Andrew Sullivan talks about his books, his faith, and why science proves God

From The Dish, Sullivan talks about what he’s reading now (Steve Pinker’s new book on the decline of violence), but then, at about 3 minutes in, he segues into the Adam and Eve story, again arguing that it is both true and untrue at the same time (he’s apparently jettisoned his distinction between “real” and “true”).

The “true” part is apparently the story’ metaphor that we can make our world better, as embodied in Pinker’s thesis, and that that “arc of history” is directed by God.

He argues, as does John Haught, that “God is ahead of us” and pulling us toward His bosom. This, Sullivan claims, is “buttressed by more and more scientific research.”  Which research? That our genetics shows us that we’re both good and evil, but that the good must win in the end.

I’ve been a geneticist my entire adult life, and I didn’t know that!

Sullivan should have stuck to the book. When he meanders into theology, he becomes incoherent.

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  1. Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    So – do you stay up late, or get up early? 🙂

  2. Paul g
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    As a representative of the rest of the world, I must say, the month-day-year format makes no sense.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Well, if someone asks you specificially, “what day is it?” do you answer “2 November 2011”? Or “the 2nd of November, 2011”?

      Or do you answer “November 2nd, 2011”?

      The American written style follows the speech idiom. Seems perfectly logical to me. But then, I’ve never-ever heard anyone verbalize a date any other way than month-day-year.

      • Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        I have to say, I use “2nd of November, 2011” but I’m from the UK. Also, DD/MM/YYYY is also in order of length. (days in month, months in year).

        • Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

          DD/MM/YYYY is also in order of length.

          You say that as though it’s a self-evident advantage. It doesn’t make the date easier to read. It doesn’t make multiple dates easier to compare or sort.

          • CarlosT
            Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

            If sorting is the priority, the best format is YYYY/MM/DD. Even if it doesn’t get converted into some date/time format, it will still sort correctly, even as text.

            Also, why is this thread in this post and not the palindrome day post?

      • Circe
        Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Native Indian English speaker here.

        I would never dream of replying to that question as “November 2nd, 2011”. In fact, in my experience (even in the US), the preferred choice is always either “2nd November” or “2nd of November”. Perhaps it is different in parts of the US because of the numerical convention rather than the other way round?

  3. Kevin Alexander
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    I wake up in the middle of the night and log on. It’s a big improvement over pacing the floor over what’s bugging me.

    • Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

      It appears as though WordPress puts a Pacific Time Zone timestamp on all posts and comments rather than Chicago’s time zone.

      • JT
        Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

        Finally! A western bias instead of the eastern bias that all of us westerners have lived with from time immemorial.

  4. Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    “When [enter name here] meanders into theology, [s]he becomes incoherent.”

    There, fixed that for ya! 🙂

    • Anonymous
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    • Matt G
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      Ack! I posted my similar comment before I read this. Didn’t steal your material – honest! I guess we can chalk it up to great minds thinking alike….

  5. Ray Moscow
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    Which research? That our genetics shows us that we’re both good and evil, but that the good must win in the end.

    Whew! No need for Jesus or Christianity, then. Good will win, because it’s in our genes.

    I’ve been a geneticist my entire adult life, and I didn’t know that!

    See what you miss by not being religious?

  6. Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    He argues, as does John Haught, that “God is ahead of us” and pulling us toward His bosom.

    Odd that being pulled to gods bosom takes so long. After all, it took 1948 years for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be written and widely accepted. Ok, given Jesus could have said it, 1938 years.

    Imagine what the world would have been like if we started with that document. Ah well, it takes us time, but us humans will get it right in the end. I have not finished Steven Pinker’s book yet, but I have to say that it is one of the most depressing (due to the past) yet uplifting books I have ever read. It would make a very good replacement to the Old Testament in a secular guide book or “bible” in explaining how the human condition got us up to where we are today. Admittedly it has less begetting than the original, but it has a much better explanation of human history and motivations than the original.

    BTW: Theology by its very nature renders anyone trying to explain it to be incoherent, not just Andrew Sullivan, to be fair 😉

  7. Matt G
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

    When he meanders into theology, he becomes incoherent.

    How is Sullivan different from anybody else in this regard? Perhaps it should be:

    When [any living thing] meanders into theology, [that thing] becomes incoherent.

  8. Ed
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    For the life of me I can’t understand why any rational person would read Sully regularly. He’s a religious twit. He started out as a typical oh-so-clever TNR contrarian, and worked his way down from there. Whatever intellect he once now seems permanently addled by the steroids he’s been on for years. Plus he’s bad faith incarnate.

    • MosesZD
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never been much of a fan of his. When he was at The Atlantic I read it a few times… But the place is a wasteland of delusional thinking used to excuse selfishness and greed with a dash of excuse mongering and authoritarianism thrown in…

      Though Sullivan is not the worst there. After all, with Megan McArdle on the staff… You’d have to put in 80-hours a week to make yourself sound as dumb as she manages with effortless ease…

  9. Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Andrew, if you’re reading this, perhaps you could explain your fascination with a badly-written faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry giant? And why that story gets so much of your attention, while you tend to neglect the one with the talking plant that gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero? Or any of the others about talking animals, sea monsters, sky castles, warring wizards, and the rest?

    Really, why should anybody old enough to know the truth about Santa still take seriously any of that?



    • Matt G
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      And then tell us about the Great Tellers of this story who go out and kill non-believers, rape children, steal and sell babies (and lie to the birth mother about it), launder money, cover up these acts, and demonize homosexuals. I LOVE these parts! The universe would bend toward justice a lot faster without their help….

    • Kevin
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Well, it’s even worse than that. Even aside from the story about intestines being fondled, it makes no logical sense whatsoever.

      So, in order to be a Catholic (and not just some vague liberal pseudo-theo-Christianlike person), you have to believe literally:

      * A half-god with superpowers was conceived via ghostly intercourse with a virgin.
      * This half-god could demonstrate his superpowers, but only in ways that a First Century primitive would understand. And leave absolutely no trace whatsoever that he had made any demonstration of those superpowers, up to and including becoming undead.
      * That the entire reason for this half-god’s existence was as to be an avatar for the “heavenly” god — who apparently couldn’t be bothered to come down himself. I guess the whole burning bush thing wore him out.
      * The avatar’s sole purpose was to become dead and then undead. Thereby allowing the “real” god to be able to forgive mankind of its sins, including the whole IQ-raising sin-fruit metaphorical sin of mankind’s separation from itself, as well as all of the lesser sins — like being a homo (yes, Andrew, it’s a ‘sin’ according to your church), or mowing the grass on Sunday. Why this whole dead/undead thing was required by the “real” god is unclear; or why he needed such a prerequisite in order for his forgiveness to take effect.
      * But you only get forgiven if you think right thoughts. Bad thoughts will be punished. Only right-thinking people get the reward. Everyone else gets punished. Forever.

      It’s looney. Barking mad. Straight up nonsensical. A god giving birth to himself so he could be killed and then not-killed so he could forgive everyone else for being … well … human.

  10. BradW
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I think Jerry listened to this particular vignette with prior prejudice.

    I suggest that people listen carefully to the video with their eyes closed and imagine that what is being said is in written form rather than audio. I listened to the video three times and am unable to get from it what Jerry asserts w/r to the goe (in this particular case).

    On the other hand, it is truly a wonder and a mystery that anyone who gives science the credit that sullivan does (in this particular case)can still believe in any part of the fairey tale. But that again is the amazing capability of the homo brain. Perhaps someday we (I’ll be long gone)will understand.

  11. Posted November 2, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Are my ears playing up or is it the transAtlantic accent? At 04:00 A.S. seems to say this:

    “…it is not true that Adam & Eve existed in the Garden of Evil…”

    I’ve transcribed the end of the video to demonstrate how the theologically inclined are forced to deal from the bottom of the deck ~ I’ve struggled with the punctuation to achieve maximum meaning ~ & failed somewhat:

    “…the Kingdom coming towards us […] God’s ahead of us […]Jesus revealed this to us ~ that we are moving slowly towards him. That’s an exciting idea & the fact that it’s being buttressed by more & more scientific research. That we seem in our very genetics to be capable of, obviously, both good & evil, but that good can actually help us & that advantage gives it** an advantage. Good wins in the end. It seems to me there’s a convergence of Christian theology right now & science…”

    ** “it” here refers to being “good” I suppose

  12. salon_1928
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Well done Dr. Coyne and supporters – I can’t wait to watch!

    • salon_1928
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Oops. Comment was meant for the debate thread…

  13. Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink


  14. Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    ooooooh, Freudian slip — he says “Garden of Evil” — I’m down with that!! lol

    This is just the pathetic fallacy — what makes me feel good, especially when I’m anxious, I project onto experience, damn it!!

  15. Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    “Boundless goodness of god” Would that include the plague, flesh eating bacteria and the 20mm+ killed in WWII, etc.

    This whole narcissism thang is dum. So our genetics inexorably is moving us to accep the character of jesus as our personal savior.

    Lots of warm fuzzies here, real crowd pleaser.

    • Microraptor
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Kidney stones alone disprove the notion that any god that might exist actually loved humans.

      • Posted November 3, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

        This is equivalent to hoping the tooth fairy exists. Yea, hear kidney stones REALLY hurt.

  16. Scote
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Andrew Sullivan’s blurb the cover of David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself :

    “The archives of David McRaney’s blog on self-delusion are well worth picking through.” –Andrew Sullivan

    I think Sullivan should go back and spend some more quality time there. He’s on the right track. Now if only he can bring himself to go just that little bit further and get all the way across into methodological naturalism.

  17. Al West
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    A distinction between ‘real’ and ‘true’ is untenable, but at least it’s not a logical contradiction like saying that something could be both true and untrue at the same time.

    I mean, there are some fancy schmancy logics out there that can allow for a statement to be both true and untrue, but that isn’t what Sullivan is referring to. He may as well be spouting gibberish at this point.

    Pinker’s book is excellent. It doesn’t need theological endorsement.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      And doesn’t seek one.

      • Al West
        Posted November 3, 2011 at 3:26 am | Permalink


  18. Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    ugh. i can’t stand how self important he sounds in these videos. i got through half of that video. like, how he feels he’s so profound on a subject that is so out of his realm of intellectual curiosity. good day, sir.

  19. yam
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Why anyone would take this ass seriously is just beyond me. I still remember his vicious cheerleading for the Iraq war and anyone who was against the rush to depose Saddam was unamerican. I’ll never take anything he says after that seriously.

    Then the “true AND not true” nonsense comes up again. Really, I get more rational thoughts from the drunks mumbling on the bus that I do from that idiot Sullivan. Yet another reason to not listen to him.

    If we’re being dragged on towards Goodness, which Goodness? The Goodness that Sullivan wants where he can live his life as a gay man without being condemned? Or, the Goodness of a fire-breathing fundementalist where gay men don’t exist or are doomed to eternal torture?

    What is Goodness, Sullivan? Your Goodness? Someone else’s Goodness? God’s Goodness? Which one, the Popes Goodness or your version of the Pope’s Goodness?


  20. Notagod
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Dear Andrew Sulivan,

    Sitting here trying to construct something positive regarding your recent video presentation. Although I can’t agree with any of your assertions, don’t worry there are one or two other people that I can’t find any common ground with either. Your assertions aren’t simply wrong but, you frame them in such a way that everything becomes a twisted rendition of a turkey gobble with d’gook added to the posterior. Also, it is clearly not your fault and may not even be your intent, to generate the nauseating discomfort that wells up from within as one listens to your irreconcilable connections. It truly seems that you are finding a well thought out and largely complete thesis that someone else has presented, then, awkwardly, harshly and forcefully shoving your god deeply into the vortex of the concepts. Surely, you can sympathize with the resulting sickening feeling that is produced, even though you can not be directly held responsible?

    There is only one small request that I feel justified in asking, please, puke me with a spoon ASAP after you are finished so as to minimize the suffering.

  21. MosesZD
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    No. Science proves Thor. Not Jehovah.

    And I have the documentary to prove it:

  22. hank9000
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “When [Sullivan] meanders into theology, he becomes incoherent.”

    Teehee. So many redundancies in a single sentence, I barely know where to start 😀

    • hank9000
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink


      Talk about redundancy – I really should read the comments before posting my own; it seems the above joke has already been made more than once.

  23. Badger3k
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Why did I read that line as “God is pulling us toward his bottom”?

    • Microraptor
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      It explains the smell?

  24. sglover
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    Sullivan doesn’t need to wander into theology to become incoherent. Anything beyond reading a grocery list and he’s out of his league.

    Sullivan’s entire career is based on the sorry reality that too many Americans assume that a British accent means you know what the hell you’re talking about. The man’s flaunted his stone idiocy for decades. As an editor, he was such an incompetent that plagiarists and frauds flourished under his “management”.

    He’d be amusing, almost comical in a Mr. Bean kind of way, if he hadn’t **also** devoted his “career” to spewing poison and lies. Nobody should ever forget his chickenhawk cheerleading during the Iraq fiasco — complete with denunciations of “fifth columns”. And his bizarro (and scientifically ignorant, natch) racial obsessions are undiminished.

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