The Case Is Closed. Period.

Another post from my favorite soldier of fortune.

Darwin’s Vigilantes, Richard Sternberg, and Conventional Pseudoscience

Posted on September 22, 2018 by Fred Reed

I am sorry. I admit it: I am a bad person. I promise I will never write about this again. Well, sort of never. It’s just too much fun. Anyway, it’s not my fault. My childhood makes me do it. Maybe I ate lead paint.

Science is supposed to be the objective study of nature, impelled by a willingness to follow the evidence impartially wherever it leads. For the most part it works this way. In the case of emotionally charged topics, it does not. For example, racial intelligence, cognitive differences between the sexes, and weaknesses in Darwinian evolution. Scientists who do perfectly good research in these fields, but arrive at forbidden conclusions, will be hounded out of their fields, fired from academic and research positions, blackballed from employment, and have their careers destroyed.

A prime example is Richard Sternberg, a Ph.D. in biology (Molecular Evolution) from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in Systems Science (Theoretical Biology) from Binghamton University. He is not a lightweight. From 2001-2007 he was staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information; 2001-2007 a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Hell broke loose when he authorized in 2004 the publication, in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, an organ of the Smithsonian Institution, of a peer-reviewed article, The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher taxonomic Categories by Stephen Meyer. It dealt with the possibility of intelligent design as an explanation of aspects of Darwinism not explainable by the conventional theory. This is a serious no-no among the guardians of conventional Darwinism, the political correctness of science.

At the Smithsonian, he was demoted, denied access to specimens he needed in his work, transferred to work under a hostile supervisor, and lost his office space. In the ensuring storm of hatred, two separate federal investigations concluded that he had been made the target of malicious treatment.

Predictably, the establishment dismisses Meyer’s idea as “pseudoscience”:

Wikipedia: The Sternberg peer review controversy concerns the conflict arising from the publication of an article supporting the pseudo-scientific concept of intelligent design in a scientific journal, and the subsequent questions of whether proper editorial procedures had been followed and whether it was properly peer reviewed.

Pseudoscience? Does not Darwinism itself qualify as pseudoscience? It is firmly based on no evidence. For most readers this assertion will seem as delusional as saying that the sun revolves around the earth. This is because we have been indoctrinated since birth in the Darwinian myth. But look at the facts.


We are told that life arose by chance in the primeval oceans. Do we know of what those oceans consisted? (Know, not speculate, hope, it stands to reason, must have been, everybody says so). No, we do not. Do we know of what those oceans would have had to consist to bring about life? No. Do we even know what we think evolved? No. Has the chance appearance of life been replicated in the laboratory? No. Has a metabolizing, reproducing chemical complex been constructed in the laboratory, showing that it might be possible? No. Can the chance appearance be shown to be mathematically probable? No. Can Darwinism explain the existence of irreducibly complex structures? No. Does the fossil record, particularly of the Ediacaran and Cambrian, support Darwin? No.

Darwinism was a clever metaphysical idea formed when almost nothing was known about the matter, and imposed by impassioned supporters on a near-total lack of evidence. Should not intensely believing in something that you cannot support by observation or experiment be called pseudoscience?

The ardent of evolution, like Christians, base their creation myth from a sacred book, The Origin of Species, both resting on about as much evidence. Thereafter they assume what is to be proved. Since Darwinists posit the unchallengeable truth of their version of creation, no reason exists for questioning it. If you know it happened, then obviously it was mathematically possible. The math can be discovered later. If you know that life originated in ancient seas, then how it originated becomes a mere detail. If you know the theory is correct, then anyone who doubts must necessarily be at least wrong, and thus ignorable, and perhaps a crank or fool or lunatic.

A classic example of starting from certainty is Darwinism’s reaction to the apparent irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, though hundreds of others could be adduced. This is an immensely complex cellular organelle which would cease to function of any of its parts were removed. It could not have evolved by Darwin’s gradual changes. The Darwinians say, “Well, we aren’t sure just at the moment, but is possible that we will figure out later how it could have happened.” Yes, and it is possible that I will win three Irish Sweepstakes in a row. They are, again, saying that they know that Darwinism is correct, and therefore the evidence will be forthcoming. This is called “faith,” the belief in the unestablishable.

As a friend has written in another context, “When utterly astonishing claims of an extremely controversial nature are made over a period of many years by numerous seemingly reputable academics and other experts, and they are entirely ignored or suppressed but never effectively refuted, reasonable conclusions seem to point in an obvious direction.”

Just so. A lot of highly credentialed researchers express doubts about doctrinaire Darwinism, asserting that it cannot explain many aspects of nature. What does explain them is a separate question. Why is wondering about this a firing offense?

A difficulty in conveying doubts about Neo-Darwinism (the correct name of the current theory) is that very few people, including the highly intelligent, know anything about the issue. The world is full of esoteric specialities from the decipherment of ancient Sumerian inscriptions to the neural anatomy of squids. Few will have chosen Darwin’s defects for careful study.

This is convenient for Darwinists as the dim will believe whatever they hear on television and the bright usually have other things to do with their brains. As the case of Mr. Sternberg shows, scientists who doubt Darwin–again, there are many–know better than to say anything.

The fury is telling. If the Darwinists could prove the many highly credentialed proponents of ID wrong, they would do so, and that would be that. If they could prove their own propositions correct, they would, and that would also be that. But they can’t (or they would have).

If you follow the controversy, you quickly see patterns. One is that the Darwinists are fiercely defensive, suggesying doubt of their own position.   People seldom become infuriated at doubts of something that they believe with genuine certainty. If a physicist at CalTech expressed doubts about general relativity, he would certainly be challenged to prove his theory. He would not be hounded, belittled, forced to resign, charged with pseudoscience, and banned from publication.

Unfortunately for NeoDarwinism, the likelihood of confirmation diminishes with time. Year by year, the fossil record becomes less incomplete, and still the intermediates are not found. As molecular biology repidly advances, the failure to find a chemically possible chain of events that might produce life leads ever more convincingly to a simple concluseion: There isn’t one.

Publications by Richard Sternberg.


Religion, An Examination of History, Beliefs and Connections Number Two

Religion, An Examination of History, Beliefs and Connections

Essay Number Two

These essays represent a work in progress and use a number of approaches at connecting a diverse collection of religious information, facts and histories and at times represent some of the same information in a different context. Please keep this in mind as you proceed.

Between 1,000 BC to 200 AD. there are threads that weave together a number of historical figures and various religious beliefs. This includes Siddhartha Gautama, Alexander the Great, Abraham, King Bindusarathe, and his son Emperor Ashoka, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, his Disciples and St. Paul.

Chronological order of the people and events involved:

  • 4,000 to 3,000 B.C. origins of Hinduism
  • 2,000 B.C. the time of Abraham
  • 1,600 to 1,300 B.C. the location in time of the Exodus from Egypt
  • 1,500 B.C. the oldest known Hindu temple
  • 1,035 to 961 B.C. the life of King David
  • 623 B.C. the birth of Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)
  • 356 to 323 B.C. the life of Alexander the Great
  • 268 to 223 B.C. the life of Emperor Ashoka (creator of organized Buddhism)
  • 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. life of Caesar Augustus
  • 5 B.C. (about) the birth of Jesus
  • 29 A.D. preachings of John the Baptist
  • 33 or 34 A.D the Crucifixion
  • 280 – 337 A.D. the life of Emperor Constantine
  • 325 A.D. the first Council of Nicaea (the formal beginning of the Christian church
  • 570 -632 A.D. the life of the Prophet Mohammad

East and West

A number of Roman historical accounts describe an embassy (a diplomatic delegation) sent by the Indian Buddhist King Porus to Caesar Augustus sometime between 22 BC and 13 AD. The embassy was traveling with a diplomatic letter written in Greek, and one of its members was a sramana. Sramana means “seeker, one who lives a life of austerity, an ascetic”. The term refers to several Indian religious movements that were associated with Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism of the period. This particular sramana burned himself alive in Athens to demonstrate his faith. Buddhist monks of the period had been celebrated in India and western China for burning themselves alive to speed their passage to the Pure State or to show the strength of their faith and righteousness of their beliefs. The event made a sensation in the Empire and was described by Nicolaus of Damascus, who met the embassy at Antioch (near present day Antakya in Turkey) and the event was also recorded by Strabo and Dio Cassius. A tomb was made to the sramana in Athens, still visible in the time of Plutarch, which bore the inscription:


(“Zarmanochegas from Barygaza in India”) -The first word was probably a reference to his name and his faith and Barygaza was a port on the northwest coast of India – Roman trade was already occurring by the beginning of the current era and was flourishing by 50 AD with both land caravans and ocean going vessels traveling to India.

This historical incident is evidence of the exposure of the West to religious beliefs of the Far East as well as the reverse. Very early in the current era (100 to 250 A.D.) four of the world’s five great religions were already extant in Euro-Asia. From the eastern Mediterranean thru India and on into China, these four religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity occupied a geographic space that intersected in Persia and western India.

Trade was already flourishing at that time between the Roman Empire and the Indian kingdoms along the silk road with merchant ships sailing trade routes in the Mediterranean and Indian oceans. There is significant historical evidence that principles of Buddhism and Hinduism were understood throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Christianity was being preached along the western coast of India. Saint Thomas is believed to have spent significant time in India preaching and died on December 21, 72 A.D. in Mylapore, India. Over this period caravans plied the “silk roads” making it possible for people to travel from Greece and Egypt thru Persia, India and even on into China.

The oldest Hindu temple dates back to over 1,500 B.C. Reasonable estimates place Hinduism’s origins as a religion at around 3,000 to 4,000 B.C. To put this in context, current studies regarding the time of Abraham place him at around 2,000 B.C. The Old Egyptian Kingdom dates back to about 3,000 B.C. with the Great Pyramid dated to 2,589 B.C.

Siddhartha and Buddhism

Around 600 B.C. in northeastern India or southern Nepal Siddhartha Gautama was born. He became the founder of the faith known as Buddhism. According to UNESCO, Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini, which has become a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Early pilgrims included the Indian emperor Ashoka, who erected one of his commemorative Buddhist pillars there in the garden. At the time of Siddhartha’s birth Hinduism was the dominant religion of the region and Hindu ascetics were a common feature there. It is written that Siddhartha pursued the life of an ascetic in his early adulthood but at some point became enlightened to the true nature of the world and what was hidden behind everyday reality.

The Buddha’s teachings offered a “middle path” between everyday living and religious practice. He taught about living in harmony with people and other living creatures and that truly understanding one’s self was the path to individual enlightenment. This enlightenment or awakening comes thru the Dhamma, the truth taught by the Buddha, and is uncovered gradually through sustained practice. The Buddha made clear many times that Awakening does not occur like a bolt out of the blue but rather, it culminates a long journey of many stages.

Almost 300 years later Alexander the Great created an empire that conquered Greece, Persia, Egypt, all of the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and northwestern India. The spread of his empire ended with his death in 323 B.C. but while he was in India he formed an alliance with a number of kings including King Bindusarathe, the grandfather of the Emperor Ashoka. As Alexander’s empire fractured after his death a series of new kingdoms came under the rule of his generals. Most of these new rulers had the experience of time spent in the eastern empire and many had married into local royal families and understood the customs and religious beliefs of these regions including Hinduism and Buddhism.There are a number of accounts of these “kings” traveling to meet at various times.

In 268 B.C. the Emperor Ashoka was born. He became an Indian ruler of the Maurya Dynasty who probably spoke the same language as Siddhartha. He ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from Persia in the east thru Nepal and south almost to the bottom of the subcontinent. While early in his rule he continued, like his father, to conquer other kingdoms, he also had frequent contact with remaining Greek colonies in northern India. He is most famous for later converting to Buddhism and became recognized as one of the most enlightened emperors in history.

Ashoka and the Spread of Buddhism

The Edicts of Ashoka are inscriptions inscribed on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as engraved on boulders and cave walls during his reign from 269 B.C. to 232 B.C. These inscriptions were dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan and represent the first tangible permanent record of Buddhism. According to the edicts and pillar inscriptions, the extent of his Buddhist proselytising reached as far as the shores of the Mediterranean thru Greece and into Egypt with historical records indicating that a number of Buddhist monuments (pillars) were erected in these regions.

The Dhamma, is the truth taught by the Buddha and was the primary cannon taught by the Lord Buddha. The Dharma preached by Ashoka are found in 33 edicts carved into the numerous Ashoka pillars. They are explained mainly in terms of moral precepts, based on the doing of good deeds, respect for others, generosity and purity. Following are a series of translations from these edicts.

Pillar Edict Number 1. Happiness in this world and the next is difficult to obtain without much love for the Dhamma, much self-examination, much respect, much fear (of evil), and much enthusiasm. Pillar Edict Number 1

Pillar Edict Number 2. Right behaviour: Dharma is good, but what constitutes Dharma? (It includes) little evil, much good, kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity.

Minor Rock Edict Number 3. Piyadasi, King of Magadha, saluting the Sangha and wishing them good health and happiness, speaks thus: You know, reverend sirs, how great my faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha is. Whatever, reverend sirs, has been spoken by Lord Buddha, all that is well-spoken.

Rock Edict Number 5. In past there were no Dhamma Mahamatras but such officers were appointed by me thirteen years after my coronation. Now they work among all religions for the establishment of Dhamma, for the promotion of Dhamma, and for the welfare and happiness of all who are devoted to Dhamma. They work among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Gandharas, the Rastrikas, the Pitinikas and other peoples on the western borders. They work among soldiers, chiefs, Brahmans, householders, the poor, the aged and those devoted to Dhamma – for their welfare and happiness – so that they may be free from harassment.

Rock Pillar Number 7. And noble deeds of Dharma and the practice of Dharma consist of having kindness, generosity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness increase among the people.

Pillar Edict Number 8 (7). Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight krosas, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma and spread its wisdom.

Rock Edict Number 11 One benefits in this world and gains great merit in the next by giving the gift of the Dhamma.

Rock Edict Number 12. Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.

Two edicts in Afghanistan have been found with Greek inscriptions, one of these being a bilingual edict in Greek and Aramaic (Aramaic was a common language in the Middle East and was the language of Jesus and his Apostles). This edict, found in Kandahar, advocates the adoption of “Piety” (using the Greek term Eusebeia for Dharma) by the Greek community:

Ten years (of reign) having been completed, King Piodasses (one of the titles of Ashoka: Piyadassi or Priyadarsi, “He who is the beloved of the Gods and who regards everyone amiably made known (the doctrine of) Piety (Greek:εὐσέβεια, Eusebeia) to men; and from this moment he has made men more pious, and everything thrives throughout the whole world. And the king abstains from (killing) living beings, and other men and those who (are) huntsmen and fishermen of the king have desisted from hunting. And if some (were) intemperate, they have ceased from their intemperance as was in their power; and obedient to their father and mother and to the elders, in opposition to the past also in the future, by so acting on every occasion, they will live better and more happily. (Trans. by G. P. Carratelli)

The Genesis of Judaism

Judaism in the first and second centuries B.C. was practiced based on the foundations of the Covenants between God and “His people”. The original Covenant was made between God and Abraham and his offspring and required that they worship God, make offerings to him and live in a way that would please Him. Before the Exodus from Egypt the relationship between the God of Abraham and the individual could be described as one of simply recognizing and worshiping God, living to please Him and receiving his blessings and protection. The greater Covenant was later acknowledged between God and the Israelites after their liberation from Egypt. It starts with The Ten Commandments and continues with the laws of Moses, which were also provided by God.

“And afterward he (Moses) read all the words of the teachings, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the Torah”

Joshua 8:34

In the first century A.D., Judaism was primarily focused on the “laws” which provided a guide for living to please God in the real world. It was all inclusive and prohibited such things as murder, theft, adultery and prescribed feasts, sacrifices, religious worship, as well as what to eat, how to marry and the laws governing priests and rulers. In other words it defined everything one needed to understand to live as a religious Jew. At the same time the notion of death and an afterlife where not generally part of the written traditions. While Judaism has always implied that death is not the end of existence it has virtually no written dogma about an afterlife. Those kinds of beliefs are fluid between various sects where some have a notion that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place like heaven, others believe they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the Savior. Likewise, many Orthodox Jews believe that the souls of the wicked are tormented by demons of their own creation, or that wicked souls are simply destroyed at death, ceasing to exist.

John the Baptist Preaches in Judea

Somewhere around 29 A.D. a significant person in the cultural and religious beliefs of Judaism began preaching to the people of Judea. He lived the life of an ascetic and while he was not unique at the time he became important because of the number of followers that came to him. This was John the Baptist and contrary to current understanding he was probably not offering a new approach to faith but was baptizing as a means to ritual purity and preaching a return to the practices required in the Covenant. While he was preaching about a coming Messiah he was not unique as that was a reasonably common belief among a number of ascetic sects of the time who widely believed that there would come events delivering them from Roman oppression. John the Baptist quoted the passage from Isaiah in his call to baptism in the Jordan River.

Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.

In this John was exhorting the people to repent, prepare for the coming Messiah and return to the obligations of the Covenant. One example and the position that ultimately resulted in his death was the condemnation of Herod, who was king of Galilee under the Romans, for divorcing his wife and ignoring the laws of Moses, by unlawfully wedding the wife of his brother. Again this is John demanding that the leader of the Hebrews follow the laws of God.

Jesus and the Seeds of a New Religion

Because there are a number of stories regarding John and Jesus being together it is probable that these are allusions to actual historical events. It is also probable that John baptised Jesus and that Jesus was counted among the many followers of John. Many scholars however do not believe that it was Jesus that John was forecasting as the Messiah of prophecy. Allusions attributed to John about Jesus in the Bible were most likely added to strengthen the case for Jesus’ divinity.

Jesus was born around 5 B.C. and began his teaching around 29 A.D. or about the same time John the Baptist was imprisoned. While the evidence suggests that John and Jesus were together for a time it is also clear that their messages were very different. While John the Baptist was a Jewish conservative exhorting the people to return to living according to the “laws”, Jesus was a radical who spoke about a new faith with a clear path for everyone to gain entry into heaven. These significant changes in beliefs go to the foundation of the new religion that would look to Jesus as its founder.

While Jesus was clearly associated with the Hebrew conservative John the Baptist, he quickly rejected foundational principles of Judaism. First he seemed to reject the concept of the Jews being God’s chosen people and offered a broadened description of a God that embraced all people willing to accept Him. He created a solid vision and commentary about Heaven as an eternal reward for all the faithful. That was something that had no parallel in the scriptures of Judaism. Thirdly he distilled books of Jewish texts on living a righteous life down to a few simple principles with the core being to treat others as you would want to be treated. Following from that were notions of forgiving others, helping the less fortunate, resisting violence and loving your enemies. Additionally he stressed the need to gain knowledge and insight by understanding one’s self, seeking true understanding and seeing the world as thru the eyes of a child (or innocent). His preaching seemed to suggest that people could find a simpler path to faith and God without the need of priests and traditional rituals and he rejected religious sacrifices and taught repentance and forgiveness of past misdeeds and sins by God.

Contrary to Christian dogma the new faith seemed to have had a number of philosophically different proponents in the years following Jesus’ death. Historically we know that the Disciples traveled widely. Peter preached in Rome where he was martyred by Emperor Nero. St. Andrew was believed to have traveled into Russia and St. Philip preached in western North Africa. James the Younger and Simon traveled into Persia while Bartholomew traveled with Thomas into India. The Disciples seemed to have had varying ideas concerning the message Jesus intended them to preach as well as who Jesus really was. James the Elder preached in Jerusalem, while Peter preached thru Turkey, Greece, Spain and in Rome and much of what they taught became associated with the core theology of the Roman Catholic Church. The other Disciple’s teachings seemed to have evolved into variations incorporating traditions and beliefs of religions of various regions. Thomas’s preaching became the foundation of the Saint Thomas Christians, also called Syrian Christians or Nasrani who incorporated many Hindu and Buddhist traditions into their faith. The Coptic Christians seemed to have adopted the teachings of St Mark as the core of their faith and were very influential in the Council of Nicaea. The Gnostics blended an existing theology with Christian writings attributed to the teachings of Thomas, Philip, Judas and Mary Magdalene.

Enigmatically the self-appointed Disciple Paul, who never knew Jesus and adopted Christianity after Jesus death produced writings forming key sections of the New Testament. Paul became involved in doctrinal disputes amongst the early followers of Christianity and is credited with codifying many aspects of Christianity through his letters to the early churches. St Paul, also known as Saul, ethnically was Jewish, but he was born a Roman Citizen in Tarsus, Cilicia, south Turkey. He grew up in Jerusalem and was raised by Gamaliel, a leading figure in the Jewish religious establishment (Sanhedrin). During his early life, Paul admitted to being party to the persecution of Christians such as the stoning of Stephen, and is believed by some to have been sent by the Sanhedrin to spy on the members of the emerging Christian movement.



Existence Of Time – One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Universe

MessageToEagle | December 19, 2017 | Featured Stories, New Science, Quantum Physics

  1. Sutherland – – Undoubtedly, time is one of the great mysteries of the universe and thinkers, philosophers, scientists and we, ordinary people have pondered the existence of time and what exactly it is, for a long time.


Existence Of Time – One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Universe


Therefore, there are many ‘definitions’ of time because so many people have tried to define it.

So, they say, for example, that ‘time’ is the continued, indefinite progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future, which – as we know – exist all at once; a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also the measure of durations of events and the intervals between them; a continuous, measurable quantity in which events occur in a sequence proceeding from the past through the present to the future, and many more other definitions.

Unfortunately, there is no single definition adopted by ordinary people; they simply cannot exactly define what time is. They often agree that time is a continuum, which follows the scheme past – present – future, and the events happen irreversibly, and they are not able to be avoided.

It means that we agree that time exists and the existence of time seems to be something absolutely normal and real, because we live every day, we function according to routines such as school, work, sleeping etc. and everything is put in time frames to make our lives easier and more disciplined.

Existence Of Time – One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Universe

Many physicists, however, say that time itself does not really exist.

It is an illusion created in human minds and only its existence is coded in our minds. For us, time is ‘running’ and we often say: “time is running…. I must go…” but from the physicists’ point of view, time is not flowing or passing, it – just simply – is.

Moreover, time does not function as a sequence of events that happened, happen now or will happen in the future. These events as part of four-dimensional space-time – exist all at once.


But some of them already happened, some happens and some – for now – remain as a big unknown to us. We humans make difference between past, present and future but as the great Albert Einstein said:

“The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Already in the 16th century, Angelus Silesius (1624 – 1677), a German Catholic priest and physician, known as a mystic and religious poet also said: “Time is of your own making, its clock ticks in your head. The moment you stop thought time too stops dead…”

A few decennia ago, an American theoretical physicist, John Archibald Wheeler (1911 – 2008) together with his colleague, Bryce DeWitt (1923 – 2004), an American theoretical physicist, introduced the term black hole and developed an equation the so-called the ‘Wheeler–DeWitt equation’ that showed that time does not exist as such.

Existence Of Time – One Of The Greatest Mysteries Of The Universe

The equation remained very controversial for a long time because scientists had difficulties to accept that time does not exist at the level of matter.

In his book “About Time: Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution”, Paul Davies writes that “many centuries ago, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the world’s most prominent thinkers specializing in the nature of time, gave a perceptive, if enigmatic, reply to this question: “If no one asks me, I know; but if any person should require me to tell him, I cannot…”

As for time and God, Augustine and several other early Christian thinkers place God in the realm of eternity. “supreme above time because it is a never-ending present.” In this existence, time does not pass; rather, God perceives all times at once…”

Thus, the God of classical Christianity not only exists outside of time, but also knows the future as well as the past and present…”

There are many problems with time and most probably time will remain one of the greatest puzzles of humanity, at least for a longer period of time, because as Prof. Wheeler said:

“Of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than “time.” Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence, to close on itself our quartet of questions, is a task for the future. (From “Hermann Weyl and the Unity of Knowledge”)

Written by A. Sutherland – Staff Writer

Religion, An Examination of History, Beliefs and Connections Number One


Essay Number One

These essays represent a work in progress and use a number of approaches at connecting a diverse collection of religious information, facts and histories and at times represent some of the same information in a different context.

Currently it’s estimated there are as many as six billion of the world’s seven billion people associated with one of the world’s five largest religions. Those numbers alone speak to an appeal that seems to go to the heart of being human. While the significant differences between faiths would suggest that there have to be many people deluded in their choice of beliefs, it also suggests a fundamental spiritual connection in people to the realm of the Devine. For a better understanding of faith it is necessary to explore these religions, their beliefs and the evolution of faith.

With the five major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam there are a number of fundamental similarities but a number of serious differences as well.

Hinduism and Buddhism

The oldest of the five is Hinduism and the one that demonstrates the most evolution in its tradition and core beliefs. The origins of Hinduism are difficult to place. Many believe it dates back as far as 3,000 to 4,000 B.C. and is probably a blending of a number of philosophies and beliefs extant at that time in India. Currently there are a number of sects and many do not even share the same gods. Hinduism has probably evolved from a form similar to the ancient pagan beliefs where the gods stood apart from humanity to its recent forms where the focus is on self or the Hindu Atman. There are a number of sects that do not recognize any gods at all but rather a continuum of levels of Atman. In order to understand the Hindu worldview it is essential to grasp this first and foundational concept. Atman refers to the non-material self, which never changes (similar to the Christian soul). It is distinct from both the thinking brain and the external body. This real self is beyond the temporary designations we normally ascribe to ourselves, in terms of race, gender and even species.

Atman is core to the concept of Karma and reincarnation that are fundamental in the Hindu faith. An integral part of this faith is meditation and its main purpose is to reach inward and recognize Atman and to achieve moksha. In Hindu philosophy moksha is the union with Brahman, the divine foundation of existence, and the experience of blissful “egolessness” or the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.

The common scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas. They are a large body of Hindu texts originating in ancient India, with its Samhita and Brahmanas dating before about 800 B.C. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit hymns, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Hindus consider the Vedas to be apauruṣeya, which means “not of a man, but superhuman” and “impersonal, authorless”. The knowledge in the Vedas is believed in Hinduism to be eternal, uncreated, neither authored by human nor by divine source, but seen, heard and transmitted by sages. The sages are an important part of the Hindu religion. They are called ‘Rishis’. Sages had understanding of things and places which normal people could never imagine, who after intense meditation understood the supreme truth and eternal knowledge, which were composed into hymns.

A popular misconception regarding Hinduism is that it recognizes multiple Gods. At its core Hinduism recognizes just one “God”, “Being” or “Universal Spirit” but it’s their view of him that changes. The individual manifestations recognized by Hinduism are actually avatars of Brahman who is the Supreme Entity.

Buddhism has its origins in Hinduism and is based on the teachings of the Buddha. While Buddhism teaches about the self like the Hindu Atman and Karma, Buddha also believed that it was possible thru proper living and mediation to rise above the eternal cycles and reach Nirvana (moksha). Above all else Buddha taught that knowing self was the ultimate quest and that finding self was an individual process that each person must seek and find on their own. Seeking to understand and know oneself is more important than any teaching or guidance from others. In teaching how one should live Buddha taught the “middle path” or a way of living between sensual indulgence and severe asceticism. The goal of self awareness is Nirvāṇa which literally means “blown out”, as in a candle and refers to the stillness of mind after the fires of desire and worldly delusion have been extinguished.

“We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts, we make our world.”

The Lord Buddha

In both Buddhism and Hinduism is an understanding that behind the material world that we live in is a realm of spirit that is apart from our reality. This spirit dwells in this other reality but also dwells in all life and is an integral part of all living things as well as separate at the same time. Atman, Brahman, moksha, samsara and Nirvāṇa are all various aspects of this other reality. Both also believe that man individually can gain an understanding of this other reality thru meditation and self knowledge. Almost a quarter of all people of faith hold to this belief.

The People of the Book

The other remaining modern major religions are often referred to as the followers of the God of Abraham or the people of the Book. Centered in the Middle East and beginning with the Israelites who accepted the God of Abraham and entered into a covenant with Him between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C. (historical evidence). Continuing with the Christians who followed the teachings of Jesus beginning around 36 A.D. and finally with the Muslims who accepted Muhammad as the final prophet of the God of Abraham around 610 A.D.

While all three faiths believe in and recognize the same God they are actually theologically distinct faiths. From the beginning Judaism represented a closed relationship between specifically the Jewish people and God. Its founder, Abraham accepted a covenant between him and God where he agreed to worship God, live as instructed and God would protect and enrich him and his progeny who would become a nation. Later after Moses led them out of captivity in Egypt, God required them to accept a set of 613 laws that they must live by to receive Gods blessings and protection. These laws of Moses covered almost every aspect of life, from preparing food, civil laws and punishment, rules for priests and kings and how to worship and when. In Judaism there is very little specific doctrine concerning Heaven and an afterlife and until the period of the second temple what did exist is mostly related to specific small Jewish sects.

Originally the belief of a minor middle-eastern tribe, Judaism arose in a region dominated by one of the world’s largest religions of the time, Zoroastrianism. Its roots dated back to 2,000 BC and was also a monotheistic faith, which unlike Judaism supported a strong belief in a Heaven and hell. The Jewish faith evolved through the same period and is defined by dozens of writings and books such as the Talmud and Torah. While much of this writing is historical and represents actual events and people there are scholars who believe a number of these traditions are allegorical or a synthesis of a number of events and traditions. There is current archeological evidence that places the Israelites as a people with aspirations to settle in the Jordon valley or Canaan around 1,200 BC. At that time Canaan was a part of the Egyptian Empire with a number of different local rulers and tribes. Written in the laws of Moses God instructs the Israelites to make war on the tribes of the Canaanite nations and destroy them (Commandment 187 in the Old Testament Law).

Around the time of the birth of Jesus Israel was a nation with Jerusalem as its capital but also part of and under the control of the Roman Empire. Jesus was born to a Jewish family and grew up in the Jewish faith and traditions.

While Christianity is thought to be on a continuum that includes Judaism it wasn’t until the teachings of Jesus and the founding of Christianity that the concept of the soul, Heaven and Hell became a common belief in the region. Christianity personalized the relationship between man and God and shifted the focus to the individual salvation of the soul and a life after death. While Judaism was based on being a member of the faith and accepting the Covenant with God, Christianity was fundamentally based on believing and accepting an individual relationship with God. A major tenant of Christianity is the Trinity where God is represented by three manifestations. God as the Creator and the Father, Jesus as the Son and a part of God made human to save humanity and the Holy Ghost representing the Spirit of God acting in the world. Some claim that this has created challenges to Christianity as a monotheistic religion.

Six hundred years after the life of Jesus the religion of Islam officially began in 610 A.D., when the prophet Muhammad receive divine revelation from the archangel Gabriel, who was recognized in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Islam’s primary belief is in the oneness of God, the one and only one God. Belief in all God’s prophets from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohamed, belief in all God’s holy books (including Torah, Psalms, The Bible, and The Quran), belief in God’s angels, belief in Heaven, the day of Judgment and the destiny of God’s plan for us.

Like Judaism, Islam had a strong emphasis on laws governing society. Islam’s Sharia law is cast from the words of Muhammad, called “hadith,” his actions, called “sunnah,” and the Quran, which he dictated. As written the Sharia law itself cannot be altered but its interpretation, called “fiqh,” by muftis (Islamic jurists) is given some latitude.

As a legal system, the Sharia law is exceptionally broad. While other legal codes regulate public behavior, Sharia regulates public behavior, private behavior, and even private beliefs. Compared to other legal codes, the Sharia law also prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation and favors corporal and capital punishments over incarceration.

While Islam is more functionally aligned with Judaism there are also some major differences. Even though there is a strong theological inclusion of civil laws and individual obligations in the faith, it also shares with Christianity a set of strong beliefs concerning the soul, Heaven and Hell.

Based on a belief in the God of Abraham and the prophetic writings of Mohammad, Islam also provides a detailed vision of the afterlife, mans obligations in worshiping Allah (or “the (al) God (Ilah))” and a code of laws for man with Devine direction. Some religious scholars see Islam as a faith characterized on a continuum with Judaism and Christianity while others see Islam as an evolution from Judaism with Christianity being outside this genesis.

An True Outlier on the Continuum

It would seem that the main religions of the East and those from the Middle East have almost nothing in common as they represent history, culture and philosophy from completely different worlds. There are however a number of scholars that believe that in the case of Christianity that may not be the case. To understand this requires a critical examination of the early history of Christianity.

While accounts of Jesus are recorded in a couple of historical records at the time of his teaching, there are no generally accepted texts known to exist that date back to the period of Jesus life describing his actual teachings. Not until the second and forth centuries AD did a number of writings based an oral tradition provide context and history to His life and a record of elements of his teachings. These writings were as diverse as the beliefs that had grown up around the teachings of the Disciples, Apostles and their followers. In fact there is strong evidence that several of the original Disciples held radically different understandings as to who Jesus was and what His teachings meant.

Christianity as widely understood today did not coalesce into a unified form until the early forth century. To unify the religion and eliminate confusion a council of believers was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine in AD 325 in Nicaea in Bithynia. This first ecumenical council was an effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom. The council established the core beliefs of the faith and accepted one common story relating to who Jesus was. From that point on the Christian “Church” took the position that Jesus was to be recognized as the Son of God and any writings or teachings to the contrary were declared heretical. In addition the council assembled a number of approved gospels and letters into a written testament recognized today as the New Testament of the Bible. The accepted structure and theology of the Christian faith was set going forward and basically continues to this day.

The religion that emerged from this process is not without its contradictions. One fundamental issue involves the accepted relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. John was an esthetic who had a conservative message and whose mission was to accuse the Jews and especially the Jewish leaders of straying from the “law”. It was this message that got him executed. John’s preaching was for a literal interpretation of the law and a demand that the people return to keeping the covenant with the Lord. He was characterized as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path”. At that time there were a number of sects and individuals declaring the prophecy of the coming of the messiah that would liberate Israel from Roman rule.

John the Baptist was a prominent figure proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin of not keeping the covenant with God. It was reported in historical commentaries that people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, as a way of confessing their sins. The Biblical accounts of John baptizing Jesus are probably historically accurate but the connection was probably greatly embellished in the Gospels to associate Jesus with the Jewish prophecies of a messiah.

The problem with this connection between John the Baptist and Jesus is best understood by characterizing Jesus’ ministry and His interpretation of the laws of Moses. Jesus while preaching as a Jewish rabbi often reinterpreted the law. Heb. 7: 18, The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19, (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw nearer to God. And 22, Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

It became evident to Christians from this that the law of Moses was ended by the sacrifice of Christ. To trust in a human priesthood or to still offer animal sacrifices meant that they did not accept the new faith.

In the mid twentieth century a cache of religious documents were found in the Egyptian desert that began to shed light on early Christian history and philosophy. Dating to before the Council of Nicaea, these documents offered additional gospels with significantly different perspectives on the preaching’s of Jesus and what the Disciples believed.

There is a growing consensus among scholars that the new Gospel of Thomas dates to the very beginnings of the Christian era and probably predates the four traditional Gospels at Nicaea. After its discovery, established orthodox groups argued that the Gospel of Thomas was a Gnostic forgery. Most academics currently involved in studies of these documents reject that view. Today most scholars would agree that the Thomas Gospel has opened a new perspective on early Christian beliefs. Recent studies have led to a reappraisal of the events forming “Christian orthodoxy” during the second and third centuries. More importantly, the Gospel of Thomas along with other newly found Gospels are opening a window on a lost spiritual legacy of Christian beliefs. The beginning words of Thomas invite each of us “who has ears to hear” to join in a unique quest:

These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke, and that Didymos Judas Thomas* wrote down. And He said: “Whoever finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.” (Thomas the Apostle, called Didymus which means “the twin”, was probably one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus). If one is willing to look at these texts with an open mind it begins to suggest that much of the mystical foundations of Christianity have been expunged from the faith. Consider the following: “When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”


Religion, An Examination of History, Beliefs and Connections – An Introduction

An Introduction

These essays represent a work in progress and uses a number of approaches at connecting a diverse collection of religious information, facts and histories and at times represent some of the same information in a somewhat different context.

It is not my intention to be radical, to insult anyone for their beliefs or to suggest that faith represents intellectual folly. These essays represent a personnel exploration of my beliefs.

I am an engineer (retired) that lost my faith long ago but has now come to question if science has become a religion itself with a startling number of beliefs unsupported by facts.

When I started questioning these science beliefs and began reading more I discovered there are a great number of mysteries left in the world and that religious beliefs may offer some insight into understanding the mystery that is life.

I hope you find some value in my ramblings…

What the New Atheists Don’t See

To regret religion is to regret Western civilization.

Theodore Dalrymple from City Journal

The British parliament’s first avowedly atheist member, Charles Bradlaugh, would stride into public meetings in the 1880s, take out his pocket watch, and challenge God to strike him dead in 60 seconds. God bided his time, but got Bradlaugh in the end. A slightly later atheist, Bertrand Russell, was once asked what he would do if it proved that he was mistaken and if he met his maker in the hereafter. He would demand to know, Russell replied with all the high-pitched fervor of his pedantry, why God had not made the evidence of his existence plainer and more irrefutable. And Jean-Paul Sartre* came up with a memorable line: “God doesn’t exist—the bastard!”

Sartre’s wonderful outburst of disappointed rage suggests that it is not as easy as one might suppose to rid oneself of the notion of God. (Perhaps this is the time to declare that I am not myself a believer.) At the very least, Sartre’s line implies that God’s existence would solve some kind of problem—actually, a profound one: the transcendent purpose of human existence. Few of us, especially as we grow older, are entirely comfortable with the idea that life is full of sound and fury but signifies nothing. However much philosophers tell us that it is illogical to fear death, and that at worst it is only the process of dying that we should fear, people still fear death as much as ever. In like fashion, however many times philosophers say that it is up to us ourselves, and to no one else, to find the meaning of life, we continue to long for a transcendent purpose immanent in existence itself, independent of our own wills. To tell us that we should not feel this longing is a bit like telling someone in the first flush of love that the object of his affections is not worthy of them. The heart hath its reasons that reason knows not of.

Of course, men—that is to say, some men—have denied this truth ever since the Enlightenment, and have sought to find a way of life based entirely on reason. Far as I am from decrying reason, the attempt leads at best to Gradgrind and at worst to Stalin. Reason can never be the absolute dictator of man’s mental or moral economy.

The search for the pure guiding light of reason, uncontaminated by human passion or metaphysical principles that go beyond all possible evidence, continues, however; and recently, an epidemic rash of books has declared success, at least if success consists of having slain the inveterate enemy of reason, namely religion. The philosophers Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Michel Onfray, and Sam Harris, biologist Richard Dawkins, and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens have all written books roundly condemning religion and its works. Evidently, there is a tide in the affairs, if not of men, at least of authors.

The curious thing about these books is that the authors often appear to think that they are saying something new and brave. They imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat. The public appears to agree, for the neo-atheist books have sold by the hundred thousand. Yet with the possible exception of Dennett’s, they advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14 (Saint Anselm’s ontological argument for God’s existence gave me the greatest difficulty, but I had taken Hume to heart on the weakness of the argument from design).

I first doubted God’s existence at about the age of nine. It was at the school assembly that I lost my faith. We had been given to understand that if we opened our eyes during prayers God would depart the assembly hall. I wanted to test this hypothesis. Surely, if I opened my eyes suddenly, I would glimpse the fleeing God? What I saw instead, it turned out, was the headmaster, Mr. Clinton, intoning the prayer with one eye closed and the other open, with which he beadily surveyed the children below for transgressions. I quickly concluded that Mr. Clinton did not believe what he said about the need to keep our eyes shut. And if he did not believe that, why should I believe in his God? In such illogical leaps do our beliefs often originate, to be disciplined later in life (if we receive enough education) by elaborate rationalization.

Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is the least bad-tempered of the new atheist books, but it is deeply condescending to all religious people. Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.

For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one, are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.

One striking aspect of Dennett’s book is his failure to avoid the language of purpose, intention, and ontological moral evaluation, despite his fierce opposition to teleological views of existence: the coyote’s “methods of locomotion have been ruthlessly optimized for efficiency.” Or: “The stinginess of Nature can be seen everywhere we look.” Or again: “This is a good example of Mother Nature’s stinginess in the final accounting combined with absurd profligacy in the methods.” I could go on, but I hope the point is clear. (And Dennett is not alone in this difficulty: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto, so rich in errors and inexactitudes that it would take a book as long as his to correct them, says on its second page that religion prevents mankind from facing up to “reality in all its naked cruelty.” But how can reality have any moral quality without having an immanent or transcendent purpose?)

No doubt Dennett would reply that he is writing in metaphors for the layman and that he could translate all his statements into a language without either moral evaluation or purpose included in it. Perhaps he would argue that his language is evidence that the spell still has a hold over even him, the breaker of the spell for the rest of humanity. But I am not sure that this response would be psychologically accurate. I think Dennett’s use of the language of evaluation and purpose is evidence of a deep-seated metaphysical belief (however caused) that Providence exists in the universe, a belief that few people, confronted by the mystery of beauty and of existence itself, escape entirely. At any rate, it ill behooves Dennett to condescend to those poor primitives who still have a religious or providential view of the world: a view that, at base, is no more refutable than Dennett’s metaphysical faith in evolution.

Dennett is not the only new atheist to employ religious language. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?

Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.

This sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance, reach an apogee in Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith. It is not easy to do justice to the book’s nastiness; it makes Dawkins’s claim that religious education constitutes child abuse look sane and moderate.

Harris tells us, for example, that “we must find our way to a time when faith, without evidence, disgraces anyone who would claim it. Given the present state of the world, there appears to be no other future worth wanting.” I am glad that I am old enough that I shall not see the future of reason as laid down by Harris; but I am puzzled by the status of the compulsion in the first sentence that I have quoted. Is Harris writing of a historical inevitability? Of a categorical imperative? Or is he merely making a legislative proposal? This is who-will-rid-me-of-this-troublesome-priest language, ambiguous no doubt, but not open to a generous interpretation.

It becomes even more sinister when considered in conjunction with the following sentences, quite possibly the most disgraceful that I have read in a book by a man posing as a rationalist: “The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.”

Let us leave aside the metaphysical problems that these three sentences raise. For Harris, the most important question about genocide would seem to be: “Who is genociding whom?” To adapt Dostoyevsky slightly, starting from universal reason, I arrive at universal madness.

Lying not far beneath the surface of all the neo-atheist books is the kind of historiography that many of us adopted in our hormone-disturbed adolescence, furious at the discovery that our parents sometimes told lies and violated their own precepts and rules. It can be summed up in Christopher Hitchens’s drumbeat in God Is Not Great: “Religion spoils everything.”

What? The Saint Matthew Passion? The Cathedral of Chartres? The emblematic religious person in these books seems to be a Glasgow Airport bomber—a type unrepresentative of Muslims, let alone communicants of the poor old Church of England. It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

A few years back, the National Gallery held an exhibition of Spanish still-life paintings. One of these paintings had a physical effect on the people who sauntered in, stopping them in their tracks; some even gasped. I have never seen an image have such an impact on people. The painting, by Juan Sánchez Cotán, now hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art. It showed four fruits and vegetables, two suspended by string, forming a parabola in a gray stone window.

Even if you did not know that Sánchez Cotán was a seventeenth-century Spanish priest, you could know that the painter was religious: for this picture is a visual testimony of gratitude for the beauty of those things that sustain us. Once you have seen it, and concentrated your attention on it, you will never take the existence of the humble cabbage—or of anything else—quite so much for granted, but will see its beauty and be thankful for it. The painting is a permanent call to contemplation of the meaning of human life, and as such it arrested people who ordinarily were not, I suspect, much given to quiet contemplation.

The same holds true with the work of the great Dutch still-life painters. On the neo-atheist view, the religious connection between Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland is one of conflict, war, and massacre only: and certainly one cannot deny this history. And yet something more exists. As with Sánchez Cotán, only a deep reverence, an ability not to take existence for granted, could turn a representation of a herring on a pewter plate into an object of transcendent beauty, worthy of serious reflection.

I recently had occasion to compare the writings of the neo-atheists with those of Anglican divines of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I was visiting some friends at their country house in England, which had a library of old volumes; since the family of the previous owners had a churchman in every generation, many of the books were religious. In my own neo-atheist days, I would have scorned these works as pertaining to a nonexistent entity and containing nothing of value. I would have considered the authors deluded men, who probably sought to delude others for reasons that Marx might have enumerated.

But looking, say, into the works of Joseph Hall, D.D., I found myself moved: much more moved, it goes without saying, than by any of the books of the new atheists. Hall was bishop of Exeter and then of Norwich; though a moderate Puritan, he took the Royalist side in the English civil war and lost his see, dying in 1656 while Cromwell was still Lord Protector.

Except by specialists, Hall remains almost entirely forgotten today. I opened one of the volumes at random, his Contemplations Upon the Principal Passages of the Holy Story. Here was the contemplation on the sickness of Hezekiah:

Hezekiah was freed from the siege of the Assyrians, but he is surprised with a disease. He, that delivered him from the hand of his enemies, smites him with sickness. God doth not let us loose from all afflictions, when he redeems us from one.

To think that Hezekiah was either not thankful enough for his deliverance, or too much lifted up with the glory of so miraculous a favour, were an injurious misconstruction of the hand of God, and an uncharitable censure of a holy prince; for, though no flesh and blood can avoid the just desert of bodily punishment, yet God doth not always strike with an intuition of sin: sometimes he regards the benefit of our trial; sometimes, the glory of his mercy in our cure.

Hall surely means us to infer that whatever happens to us, however unpleasant, has a meaning and purpose; and this enables us to bear our sorrows with greater dignity and less suffering. And it is part of the existential reality of human life that we shall always need consolation, no matter what progress we make. Hall continues:

When, as yet, he had not so much as the comfort of a child to succeed him, thy prophet is sent to him, with the heavy message of his death: “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.” It is no small mercy of God, that he gives us warning of our end. . . . No soul can want important affairs, to be ordered for a final dissolution.

This is the language not of rights and entitlements, but of something much deeper—a universal respect for the condition of being human.

For Hall, life is instinct with meaning: a meaning capable of controlling man’s pride at his good fortune and consoling him for his ill fortune. Here is an extract from Hall’s Characters of Virtues and Vices:

He is an happy man, that hath learned to read himself, more than all books; and hath so taken out this lesson, that he can never forget it: that knows the world, and cares not for it; that, after many traverses of thoughts, is grown to know what he may trust to; and stands now equally armed for all events: that hath got the mastery at home; so as he can cross his will without a mutiny, and so please it that he makes it not a wanton: that, in earthly things, wishes no more than nature; in spiritual, is ever graciously ambitious: that, for his condition, stands on his own feet, not needing to lean upon the great; and can so frame his thoughts to his estate, that when he hath least, he cannot want, because he is as free from desire, as superfluity: that hath seasonably broken the headstrong restiness of prosperity; and can now manage it, at pleasure: upon whom, all smaller crosses light as hailstones upon a roof; and, for the greater calamities, he can take them as tributes of life and tokens of love; and, if his ship be tossed, yet he is sure his anchor is fast. If all the world were his, he could be no other than he is; no whit gladder of himself, no whit higher in his carriage; because he knows, that contentment lies not in the things he hath, but in the mind that values them.

Though eloquent, this appeal to moderation as the key to happiness is not original; but such moderation comes more naturally to the man who believes in something not merely higher than himself, but higher than mankind. After all, the greatest enjoyment of the usages of this world, even to excess, might seem rational when the usages of this world are all that there is.

In his Occasional Meditations, Hall takes perfectly ordinary scenes—ordinary, of course, for his times—and derives meaning from them. Here is his meditation “Upon the Flies Gathering to a Galled Horse”:

How these flies swarm to the galled part of this poor beast; and there sit, feeding upon that worst piece of his flesh, not meddling with the other sound parts of his skin! Even thus do malicious tongues of detractors: if a man have any infirmity in his person or actions, that they will be sure to gather unto, and dwell upon; whereas, his commendable parts and well-deservings are passed by, without mention, without regard. It is an envious self-love and base cruelty, that causeth this ill disposition in men: in the mean time, this only they have gained; it must needs be a filthy creature, that feeds upon nothing but corruption.

Surely Hall is not suggesting (unlike Dennett in his unguarded moments) that the biological purpose of flies is to feed off injured horses, but rather that a sight in nature can be the occasion for us to reflect imaginatively on our morality. He is not raising a biological theory about flies, in contradistinction to the theory of evolution, but thinking morally about human existence. It is true that he would say that everything is part of God’s providence, but, again, this is no more (and no less) a metaphysical belief than the belief in natural selection as an all-explanatory principle.

Let us compare Hall’s meditation “Upon the Sight of a Harlot Carted” with Harris’s statement that some people ought perhaps to be killed for their beliefs:

With what noise, and tumult, and zeal of solemn justice, is this sin punished! The streets are not more full of beholders, than clamours. Every one strives to express his detestation of the fact, by some token of revenge: one casts mire, another water, another rotten eggs, upon the miserable offender. Neither, indeed, is she worthy of less: but, in the mean time, no man looks home to himself. It is no uncharity to say, that too many insult in this just punishment, who have deserved more. . . . Public sins have more shame; private may have more guilt. If the world cannot charge me of those, it is enough, that I can charge my soul of worse. Let others rejoice, in these public executions: let me pity the sins of others, and be humbled under the sense of my own.

Who sounds more charitable, more generous, more just, more profound, more honest, more humane: Sam Harris or Joseph Hall, D.D., late lord bishop of Exeter and of Norwich?

No doubt it helps that Hall lived at a time of sonorous prose, prose that merely because of its sonority resonates in our souls; prose of the kind that none of us, because of the time in which we live, could ever equal. But the style applies to the thought as well as the prose; and I prefer Hall’s charity to Harris’s intolerance.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

* This quotation is from Samuel Beckett, not Sartre. We regret the error.