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Closer to Truth: Series Logo

Closer to Truth:
A New PBS Series

by Michael Shermer

I wanted to alert eSkeptic readers to a PBS documentary series organized and hosted by Robert Kuhn, produced by the documentary film maker Linda Feferman (Timothy Ferris’ Life Beyond Earth documentary is her production), and co-produced by Bruce Murray, Caltech planetary scientist and the JPL wizard they call the Christopher Columbus of the solar system ( he was Director of the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1976 to 1982, which included the Viking landings on Mars and the Voyager mission through Jupiter and Saturn encounters), and co-founder with Carl Sagan of the Planetary Society. It’s a terrific series. If you didn’t catch it on PBS check out their web page:

The show is described as:

An inside opportunity to witness how the pioneers in humanity’s quest for greater understanding chart their expedition into the unknown, journeys that are marked by a rigorous pursuit of truth, a readiness to challenge current belief, a willingness to overturn dogma, an open-minded exploration of inferences and implications, and a tough-minded reliance on critical thinking.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn is a real polymath who has made this series happen simply because he loves science. Dr. Kuhn has an A.B. in human biology (Johns Hopkins), a Ph.D. in anatomy / brain research (UCLA Brain Research Institute), and an M.S. in management (MIT Sloan Fellow). He has taught psychology at MIT and was an adjunct professor (business and financial strategy) at NYU. He is Senior Fellow at the IC2 Institute of the University of Texas at Austin; a trustee of Claremont Graduate University; chairman of Pacvia Communications ( Beijing); vice chairman of China Technology Innovation Corp. (Beijing); and has advised the governments of China, the United States, Germany and Israel on economics and technology. I participated in two episodes:

Can Religion Withstand Technology?

A skeptic, a devout Muslim scientist, and an expert in the sociology of religion examine an intriguing paradox: as the world becomes more scientific, extreme religions are gaining ground. More people than ever before are devout as measured by attendance in houses of worship. In the U.S. alone, on a percentage basis, three times more people attend a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque than did when the nation was founded. Details:

Can We Believe in Both Science and Religion?

Science and Religion have long been considered adversaries on the battlefield of grand worldviews because at the most fundamental level they both claim to do much the same thing: provide deep insight into the nature of the world around us and give a profound sense of our place or purpose in the universe. Science is founded on empiricism and analysis; religion on revelation and faith — and some say they exist in such different spheres that they neither contradict nor interact. Details:

I thought the second episode especially might interest eSkeptic readers, so what follows are the bios of the three participants, the description of the episode, and the a link to the transcript.

Closer to Truth:
Episode II — Participants’ Bios

Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
Islamic Scholar, Chemist
Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

Muzaffar Iqbal, Ph.D., is the founder-president of the Center for Islam and Science in Canada. Iqbal began his career as a biochemist and held academic and research positions at universities in the United States and Canada. Later he moved to Pakistan where he worked with the Organization of Islamic Conference and the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, helping to develop scientific institutions in the Muslim world.

Iqbal’s areas of active interest include the intellectual history of Islam, the Islamic philosophy of science, Islam and the West, and Islam and the contemporary world. He has written and edited several books. Apart from the ones that deal with Islam and the modern world, they include two novels, many short stories, compilations of ancient poetry, and a biography of Herman Melville. His most recent books are Islam and Science, and God, Life & the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives. Iqbal is also the editor of Kalam, a moderated listserv and news service dedicated to the promotion of a constructive discourse on Islam and science.

Dr. Nancey Murphy
Dr. Nancey Murphy

Nancey Murphy, Ph.D, Th.D., is a professor of Christian philosophy at the Fuller Theological Seminary, a corresponding editor for Christianity Today, and an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren. She also serves on the boards of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley, and is a member of the Planning Committee for conferences on science and theology, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory. Murphy is a leading scholar and a highly sought speaker at nationwide conferences on the relationship between theology and science. She is also a prolific writer. Her books include On the Moral Nature of the Universe, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism, and the award-winning Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning. Most recently, she co-authored the award-winning Whatever Happened to the Soul?

Dr. Michael Shermer
Dr. Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer , Ph.D, is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the director of the Skeptics Society — both large, international venues for defending the scientific method and refuting the claims of pseudoscience, religion and mysticism. Shermer is the author of four books, including: Why People Believe Weird Things; How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science; and The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense. He has also co-authored a number of books, including Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?, and is a monthly columnist for Scientific American. Shermer also used to be a competitive transcontinental cyclist, and is the author of several books on cycling.

Closer to Truth:
Episode II — “Science and Religion”

a description of Closer to Truth: Episode II

When you take a skeptic and put him in with two believers, you can bet that sparks will fly. For this episode, we have one of the world’s foremost skeptics, Michael Shermer, a Ph.D. in the history of science, President of the Skeptics Society, and publisher of Skeptic magazine (it doesn’t get more skeptical than that). Theologian Nancey Murphy, a leading authority on the relationship of science and religion, particularly cosmology and the soul, is ready to admit that science has made a pretty convincing case in recent times for closing off areas that used to be the province of religion, but she is still a believer. She admits that science is explaining how phenomena arise with greater speed and scope than ever before. But Murphy and chemist Muzaffar Iqbal, founder of The Center for Science & Islam, and a renowned expert on the relationship between science and Islam, see no advances in science in explaining why these phenomena arise in the first place—the “why” question.

Science and Religion have long been considered adversaries on the battlefield of grand worldviews because at the most fundamental level they both claim to do much the same thing: provide deep insight into the nature of the world around us and give a profound sense of our place or purpose in the universe. Science is founded on empiricism and analysis; religion on revelation and faith—and some say they exist in such different spheres that they neither contradict nor interact.

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in the relationship between Science and Religion. Essentially, how does scientific knowledge alter our perception of religion? Is it possible for science to bring deeper meaning to religion, instead of undermining and eroding its basic tenets? Or ultimately, is “religious knowledge” a misnomer? Is it really only “religious belief”? Download the transcript at:

Portions of this eSkeptic copyright © PBS.

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