions believe in the authority of a god, so the word of god is truth. Beyond that, they place feeling (spiritual or otherwise) above reason or pragmatism and this allows them to find truth regardless of logical fallacy and contradiction. How can these two sides be reconciled? Feelings may be illogical, but it is also un-human to ignore feelings. Placing priority on feelings and authority over observation and logic can easily create an alternative truth. Deciding which paradigm is true seems impossible, especially when you consider that any scientific theory can become a theistic theory by adding an extra assumption. Without Occam’s razor, there is no method for elimination.

            Anyways, I think it is a useless debate when words like “truth,” “the real world,” and “un-believers” are being used because neither side has sovereignty over truth or the real world and both sides rely on systems of belief that have not yet been reconciled.

          • In reply to #28 by pablo.currea:

            If you’re asking me to find a method with a track record for finding scientific truth that is not science, then you’re offering an impossible task.

            That wasn’t what I asked you. Here is my original question:

            Now give me one example of anything from any field that is not science that can count as a real finding. Something where there is consensus and people say “that question is settled and we can now use that knowledge to explore other questions”

            So now you’ve given me an example here it is:

            You wanted an example, this is it. Theistic religions believe in the authority of a god, so the word of god is truth. Beyond that, they place feeling (spiritual or otherwise) above reason or pragmatism and this allows them to find truth regardless of logical fallacy and contradiction. How can these two sides be reconciled? Feelings may be illogical, but it is also un-human to ignore feelings. Placing priority on feelings and authority over observation and logic can easily create an alternative truth. Deciding which paradigm is true seems impossible, especially when you consider that any scientific theory can become a theistic theory by adding an extra assumption.

            This is why I think getting down to specifics is a good idea. Because if that is the best you can do to provide an “example of anything from any field that is not science that can count as a real finding” then I agree with you that there isn’t much point in continuing our discussion. I’ve tried reading your example paragraph several times and I have no idea what it means let alone whether its true or if it even is supposed to state something that can be evaluated as true or false. That is the difference between science and pseudoscience.

  8. What we’re just trying to encourage people to do is get comfort from the real world

    The problem is that good behavior (like critical thinking) is seldom reinforced by anyone. Rewarding real world thinking (like as in comfort) is a far more powerful conditioning tool than using punishment (like saying people are bad).

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