I have the privilege of having among my friends five Australian scientists. Ron Vernon is one of them, but he prefers I not present his academic, professional and publishing credentials. He had a Protestant upbringing; he is a scientist and an atheist (two of my five scientist friends are not). After viewing a debate to which I referred him, between Richard Dawkins and British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sachs (September 12, 2012), he informed me of his reaction to another debate, this one between Sam Harris and Rabbi David Wolpe. He has kindly allowed me to share his brief e-mail comments with you. I am delighted to publish them here, under two separate headings.
CAN THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND BIOLOGY BE SUSPENDED ?
“Having just been weaned on Dawkins versus Lord Rabbi, I decided to chance my hand on Sam Harris versus yet another Rabbi, namely David Wolpe (You Tube has a lot to answer for). I persevered ( Heaven knows I did), but I finally bogged down on Wolpe’s assertion (in relation to Harris’ challenge about virgin birth) that the claim that natural laws (which themselves are an article of faith) can never be suspended is a claim that is unprovable, and there’s no reason why a Christian cannot say that the laws of biology have been suspended or will be suspended some time in the future. So evidently, if you are a Christian, you can cancel well-studied scientific observations at will. I guess that’s what miracles are all about. That’s handy. Assertions may be convenient and fun, but they are hardly evidence.”
NO RELIGION, NO JOY ?
“Early in the piece, Sam Harris was asked how people can find life worth living without a religious attitude. He replied that he operates as though life is worth living, but then went on to discuss all sorts of spiritual approaches, used in order to gradually approach happiness. This is all very well, but I have never found that transcendental meditation does any good for me. My attitude is somewhat more pragmatic. I suggest that because you are alive, you behave instinctively. That is what we animals do. It is not a tragedy. It is just life. Can this situation be tolerable or even enjoyable ? Of course it can. We cannot predict what will happen next, and so each moment is an exciting prospect. Will it be enjoyable or sad ? Whatever turns up, it will be at least interesting and possibly even exciting. Life is an opportunity for most of us, a disaster for some unfortunately, and we will never know into which category we will be suddenly plunged. The Universe doesn’t care either way. All we can do is make the most of what we have, right now, and try to be resolute enough to deal with whatever turns up, good or bad. It’s tough, but it’s life. The problem is that we humans have evolved to be intelligent enough to appreciate potential shortcomings in the future and therefore to (understandably) develop anxieties about them. That’s where the dreaded religion comes in, and many people need it.”
(By coincidence, in the final paragraph of my book, I ask the same question addressed to Sam Harris. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote : “Is life worth living ? Fulton Sheen’s famous answer was a resounding ‘Yes !’. So is mine. Life is worth living, for as long as it lasts. Believers say, ‘Thank God I’m alive !’. Atheists can agree that they too feel lucky to have life, but without attributing it to God, nor giving it meaning because of an imagined future life. WYSIWYG : What You See Is What You Get. Let’s make the most of it, while there is still time.”)