In November 2006, several of the world’s leading atheistic evolutionary scientists gathered in La Jolla, California for the first “Beyond Belief” symposium (see Lyons and Butt, 2007), which the scientific journal New Scientist called “an ‘atheist love fest’” (Reilly, 2007, 196:7). The conference was held to discuss science, religion, and God, and specifically whether science should “do away with religion” (Brooks, 2006, 192:9). New Scientist writer Michael Brooks summarized the overall attitude of the attendees in the following words: “science can take on religion and win” (p. 11). The participants were ready to roll up their sleeves and “get on with it” (p. 11). They were ready to put science “In Place of God,” as Brooks titled his article.
Fast-forward one year to 2007—to the “Beyond Belief II” symposium—where some of the participants apparently approached the idea of a Supernatural Being much more cautiously. Even New Scientist, who covered the conference for a second year in a row, chose a drastically different article title the second time around—from “In Place of God” to the more sober, “God’s Place in a Rational World” (see Reilly, 196:7, emp. added). Author Michael Reilly gave some insight into the meeting by recording what one attendee, Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia (and founder of the Centre for the Study of Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture), openly acknowledged.
“Religion is not going away,” he announced. Even those of us who fancy ourselves rationalists and scientists, he said, rely on moral values—a set of distinctly unscientific beliefs.
Where, for instance, does our conviction that human rights are universal come from? “Humans’ rights to me are as mysterious as the holy trinity…. You can’t do a CT scan to show where humans’ rights are, you can’t cut someone open and show us their human rights…. It’s not an empirical thing, it’s just something we strongly believe. It’s a purely metaphysical entity” (p. 7, emp. added)….
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