Jonathan Sacks makes many utterly absurd religious claims in a Salon article

Sacks_Jonathan_2Salon rang up Jonathan Sacks, interviewed him, and managed to spin some truly absurd religious claims into an article they have published. How much of what comes up is actually the thinking of Mr Sacks, and how much is actually the Salon author’s agenda via a bit of quote mining, I honestly don’t know, but either way it is still all very silly.

Now before they get into the interview they first establish the credentials of Mr Sacks as follows …

the man actually has three: one of them academic (a PhD in philosophy), one civil (a British life peer, Sacks sits in the House of Lords) and one religious (he’s an Orthodox rabbi). Is it Lord Rabbi Dr. Sacks? Dr. Lord Rabbi Sacks?

The moment you see preening like this you know that there will be some truly absurd religious claims coming up and the basis for them being true is because the source for these claims is somebody important with lots of titles associated with his name. That’s a logical fallacy called “Appeal to authority” – the things that have evidence are the things that we can establish as true, anything and everything else is simply opinion, and if there is no evidence for a claim, then it can be dismissed. Clearly the Salon author has a specific religious agenda here so you know what will now come is a stream of religious hand-waving.

Context – He has a new book

The context for it all is that Mr Sacks has a new book coming out in which he argues that “no single system of knowledge can engage the world entirely“. Sorry, but that is pure unadulterated nonsense, religion is not a “system of knowledge“; myths, superstitions, and an embrace of absurd claims is simply a pretence of knowledge and wisdom that leads humans into a false and groundless hope that firmly founded upon delusions. Everything that follows is built upon this false assertion.

Absurd Claim 1 – Religion is a form of knowledge

Science is claiming a monopoly of knowledge, and thus some scientific atheists are intent on depriving religion of any cognitive status. I think this has been a swing of a pendulum, and I think it has more to do with power than with intellectual integrity.

Name just one specific iota of knowledge that religion has imparted to humanity?

When it comes to facts, the “facts” asserted by beliefs turn out time after time to be wrong, and we have had to drag the religious kicking and screaming into reality. No, evolution is not a myth, no the world in not 6,000 years old – these, and much more, are not items of “knowledge”.

When it comes to morality, once again religion has had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the stone age and the bigotry has had to be crowbar’d out of their hands. No slavery is not a jolly good idea, no being gay is not an inherent evil, no you don’t get to impose you batty beliefs by force or everybody else.

So what exactly is this “knowledge” that he feels is valuable, does he have any specific examples?


Absurd Claim 2 – Religion gives meaning

Richard [Dawkins], who is a brilliant scientist, thinks that morality is a simple matter. Oh, we’ll get a few scientists and we’ll work out what we should do and what we shouldn’t …

That’s a straw man argument, no Richard Dawkins does not make that assertion at all, but even if he did, he does not speak for every non-believer.

Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts them together to see what they mean. 

What exactly is this “meaning” that religion imparts and is this “meaning” in any way true?

I’d argue that embracing a delusion is not in any way a meaningful form of “meaning”. It is also absurd to suggest that the only means to find meaning is via a religious belief, because almost every non-believer also finds meaning but manage to do so without recourse to religious superstition.

Absurd Claim 3 – There is more than  just science

they believe that science is all there is. And that’s just wrong.

And his evidence for this “more” is what exactly?

Nothing is cited. I will however acknowledge that there is indeed a domain beyond rationality, we do have clear evidence of it within this daft article … it is called irrationality.

Absurd Claim 4 – fundamental truth is the truth you hear

fundamental truth is the truth you hear

No, that is nonsense, the things that are true can be demonstrated to be objectively true, hearing something does not make it true.

Absurd Claim 5 – Genesis 1 is a story about goodness

It’s clear that the first chapter of the Bible is teaching us about the goodness of the world, not about the cosmo-genesis of the world.

Nope, Genesis 1 is simply a plagiarised copy of an earlier Babylonian Creation myth, one that is rather at odds with reality. In it god creates the sun moon and stars on day 4 long after creating planet earth. Call me slightly picky if you like, but the religious “knowledge” that the entire universe came after the emergence of planet earth and all the grass and tress on day three is an utterly absurd “knowledge” claim.

Absurd Claim 6 – Religion embodies “truth”

Well, I’m just saying that sometimes a religion — and Judaism happens to be mine — embodies a truth that we may have forgotten

Science and religion are very much chalk and cheese.

  • Science starts with observations, reaches a conclusion and is open for modification.
  • Religion starts with conclusions that are not based on any facts or observations, and is closed for modification.

Religion might indeed make “truth” claims, but it has no rational basis for doing so.

Absurd Claim 7 – A fundamentalist is somebody can can’t understand the other viewpoint

A fundamentalist is somebody who can’t really understand a point of view opposite to his own. He can’t really hear in stereo, he can’t really see 3-D. Whereas a really great scientist like Niels Bohr will say that the opposite of a superficial truth is a falsehood, but the opposite of a profound truth is very often another profound truth. Niels Bohr really got it. But some of today’s atheists don’t get it. They know that science is a profound truth, but they can’t understand that something opposite can also be a profound truth.

A claim that there is a  fundamentalist form of atheism is utter nonsense, what exactly does that mean? Is it somebody who really really does not believe the absurd religious claims due to the complete lack of evidence, and should we contrast that with a moderate atheist who might dismiss most of the god claim but toy with the idea that there is a divine foot perhaps?

In reality, the word is applied to the religious and describes the fanatics who take the beliefs to the extreme regardless of inconvenient little things such as facts and reality.

If a belief makes a “truth” claim, then it is simply just a claim and there is nothing profound nor “truthful” about it. If there is a will to establish such a claim as true, then that takes evidence, and so far in all of human history the actual verifiable objective evidence for the vast assortment of religious claims is exactly zero.

Absurd Claim 8 – Weird Generalisations : New Atheists lack a sense of Humor

the new atheists tend either to lack a sense of humor, or the only humor they’re capable of is sarcasm. I mean, somebody with a little intellectual humility does not say, “Anyone who disagrees with me is stupid.”

Folks who dismiss god claims have exactly one thing in common – they don’t believe. Some will indeed have no sense of humour, and other will have a wonderful sense of humour. Some indeed will label those who disagree with them as “Stupid” and others will not. You really can’t generalise like this about any group, it is simply not rational and is in reality a cheap trick to slur anybody who happens to hold a specific view.

Absurd Claim 9 – Violent religion is not really religion

if we’re looking at the jihadists in Iraq and Syria, I think that is a desecration of religion, and they are really Nietzscheans

Did he really just play the “No true scotsman” card? …. (sigh!)

No, once again that is utterly absurd – irrational religious beliefs, when deeply embraced as “truth”, have motivated some truly abhorrent stuff, not just today in Syria and Iraq, but through the ages, history is littered with numerous almost uncountable examples.

Absurd Claim 10 – You must have religion to bind society together

Religion creates communities, and communities are essential for the moral life. They’re not essential for individuals, but they’re essential for any group cohesion.

Yes religion creates communities, and it also sets these communities at each other throats as it motivates each to believe they are right and the others are wrong. This, is a recipe for tribalism and will lead to failed states. The evidence today is that the less religious a society is, the better off it is.

There is lots more but I’ll stop there

Waving your hands about and declaring that religion is a source of knowledge and truth does not make it true. Pronouncing it from behind the curtain as Lord somebody or other, or as Rabbi somebody or other or as a philosopher does not make it true, it is instead time to click those ruby slippers together, leave the land of Oz where everything is simply a fantasy and not in any way real at all, and return back to the real world.

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