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Colin Toffelmire

With the obvious exceptions of reproduction, food and shelter, is there anything that human beings care about more than Pinker's imponderables? Sometimes we even care about those things more than reproduction, food and shelter. And if morality is included on that list then how is it conceivable that Pinker give's two farts one way or the other about religion? Aren't his dismissive statements regarding religion and religious people essentially a form of moralizing? None of these questions serve as evidence for theism or deism per se, but they sure make evangelistic atheism seem weird to me.


It's tempting to touche' Pinker on the basis of an alternative and competing reductivism (that's another problem with reductivisms as various as those of Freud, Marx, and B. F. Skinner: they are mutually exclusive; at most, one, if any, can be on the money). Perhaps, for example, Pinker's conclusions have a psychoanalytical explanation. Freud would have thought so.

But I won't do that. Ideas are more than tools to hit people over the head with. They refer to things, and ultimately, to transcendentals.

Plato, who was not exactly an idiot, got this right long ago, however differently one might wish to phrase it.

So I take Pinker's objections and assimilate them to those of Qohelet. I then ask Pinker, at least in my moral imagination: surely however you, like Qohelet, nevertheless uphold conventional morality, even if you cannot "found" it?

But it turns out that Pinker is easily read as legitimizing infanticide. Freedom from religion: it does lead somewhere. But I'm not sure it's a good place.

I know you love linguistics. Pinker is a student of Chomsky but the latter is on record as concluding that neo-Darwinian explanations of language involve a vast non sequitur.

Surely Chomsky is right. But out of fear of imponderables, Pinker chose what is, with all due respect, a ponderable dead end.

Gary Simmons

I have always held the opinion that James' characterization of demons is rather positive. The fact that they shudder means that they take knowledge as an axiom. Woe to those without the good sense to at least shudder!


Try us again, Gary. Do you mean William James, and can you be more specific?

G. Kyle Essary

Well, Dooyeweerd would say something to the effect that you have to have a solid starting point to work from. He of course came with the presupposition that life was inherently meaningful being divine in origin. That's a much better foundation than pure reason. Those who try to work without such a starting point, always come to "imponderables," which are often the most important things in life.

If I were raised in the hard sciences only and only studied analytic philosophy, then I too might have the perspective that our communal reason was ultimate and worthy of building our world upon. I'd also try to ban anything written by Alisdair Macintyre or Jacques Derrida from the curriculum and libraries. And then I'd stay in the lab and not experience the things that go beyond communal reason, which are infinitely more valuable to personal experience. The types of things that actually inspire you to be a better scientist.

I found this great quote in a collection of essays by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhold Hütter that I began this evening:

"Reason and reasoning, as so far sketched, are capacious categories. Judgments and arguments may be made about many different things (carpentry, navigation, mathematics, politics, aesthetics, metaphysics), and reasoning in these varied spheres proceeds from different (and sometimes incompatible) assumptions about how good judgments and arguments are to be distinguished from bad, and about which sources may properly be appealed to as authoritative. This is neither surprising nor problematic; it accounts for the fact that reason has often been sorted into subkinds: practical reason, theoretical reason, and so on. The disposition to reason is best understood as a class-category, a genus with many species, just as is the disposition to use language: There are no speakers of language but only speakers of French, German, English, Japanese, and so on; similarly, there are no reasoners, but only philosophers, mathematicians, carpenters, political theorists, and so on. This is too often forgotten...

Reasoners who do not share the chastened confidence in reason required of Christians will typically misunderstand their own capacity to reason and will be either overconfident in the judgments and arguments they make, or they will despair of reasoning and abandon themselves without remainder to the sirens of libido and superbia, permitting these to proliferate unchecked. When reason does not misprize itself in these ways, it will come to argue dispassionately and lucidly for the inevitability of its own failures, though not for their universality. The extent to which a reasoner's view of reason diverges from a properly Christian view of reason can be discerned by the extent to which it approaches overconfidence or despair. Christian thought about reason occupies a middle ground between these two extremes, which is to say that Christians can be neither rationalist nor fideist.

So much for reason..."

G. Kyle Essary

Haha, I'm pretty sure that Gary has the apostle James in mind, ala James 2:19.


Thanks, Kyle, for some very interesting remarks.

Oh, *that* James! I've been reading too much philosophy of religion in the last few days.

Gary Simmons

Kyle has the right of it. Sorry about the mix-up.

I wouldn't know much about different philosophers. However, I am reading a discourse analysis of Philippians -- it should help me get my bearings on how to translate and interpret Philippians as a single letter.

Sorry to be non-sequitor lately! And the joke about my friend Derek on another post is simply that the Hebrew word can be masculine or feminine.


I got the one about derek. Hebrew is always on my brain.

Gary Simmons

tov me'od.

Steve Pable

Hi Gary-- this comment may be totally misplaced, but I took a course with Pauline specialist Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, a Dominican, who posits that Philippians is 3 letters combined. If you'd like a reference, let me know. I was certainly in no position to argue with him, and found his breakdown pretty convincing. He also takes umbrage with the way Paul apparently overlaid some modifiers to the beautiful liturgical hymn in chapter 2. (not that the modifiers aren't important, just that they compromise the artistry of it) I think his analysis of the poetic structure of the hymn may interest you and John. (Obviously Greek not Hebrew)

Again, this is my miniscule contribution to a conversation that is probably far beyond my area of expertise.

Seth Sanders

"science that is afraid of examining the very things which make it possible" hahaha another step backward from Kant. That makes two I've noticed today.


Hi Seth,

Kant is a great discovery once one gets the hang of him. It's interesting that Kant is being taken seriously as a theist again. It is too limiting to think of him as a deist, and he was certainly not an atheist. But, to understand this, one has to think in terms of a priori principles. Kant not only ruled them in, he founded his approach to ethics as duty based on a priori principles.

Introductory links:

Kant's moral argument for the "existence of God" (I hate that expression) deserves a lot more attention than it has so far been given.

The Mission 2

"science that is afraid of examining the very things which make it possible" The only thing science fears are unsubstantiated claims from subjective evidence. It is difficult, if not impossible, to collect objective data of such things as morality and free will, especially since, by definition, free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. These imponderables stay within the realm of philosophers and theologians because the scientific method would be compromised in order to make the claim of understanding the subjects.

The Mission 2

I also have a question about Hebrew for you John. I have seen claims that dragons are mentioned in several parts of the Bible. Isaiah 34:13, Psalm 91:13, Psalm 74:13, Deuteronomy 32:33, and Micah 1:8. In our study Bible, the word dragon is, instead, serpent or jackal (except Psalm 74:13). My question is whether or not the word is actually dragon and is it changed or mistranslated. Is it the same word as in Psalm 74:13 and it's translated differently?

Pulp Fiction 2

I must agree with The Mission 2’s first post above on the statement, “Science that is afraid of examining the very things which make it possible.” The definition of science is, “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.” It would be impossible for science to examine the elusive and intangible aspects of consciousness, self, free will, meaning, knowledge, and morality. There are no hard facts to observe, record, and interpret. Yes, hypothesizes can be made but never proven through experimentation. This is perhaps though the reason for religion. Faith cannot be proven through science, but why would it need to be? Every person has their own level of faith with or without facts to enforce it and this is what God expects from us. If there were facts and hard evidence to prove true religion, then faith would no longer be of value.


Mission 2,

There are many scientists who disagree with you, who think science for example has something to say about whether we have free will or not (b. F. Skinner), whether evolution makes it more or less likely that the universe is purposeful (more likely: Miller; less likely: Dawkins). A sociobiologist like Wilson tries to derive an ethics from his research. The list is very long. But you could be right. Maybe science just makes a hash of the questions that matter most to people. That doesn't prove that things like religion or philosophy frame the questions correctly, or move in the direction of helpful answers, but in that case one should at least have an open mind.

Re: dragons in the Bible. The passages you mention seem unlikely to refer to dragons. Better candidates are the creatures of Isa 27:1, Isa 51:9; perhaps also Ezek 29:3 and 32:2. See especially Revelation 12 and 13

Pulp Fiction 3

This section of class is tying in with my Anthropology class. As far as “Pinker reducing religion to a shadow of its self” he has done just that. In my Anthro class we have begun talking about evolution and or Gods creation. We study that most people feel they belong to a Great Chain of Being, which is the order of stasis determined by God. There is also the theory of catastrophism, or that the world was changed by catastrophes set by God. Science presents many solid facts and ideals about how the earth was made, and the non-existence of a higher being. People who are religious find science rather hard to face. I don’t think there will ever be a seise of “war” between science and religion. The truth, is what I find imponderable.


The quote at the beginning of the article made by Pinker was a bit hard for myself to read at first because I do take much offense to that statement since I know that it is not true for myself nor is it true for many others that I know. However, it's sad to say that doesn't mean that it isn't true for some people. I feel that when times are harder or countries are at war, or a natural disaster strikes an area, people are more likely to "need" God's help, but when times are going good, they forget to thank the one who is giving them everything and therefore I cannot say that his statement is completely false no matter how much I personally don't believe it, but I know that it is true for many other people in the world today.


Pulp fiction 3,

That is well put: "The truth, is what I find imponderable." Of course, you ponder the truth throughout your comment, yet it eludes you just the same.

A book in the Bible which comes to much the same conclusion is Qohelet (often titled Ecclesiastes).

Chariots of Fire 4

The statement may be hard for you to read pulp fiction 3 but the sad reality is he is right. I am a religious person myself but I know that for a fact many people that go to my church and other church's don't even practice giving thanks to God anymore and out of the overall population many people don't even believe in God but if they get told something like they have cancer they are going to take their chances and ask for his help despite believing. Many people just use God as a way to hope that the bad things going on will get better but don't think hes there.

Another thing I want to point out is how the end of the post you put "There you have it: science that is afraid of examining the very things which make it possible." This is a bad statement to make because they can't answer how it happens doesn't mean they are afraid of examining it. You can't prove there is a God. Does that mean I can say there you have it: religion afraid of answering how it happens.

Pulp Fiction 5

The debate over creationism and evolution has been going on since the beginning of man, and it will continue for longer than I am alive I am sure. When it comes down to it I think both sides will have a hard time winning. There are two types of people in this debate, in my opinion. There are the extremes which believe wholeheartedly that they are correct and there are the people who are in the middle and believe points from each side.

On his show the daily show, John Stewart talked about how both sides are similar in that they both present information that cannot be proven so it is hard for either side to prove they are right. When it comes down to it you have to believe what you want and not let anyone try to sway your opinion as that will only weaken your belief.

Pulp Fiction 4

I feel like Pinker is making some valid points, but his arguments are being overshadowed by his use of the word “imponderables”, which makes him sound almost like a machine that is willing to do nothing but compute. Pinker is correct that issues like free will, the self, and morality are impossible to answer definitively.

That leaves the question of whether or not people should work to resolve these “imponderables”. While I don’t necessarily agree with Pinker, I can’t say for sure that he’s wrong either. Everything he says is just his opinion, and I can respect that. Is it really that strange not to attempt something you know is impossible?

Praying with Lior 3

It is because I am a Christian, I don’t fully agree with Pinker’s views of why people believe in religion, but I can see where he is coming from. As a society we find it crucial that we have some explanation as to why something happens. We cannot just let things be and as Christians, we almost use God as a default to end discussions we have no answers for. “It must be God’s will,” or “God has a plan.” That’s why I think many people believe in the theory of evolution, because as a society, we believe in science because we feel it gives us definitive answers.

The Mission 5

I don't think anyone can really sum up religion in one sentence, saying religion is one thing. Religion is many things to many different people. Yes, there are many people who use religion as a desperate measure, but that doesn't mean everyone does.

As far as science, I will add on to what Praying with Lior 3 said. While we believe that science gives us definitive answers, that doesn't mean it does. Just because you are unable to prove a theory wrong in science,does not mean that the theory is right. I think science and religion are more alike than most want to believe.

breaker morant 6

Steven Pinker’s imponderable list: subjective experience, the self, free will, conceptual meaning, knowledge, and morality. All these list of concepts, people have pondered them continuously. I, myself, do ponder them a lot too. But these concepts should not cause people to have doubts and use religion as a means of comfort when times are difficult. Times are always going to be difficult, life is a unexpected road that leads us to any kind of place in anywhere. We cannot control it. Religion is a good religion if it brings peace and fulfillment in life. So I believe that although religion haveit’s flaws, it is still noble and good to be religious and spiritual. I, myself, heavily believes in the spiritual world than the physical world.

Dead man walking 4

Science and religion will always conflict with each other. The spiritual and physical worlds are two completely different ideas that are almost impossible to connect. Spiritual is based on the outside world and elements outside of are bodies that can only be felt physiologically. It is hard to state beliefs are not real when you cannot back up that statement with a proven thesis from a scientific defense. Steven Pinker does a good job making points but nothing that defines the laws of religion. It just comes down to do you believe in God or not. If you find the power of religion and it gives you strength, how can you say that isn’t a real thing?

The Mission 3

There are so many things that I find wrong with the statement that Pinker makes – “Religion is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success”. He is basically saying that Christians go about their everyday lives and the only reason why we turn to our religion and God is when things go awry and we use God as a magical fairy to make things all better. I don’t know about anybody else but I pray and talk to God every single night and day when things are going great or when they are not so good. It sounds to me like Pinker was a Christian before he became a scientist.

Dead Man Walking 5

The great debate of creationism versus evolution has been going on for an incredibly long time and will continue on for a long time. There is no way that either side could ever win the debate anytime soon. There are too many good arguments for both sides of this debate. Both sides have information that cannot exactly be proven that they are right. In the end people will believe whatever they want to believe regardless of the support that they have.


I like how Marilynee Robinson combats Pinkers thought on religion by using the imponderables. These things like free will and morality are things that people thing constantly about. Where did these things come from? The imponderables can’t be explain by Neo-Darwinism which involves trait passing from parent to child. These things are special to every individual that lives on this planet and proof that a intelligent design was responsible for creation. I also like the way Robinson used the word hypertrophy with Neo-Darwinism. I believe that she means Darwinism tries to find scientific answers to certain questions and usually over shoots to mark. Hypertrophy means to grow or to increase in volume. Ideas of evolution will always over shoot its mark because I likes to explain how we came from a monkey because of similar DNA. The hypertrophy I think Robinson is talking about is that middle area or step between monkey to human which evolution struggles to explain.

Praying with Lior 2

I enjoyed reading this article very much. Steven Pinker’s points that are in the blog entry are very interesting to me. As someone who as a hard time with the whole concept of God and religion, Pinker’s views are very similar to mine. His quote, “Religion is a desperate measure that people resort to when the stakes are high and they have exhausted the usual techniques for the causation of success” is a view that I have held for many years. Religion is something that some people need in their lives; it fills a void that they want filled. I am not trying to change peoples’ views. I however have a problem with those who try to push religion on someone else. The argument between the scientific community and the religious world has been going on for hundreds of years. I respect the views of people who turn to religion for support. Religion has been a topic that confused me for a long time now and I took this class to try to better understand the views of others.

Pulp Fiction 6

I understand how someone could feel that faith is everyone's last resort, but there are also many things that prove that's not true. Some people go to church every Sunday because it is how they were brought up and not because it is actually what they believe and that's where I think society is getting the wrong message. I have always wondered if just because I always went to church on Sundays and I always went to Sunday school if I'm a better person for that or if I just went because my mom forced me to go. I feel that faith is on the other hand a last resort for a lot of people. They are desperate or in a time of need so they feel like if they pray that everything will be okay. But, if you have never believed in anything before why pray for something if you don't believe in a higher power. This is one subject that continues to baffle me whenever I ponder it.

The Mission 21

I think that Pinker is spot on with his statement about the imponderables. There are many people that are heavily involved in religion. And there are also many people that have no religious back round at all. Take me for example, I come from a family that has no religious back round but I was raised on high morals and the thought that I am in control of my own destiny. And there are some people who take religion very seriously and follow their “God” without question and I find that to be a bit scary. I do not like that fact that my destiny is chosen for me and I can do nothing about it. I believe in an anthropomorphic god. Not in a man like figure that stands above us and scolds us for our sins but more of a positive energy moving through out the universe.

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    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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