Thursday, April 30, 2015

Veritas Forum Lessons, Part 2: Dialogue is Hard

A couple weeks ago, I coordinated the planning for the Veritas Forum at MIT, "Does Science Point to Atheism?". I've already written about one of the lessons I learned from coordinating the forum, and this post is another. I have at least one more post planned, relating more to the content that was discussed, which I'll wait to post until the recording is available online. (When it is, it'll be posted on the event website.)

Ultimately, much of how the forum goes comes down to the speakers we invite. The single biggest complaint we got in the feedback afterwards, particularly from the atheists, was that the secular speaker we selected was an agnostic. While everyone agreed that both speakers were very agreeable, the atheists were particularly disappointed that their own viewpoint wasn't represented.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How to Predict Recent Disney Movie Plot Twists

One of my many roles at MIT is as a Hall Councilor in my graduate dorm, Sidney-Pacific. The role mostly means that I hold small events for my hallmates, often with free food. For the last event of my tenure, they voted unanimously to watch Big Hero 6, which seemed to be Disney's best impression of what grad school is like.

SPOILER WARNING: As you can probably tell from the title, I'm spoiling a bunch of recent Disney movies: Along with Big Hero 6, I also talk about Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, and Toy Story 3 in detail, and mix in Tangled a bunch as well. If you still want to see any of these movies, I'd suggest you bookmark this post and come back to it after you do so.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Veritas Forum Lessons, Part 1: Stop Optimizing Everything

As many of you know (from my Facebook event invitation or previous blog post), I coordinated the Veritas Forum at MIT for the second year in a row Monday night. Since everyone asks, it was recorded and will be on some time in the next 3-6 weeks. I'll be reflecting on the event over two or more blog posts, and this is the first.

What was it about? Well, you can read the super long title on the Facebook page to see how we advertised it. To get feedback on the forum, we ask all of the participants what their biggest takeaway from the forum was. Here are some random examples to give you a flavor of the discussion.
the motives of actions are important. In other words, it's not just actions, it's the truth behind the actions that matter. True belief matters, and belief is valuable because provable absolutes don't exist. Even "cogito ergosum" is doubtable
There are very smart people on both sides of this issue
Religion shapes how people act and is important in that way
Respect more important than convincing
MIT professors are not philosophers (mostly)
The limits of science and proving God's existence should be considered.
The presence of God cannot be proven nor disproven, though this fact should not deter belief.
I need to do my taxes in the next two days!
Okay, so that last one was fake, but it did come up in Professor Formaggio's presentation. If you weren't there, I guess you'll have to wait for the video to see how he tied that in to his agnostic beliefs, because you'll never guess.

Anyways, as the organizer, I was already familiar with the content that they presented, and my biggest takeaway was not generated from the discussion itself. Instead, it was through this event that I learned the value in letting go of my perfectionism.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Insufficiently Updating Thomas and the True Nature of Faith

Yesterday was Easter, which as I wrote last week provides an excellent window into the core of Christianity. Christmas might be more widely celebrated in our culture today, but Jesus' virgin birth is far less important than his resurrection to the existence, progress, and veracity of Christianity.

The centrality of the resurrection to Christianity could really not be understated. In text frequently read at Easter, Paul claims that Christians are really all-in on the resurrection: "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). Historically, the ideas of Christianity would not have gotten off the ground if all it was spreading was the message preached by a dead messiah-claimant. At the very least, Jesus's followers would have needed to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But one famously didn't...