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Religions are increasingly a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. Fundamentalist movements - some violent in the extreme - are growing. Science and religion are at odds in the classrooms and courtrooms. And a return to religious values is widely touted as an antidote to the alleged decline in public morality. After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason?
Will faith and dogma trump rational inquiry, or will it be possible to reconcile religious and scientific worldviews? Can evolutionary biology, anthropology and neuroscience help us to better understand how we construct beliefs, and experience empathy, fear and awe? Can science help us create a new rational narrative as poetic and powerful as those that have traditionally sustained societies?
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Can we treat religion as a natural phenomenon? Can we be good without God? And if not God, then what? This is a critical moment in the human situation, and The Science Network in association with the Crick-Jacobs Center brought together an extraordinary group of scientists and philosophers to explore answers to these questions. Scott Atran, Research Director at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France, has experimented extensively on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature.
He currently is an organizer of a NATO working group on suicide terrorism. His publications include In Gods We Trust: Francisco Ayala, described as the "Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology" by The New York Times, has made singular contributions not only to evolutionary and population genetics, but also to education, philosophy, ethics, religion, and national science policy.
Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, studies human thinking and feeling in social context, particularly how unconscious assessments reflect hidden attitudes about social group membership such as race, gender and class.
Her research has implications for theories of individual responsibility and social justice. Patricia Churchland, who chairs the University of California, San Diego Philosophy Department, focuses also on neuroethics and attempts to understand choice, responsibility and the basis of moral norms in terms of brain function, evolution and brain-culture interactions. Her books include Brain-Wise, Neurophilosophy: With his wife and philosophical partner, Patricia, he has been an advocate of "eliminative materialism", which claims that scientific theories about the brain do not square well with our traditional commonsense beliefs about the mind.
Paul Davies, who recently joined Arizona State University as a Distinguished Lecturer, is a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist, author and broadcaster.
He has written over 20 books, including the just published The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? His other books include Mind of God: Can Science Prove the Existence of God? Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary theorist who holds the Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, has popularized the gene-centered view of evolution and theory of memetics.
Ann Druyan, the CEO and co-founder of Cosmos Studios, which specializes in the production of science based entertainment for all media, has authored several books, including A Famous Broken Heart, and Comet, which was on The New York Times best seller list for two months. Stuart Hameroff is an anesthesiologist and the director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. He is known for his promotion of the scientific study of the mechanisms of consciousness.
He was the lead organizer of the first Tucson Consciousness Meeting, which is widely regarded as a landmark event. He is currently researching the neural basis of religious belief while completing a doctorate in neuroscience. Konner, the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology, Neuroscience, and Behavioral Biology at Emory University, and author of The Tangled Wing, has been described as "the nearest thing we have to a poet laureate of behavioral biology".
His book Unsettled tells the story of the Jews from ancient history to the modern age. Her publications include Eyewitness Testimony, Witness for the Defense: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. He is the author of books on Spinoza, including Spinoza: His research focuses on seventeenth-century philosophy and the antecedents to aspects of modern thought in medieval Latin and Jewish philosophy - including the problem of evil.
Author of Evil in Modern Thought: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, a defense of the moral language of the Enlightenment as foundation for a liberal world view robust enough to meet contemporary challenges.
An asteroid has been named in her honor. Joan Roughgarden is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Stanford and teaches geophysics as well as a mathematical ecology.
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Her most recent work, Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, reflects on the relationship between science and religion. Michael Shermer, a former college professor, is the founding publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine. His most recent book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, is a discussion of the boundary between religion and science. Richard Sloan is the author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine.
He is a professor of behavior medicine at Columbia University Medical Center where he conducts research on the relationship between psychological factors and health, including prayer and medicine. James Woodward, the J. He is the co-author of The Origin of Minds: Evolution, Uniqueness, and the New Science of the Self, and the creator and host of Emmy award-winning PBS science programs on evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience, including the critically acclaimed series "The Human Quest".
He is co-founder and Director of The Science Network.