Jonathan Sacks and Richard Dawkins debate at BBC festival – streamed live tonight


Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks will meet on Wednesday in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

This will be streamed live from the BBC website

The festival, hosted by the BBC at MediaCityUK, runs from 12-13 September.

It aims to explore and debate ethical and religious issues affecting society.

This will be the second time that Prof Dawkins and Lord Sacks have exchanged their opposing views on faith and science in a public arena.

In October 2011, Andrew Marr discussed the wonders of nature with Prof Dawkins, Lord Sacks and cosmologist Prof Lisa Randall in BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week.

In that occasion, Prof Dawkins’s contribution touched upon the beauty of the physical universe, and highlighted the supremacy of scientific discourse over myth or faith in the explanation of reality.

But Lord Sacks said that, while science provides facts, religion gives meaning; humans, he said, need both.

Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, the Chief Rabbi reiterated that view.

He told the BBC: “There is a belief that science and religion cannot coexist, that the advance of one is to the detriment of the other.

“I believe this is wrong.”

He added that there was “more to life than science and more to religion than ignorance and superstition”.

“What is needed, now more than ever, is a conversation between the forces of science and those of religion,” said the Chief Rabbi.

“Richard Dawkins is a gifted scientist and someone who has contributed a great amount to our understanding of the world.

“I hope we will be pleasantly surprised and realise that there is a very strong argument for saying that, despite obvious differences, there can, and must, be a great partnership between science and religion.”

. . .

Written By: Flavia Di Consiglio – BBC
continue to source article at


  1. “The Dawk”? I’m not sure how Richard would feel about having that as a sobriquet. It’s not that bad when written down but when spoken aloud it sounds quite a bit like “The Dork”.

  2. I hope Richard doesn’t hold back at all and destroies this guy .. I don’t care whether people say Richard is too “strident” apparently nothing changed yet .. so he is not “strident” enough!

  3. “But Lord Sacks said that, while science provides facts, religion gives meaning; humans, he said, need both.”

    Does the Bible or the Torah actually say why god decided to create humanity? If it does I can’t find the passage. If simply doing what a powerful entity tells you to do is what goes for meaning these days then count me out.

  4. The one statement that all three participants seemed to agree on, but  which I don’t agree with is that humans are merely “seekers of meaning”. Reducing us to that completely ignores our social nature. Things like meaning, love or comfort are intrinsically human concepts. No other system or entity we know of shares them. But if these things are intrinsic to us, then only we can create them for each other.

    In my opinion this is one of the areas where it is most apparent that we were not born to live in solitude, but rather as part of a kind of meta-organism, be it in the form of a family or some other form of community. It is only in such an environment, where we are connected, that we can find the things we desire.

    Yes, we are seekers of meaning, but if we are to find what we seek, then we also have to be creators of meaning. It is very difficult to do that on one’s own and much easier to do in a mutual fashion. And in my experience it works best if we are part of a community that is greater, more powerful than each one of us individually, something that takes on an emergent existence in its own right and hence can act as a source of things like meaning and comfort.

    Religion as a source for these things only seems to be required if our social bonds are not sufficiently close and deep. However, to have such bonds does not necessarily mean sacrificing one’s individuality. As someone who comes from a cultural background with close family ties, where the separation between individual members of a family is somewhat blurred, I would say that existence as an individual and being a building block of something greater, complement each other quite nicely. And also, for me living in such an environment eliminates any need for a “virtual” source of meaning such as religion.

  5. Sacks continually misses the point. We were all born with the capacity for love, awe, appreciation of the numinous and transcendent and so forth, religious or not. His fear that we’ll all evolve into cold robots due to higher rational understanding is ridiculous.

    Quaint and ironic, his assertion that science only analyzes but religion synthesizes.

  6. Katy–c’mon,c’mon,…. so prim and proper about “sobriquets”, yet so interestingly Freudian on your 
    interpretive take of my enthusiastically cast epithet. Could it be possible that you live near New Yawk???
    Do you eat your Oreo cookies with the fingers, or should the fingers be eaten separately???

    You can call me anything you like, except late for dinner!!

    Best regards,

    The Kid 

  7. i heard it’s going to be a cage match ultimate debate. earlier today at the pre-debate press conference, it was reported that richard dawkins  referred to his opponent as a “denebian slime devil”. ooooh, them’s debatin’ words!

  8. Mr Sacks would not answer the question, did Abraham actually tie his son up and put him on an alter.  Is this just editing or did he really avoid the question. 

    Then Mr Sacks went on about how children are not the property of parents but still insists upon his right to indoctrinate children (and, although not mentioned, I bet he also demands the right of parents to inflict bodily injury on children for religious reasons).

    All in all, a rather pathetic sermon from the rabbi. Religion doesn’t give any answers, let alone answer “why?”

  9. Didn’t God send 2 she bears to despatch a crowd of children for the heinous crime of calling a baldy man…guess what, a baldy man…..literal or analogous Sacks? If analogy, what’s it analogy for?

  10. I’ve just watched the BBC programme hosted by Sacks. I feel saddened by what seems to be constant sniping from both sides in the ‘religion v science’ debate, but wanted to say that my respect for Richard Dawkins grew hugely tonight. In a discussion that seemed devoid of aggression, it was encouraging to see that there can be communality in the midst of such differing opinions.

  11. Just watched it. Total waste of space. Civilised but irrelevant. Sacks would be well advised to spend and evening youtubing Hitch’s debates, then he would not find it necessary to waste license payers’ money on ingratiating himself to find points of commonality after setting up the straw man of polar opposites.

  12. Rabbi Sacks: “Without God, we are without hope.”

    What a blatantly, manipulative liar. There is absolutely no required connection between the fact of feeling hopeful about anything and the belief of a God (whatever ‘god’ might mean — as we all know, God is whatever goes).

    I like Rabbi Sacks. But he is a man who works (essential part of the job description of a religious leader) in the wholesale distribution of lies, and that should at least be published as a fact. Not only that, by the way he sounds in the discussion, thoroughly enjoys the religious habit as well.

  13. From there Elisha went up to Bethel.  While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him.  “Go up baldhead,” they shouted, “go up baldhead!”  The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces.  (2 Kings 2:23-24 NAB)

  14.  If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins.  I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted.  (Leviticus 26:21-22 NLT)

  15. Anyone who is captured will be run through with a sword.  Their little children will be dashed to death right before their eyes.  Their homes will be sacked and their wives raped by the attacking hordes.  For I will stir up the Medes against Babylon, and no amount of silver or gold will buy them off.  The attacking armies will shoot down the young people with arrows.  They will have no mercy on helpless babies and will show no compassion for the children.  (Isaiah 13:15-18 NLT)
    Don’t pretend yer scripture is all about the children Sacks, it is clearly not….and BTW, cutting the skin of children’s genitals because a woo woo book says so, does feck all for yer credibility. 

  16. I have just watched this programme. I must ask one question, Surely, if Lord Sacks is so sure about his faith, then he must be able to answer the question that destroys every “Born again Christian” and “Jehovah’s Witness”etc., that I have ever met. It is, If God made the universe et al, who the heck made God?
    Yes, it is an “in your face” question but it is a question that deserves an honest answer, yet it is a question that is always sidestepped on programmes such as this, and is never answered in any sensible way by those who claim knowledge of religion!

  17. Am I upset? Have a guess? Am spitting feathers ffs. Very disappointed. I don’t do accommodationism when it it comes to bullshit, and neither should those that are patently better equipped to know better.

  18. First, in order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t have an explanation of the explanation. This is an elementary point concerning inference to the best explanation as practiced in the philosophy of science. If archaeologists digging in the earth were to discover things looking like arrowheads and hatchet heads and pottery shards, they would be justified in inferring that these artifacts are not the chance result of sedimentation and metamorphosis, but products of some unknown group of people, even though they had no explanation of who these people were or where they came from. Similarly, if astronauts were to come upon a pile of machinery on the back side of the moon, they would be justified in inferring that it was the product of intelligent, extra-terrestrial agents, even if they had no idea whatsoever who these extra-terrestrial agents were or how they got there. In order to recognize an explanation as the best, one needn’t be able to explain the explanation. In fact, so requiring would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed. So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the designer

  19. Did Sacks give Richard Dawkins a straight answer on the important question? Is the nonsense literal or not? The Old Testament is demonstrably bogus, and Jewish theologians know this as a fact.

  20.  So in the case at hand, in order to recognize that intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe, one needn’t be able to explain the designer 

    Problem is, for every inference of an intelligent designer. science has a better explanation…go figure.

  21. I could list many as you can come up with, but my time is limited to reasonable requests. Never one to disappoint though, lets start with one of the biggies….you and I…abiogenesis and evolution. As for the explanation, don’t be a lazy twat, read some books or surf the web.

    Ah what the hell, lets have another….

    Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day

    Gobbledygook…no God (intelligent designer)…the firmament was created 4.5 billion years ago when…

    …the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the explosion of a nearby star (called a supernova). This explosion made waves in space which squeezed the cloud of gas and dust. Squeezing made the cloud start to collapse, as gravity pulled the gas and dust together, forming a solar nebula. Just like a dancer that spins faster as she pulls in her arms, the cloud began to spinas it collapsed. Eventually, the cloud grew hotter and denser in the center, with a disk of gas and dust surrounding it that was hot in the center but cool at the edges. As the disk got thinner and thinner, particles began to stick together and form clumps. Some clumps got bigger, as particles and small clumps stuck to them, eventually forming planets or moons . Near the center of the cloud, where planets like Earth formed, only rocky material could stand the great heat. Etc., etc., etc….

    No designer required, intelligent or otherwise.

  22. Sacks: “Heaven help us when religion loses its humility.”


    I found this programme to be an extremely sly and conniving attempt to make religion appear to be something it most definitely is not, and it was a very cheap trick to get the scientists to endorse this false image. How could Richard do anything other than agree with the Rabbi’s closing statements, yet those statements do not reflect the truth about religion.

    The greatest conflict is not that which lies between science and religion, it is that which lies within religion. The Rabbi revealed that he values questioning, and yet at the same time he values indoctrination. Those 2 values are incompatible. Science has no such problems of dissonance within its discipline.

  23. Firstly, we could try and leave the aggressive language out of things – we’re only having a discussion. You seem to be under the impression that I think evolution and religion are incompatible. I don’t.

    “the solar system was formed when a cloud of gas and dust in space was disturbed, maybe by the explosion of a nearby star (called a supernova)”

    When did space begin and how? Where did the nearby star come from and how was that formed?

    Just interested in the explanation of your explanation. Might I suggest you follow your own suggestion to ‘read some books’ and maybe not just ones that already support your existing view? I’ve read Dawkins, Hitchins et al as I want to hear both sides of the argument, rather than being a ‘lazy twat’

  24. Firstly, we could try and leave the aggressive language out of things – we’re only having a discussion.

    What is aggressive language? Having had a career in the armed forces, I can assure you I know what aggressive language is, I haven’t started yet.

    You seem to be under the impression that I think evolution and religion are incompatible. I don’t.

    I’m under no impressions whatsoever, I’m addressing your comment. FYI, I think religion and science ARE incompatible.

    When did space begin and how? Where did the nearby star come from and how was that formed?

    In the context of this discussion, it matters not a jote. As a point of reference, those ignorant authors of the Bible didn’t know that the firmament, visable aspects of the galaxy, were billions of years old and formed at different epochs…never mind the modern concept of a 13.7 billion year old Universe.

    Just interested in the explanation of your explanation. Might I suggest you follow your own suggestion to ‘read some books’ and maybe not just ones that already support your existing view?

    I’m always open to learning more. Which books would you suggest?

    I’ve read Dawkins, Hitchins et al as I want to hear both sides of the argument, rather than being a ‘lazy twat’

    What is the opposing  “argument”  to evolution then, just to use an example, since we are debating on an evolutionary biologists website?

  25. Sacks came across as such an unctuous douchbag in that BBC programme. His goal seems to be to put religion on a par with science… yea… dream on Rabbi. 

  26. Amos,

    Relax, man!!!! You are one overheated cookie! We need your usual sagacity for commentary on future threads!! My computer screen is melting before my eyes already!! There’re still too few enough of us as
    it is!!!

  27. One would hope the BBC would allow an atheist scientist to put their questions, and more importantly commentary and opinions, before, during, and after they ask questions or posit hypotheticals to any faithead in a rebuttal program.  I won’t hold my breath.

  28. I wanted to find a Christian perspective on this so I went  here .

    Check out the reply by Anon User and the subsequent comments about his reply. The callousness of the responses are pretty striking. “Hey the town made a covenant with god and the kids broke it so they had to die. Actions have consequences.”

  29. Lord Sacks seems to think that if he speaks in slow, low and somewhat hushed tones, his ideas will somehow take on the vestige of deep meaning, gravitas or insight; they don’t!

  30. Fear not KidChicago!

    There’s romance in the air and Amos is only just getting started with a little game of “just the tip.”

    Mr Blob, I think I understand what you meant ( If you meant that before the universe and before the big bang god created everything* ) but you weren’t exactly erudite in your choice of vocabulary. You will have to trust me when I say that Amos has been frequenting this site for many years now and during that time he has produced many a fascinating document frequently to my astonishment,  and although his language is tres dominant there is absolutely no need for admonishment, ta-da!
    Seriously though, this site has seen every wannabe philosopher/theologian/hippy try and “hit us with some knowledge” and we can count on Amos amongst many others to first challenge the drivel trying to pass as intelligent thought and then counter it with links to evidence to the contrary, not always proof exactly, but at least it’s evidence and not wild, empty speculation.

    * I always hear that there was no time before the big bang but I think I have to disagree, probably because I don’t understand it properly but…  I understand that time = zero at the big bang because that’s the point in time we are rewinding to so to speak, time is more a unit for that specific equation and it is true to say that before the big bang time did not exist in respect to the equation, but it doesn’t have to be the case for everything else though does it? There are many theories, none proven, about cyclic models, these would have to have a series of events (inflation, collapse) where time existed before the current models present state? Help me science!

  31. A very biased programme: the Rabbi was going to prove he was right even if  it was only that NICE religionists and NICE scientists can be NICE to each other, (and totally ignore any suggestion of evidence).

  32. Apologies…sometimes I get a bit apoplectic at what I read in some comments. My bad. I just couldn’t see where my initial comment was “aggressive”….”shrill and strident”, perhaps, but hardly “aggressive”. }8O)~

  33. Hello again.

    In reply to my quote:

    “You seem to be under the impression I think religion and evolution are incompatible. I don’t.”

    You stated:

    “I’m under no impressions whatsoever”

    You then followed this up with:

    “What is the opposing ‘argument’ to evolution then”

    I can’t imagine why I think you make assumptions about my views. Am I to understand you’d now like me to provide counter arguments for theories and ideas on which we agree?

    In reply to my question:

    “When did space begin and how? Where did the nearby star come from and how was that formed?”

    You stated:

    “In the context of this discussion, it matters not a jote”

    Please bear in mind that the whole series of discussions you have had with me eminate from one simple point I was trying to make, that when questioning the existence of God, one doesn’t need an explanation for the explanation. As for the purposes of your point, you are happy to dispense with the need for an explanation of your explanation, why do you struggle so much when people use the same argument for God?

    As for books I’d suggest you read, there are many. Her are three good ones to get going -remember, they will most definitely hold a different opinion from your current one (now I’m making assumptions…), no doubt the titles and authors have already been derided on this site; but remember: that is the reason to read them, so that you can make up your own mind
    1. Reasonable Faith – Craig
    2. The Dawkins delusion – McGrath
    3. The case for a creator – Sobel

  34. Thank you for your comment. I think the main thing I find so disappointing on the site is the instant dismissal of anything that doesn’t already toe the line to established view of the community. Phrases like ‘drivel trying to pass as intelligent thought’ are huge generalisations, and seem to me to be astonishing when one would think that the basis of scientific thought should be evaluating everything and open to argument. Sometimes I think the minds on this site are more closed to free thinking than the religious people you it so derides. Or maybe that’s because most of them are just ‘wannabe’ evolutionary biologists. I’d be interested to see the credentials of people who are so ready to dismiss others with derision and sarcasm.

  35. Excellent link…I had a good titter at the illustrations. I have read a number of these sort of apologetics the despicable come up with to excuse this grotesque tale in order to make it acceptable to a modern audience. 

    Some of the pretzelmania is nothing less than breath taking. I love the semantics used when the term ‘children’ is used. The Hebrew texts MAY be referring to youths or young men and not children. So that’s okay then. The bears tore 42 young mean or youths to shreds for calling a baldy man, a baldy man, what is the problem with that? Then there is the bullshit trotted out about what the youths shouted, actually meant, like it matters. I’m baldy myself, I shave my head down to the wood. I’ve been called a baldy bastard, cunt, fucker, many times. It’s not particularly nice, but at no point have I wished any harm on the perps, young or old. I would certainly have no truck with ‘a man in the sky’ that took it upon himself to step in on my behalf, taking such ‘over-the-top’ a reaction to a bit of name calling.  Doesn’t the omniscience of Yahweh not put him in a position of better understanding? I guess not. Why, O’why, do so called intellectuals follow such shite? Answer: they are deluded imbeciles, and  care not who that upsets, if the cap fits, or funny hat for that matter, have the balls to wear it. 

  36. What a pathetic encounter.  As ever, the religious spokesman dissembles, semanticizes and dissembles some more.  Sacks and Williams of Canterbury have a lot in common.  They project a curtain of gentle-sounding words that add up to nothing.

    Watching the Sacks-Dawkins encounter reminded me of the horrendous experience at last week’s Science Festival in Aberdeen: a session organized by the local divinity dept called “Can one be religious and scientific (without going mad)”.  There was no speaker representing the atheist point of view; we just got a cascade of unctuous words.  One speaker devoted his entire talk to an aggressive supposed rebuttal of “The God Delusion”: it was the standard “courtier’s reply” (how dare Dawkins say the emperor’s wearing no clothes when he hasn’t read all the wonderful books on the beauty of invisible trousers and the elegance of invisible hats?!). 

    The closing speaker (one of the poorest I’ve ever heard) was trying to make the same point as Rabbi Sacks in this TV encounter: that science and religion don’t clash in areas of people being nice to other people.  “If religion is considered as morality, there’s no clash; if religion is considered ethics, there’s no clash.”  Sadly, discussion was heftily curtailed so I didn’t get the opportunity to suggest that if religion is considered as a mess of unsubstantiated, superstitious, credulous nonsense, there’s no clash either.

  37.  Help me science!

    Brilliant. Sounds so much better than “Help me God!”, and at least you have a chance of getting an answer. 

    For the benefit of Blobbinog. We don’t know everything, yet, but that is no excuse for making shit up. What’s even worse, is people making shit up when we DO know the answer. What happened before the Big Bang is still at the theoretical stage, but I don’t think there are many of the men and women doing the heavy lifting that are hypothesising a supernatural deity. What happened after the Big Bang is largely understood, and it doesn’t include a supernatural  deity either. Why do some people want to shoehorn in an unproven concept as the quick fix answer? Are you all that easy pleased?

    BTW, thanks EvolutionaryThrowback. 

  38. Lord Sacks’ documentery was civil but laughable. In his discusion with prof Dawkins he answered a question about whether bible stories are literal or metaphorical with a sort of “it really happened metaphorically” answer. And then proceeded to agree wih Richard that knowledge and science are important then claim that that was Richard meeting him more than half way, a great victory for religon.

  39. You haven’t actually addressed any of my points, just used sarcasm to dismiss them. either you think explanations need explanation or you don’t. why are you so averse to the concept of something greater than us setting the wheels in motion? Can you really not accept that as possible explanation amongst others? the concept of matter appearing from nothing and nowhere seems to run counter to most established arguments of physics

  40. The problem with this argument (if you could call it that) as I see it is that your archaeologists and astronauts have discovered something, but made absolutely no attempt to explain it. An archaeologist wouldn’t simply accept that the arrowheads were made by an ‘unknown group of people’, they’d do some research and try to establish who those people were. Similarly, the astronauts would presumably carry out tests on the machinery and, using science, attempt to work out where the ‘extra-terrestrial agents’ came from. Science doesn’t stop as soon as somebody makes a reasonable sounding inference.

    As for intelligent design, perhaps you could argue that, at first sight, the universe and everything in it looks as though it was designed and created by a supernatural being. If you take the un-scientific approach you could leave it there, and be quite satisfied that ‘intelligent design is the best explanation of the appearance of design in the universe. Or, you could look further, do some research, stand on the shoulders of giants and advance our understanding of the universe to such a degree that creationism and/or intelligent design are reduced to nothing more than a pathetic attempt by religion to take the credit for a) the universe, and b) the discoveries of science.

    One last thing: I’m sure that the majority of the people on this site would prefer an ‘infinite regress of explanations’ to no explanation at all.

  41. It sadly doesn’t surprise me that the main approach of many on this site is one of condescension. Even the little jibe of ‘if you could call it that’ in relation to my ‘argument’. You’re so convinced that the ultimate explanation cannot and will not be something bigger than all of us, that you approach every other opinion by rubbishing it before you start. Are you really, as someone who seems to claim to be scientific, so closed minded that you will not even entertain the idea of God? My argument (please forgive me ignorantly calling it that) would be that much of science does indeed point to the concept of something bigger than us: a beginning; but that you somehow see that as admitting defeat., that if there’s a God, you’ve somehow lost. I welcome the advancement of science, the theory of evolution, the discovery of the Higgs etc. None of these are in conflict with a being that started it.

    Btw, if we did discover things on the dark side of the moon, and investigate as thoroughly as science would allow, and then couldn’t fathom how it got there, would that ‘prove’ that no one had created it?

  42. It’s a far cry from “A being that started it,” to “Chop off your foreskins or god will be angry,” and the frequently horrifying rest. I enjoy a heated conversation over the dinner table but it’s always the spiritually inclined that after a sound intellectual thrashing eventually pipe up with “But YOU can’t know, How can YOU be so certain?” But I never said I was certain, I do however have a metric ton of alternate, speculative, completely unsupported scenarios that I’m willing to entertain before I give up trying to understand altogether and resort to “a being that started it.” I try not to resort to anything, science has achieved so much including a working model of the universe and how it started, which is just incredible for meatbags stuck on a tiny planet accelerating through space, it just sort of accidentally on the way showed that what people took for literal truth in religious writings actually turned out to be either impossible, contradictory to the evidence or plain silly.

    Even if I entertain the idea of a being that created the universe via the big bang why would he/she/it make so much of it hostile to life? Maybe the universe is far more suited to beings that we don’t even understand and really it’s THEIR universe and THEIR god?! What would that make us? Crikey! Maybe the universe was created by the FSM and every time we enjoy an Italian themed dish we are EATING GOD’S CHILDREN?! Maybe WE are beings that start stuff, when we burn fuel or smash atomic particles, and we’re blissfully unaware of the consequences of our actions, maybe our god hasn’t the first clue that we’re here at all, or long ago died of god cancer? Patently ridiculous I’m sure you’ll agree, but no more ridiculous and evidence free as what we’re led to believe by most if not all religions.

  43. “Eyes are too compicated a structure to have evolved. They must have been specially created.” Nope, explained.
    “The Noachian Flood really happened.” Nope, it didn’t.
    “The Earth is 6,000 years old.” Nope, it’s about 4.5 million years old.
    “Living creatures were created and placed on the earth in their present form.” Nope, evolution.
    “The Sun goes around the Earth. It’s obvious from just what we observe.” Nope, wrong again.

    In other words, the assumption that a religious point of view has merit over a scientific explanation with regard to a fact has never been correct. Your position that you can reasonably entertain the idea of God as an explanation for anything doesn’t really hold water, because it has never been proved to ever have been correct in the past, not once. A more reasonable conclusion to reach for the explanation of something we don’t know is that we don’t know. I would add that as every actual explanation has proven to be a materialistic one, it would also be reasonable to conclude that the explanation for something we don’t know will also be materialistic. History just isn’t on your side.

  44. I’m surprised to hear you think the earth is 4.5 million years old – I thought it was billions. The statements you’re quoting there (and as they’re not attributed, I assume they’re yours: ‘this is the type of thing they say’ etc) are generic and convenient. Do you really think this is what all Christians think? Have you not read my previous comments re evolution? And you accuse my argument of ignorance…

  45. Sorry, I really don’t see that as condescending.

    I have to admit that I have not in fact read reasonable faith, but then I’ve never been a fan of fiction.

    Now THAT was condescending.

    Oh wait, I just googled and it came up with… the one, the only William Lane Craig o/

    I consider myself trolled, taverymuch.

  46. I realise that it was Rabbi Sack’s program, and that he would have the editing rights; but I think he took advantage of Richard and made it look like they were ‘on the same side’. Of Course they’re bloody-well on the same side when it comes to being against hitting old ladies on the head with a sledge-hammer, and everyone feels ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’ etc; both athiests and god-botherers can agree on that, but that’s not the point.
    Religionists hijacked humanity’s naturally evolved morality and made it into a business career. They pretend that morality’s source is religion, when it’s not. We now know better, and that was the point I would have liked Richard to hammer home.
    What happened to Darwin’s Rottweiler?   I’m sorry to say that Richard uncharacteristically came over as more of a poodle. We need a return match with Richard having editorial control next time.

  47. When an individual claims something for themselves or their group which is as incongruous as Rabbi Sack’s claim about natural selection being part of religion, I think it’s a sign of weakness at best or desperation at least.  

    But of course that’s one of the tricks which religions have created for themselves in order to stay in the frame; but there’s less and less room for them inside the picture as the fronteers of reality press in on the edges of their make -believe worlds.

    So, what used to be irritating in the extreme is now becoming increasingly enjoyable. 

  48. Honestly I don’ understand Jonathan Sacks. He seems to be a nice guy, but his logic is as flawed as his peers. The Old Testament is a horrible book. Period! It does not matter how modern religious people read that book. It is still a horrible book! There’s only two ways to go about this. Either accept that the bible is really irrelevant as a moral guide or own up to the fact that it is a horrible book! But, religious people want to eat the cake and have it too… For goodness sake! The bible hasn’t been a relevant book for two thousand years. Please, let us stop using this book as a source of wisdom! 

  49. Richard,
    Please stop being so “polite”. I really don’t think this is the way to go. In these encounters with the rabbi, as well as the “debate” with the ABofC, it seems to me that the religious side is allowed to tell blatant manipulative lies without getting properly confronted with this rather obvious fact.

    It’s painful for me to watch, and I think “fence-sitters” get the idea that the religious arguments have more merit than they actually do.

    So, more stridency please.

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  51. The typo is my bad, but I think you got the point. And I never said you were ignorant.

    The statements I quoted are generic and convenient, but they are illustrative. At one point or another in history these statements were accepted by many, if not most, Christians as true. Each one has been dismissed by scientific endeavor, and that is why not all Christians think this way any more.

    What I am trying to point out is that every instance in which a religious tract and science have disagreed, science is the proven winner. In other words, I might give some credence to the answer “God did that” if you could point to one instance in which that were actually correct. But you can’t. So why would you ever assume that the religious answer is the correct one, or even reasonable?

  52. The problem with your examples is of course that they are poor examples of things which we already know to be designed by intelligent beings.

    We know arrowheads and such were made.  We know what machinery looks like.

    Apparent biological design is different and the appearance of design has been explained by the natural process of physics, chemistry and biology – no intelligent designer required – this has been known since 1857.

    You are of course merely repeating large tracts of Craig.

  53.  It would be great if theologians like Craig never gave explanations that they are not in a position to do …

    It amuses me that Craig gives an explanation of the explanation when it suits him before stating that we do not need to give an explanation for an explanation.

  54. I apologise for the condescension.

    I have considered the idea of a god, but I have yet to hear any argument or see an evidence that suggests there is one. That’s not being closed minded, it’s wanting the god that people claim exists to have some basis in fact before attributing to it actions such as the creation of the universe.

    Of course science points towards something bigger than us, such as the big bang, but that doesn’t require a god. If there is a god out there who started everything I won’t feel that I’ve lost, I’ll just be wrong.

    As to the dark side of the moon technology, I would go with the argument that science doesn’t know enough at that particular time, and that it will need to wait a bit longer. I’m not sure how anybody could possibly prove that it wasn’t created.

  55. I only listened to the audio, but what a chameleon Sacks is! He’s apparently just fine with science, that is until the : “there must be something more” moment arrives, at which point he’s into top gear and zooming off into the transcendental sunset.

    “Without God, there is no hope”, says the sophisticated theologian. Just plain wrong! But then when did being wrong bother a theologian or a priest?

    Shameless bar-stewards!

  56. Indeed no explanation for creation is given.  

    However, throughout the Bible there is an overarching emphasis on behaving like a “creator” (behaving in the image of the ultimate source) with bearing children as being the epitome of this idea. However, acting like a creator can also mean other things as well. For example, creating the seeking of Truth (both objective (science, rationality) and subjective (emotions, intuition, personal life experience) forms of Truth), creating love/support for another, creating beautiful art/science through one’s individual talents etc. It also therefore means though that evil and injustice and hateful things can also be “created” by humans as well. I agree there is no reason ever given in the Bible for why humans must act as “creators” just that we should and we should do so carefully. Why this is so according to the Bible is a question I don’t think any mortal human being will ever have an answer to. 

  57. You continually talk about about something “bigger than all of us” and then equate that to “god”, referring of course to the Abrahamic god. However, even if their were a creator “god”, you have no proof that that “god” is the Abrahamic one, or indeed any of the multitude of “gods” that the human race has invented.

  58.  Have you read Reasonable Faith?


    No I haven’t. I have glanced briefly at the apologist literature but I’ve always found it severely lacking.  It is typically full of a small amount of logic, some really enormous leaps of faith and an abysmal lack of understanding of modern science.  I rely on the fact that there are a number of serious atheist philosophers who I think will alert me if someone comes up with a sensible defence of theism. 

    Why don’t you tell us what is in this book and explain why you think we would benefit from reading it?


  59. trying to “prove” the existence of something outside of our universe (which humans have termed “god”) is a fundamental error. How can you prove something that is not “prove-able”?

    Any thing or entity that does not exist in the physical “sense” inherently cannot be proved or disproved from our perspective as beings of this natural universe. Thus, whether you are religious or an atheist making an attempt to prove or disprove a reality or presence outside of our own verifiable reality is  about as ridiculous of an endeavor as I can think of. 

    This is the problem with the question that Dr. Dawkins asks about the literal belief in the narrative of Abraham. How can you ask a question of objective, scientific fact and reality regarding a claim of an event that happened only once? (i.e. not reproducible) This event whatever it was cannot be proved or disproved. Therefore, such an event falls outside that which can be accurately addressed by science. Hence, a belief in this narrative as Truth (whatever that means to the individual) is a subjective one. And ultimately the essence of religion, spirituality, tradition, intuition etc. etc. is one’s subjective belief and perception.

    There is a time and place for cold, hard objectivity and there is a time and place for inspirational, emotional subjectivity. Problem is…we humans mix up the two. or we reject one at the total expense of the other. And the result…is a lack of balance…or to use terms used in science: there is a lack of equilibrium or homeostasis. And anyone in science knows that imbalances in nature usually lead to bad things (i.e. disease, extreme weather change/impact etc.)

  60.  It’s on I Player.

    Unfortunately that web link is UK only.  Not even ex penal colony’s get a look in 🙁

    I think there is an iPad app which it is possible to subscribe to if people are outside the UK.


  61. Hello and thank you for the thoughtful response. Though what you said was very poetic I’m still not seeing the deep meaning that believers say they get from religion. What I see is a deep trust. A trust that one day the creator will fill you in and trust that it’ll be a satisfactory answer . To me that’s more hope than meaning. Not that there’s anything wrong with hope.

  62. “Why this is so according to the Bible is a question I don’t think any mortal human being will ever have an answer to. “

    I came to the same conclusion about Peter Cotton Tail’s blue coat… why blue? Who cares, really.

  63. I would suggest that religion, spirituality, passionate interests/career  etc are human attempts to make life more “special” and “purposeful” by infusing connection to a tradition, family, community, philosophy, way of life, a sense of personal/communal mission etc. 

    Our society I think sometimes has made it seem that these things can be achieved via one’s career choice primarily. And sometimes that might indeed be the case for some people, but most people in this world work jobs they are forced to do just to survive not because it fulfills a sense of personal mission, or they found out during the economic downturn that defining one’s self based on one’s job, status or bank account just isn’t ultimately very fulfilling for most. 

    In the end, the only real reason to take the irrational, illogical leap of faith that there is something outside of our reality even though there will never be any certainty or any proof is to develop a sense of never taking one’s life for granted. Religion forces people who are honestly using it as a framework for personal transformation (and not an excuse to hate or kill etc) to humbly take life as fleeting and rare. 

    I love science. It tells me what is. It does not tell me how to feel about anything.  But then again either does religion, but religion does give me a point of departure emotionally, philosophically, subjectively in order to develop my own creative approach toward living a meaningful life.

  64. yeah… your right who cares about trying to make our lives meaningful. Lets just eat, drink and be merry…..ain’t ignorance bliss?

  65.  People are social animals, they belong to groups. Groups have authorities, people follow authorities. We have religion because we have people behaving like sheep following the leader. The leader claims to have special knowledge which makes them a super authority.

     There is no meaning. I have never considered the concept of having meaning or even needing it. Religion tells you there is meaning and pleasing god is it. It’s a sales gimmick. Don’t waste your time on meaning, you won’t find one.

    Get a hobby or find a cause if your life is empty. Don’t bother with religion, there are far more enjoyable groups to belong to.

  66. …maybe you should consider the concept of striving for meaning! 

    that is..How can you honestly make any value judgement at all of the pursuit of meaning either via religion or something similar if you’ve never even considered it? 

    Religion may have been about pleasing god centuries ago..but you might want to update yourself on what it means to have faith in something. The whole pleasing god thing was kind of phased out centuries ago (at least with non- literal minded / fundamentalist religionists). Seeking meaning is about the struggle to try to uncover what it means to be a being of consciousness in a lonely world during a life that goes by in the blink of an eye. It’s not about finding easy answers that provide me with fake contentment or an assurance of getting into “heaven.” 

    And.. I got hobbies too! 

    but hey..this warm and fuzzy spirituality stuff I guess ain’t for you..and that’s cool..

    …but please do not bash the pursuit of elevating one’s existence above that of the “sheep” or “animals” via tradition/spirituality etc if you’ve never even considered or tried it! or just because someone does in fact happen to connect to all this ridiculous warm and fuzzy spirituality stuff! 

  67. My remark…

    “What is the opposing ‘argument’ to evolution then”
    …was in response to the comment…

     I’ve read Dawkins, Hitchins et al as I want to hear both sides of the argument, rather than being a ‘lazy twat’

    From that remark, I inferred that you believe there is at least two(both) sides to the arguments, ergo, what is the opposing argument to evolution, evolution being one of the arguments against a creator God. It’s not a trick question, I’m just trying to get a handle for your position.

    I can’t imagine why I think you make assumptions about my views. Am I to understand you’d now like me to provide counter arguments for theories and ideas on which we agree?

    Well, if evolution, for example, isn’t an opposing argument in your view, give me one that is. I used evolution as an example because it is the biggest stumbling block, but I’ll have a crack at any opposing view you might support. I see you favour that arse WLC as a shining light of the opposition…lets have a crack at his Kalam Cosmological bollocks if ya like.

    In reply to my question:
    “When did space begin and how? Where did the nearby star come from and how was that formed?”
    You stated:
    “In the context of this discussion, it matters not a jote”

    At a reductionist level…the answer is ‘we don’t know’, but that doesn’t allow a supernatural deity a shoehorn in as a hypothesis, let alone the answer.

    Please bear in mind that the whole series of discussions you have had with me eminate from one simple point I was trying to make, that when questioning the existence of God, one doesn’t need an explanation for the explanation. As for the purposes of your point, you are happy to dispense with the need for an explanation of your explanation, why do you struggle so much when people use the same argument for God?

    Not at all, the explanation is there for those that wish to learn it. But it is an explanation that takes up more than a few lines in a comment discussion. God on the other hand, doesn’t work as an explanation because until you or someone else can define what the word God means, your position is bogus.… 

    The abstract of ‘god’ as a creator of all things is not an explanation any more than the three letters ‘xwz’, or any other three letter permutation. For me to say the ‘xwz’ did it all as an explanation that requires no further explanation, has equal merit to you saying ‘god’ did it all as an explanation that requires no further explanation. ‘xwz’, ‘god’, ‘eba’, ‘tqp’, etc., etc., or even four letters if you like, YHWH, or even all 26 letters of the alphabet, it matters not, all have as much merit as the other. The problem you have is when you start giving the three letters, the tetragrammaton or the 26 letters, attributes and agency. An immaterial mind that is outside time and space, but he loves you and answers your prayers….that’s when the explanation requires explaining I’m afraid and your argument goes south from there I’m afraid.

    Her are three good ones to get going -remember, they will most definitely hold a different opinion from your current one (now I’m making assumptions…), no doubt the titles and authors have already been derided on this site; but remember: that is the reason to read them, so that you can make up your own mind

    Good ones? You are taking the piss right? I’m a regular lurker at, bullshit and burble of the highest order.

    1. Reasonable Faith – Craig

    A creationist that believes the genocide of the Canaanites is justified because “humans are beneath the understanding of God’, but then has the arrogance to go on as  he preaches the crap of trying to tell us all what God desires, he knows stuff that no one else does, or possibly could, or so he thinks.

    2. The Dawkins delusion – McGrath

    A flea that was supposed to be a rebuttal of The God Delusion…full of strawmen and non-sequiturs , it was analysed and decimated here at the time it was released.… 

    McGrath is a liar. He is disingenuous.
    Luckily we have an astute journalist by the name of Paula Kirby who volunteered to carry out the arduous task of wading through all this type of dross in order to prevent the authors sales increasing more than necessary and to save the rest of us wasting any life by enduring the ordeal ourselves…she deserves a medal for it. You can find the critique at the following links……… 

    3. The case for a creator – Sobel

    Strobel? Are you serious? You haven’t done bad for an advocate of evolution, two out of three ID/creationist proponents. Let’s look at Strobel. He believes that the Bible is inerrant and historically accurate. As this is patently inaccurate and can be proven so, why should anything this apologist say have any credibility.

    As has been mentioned, perhaps you should pick a position any of these authors takes that you think has any validity and we can take it from there.

    Don’t assume I haven’t read any theology, I was just fishing to see what literature you would suggest to defend your position, needless to say, not very impressive. Circular arguments at the very least.

  68. So Lord Sacks got on the Radio 4 “God-Slot” this morning again with a couple of digs at science. 

    He seemed to take a swipe at geneticists by saying that what they originally discarded as “junk DNA” was now found to be important. This apparently shows God’s big plan was once again further revealed to the thicko scientists.  Once again we see how easy it is for the religious to seize on scientists’ tongue in cheek use of expressions like “junk DNA”, or “The God Particle” to misunderstand and pour ridicule.

    He then seemed to assert a remarkable reversal of the truth by suggesting that while scientists were so certain in their views, the religious had the flexibility to embrace these sort of changes of view.  And I thought all the time that it was the religious who seem so sure of the invariant truth in their good book while science always recognises the need to change and adapt as new evidence is found. Silly me.

    Needless to say, in this slot he was unchallenged.

  69. Faith means belief without evidence. Always has and always will. What is there to update about this concept? Now if you are talking about faith as a sort of trust in something such as, say, Google Chrome, that is a different story, because I have good evidence that it exists and it works quite well – I am using it right now. However, when it comes to wishy washy spiritual/religious beliefs, the only reason to believe is faith without evidence, it’s a sort of  wishful-thinking about the invisible. By the way, don’t you think the invisible and the non-existent are suspiciously familiar?

  70. I flagged my own comment for being inappropriate due to stupidity…, guess that is the process of science at work – accepting mistakes and moving on (original comment edited out) :-0

  71. Oh, right so. I didn’t want to be mean as it seemed to be your first comment on the new site. 
    Willkommen , anyway, Andy. 🙂

  72. Sacks is an unusually reasonable religious person. He does not want to override science with biblical myths. However, he reserves the entire territory of “how should the world be” for his religion. Usually science abandons this territory, other than to describe the consequences of various behaviours. He imagines the people of the bronze age knew better than we do which directions we should take. I think pretending they do is nuts.

    He also has this belief you can know truth just by speculation without testing, and that this is a superior knowledge. That is so Aristotelian. To me this way of thinking is a crazed attempt to defend delusion. It is a sort of delusion of grandeur.

  73. It can mean without imagination, or normal/average. But I’m sorry for picking on you. I was in a bad mood and seeing sobriquet reminded me of the huge argument I just had with a client who refused to use language people would understand. Again, sorry. I used the word prosaic because I’m a smart ass. I think trolling is genetic in my family.

  74. Why are Christians so frightened of science? Basically science keeps exposing the fraud of the bible. Without the authority of the bible, Christians can’t very well bully others into accepting its moral commandments even when they are irrational. Christians will have to decide for themselves the best path, and persuade others to follow, based on reasons. That terrifies them. They imagine they will make bizarre choices or at least choices differing from what the bible commands.

  75. >Rabbi Sacks: “Without God, we are without hope.”
    That line really bugged me too. He snuck it in as his summary without even a single line to corroborate it.  “Smiling damned villain”.  He kept pretending to be so sweet, then let fly with underhanded patronising ad-hominems. However, as religious folk go, I would give him an A for politeness and reasonableness.

  76. Yeah, thanks, I do actually know what prosaic means. I was trying to be ironic, obviously without any success. You know, you questioned my use of sobriquet so I responded by pretending that I was unfamiliar with your word?

  77. I assumed you did but it would be rude not to answer. I don’t feel rude today. I’m in sorry mode.

  78. I agree faith is a trust, hope, feeling, intution and sometimes a “belief” inherently arrived at without hard evidence. But that is exactly the point!

    Tell you have faith in your belief that you love your family? that you love your favorite piece of music?  That you love a particular art form? Prove it. 

    I am proposing that on some level there is a subjective experience inherent in  the experience of consciousness and being. 

    Faith in GoogleChrome is still a faith built on uncertainty. Yes, there is objective prior evidence to indicate GoogleChrome will work the way you want it to, but each time you logon there is a chance it may not despite all the evidence accumulated to the contrary. Each moment stands alone in and of itself. This would suggest that all of our perception is a combination of objective and subjective understanding and detection. In fact, even in physics the perspective from where the observer exists while conducting the experiment can have an effect on the observation that is being attempted to be made.  Religion and spirituality only add A LOT more subjectivity to the combination than you may be fully comfortable with. Fine.  But…in a society that has moved toward ONLY emphasizing the objective, any subjective experience or feeling therefore becomes negative almost the enemy. I think  and I think Sacks’s would think that this is a dysfuntion of the experience of what it means to be human.

    Tell me….do you think the Big Bang Theory (BBT) is a scientific theory? (FYI: I do not reject the BBT at all)Prove it. Reproduce it. The Big Bang Theory is a wonderful model that we have detected as an “after effect” and we are deductively working back. Tell me…is this the scientific method?  Science only works on the basis of FREQUENCY. Things that can be repeated. Religion only works on the basis of EVENT. Things that are unprecedented that leave a mark. So how can you apply the scientific method to something that is intrinsically un-scientific?

    I would argue that the Big Bang has all the hallmarks of a miraculous event. It happened once. It cannot be reproduced. There is a claim being made based on evidence but that evidence is ultimately collected by an observer that is limited by the constraints of the perspective of said observer.  

    So…hence let us have the humility to admit that 100% objectivity is impossible. Thus, this leaves room for the subjective. And therefore, some people will open that particular door of subjectivity wide  and walk right into religion etc. While others will want to keep that door closed as much as they can.  Question it possible to develop a balance between the two? I would suggest there is.  And balance and diversity of life experience is exactly what is reflected in our natural world.

  79. The point I wanted to get across, was that there are differences between science as a process (the scientific method), science as the body of knowledge about the natural world which we have today, naturally occurring phenomena that we experience directly or can be observed, and what someone does as a profession or the topics that academics are currently exploring. I was never quite sure which of these aspects of science Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was referring too as he seemed to jump from one to the other, and I’m not sure if he appreciated that he was debating quite distinct and separate points. 

    The value of the scientific method as a method is not limited by our current knowledge and can provide personal values such as a respect for the limits of our own knowledge and a humbling recognition of our ability to make errors, which is the foundation of the scientific method. Our goals and purpose in life come from desire, desire is a natural phenomena resulting from being human and is independent of our beliefs, we all have the same basic desires. The specific object of desire (what we think will fulfill those desires), and how we try to reach what are often conflicting desires, will depend on our beliefs. Given that the ability to have desires is common to all, why would a scientist that uses the scientific method every day, because it works, go home and choose to use the faith method in personal life? Religion (faith) doesn’t work as a method, is unreliable as a source of knowledge, is unnecessary for the experience of natural phenomena… maybe it’s a nice job!

    Of course people of science and religion can work together for common goals, I just don’t see what this has to do with the philosophical or methodological compatibility of the two. 

  80. Gosh, that was all terribly clever, and makes me wish I had listened to the debate myself. I’m only sorry that the first person you’ve interacted with on this site is someone who has no idea what she’s talking about. I feel like I’m in one of those movies where the super-smart aliens make first contact and the only one on duty at the time is the janitor.

    Klaatu barada nikto, Andy. And welcome to

    (See, I didn’t even know that it would light up all blue when I typed, but it did anyway.)

  81. Dankeschön Katy, don’t worry, after a couple of days of zapping people with my razor sharp intellect I’ll catch a cold and drop dead.

    I was going for clear rather than clever, anyone can be clever, but being clear requires effort and an understanding of what you’re talking about. Better to admit you don’t know than to accidently be clear while you’re being clever and look like an idiot. Maybe you don’t think you’re clever because too many idiots aren’t being clear which makes it unclear that they’re being clever.

  82. Jim Al-Khalili seemed to be thoroughly bemused by the encounter, and who can blame him?


    Blobbinog –   Btw, if we did discover things on the dark side of the moon, and
    investigate as thoroughly as science would allow, and then couldn’t
    fathom how it got there, would that ‘prove’ that no one had created it?

    On a point of scientific information: 
    The Moon does not have “a dark side” .  Despite its sychonicity, it has day and night just like the Earth! 
    The Moon has also been surveyed fairly thoroughly by equipment from various nations.

    and then couldn’t
    fathom how it got there,  would that ‘prove’ that no one had created it?

    Ignorance and uncertainty, do not “prove” anything! –

     Unless you are begging the question with some artefact of alien or whatever origin, the question seems pointless. 
    A whole lot of  natural “somethings” have already been discovered on th Moon!  We do not know exactly how every rock got to where it is, but that does not require aliens or anyone else moving them.

    I keep finding “somethings” in the dark sides of some of our cupboards and sometimes I do not know how THEY  got there, but it is unlikely that god-did-it!

  84. Can we compile a list of questions for Rabbi Sacks to determine how he will approach the dialogue he seeks between science and religion? My starters are.

    Why does he reject the medically accepted definition of brain stem death, allowing organ donation?

    Does he accept the religious Jewish belief in miracles, and the existence of the supernatural?

    Does he believe in the ‘supremacy of the Torah’ in relation to finding answers to scientific questions?

    Any more?

  85. I have just watched for the second time the discussion between Rabbi Sacks and Richard Dawkin.  Despite the annoying interruptions by the presenter in the middle it was the most inspiring talk I have heard for a long time.  Please clarify Richard, are you not an agnostic like me?  I do not refuse to believe in a creator because i do not think with our still-evolving brains  we can comprehend what or, indeed, IF there is one.  You believe science will continue to increase our understanding of our world which assumes eventually we will have the ’42’ answer to why we are here and if there indeed is a creator.  I liken it to a goldfish being asked if there was a God to which it would reply ,”Of course there is, somebody changes the water”.  I usually throw that one at Jehovah’s Witnesses (among other things!).  Seriously though, with our intellect we can have as much knowledge of a creator as your dog has about how your TV works.  Scientifically I believe there must be an answer.  This is what makes me an agnostic.  Are your views parallel with this Richard? 
    Best wishes, Dave Bolton North EssexUK

  86. Agree all of these thoughts.  Also it’s been said that if there wasn’t a God man would have created one.

  87. Surely the Rabbi said that the words of the Old Testament are not to be taken literally.  He also remarked that people who do are dangerous fundamentalists so he does not accept this as true.  Even some Roman Catholics now doubt the fundamental teachings of the New Testament.

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