Science vs. Religion: Round 2

TED Column

By Eun A Jo

Last month, we had Dawkins and Harris denouncing religion as not only ruinous, but stupid. With an undercurrent of skepticism towards religion, Shermer explored mankind’s belief system: our hard-wired tendencies to seek non-existent truths. Rise of atheism was the common theme, ending with De Botton’s communitarian approach to adopt atheism 2.0.

Now, let’s flip the coin. What do the pious have to say?

Rev. Billy Graham spoke at TED in 1998 (in its earlier stage of development) in a talk titled “Technology and Faith.” Emitting an aura of ages-old stubbornness, Graham speaks of technological advance and its power to change life, humanity, the world. Is technology a panacea? Can it replace the philosopher’s stone? Had we seen the end of technology, will our souls be liberated from evil, suffering, and death?

Graham being one of the most prominent evangelical preachers in contemporary religion, the answers are conceivably predictable. But the contentious idea is still thought-provoking. Reverse the question: Is religion a universal cure? Can it free our souls?

To delve into the problems of society and our apparent lack of solutions, we must ask about the role of each individual. Pastor Rick Warren, in his moving talk “A Life of Purpose” communicates that God’s intention is for each one of us to use our talents to do good. He juxtaposes this with looking good, feeling good, and having the goods, which supposedly drive today’s materialism-infested society.

Now, drifting away from Christianity, the talk “On reading the Qur’an” by Lesley Hazleton marvels at the grace, flexibility, and mystery often overlooked in the holy book of Islam. As a self-identified agnostic tourist, she explores the Qur’an from the perspective of the uninitiated. From linguistic quality to messages that are often misquoted, she debunks our misconceptions of the Qur’an – Don’t dismiss it that easily as a mere source of violence and destruction!

Mustafa Akyol does exactly the same, however from the perspective of an “insider”. In “Faith versus Tradition in Islam” he criticizes that mundane cultural activities such as wearing a headscarf have become directly linked to the faith of Islam. Should the world (the West) see Islam through the lenses of its seemingly absurd traditions rather than its core values? Akyol concludes: “Islam, despite some of the skeptics in the West, has the potential in itself to create its own way to democracy, create its own way to liberalism, create its own way to freedom.” Find out how this “counter-intuitive” supposition is argued!

For a greater insight to each talk, read the TEDster comments. They can get highly controversial and sometimes even outright offensive, but there are gems in there that make the rough journey worthwhile.

Talk box:

Billy Graham “Technology and Faith”

Rick Warren “A Life of Purpose”

Lesley Hazleton “On reading the Koran”

Mustafa Akyol “Faith versus Tradition in Islam”

Tom Honey “God and the Tsunami”

Bob Thurman “We can be Buddhas”

Matthieu Ricard “The Habits of Happiness”

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