TED Conversations

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Should TED be more discerning?

TED would appear to have the aim of disseminating scientific ideas in the areas of Technology, Entertainment and Design, and also promoting conversations about these issues.

One of the rules of conversations on TED is to avoid 'pseudo science' which would seem to reinforce the idea that TED has the aim of promoting scientific principles and scientific discussion.

Keeping this in mind, is TED breaking it's own 'rules' by promoting speakers such as 'Pastor' Rick Warren, 'His Holiness' the Karmapa, etc.? Should TED be more discerning about who it invites to speak?


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    Jan 21 2014: well, David, has no great religious figure touched your life? Jesus hasn't changed you in any way? Buddha? Has Judaism touched your life, do you think? I'm an atheist, but I think my life has been significantly changed and improved by many of the great religions and religious figures. And I feel very sure that many scientists, including really great ones that are admired by religious and non-religious alike, have been touched by religion and religious figures.

    I will say that it's hard for me to figure out why religions have so many positive effects. In my mind religion is a delusion, so logically it shouldn't have effects where it inspires scientists. And yet it does have those effects. What does this mean? It might mean there isn't such a hard line between theists and atheists, that we are largely looking for the same things?
    • Jan 21 2014: I wonder what the world would look like now if Socrates and Plato and their successors had had more of a say in our future instead of Jesus, etc. What if the church hadn't persecuted some of the great thinkers and philosophers of the last two thousand years? Maybe our scientific advances would have been more rapid? Scientific advances have in general come despite religion, not because of it. It's difficult to thanks Jesus or find much positive to say about the effects the church has had on our civilisations over the centuries, but I understand others may argue differently. Anyway, it's not possible to turn the clocks back and see what would happen if circumstances were different. There seems little point in backward glances and wondering what might have been.

      It seems logical that religion would inspire people, however ridiculous it might seem, if one does believe in it. It could be the tooth fairy, but if you believe in it and are inspired, then you're inspired.
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        Jan 22 2014: well, I think Socrates and Plato were also religious. Anyway, they also had some cosmic thoughts that were like religion, I would think Dave if they were at the forefront then you would be critical of TED for letting them speak.

        I can't imagine Jesus and Christianity would be so popular and enduring if they weren't tremendously beneficial, positive things.

        I think for you to be inspired the thing has to be genuinely substantial. I guess religion must have a lot of substance, but it's hard for me to imagine how.
        • Jan 22 2014: I understand that Plato and Socrates were a product of their time, and religion was a large part of life then, as it is for some people now. Maybe they weren't the best examples to give, but they did believe in critical thought, from what I understand. However, they didn't have the benefit of the scientific knowledge that we have today, and things would surely have been different if they too had had that knowledge. I believe that they would have been far more critical of religion.

          Personally, I believe that fewer people would have followed the Church had it not been for the consequences of doing so. Let's think now, shall I follow what the church says that I should do, or should I denounce the church, face hours, days, weeks, or longer of being imprisoned and/or tortured, then face an extremely painful death if I don't publicly accept church dogma? Hmmmm.....

          Your last comment seems a little self-contradictory. Religion must have substance... a lot of substance... but you find it hard to imagine how. I guess asking you to give some sort of example of religion having "lots of substance" will be rather difficult then, no?
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        Jan 23 2014: well, Dave, you say psychology is a science. But why is there not an aspect of science when a pastor talks about people from a psychological standpoint, I mean, a pastor meets many people, counsels on relationships, and so on.

        I'm afraid I don't know if the history you present is true or not. I'm a bit suspicious of what I haven't seen with my own eyes. I think sometimes history may be sensationalized to.....sell history books?

        What I mean is that I don't get how people following a delusional belief still get value from the belief and produce value for the world. But they do. Well, here we just celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday. King was a Christian African-American man and pastor who helped increase the civil rights of African-Americans here. I really have to believe that his religion helped and supported him in this quest and task.
        • Jan 23 2014: Greg, I think psychology is a science, unless you have another view? If so, why?

          I think pastors can use psychology just the same as everyone else. In fact, it would be rather strange if they didn't. Pastors are humans too (allegedly). Pastors using psychology to Counsel people doesn't mean that psychology isn't a science. Maybe you need to explain your point in a bit more detail?

          As for being suspicious about believing things you haven't seen with your own eyes, do you think Elvis might still be alive? Personally, I never saw the body after they said he was dead, so I have my suspicions that he might still be around. I hear he's still spotted around Vegas quite a lot!

          During the Spanish Inquisition many Jews were persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church. With so much evidence in the church's own archives and in many academic and historical institutions all round the world, I have no reason to doubt the claims of torture and killings. Sometimes people try to 'sex up' claims about people or periods of history, but sometimes people are just brutal and it's nothing to do with selling books.

          People can accomplish many things if they believe in something fervently enough. The Roman Empire is just one example, and they worshipped their emperors, amongst other gods, and they accomplished quite a lot. The fact the emperor was just a man didn't seem to make any difference. Same goes for Egyptians, and countless other examples.

          Why do you have to believe that King was helped by his religion. I don't want to make any claims, as such, but couldn't it be just as possible that Martin Luther King was an atheist who knew the political power of religion amongst Black Americans and knew that if he spoke from the pulpit more people would follow him and blacks would accomplish more than if he just stood in the street on a soap box?

          You make statements like "I have to believe..." and I just want to ask... Why? Why do you have to believe that? I see no reason why!
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        Jan 24 2014: well, Dave, I haven't heard the talk by Rick Warren that ?bothers you. But is it something about inspiring people, or finding purpose? A pastor would have some solid experience to talk about that, because s/he meets so many people, helps so many people, counsels on relationships, counsels people going through hard times, in fact does many of the same things a psychologist does?

        well, maybe Jews were persecuted, which is bad. But I'd have to think that Christianity has done more good than harm over its 2,000 years. Do you think atheism, or atheist regimes, are so great? Weren't millions of people massacred in atheist China, or atheist Russia?

        I suppose Martin may have been a closet atheist, though it seems pretty farfetched. But even if he was, by preparing a sermon every week, thinking about god, Jesus, the Bible, reading the Bible, I would think his life was still very touched by religion and that it provided him much support as he undertook his cause?
        • Jan 25 2014: Greg, a psychologist will usually help anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, religion... but a pastor usually has an agenda... to proselytise the 'patient'. There are also other issues, like whether a pastor is qualified to give the advice they give. Is it OK to lie to a patient to make them feel better? Is it ethical to offer false hope, or to offer hope in something that is false, or a lie? Personally I think it isn't.

          A good number of wars over the last two thousand years, the crusades, numerous inquisitions, religious persecutions such as Pogroms in Russia, etc. all either condoned by the church or actively undertaken by the church. It's been a while since any Pope strapped on his armour, but it used to happen, and various churches still support military action and war around the world. Just a little research will turn up plenty of examples.

          I'm not sure there's been a truly atheist country/government in the world, so we don't know what one would be like. You mentioned Russia and China, but Mao was worshipped as a god, as was Stalin, and Lenin before him. Stalin trained as a priest and would probably have made a good bishop/pope in the Russian Orthodox Church. He used well what he learned in seminary. He knew how to offer hope, however false, and also knew well how to deal with dissenters. Christian? No! Creator of his own religion and hero-worship? Absolutely!

          It's a good job Martin Luther King didn't follow too precisely what the bible says about crossing into the promised land. The massacre of all those tribes in the Old Testament would not have been a good model for a peaceful American society. I think that there's a fair amount of evidence that King didn't follow quite a few biblical precepts, at least in private. I'm not sure, for that reason, he would have got much support from the bible, but it was a good political tool!
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        Jan 25 2014: well, there is probably some truth to everything you say, Dave. But I still couldn't bar Rick Warren from speaking at TED. He is a beloved thinker and author, and to be so, he must have lots of value, although he is not perfect. I do hope that in evolution humanity will move towards atheism and away from theism, but I would prefer it happen because atheism gives people a happier, more successful life, not just because we bar theists from every public forum. Apparently that's what you want to do, bar theists from appearing at every public forum, or any forum that's not explicitly religious. Would you outlaw churches?

        I don't really like the point that there's no true atheist government, because then a Christian could say, well, there hasn't been any true Christianity.

        I would imagine religion has prevented a lot of wars?
        • Jan 25 2014: So, despite the truth, because you don't like the truth, you'd rather just ignore it, because you don't feel completely comfortable with it... don't agree with it?

          Rick Warren is a beloved thinker and writer? Well, so was Hitler! I guess Hitler was somebody with a lot of value too, then? An ad absurdum argument? Absolutely, but I think it points to the hole in your argument quite eloquently, but feel free to argue otherwise.

          I wouldn't want people like Rick Warren barred from speaking anywhere... but Technology, Enternainment and Design hints at a certain amount of science, and a certain attitude towards it. If Rick Warren were to be barred from TED, I'm pretty sure there'd still be lots of places for him and others like him to talk. I'm not sure some of those venues would be as hospitable to a lot of scientists who could really educate those who might listen and benefit from what some of the most eminent scientific minds of our day have to offer. My point, to make it really plain, is that scientific discussion should happen in a scientific forum. Religious discussion in a religious forum, and debate between the two in a debating forum. Doesn't that make sense? I've never suggested at all that those with religious views should be barred from expressing their views everywhere. I'm not sure whee you got that idea. I think you just imagined it! I wouldn't outlaw churches either. You do imagine some rather strange things!

          Not liking the idea of there having never been a truly atheist government doesn't mean that it isn't true. I'm not sure what you mean when you say "then a Christian could say, well, there hasn't been any true Christianity." Do you mean that there hasn't been any truly Christian government? But there's been plenty of governments run using Christian values. Generally it's not worked out so well.

          Yes, you could imagine that religion has prevented a lot of wars, but I'd like something a bit more concrete than your imagination please!
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        Jan 25 2014: well, TED seems to be a pretty openended org? Look at the variety of TED conversations. But isn't it true that if Rick Warren were speaking at a not-explicitly-religious organization, he would tailor his talk to their approach? Possibly TED wants to practice tolerance and inclusiveness? But, anyway, David, you sure dwell on the negative. In a world where religion has been influential, billions of people have led decent lives, a much smaller number have suffered. True, we want perfection, where nobody has suffered. But it seems very questionable to me that a world without religion would have been that world. Maybe we can listen to religious people to see what they are doing right?I don't know about the Hitler story. Wasn't Hitler advocating violence and intolerance from the start? If Warren were advocating violence and intolerance TED wouldn't have him.Yes, a Christian could say there hasn't been any government truly run by Christian values, rather than lip service. But you know, Dave, a lot of governments run with some religious values or influenced by religious values have been reasonably successful, I think you might be dwelling on the exceptions rather than the rule. People would not keep going to religious services if they weren't getting something of value out of them. Value to me is help in leading a happy, successful, at least somewhat peaceful life.
        • Jan 25 2014: I'm not sure you understand most of the points I've made and you don't seem to be doing anything much other than making vague statements with little or no substance behind them. You definitely don't address the points I've made in any detail. As I suggested before, maybe a little more detail from you would be helpful if you want to make a counterpoint?
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        Jan 26 2014: what is your evidence that I may not understand most of the points you've made? How are any of my statements any vaguer than yours? Where is my lack of detail any greater than yours?

        I'm probably not the best person to debate this topic, Dave, because I'm only moderately interested in it. I believe in my life I have read allusions to studies where scientists talk to religious people and find that the religious people get genuine feelings of happiness, well-being, love, and more from their religion. If a scientist can show that religion has value for a large number of people, would that then justify allowing a religious speaker to speak at TED?
        • Jan 26 2014: I've invited you to 'flesh out' some of your ideas and statements, but you haven't appeared to want to take the opportunity to do so. You've also seen fit not to answer some of the questions I've raised about your comments, which is fine, that's your prerogative.

          However, it does make the discourse between us a little difficult if you on the one hand disagree with me, but on the other, don't want to give any details as to why you disagree with me... other than "I feel", or "I think", etc. Maybe some more concrete examples of why you hold the opinions you do would help on me (and anyone else) understand the points you want to make, and also why you feel that you want to make them?!

          Maybe something more objective from you would help me understand you, rather than just subjective comments.

          If someone tells a lie, but believing that lie makes people feel good, how should we respond if we know that what that speaker says is a lie?

          Should we keep it a secret that what's being said is a lie, to preserve the 'good feeling'?

          Should we expose the lie and ignore the 'good feeling'?

          I'd suggest that we maybe expose the lie, seek to understand how/why it works and makes people 'feel good' and then seek to make people 'feel good' without the need for the lie. Is this not a reasonable course of action? I'm not sure if I believe in lying to people in this way. Ignorance is at times forgivable, but not to be nurtured, as if it is something of worth in and of itself. It's one thing to forgive ignorance, but quite something else to promote it!

          Transcendental Meditation has been shown to have much merit. Should we have speakers explaining TM for the good of all? Absolutely! Should we have speakers promote religions just because they have links to TM which has been shown to be benifitial? I'd really have to say no, in my opinion. I don't want to throw the bath water out with the baby, but I also don't want to keep the baby and have to drink the bath water!
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        Jan 26 2014: well, Dave, it seems to me you never answered a question I asked at the beginning of our discussion, so I'll ask it again. Has no great religious figure, or religion, benefited your life? Has Jesus, or Christianity, or the efforts of Christians, helped you in any significant way?
        • Jan 26 2014: Yes, I did answer your question. As I said before (and I'm sorry that you missed it) I believe I said that (to paraphrase) I, and the world, might have been better off without Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad. Maybe there'd have been fewer wars and the like and maybe science would have advanced further/faster without all the religious persecution. Did you not read my previous answers? Maybe you just didn't understand them? Did I waste my time? Was I not clear? If I was unclear, why didn't you ask for clarification before now?i

          I think we'd all have been better off if we'd have been free from religion a long while ago and followed scientific and philosophical enquiry a long time before we were actually free to. Medicine could have advanced further and faster without religious persecution, as could cosmology, and doubtless, many other areas.

          I think it would be I practice to go through every scientific field and every scientist that ever suffered religious persecution throughout history, but I can't think of an instance where we wouldn't have been better off without religion, or where religion has made us better off. We are a retarded race thanks to religion. I'd be interested to see where you could give substantial evidence to the contrary!

          I can't honestly say that any Christian has helped me in such a way as to make me think that there is anything more significant to Christianity than any other religion, or indeed than atheism/humanism.
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        Jan 27 2014: well, technically, Dave, saying we might have been better without religion is not the same as answering whether religion has benefited your life.

        If one is going to say humanity should not have gone in the religious direction, is this like saying all the people who followed religion in the past (billions of them, or tens of billions, or hundreds of billions), plus the ones who follow it today (billions), are stupid? Or through common sense could we say that if billions of people follow something that it has some value?
        • Jan 27 2014: I think the problem is that you're asking questions to which there are no answers, unless you have a way of turning the clocks back a few centuries, running time again without religion, and seeing what happens. Maybe then I could tell you if we've all been better off with religions, or would have been better off without them. I have no means to do that, so can't answer the question. I'm not sure what you want me to do in the circumstances... give you a firm answer without any evidence to back it up? Now, that would seem to me to be really stupid!

          You seem to have this concept, that just because lots of people follow an idea, it must have value. People have followed lots of stupid ideas in the past. Science isn't a democracy where you can vote for an idea and make it work just by force of numbers.

          In the past, people often knew no better than to follow false ideas. This is ignorance, not stupidity. Now we have more scientific knowledge than we've ever had before. People sometimes ignore good science. That's stupidity!
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        Jan 27 2014: yes, you're right, Dave. When I see billions of people following an idea or a practice, and they're doing it for 1,000's of years, I tend to think the idea, or the practice, has value. Does this not make common sense? Plus I also see the idea, or the practice, help people in my own life, I am an atheist but practically everyone in my family is a Christian, and I do think it has helped them succeed in certain areas where I have not succeeded.

        I really appreciate your idea that we have more science than ever before. Yet the numbers I can find indicate that billions of people, the majority of people, are still theists. As I've said, that is perplexing to me. Yet when I see those huge numbers, it seems like the beliefs, or practices, must still hold value?

        One place I think you may be erring is calling someone like Rick Warren "pseudoscience." To me pseudoscience is something really flaky like UFO's or astrology. Rick is in a very mainstream tradition that has succeeded for 2,000 years. Of course he is not a professional scientist, but I can't see him as being flaky like an astrologer is flaky.
        • Jan 27 2014: I think I've answered most of your points, but you're now adding that if an idea's been around for a long time, it's got to be better than a new idea, or something along those lines.

          Give it another 2000 years and UFO's might be as acceptable as Christianity and other mainstream religions?! How long have people believed in The Tooth Fairy? Maybe we should be taking The Tooth Fairy a lot more seriously!

          You seem to think that if stupidity is mainstream, it's better than stupidity that isn't mainstream. I'm not sure about your skills as a critical thinker. Maybe there's a more important question for you that you need answered rather than this conversation?
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        Jan 28 2014: No, I'm not saying that if an idea has been around for a long time, it's got to be better than a new idea. I'm saying that if an idea has been around for a long time, its long life suggests it has value. However, long life by itself might not give it value, in the case of religion I'm looking at the numbers of people who have followed it, which go to the billions, in fact the large majority of the human race. This fact suggests to me it has value as well. Apparently you disagree with this, Dave? But then you're saying that the billions of people who followed religion and gave it a long life were stupid? I guess that's possible, but it's very hard for me to think that the large majority of the human race are, or in the past were, stupid. After all, the human race has been quite successful?
        • Jan 28 2014: You say some funny stuff, Greg.

          Ok, so an idea that's been around a long time isn't better than a new idea, it just has more value than a new idea? I think you're wriggling! We're getting close to playing semantics.

          People often stick with an old idea because they don't know any better... doesn't mean the idea is the best idea going.

          Are people supremely intelligent because they've been around a long time? I think sharks and crocodiles have been around a lot longer, but I don't think any sharks or crocodiles have a PhD or have won a Nobel Prize. Crocodiles and Sharks have been around for millions of years. In the way you seem to measure things, they're a lot more successful than humans, so they must be more intelligent? Obviously not stupid? They hide their intelligence well, or do you need a different measure of success and intelligence?

          Religion over the centuries has been the source of much superstition, irrationality, persecution, maiming, bloodshed, murder, etc. I'm not sure it's been as much of a boon to civilisation as you seem to think. We're as civilised as we are despite religion, not because of it.

          I tend to think we're skirting around some other question or issue, like how you deal with the rest of your family? Maybe, how you talk to them when you don't have a religious faith and almost all of them do? Should we be having a different conversation, you and I?
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        Jan 29 2014: No, dave, I actually wasn't ranking them. If we say Idea A is an older idea that billions of people have followed and are still following, and Idea B is a new idea, it is possible that Idea B is better than Idea A. But I think Idea A still must have some value to have been followed by so many people by so long, and to still be being followed?

        So far I haven't listened to Rick Warren's talk. Does he specifically mention religion?
        • Jan 29 2014: Memes can take on a life of their own and religion/religious memes are no different. Just because a meme survives, doesn't mean that it's sensible, logical, beneficial (necessarily), etc.

          I can think of few reasons why it might be beneficial to sacrifice one's own child/children to appease imaginary gods. However, this was a popular idea for much longer than any existing religion I can think of that's around at the moment.

          The best antidote to religion may be for people to have to choose. E.g., you have tuberculosis, you can be prayed for and have any religious ceremony you like to help heal you, or you can have antibiotics and other modern medical interventions and treatments to heal you, now choose!

          I think the problem is human psychology. We're not always honest, logical, rational, etc. If we were forced to choose between science or religion (at least in some instances) but couldn't have both, then maybe we'd believe and act differently to the way we do at present. I think religious people want to have their cake and eat it too. Too many people get treatment at the doctors, or in hospital (for instance) but then thank 'God' when they get healed! Not very rational, nor very fair in my opinion. I'm sure they'd think differently though.
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        Feb 2 2014: well, Dave, it looks to me like now the thing for me to do would be to watch Rick Warren's talk, but I just can't get over the hump and do it. I'm pretty picky about what I watch.

        A kind of funny question that occurs in my mind is that although you seem critical of Warren's talk, you're probably promoting more people watching it by hosting this debate, sort of the opposite of what you intended?
        • Feb 2 2014: Well, for one, I'd only watch it if you have tine to kill and don't mind wasting your time. If I was to promote a talk, it would be Dan Dennett's talk he gave in response to Rick Warren. From Dan Dennett's talk you can get a good overview of what Rick Warren said and a measured response from a much respected philosopher.

          Choice is yours, Greg!

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