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Links With Your Coffee - Wednesday


  • Questions & Answers: A conversation with Rebecca Goldstein
    Cass Seltzer, the mild-mannered hero of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's new novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God(Pantheon, 416 pages, $17.47(amazon) ), has recently emerged as one of America's favorite public intellectuals. Dubbed an "atheist with a soul" by a fictional Time magazine, for the kindler, gentler argument against God he presents in his best-selling book, "The Varieties of Religious Illusion," he is a palatable alternative to more strident deniers of the divine like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Descended from a line of Hasidic rabbis, Cass is a professor of psychology at "Frankfurter University" outside Boston (named for a legendary Jewish Supreme Court justice ), but is being wooed away by Harvard. He's also recently begun living with the woman of his dreams, and he can't get over the feeling that somehow his life is blessed, even if he lacks belief in the greater force that might have blessed him.

  • From Fish to Infinity
    The best introduction to numbers I’ve ever seen — the clearest and funniest explanation of what they are and why we need them — appears in a “Sesame Street” video called “123 Count With Me.” Humphrey, an amiable but dim-witted fellow with pink fur and a green nose, is working the lunch shift at The Furry Arms hotel, when he takes a call from a room full of penguins. Humphrey listens carefully and then calls out their order to the kitchen: “Fish, fish, fish, fish, fish, fish.” This prompts Ernie to enlighten him about the virtues of the number six.

    Children learn from this that numbers are wonderful shortcuts. Instead of saying the word “fish” exactly as many times as there are penguins, Humphrey could use the more powerful concept of “six.”

  • Corrupt to the core

  • Pope Benedict XVI attacks Labour's equality push

    The Pope has made an unprecedented attack on the human rights policies of Gordon Brown’s Government, claiming that they threaten religious freedom and urging Catholic bishops to fight back with “missionary zeal”.

    Pope Benedict XVI said that new equality legislation was unjust and violated natural law.

  • Our Incredible Shrinking Democracy
    I wish conservatives would stop complaining about big government and start worrying about the real problem - small democracy. I wish we'd all worry more about our incredible shrinking democracy.



wow, that rebecca goldstein is pretty impressive, waddya say norm? i'd never heard of her before (though i knew of her husband). that interview was just great, thanks. gotta get the book now...

I just finished reading it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm sure you'll like the jewish connection, those hasidic jews are a strange lot.

those hasidic jews are a strange lot.

yes they are, but they're MY strange lot. :) it said in the article you posted (and elsewhere in some googling i did after reading the interview) that she portrays them quite sympathetically in the book. i'm curious, do you think she went overboard with that? or were you also moved to "sympathy"? do you think it's some kind of flaw in her atheism?

Actually I think she struck about the right tone, and no I don't view it as a flaw in her atheism. I too was moved to sympathy, in the sense that I felt sorry for Azarya for having the misfortune of growing up in a hasidic family. I feel a similar sympathy for all children of religious fundamentalists. It's not unlike the sympathy I feel for a cancer patients particularly children I hope they're cured before it kills them. Perhaps that's too harsh.

i haven't read the book yet, but i was under the impression the "sympathy" the reviewers talk about isn't the kind you're referring to- where you feel sorry for them- but rather sympathetic as in "sympathetic portrayal". i understood she spent a good part of her life living as an orthodox jew and views certain aspects of that lifestyle and worldview with some warm nostalgia. i don't get the feeling she regrets it as wasted time, at any rate. just wondering. there are plenty of "born and raised" atheists and freethinkers here, but some of those who left religious backgrounds seem to have so much venom toward their former lives, i'm just curious about it is all.

I didn't view it as particularly sympathetic in the sense you refer to, though that may just be me reading into it what I want to see. I'll be interested in your take on it. You could do a nice little review on the forum. You might have noticed that the reply date on comments there is now correct.

The appendix of arguments for the existence of God and the refutations are nicely done.

there's a guy on a "freethinking jewish" blog tackling them one at a time if you're interested:

i want to read the original list before i try to unpack any of this stuff.


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