A conversation: Richard Dawkins, Lisa Randall, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

At 9 a.m. today London time, BBC Radio Four had a 45-minute discussion of science and religion with Richard Dawkins, physicist Lisa Randall, and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. You can hear the whole program archived here, or, if you’re in the UK, hear it rebroadcast tonight at 21:30 London time.

The program’s blurb is this:

Andrew Marr discusses the wonders of the universe with Lisa Randall, Richard Dawkins and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The cosmologist Professor Randall looks at the how the latest developments in physics have the potential to alter radically our view of the world around us, and our place within it. Richard Dawkins explores the beauty and magic of scientific reality, from rainbows and shooting starts, to our genetic ancestors, and believes the facts far exceed the stories of ancient myth. Jonathan Sacks rejects the false dichotomy of science and religion, and argues that faith has a complementary role to play in the understanding of the human condition.

I listened to the whole thing, and found it moderately interesting. Dawkins’s views (and Randall’s too, I believe) are pretty well known, but I was curious to see how a “progressive” rabbi dealt with the issue.

The most striking thing—something I find increasingly common among “sophisticated” theologians—is Sacks’s complete refusal to tell the audience what he believed, what kind of God he envisioned.  He argues instead about the consequences of a world without God.  Sacks claimed that such a world would not only be meaningless, but in it we would treat persons as things. (Yeah, just like they do in Denmark and Sweden!)

He also claimed, bizarrely, that the decline of ancient Greece can be attributed to its reliance on pre-Enlightenment values and the absence of religion, claiming that it might not have fallen had the people believed in the supernatural. (I wonder, then, what Apollo, Zeus, and Athena were.)

Rabbi Sacks also brought up, inevitably, the accusation of scientism—that the wonder and beauty we feel at the world cannot be explained by science. Richard and Lisa pulled him up short here, saying that perhaps those emotions might one day be explained by science, but at any rate cannot be used as evidence for God.  At one point Lisa politely asked the Rabbi to stop using the adjective “cold” when he uttered the phrase “cold logic.”

Three deepities from the good Rabbi:

  • “Without God, we are without hope.”
  • “The uncertainty that religion deals with [as opposed to the uncertainties that science deals with] is the world we make tomorrow.”
  • The value of religion is that it helps us understand “the world that ought to be.”


  1. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for letting us know, listening to it now 🙂

  2. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    ( subscribing )

  3. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    “Without God, we are without hope.” With God, too, if the hope is for some “ultimate purpose.” I lay out the case here:


  4. Michael Fisher
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink


  5. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    He did it by arguing that without God the world is not only meaningless, but that in a godless world we tend to treat persons as things.

    If Sacks believes that, it makes one wonder how he treats atheists then.

  6. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    The most striking thing—something I find increasingly common among “sophisticated” theologians—is Sack’s complete refusal to tell the audience what he believed, what kind of God he enivisioned.

    We see this time and again now, “sophisitcated” believers who refuse to be pinned down on the specifics of their god (I’m looking at you, Andrew Sullivan), yet insist that we naive atheists just don’t understand the deepities of “real” faith. I take this as a great sign that we’re winning the clash of ideas. If publicly theists have to retreat into the fuzzy realm of “spirituality,” rather than defending their specific faith claims, it’s because they know those claims don’t hold up under scrutiny.

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Retreating into the realm of spirituality would be an improvement – if they could provide a useful description of what “spirituality” means.

    • Dragan Glas
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:10 am | Permalink


      Although I agree with your point, the same can be said of atheists, in that they’re not actually saying what are their beliefs.

      Saying what one is not reveals little if anything

      Kindest regards,


      • Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        Maybe I’m missing the point here, but “atheists are not saying what their beliefs are” (paraphrased) makes no sense to me.

        In the context of religion, atheists have no beliefs. As an atheist, I cannot talk about my non-beliefs any more than I could show someone my non-collected stamps.



        • Dragan Glas
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink


          Saying one is “atheist” is similar to saying one is “not theist” – it doesn’t actually say anything about what is your philosophy (belief-system).

          For example, are you a Rationalist or Empiricist, Objectivist/Subjectivist, Humanist, Stoic, Epicurean, Skeptic, Critical Thinker, etc, etc, etc?

          Kindest regards,


          • Sajanas
            Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            I’m sure most atheists would be more than happy to explain what their larger belief systems are if asked. Materialism, I suppose is a given… I try to be a liberal humanist for the most part, though its not like you can just subscribe to a creed an use it to describe yourself when you don’t know its ins and outs well. For example, I have a lot of friends who describe themselves as libertarians, but when I ask them what they actually think about issues, they all have very different beliefs, most of which tend to be “I’m a Democratic party voter who is tired of the Democratic party.”

            The problem we’re talking about here is that religions do require you to profess your belief in specific creeds and dogmas (often during church services). People tend to do this very broadly, but when you go and ask them about specific parts, like the Virgin birth, the existence of Moses, or the like, they may pick and choose what they believe. The issue with the some of these theologians is that when asked, they don’t want to affirm that they believe in something that clearly is false, like say, Moses and the Exodus, but they can’t deny it, because there are plenty of normal church goers who *do*. It just becomes frustrating double speak

          • Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

            Generally, you’re correct. Saying one is an atheist is simply indicating no belief in a deity. Atheists espouse many different philosophies, and many would strongly disagree that “atheism” itself is a comprehensive life philosophy.

            A profession of theism, however, carries very specific content. If one says they are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc., there are certain doctrines and beliefs implied by that title. What we’re discussing here is the refusal of believers to say what those doctrines and beliefs are when publicly debating atheists. And the reason I belive they refuse is that their specific doctrines and beliefs don’t hold up to critical scrutiny. So believers retreat into fuzzy language and deemphasize the anthropomorphic aspects of their god-belief.

            The example that immediately comes to mind is Al Sharpton. In debating Christopher Hitchens a few years back, Sharpton accused Hitch of having a problem with religion, not with God. Sharpton implied (or may have outright stated) that God, properly understood, isn’t captured by any religion. Which I find an odd position for a Christian minister, who presumably holds rather specific beliefs about what God is and wants from humans. And the reason I think Sharpton did that is because the specific claims of Christianity don’t hold water when really questioned.

            • Dragan Glas
              Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink


              I’ll address this to both of you, as your respective points are related…

              Sajanas, I agree with you regarding the difficulty of identifying one’s own atheistic philosophy – as I pointed out in a reply to Mattapult below.

              For example, I’d still consider myself “Christian” in the sense of following a philosophy based on compassion preached by Jesus, such as outlined in Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.

              The problem with “Libertarianism” is that, in America, the meaning of the word has changed from its original usage. It no longer indicates someone who embraces/upholds liberty, but has taken on a pejorative sense.

              Everyday Atheist, I believe I understand Sharpton’s remark.

              Look at it this way, legal systems around the world are an attempt to uphold justice – but how well do they encapsulate the Spirit of Justice? Very poorly.

              I think that was Sharpton’s point.

              Yes, undoubtedly he holds specific beliefs, but that shouldn’t prevent a debater on the atheist side from arguing their case.

              Let me explain my thinking on this to both of you.

              A former Christian, who’s become a Humanist, for example, debating for the atheist side, could clarify his/her own belief-system by stating that they are a Humanist, and that their philosophy is based on the Second Commandment: Love thy neighbour as thyself (which to my mind is a perfect tenet for Humanism).

              That puts the ball clearly back in the theologian’s court to clarify their beliefs.

              As regards the issue with which beliefs a Christian, etc, actually believes, this may appear frustrating but shouldn’t be thought of as such.

              For example, someone who professes to be a Roman Catholic can be asked about the specific beliefs, as listed in the the Credo – which is a virtual tick-box list for RC. If the person denies any one of these, then you can declare that they’re not RC. Period.

              Equally, if they appear wilfully vague about, say, the virgin birth, that’s where you point out the mistranslation of “virgo” (“young girl”). And provide the evidential proof.

              More generally, the belief in God (or Gods) can be argued using the standard arguments – both for and against – regardless of the individual theologian’s faith.

              The Ontological argument, for example, still applies – regardless of the specific faith/religion.

              Does the above make sense?

              Kindest regards,


              • Sajanas
                Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                Oh, I think it makes sense *why* they’d refuse to answer about their beliefs, its more that its a combination of both cowardice, being reluctant to stand up and say exactly what you belief, and bad debating form… essentially they are debating about something they deliberately leave undefined, so that they can then change the definition to whatever is hardest to defeat. I’ve often seen people praying to the God of Moses and Jesus while arguing that its impossible to disprove the God of Spinoza, for example.

                And really, while its frustrating to deal with people like that, I think its also pretty sad too. Imagine the frustration of the pastor or theologian who has to deal with a huge spectrum of different believers, and defend their beliefs, without offending any of them, even thought a lot of those beliefs contradict reality, and each other.

              • Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                As regards the issue with which beliefs a Christian, etc, actually believes, this may appear frustrating but shouldn’t be thought of as such.

                My own view is not that the refusal of many theists to commit to specific and unambiguous doctrine is frustrating. It’s that it’s indicative of the fact that they haven’t payed much attention to the matter and don’t actually know themselves what they “believe,” or that they know certain claims just won’t hold water and are incompatible with reality.

                I think it’s a positive thing to acknowledge that theists often waffle in that way.

          • Bernard Ortcutt
            Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

            The requirement isn’t that the believer in God specify all of her beliefs about everything. The requirement is that someone who claims to believe in God say what she is claiming when she uses those words. Atheists generally deal with the shifting sands of theism by making a very general claim, such as that there are no deities, understood as supernatural agents. (Generally, atheists reject the supernatural entirely, making it even more general.) It doesn’t matter whether someone’s God is three-persons in one, rides an eight-legged horse, or anything else. If the proposed deity is a supernatural agent, then the atheist is claiming that it doesn’t exist.

            As such, your objection misses the mark. Atheists say quite clearly what it is they believe on the subject. Stating what you believe on every topic under the sun is not and has never been a requirement for making a claim.

            • Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

              “(Generally, new atheists reject the supernatural entirely, making it even more general.)”


              I don’t think that’s generally true of all atheists. Many folks don’t believe in God but fill their “God-shaped holes” with all kinds of other supernatural woo.

              But I don’t know what the percentages are.


          • truthspeaker
            Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

            A philosophy is not a belief system.

        • Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          Although I agree with your point, the same can be said of atheists, in that they’re not actually saying what are their beliefs.

          The whole point of ‘atheism’ is that it lacks the beliefs of theism — beliefs in god(s) and generally any other supernatural beings. There are no corresponding ‘atheist beliefs’ to match or counter theistic beliefs — it’s simply the lack of theistic beliefs.

          More properly, in the absence of theism ‘atheists’ would be called ‘naturalists’ or something similar, in that they deal with nature, the real world.

          What atheists ‘believe’ or think about philosophy, politics or whatever not related to ‘gods’ can be just about anything.

          There are of course cultural movements that identify as ‘atheist’ that share some common values and goals that go well beyond a rejection of theism, but one need not be part of or identify with any of those to be ‘atheist’.

          • Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            More properly, in the absence of theism ‘atheists’ would be called ‘naturalists’ or something similar, in that they deal with nature, the real world.

            Except, as noted above, not all atheists are (philosophical) naturalists; (nearly?) all new/gnu atheists are, but many other atheists swallow all kinds of other supernatural woo. (And probably more are apathetic or apnostic atheists — “apatheists” — who never really think about naturalism or any other philosophical or epistemic basis for their lack of belief!)


          • Notagod
            Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

            Ray wrote:

            it’s simply the lack of theistic beliefs.

            Does that mean you don’t but, wish you had theistic beliefs?

            Also, read this dictionary definition of lack:

            In each of the definitions the word lack is presented as a less desirable occurrence or position. So, your statement seems so sad, like you want for some christ biscuits or something.

            However, I doubt that is your intention so I don’t understand what that statement means to you.

            • Notagod
              Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, html with runaway rear end.

            • Microraptor
              Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

              That’s a convention of language, not of atheism.

              Or possibly just projection.

              Atheists aren’t bothered by their lack of belief in gods/the supernatural anymore than they’re bothered by the lack of Bacillus anthracis endospores in their lungs.

              • Notagod
                Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

                So…, you wish you had a god? Or what?

                What do you mean by a convention of language, are you referring to the definition of lack as being a convention of language?

                As for wanting a god, I find it unconscionable for life, as it is, to have been designed. Life is extraordinary and fascinating as it is, having evolved but, for some creature to have designed our current circumstance is a bizarre notion and certainly not a creature that I would consider worshiping or of being a higher power. Such a creature would need to do a lot of explanation with a trail of evidence before it could even be considered more than an enemy.

              • Microraptor
                Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

                Is English not your first language, Notagod?

                I’m saying that the connotation of a loss or otherwise negative feeling you mentioned based off Ray’s word choice has nothing to do with his actual feelings, just with the limits of the English language’s ability to express a nonfeeling without indicating that the person feels like they’re missing something.

                Bacillus anthracis is the bacteria that causes anthrax- having anthracis endospores in your lungs means you’re going to die very shortly and very painfully. I feel like I’m missing out on something by not believing in God the same way I feel like I’m missing out by not being infected with a deadly disease- not at all.

              • Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

                “Lack” generally tends to connote undesirability, but “absence” doesn’t.

      • Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

        The difference is that these theologians aren’t just saying what they are not. They are generally clearly identifying themselves as religious believers of some sort. In that case, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that they can clearly express what it is they believe, and why.

      • Tulse
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

        You want to know what I believe?

        Atheists believe a whole lot of things, but I really don’t understand what the relevance of those specific beliefs is to the issue of whether god(s) exist. The problem with the theologians is that they refuse to state what specifically they are defending, which undermines any attempt at rational debate on those positions. Since the debate isn’t about what atheists believe, your point is moot.

      • Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        I think you’ve got some false equivalency going on, here.

        As atheists, we’re not asserting something that requires elaboration, explanation, demonstration, evidence. That’s what the theists are doing.

        We’re not saying “hey, I’m an atheist; here’s what that necessarily involves, here’s all the things that follow from and depend on your acceptance of atheism.” I don’t think such a list exists.

        As atheists, all we’re ultimately saying is “hey theists, you’re mistaken.”

        • Dragan Glas
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink


          Tulse/JS1685, I understand the fact that saying one is “atheist” doesn’t require justification, as it does with saying one is “theist” (or any specific flavour thereof).

          My point was that the theologian/theist debater can make the same accusation – rightly or wrongly.

          But, regardless of that, their retreating into vagueness on specifics should not prevent the atheist debater from arguing their case – as I explained above to Sajanas and Everyday Atheist.

          Kindest regards,


    • Mattapult
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      It seems like that’s an easy point to turn around. Of course I don’t understand your god, because you won’t provide specifics. You are missing an opportunity to educate me by refusing to answer the question.

      • Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Who says that educating you was the purpose to begin with?

        • Mattapult
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

          I didn’t state that very clearly. Let me rephrase that.

          If I were arguing with someone who will not give a clear answer what that beleive, then they accuse me of not understanding them, I would call them on it. Tell them maybe my misunderstand is related to them not being clear. I think that asking them “to educate meet” would put the point in the spotlight for any onlookers to see if they can explain their position clearly.

          • Dragan Glas
            Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink


            Mattapult, I’m not sure, from the indented replies, whether your original reply was to me or the original poster.

            However, just to clarify, I’m agnostic – I can argue either side of the fence’s case, though am sliding towards the non-theist side.

            But that would not clarify what my belief-system has become.

            There are a number of philosophies and philosophers with whom I’d agree, although it would be difficult to put a name to my current belief-system – whatever multiple flavour of atheistic philosophy it would be, I wouldn’t think to call myself “atheist”.

            Kindest regards,


            • truthspeaker
              Posted October 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

              You are conflating two entirely different kinds of “belief systems.”

              Atheism and theism are about believing in the supernatural.

              The various philosophies about how to approach reality and how to live life are an entirely different kind of belief system, unrelated to the kind that was discussed on the radio show Jerry’s post was about.

              When it comes to the supernatural, most atheists are very upfront about their beliefs – they don’t believe in deities or any other supernatural entities.

              The complaint about Rabbi Sacks is that he is not upfront about his beliefs vis a vis deities and other supernatural entities.

              So, no, the theist cannot honestly respond with the same charge. Richard Dawkins made it clear he does not believe in any gods. The Rabbi wouldn’t say whether he does or not.

              • Posted October 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                “… most atheists … don’t believe in deities or any other supernatural entities.”

                Again, I’m not convinced that that’s true.

                Are there any surveys that show that only a minority of atheists believe in ghosts, spirit voices, “real” magic, &c., &c.?


          • Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

            No, I think I got what you meant. The thing is, I no longer believe that the goal of apologetics is to convince non-believers to join, but rather to convince the believers to not leave. For this purpose, all they need to do is establish believers are “sophisticated” and unbelievers are “crude”, or have a “closed mind”. If I’m right, your tactic might win you a few points with the people who are mostly on your side already, but won’t really pose much of a challenge to the apologists.

            • Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              the goal of apologetics is [not] to convince non-believers to join, but rather to convince the believers not to leave

              Yep. First and foremost the one making the argument.

  7. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Left to right writing activates the left side of the brain, and right to left writing activates the right side of the brain?

    Why does this smell like BS to me? Does anyone have anything that backs this up?

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      Minor point of clarification for Rabbi Sacks. Ancient Greek was originally written from right to left like Hebrew and Aramaic.

      • Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        I thought it was written from right to left and from left to right in alternate lines: boustrophedon, “as an ox turns in plowing”.


        • Llwddythlw
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          Yes, that was an intermediate stage, before it was written exclusively from left to right. However, it started as right to left only.

          • Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

            Ah, I see. I’d thought boustrophedon was the earliest form. But what does that transitional phase say about the left-brain/right-brian hypothesis?

            My understanding was that Hebrew was written right-to-left because it was ordinarily carved in stone and right-to-left was easier for right-handed masons. (A Jewish friend told me that long ago. Or have I got that wrong too?)


            • Llwddythlw
              Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              That sounds right.

    • John Robinson
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      This is a classic example of religious argument; create a precept a priori, and rationalise from there without ever having to justify your initial basis. I was sorry that neither Randall nor Dawkins picked up on this immediately, and thus let Sacks ramble on meaninglessly for so long.

      He used the same technique various times during the broadcast, e.g. ‘Without God no hope’, and it is almost universally evident in ‘sophisticated’ theology. I can only assume that it is the result of the cognitive dissonance in the mind of an educated and academically intelligent person who also clings to a belief in the supernatural. In debate it is their Achilles heel, and needs to be questioned at every opportunity.

      • Lynn Wilhelm
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        I, too, was disappointed they didn’t pick up on the left-right brain thing.

        I really thought this had been shown to be generally bunk–the left-right thing. Can anyone provide some info on this?

        I recently had a conversation with some designers about this. We have been discussing the difference between hand drawing and using CAD programs (computer aided design). My take is that I can design just as well using the computer tool as I can with a pencil tool. I think once the tool is mastered it doesn’t affect the process. It seems that those who don’t agree haven’t actually mastered the computer tool. But some people bring up the left-right brain thing, saying that the computer is just too right brained to be creative. I use my mouse with the same hand that I use my pencil!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      My BA in Linguistics tells me that’s bullshit.

    • Daniel Murphy
      Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      “Right brain, left brain, hare-brain. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tries and fails to unite language, thought and religion.”


  8. Torbjorn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    just like they do in Denmark and Sweden

    As if. Despite religion being ridiculed at times, it is still upheld with special pleading. Headed over here to get an antidote to learning from a leading swedish newspaper that fuzzyhead Karen Armstrong has gotten a “Knowledge Prize” and a platform from – a leading swedish encyclopedia!

    You can run the text through a translator, but some choice bits are:

    “Knowledge Prize, which rewards innovative individuals or companies that inspires and demonstrates the importance of knowledge, awarded this year for the tenth time.”

    “Knowledge Prize International Honorary Award 2011 awarded to Karen Armstrong for her many years spreading knowledge about the life of people and especially points out the similarities between different religions. Through a series of books and award-winning lecture she reaches out as a peacemaking voice at a time when world events are becoming more closely linked to religion.”

    “The public is invited to come and listen to Karen Armstrong in Adolf Fredrik church in Stockholm, on Monday 17 October at 11:30 to 13:00. Free admission.”


    Dawkins and Randall washes some of the funk out. And the “events linked to religion” is of course not good but a reference to religious terrorism.

    But I need to read some accommodationist bashing to get my will to live back. [/heading for the archive]

  9. Michieux
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    The good Rabbi purportedly said:

    “Without God, we are without hope.”

    I would rephrase that as:

    “Without hope, we are without hope.”

    • Sajanas
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      Religions hope for afterlives, a meaningful plan for existence that explains suffering, a caring father figure, eternal justice, and then complain that without religion there is no hope. What is more true is that without religion there is no hope for incredibly unrealistic expectations.

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      Yes, hope in the afterlife seems very much to me like hope of winning a lottery. It’s pleasant to daydream about what you would do if you win / in heaven – just go on buying the tickets, folks!

      Any kind of objective measurement of the success of the Abrahamic god at fulfilling the hopes of the living, however, gives Him/Her/It/Them a negative score.

  10. Subramanya
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    I really really like the word deepities. It seems very versatile. I am going to use it a lot. Thanks!

  11. Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    Thanks for enduring it for me.
    I now realise that I have better things to do with my limited time on this wondrous planet than listen to two honest folk who share my atheistic views 100%, and a pathetic pointless parasite with whom I share nothing related to personal honesty, and less with regard to his support of the hideous crime of infant genital mutilation.

  12. Dominic
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Sack’s god is so ephemeral as to be pointless. He calls him god the gardener.

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      Does that make Sacks a vegetable? Or a weed?

      • Dominic
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        Certainly past his salad days…

  13. Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    He argues instead about the consequences of a world without God.

    We don’t have to imagine what the consequences of having a world without god in it looks like; we already have one! God doesn’t exist (there, I said it) so the world is already in a godless state. Believers, on the other hand…

    • Marta
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Yes. What you said.

      Isn’t it quite silly to talk about “the consequences of a world without God”? The implication of the statement to me is that God’s existence is a simple matter of argument, which we’d better not have, because if we argue God away, it’s all just killing, raping and pillaging after. The actual existence of God for this argument is completely beside the point.

    • Bernard Ortcutt
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Very good point. He’s really more worried about a world without the belief in god. It’s amazing how people can still seriously make these claims given that we have many well-functioning societies in the world from which religion is vanishing. If he thinks that religion keeps people honest then why are the least corrupt countries in the world also the least religious.


    • DV
      Posted October 19, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      substitute “belief in God” for “God” (not recursively)

      people can’t really mean there is no hope without God, because they don’t have proof that there is a God afterall. What they mean is that there is no hope without a belief in God. Belief in belief.

  14. Mattapult
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    “Without God, we are without hope.”


    If you get a cancer diagnosis, would you hope for a miracle, or hope that the doctor is good (or completely wrong)

    If you are trapped in rubble after some natural disaster, would you hope for god to lift the concrete slabs, or for Search and Rescue to find you.

    I wonder how many people perished under rubble hoping for something an omnipotent and personal being never got around to doing.

  15. Tulse
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    He argues instead about the consequences of a world without God. Sacks claimed that such a world would not only be meaningless, but in it we would treat persons as things.

    Huh…and here I’ve been thinking that argument from consequence is a fallacy.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Oh, and (subscribing).

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink


      Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
      Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
      Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
      Each secret fishy hope or fear.
      Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
      But is there anything Beyond?
      This life cannot be All, they swear,
      For how unpleasant, if it were!

      One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
      Shall come of Water and of Mud;
      And, sure, the reverent eye must see
      A Purpose in Liquidity.
      We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
      The future is not Wholly Dry.
      Mud unto mud! —Death eddies near—
      Not here the appointed End, not here!
      But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
      Is wetter water, slimier slime!
      And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
      Who swam ere rivers were begun,
      Immense, of fishy form and mind,
      Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
      And under that Almighty Fin,
      The littlest fish may enter in.
      Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
      Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
      But more than mundane weeds are there,
      And mud, celestially fair;
      Fat caterpillars drift around,
      And Paradisal grubs are found;
      Unfading moths, immortal flies,
      And the worm that never dies.
      And in that Heaven of all their wish,
      There shall be no more land, say fish.

      – Rupert Brooke

      • Ichthyic
        Posted October 18, 2011 at 12:31 am | Permalink

        heaven indeed.

        thanks shug.

        btw, I’m sure the fish speak of Dagon…

  16. ManOutOfTime
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    And hope is a necessary human sensation because why … ? Is hope not just magical thinking in casual clothes? I’m too busy to Google it, but I don’t recall “hope” being a virtue in mainstream Judaism. Hope, shmope! Studying Torah should lead to confidence and certainty in outcomes HaShem deals out, nu? Progressive religious types are even more nauseating than traditionalists when it comes to the lack of intellectual consistency (not to take away from their superior stance on gender/sexual equality and social justice).

  17. john
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Heard about this this morning and looking forward to listening to this later.

    I actually do believe that Science and Religion are a false dichotomy… in fact science often behaves as a religion … and religion quite definitely begain as science. .. now there is a funny statement. But you probably don’t care about what I mean here.

    My intuition is that atheists have an even more ridiculous idea of what “believers” think god might be than the believers themeselves (which is often ridiculous enough). I haven’t heard the show yet, so I don’t know exactly how I’ll feel about the participants.

    The one positive point about atheism (if it weren’t so dry) is that we’d have less fundamentalists. For that alone I think it is worth having (atheists), and this is where I love Dicky D.’s attitude.

    However, I do feel that until the atheists get over the consequences of 1000s of years of religious abuse, and really begin to think from a neutral point, their thinking is almost as infected by recieved ideas as the other side, and as such they are inhibited from making an essential connection… whereby this whole malarky makes sudden sense. … revelation or eureka, whichever way you like to sway.

    I am a scientist with a PhD and read a lot of Dawkins. Fundamentalists are idiots (talking about the religious ones), what a surprise.

    I will look forward to posting my reactions when having heard the programme!

    Good day to all.

    • Bernard Ortcutt
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      What do these believers themselves believe then? If it is supernatural, then their claims are as false as anything the fundamentalist believes. Atheists, Dawkins included, argue against all versions of theism, not just the fundamentalist varieties. If these believers you refer to don’t believe in anything supernatural, then they may be religious, but they aren’t theists. They are atheists.

      • john
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Hello again.
        Indeed, that is the point. And yet, we can hardly say that we understand what ‘natural’ means, in terms of the universe. We don’t know much on what is called Dark Matter, we do not know everything there is to know about El Grande Bang. (Not saying that these things are ‘god’ by the way, only pointing out that the loaded term “super natural” is not much use … we continue to discover “natural” things and refine knowledge about them.

        Sure, a giant with a beard who helps somone win the lottery is supernatural… but who believes in that? I don’t need Dawkins to tell me that; Jim Morrison already convinced me (if I needed convincing).

        Anyway… I am going to listen to the podcast and get back to you.


        • Bernard Ortcutt
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          “Sure, a giant with a beard who helps somone win the lottery is supernatural… but who believes in that?”

          According to a 2008 ARIS poll, 70% of Americans believe in a personal God. So, that’s who believes in that.


        • Microraptor
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          1) Just because there are things we don’t understand yet doesn’t mean that we’re unable to comment on those things that we do have an understanding of- diseases are caused by being infected with different species of microorganisms, not by being a sinner or having a curse put on you, for example.

          2) Science actively corrects itself when new information is discovered, religion does not.

          3) Even when there’s a dispute about science, like whether Dark Matter actually exists or not, it doesn’t lead to people being told that they’re going to go to Hell because they don’t believe in the right theory.

          • john
            Posted October 18, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink

            Good morning
            Ok, I see what you mean. Yes, actually I don’t know what to suggest there. What you describe to me are not religious people, but idiots. They are indeed a problem. What to do? Well, I think part of the problem is that people who are not idiots (by which I mean you guys) are so ‘tightened’ up in the stand off with the idiots, that you have not the relaxation needed to see where the religious part makes sense.

            I think if there were more tolerance, more curiosity, interest… genuine, dare I say it… “soul searching” on the part of atheists as to what the idea behind religion might mean (do we really think that cultures that created so much were “stupid” ?)… then the break-through might well help the idiot side of religion evaporate.

            I have listened to 75% of the programme now. I find it quite good in many ways.

            I am glad to have found this website, where I can see interesting discussions are on-going.

            I have some comments on the programme, but perhaps this is now an old issue for you guys? I don’t know how often the topic changes.

            Good day


            • Posted October 18, 2011 at 2:45 am | Permalink

              Oh, we’re still chatting here. Did you subscribe to receive new comments in your email?

              … you have not the relaxation needed to see where the religious part makes sense.

              What are your criteria for “making sense”?

              A lot of religions claims “make sense” from a psychological, historical, social, anthropological, … pov. For example, the Jewish prohibition against eating pork and shellfish (Leviticus?) makes sense given the location where and period when it was written.

              Many religious claims about the history of the Bible lands not only “make sense” but can be corroborated with contemporaneous accounts, e.g., from Assyria; however, many more cannot be (where are the contemporaneous, extra-Biblical accounts of Jesus’s life and death?) and “make sense” only in the way that the plot of a novel “makes sense”.

              But, fundamentally, any religious claim that depends upon the purported action and authority of a supernatural agent (i.e., “God”) just does not “make sense”, as there is not one shred of empirical evidence that such an agent exists. And this is true even if the claim is “right” (e.g., that, in general, it’s wrong to kill), as it is “right” for the wrong reasons.


              PS. I think a good definition of “supernatural” is not anything that can’t be explained in natural terms (that’s just a failure of imagination), but rather anything that contradicts well-established naturalistic explanations. See, for example, this article by Milton Rothman: “Is the claim plausible according to the standard model of particle physics, the principle of relativity, the theory of gravitation, and the rest of verified knowledge?”

              • Tulse
                Posted October 18, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

                a good definition of “supernatural” is […] anything that contradicts well-established naturalistic explanations

                But by that definition relativity and quantum mechanics were, at one time, “supernatural”. Certainly we don’t want a definition of supernatural that changes with historical context.

              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

                Well, I agree with you in principle.

                But I don’t think relativity contradicted anything that had been “well-established” in what Dawkins calls “the middle world”. At low energies, special relativity is consistent with Newtonian mechanics; for small masses, general relativity is consistent with Newtonian gravitation.

                What did quantum theory contradict?

                If a table-tennis ball in a glass “quantum mechanically” tunnelled through the glass, well I think that would be supernatural! (Scale, again.)


              • Tulse
                Posted October 18, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

                I suppose it depends if the domain of “naturalistic explanations” is “the stuff we can see” (Dawkins’ “middle world”) or “how we think the world fundamentally works”. Surely things like the lack of observable causality in radioactive decay, the notion of action-at-a-distance, the relative nature of time, etc. etc., all violate our understanding of how the world functions. You’re right that we don’t usually see these phenomena in our everyday life, but people don’t claim to see ghosts everyday, either. The behaviour of things in the quantum realm are profoundly at odds with our everyday experience. The notion that such a realm exists that operates on vastly different principles from the observable world seems no different than suggesting that there is an unseen spirit realm that also operates on different principles. If the criterion for the supernatural is just that it contradicts our current understanding of the world, then both would fit.

              • john
                Posted October 18, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

                Yes, I get them by mail so will stay connected.

                “making sense” to me means exactly that by the way, “staying connected”… or being connected.

                I am gonna let you guys down… I am not an apologist for modern day evangelicals… they are mostly nuts.

                Making sense means being connected. I think the place of humans (and other beings like them throughout the universe) is very important and that we really have not yet understood this properly. … or rather, each time it has been understood, it has been codified in such a way as to lead to misunderstandings later… and this is what I believe we see in the ridiculous science vs religion game.

                And the entire problem is based on the limits of our perception of things. One of the questions of madame Cosmos on the radio show was, if we accept that the good rabbi’s god is more of a gardener than a mechanic… does he need to intervene once the thing is set in motion? A reasonable question for someone working on the basis of linear, sequential time.

                Whereas, if time, as a dimension, only appears linear and sequential to us because we are, by definition, unable to apprehend it in its entirety … well the beginning is ever-present, and her question is without meaning.

                Incidentally, fear of death (and all subsequent manipulations of this fear by talk of “the after life” ) becomes similarly meaningless…

              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

                @ Tulse

                It’s a fine distinction, but I think there is one between things which “violate [strong word!] our understanding of how the world functions” and things which “contradict well-established naturalistic explanations [i.e., scientific models, theories and laws]”.

                For example, the second law of thermodynamics holds across a very wide range of scales. It may break down in extremes where it’s statistical basis is invalid (but here theory is anticipating observation; see Sean Carroll [physicist]), but it’s generally not contradicted by relativity or QT. However, an unseen spirit realm interacting in “the middle world” would likely violate that law.

                I don’t think that my definition is rigorous, but I think at least that I’m heading in the right direction.

                What would your (counter) proposal be?

                @ john

                Well, I’m glad to hear it!

                If time appears to us as linear and sequential then I think it is so, for all human experiences and interactions with the cosmos — and with a putative God. We exist in the four-dimensional world with its broken symmetries and seven other dimensions tightly wound to give us electromagnetism, gravity and so on, so even if we can step back and describe time in a different way that’s more fundamental to the nature of the cosmos – and a putative God — that doesn’t change things for us.

                The good rabbi’s talk of a God that’s “hidden” in the world (what was the Hebrew word?) doesn’t sound much like Jehovah who was continually interceding in the lives of the OT prophets. In fact, like the other “sophisticated” theologians (e.g., Haught), his views sound more like pan[en]theism or deism.

                I don’t think you need to find a place for an “afterlife” to be unafraid of death; Epicurus addressed that long ago.

                I’m not sure that the place of humans (&c.) in the cosmos is terribly important, from a cosmic perspective, but is, of course, from a human perspective. Yes, we need a better way of addressing that than religion, but naturalism and humanism (&c.!) are likely important components of that. And science fiction, if you follow Brian Aldiss’s definition (prescription?):

                Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.



              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                * its statistical bias


              • Tulse
                Posted October 18, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                For example, the second law of thermodynamics holds across a very wide range of scales.

                Right, but it could also have been argued that an object’s weight holds across a wide range of circumstances that we typically have access to, yet we know that weight and mass are not identical. Just because we don’t typically experience violations of some observed regularity does not mean a priori that any such violation is supernatural. Certainly magnets would have appeared “supernatural” to those who first encountered them.

                What would your (counter) proposal be?

                It’s a difficult question, largely because I think that “supernatural” is such an ill-defined concept. But I think that (as Sastra and others have suggested), the supernatural as commonly conceived involves some notion of non-embodied mental states that directly act on the world. Gods, ghosts, spells, spirits, etc., all have at their core the notion that the mental is somehow independent of, but can act directly on, the physical.

                I think this covers what we usually mean by “supernatural”, without including undiscovered “scientific” phenomena. Thus, “dark energy” is not supernatural, but “elan vital” is.

                This doesn’t necessarily cover all the edge cases — homeopathy, for example, wouldn’t fit under this definition. But I don’t think that people typically view homeopathy as “supernatural”, so much as “bad science”. And that’s another distinction that I think is actually useful — “cold fusion” and “N-rays” were not “supernatural” postulations, but simply bad science.

              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                The so-called “law” of thermodynamics only holds if one ignores gravity.
                In other words, it is not a “law” at all, but a grossly incomplete local approximation that ignores attractive forces.
                It is hardly an extremum if one considers scales of around the size of planetary bodies, including asteroid-sizes, where thermodynamics is clearly violated with regard to the clumping of matter.
                It is a common error, even amongst those who should know better, to promote the various principles of thermodynamics to the status of “laws”, where they are quite clearly no such universal.

              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

                “thermodynamics is clearly violated with regard to the clumping of matter”

                Um… how so?


              • john
                Posted October 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

                … I suppose he means that maximum entropy seems to be violated in the sense that matter is not evenly distributed in space (?).

              • Posted October 18, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

                Prof Ian Stewart explains it far better than I am able to in a short reply.
                Here is a start:


              • Posted October 19, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

                I’m sorry, Michael, that didn’t help.

                Maybe it’s because I’m reading Stewart’s arguments second-hand, but it really wan’t clear from that how, or even that, gravity breaks 2LOT.


              • Posted October 19, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink

                Ah! It’s not that gravity breaks 2LOT but how you properly take account of gravity.

                See Life, gravity and the second law of thermodynamics:

                A misleading idea is that entropy makes things spread out while gravitational collapse makes things clump together, and therefore gravity seems to work against or even violate the second law.

                Gravity organizes physical structures but at the expense of disorganizing and expelling other material. This supposed struggle between entropy and gravity is misleading because lots of material is expelled (then ignored in the computation). The heat is ignored too. Consideration of only the centralized accreted remains, does not encompass the full entropic effects of gravitational collapse.

                Gravity can only pull things together if angular momentum and energy are exported. If we ignore the entropy associated with the angular momentum and energy export, it is easy to imagine that gravity pulling things together is acting in the opposite direction of the second law…


            • Posted October 18, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

              “Certainly magnets would have appeared ‘supernatural’ to those who first encountered them.”

              Well, perhaps. I’ve read that the Vikings used lodestones for navigation, but I don’t know if they considered them to be “supernatural” or not. But it probably doesn’t make sense to distinguish the “supernatural” from the “natural” until we’ve established an advanced but confused but confused state of knowledge (science). From the pov of my suggested definition, what well-established scientific model (&c.) did they contradict? (Which really means, what model would have prohibited them?)

              “the supernatural … involves some notion of non-embodied mental states that directly act on the world”

              Well, those are certainly elements of the supernatural, but I think that’s overly narrow as a definition. Would you regard Tarot reading (as it ostensibly works; not the cold-reading aspect of it!) as supernatural? I think I would. But I’m not sure where there’s a non-embodied mental state acting on the world in that case. (Or would you see it as “psychic’ or “paranormal” as distinct from “supernatural”? But they’re all “things that aren’t ‘natural’” in some way.)


            • Posted October 18, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              Oops, I replied to high in the nest: That was a response to Tulse @ 11:00 am, of course.

              PS. & it just occurs to me that some “supernatural” things – dæmons, say — are “embodied”.

    • Marta
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      “My intuition is that atheists have an even more ridiculous idea of what “believers” think god might be than the believers themeselves (which is often ridiculous enough).”

      Without some amplification of what you mean by “ridiculous”, I learn nothing from what you’ve said, except your sense of feeling superior to believers and non=believers, alike.

      • Sajanas
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Not to mention that a good portion of Atheists were religious themselves, and no good well what people believe, and talked about behind closed Church doors. I certainly don’t know what *every* religious person believes, but I think you don’t have to look far to find people that have very literal ideas about the Bible, or just people that have totally abandoned thinking for themselves about such stuff and instead asking a pastor what ‘our religion believes’.

        • Tulse
          Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention that a good portion of Atheists were religious themselves

          I’d say a vast majority of atheists were brought up in religious homes, and probably a majority were religious themselves. I can happily tell you what genuine Catholics believe, since I once was one.

      • john
        Posted October 18, 2011 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Oh, well, I do not mean to convey a superiority in anyway, sorry if I came across like that.

        In fact, I am inferior, I believe it is more accurate to say.

        I am inferior in my Atheism, in terms of the atheists.

        And I am inferior in zealousness in terms of the god-squad.

        And though I didn’t ever plan for it to be this way, I have found a place where things all start to make real sense, and at the same time they become rather more ineffable than before.

        I like discussing with people and so certainly don’t want to alienate with any kind of bad attitude.

    • Sastra
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      john #17 wrote:

      My intuition is that atheists have an even more ridiculous idea of what “believers” think god might be than the believers themeselves (which is often ridiculous enough).

      A few moments of rational reflection though might suggest the realistic possibility that atheists with experience of believers think that what believers believe about “God” goes all over the place (which is often why we start by asking exactly what God is supposed to be.)

      It’s usually a bunch of embodied adjectives.

  18. Occam
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I was curious to see how a “progressive” rabbi dealt with the issue.

    What on earth makes you think Jonathan Sacks is progressive? (An informed question, as I’ve been a BBC listener for 30+ years.)

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      I assumed that because he put the word in quotation marks, he didn’t mean to imply that he actually believed in Sacks’ progressiveness.

  19. John Edwards
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I am a regular listener to Andrew Marr but missed this morning’s broadcast. Thanks for drawing it to my attention. I was amused when the rabbi accused Dawkins of being “tone deaf in respect of religion”, to which the response was “yes but I don’t think there’s anything there to hear”. I was a Christian for many years, not tone deaf to religion but all I had taken trouble to listen to in the end proved to be just senseless noise or silence.

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      I completely agree with you on this.

      Tone deafness is the closest they can get to saying we are lacking something that healthy humans should have or that we are brain damaged or missing out on training other children get as if we are the ones who need to be educated. It’s patent nonsense, and I note that Julian Baggini used that approach to attack atheists as well.

      Enlightenment comes when one realizes that religion is, as you say, senseless noise or silence. Senseless noise because of its not being grounded with evidence and therefore moot. Silence because it has no answers–faith is the great silencer.

  20. Posted October 17, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Few items on this discussion. 1st off it’s seems very dumb, as usual. Of course, people have books their publishers want to promote but the useful discussions of Dawkins and Randall’s books get lost in this headline driven fake debate on magical beliefs.

    What a waste of time for all.

    Specially dumb:
    – is the left brained right brained language thang of the rabbi even neurologically correct? Probably not. Remember stimuli to the left side goes to the rt side of our brains.
    – The problem with using the word “science” Lisa talks about the inhuman scale of “science” — she actually means cosmology – duh.

    With magical beliefs, all we are talking about are strong, solipistic, hyper-personal and subjective feelings. Anything to do with magical beliefs is only and all about strong feelings of the moment. Rapture, fear, dread, joy, etc — that’s all. There really are no ideas to discuss.

    Why do people practicing science let themselves get fooled and dragged into silly discussions that are only about people’s feelings? Then the people doing science try to make nice and explain how scientific facts and data won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Boy that sooper dumb.

  21. Richard C
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “He also claimed, bizarrely, that the decline of ancient Greece can be attributed to its reliance on pre-Enlightenment values and the absence of religion, claiming that it might not have fallen had the people believed in the supernatural. (I wonder, then, what Apollo, Zeus, and Athena were.)”

    From my understanding (and I don’t have any references on hand to back this up), the Greeks had started moving away from belief in the Olympic gods as a result of their age of philosophy. Right or wrong, this is probably what he’s referring to.

    However I think it’s a far cry to claim that the Greeks were all atheists just because of what a few of the later, more educated philosophers felt. If they were anything like the modern world, their religion was probably still popular among everyone else.

    • Dragan Glas
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink


      I was under the impression that – contrary to what Sacks claims – their “decline” was due to their turning away from Natural Philosophy (nowadays known as Science) towards Moral Philosophy (aka, the Humanities).

      Similar to the Muslim world’s “decline” after turning away from science in the 12th century.

      Kindest regards,


      • Sajanas
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        I’m not entirely sure what ‘decline’ people are really talking about with the Greeks. The classical Greeks were eventually conquered by Alexander and spread their culture around Mesopotamia, and were conquered by the Romans and spread their culture to Rome. When Rome was failing, the Empire moved to Constantinople.

        I think the only thing that forced the decline in Greek philosophical thought was Christians and Muslims closing down those schools during the end of the Roman Empire and beyond. Till then I’d say it wasn’t as much of a decline as a leveling off… they didn’t progress, but I’m not sure whether you’d lay the blame on their morals, reaching certain technical limits in their learning, or just that they didn’t develop a philosophy that involved making theories and then verifying experiment or observation.

        • Posted October 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Sajanas, absolutely. There is no basis for the claim made by Sacks of the Greek decline. Indeed, Greek civilisation was very much alive until the Christians finally destroyed it. Early Christian theology was a strain of Greek philosophy, and Greek philosphical concepts were used to define fundamental Christian doctrine. There was also a Hellenistic flavour to Judaism of the time as well, as Philo of Alexandria demonstrates so well, as well as the Septuagint translation of the Bible into Greek. It is completely unhistorical to speak about a decline of Greek civilisation, or to attribute it to the dereligionisation of Greek society. The Greek philosophical schools were very much alive at the time they were closed by Christian Emperor Justinian.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted October 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Funny, I thought their decline came from an inability of the city-states to unify against the Roman conquerors.

    • Occam
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      A serious disquisition on the subject of Ancient Greek religions and religiosity should begin with a curt admonition: Don’t believe what you think you know, starting with the Olympic Gods!

      Aei ho theos geōmetrei. The Deity always verses in geometry.

      This is how Plutarch quotes Plato, probably paraphrasing the Republic, and he continues (Plut. Quaes. Conv. 8.2.1):
      I said that this sentence was not plainly set down in any of his books; yet there are good arguments that it is his, and it is very much like his expression… you imagine that this sentence intimates some curious and difficult speculation, and not that which he hath so often mentioned, when he praiseth geometry as a science that takes off men from sensible objects, and makes them apply themselves to the intelligible and eternal Nature, the contemplation of which is the end of philosophy, as a view of the mysteries of initiation into holy rites.… For the understanding, being accustomed by the vehemency of pain or pleasure to be intent on the mutable and uncertain body, as if it really and truly were, grows blind as to that which really is, and loses that instrument and light of the soul, which is worth a thousand bodies, and by which alone the Deity can be discovered. Now in all sciences, as in plain and smooth mirrors, some marks and images of the truth of intelligible objects appear, but in geometry chiefly…

      Hardly the total absence of religion and the Supernatural, as claimed by Rebbe Sacks. The Greeks were complicated, even the most seemingly rationalistic of them.

      And please, forget once and for all the notion of “decline and fall”. The Greeks fought their suicidal Thirty Years War, the Peloponnesian one, after which they were in turn overrun by the Persians, the Macedonians, and the Roman Juggernaut. Hardly the fault of pre-Enlightenment values and a lack of belief in the Supernatural, is it?

  22. Somite
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    The best part is at the end when the rabbi ends with “without God there is no hope”. Then you can hear Lisa Randall mutter “that’s not true”!

    • Posted October 17, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Yes, I particularly enjoyed that bit as well. My thinking is this – the religiots always try to get the last word, and all too often, they succeed. Not this time! 😉


  23. Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    ” Life ist its own validation and reward and umltimate meaning to which neither God nor the future state could further validate.” Inquiring Lynn
    The Rabbi, other advanced apologists and Francisco Jose Ayala make the stupid non sequitur that ,because science portrays no divine purpose, no purpose exists for us. Human love and purpose and this one life suffice; why whine for divine love and purpose and the future state!
    Albert Ellis in ” The Myth of Self Esteem, ” makes the point about whining at matters beyond our control and has other good advice, and Robert Price in ” The Reason-Driven Life ” portrays how that life leads to that more abundant one!
    Lamberth’s teleonomic argument gainsays what twaddle Ayala puts forth in ” Darwin and Intelligent Design,” about that divine intent-purpose and values.
    John-Paul Sartre and Paul Kurtz urge us to value our own purposes. We can to an extent alter our natures with our purposes.

  24. Aratina Cage
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    It would be nice if they didn’t let theists get away with leaving deepities unchallenged as they did at the end of this program.

  25. abb3w
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    The argument about “a world without God” largely is examples of the formal fallacy of Denying the Antecedent. “If you take such-and-such a view of God, you get hope and you don’t treat people like things. Therefore, without such-and-such a view of God, you have no hope and will treat people like things.” This ignores the possibility that there may be other views of the universe which may also imply hope and not treating people like things, even though atheist… and even if the Rabbi isn’t clever enough to understand the reasoning.

    The line about “the world that ought to be” fits in well with my hypothesis about “is-versus-ought” questions. This in turn reinforces my notion the real trouble for religion won’t be when Science finishes driving them out of the is-question business, but when it becomes widely noticed that Engineering also is in the business of answering ought-questions.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted October 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      It’s an especially funny fallacy coming from a guy whose relatives were tossed into gas chambers by people with “God is With Us” stamped on their belt buckles.

  26. Matt G
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    The thing is, there is NO substitute for science. There ARE substitutes for religion if you are looking for meaning, beauty, morality, etc., and they are FAR BETTER by any measure. Religious folk keep trying to push such nonsense on others as if their way were the only way.

  27. Posted October 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I listened to the first 30 minutes or so, getting in a little late for work. One thing I did notice was complete lack of shouting at each other, unlike clips of what Dawkins is on US TV etc.

    Re the fall of Ancient Greece. Perhaps someone should plot the decline of Rome against the spread of Christianity within the Empire…

  28. Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Concerning deepities:
    Lets return to the definition of a worthy deepity (from the Rational Wiki): It refers to a statement that has (at least) two meanings; one that is true but trivial, and another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless and would be “earth-shattering” if true.

    Now lets look at the following.

    “Without God, we are without hope.”

    Is this even true but trivial? I would contend that it is not. Or at least the trivial truth has not been established. I am, and most of the traffic at WEIT are, without God but probably maintain a certain sensible amount of optimism and hopefulness. The second meaning is obviously false, and would be profound if true. The entirety of the statement seems logically ill formed. I simply charge theospeak.

    “The uncertainty that religion deals with [as opposed to the uncertainties that science deals with] is the world we make tomorrow.”
    Theospeak or deepity. I contend the former. Because it is hard to tell if the there is overlap in the uncertainties (I assume there are because there always are). Logically ill-formed, and utterly false.

    “The value of religion is that it helps us understand “the world that ought to be.”
    Theospeak again and not deepity. I think.
    There is no way to read it that reveals a trivial truth. It is logically ill formed certainly but no sense in which it is trivially true, but I suppose if the statement were true it would be earth shattering.


    A statement that cannot be read in any way that reveals even trivially true things, but that would be earth shattering if true.

    Whether you think a term like theospeak is useful, it certainly characterizes every theology text I’ve ever read.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted October 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Your thinking is in alignment with mine. I like the acoustical sound of “deepities” but it actually in my opinion confers a faint amount of praise. Rather than “Theospeak” I was constructing (on my own) a phraseology I call “Set Language”. The word “set” has a high number of definitions in English (if, indeed, might have the =greatest= number of different definitions). So inane phrases such as the “Hope…no hope” example can be countered with examples of “set language”, using various meanings of set, multiple times all within the same sentence. I have not constructed the penultimate example, but it would contain “set theory”, “all set”, “game, set, and match” “matching set” “set upon”, and so forth…

  29. Marella
    Posted October 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Sacks’s complete refusal to tell the audience what he believed, what kind of God he envisioned

    He must think it doesn’t matter, so long as you believe in some kind of sky fairy it doesn’t matter what sort. Considering that nastiness of the Jewish sky-monster that seems a sensible attitude to take. You really wouldn’t want to have to defend a belief in him, or try to pretend that a universe run by him would be a better place.

  30. Forget It
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    “The uncertainty that religion deals with [as opposed to the uncertainties that science deals with]…”

    I admire this distinction made by Jonathan Sacks – I’ve not heard it before.

    Perhaps it is not such a meaningless deepity because it deals with what we don’t (yet) know rather than what we do have available to us.

    It is a logical extension to the arguments based on:
    (1) science operated only in the third person;
    (2) consciousness is experienced only in the first person
    – so (1) isn’t going to ever explain (2).

    Christians attempt to bridge this gap with faith – building a third-person community out of first-person held beliefs.

    • Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      Well, I disagree with your first premise, (1), as science is an intersubjective methodology, which scientists consciously participate in. Scientists likely can apply scientific theories to understand their own consciousness — but, for now, may lack good-enough theories and tools to do so.

      Your second premise, (2), might not be true either. We might develop techniques that allow one person to experience another’s consciousness, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. The recent experiments that can reconstruct what people see from monitoring brain activity is a tentative step in this direction. True fidelity might not be possible, but I’m not sure that you can claim that a priori.

      The conclusion also depends on what precisely you mean by “explain”. For example, there are some things I do and consequently, consciously think about that I recognise as Pavlovian responses. Isn’t that an explanation?


      • Forget It
        Posted October 19, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        Hi Ant Allan

        Those premises above are not mine, but are of philosophers, such as Robert A. Wilson – he who wrote the Introductory Section on Philosophy in the MIT Encyclopaedia of Cognitive Sciences.

        As Popper set out any scientist needs to convince the scientific community of their hypothesis – not just him/herself. When they do so they may establish some sort of truth in the third person perspective (e.g that WE BELIEVE). Here uncertainty can be linked to statistical significance.

        Some convictions held in the first person perspective (e.g that I BELIEVE) – also have the potential of being substantial, yet there is no guarantee that such substance can be made available for scientific scrutiny via third persons. Here uncertainty is linked to lack of conviction.

        Any scientist can apply scientific theories to understand their own consciousness but they won’t be respected by our scientific community.
        Introspection – is no longer respected as objective scientific approach.

        Whenever a group of scientists do reach a consensus on their own consciousness – that does move towards science – yet it still selects aspects that diverge from the problematic first perspective, where there is no guarantee of consensus.

        How then to understand human first-person reasoning/convictions?
        There might just be a substantial/intractable philosophical barrier – not a temporary technological conceptual hiccup.

        Who knows – certainly not I;
        But my mind is open;
        If my mind fools me – who am I to judge or not &c., &c.

        Peace & Good will

        • Posted October 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          Bunge has a section in _Finding Philosophy in Social Science_ called “The objective study of subjectivity”; and of course that’s the whole point of Dennett’s approach in _Consciousness Explained_ …

          • Forget It
            Posted October 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

            Do explain it to me please.

            • John
              Posted October 20, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink

              There is an important difference between the hemispheres of the brain. Like all interesting “leads” it has been brought down to a mediocre level by lazy thinkers who just want to be able to say, once and for all, “this is the way it is”.

              Most language function, in terms of production of speech, grammar, etc, is thought to be handled by the left hemisphere. Information on this comes from deficit studies in stroke victims as well as MRI. As far as I know, it is quite well established (e.g. Wernicke’s area).

              People who want a way to say “I am no good at maths because I am too right brained”… have not understood their brain at all, nor have they understood mathematics at all, which in its essence is far more synthetic than analytic.

              For me the whole Art vs Analysis line … much like the Religion vs Science line… only exists via the wish of participants in these debates to have their homework done for them, once and for all…

              In general it is quite clear that people with big opinions in any of these “dichotomies” are quite probably not practitioners (they are not artists, or scientists, etc…)

              Obviously you will laugh and say “But! Dawkins was on the radio, so you are surely wrong… ”

              Having heard the whole show now (I know it is Thursday… but busy week!), which I thought was very good, I would put these people in another league. They are also leading important cultural endeavours. They cannot be seen to agree, as it were. This is the false dichotomy.

              I would ask to be allowed to expand my comments about this, before you flame me, s’il vous plait! I can find a moment later.

              Enjoying very much the discussions.

            • Posted October 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

              In a way, both function by indicator hypotheses, though Dennett does not put it in such terms.

    • Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:57 am | Permalink

      Oh, and Christians (and others) are building the bridge in exactly the wrong direction: The right thing to do (and we can already to this to a degree) is to use what science tells us to understand how our minds fool us, where perception fails us, how “spiritual” experience arises, where the voices in our heads really come from, &c., &c.


      • John
        Posted October 20, 2011 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        My main gripe with all this is that people who call themselves Christians (or even Religious)… are so far from it. And I don’t mean “because they don’t teach compassion”… etc . I cannot call the American evangelists Christians, for example. I know they consider themselves that, but it makes no sense.

        Just as I can not call the Taliban Muslims.

        All these people are just extreme cases of human psychosis gone wild. And yes, it is very scary, for they form local and regional majorities.

        Divorce them from their claim to “faith” however, and see them for what they are : sick, broken, mindless people.

        One way to do that is to actually bypass their interpretations of scripture, and pose the question to oneself about what religion can mean personally for oneself. I see that you are all very learned here, looking at historical contexts and stuff. So maybe I am preaching to the converted.

        But as long as I have to approach the unknown through the model imposed on me by mediocre (or even nefarious) religious thought… I might never have the freedom to contemplate it directly.

        I don’t have time to wait for the scientific results of 2024 which show that sustained daily prayer/meditation for 20 minutes leads to a 15% increase in neuronal activity when dealing with complex situations (yes, I made that up, but who knows). Great, there will be articles published that explain “revelation” or “faith”… taking the faith out of faith, as it were. But personally for me, that is not interesting. I can take certain ideas now, and test them for myself. Not for publication, but for me.

        • Posted October 20, 2011 at 1:40 am | Permalink

          sustained daily prayer/meditation for 20 minutes leads to a 15% increase in neuronal activity when dealing with complex situations

          Well, why not? But the key phrase is “prayer/meditation” — I doubt that such a study would find a difference between the two, that prayer has no supernatural element too it that raises its effects over (naturalistic) meditation.

          Prayer clearly can have a positive impact on the mental state of the individual. It can surely generate a “positive mental attitude” that can improve the individual’s performance at a variety of tasks. But there are other ways of achieving a PMA that are likely as (or more?) efficacious.

          So where is the unique benefit of religion or faith?

          For some people, religion can have personal meaning and faith psychological benefit. I think it would be hard to dispute that. But, as has often been said on this website, firstly, those people are deluding themselves (possibly harmfully if, e.g., that diverts them from proper medical care), and secondly, they should keep it personal, and not try to impose those beliefs on others directly or through influence on public policy.


          • John
            Posted October 20, 2011 at 1:54 am | Permalink

            Yes and Yes.

            Prayer vs Meditation : well, are they not the same? The problem is that what we call prayer (like the pledge of allegiance also) is just often mindless repetition conjoined with a self-sparked “emotional” caress. Prayer seems to have lost its connection with meditation, (though not being a church goer, I don’t know this for sure… but it seems that silence never lasts for more than 40 secondes in a Mass). Try 20 minutes.

            Meditation often employs an object of focus (a mantra, or a mandala). I think that true prayer is simply that taken to another level. Which is why rattling off “Our father…” in 20 seconds top chrono is meaningless indeed.

            Were we to weigh every word, and do so within a cosmological context (of which christianity overtly says so little), it can become something. What is “daily bread” … is it just lunch at 12h30?

            Prayer offers an intellectual component to meditation; this is very important.

            “Thy will be done on Earth” … WTF? we don’t even understand this word “will” at all.

            I agree, big problem, presidents get elected who hear “thy will be done on Earth” as secret code for “go into Iraq to establish your empire, but pretend its self-defence”.

            Yet that doesn’t mean that “will” has no meaning.

            • Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

              But that prompts the question, why should you pray according to dogma? Why does “the Lord’s prayer” have any special significance? Why do you need to weigh every word for “its cosmological significance”? Why would you even think it has any? You might as well meditate on poetry by Coleridge or Hardy.


              • John
                Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

                Yes, that is true. You have to (yourself) weigh up the different things you might use in this way. There are obviously different levels. You probably wouldn’t use Britney Spears… but you could certainly meditate on the text of DSOM.

                Coleridge… hmm, not sure. Shakespeare, definitely. The Sonnets are totally impregnated with cool “deepeties” (a term i have seen here!).

                My feeling is that this is the personal side, available to every thinking person, is to examine these things, and see what is useful. Most of the opposition to scripture seems to be a direct result of its mobilisation by goons and idiots. The new testament is totally rich with very challenging information.

                But it would be useless for me to explain it to you, because you’d only pick apart each thing I said.

                To get anywhere with it, one has to want to get somewhere with it. I can’t help you get motivated there, other than to say (again) that the contempt it evokes seems to come not from the text itself (which is fascinating) but from its mediocre proponents…

              • Occam
                Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:28 am | Permalink

                Why does “the Lord’s prayer” have any special significance?

                Because Coleridge’s and Hardy’s verse are not tribal lays, handed down from generation to generation, and “the Lord’s prayer” is. Such continuity has great conditioning and identity-forging power.
                The English name does not convey the same degree of filial devotion as in many other languages: pater noster, ata unsa, Vater unser, Notre père, padre nostro, padre nuestro. Always: Our father. Mighty stuff. The conditioning power of tribal lays in patriarchal societies should never be underestimated.

              • Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

                @ Occam

                Oh, yes, I realise of course that it is significant within the context of Christianity, but it’s no more likely to contain real insight into our place in the cosmos than (other) poetry or literature (especially, if you agree with Aldiss, science fiction!).

                But if anyone really wants to meditate on — what did you say? — human submission, demission, proskynesis, prostration, &c., well, they can go ahead, knock themself out…


    • john
      Posted October 19, 2011 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      … sounds like we need Donald Rumsfeld to help us get through that distinction…. !

  31. Yesspam
    Posted October 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Is there any evidence at all for RSs theory that Greek is a left brained and hebrew a right brained language? I can not find anything on this.

    • Microraptor
      Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      As far as I know, the right-brain/left-brain dichotomy between things like languages and mathmatics was disproved years ago.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        I was raised on this particular pseudo-psychological theme, but haven’t thought about it much in ages.

        Though apparently, more recent imaging techniques actually tracking active areas of the brain during task processing do indeed suggest the old binary demarcation was simplistic at best.

        even the Wiki notes this.

        The differentiation of speech production into only two large sections of the brain (i.e. Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas), accepted long before the advent of medical imaging techniques, is now considered outdated

        • Ichthyic
          Posted October 19, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          ..not to say there isn’t STILL a consensus regarding differences in processing between right and left sides of the brain, it’s just more complicated than thinking in terms of the old: “right brain=art and left brain=analytics” kind of thing.

  32. John
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    The Lord’s Prayer forms a minimal poetic description of man’s situation in the context of the universe.

    It is not about an anthropomorphic God who “asks” people to do stuff (via “voices in the head, etc”).

    It describes the importance of struggling against violence (negative emotion, jealousy, hate, etc) within oneself as a means of accessing a better state of being, which itself is man’s proper state of being.

    • Occam
      Posted October 20, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      Come on!
      Our Father in heaven,
      hallowed be your name.
      Your kingdom come,
      your will be done,
      on earth as it is in heaven.

      A manifesto of human submission and demission, in as many words.
      The initial gesture is proskynesis, prostration.

      If that signifies “a minimal poetic description of man’s situation in the context of the universe”, it’s the situation of a little heap of dung in front of an omnipotent Big Oriental Daddy. Some universe!

      • Posted October 20, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        You nailed it there, Occam!


      • Posted October 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
        ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομα σου·
        ἐλθέτω ὴ βασιλεία σου·
        γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημα σου,
        ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς·
        τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον·
        καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,
        ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν.
        καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
        ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

        The last bit:
        ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ
        translates as

        “keep us far from evil”

        This is a plea made to a god against a real irrational part of the universe: the evil that we may generate or be subjected to by others.
        Such evil exists in the world in which science also operates:
        Yet can science in all it’s rationality address/resolve evil?

        May be prayer can’t but it is at least not ignoring the elephant in the room.

        • Occam
          Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          Gee, biblical exegesis chez W.E.I.T.?
          Not my regular cup of tea, but OK, I’m game.

          1. ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ – apo tou ponerou.
          τοῦ πονηροῦ is genitive, either of the neuter τὸ πονηρόν — to poneron, or the masculine ὁ πονηρός — ho poneros.
          Translating it as evil is too bland. Etymologically, the neuter form poneron means that which causes agony/suffering. But the interesting twist is the masculine: it is, if my wordcount serves, more frequent in the New Testament than the neuter, it implies agency: the Active Evil, and is often used metonymically to denote The Evil One: the Devil, the Satan.

          2. ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς — rhysai hemas is far stronger than deliver us. rhyomai in this context means wrench, heave, pull forcefully.

          So, way off from a Platonic “keep us far from generic evil”, I think an approriate rendering should be “from the Evil One do wrench us”. An acute plea in agony.

          Maybe science can’t resolve evil, although what evil means is a matter of definition.
          Tackling the Devil on the other hand is something science has proved rather good at. See, the question is always what the elephant in the room is. If any.

          • Posted October 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

            Razor sharp, Occam!

            On a more prosaic note, science certainly has addressed many causes of agony or suffering — but not yet (or ever?) Man’s inhumanity to Man.


          • Posted October 21, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

            Thanks Occam

            for you parsing of the Greek.


            has several more interpretations.

            I’m not sure what you mean when you write:
            “Tackling the Devil on the other hand is something science has proved rather good at”

            perhaps you can elaborate.

            • Occam
              Posted October 21, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

              Supernatural agency, whether incarnate, personified, or reified.
              That’s what scientific method put paid to. The active intervention of an actively malignant, supernatural entity.
              A non-interventionist, silent creator may not be disproved (although, like Laplace, I do not see the need for such a hypothesis.) Evil as a supernatural, active entity can be disproved, every step of the way.

              Yes, I am aware of the multiplicity of scriptural interpretations. I gave you my best shot at what I, personally, do consider the most plausible approximation in translation. Not as a biblical scholar, which I am not, but as a classical philologist. I think the scriptures are part of our classical heritage, of the antique continuum, and they deserve the same critical, minute, dispassionate, historically informed analysis as Homer, Hesiod, Plutarch or Thucydides.

              • Posted October 22, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

                But Adolph Hilter and Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot were not supernatural but real evil people who convinced their communities also to be evil.

                Does science really address the problem of such evil?

              • Occam
                Posted October 22, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

                Not rising to that bait.

                You asked me to elaborate on my “Tackling the Devil” comment, remember? That’s precisely what I addressed in my reply.

              • Posted October 23, 2011 at 3:23 am | Permalink

                Hi Occam
                you wrote:
                | Not rising to that bait.
                It’s not I who am a fisher of men.

                You also wrote:
                | You asked me to elaborate on my “Tackling
                | the Devil” comment, remember?
                | That’s precisely what I addressed …
                Yes and I thank you. Yet all this
                kind of illustrates the point:
                Scientists are excellent at answering precisely posed questions.
                It’s when questions like that of approaching evil – it is very difficult to know where to begin with science – where as Pater Noster at least provides a starting point.

              • Posted October 23, 2011 at 4:19 am | Permalink

                If one feels the need hide behind a telling & feeble pseudonym on such a trivial topic, then one is so lame as to require no further consideration.
                Good bye.

              • Occam
                Posted October 23, 2011 at 5:34 am | Permalink

                @ Forget It:
                No, and no.
                It does not illustrate your point, because the question, though reasonably precise, was not scientific.

                And no, I did not decline to engage in a discussion on the subject of ‘evil’ because science can’t address it. I won’t engage here because it is too complex a subject to discuss in footnotes to footnotes to comments on a rather unrelated topical news theme.

                @ Michael Kingsford Gray:
                Much as I disagree with our co-contributor Forget It, I find it nevertheless unacceptable to attack anyone ad nominem, as you just did. Disagree with him or her as much as you will. Counter her/his arguments to the hilt. But an attack based just on a chosen sobriquet is off bounds. It’s like, what were the words of AE Houseman on the trial of Oscar Wilde? It’s like
                taking him to justice for the colour of his hair

  33. John
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    Hello again all, mr occam and mr ant, and others of the site.

    I do wish to come back on this very interesting subject of the prayer we were discussing and will do so as soon as I can.

    One thing I can say immediately is that I think the Lord’s prayer is much more an affirmation than a supplication. Your talk of oriental sugar daddy (or whatever) and “pile of dung” seem to arise from a wish to see it as some wimpy grovelling prayer ; whereas I would say it is affirmation, via use of the subjunctive verb (“hallowed by thy name”) etc…

    So, I will follow up. I just saw this though, and thought you might like to see it :


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