LONDON – A popular conference-organizing company has stopped distributing one of its videos after being criticized by a handful of disapproving atheists.
Since 1984, TED Conferences, LLC has facilitated and promoted hundreds of public symposiums worldwide, which are designed to expose viewers and audience members to new, innovative and inspirational thoughts and ideas. Due in part to the company’s reputation for featuring influential speakers, TED (which stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design”) has seen its popularity skyrocket in recent years, and last November, the total number of views for online TED videos eclipsed the one billion mark.
Despite the rapid rise in popularity, TED has received occasional criticism for hosting controversial individuals at its conferences. One such speaker whose talk recently generated some angst was Rupert Sheldrake, an English biologist with an education from both Harvard and Cambridge Universities.
On January 13th of this year, Sheldrake gave a TED conference presentation in London, during which he presented several of his unconventional scientific philosophies, including his beliefs that the speed of light is decreasing with time. He recently explained his contention with modern science — particularly materialism — to the publication Tricycle in an article entitled “A Matter of Faith.”
“Materialism is the theory that all reality is material or physical. There is no reality but material reality; consciousness is a by-product of the physical activity of the brain … God exists only as an idea in human minds, and hence in human heads,” Sheldrake advised.
“The difference between people with scientific beliefs and those with religious beliefs is that most religious believers are aware that their position is based on faith and that believers in other religions, or even different sects of the same religion, have different beliefs,” he said. “People who put their faith in scientific materialism are often unaware that their beliefs are beliefs at all.”
Sheldrake, a professing Anglican, is not new to controversy. In his 2012 book The Science Delusion, Sheldrake asserts that scientific studies are no longer guided by an honest search for truth and information, but rather by a series of several “dogmas” which limit potential discoveries. In his January TED presentation, Sheldrake discussed some of these debatable principles.
“I think, as we question these dogmas that have held back science so long,” Sheldrake mentioned in his discourse. “Science will undergo a reflurry and a renaissance.”
It wasn’t long before atheists were denouncing Sheldrake’s talk as “bizarre,” “pseudoscience” and “galling,” and pressuring TED to stop distribution of the presentation video. In the months that followed, TED officials complied, and removed the video from their YouTube channel, placing it instead in a separate section of their website. In an explanatory note, TED spokespersons deny that the talk was “censored,” but simply relocated to foster further debate about the controversial issues.
“We feel a responsibility not to provide a platform for talks which appear to have crossed the line into pseudoscience,” the note reads. In the post, Sheldrake is also accused of making “several major factual errors.”
Sheldrake then released a detailed defense of his scientific beliefs in response to the negative remarks made by TED officials. From the beginning, he accuses TED of submitting to the desires of “militant atheist bloggers,” and for not being willing to question the prevailing materialistic dogma.
“Unfortunately,” he states, “the TED administrators have publicly aligned themselves with the old paradigm of materialism, which has dominated science since the late nineteenth century.”
Sheldrake wraps up his response with a scalding rejection of TED’s accusations.
“Obviously, I could not spell out all the details of my arguments in an 18-minute talk,” he concedes. “But TED’s claims that [the presentation] contains ‘serious factual errors,’ ‘many misleading statements’ and that it crosses the line into ‘pseudoscience’ are defamatory and false.”
While many of Sheldrake’s beliefs conflict with those of most Bible-believing Christians (most notably his belief in telepathy and his opposition to what he calls “fundamentalism”), these developments still can lead to meaningful questions about the relationship between science and religion. Are the two inseparably linked? If so, is it time to question the prevailing materialistic philosophy of many scientists?