Edge in the News

Reforma [1.9.07]

El foro virtual Edge propone buscar razones, no simplemente deseos, para el optimismo. Edge es un club que reúne, segén ellos mismos, algunas de las mentes más interesantes del mundo. Su propósito es estimular discusiones en las fronteras del conocimiento. La intención es llegar al borde del conocimiento mundial, acercándose a las mentes más complejas y refinadas, juntarlas en un foro y hacerlos que se pregunten las preguntas que ellos mismos se hacen. La fundación actúa, de este modo, como surtidora de problemas y alojamiento de réplicas. Cada ano se constituye como Centro Mundial de Preguntas.

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

BLOG: SCIAM OBSERVATIONS [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.  ...

THE GUARDIAN [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007 - or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

The UK's new science minister has revived interest in potentially sending a British man or woman into space, something that has been off the political radar for a generation. Host Alok Jha asks space doctor and would-be astronaut Kevin Fong why now is the time for Britain to join the space race.

Madonna wants to "neutralise radiation" and Cherie Blair's lifestyle guru Carol Caplin advises "unclogging" the lymph system to avoid breast cancer. We talk to science author Simon Singh about the damage pseudo-scientific claims from celebrities can do.

And finally, regular podders Ian Sample and James Randerson welcome Simon Raynor from London Zoo to discuss whether animals can really be gay. And check out bonus New Year

The Guardian [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007—or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

Jaron Lanier, Scientific american [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.

Le Monde [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Centre Daily [1.6.07]

...Into my season of gloom, a ray of hope arrived the other day via the Internet, benefit of the Web site called Edge.

As I understand it, Edge is an electronic gathering place for scientists, artists and other creative thinkers. Most of them are out traveling on the far reaches of the high-tech superhighway, sending us their postcards from a few years in the future. ...

Chris Anderson, who is the curator for an intellectual gathering called the TED Conference, makes a similar point. He says that the number of armed conflicts has declined worldwide by 40 percent in the past decade.

If the world seems ever more threatening, it is because we are wired to respond more strongly to threats than we are to good news. Besides, good news such as scientific discovery and economic progress is largely under-reported in the media, while disaster and doom are hugely over-reported.

I was cheered by the optimism of a science writer who thinks that we will soon have a technological breakthrough that will make solar energy dirt cheap long before the big energy crunch arrives. He's not sure which of the many bright ideas he has written about will be the one that works, but he has faith in the scientists who are pushing at the boundaries of the technology. ...

The Edge contributors fanned the flame of optimism in me in the season of darkness.

Los Angels Times [1.6.07]

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1996, the online salon Edge has e-mailed a question to scientists and thinkers about the state of the world. This year's question was: "What are you optimistic about?" Below are excerpts of some of the responses. For full responses (and those of other contributors), go to http://www.edge.org .

Toronto Star [1.6.07]

OPTIMISM IS almost a dirty word these days. Global warming, the situation in Iraq, poverty, AIDS and other seemingly unsolvable problems can make us feel a bit blue. To our rescue comes John Brockman, from the Edge World Question Center. This year's poser: What are you optimistic about? "While conventional wisdom tells us that things are bad and getting worse, scientists and the science-minded among us see good news in the coming years." This is the 10th anniversary of the Annual Question; 160 thinkers weighed in.

CENTREDAILY.COM [1.6.07]

...Into my season of gloom, a ray of hope arrived the other day via the Internet, benefit of the Web site called Edge. As I understand it, Edge is an electronic gathering place for scientists, artists and other creative thinkers. Most of them are out traveling on the far reaches of the high-tech superhighway, sending us their postcards from a few years in the future. ...

Chris Anderson, who is the curator for an intellectual gathering called the TED Conference, makes a similar point. He says that the number of armed conflicts has declined worldwide by 40 percent in the past decade.

If the world seems ever more threatening, it is because we are wired to respond more strongly to threats than we are to good news. Besides, good news such as scientific discovery and economic progress is largely under-reported in the media, while disaster and doom are hugely over-reported.

I was cheered by the optimism of a science writer who thinks that we will soon have a technological breakthrough that will make solar energy dirt cheap long before the big energy crunch arrives. He's not sure which of the many bright ideas he has written about will be the one that works, but he has faith in the scientists who are pushing at the boundaries of the technology. ...

The Edge contributors fanned the flame of optimism in me in the season of darkness.

LOS ANGELS TIMES [1.6.07]

Why some scientists are optimistic about the future

Richard Dawkins; Max Tegmark; Jonathan Haidt; James O'Donnell; Steven Pinker; Jean Pigozzi; Jared Diamond; J. Craig Venter; Roger Highfield

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1996, the online salon Edge has e-mailed a question to scientists and thinkers about the state of the world. This year's question was: "What are you optimistic about?" Below are excerpts of some of the responses. For full responses (and those of other contributors), go to http://www.edge.org . ...

TORONTO STAR [1.6.07]

Optimism is almost a dirty word these days. Global warming, the situation in Iraq, poverty, AIDS and other seemingly unsolvable problems can make us feel a bit blue. To our rescue comes John Brockman, from the Edge World Question Center. This year's poser: What are you optimistic about? "While conventional wisdom tells us that things are bad and getting worse, scientists and the science-minded among us see good news in the coming years." This is the 10th anniversary of the Annual Question; 160 thinkers weighed in. Here is a selection of responses:

Alun Anderson, former editor-in-chief, New Scientist: "I'm optimistic about ... a pair of very big numbers. The first is 4.5 x 10^20. That is the current world annual energy use, measured in joules. It is a truly huge number and not usually a cause for optimism as 70 per cent of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels. Thankfully, the second number is even bigger: 3,000,000 x 10^20 joules. That is the amount of clean, green energy that pours down on the Earth totally free of charge every year."

David Bodanis, author, Passionate Minds: "I'm optimistic because there's a core decency in people that even the worst machinations of governments can't entirely hold down. The Evelina hospital is the first new children's hospital that's been built in London in a century. There's a giant atrium in the middle, and the contract with the company doing the cleaning says that the window cleaners need to dress up as superheroes."

Rodney A. Brooks, director, MIT AI Laboratory: "I am optimistic about many things, especially the future. Just last week I met a number of people from the 22nd century, and they were delightful. We smiled and giggled together a lot but none of them seemed to speak a word of English. Even their Japanese was not so great just yet. But demographic analysis tell us that many of those little girls I saw in Kyoto will end up as citizens of the next century."

Adam Bly, founder and editor-in-chief, Seed: "I am optimistic that science is recapturing the attention and imagination of world leaders."

Jared Diamond, author, Collapse: "I am cautiously optimistic about the state of the world, because big businesses sometimes conclude that what is good for the long-term future of humanity is also good for their bottom line (cf. Wal-Mart's recent decision to shift their seafood purchases entirely to certified sustainable fisheries within the next three to five years)."

Esther Dyson, editor, Release 1.0: "Many of the venture capitalists I know are turning to environmental and energy investments ... They are funding training schools in India – for-profit – rather than just donating to legacy universities ... "

 

George Dyson, science historian: "I am optimistic about the return of commercial sail. Hybrid sail/electric vessels will proliferate by harvesting energy from the wind. Two near-inexhaustible energy sources – sunlight and the angular momentum of the rotating earth – combine, via the atmosphere, to produce the energy flux we know as wind."

Helen Fisher, Dept. of Anthropology, Rutgers: "I am optimistic about romantic love, because we are returning to patterns of romance that humankind enjoyed across most of our deep history: choosing lovers and spouses for ourselves."

Alison Gopnik, psychologist, UC-Berkeley: "New children will be born. This may seem rather mundane compared to some of the technological breakthroughs that other scientists have focused on. ... But for human beings children are linked to optimism in a way that runs deeper than just the biological continuation of the species."

Haim Harari, physicist: "I am optimistic about the evolutionary ability of humankind to do the right things, even though it sometimes happens only after all possible mistakes are exhausted."

Steven Pinker, psychologist, Harvard: "In 16th century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted on a stage and was slowly lowered into a fire. ... As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world."

Source: www.edge.org

NEW SCIENTIST [1.5.07]

THE new year is a time for reflection and re-evaluation. It is a process that can leave one feeling up and optimistic or distinctly depressed. If you need some reasons to be cheerful, read on.

The impact of science and technology has been overwhelmingly positive. In a few hundred years life has been transformed from short and brutish to long and civilised. Improvements are spreading (admittedly too slowly) around the planet. Of course, some discoveries and inventions have led to serious problems, but science and technology often provide ways to monitor and alleviate those problems, from ozone destruction to overproduction of greenhouse gases.

And further benefits are coming. To take one example from this issue, researchers have made a drug to treat hepatitis C that should be affordable even in poor countries . Then there is the extent to which cellphones are improving life for the world's poor, the numerous ideas for harnessing energy from sunlight, that human intelligence can be increased and that a revolution in personal genomics is in the wings. These ideas come from www.edge.org, which asked 160 scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. One way or another the answers should give you a warm glow - either because you agree, or because they make you angry.

If you are still left thinking your glass is half empty, check out the submission by Randolph M. Nesse of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He predicts that we will find a way to block pessimism. The consequences may not be all good, but it's a safe bet that science and technology will come to the rescue.

New Scientist [1.5.07]

THE new year is a time for reflection and re-evaluation. It is a process that can leave one feeling up and optimistic or distinctly depressed. If you need some reasons to be cheerful, read on.

The impact of science and technology has been overwhelmingly positive. In a few hundred years life has been transformed from short and brutish to long and civilised. Improvements are spreading (admittedly too slowly) around the planet. Of course, some discoveries and inventions have led to serious problems, but science and technology often provide ways to monitor and alleviate those problems, from ozone destruction to overproduction of greenhouse gases.

And further benefits are coming. To take one example from this issue, researchers have made a drug to treat hepatitis C that should be affordable even in poor countries . Then there is the extent to which cellphones are improving life for the world's poor, the numerous ideas for harnessing energy from sunlight, that human intelligence can be increased and that a revolution in personal genomics is in the wings. These ideas come from www.edge.org, which asked 160 scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. One way or another the answers should give you a warm glow - either because you agree, or because they make you angry.

If you are still left thinking your glass is half empty, check out the submission by Randolph M. Nesse of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He predicts that we will find a way to block pessimism. The consequences may not be all good, but it's a safe bet that science and technology will come to the rescue.

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE [1.4.07]

From the lips of contributors to the online magazine Edge to God's ears (one wonders if She or It may be listening): Asked to respond to the question, "What are you optimistic about?", dozens of scientists and other thinkers have looked ahead to the future. On a Web site that routinely examines atheism, new scientific findings and a realistic view of world events that cuts through all sorts of dogma, some respondents to the "Edge Annual Question 2007" predict that someday religion will finally take a back seat to other ways of looking at and understanding the environments in which people live, work and play.

Global warming is making big chunks break off from Arctic ice islands; will an international reaction to the climate trend fuel a new kind of global governance?

Université Laval, Warwick Vincent, HO/AP

Global warming is making big chunks break off from Arctic ice islands; will an international reaction to the climate trend fuel a new kind of global governance?

Edge's future-themed article is making some news. Britain's Guardian has summarized some of its contributors' thoughts. "Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that, within 25 years, religion will command little of the awe it seems to instill today." Denett believes the "spread of information through the Internet and mobile phones will 'gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance.'"

Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins predicts that "the physicists of our species will complete Einstein's dream and discover the final theory of everything before superior creatures, evolved on another world, make contact and tell us the answer." He adds that "although the theory of everything will bring fundamental physics to a convincing closure, the enterprise of physics itself will continue to flourish, just as biology went on growing after Darwin solved its deep problem." Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, feels "optimistic that this final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker believes that violence in the world is on the decline. He writes: "Most people, sickened by the headlines and the bloody history of the 20th century, find this claim incredible. Yet...every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia..., particularly in the West, has shown that the overall trend is downward....Anyone who doubts this by pointing to residues of force in America (capital punishment in Texas, Abu Ghraib, sex slavery in immigrant groups, and so on) misses two key points. One is that, statistically, the prevalence of these practices is almost certainly a tiny fraction of what it was in centuries past. The other is that [they] are, to varying degrees, hidden, illegal, condemned, or at the very least (as in the case of capital punishment) intensely controversial....[W]ars and killings are scrutinized and documented, so we are more aware of violence, even when it may be statistically less extensive."

The Internet as tool of social change: The number of people using it in China grew by 30 percent in 2006 (to 132 million), but the government still blocks some foreign news sites

AP

The Internet as tool of social change: The number of people using it in China grew by 30 percent in 2006 (to 132 million), but the government still blocks some foreign news sites

Among many provocative observations in Edge's wide-ranging survey are those of musician, composer and record producer Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads). Eno writes: "The currency of conservatism...has been that markets are smarter than governments," a notion that "has reinforced the conservative resistance to anything resembling binding international agreements."

However, Eno notes, the "suggestion that global warming represents a failure of the market is therefore important." Will a phenomenon like the warming trend force governments around the world to finally work together in earnest? If they do, and if "a single[,] first instance of global governance proves successful," Eno argues, "it will strengthen its appeal as a way of addressing other problems - such as weapons control, energy management, money-laundering, conflict resolution, people-trafficking, slavery, and poverty. It will become increasingly difficult for countries [like the U.S.] to stay outside of future treaties like Kyoto - partly because of international pressure but increasingly because of pressure from their own populations."

In his Edge contribution, Eno really does sound optimistic. He also writes: "Something like real democracy (and a fair amount of interim chaos) could be on the horizon. The Internet is catalyzing knowledge, innovation and social change,...proving that there are other models of social and cultural evolution[,] that you don't need centralized, top-down control to produce intelligent results. The bottom-up lesson of Darwinism, so difficult for previous generations, comes more naturally to the current generation. There is a real revolution in thinking going on at all cultural levels...."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL [1.4.07]

When the very first population of atheists roamed the earth in the Victorian age -- brought to life by Lyell's "Principles of Geology," Darwin's "Origin of Species" and other blows to religious certainty -- it was the personal dimension of atheism that others found distressing. How could an atheist's oath of allegiance to the queen be trusted? It couldn't -- so an atheist was not allowed to take a seat in Parliament. How could an atheist, unconstrained by a fear of eternal punishment, be held accountable to social norms of behavior? Worse than heretical, atheism was not respectable.

In the 21st century, this no longer seems to be the case. Few acquaintances of Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world's most voluble public atheist, wonder, as they might have a hundred years ago: Can I leave my wife unchaperoned in this man's company? Indeed, the atheists are now looking to turn the tables: They want to make belief itself not simply an object of intellectual derision but a cause for personal embarrassment. A new generation of publicists for atheism has emerged to tell Americans in particular that we should be ashamed to retain a majority of religious believers, that in this way we resemble the benighted, primitive peoples of the Middle East, Africa and South America instead of the enlightened citizens of Western Europe.

Thanks in part to the actions of a few jihadists in September 2001, it is believers who stand accused, not freethinkers. Among the prominent atheists who now sermonize to the believers in their midst are Dr. Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett ("Breaking the Spell") and Sam Harris ("The End of Faith" and, more recently, "Letter to a Christian Nation"). There are others, too, like Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Brooke Allen (whose "Moral Minority" was a celebration of the skeptical Founders) and a host of commentators appalled by the Intelligent Design movement. The transcript of a recent symposium on the perils of religious thought can be found at a science Web site called edge.org.

There are many themes to the atheist lament. A common worry is the political and social effect of religious belief. To a lot of atheists, the fate of civilization and of mankind depends on their ability to cool -- or better, simply to ban -- the fevered fancies of the God-intoxicated among us.

Naturally, the atheists focus their peevishness not on Muslim extremists (who advertise their hatred and violent intentions) but on the old-time Christian religion. ("Wisdom dwells with prudence," the Good Book teaches.) They can always haul out the abortion-clinic bomber if they need a boogeyman; and they can always argue as if all faiths are interchangeable: Persuade American Christians to give up their infantile attachment to God and maybe Muslims will too. In any case, they conclude: God is not necessary, God is impossible and God is not permissible if our society -- or even our species -- is to survive.

What is new about the new atheists? It's not their arguments. Spend as much time as you like with a pile of the recent anti-religion books, but you won't encounter a single point you didn't hear in your freshman dormitory. It's their tone that is novel. Belief, in their eyes, is not just misguided but contemptible, the product of provincial minds, the mark of people who need to be told how to think and how to vote -- both of which, the new atheists assure us, they do in lockstep with the pope and Jerry Falwell.

For them, belief in God is beyond childish, it is unsuitable for children. Today's atheists are particularly disgusted by the religious training of young people -- which Dr. Dawkins calls "a form of child abuse." He even floats the idea that the state should intervene to protect children from their parents' religious beliefs.

For the new atheists, believing in God is a form of stupidity, which sets off their own intelligence. They write as if they were the first to discover that biblical miracles are improbable, that Parson Weems was a fabulist, that religion is full of superstition. They write as if great minds had never before wrestled with the big questions of creation, moral law and the contending versions of revealed truth. They argue as if these questions are easily answered by their own blunt materialism. Most of all, they assume that no intelligent, reflective person could ever defend religion rather than dismiss it. The reviewer of Dr. Dawkins's volume in a recent New York Review of Books noted his unwillingness to take theology seriously, a starting point for any considered debate over religion.

The faith that the new atheists describe is a simple-minded parody. It is impossible to see within it what might have preoccupied great artists and thinkers like Homer, Milton, Michelangelo, Newton and Spinoza -- let alone Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, Kierkegaard, Goya, Cardinal Newman, Reinhold Niebuhr or, for that matter, Albert Einstein. But to pass over this deeper faith -- the kind that engaged the great minds of Western history -- is to diminish the loss of faith too. The new atheists are separated from the old by their shallowness.

To read the accounts of the first generation of atheists is profoundly moving. Matthew Arnold wrote of the "eternal note of sadness" sounded when the "Sea of Faith" receded from human life. In one testament after another -- George Eliot, Carlyle, Hardy, Darwin himself -- the Victorians described the sense of grief they felt when religion goes -- and the keen, often pathetic attempts to replace it by love, by art, by good works, by risk-seeking and -- fatally -- by politics.

God did not exist, they concluded, but there was no denying that this supposed truth was accompanied by a painful sense of being cut off from human fellowship as well as divine love. To counter it, religious figures developed a new kind of mission -- like that of the former unbeliever C.S. Lewis: They could speak to the feeling of longing that unbelief engenders because they understood it -- and sympathized not only with atheism's pain but with the many sensible arguments in its favor.

There is no such sympathy among the new apostles of atheism -- to find it, one has to look to believers. Anyone who has actually taught young people and listened to them knows that it is often the students who come from a trained sectarian background -- Catholic, Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon -- who are best at grasping different systems of belief and unbelief. Such students know, at least, what it feels like to have such a system, and can understand those who have very different ones. The new atheists remind me of other students from more "open-minded" homes -- rigid, indifferent, puzzled by thought and incapable of sympathy.

The new atheists fail too often simply for want of charm or skill. Twenty-first century atheism hasn't found its H.G. Wells or its George Bernard Shaw, men who flattered their audiences, excited them and persuaded them by making them feel intelligent. Here is Sam Harris, for instance, addressing those who wonder if destroying human embryos in the process of stem cell research might be morally dicey: "Your qualms...are obscene."

The atheists say that they are addressing believers. Rationalists all, can they believe that believers would be swayed by such contumely and condescension? They seem instead to be preaching to people exactly like themselves -- a remarkably incurious elite.

THE ECONOMIC TIMES [1.4.07]

The assigned purpose of the influential Web magazine, Edge, is lofty enough. It’s to seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Recently, Edge asked a group of world class scientists and thinkers its 10th Anniversary Question: “What are you optimistic about and why? Among the respondents were leading American philosopher Daniel C Dennet and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins — both pretty rabid proponents of atheism.

Dennet was of the opinion that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it instils in people today and their fascination for it will disappear. He said the spread of information through the Internet, television and cell phones will generally and irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fervour.

Dawkins maintained that once scientists discover the so-called “theory of everything” it would be the end of the road as far as faith was concerned. “This final scientific enlightenment,” he said, “will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions.”

What are we to make of these grand pronouncements? Firstly, people had said similar things when radio was invented and later spread rapidly all over the world. Unfortunately for them, evangelists also used the new medium extensively to spread the message of their respective scriptures, much faster and to larger audiences than ever before.

The same thing is now happening within all the newer electronic media too. Secondly, just because there’s more dissemination of information possible doesn’t necessarily mean there’s actually more information available to enable people to decide one way or the other.

Thirdly, the quality of accessible information is heavily contaminated with taint, bias and outright lies; not to mention subversive pornography and mindless violence.

As for the “theory of everything”, most physicists are under the impression it will indeed explain everything. Nothing could be further from the truth, because what it will explain is only all aspects of natural phenomenon in the forms of matter, energy and their various interactions.

It’s not going to explain most biotic, psychological, social and cultural phenomenon. It’s probably not even going to explain how the brain works. Forget “final enlightenment”, it won’t touch on profoundly core areas of humanity that guide its moral dimension. So much for doing away with religion!

San Francisco Chronicle [1.4.07]

Edge's future-themed article is making some news. Britain's Guardian has summarized some of its contributors' thoughts. ...

...Among many provocative observations in Edge's wide-ranging survey are those of musician, composer and record producer Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads). Eno writes: "The currency of conservatism...has been that markets are smarter than governments," a notion that "has reinforced the conservative resistance to anything resembling binding international agreements."

However, Eno notes, the "suggestion that global warming represents a failure of the market is therefore important." Will a phenomenon like the warming trend force governments around the world to finally work together in earnest? If they do, and if "a single[,] first instance of global governance proves successful," Eno argues, "it will strengthen its appeal as a way of addressing other problems - such as weapons control, energy management, money-laundering, conflict resolution, people-trafficking, slavery, and poverty. It will become increasingly difficult for countries [like the U.S.] to stay outside of future treaties like Kyoto - partly because of international pressure but increasingly because of pressure from their own populations."

In his Edge contribution, Eno really does sound optimistic. He also writes: "Something like real democracy (and a fair amount of interim chaos) could be on the horizon. The Internet is catalyzing knowledge, innovation and social change,...proving that there are other models of social and cultural evolution[,] that you don't need centralized, top-down control to produce intelligent results. The bottom-up lesson of Darwinism, so difficult for previous generations, comes more naturally to the current generation. There is a real revolution in thinking going on at all cultural levels...."

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