The Sciences

God and Cosmology Conversation

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollAug 9, 2011 1:20 PM


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Here is the video of the panel discussion from Discovery Channel's Curiosity Conversation last Sunday. Not sure how official it is, so it might not last. Jerry Coyne was motivated to dig them up, since he doesn't have cable TV. I'm putting the panel first -- this is all about me, baby -- and the Hawking program under the fold. The participants were me, David Gregory, Paul Davies, and John Haught. But there were also short video interventions from Jennifer Wiseman, William Stoeger, and Michio Kaku. Actually seeing the program made me even more frustrated about the lack of time and inability to discuss any issue in depth. Also, while the makeup of the original panel seemed fair (committed atheist, wishy-washy physicist, Catholic theologian), the pre-recorded videos all took the line that science shouldn't be talking about God. That gave the final program more of a "gang up on the atheist" feel than I would have really liked. I don't think the videos added much, other than to eat into our valuable time. An hour-long program would have been better, and it probably would have been a much sharper conversation if there had just been two panelists rather than three. But again, credit to Discovery for having the event at all. Specific thoughts on the participants:

  • David Gregory: I thought he did fine. Not sure why some people were complaining about the questions; his job was just to get the conversation going and keep it moving, which he did with admirable professionalism.

  • John Haught: He actually had a very difficult job, since his take on the nature of God isn't easy to boil down to a sound bite. Still, I personally don't think there's any there, there. If you can't imagine a universe in which God doesn't exist, you need to work on your imaginative skills.

  • Paul Davies: A very clear speaker and strong communicator, but again not a sound-bite kind of guy. He did win the Templeton prize, but isn't very explicitly religious. (At least, not that one can discern, which is part of the problem.) But he does strongly believe that it's not okay to simply say "the universe is like that" -- he thinks there is necessarily a deeper explanation for the laws of physics.

  • Jennifer Wiseman and William Stoeger: Neither really even tried to argue in favor of God's existence. They just took the angle that religion talks about value while science talks about facts. I think it's important to get the facts right before you start talking about values, and said as much, but we didn't have time to dig into that issue.

  • Michio Kaku: I tease Michio. The guy is a brilliant science communicator, but I don't think he added anything of value here.

  • Me: This isn't an easy format, and I would probably grade myself a generous B. I don't feel like taking back anything I said, but I definitely could have been more forceful about it. Still looking to improve at things like this -- any suggestions?

Okay here are the videos, judge for yourselves. First the panel, in two parts: Here's the episode of Curiosity, hosted by Hawking, in four parts.

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