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N. Zitouni, artwork no. 11

N. Zitouni, artwork no. 29b

More here.

‘We talk, we utter words, and only later do we get a picture of their life’ (PI p. 209)

Recent works by the like of Sam Harris which challenge religion seem to me to belong to this way of seeing things. It is not clear presently what is to be done, how the atheist criticism of religion is to be used or taken by religious believers. It is much too soon to say. Both parties each have a ‘battlecry’, and there is a lot of talk. And this is how it is, because we do not learn everything at once, and our grasp of each part is complete only once we have mastered the whole.

Sam Harris claims to understand the ‘whole’ that comprises the more pernicious or dogmatic aspects of monotheistic religion – do we say the same of religious believers? Carl Sagan once said: ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. Harris directs this challenge to the religious believer. What is his expectation? He talks, certainly – but, to believers, he utters mere words. They do not have any whit of their life, or so it seems to me.

By the way, the disturbing irony of the zoo is this: human desire for intimate contact with nature in the zoo robs it of its natural fitness and strength. The result of animal containment in cages is emaciation and muscle-wasting; is this the intended picture of human contact with wildlife?

Nothing shames me more than the spectacle of a zoo animal robbed of its strength. It is troubling to feel shame for those creatures who have no capacity for it. We use them.

Sam Harris


We are preparing to run another fMRI study of belief and disbelief, and we need volunteers to help us refine our experimental stimuli. This promises to be the first study of religious faith at the level of the brain. By responding to the four surveys I have posted online, you can make an enormous contribution to this work.

You’ll find links to these surveys on my home page.

Please answer as many of the surveys as you can. If you only have time to answer one, please choose at random (otherwise, we will have many more responses to the first than to the others).

Feel free to post this message to your blog or to forward the relevant links to your friends. I especially need Christians to respond, as one of the goals of these surveys is to design stimuli that a majority of Christians will find doctrinally sound.

I will, of course, pass along the results of this work the moment I have something to report.

Many thanks for your help.

All the best,


The Conversion on the Way to Damascus,
Caravaggio, 1600-1601 

78. I am currently reading Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough. Fascinating stuff. Here is a snippet:

One could say ‘every view has it charm’, but that would be false. The correct thing to say is that every view is significant for the one who sees it as significant (but that does not mean, sees it other than it is). Indeed, in this sense, every view is equally significant (p. 135).

Changing a view or intellectual orientation is difficult to effect in someone else, and may be impossible in cases where the view is interwoven with a person’s intellectual identity or Weltanschauung (e.g., could we imagine changing Frege’s mind that number-words must stand for things?).

On the other hand, it seems natural to want to engage a person in this project of persuasion. We may invite someone to view things differently, and he may succeed in this achieving this task. We may effect a change in the view of a single person, or we may effect a change in the view of many people, or even an entire generation. A view or way of seeing something is therefore always someone’s view or way of seeing something, and if we change a view we change the life of a person.

This is what I take from Wittgenstein’s remark above that ‘every view is significant for the one who sees it as significant’ (I think it may find some common ground with what Gordon Baker has written about Wittgenstein).

65. We are all atheists with regard to Zeus. Why not God? The culture and civilization which lent belief to Zeus and which, as it were, gave life to him no longer exists, and we do not believe in him. But, the regular ways of acting which found belief in God in today’s society seem to me yet quite steady and firm.

May 2018
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