The conflict between science and religion lies in our brains, researchers say


The conflict between science and religion may have its origins in the structure of our brains, researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Babson College have found.

Clashes between the use of faith vs. to explain the world around us dates back centuries and is perhaps most visible today in the arguments between evolution and creationism.

To believe in a supernatural god or universal spirit, people appear to suppress the brain network used for and engage the empathetic network, the scientists say. When thinking analytically about the physical world, people appear to do the opposite.

“When there’s a question of faith, from the analytic point of view, it may seem absurd,” said Tony Jack, who led the research. “But, from what we understand about the brain, the leap of faith to belief in the supernatural amounts to pushing aside the critical/analytical way of thinking to help us achieve greater social and emotional insight.”

Jack is an associate professor of philosophy at Case Western Reserve and research director of the university’s Inamori International Center of Ethics and Excellence, which helped sponsor the research.

“A stream of research in cognitive psychology has shown and claims that people who have faith (i.e., are religious or spiritual) are not as smart as others. They actually might claim they are less intelligent.,” said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor and professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve, and a member of Jack’s team.

“Our studies confirmed that statistical relationship, but at the same time showed that people with faith are more prosocial and empathic,” he said.

In a series of eight experiments, the researchers found the more empathetic the person, the more likely he or she is religious.

That finding offers a new explanation for past research showing women tend to hold more religious or spiritual worldviews than men. The gap may be because women have a stronger tendency toward empathetic concern than men.

Atheists, the researchers found, are most closely aligned with psychopaths—not killers, but the vast majority of psychopaths classified as such due to their lack of empathy for others.

The new study is published in the online journal PLOS ONE. The other authors are Jared Friedman, a research assistant and recent graduate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science who will begin his PhD in organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve in the fall, and Scott Taylor, assistant professor of at Babson College.

Brain structure

The research is based on the hypothesis that the human brain has two opposing domains in constant tension. In earlier , Jack ‘s Brain, Mind & Consciousness lab used functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain has an analytical network of neurons that enables us to think critically and a social network that enables us to empathize. When presented with a physics problem or ethical dilemma, a healthy brain fires up the appropriate network while suppressing the other.

“Because of the tension between networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social/emotional side,” Jack explained. “And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it.”

Friedman said, “Having empathy doesn’t mean you necessarily have anti-scientific beliefs. Instead, our results suggest that if we only emphasize analytic reasoning and scientific beliefs, as the New Atheist movement suggests, then we are compromising our ability to cultivate a different type of thinking, namely social/moral insight.”

“These findings,” Friedman continued, “are consistent with the philosophical view, espoused by (Immanuel) Kant, according to which there are two distinct types of truth: empirical and moral.”

Experiments and results

The researchers examined the relationship between belief in God or a universal spirit with measures of analytic thinking and moral concern in eight different experiments, each involving 159 to 527 adults. Consistently through all eight, the more religious the person, the more moral concern they showed. But no cause and effect was established.

They found that both spiritual belief and empathic concern were positively associated with frequency of prayer, meditations and other spiritual or religious practices, but neither were predicted by church dinners or other social contact associated with religious affiliation.

While others theorize that mentalizing—interpreting human behavior in terms of intentional mental states such as needs, desires or purposes—has a positive association with belief, the researchers found none.

Like other studies, these experiments showed that analytic thinking discourages acceptance of spiritual or religious beliefs. But the statistical analysis of data pooled from all eight experiments indicates empathy is more important to religious belief than analytic thinking is for disbelief.

So why can the conflict between science and religion become so strong?

“Because the networks suppress each other, they may create two extremes,” Boyatzis said. “Recognizing that this is how the brain operates, maybe we can create more reason and balance in the national conversations involving science and religion.”

Using both networks

The researchers say humans are built to engage and explore using both networks.

“Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight,” Jack said. “Many of history’s most famous scientists were spiritual or religious. Those noted individuals were intellectually sophisticated enough to see that there is no need for religion and science to come into conflict.”

They refer to Baruch Aba Shalev’s book 100 years of Nobel Prizes, which found that, from 1901 to 2000, 654 Nobel laureates, or nearly 90 percent, belonged to one of 28 religions. The remaining 10.5 percent were atheists, agnostics or freethinkers.

“You can be religious and be a very good scientist,” Jack said.

The researchers agree with the New Atheists that suspension of analytical thinking—at the wrong time—can be dangerous, and point to the historical use of religious differences to persecute or fight wars.

“Although it is simply a distortion of history to pin all conflict on religion,” Jack said. “Non-religious political movements, such as fascism and communism, and quasi-scientific movements, such as eugenics, have also done great harm.”

The researchers suggest, however, that taking a carefully considered leap of religious faith appears be an effective route to promoting emotional insight. Theirs and other studies find that, overall, religious belief is associated with greater compassion, greater social inclusiveness and greater motivation to engage in pro-social actions.

Jack said the conflict can be avoided by remembering simple rules: “Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world; that’s the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning, but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives.”

To dig deeper into belief, the researchers are planning studies to learn if individuals who increase their empathy then increase their religious or spiritual belief, or vice versa.

Dr. Asad Q. Ahmed and Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy on Islam and Science

My Notes

Dr. Hoodbhoy

Dr. Hoodbhoy speaks first lamenting the current state of science in the Islamic world. He blames the encroachment of scientific sphere by the religious extremists for hindering the progress of Muslims. He talks about the plethora of pseudo- scientific literature which boosts about recently discovered scientific facts being already alluded to in the earliest sacred texts of Islam and nonsensical claims of stationary earth, using Genie for energy and more.

According to Dr. Hoodbhoy’s account, Ehteram ul Haq Thanvi, a pakistan religious scholar and son of Ehtisham ul Haq Thanvi said to Dr. Hoodbhoy in a conversation that Muslims are behind in science because they don’t read Quran with understanding and western scientists secretly do so to make advancement in science.

Sir Syed Ahmed from subcontinent come up with an approach to keep science and religion separate and allow each to play its due role in society. He realized that if one believes in science and causality, there is no room for miracles and they have to be explained away as allegorical. Sir Syed was severely criticized for all this.

Ghazali is the prime target of Dr. Hoodbhoy’s criticism as the seminal figure who turned things around for worse at a time when Islamic Civilization was at its peak. His attack on rationality, denial of causality and inclination to mystical explanation of natural phenomenon derailed the course of scientific progress of his civilization or so believes Dr. Hoodbhoy.

Dr. Asad Q. Ahmed

Agreeing with the Hoodbhoy about the present abysmal state of science in Muslims countries, Dr. Asad disagrees with everything else he said.

The pseudo-scientific literature is not unique to Islam, it is a global phenomena.

Ghazali was not against rationality, rather his tahafut points out that those who deduce metaphysical truths from logic are not rational enough. Philosophers disagree among themselves in matters of metaphysics because their proofs are not rigorous, as they are when it concerns facts which are susceptible to demonstration. On the other hand, demonstrable phenomena like solar eclipse falls within the realm of science and it would be unwise for religious scholars to argue with philosophers and scientists on these matters.

It was the work of Muslim astronomers after Ghazali who came up with various models of solar system which directly led to the heleo-centric Copernican system.

New Atheist Critiques of Religion (Discussion on The Partially Examined Life)

Discussing selections from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel C. Dennett.

Should we be religious, or is religion just a bunch of superstitious nonsense that it’s past time for us to outgrow? Does faith lead to ceding to authority and potential violence? Can a reasonable person be religious? We say lots of rude things about these authors, and at times about their targets in this listener-requested episode featuring Mark, Wes, Seth, and Dylan. Read more about the topic.

Buy/read what we did:
-Ch. 1-2 of Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason(2004)
-The last three chapters of Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything(2007)
-Ch. 4, and some of ch. 2, from Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion(2006)
-Ch. 8 (and skimming 3 and 7 to get context) of Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon(2006)
-Chapter 14 of Anthony Kenny’s 2008 book From Empedocles to Wittgenstein: Historical Essays in Philosophy(which we read as a response to Dawkins).

An Interview with Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr by Naved Kahteran

“Traditional philosophies are so many expressions of the truths contained in perennial philosophy, which, being perennial, has no temporal terminus quo. It deals with the timeless and for that very reason is the most timely of truths.” (Seyyed Hossein Nasr)

Dr. Nasr has been a persevering and staunch promoter of a better understanding and dialogue between the Islamic world and the West. Several years of hard work on my doctoral dissertation, devoted to the research of perennial philosophy and the views of Professor Nasr in particular, along with those of Guḥnon, Schuon and other perennial thinkers, brought me close to nearly five decades of the brilliant career of this truly most significant Muslim ambassador in the West. Professor S. H. Nasr is certainly the most important Muslim thinker of the second half of the 20th century and, God willing, of the first half of the 21st as well. I was happy to learn that this opinion of mine was confirmed by the prestigious Library of Living Philosophers, which included a volume entitled The Philosophy of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (June 2001), the only Muslim thinker among the torch-bearers of Western philosophy. In this way, the universalism of the Islamic model of thinking was incorporated on an equal footing into the world’s philosophical heritage in the most beautiful form and with the fullness of academic expression.

Kahteran: Dear Professor Nasr, I am personally privileged with this amazing possibility to make this interview with you, i.e. with someone who is– not only according to my opinion, but that of many others– one of the most remarkable philosophers of our time. Also, you succeeded in making clearer the philosophical notions of sophia perennis and philosophia perennis to the minds of today’s Muslims, minds increasingly attacked by ideologies borne out of modernism and other “-isms” that came along with it. Actually, it is but one measure of your own personal accomplishments that you have been able to attract and engage the very best philosophical minds of our times in the Foundation for Traditional Studies and the journal Sophia and its publications over the last fifteen years or so. So could you, please, tell us your own definition of traditional philosophy after dealing with its contents in different fields of your investigations and intellectual deliberations?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: To respond to your question I must first say a word about the philosophia perennis. Traditional thinkers like myself believe that there is a perennial and also universal wisdom to be found within the integral traditions that have guided humanity over the ages, traditions such as the Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Neo-Confucian, Egyptian, ancient Greek, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian and Islamic, not to speak of the primal and mythological traditions in which this wisdom has not been usually formulated explicitly in conceptual schemes. At the heart of this wisdom lies pure metaphysics to which I have referred as scientia sacra and about which I have written extensively especially in my book Knowledge and the Sacred in the chapter bearing that name as its title.

Now, traditional philosophy may be said to be a philosophy, in the time-honored and traditional sense of the term as understood by the likes of Pythagoras, Parmenides and Plato, that speaks in the language of the particular Tradition in which it has grown and flourished but it contains at its heart the basic universal truths ofscientia sacra or some aspect of it. Moreover, since it can deal with only certain aspects of that truth and be based on a perspective from a particular angle of vision, on the formal level it may on occasion seem to be opposed to another school of traditional philosophy belonging even to the same tradition as one sees in Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism in Greek civilization. These philosophies differ from each other on a certain level but are all based on the reality of the Supreme Principle which none of them deny even if each points to It in a different way, whether it be the Supreme Good, Agathon, the Unmoved Mover or the One. However, those Greek schools of philosophy that are not based on the Supreme Principle, such as Skepticism, Epicureanism and the like are not called traditional philosophy.

Furthermore, it should be evident that we understand by philosophy not what is understood by it in modern European and American philosophy but that which is understood by the traditional philosophers. Otherwise, we would not refer to mashshā’ī and ishrāqī schools of philosophy in Islam, the Saṁkhya and Vedanta in Hinduism, Neo-Confucianism and Taoism in the Far East, or Thomism and Christian Platonism in the West as philosophy. It is to make this distinction clear that Guḥnon attacks “philosophy” as currently understood and speaks instead of metaphysics, cosmology, etc. when referring to traditional philosophy. Coomaraswamy and Schuon have also made this distinction clear in several of their writings.

Finally, it is necessary to recall that for us metaphysics in the sense of scientia sacra is not a branch of philosophy, but that traditional philosophies are so many applications of metaphysical principles to various domains from the cosmos to man, from religion to art, from the reality of the human person to human society. Nor do all traditional philosophies reflect the metaphysical principles directly to the same degree. Rather, there is often a hierarchy in the degree of clarification and crystallization of concepts pertaining to the Supreme Science. A clear example of this hierarchization is to be seen in the six Hindu darshans, usually translated as the six schools of Hindu philosophy, and also in Islamic philosophy when seen from the perspective of Mullā Sadrā’s al-hikmat al-muta‘āliyah, often translated as “the transcendent theosophy” to distinguish it not only from philosophy in its modern connotation but also from Peripatetic philosophy, which, although still traditional philosophy, over-systemized and rationalized metaphysical teachings, laying the foundation for the rationalism that was to appear later especially in the post-medieval period in the West.

Kahteran: In the meantime, I have personally become acquainted with the great achievements of the Foundation, and I have to ask you, Professor Nasr, how this kind of philosophy is applicable to our modern philosophical curricula, or which kind of intellectual and practical benefit we should expect after its introduction into our university programs?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Today in the West and even in many non-Western universities the only philosophy that is taught is the modern and now the post-modern. Traditional philosophies are either ignored or relegated to the realm of intellectual history. For the non-Western part of the world (and even to some extent for the West), introduction of the traditional philosophies associated with the world in question means first of all the recovery of one’s own intellectual tradition and a deeper understanding of the more intellectual dimensions of one’s own traditional culture. The teaching of such philosophies also provides the means of looking critically at the waves of Western thought that inundate those far-away shores of the non-Western worlds, often with the violence of a stormy sea and this in turn prevents the thinkers of those worlds from being simply blind imitators of Western thought, turning at best into second-rate Western thinkers with non-Western names.

For both the Western and non-Western worlds, such philosophies also re-introduce the importance of vision and the search for truth, goodness and beauty into the barren landscape of present-day currents of Western thought. How many Western philosophers from Heidegger to Rorty have spoken of the end of philosophy? What is now ending is not, however, the traditional philosophies, but the anti-traditional philosophies that began to flourish in the West from the Renaissance onward and have now spread to other parts of the world even while having reached an impasse in the West itself. Traditional philosophies are so many expressions of the truths contained in perennial philosophy, which, being perennial, has no temporal terminus quo. It deals with the timeless and for that very reason is the most timely of truths. Its principles can also be applied to new problems that humanity faces today, from the environmental crisis to the present-day economic upheaval caused by the forgetting of those principles.

Kahteran: For me personally, it is really interesting to put to you the question about one of such giants of spirit, the late professor Toshihiko Izutsu, with whom you collaborated closely during his life. I am personally grateful and intellectually indebted to you both for your enormous scholarly output which enabled me to approach the philosophical traditions of the East without reluctance of any kind. Moreover, my contact with other traditions made it possible for the universalist Islamic perspective to come into full swing and reach above the formal frameworks of various philosophical, theological, and cultural patterns. So, to make it quite clear: is it possible to draw comparisons between Japanese philosophical traditions and especially Sufism stricto sensu following in the footsteps of Izutsu?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: It might be of interest to your readers and to yourself for me to say a few words about my relation with Izutsu and the role of this relationship in Izutsu’s intellectual activities in the later phase of his life. In 1962 I was a visiting professor at Harvard University. At that time Izutsu was a professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The head of the Institute at that time was the famous Canadian theologian and historian of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith who was my close friend and who later came to Harvard. Smith invited me to give a lecture at McGill. I accepted the offer and on a very cold winter day went to Montreal. Smith told me that Izutsu was there and giving a lecture in the afternoon. I had already known his fine studies on Quranic semantics and so I went to the lecture whose theme was the relation between language and meaning with a special reference to Jean-Paul Sartre. Izutsu was a remarkable linguist, master of not only classical Chinese and Japanese but also knowledgeable in Greek, Latin and many other European languages as well as Sanskrit. Besides, he was a remarkable scholar of Arabic and could also read Persian. It was, therefore, natural that his interest in the traditional schools of thought should have been focused on semantics. But he was also a metaphysician and philosopher, as his later works would demonstrate amply.

My lecture at McGill, which he attended, was about the philosophy of Mullā Sadrā. When the lecture finished, he came forward and said, “What you have discussed today is so significant that I want to devote the rest of my life to the Islamic hikmat tradition and change the whole direction of my research and writing. Henceforth I shall not be writing on semantics any more.” This is in fact what happened. We immediately became friends. He persuaded Iwanami, the famous Japanese publisher, to bring out my Three Muslim Sages in Japanese. In 1970 when I visited Japan, I visited his home in Kamakura and we went together to visit the great Buddha statue in the middle of a park in that city, both wearing kimonos, I wearing one of his. He kept smiling and when I asked him why, he said because everyone is giving me a strange look asking with their eyes, “Who is this person with you who does not look Japanese but is wearing the completely traditional Japanese dress?” Later I took him to the International Congress of Medieval Philosophy in Madrid, this being the first time that he attended this Congress. It was also his first visit to Spain. During the first dinner that we were having together, I ordered food in my broken Spanish. He said that he did not know any Spanish but if I were to bring him again to dinner four days later, that is, during the last day of the Congress, he would order his own food in Spanish. And that is exactly what he did.

As you know, I have always been critical of shallow comparative studies of philosophy in which some Oriental philosopher is compared to a modern European philosopher without consideration of the radical difference between the bases of traditional philosophies on the one hand and of modern philosophies on the other. Already by the early 70’s I had written sharp criticisms of such comparative studies, and Izutsu had read my works on this subject. As a result of colonialism, non-Western cultures came to have much more contact with the West than with each other. A Japanese scholar of comparative philosophy would compare some Buddhist thinker with Kant, an Arab or Persian scholar Ibn Sīnā with Descartes, etc. The extremely fecund and important fields of comparative traditional philosophies had received little attention especially when it came to let us say Hindu or Neo-Confucian philosophies and the Islamic philosophy and doctrinal Sufism or gnosis. How many serious studies can you name that compare in depth Śankara and Ibn ‘Arabī or the Samkhya and Islamic cosmology? You can count the number of such studies on the fingers of your two hands. As for a relation between Islamic thought and Neo-Confucianism, it is a newly discovered continent now being studied in depth for the first time in a European language especially by Sachiko Murata, William Chittick and Tu Wei-Ming. In this latter effort there is also the indirect presence of Izutsu for when Izutsu was in Tehran I introduced two of my best students, Murata and Chittick, to him and urged them to study with him. They learned much from Izutsu that has helped them in their collaborations with Tu Wei-Ming in recent years.

In any case I found in Izutsu the ideal person to deal with comparative studies of traditional philosophies especially those of Islam and the Far East and I constantly pushed him in this direction. When I established the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy in Tehran in 1973, I invited Izutsu to join us on a full-time basis. He accepted and spent the academic year with us every year until the Islamic Revolution. During those years he wrote seminal works on both Islamic philosophy and comparative philosophy as well as taught both Far Eastern philosophy and Ibn ‘Arabī at the Academy. When archeological excavations unearthed an ancient manuscript of the Tao Te-Ching, a text that I have always loved, Izutsu invited me to work with him on the translation into Persian of this newly discovered version of the sacred text of Taoism. I accepted the invitation and we proceeded on this remarkable task together. He would translate the Chinese text into English and I would render the English into Persian. Finally, I would read the Persian translation and he would compare it with the Chinese and make final suggestions. We finished the text in 1978 and I decided to go over the translation one more time and to add the necessary commentaries before sending it for publication. As a result of the Revolution this task was never completed but although my library was plundered and my writings in manuscript form lost, fortunately this text survived because when in January of 1979 I set out to inaugurate a major exhibition of Persian art in Tokyo without returning to Tehran until today, I put it in my handbag to work on it on the plane. Thirty years have passed since that time but I have not turned to that task. Perhaps God will give me the strength to do so in the future. I have still not lost hope in completing a work which, if published, would perhaps be the last posthumous opus of Izutsu to be published.

What I have said about Izutsu should answer the last part of your question. The works of Izutsu, especially his major opus on Sufism and Taoism, demonstrate, along with more recent works such as those of Murata, Chittick and Tu Wei-Ming, the possibility of the deepest and most fruitful comparative study of Islamic and Far Eastern thought. Although these works concern Chinese rather than Japanese thought, there is no doubt that the same types of comparative study of Islamic and Japanese schools of thought can be carried out. To turn more specifically to Sufism, it needs to be stated that it is the esoterism of the last plenar revelation of the present history of humanity, that is, Islam, and contains, therefore, in synthetic fashion, all the different esoteric possibilities within itself. There are currents in Sufism corresponding to Zen and Shingon, others to Jodo-Shin and yet others to Japanese Neo-Confucianism. One can hope that such studies will be undertaken extensively in the future in the footsteps and following the pioneering work of Izutsu.

Kahteran: Just a few words about the very future of traditional wisdom and that type of thinking in this miserable world of differentiation in so many spheres today? Shall we see in the very near future a broadening of these investigations world-wide, or the falling into new divisions, and where is the place of Islamic philosophical heritage in this matter? Can we push aside at least for now that tunnel-vision and intellectual myopia of the proponents of the so-called U-turned Islam, which, according to my own insights, is only a deviation of that religion and its great cultural heritage? This is an extremely important question for all of us today, because we really have to find that very needed measure of balance in the interpretation of our own traditions while we have this kind of experience of living in a society where multiculturalism is the norm, which is actually our old way of living, especially in Bosnia, the norm that is to be found in our forgotten Bosnian wisdom.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: The interest in perennial philosophy and what you call traditional wisdom continues to grow in the West as well as in a number of Islamic countries such as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and your own Bosnia. And all of this is being carried out in the middle of an even more intensified storm with devastating consequence brought about by modernism and post-modernism on the one hand and the so-called fundamentalism on the other. The perennial philosophy is the most potent antidote to these maladies.

As for Islamic philosophy, it is now becoming better known in the West in its integral form, and not only as a chapter of the history of Western philosophy, while its significance as a major expression of the perennial philosophy is also being recognized to a greater degree than before. For those of us who have been given the gift by Heaven to understand tradition and the perennial philosophy and to live by their teachings, what is important is to cling to their truths no matter how trying the times, knowing in our heart that no matter what appearances may signal, ultimately the Truth shall triumph and prevail. As for Bosnia, to live within the worldview of tradition and perennialism is also to defend the traditional Bosnian society within whose bosom different religions and cultures lived in peace and harmony for such a long time.

Kahteran: As we confront more and more the pressing needs for a global dialogue today, is global or world philosophy a realizable project or not?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: To be sure there is need of a global dialogue but not one based on destroying the rich diversity of human cultures in the name of and in conjunction with a quantitative and materialistic economic globalization. If we are to avoid very dangerous pseudo-religions and philosophies that make global claims in the climate of today’s world, we must be able to formulate a global and universal expression of perennial philosophy which is itself the only legitimate world philosophy. I am of course all in favor of that understanding of world philosophy as found in the writings of Guḥnon, Coomaraswamy, Schuon and on another level Elḥmire Zolla, Henry Corbin, Izutsu and several other major scholars. Such an understanding is not based on the rejection of traditional forms of wisdom but on reaching the truth that they hold in common in their inner depths without the discovery of this truth– which is truly global and universal– destroying in any way the precious forms of traditional wisdom existing in particular cultures and societies. I have always been a proponent of world philosophy in this sense while standing completely opposed to those so-called world philosophies that consider traditional wisdom to be but a relic of the past and claim for themselves a future that seems to be related more to the reign of the Anti-Christ than the coming of a celestial savior such as the Mahdi, Christ in his second coming, the Kali avatar, etc.

Kahteran: Your wide-ranging work is well known to us and obviously will enhance studies in this field. Professor Nasr, you are recognized in the world as the most determined and the loudest advocate and defender of the Holy at a time that is characterized by a philosophy which is anti-metaphysical in spirit and character. So, what do you think about the very idea of finding and recollecting the philosophical res scattered through Eastern intellectual history prior to the arrival of modern Western philosophy, resources which have yet to be recognized as part of a fuller history of philosophy?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: I am certainly favorable towards this project which is, however, too immense to be realized immediately. It would be more feasible to start with a project such as the Western Spirituality Series, published in the United States by the Paulist Press and consisting of sixty books devoted to Christian (40), Jewish (10) and Islamic (10) mystical traditions. For this project one could have an editorial board consisting of specialists on Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Far Eastern, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic philosophical traditions (as well as others). They could then preparet of the most important philosophical texts in consultation with other scholars and then bring out a series of these texts that would include translation, explanation and commentary, historical introduction, etc. Since obviously more work has been done on Wstern thought than on Eastern schools of philosophy in European languages, perhaps, one could begin by including only the Eastern traditions which here must definitely include the Islamic despite the link between Islamic philosophy and Greek philosophy on the onehand and Western philosophy from the medieval period onward, on the other. Parallel with such efforts an attempt should be made to write an extensive history of traditional philosophies in a really inclusive manner without adopting 19th century European historicism and historical relativism that stand completely opposed to traditional philosophies that are based on a very different understanding of the unfolding of time.

Something from Nothing, A conversation with Richard Dawkins & Lawrence Krauss

Krauss discusses the theme of his new book how universe might have come into existence from nothing. Science tells us that vacuum, once thought to be absolutely empty, is teaming with energy. This newly discovered fact could give us the clue why we have something rather than nothing.

Krauss claims that evolution also in a sense created life out of nothing. Where Dawkins sort of disagrees with him as evolution does require the existence of matter in order to get started.

The Great Debate – Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong?



The Great Debate – Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong?

On November 6th, 2010 a panel of renowned scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals gathered to discuss what impact evolutionary theory and advances in neuroscience might have on traditional concepts of morality. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong? The panelists were psychologist Steven Pinker, author Sam Harris, philosopher Patricia Churchland, physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher Simon Blackburn, bioethicist Peter Singer and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham.
Recorded live at the Arizona State University Gammage auditorium.
“The Great Debate” was sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in collaboration with the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Center for Law, Science and Innovation; the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge; and The Science Network.


The Great Debate Panel

The Great Debate Panel

Speakers: Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham

Run Time: 42 minutes

A lively panel discussion between Sam Harris, Patricia Smith Churchland, Peter Singer, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Steven Pinker, and Roger Bingham. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong?


Sam Harris with an introduction by Roger Bingham

Sam Harris with an introduction by Roger Bingham
Run Time: 19 minutes

Speaker: Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values,” “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” “The End of Faith” won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Harris has a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA and a degree in philosophy from Stanford University. He is a co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.

Talk: Sam Harries claims that there is no gap between facts and values. Once evolution gave us beings with experience which can vary within the limits of biology,the upshot was morality. Moral Good could simply be defined as the well-being of conscious beings (humans and animals).


Patricia Smith Churchland

Patricia Smith Churchland
Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Patricia Smith Churchland is a Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Her research focuses on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy. Her books include “Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy,” ”Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain” and “On the Contrary: Critical Essays 1987-1997,” with husband Paul M. Churchland. Her newest book, “Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality,” is due out in spring 2011.

Talk: There is one end of the spectrum where it is easy to make value judgments based on facts, but there are scenarios where it is much more difficult. Having more facts might help but in some cases it is just a difference in value rather than facts. For instance, interventionist approach to do good which might actually make the situation worse, academic arrogance might lead to silliness etc..


Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He is also a Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals.” His latest books include “The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty” and “The Life You Can Save: Acting now to end world poverty.” Singer was the founding president of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. Outside academic life, he is the co-founder and president of The Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. He is also president of Animal Rights International.

Talk: Peter makes the case the science can’t tell us right from wrong, though it does provide us with information which helps in making moral decisions. If Darwin is right, than it is a proof that might is right, one said. But we as humans don’t want to stick to the moral inclinations which are a result of evolution, rather we want to transcend them. Moreover, science cannot give us moral premises.


Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss

Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Lawrence Krauss is a Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also is director of the ASU Origins Project. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all three major U.S. professional physics societies. His popular publications include “The Physics of Star Trek,” “Quintessence,” “Atom,” “Hiding in the Mirror,” and due out in 2011, “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science” and “A Universe from Nothing.”

Talk: It is not possible to tell right from wrong without science, because it provides the crucial information required to make these decisions and it is the only method to explore the actual world. We can ask actual questions like does putting a woman in bag makes her more happy and get answers.


Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn

Run Time: 12 minutes

Speaker: Simon Blackburn is the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College. He is also a visiting distinguished research professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Blackburn has written extensively on the philosophy of mind, language and psychology. Among his latest works are “Practical Tortoise Raising and Other Philosophical Essays,” “The Big Questions: Philosophy” and “How to Read Hume.”

Talk: Science can inform us in making moral judgments but it cannot answer our moral questions. It can’t tell us whether Buddha is right in giving up all desires. It can’t tell whether to take our kids to holiday or denote to save lives in Africa.


Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker

Run Time: 12 minutes

Speaker: Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard. His research is on visual cognition and the psychology of language. Among his books are “The Language Instinct,” “How the Mind Works” and “The Blank Slate.” He has been named Humanist of the Year, and is listed in Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and in Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” His latest book is “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.”

Talk: Religion cannot tell us right from wrong. Dogma, scripture, authority or subjective certainty are pathetic reasons to believe in something to be good. Such dogma has caused a lot of suffering like human sacrifice prevalent in religious societies, witch hunt, harsh punishments for petty crimes etc.. Reasoning tells us what’s right and wrong, which is not part of science as the term is generally understood, but could be included in science if we take a broad definition.

Last four hundred years of history shows us that there is definite in progress morality due to the raise of science.