On reading the Koran


http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1045

Lesley Hazleton sat down one day to read the Koran. And what she found — as a non-Muslim, a self-identified “tourist” in the Islamic holy book — wasn’t what she expected. With serious scholarship and warm humor, Hazleton shares the grace, flexibility and mystery she found, in this myth-debunking talk.

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Onomasticon


This learned term comes from Greek. Onomasticon; from, onomastikon, onomastikona, meaning in Greek, “consisting on names.” It consists in a list of names, particularly of the proper names within a given culture as a philological aid to their meaning and etymology, as found for instance in Plato’s Cratylus. The Onomasticon of Julius Pollux from the second century A.D. is a ten-volumed lexicon containing the most important words related to a wide range of subjects (music, theater, politics, nature, crime, crime, reliogion, etc.) with short explanations, illustrated with quotations from ancient writers. It is suggested that Onomasticona were used in Wisdom writing, for example, Jb 28; 38-39; 41; Wisdom of Solomon 7:17-23; Sirach 43, etc. Each of these deals with knowledge of the wonders of nature. The Onomasticon of Eusebius, published about A.D. 328, is a treatise on the names and places of the Bible; it was translated into Latin by Jerome.

Structuralism


Structuralism is a way of thinking whether in linguistics, sociology, ethnology, mathematics, psychology, the physical sciences, philosophy, literaly criticism, etc., that has as ist primary intention the construction of a theory of its object from which the fundamental characteristics of this object can be deduced.  In Biblical criticism, this theory or set of principles is at present primarily derived from other disciplines, from the structuralist anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss and from the structralist literary critic Roland Barthes, but especially from general linguistics such as that one of Ferdinand De Saussure. It is not the structure of texts, but the structure of language.

Peshitta Chronicles


The character of the Peshitta text of Chronicles (sy; Peshitto: “simple”; the authorized Bible of the Syrian Church, dating from the latter 4th or early 5th centuries and traditionally ascribed to Rabbula, Bishop of Adessa) has led numerous scholars to consider it a targum (paraphraseal translation of the biblical texts to the Aramaic) or at least dependent of a targum.

Trying to prove this, there could be arranged three main lines of examples: (a) the breakdown of semitic correspondence between Peshitta Chronicles and MT (Masoretic Text; refers to the received text of the Hebrew Old Testament as punctuated and furnished with vowel points by the Masoretes [or Masorites], the authoritative teachers of Scriptural tradition); and (b) other causes for disagreement between Peshitta Chronicles and the MT; and (c) elements in Peshitta Chronicles that seem to depend on rabbinic or targumic literature.

Instances of agreement between Peshitta Chronicles and Jewish sources are due to reminiscences of the Jewish tradition of biblical scholarship in Aramaic. Though somebody can argue that the Peshitta translator had a sound but far from comprehensive knowlegde of Hebrew and that his Hebrew Vorlage (from German; copy, model, text; literally, “that which lies before,” it is a particular copy of a document used as a source) was damaged.

An ironic approach to the human condition


Several interpretations of the book of Qohelet in the last century increasingly emphasize the book’s use of ironic approaches. Often Qohelet’s irony is described as affirming one approach to life while ironically denouncing another.

In the classical sense, irony is the statement of one thing with the intention of suggesting something else. The word and its original meaning derive from a stock figure in early Greek comedy, the eiron, who mocks and finally triumphs over his boastful antagonist (alazon) by feigning ignorance and impotence.

While studiying the book of the Qohelet anyone can argue that Qohelet’s ironic strategy is more radical and comprehensive than this. The irony of Qohelet works within a network of contradictory views, all presented as potentially true.

As Qohelet affirms the advice of contradictory statements he places them in tension, destabilizing any one of the approaches to life contained in the text.

This ironic approach allows Qohelet to present unresolved paradoxes in a manner which would have been impossible in a logically stringent discourse.

Despite obvious frustration Qohelet resists the temptation to reduce contrasting observations to a simple formula. I suggest this as one reason for the book’s continuing relevance.

After suggesting a workable definition of irony, I discuss that the Qohelet’s use of irony, focusing on the book’s central discourse with the wisdom tradition.

Cuneiform culture


Cuneiform means “wedged shaped” in Latin. This refers to ancient writings that had a wedged shaped appearance. The writing is usually made with a wedge stylus on soft clay tablets. Baking the tablets preserves them.

A number of different ancient languages are written in cuneiform. The most widely used language was Akkadian. Cuneiform is also chiseled on to stones and rocks. One famous carving on a cliff three hundred feet up is the Rock of Behistun in ancient Persia, now modern day Iran southwest of Tehran.

The man most responsible for the decipherment of cuneiform is Henry Rawlinson. Henry started to work for the East India Company in 1827 at the age of seventeen where he learned Indian languages and Persian.

In 1835 he was sent to Persia as a military adviser. Near the city of Kermanshah he found two inscriptions on rocks which he figured out the names of Darius and Xerxes.

He then started to copy the inscriptions on the Rock of Behistun some three hundred feet up on very shaky wooden ladders. In 1849 he completed his book Memoir on the Persian Version of the Behistun Inscriptions.

There were two other unknown ancient languages on the Rock of Behistun that said the same thing in Old Persian so Rawlinson turn his attention to their decipherment. In 1855 he published a book with notes and translation of the second language named Elamite.

Finally Rawlinson turned to the last language Babylonian cuneiform, or today called Akkadian. Edward Hincks, a Anglican clergyman had devoted himself to the decipherment of Akkadian. By 1847 he published a list of their signs and meanings.

With the writings of Rawlinson and Hincks the Akkadian language was deciphered. Hincks was right in observing the signs stand for syllables. The final test came in 1857 when four scholars, Rawlinson, Hincks, Henry Talbot, and Jules Oppert independently translated the same script and came up with virtually the same translation.

Targumin


Jewish translations of the Old Testament were made from time to time by Jews, in order to satisfy the needs, both in public service and in private life, of those that had gradually lost the knowledge of the ancient national tongue. In Palestine itself, Hebrew was driven out first by Aramaic, then by Greek, and finally by Arabic. Portions of the Bible itself (in Daniel and Ezra) are written in Aramaic; and there is no consensus of opinion among scholars as to whether these parts were originally written in that tongue or were translated from the Hebrew.

Though Hebrew remained the sacred and the literary language, the knowledge of it must have faded to such a degree in the second century preceding the common era that it became necessary for a “meturgeman” to translate the weekly Pentateuch and prophetic lessons as read in the synagogue. The assertion made by the two scholars just cited, that the Targums date from the time of Ezra, is unwarranted; since they are written in a West-Aramaic dialect.

The authorities of the synagogue did not willingly allow such translations to be written down. They felt that this would be putting a premium upon ignorance of the text, and that the Biblical word would be in danger of being badly interpreted or even misunderstood. They sought to minimize the danger by permitting only one verse to be read and translated at a time in the case of the Law, and three in the case of the Prophets. Certain passages were never to be translated publicly; e.g., Gen. xxxv. 22; Ex. xxxii. 21-25; Num. vi. 23-26; Lev. xviii. 21.

These passages are to be found in Pseudo-Jonathan and in the Midrashim for private use. It is distinctly stated that no written copy of the Targum was to be used in the public service (Yer. Meg. iv. 1); though for private purposes copies were allowed to be made.

The Talmud, it is true, mentions a written Targum to the Book of Job which was in the possession of Rabban Gamaliel I. during the Second Temple, about 20-40 C. E. and which was then buried by order of Gamaliel. A variant tradition tells of such a Targum having been in the hands of both the elder and the younger Gamaliel.

Though this tradition is accepted, there are no means of verifying this statement, the existing Targum to that book being of a much later date. The tradition certainly can not refer to a Greek translation. The Targum is largely a paraphrase, reproducing the rabbinical tradition as regards the meaning of the text.

In passing a word should be said about the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch in the West-Aramaic dialect, which the Samaritans at one time spoke. It is as yet not possible to say in which century this version was made. Even though the citations under the caption τὸ Σαμαρειτικόυ, which are found in the scholia to Origen’s Hexapla, refer to it.

They are drawn from a Greek translation of the Samaritan made in Egypt. The text has been edited in Samaritan characters by H. Petermann and K. Vollers (Berlin, 1872-91), and in Hebrew characters by A. Brüll (1873-75), from the London Polyglot. M. Heidenheim’s edition in Hebrew characters, of which Genesis only has appeared, has been very severely criticized.

At the beginning of medieval Christianity


Christ’s missionary commandment had been clearly set forth in Matthew (28:19-20), but in the early centuries after his crucifixion the flame of faith flickered low. Wholesale conversions of Germans, Celts, and Slavs did not begin until about A. D. 500, after Christianity had been firmly established as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Its victories were deceptive; few of its converts understood their new faith. Paganism — Stoicism, Neoplatonism, Cynicism, Mithraism, and local cults — continued to be deeply entrenched, not only in the barbaric tiribes, but als0 among the Sophists, teacher of wisdom in the old imperial cities: Athens, Alexandria, Smyrna, Antioch, and Rome itself, which was the city of Caesar as well as Saint Peter. Constantine had tried to discourage pagan ceremonies and sacrifices, but he had not outlawed them, and they continued to flourish.

This infuriated the followers of Jesus. They were split on countless issues — Arianism, which was one of them, flourished for over half a century — but united in their determination to raze the temples of the pagans, confiscate their property, and subject them to the same official persecutions Christians had endured in the catacombs, including teh feeding of martyrs to lions. This vindictiveness seems an incongruity, inconsistent with the Gospels. But medieval Christianity had more in common with paganism than its worshipers would acknowledge. The apostles Paul and John had been profoundly influenced by Neoplatonism. Of the seven cardinal virtues named by Pope Gregory I in the sixth centrury, onloy three were Christian — faith, hope, and charity — while the other four — wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance — were adop0ted from the pagans Plato and Pythagoras. Pagan philosophers argued that the Gospels contradicted each other, which they do, and pointed out that Genesis assumes a plurality of gods. The devot scorned reason, however, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the most influential Christian of his time, bore a deep distrust of the intellect and declared that the pursuit of knowledge, unless sanctified by a holy mission, was a pagan act and therefore vile.

Ironically, the masterwork of Christianity’s most powerful medieval philosopher was inspired by a false report. Alaric’s sack of Rome, it was said, had been the act of a barbaric pagan seeking vengeance for his idols. (This was inaccurate; actually, Alaric and a majority of his Visigoths were Arian Christians.) Even so, the followers of Jesus were widely blamed for bringing about Rome’s fall; men charged that the ancient gods, offended by the empire’s formal adoption oh the new faith, had withdrawn their protection form the Eternal City. One Catholic prelate, the bishop of Hippo — Aurelius Augustinus, later Saint Augustine — felt challenged. He devoted thirteen years to writing his response, De civitate Dei (The City of God), the first great work to shape and define the medieval mind. Augustine (354-430) began by declaring that Rome was being punished, not for her new faith, but for her old, continuing sins: lascivious acts by the populace ond corruption among politicians. The pagan deities, he wrote, had lewdly urged Romans to yield to sexual passion — “the god Virgineus to loose the virgin’s girdle, Subigus to put her beneath a mans’s loins, Prema to hold her down … Priapus upon whose huge and beastly member the new bride was commanded by religious order to stir and receive!”

Here Augustine, by his own account, spoke from personal experience. In his Confessions he had described how, before his conversion, he had devoted his youth to exploring the outer limits of carnal depravity. But, he wrote, hte original sin, and he now declared that there was such a thing, had been committed by Adam when he yeilded to Eve’s temptations. As children of Adam, he held, all mankind shared Adam’s guilt. Lust polluted every child in the very act of conception — sexual intercourse was a “mass of perdition [exitium].” However, although most people were thereby damned in the womb, some could be saved by the blessed intervention of the Virgin Mary, who possessed that power because she had conceived Christ sinlessly: “Through a woman were sent to destruction; through a woman salvation was restored to us.” He thus drew a sharp line. The chief distinction between the old faiths and the new were in th sexual arena. Pagans had accepted prostitution as a relief from monogamy. Worshipers of Jesus vehemently rejected it, demanding instead purity, chastity, and absolute fidelity in husbands and wives. Women found this ringing affirmation enormously appealing. Aurelius Augustinus — whose influence on Christianity would be greater than that of any other man except the apostle Paul — was the first to teach medieval men that sex was evil, and that salvation was possible only through the intercession of the Madona.

But there were subtler registers to Augustine’s mind. In his most complex metaphor, he devided all creation into civitas Dei and civitas terrena. Everyone had to embrace one of them, and a man’s choice would determine where he spent eternity. In chapter fifteen he explained: “Mankind [hominum] is divided into two sorts: such as live according to man, and such as live according to God. These we mystically call the two “cities” or societies, the one predestined to reign eternally with God, the other condemned to perpetual torment with Satan. “Individuals, he wrote, would slip back and forth between the two cities; their fate would be decided at the Last Judgment. Because he had identitied the Church with his civitas Dei, Augustine clearly implied the need for a theocracy, a state in which secular power, symbolizing civitas terrena, would be subordinate to spiritual powers derived from God. The Church, drawng the inference, thereafter used Augustine’s reasoning as an ideological tool and, ultimately, as a weapon in grappling with kings and emperors.

Targumin


The Aramaic translation of the Bible. It forms a part of the Jewish traditional literature, and in its inception is as early as the time of the Second Temple. The verb תרגם, from which the noun תרגום is formed, is used in Ezra iv. 7 in reference to a document written in Aramaic, although “Aramit” (A. V. “in the Syrian tongue”) is added. In mishnaic phraseology the verb denotes a translation from Hebrew into any other language, as into Greek, and the noun likewise may refer to the translation of the Biblical text into any language. The use of the term “Targum” by itself was restricted to the Aramaic version of the Bible. In like manner, the Aramaic passages in Genesis, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezra were briefly called “Targum,” while the Hebrew text was called “Miḳra.”

As an intepretation of the Hebrew text of the Bible the Targum had its place both in the synagogal liturgy and in Biblical instruction, while the reading of the Bible text combined with the Targum in the presence of the congregation assembled for public worship was an ancient institution which dated from the time of the Second Temple, and was traced back to Ezra by Rab when he interpreted the word “meforash” (Neh. viii. 8 ) as referring to the Targum (Meg. 3a; Ned. 37b; comp. Yer. Meg. 74d, line 48, Gen. R. xxxvi., end). The rules for reading the Targum are formulated in the Halakah. The Targum was to be read after every verse of the parashiyyot of the Pentateuch, and after every third verse of the lesson from the Prophets. Excepting the Scroll of Esther, which might be read by two persons in turn, only one person might read the Targum, as the Pentateuch or prophetic section also was read by a single person. Even a minor might read the Targum, although it was not fitting for him to do so when an adult had read the text. Certain portions of the Bible, although read, were not translated (as Gen. xxxv. 22), while others were neither read nor translated (as Num. vi. 24-26; II Sam. xi.-xiii.). The reader was forbidden to prompt the translator, lest any one should say that the Targum was included in the text of the Bible. With regard to the translation of Biblical passages, Judah ben Ilai, the pupil of Akiba, declared that whosoever rendered a verse of the Bible in its original form was a liar, while he who made additions was a blasphemer. A passage in Ab. R. N. referring to R. Akiba’s early training says that he studied the Bible and the Targum; but allusions to the Targum as a special subject of study in connection with the Bible are excessively rare. It must be assumed, however, that the Targum was an integral part of the Biblical course of study designated as “Miḳra”; and Judah b. Ilai declared that only he who could read and translate the Bible might be regarded as a “ḳaryana,” or one thoroughly versed in the Bible. In Sifre, Deut. 161 the Targum is mentioned as a branch of study intermediate between the Miḳra and the Mishnah.

The professional translator of the text of the Bible in the synagogue was called “targeman.” His duties naturally formed part of the functions of the communal official (“sofer”) who bad charge of Biblical instruction. Early in the fourth century Samuel ben Isaac, upon entering asynagogue, once saw a teacher (“sofer”) read the Targum from a book, and bade him desist. This anecdote shows that there was a written Targum which was used for public worship in that century in Palestine, although there was no definitely determined and generally recognized Targum, such as existed in Babylonia.

The story is told that Jose b. Abin, an amora of the second half of the fourth century, reprehended those who read a Targum to Lev. xxii. 28 which laid a biased emphasis on the view that the command contained in that verse was based on God’s mercy—this same paraphrase is still found in the Palestinian Targum—; see also the statements on the erroneous translation of Ex. xii. 8, Lev. vi. 7, and Deut. xxvi. 4 in Yer. Bik. 65d; as well as Yer. Kil. viii., end, on Deut. xiv. 5; and Meg. iii. 10 on Lev. xviii. 21. In addition to the anecdotes mentioned above, there are earlier indications that the Targum was committed to writing, although for private reading only. Thus, the Mishnah states—Yad. iv. 5—that portions of the text of the Bible were “written as a Targum,” these doubtless being Biblical passages in an Aramaic translation; and a tannaitic tradition—Shab. 115a; Tosef., Shab. xiv.; Yer. Shab. 15c; Massek. Soferim v. 15—refers to an Aramaic translation of the Book of Job which existed in written form at the time of Gamaliel I., and which, after being withdrawn from use, reappeared in the lifetime of his grandson Gamaliel II. The Pentateuchal Targum, which was made the official Targum of the Babylonian schools, was at all events committed to writing and redacted as early as the third century, since its Masorah dates from the first half of that century. Two Palestinian amoraim of the same century urged the individual members of the congregation to read the Hebrew text of the weekly parashah twice in private and the Targum once, exactly as was done in public worship: Joshua ben Levi recommended this practise to his sons (Ber. 8b), while Ammi, a pupil of Johanan, made it a rule binding on every one (ib. 8a). These two dicta were especially instrumental in authorizing the custom of reciting the Targum; and it was considered a religious duty even in later centuries, when Aramaic, the language of the Targum, was no longer the vernacular of the Jews. Owing to the obsolescence of the dialect, however, the strict observance of the custom ceased in the days of the first geonim. About the middle of the ninth century the gaon Naṭronai ben Hilai reproached those who declared that they could dispense with the “Targum of the scholars” because the translation in their mother tongue (Arabic) was sufficient for them.

At the end of the ninth or in the beginning of the tenth century Judah ibn Ḳuraish sent a letter to the community of Fez, in which he reproved the members for neglecting the Targum, saying that he was surprised to hear that some of them did not read the Targum to the Pentateuch and the Prophets, although the custom of such a perusal had always been observed in Babylonia, Egypt, Africa, and Spain, and had never been abrogated. Hai Gaon (d. 1038) was likewise much astonished to hear that the reading of the Targum had been entirely abandoned in Spain, a fact which he had not known before; and Samuel ha-Nagid (d. 1056) also sharply criticized the scholars who openly advocated the omission of the reading of it, although according to him the Targum was thus neglected only in the northern provinces of that country. As a matter of fact, however, the custom did entirely cease in Spain; and only in southern Arabia has it been observed until the present time, although the Targum to the hafṭarot, together with introductions and poems in Aramaic, long continued to be read in some rituals. In the synagogues of Bokhara the Persian Jews read the Targum, together with the Persian paraphrase of it, to the hafṭarah for the last day of Passover.

The Aramaic translations of the Bible which have survived include all the books excepting Daniel and Ezra—together with Nehemiah—which, being written in great part in Aramaic, have no Targum, although one may have existed in ancient times.

Ann Druyan talking about science


I’ve been thinking about the distorted view of science that prevails in our culture. I’ve been wondering about this, because our civilization is completely dependent on science and high technology, yet most of us are alienated from science. We are estranged from its methods, its values, and its language. Who is the scientist in our culture? He is Dr. Faustus, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Strangelove. He’s the maker of the Faustian bargain that is bound to end badly. Where does that come from? We’ve had a long period of unprecedented success in scientific discovery. We can do things that even our recent ancestors would consider magic, and yet our self-esteem as a species seems low. We hate and fear science. We fear science and we fear the scientist. A common theme of popular movies is some crazed scientist somewhere setting about ruining what is most precious to all of us.

I think the roots of this antagonism to science run very deep. They’re ancient. We see them in Genesis, this first story, this founding myth of ours, in which the first humans are doomed and cursed eternally for asking a question, for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s puzzling that Eden is synonymous with paradise when, if you think about it at all, it’s more like a maximum-security prison with twenty-four hour surveillance. It’s a horrible place. Adam and Eve have no childhood. They awaken full-grown. What is a human being without a childhood? Our long childhood is a critical feature of our species. It differentiates us, to a degree, from most other species. We take a longer time to mature. We depend upon these formative years and the social fabric to learn many of the things we need to know.

So here are Adam and Eve, who have awakened full grown, without the tenderness and memory of childhood. They have no mother, nor did they ever have one. The idea of a mammal without a mother is, by definition, tragic. It’s the deepest kind of wound for our species; antithetical to our flourishing, to who we are.

Their father is a terrifying, disembodied voice who is furious with them from the moment they first awaken. He doesn’t say, “Welcome to the planet Earth, my beautiful children! Welcome to this paradise. Billions of years of evolution have shaped you to be happier here than anywhere else in the vast universe. This is your paradise.” No, instead God places Adam and Eve in a place where there can be no love; only fear, and fear-based behavior, obedience. God threatens to kill Adam and Eve if they disobey his wishes. God tells them that the worst crime, a capital offense, is to ask a question; to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What kind of father is this? As Diderot observed, the God of Genesis “loved his apples more than he did his children.”

This imperative not to be curious is probably the most self-hating aspect of all, because what is our selective advantage as a species? We’re not the fastest. We’re not the strongest. We’re not the biggest. However, we do have one selective advantage that has enabled us to survive and prosper and endure: A fairly large brain relative to our body size. This has made it possible for us to ask questions and to recognize patterns. And slowly over the generations we’ve turned this aptitude into an ability to reconstruct our distant past, to question the very origins of the universe and life itself. It’s our only advantage, and yet this is the one thing that God does not want us to have: consciousness, self-awareness.

Perhaps Genesis should be read as an ironic story. Here’s a god who does not give us the knowledge of good and evil. He knows we don’t know right from wrong. Yet he tells us not to do something anyway. How can someone who doesn’t know right from wrong be expected to do the right thing? By disobeying god, we escape from his totalitarian prison where you cannot ask any questions, where you must never question authority. We become our human selves.

Our nation was founded on a heroic act of disobedience to a king who was presumed to rule by divine right. We created social and legal mechanisms to institutionalize the questioning of authority and the participation of every person in the decision-making process. It’s the most original thing about us, our greatest contribution to global civilization. Today, our not-exactly-elected officials try to make it seem as if questioning this ancient story is wrong. . . . That the teaching of our evolving understanding of nature, which is a product of what we have been able to discover over generations, is somehow un-American or disrespectful of strongly held beliefs. As if we should not teach our children what we’ve learned about our origins, but rather we should continue to teach them this story which demonizes the best qualities of our founding fathers.

This makes no sense and it leads me to a question: Why do we separate the scientific, which is just a way of searching for truth, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe? Science is nothing more than a never-ending search for truth. What could be more profoundly sacred than that? I’m sure most of what we all hold dearest and cherish most, believing at this very moment, will be revealed at some future time to be merely a product of our age and our history and our understanding of reality. So here’s this process, this way, this mechanism for finding bits of reality. No single bit is sacred. But the search is.

And so we pursue knowledge by using the scientific method to constantly ferret out all the mistakes that human beings chronically make, all of the lies we tell ourselves to combat our fears, all of the lies we tell each other. Here’s science, just working like a tireless machine. It’s a phenomenally successful one, but its work will never be finished.

In four hundred years, we evolved from a planet of people who are absolutely convinced that the universe revolves around us. No inkling that the Sun doesn’t revolve around us, let alone that we are but a minuscule part of a galaxy that contains roughly a hundred billion stars. If scientists are correct, if recent findings of planets that revolve around other stars are correct, there are perhaps five hundred billion worlds in this galaxy, in a universe of perhaps another hundred billion galaxies. And it is conceivable, even possible, that this universe might one day be revealed to be nothing more than an electron in a much greater universe. And here’s a civilization that was absolutely clueless four or five hundred years ago about its own tiny world and the impossibly greater vastness surrounding it. We were like a little bunch of fruit flies going around a grape, and thinking this grape is the center of everything that is. To our ancestors the universe was created for one particular gender of one particular species of one particular group among all the stunning variety of life to be found on this tiny little world.

There was only one problem. These very special beings for whom the universe was created had a holiday called Easter and they wanted to be able to celebrate it on the same day at the same time. But in this geocentric universe that they blissfully inhabited, there was no way to create a workable calendar that was coherent. At this time, there was a phrase to describe what science was. It is suffused with disarming candor and not a bit of self-consciousness at all. It was called saving the appearances. That was the task of science: To save the appearances. Figure out a way to take the reported appearances of the stars and the planets in the sky and predict with some reliability where they would be in the future. It’s almost as if they knew they were living a cosmic lie. To call it saving the appearances is wonderful.

So the Lateran Council of 1514 was convened, and one of its main goals was to figure out a calendar that everybody could use so that they won’t be celebrating Easter on different days. A man named Nicolas Copernicus, who was a very religious guy, whose lifelong career was in the church, had already figured out what the problem was. He was invited to present this information at the Council, but he declined because he knew how dangerous it would be to puncture this cosmological illusion. Even though the pope at that moment was not actually terribly exercised about this idea, Copernicus’s fears were not baseless. Even sixty years later, a man named Giordano Bruno was burned alive for one reason: he would not utter the phrase, “There are no other worlds.”

I’ve thought about this a lot. How could you have the guts to be willing to be burned alive? Bruno had no community of peers to egg him on. He wasn’t even a scientist, he didn’t really have any scientific evidence, but he chose this horrible death because he refused to say this phrase: “There are no other worlds.” It’s a magnificent thing, it’s a wondrous mystery to me, and I don’t think I completely understand how it was possible.

Copernicus did find the courage to publish his idea when he was comfortably near a natural death. When in 1543, On The Revolutions of Celestial Spheres was published, something unprecedented happened: a trauma from which we have never recovered. Up until that time, the sacred and the scientific had been one. Priests and scientists had been one in the same. It is true that two millennia before Copernicus there had been the pre-Socratic philosophers, who really were the inventors of science and the democratic values of our society. These ancient Greeks could imagine a universe and a world without God. But they were very much the exception, flourishing too briefly before being almost completely extirpated philosophically by the Platonists. Many of their books were destroyed. Plato loathed their materialism and egalitarian ideals. So there really wasn’t a vibrant school of thought with a continuous tradition that survived down through the ages, daring to explain the wonder of nature without resorting to the God hypothesis.

It was actually initiated by a group of uncommonly religious men like Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, and (much later) even Darwin, who catalyzed that separation between our knowledge of nature and what we held in our hearts. All four of them either had religious careers or were contemplating such a profession. They were brilliant questioners, and they used the sharpest tools they had to search for what was holy. They had enough confidence in the reality of the sacred to be willing to look at it as deeply as humanly possible. This unflinching search led to our greatest spiritual awakening-the modern scientific revolution. It was a spiritual breakthrough, and I think that it is our failure to recognize it as such that explains so much of the loneliness and madness in our civilization, so much of the conflict and self-hatred. At that time, the public and their religious institutions, of course, rejected out of hand their most profound insights into nature. It was several hundred years before the public really thought about this, and took seriously what Copernicus was saying. The last four centuries of disconnect between what our elders told us and what we knew was true has been costly for our civilization.

I think we still have an acute case of post-Copernican-stress syndrome. We have not resolved the trauma of losing our infantile sense of centrality in the universe. And so as a society we lie to our children. We tell them a palliative story, almost to ensure that they will be infantile for all of their lives. Why? Is the notion that we die so unacceptable? Is the notion that we are tiny and the universe is vast too much of a blow to our shaky self-esteem?

It has only been through science that we have been able to pierce this infantile, dysfunctional need to be the center of the universe, the only love object of its creator. Science has made it possible to reconstruct our distant past without the need to idealize it, like some adult unable to deal with the abuse of childhood. We’ve been able to view our tiny little home as it is. Our conception of our surroundings need not remain the disproportionate view of the still-small child. Science has brought us to the threshold of acceptance of the vastness. It has carried us to the gateway of the universe. However, we are spiritually and culturally paralyzed and unable to move forward; to embrace the vastness, to embrace our lack of centrality and find our actual place in the fabric of nature. That we even do science is hopeful evidence for our mental health. It’s a breakthrough. However, it’s not enough to allow these insights; we must take them to heart.

What happened four or five hundred years ago? During this period there was a great bifurcation. We made a kind of settlement with ourselves. We said, okay, so much of what we believed and what our parents and our ancestors taught us has been rendered untenable. The Bible says that the Earth is flat. The Bible says that we were created separately from the rest of life. If you look at it honestly, you have to give up these basic ideas, you have to admit that the Bible is not infallible, it’s not the gospel truth of the creator of the universe. So what did we do? We made a corrupt treaty that resulted in a troubled peace: We built a wall inside ourselves.

It made us sick. In our souls we cherished a myth that was rootless in nature. What we actually knew of nature we compartmentalized into a place that could not touch our souls. The churches agreed to stop torturing and murdering scientists. The scientists pretended that knowledge of the universe has no spiritual implications.

It’s a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and it’s preciousness on this tiny world.

When I say “spiritual,” it’s a complicated word that has some unpleasant associations. Still, there has to be a word for that soaring feeling that we experience when we contemplate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution and four and a half billion years of the story of life on this planet. Why should we give that up? Why do we not give this to our children? Why is it that in a city like Los Angeles, a city of so many churches and temples and mosques, there’s only one place like this Center for Inquiry? And that it’s only us here today? Fewer than a hundred people in a city of millions? Why is that? Why does the message of science not grab people in their souls and give them the kind of emotional gratification that religion has given to so many?

This is something that I think we have to come to grips with. There’s a confusion generally in our society. There is a great wall that separates what we know from what we feel.

Medicine has had an oath that goes back to Hippocrates. Hippocrates is an amazing figure, both a father of scientific ethics and first articulator of the insight that frees humankind to discover the universe. He’s one of those pre-Socratic philosophers I was talking about earlier, and he said something that resonated for me at a moment in my life when I realized what my path would be. His words inspired me to try as hard as I could in my own life to make it matter what is true. Hippocrates was writing in an essay called Sacred Disease 2,500 years ago. He was writing about the sacred disease that is now called epilepsy, and very matter-of-factly he said something that struck me like a lightning bolt. I’ll paraphrase: “People believe that this disease is sacred simply because they don’t know what causes it? But some day I believe they will, and the moment they figure out why people have epilepsy, it will cease to be considered divine.” Why don’t we have schools everywhere that teach children about Hippocrates, about the power of asking questions, rather than cautionary tales about the punishment for doing so. Our kids are not taught in school about Hippocrates, not taught about this multigenerational process of divesting ourselves of superstitions, false pattern recognition, and all the things that go with it, racism, sexism, xenophobia, all that constellation of baggage that we carry with us. We live in a society now where our leadership is all about promoting superstition, promoting xenophobia.

I’ve been thinking about the distorted view of science that prevails in our culture. I’ve been wondering about this, because our civilization is completely dependent on science and high technology, yet most of us are alienated from science. We are estranged from its methods, its values, and its language. Who is the scientist in our culture? He is Dr. Faustus, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Strangelove. He’s the maker of the Faustian bargain that is bound to end badly. Where does that come from? We’ve had a long period of unprecedented success in scientific discovery. We can do things that even our recent ancestors would consider magic, and yet our self-esteem as a species seems low. We hate and fear science. We fear science and we fear the scientist. A common theme of popular movies is some crazed scientist somewhere setting about ruining what is most precious to all of us.

I think the roots of this antagonism to science run very deep. They’re ancient. We see them in Genesis, this first story, this founding myth of ours, in which the first humans are doomed and cursed eternally for asking a question, for partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s puzzling that Eden is synonymous with paradise when, if you think about it at all, it’s more like a maximum-security prison with twenty-four hour surveillance. It’s a horrible place. Adam and Eve have no childhood. They awaken full-grown. What is a human being without a childhood? Our long childhood is a critical feature of our species. It differentiates us, to a degree, from most other species. We take a longer time to mature. We depend upon these formative years and the social fabric to learn many of the things we need to know.

So here are Adam and Eve, who have awakened full grown, without the tenderness and memory of childhood. They have no mother, nor did they ever have one. The idea of a mammal without a mother is, by definition, tragic. It’s the deepest kind of wound for our species; antithetical to our flourishing, to who we are.

Their father is a terrifying, disembodied voice who is furious with them from the moment they first awaken. He doesn’t say, “Welcome to the planet Earth, my beautiful children! Welcome to this paradise. Billions of years of evolution have shaped you to be happier here than anywhere else in the vast universe. This is your paradise.” No, instead God places Adam and Eve in a place where there can be no love; only fear, and fear-based behavior, obedience. God threatens to kill Adam and Eve if they disobey his wishes. God tells them that the worst crime, a capital offense, is to ask a question; to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What kind of father is this? As Diderot observed, the God of Genesis “loved his apples more than he did his children.”

This imperative not to be curious is probably the most self-hating aspect of all, because what is our selective advantage as a species? We’re not the fastest. We’re not the strongest. We’re not the biggest. However, we do have one selective advantage that has enabled us to survive and prosper and endure: A fairly large brain relative to our body size. This has made it possible for us to ask questions and to recognize patterns. And slowly over the generations we’ve turned this aptitude into an ability to reconstruct our distant past, to question the very origins of the universe and life itself. It’s our only advantage, and yet this is the one thing that God does not want us to have: consciousness, self-awareness.

Perhaps Genesis should be read as an ironic story. Here’s a god who does not give us the knowledge of good and evil. He knows we don’t know right from wrong. Yet he tells us not to do something anyway. How can someone who doesn’t know right from wrong be expected to do the right thing? By disobeying god, we escape from his totalitarian prison where you cannot ask any questions, where you must never question authority. We become our human selves.

Our nation was founded on a heroic act of disobedience to a king who was presumed to rule by divine right. We created social and legal mechanisms to institutionalize the questioning of authority and the participation of every person in the decision-making process. It’s the most original thing about us, our greatest contribution to global civilization. Today, our not-exactly-elected officials try to make it seem as if questioning this ancient story is wrong. . . . That the teaching of our evolving understanding of nature, which is a product of what we have been able to discover over generations, is somehow un-American or disrespectful of strongly held beliefs. As if we should not teach our children what we’ve learned about our origins, but rather we should continue to teach them this story which demonizes the best qualities of our founding fathers.

This makes no sense and it leads me to a question: Why do we separate the scientific, which is just a way of searching for truth, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe? Science is nothing more than a never-ending search for truth. What could be more profoundly sacred than that? I’m sure most of what we all hold dearest and cherish most, believing at this very moment, will be revealed at some future time to be merely a product of our age and our history and our understanding of reality. So here’s this process, this way, this mechanism for finding bits of reality. No single bit is sacred. But the search is.

And so we pursue knowledge by using the scientific method to constantly ferret out all the mistakes that human beings chronically make, all of the lies we tell ourselves to combat our fears, all of the lies we tell each other. Here’s science, just working like a tireless machine. It’s a phenomenally successful one, but its work will never be finished.

In four hundred years, we evolved from a planet of people who are absolutely convinced that the universe revolves around us. No inkling that the Sun doesn’t revolve around us, let alone that we are but a minuscule part of a galaxy that contains roughly a hundred billion stars. If scientists are correct, if recent findings of planets that revolve around other stars are correct, there are perhaps five hundred billion worlds in this galaxy, in a universe of perhaps another hundred billion galaxies. And it is conceivable, even possible, that this universe might one day be revealed to be nothing more than an electron in a much greater universe. And here’s a civilization that was absolutely clueless four or five hundred years ago about its own tiny world and the impossibly greater vastness surrounding it. We were like a little bunch of fruit flies going around a grape, and thinking this grape is the center of everything that is. To our ancestors the universe was created for one particular gender of one particular species of one particular group among all the stunning variety of life to be found on this tiny little world.

There was only one problem. These very special beings for whom the universe was created had a holiday called Easter and they wanted to be able to celebrate it on the same day at the same time. But in this geocentric universe that they blissfully inhabited, there was no way to create a workable calendar that was coherent. At this time, there was a phrase to describe what science was. It is suffused with disarming candor and not a bit of self-consciousness at all. It was called saving the appearances. That was the task of science: To save the appearances. Figure out a way to take the reported appearances of the stars and the planets in the sky and predict with some reliability where they would be in the future. It’s almost as if they knew they were living a cosmic lie. To call it saving the appearances is wonderful.

So the Lateran Council of 1514 was convened, and one of its main goals was to figure out a calendar that everybody could use so that they won’t be celebrating Easter on different days. A man named Nicolas Copernicus, who was a very religious guy, whose lifelong career was in the church, had already figured out what the problem was. He was invited to present this information at the Council, but he declined because he knew how dangerous it would be to puncture this cosmological illusion. Even though the pope at that moment was not actually terribly exercised about this idea, Copernicus’s fears were not baseless. Even sixty years later, a man named Giordano Bruno was burned alive for one reason: he would not utter the phrase, “There are no other worlds.”

I’ve thought about this a lot. How could you have the guts to be willing to be burned alive? Bruno had no community of peers to egg him on. He wasn’t even a scientist, he didn’t really have any scientific evidence, but he chose this horrible death because he refused to say this phrase: “There are no other worlds.” It’s a magnificent thing, it’s a wondrous mystery to me, and I don’t think I completely understand how it was possible.

Copernicus did find the courage to publish his idea when he was comfortably near a natural death. When in 1543, On The Revolutions of Celestial Spheres was published, something unprecedented happened: a trauma from which we have never recovered. Up until that time, the sacred and the scientific had been one. Priests and scientists had been one in the same. It is true that two millennia before Copernicus there had been the pre-Socratic philosophers, who really were the inventors of science and the democratic values of our society. These ancient Greeks could imagine a universe and a world without God. But they were very much the exception, flourishing too briefly before being almost completely extirpated philosophically by the Platonists. Many of their books were destroyed. Plato loathed their materialism and egalitarian ideals. So there really wasn’t a vibrant school of thought with a continuous tradition that survived down through the ages, daring to explain the wonder of nature without resorting to the God hypothesis.

It was actually initiated by a group of uncommonly religious men like Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, and (much later) even Darwin, who catalyzed that separation between our knowledge of nature and what we held in our hearts. All four of them either had religious careers or were contemplating such a profession. They were brilliant questioners, and they used the sharpest tools they had to search for what was holy. They had enough confidence in the reality of the sacred to be willing to look at it as deeply as humanly possible. This unflinching search led to our greatest spiritual awakening-the modern scientific revolution. It was a spiritual breakthrough, and I think that it is our failure to recognize it as such that explains so much of the loneliness and madness in our civilization, so much of the conflict and self-hatred. At that time, the public and their religious institutions, of course, rejected out of hand their most profound insights into nature. It was several hundred years before the public really thought about this, and took seriously what Copernicus was saying. The last four centuries of disconnect between what our elders told us and what we knew was true has been costly for our civilization.

I think we still have an acute case of post-Copernican-stress syndrome. We have not resolved the trauma of losing our infantile sense of centrality in the universe. And so as a society we lie to our children. We tell them a palliative story, almost to ensure that they will be infantile for all of their lives. Why? Is the notion that we die so unacceptable? Is the notion that we are tiny and the universe is vast too much of a blow to our shaky self-esteem?

It has only been through science that we have been able to pierce this infantile, dysfunctional need to be the center of the universe, the only love object of its creator. Science has made it possible to reconstruct our distant past without the need to idealize it, like some adult unable to deal with the abuse of childhood. We’ve been able to view our tiny little home as it is. Our conception of our surroundings need not remain the disproportionate view of the still-small child. Science has brought us to the threshold of acceptance of the vastness. It has carried us to the gateway of the universe. However, we are spiritually and culturally paralyzed and unable to move forward; to embrace the vastness, to embrace our lack of centrality and find our actual place in the fabric of nature. That we even do science is hopeful evidence for our mental health. It’s a breakthrough. However, it’s not enough to allow these insights; we must take them to heart.

What happened four or five hundred years ago? During this period there was a great bifurcation. We made a kind of settlement with ourselves. We said, okay, so much of what we believed and what our parents and our ancestors taught us has been rendered untenable. The Bible says that the Earth is flat. The Bible says that we were created separately from the rest of life. If you look at it honestly, you have to give up these basic ideas, you have to admit that the Bible is not infallible, it’s not the gospel truth of the creator of the universe. So what did we do? We made a corrupt treaty that resulted in a troubled peace: We built a wall inside ourselves.

It made us sick. In our souls we cherished a myth that was rootless in nature. What we actually knew of nature we compartmentalized into a place that could not touch our souls. The churches agreed to stop torturing and murdering scientists. The scientists pretended that knowledge of the universe has no spiritual implications.

It’s a catastrophic tragedy that science ceded the spiritual uplift of its central revelations: the vastness of the universe, the immensity of time, the relatedness of all life and it’s preciousness on this tiny world.

When I say “spiritual,” it’s a complicated word that has some unpleasant associations. Still, there has to be a word for that soaring feeling that we experience when we contemplate 13 billion years of cosmic evolution and four and a half billion years of the story of life on this planet. Why should we give that up? Why do we not give this to our children? Why is it that in a city like Los Angeles, a city of so many churches and temples and mosques, there’s only one place like this Center for Inquiry? And that it’s only us here today? Fewer than a hundred people in a city of millions? Why is that? Why does the message of science not grab people in their souls and give them the kind of emotional gratification that religion has given to so many?

This is something that I think we have to come to grips with. There’s a confusion generally in our society. There is a great wall that separates what we know from what we feel.

Medicine has had an oath that goes back to Hippocrates. Hippocrates is an amazing figure, both a father of scientific ethics and first articulator of the insight that frees humankind to discover the universe. He’s one of those pre-Socratic philosophers I was talking about earlier, and he said something that resonated for me at a moment in my life when I realized what my path would be. His words inspired me to try as hard as I could in my own life to make it matter what is true. Hippocrates was writing in an essay called Sacred Disease 2,500 years ago. He was writing about the sacred disease that is now called epilepsy, and very matter-of-factly he said something that struck me like a lightning bolt. I’ll paraphrase: “People believe that this disease is sacred simply because they don’t know what causes it? But some day I believe they will, and the moment they figure out why people have epilepsy, it will cease to be considered divine.” Why don’t we have schools everywhere that teach children about Hippocrates, about the power of asking questions, rather than cautionary tales about the punishment for doing so. Our kids are not taught in school about Hippocrates, not taught about this multigenerational process of divesting ourselves of superstitions, false pattern recognition, and all the things that go with it, racism, sexism, xenophobia, all that constellation of baggage that we carry with us. We live in a society now where our leadership is all about promoting superstition, promoting xenophobia.