Look upon the rainbow,
and praise Him that made it;
very beautiful it is
in the brightness thereof.
It compasseth the heaven
about with a glorious circle,
and the hands of the most High
have bended it.
By his commandment he maketh
the snow to fall aplace,
and sendeth swiftly
the lightnings of his judgment.
Through this the treasures
and clouds fly forth as fowls.
By His great power
He maketh the clouds firm, and the hailstones are broken small.
At His sight the mountains are shaken,
and at His will the south wind bloweth.
The noise of the thunder maketh the earth to tremble:
so doth the northern storm and the whirlwind:
as birds flying
He scattereth the snow,
and the falling down thereof
is as the lighting of grasshoppers:
The eye marvelleth at the beauty of the whiteness thereof,
and the heart is astonished
at the raining of it."
- Ecclesiasticus 43:11 - 18
People were "astonished"
by purely natural events
which they assumed
to be works of a God
including the bending
of the rainbow by "Him".
What does this tell us
about the origins of religions?
Modern believers typically see these types of Bible writings as "poetic"
and "being an acknowledgement
of God as the ultimate Source".
Is it really intellectually valid
to ascribe this capability
of abstract reasoning
to primitive people
like Jephthah who sacrificed
his only daughter "to God"
when "the Spirit of the LORD
came upon Jephthah"
( Judges 11:29 onwards )
or the temple priests who faithfully
performed the blood rituals
in New Testament times
until Yochanan ben Zakka
convinced them to forget
"God's specific instructions"?
No, the writers would have believed these things to be literally true.
Their meaning was:
"God personally bends the rainbow,
personally scatters the snow,
lightning is God's judgement,
the south wind blows when He wills it, etc"
Have a look at "Heavenly Dreams"
This is how religious understanding changes as people understand the world more completely,
but devout people
( whether Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Christian, and all the varients and smaller religions )
habitually do not think
"the whole idea
was incorrect from the start..."
"Our God was made by men,
sculptured by savages
who did the best they could.
They made our God somewhat like themselves,
and gave to him their passions,
their ideas of right and wrong.
As man advanced
he slowly changed his God
- took a little ferocity from his heart,
and put a little kindness in his eyes.
As man progressed
he obtained a wider view,
extending his intellectual horizon,
and again he changed his God,
making him as nearly perfect as he could,
and yet this God was patterned after those who made him...."
"Time for another reformation :
From being "Sky - Daddy" centered to being centered on Humanity.
From concentrating on fables & old texts to facing facts & reality.
From worrying about displeasing an imaginary Almighty
to eliminating the inhumanity of how some people have to live.
From seeing this life as a rehersal to living it now.
From being sheep led by a shepherd
to being humans finding our way forward...."
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and the "Nocontests"...
by Professor Richard Dawkins,
extracted from The Nullifidian (Dec 94)
( Richard Dawkins, well-known for his books on evolution,
took part in a debate with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood,
on the existence of God at the Edinburgh science festival Easter '92 .
The science correspondent of The Observer reported that Richard Dawkins clearly believed that
"God should be spoken of in the same way as Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy". )
"Religious people split into three main groups when faced with science.
I shall label them the "Know-nothings",
and the "Nocontests".
I suspect that Dr John Habgood, the Archbishop of York,
probably belongs to the third of these groups, so I shall begin with them.
The "No-contests" are rightly reconciled to the fact
that religion cannot compete with science on its own ground.
They think there is no contest between science and religion, because they are simply about different things.
The biblical account of the origin of the universe
(the origin of life, the diversity of species, the origin of man)
-- all those things are now known to be untrue.
The "No-contests" have no trouble with this;
they regard it as naive in the extreme, almost bad taste to ask of a biblical story, is it true?
True, they say, true? Of course it isn't true in any crude literal sense.
Science and religion are not competing for the same territory.
They are about different things.
They are equally true, but in their different ways.
A favourite and thoroughly meaningless phrase is "religious dimension".
You meet this in statements such as "science is all very well as far as it goes,
but it leaves out the religious dimension".
The "Know-nothings", or fundamentalists, are in one way more honest.
They are true to history.
They recognize that, until recently, one of religion's main functions was scientific:
the explanation of existence, of the universe, of life.
Historically, most religions have had or even been a cosmology and a biology.
I suspect that today if you asked people to
justify their belief in God, the dominant reason would be scientific.
Most people, I believe, think that you need a God to explain the existence
the world, and especially the existence of life.
They are wrong, but our education system is such that many people don't know it.
They are also true to history because you can't escape the scientific
implications of religion.
A universe with a God would look quite different from a universe without one.
A physics, a biology where there is a God is bound to look different.
So the most basic claims of religion are scientific.
Religion is a scientific theory.
I am sometimes accused of arrogant intolerance in my treatment of
Of course arrogance is an unpleasant characteristic,
should hate to be thought arrogant in a general way.
But there are limits!
To get some idea of what it is like being a professional student of
asked to have a serious debate with creationists,
comparison is a fair one:
Imagine yourself a classical scholar
spent a lifetime studying Roman history in all its rich detail.
Now somebody comes along, with a degree in marine engineering or
and tries to argue that the Romans never existed.
Wouldn't you find it hard to suppress your impatience?
And mightn't it look a bit like arrogance?
My third group, the "Know-alls"
(I unkindly name them that because I find their position patronising),
think religion is good for people, perhaps good for society.
Perhaps good because it consoles them in death or bereavement,
perhaps because it provides a moral code.
Whether or not the actual beliefs of the religion are true doesn't matter. ( to this group - editor )
Maybe there isn't a God;
we educated people know there is precious little evidence for one,
let alone for ideas such as the Virgin birth
or the Resurrection;
but "the uneducated masses" need a God to keep them out
of mischief or to comfort them in bereavement.
The little matter of God's probable non-existence
can be brushed to one side in the interest of "greater social good".
I need say not more about the "Know-alls" because
they wouldn't claim to have anything to contribute to scientific truth.
Is God a Superstring?
I shall now return to the "No-contests".
The argument they mount is certainly worth serious examination,
but I think that we shall find it has little more merit than those of the other groups.
"God is not an old man with a white beard in the sky".
Right then, what is God?
And now come the weasel words. these are very variable.
"God is not out there, he is in all of us."
God is the ground of all being."
"God is the essence of life."
"God is the universe."
"Don't you believe in the universe?" "Of course I believe in the universe."
"Then you believe in God."
"God is love,
don't you believe in love?"
"Right, then you believe in God"
Modern physicists sometimes wax a bit mystical when they contemplate
such as why the big bang happened when it did,
why the laws of physics are these laws and not those laws,
why the universe exists at all, and so on.
Sometimes physicists may resort to saying that
there is an
inner core of mystery that we don't understand, and perhaps never can;
and they may then say that perhaps this inner core of mystery is another
name for God.
Or in Stephen Hawkings's words, if we understand these
things, we shall perhaps "know the mind of God."
The trouble is that God in this sophisticated, physicist's sense
resemblance to the God of the Bible or any other religion.
If a physicist says God is another name for Planck's constant, or God is a superstring,
we should take it as a picturesque metaphorical way of saying that the
nature of superstrings or the value of Planck's constant is a profound
It has obviously not the smallest connection with a being capable of forgiving sins,
a being who might listen to prayers,
who cares about whether or not the Sabbath begins at 5pm or 6pm,
whether you wear a veil or have a bit of arm showing;
and no connection whatever
with a being capable of imposing a death penalty on His son
to expiate the sins of the world before and after he was born.
The Fabulous Bible
The same is true of attempts to identify the big bang of modern
with the myth of Genesis.
There is only an utterly trivial resemblance between the sophisticated conceptions of modern physics,
and the creation myths of the Babylonians and the Jews that we have
What do the "No-contests" say about those parts of scripture and
that once-upon-a-time would have been unquestioned
religious and scientific truths;
the creation of the world, the creation of life,
the various miracles of the Old and New Testaments,
survival after death, the Virgin Birth?
These stories have become, in the hands of the "No-contests",
little more than moral fables,
the equivalent of Aesop, of Hans Anderson.
There is nothing wrong with that,
but it is irritating that
they almost never admit this is what they are doing.
For instance, I recently heard the previous Chief Rabbi, Sir Immanuel
talking about the evils of racism.
Racism is evil, and it deserves a better argument against it that the one he gave.
Adam and Eve, he argued, were the ancestors of all human kind.
Therefore, all human kind belongs to one race, the human race.
What are we going to make of an argument like that?
The Chief Rabbi is an educated man, he obviously doesn't believe in Adam and Eve,
so what exactly did he think he was saying?
He must have been using Adam and Eve as a fable,
just as one might use
the story of Jack the Giantkiller or Cinderella to illustrate some laudable
I have the impression that clergymen are so used to treating the biblical
stories as fables
that they have forgotten the difference between fact and
It's like the people who, when somebody dies on The Archers,
write letters of condolence to the others.
As a Darwinian, something strikes me when I look at religion.
Religion shows a pattern of heredity which I think is similar to genetic heredity.
The vast majority of people have an allegiance to one particular religion.
there are hundreds of different religious sects,
and every religious person is loyal to just one of those.
Out of all of the sects in the world, we notice an uncanny coincidence:
the overwhelming majority just happen to choose the one that their
parents belong to.
Not the sect that has the best evidence in its favour,
the best miracles, the best moral code, the best cathedral,
the best stained glass, the best music:
when it comes to choosing from the smorgasbord of available religions, their potential virtues seem to count for nothing,
compared to the matter of heredity.
This is an unmistakable fact; nobody could seriously deny it.
Yet people with full knowledge of the arbitrary nature of this heredity,
somehow manage to go on believing in their religion,
often with such fanaticism that they are prepared to murder people who follow a different one.
Truths about the cosmos are true all around the universe.
They don't differ in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Poland, or Norway.
Yet, we are apparently prepared to accept that the religion we adopt is a matter of
an accident of geography.
If you ask people why they are convinced of the truth of their religion,
they don't appeal to heredity.
Put like that it sounds too obviously stupid.
Nor do they appeal to evidence.
There isn't any, and nowadays the better educated admit it.
No, they appeal to faith.
Faith is the great cop-out,
the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.
Faith is belief in spite of,
even perhaps because of,
the lack of evidence.
The worst thing is that the rest of us are supposed to respect it;
to treat it with kid gloves.
If a slaughterman doesn't comply with the law in respect of cruelty to
he is rightly prosecuted and punished;
but if he complains that
his cruel practices are necessitated by religious faith,
we back off
apologetically and allow him to get on with it.
Any other position that
someone takes up
can expect to be defended with reasoned argument.
Faith is allowed not to justify itself by argument.
Faith must be respected; and if you don't respect it,
you are accused of violating human rights.
Even those with no faith have been brainwashed into respecting the
faith of others.
When so-called Muslim community leaders go on the
radio and advocate the killing of Salman Rushdie,
they are clearly
committing incitement to murder
-- a crime for which they would
ordinarily be prosecuted and possibly imprisoned.
But are they arrested?
They are not, because our secular society "respects" their faith,
and sympathises with the deep "hurt" and "insult" to it.
Well I don't.
I will respect your views if you can justify them;
but if you justify your views only by saying you have faith in them,
I shall not respect them.
I want to end by returning to science.
It is often said, mainly by the "Nocontests",
that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of
nor is there evidence against his existence.
So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic.
At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak
sense of Pascal's wager.
But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out,
because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies.
There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden.
There is no evidence for it,
but you can't prove that there aren't any,
so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
The trouble with the agnostic argument is that it can be applied to
There is an infinite number of hypothetical beliefs we could
hold which we can't positively disprove.
On the whole, people don't believe in most of them, such as fairies, unicorns, dragons, Father Christmas, and so on.
But on the whole they do believe in a creator God,
together with whatever particular baggage goes with the religion of
I suspect the reason is that most people,
though not belonging to the
nevertheless have a residue of feeling that
Darwinian evolution isn't quite big enough to explain everything about
All I can say as a biologist is that the feeling disappears
progressively the more you read about and study what is known about
life and evolution.
I want to add one thing more.
The more you understand the significance of evolution,
the more you are pushed away from the agnostic position
and towards atheism.
Complex, statistically improbable things are by their nature more difficult to explain than simple, statistically probable things.
The great beauty of Darwin's theory of evolution
is that it explains how
complex, difficult to understand things could have arisen
from simple, easy to understand beginnings.
We start our explanation from almost infinitely simple beginnings:
and a huge amount of energy.
Our scientific, Darwinian explanations
carry us through a series of well-understood gradual steps
to all the
spectacular beauty and complexity of life.
The alternative hypothesis, that it was all started by a supernatural
creator, is not only superfluous, it is also highly improbable.
It falls foul of the very argument that was originally put forward in its favour.
This is because any God worthy of the name
must have been a being of
colossal intelligence, a supermind,
an entity of extremely low
-- a very improbable being indeed.
Even if the postulation of such an entity explained anything
(and we don't need it to),
it still wouldn't help because it raises a bigger mystery than it solves.
Science offers us an explanation of how complexity (the difficult)
out of simplicity (the easy).
The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything,
for it simply postulates what we are trying to explain.
It postulates the difficult to explain, and leaves it at that.
We cannot prove that there is no God,
but we can safely conclude the He is very, very improbable indeed."
This is very comprehensive,
re-reading now it will be rewarding.
I recommend returning to it periodicly, again & again.
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