Rabbi Wolpe impugns Dawkins’s status as “world’s leading intellectual”

May 11, 2013 • 11:15 am

Liberal Rabbi David Wolpe, who with fellow rabbi Bradley Artson was roundly trounced in a debate with Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens over the existence of an afterlife, is butthurt at Prospect Magazine‘s naming of Richard Dawkins as the “world’ leading intellectual.”  To redress his grievance, Wolpe has a piece in this week’s PuffHo questioning Prospect’s decision: “Is Richard Dawkins really the world’s leading intellectual?”  As Wolpe notes, “If Dawkins is indeed our best, the life of the mind is in a precarious state.”

What’s Wolpe’s beef? Here’s why, he says, Dawkins doesn’t qualify:

  • Historical ignorance. Wolpe argues that, contra Dawkins, Hitler really was more evil than Caligula, and then faults Dawkins for a few other statements:

“Of course, this historical misfire comes from the same book, ‘The God Delusion,”‘that insists, “I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame.” As Alistair McGrath points out, that would surprise anyone who is aware of the fact that the explicitly atheistic Soviet regime destroyed the vast majority of churches (and priests) between 1918-1941. The Tamil Tigers (again, atheistic, and the inventors of suicide vests) leveled countless Buddhist sites of worship.

Well, maybe there are one or two atheists who would bulldoze Chartres right now, but Dawkins is right in the main. I doubt that a single one of my readers would want to see those cathedrals destroyed. For crying out loud, it’s this kind of nitpicking that Wolpe uses to denigrate Dawkins’s historical sense? What about all the things about history Dawkins got unequivocally right, like the evils committed in the name of faith?

  • Intellectual narrowness.  Again, Wolpe picks a couple of quotes out of Dawkins’s oeuvre to discredit him completely.  As he writes, “Dawkins exhibits none of an intellectual’s characteristic ability to understand the second side of the argument. He not only discounts religious argument, he is unable to believe in the integrity and sincerity of those scientists who disagree with him. Referring to a fundamentalist who gave up science because he could not reconcile the two [Kurt Wise], Dawkins suggests that he be given the Templeton prize (a prize for scientists who make spiritual contributions) because He might be the first really sincere recipient.’. . . The inability to credit your opponent’s arguments or intentions is not a mark intellectual distinction.”

Actually, I think it’s pretty clear that Dawkins thinks that many religious people are sincere, especially those who commit evil in the name of their faith. As for not “understanding the second side of the argument,” I’m not sure what the good rabbi means. I can understand why religious people make some of the arguments they do (brainwashing, wish-thinking, and so on), and parse those arguments so that I understand them (“yes, I understand you think the world was created 10,000 years ago”), but taking most religious arguments as seriously as one takes a credible idea, like that of sexual selection? I don’t think so.  In fact, in The God Delusion Dawkins does take on board many arguments for God and uses intellectual tools to dismantle them (e.g., the Cosmological and Ontological arguments and so on).  The influence of that book rests, in fact, precisely on taking the arguments for religion seriously and then dismantling them.

  • Moral obtuseness.  Ah, yes: the old “child abuse” statement that has furnished fodder for many of the faithful:

“To write, as Dawkins has, not only that religion is a form of child abuse but indeed may be more damaging than actual sexual abuse, is closer to raving than to reason: ‘Priestly groping of child bodies is disgusting. But it may be less harmful in the long run than priestly subversion of child minds.’ Puerile swipes at the religion of a billion people are beneath any intellectual, much less a ‘leading’ one.”

Wolpe then points out the many good things that religious people do. But it’s hardly a “puerile swipe” to consider many forms of religious indoctrination as child abuse. I know several Catholics who, even past the age of 30, have been scarred for life by the guilt instilled in them by nuns and priests, and we all know how madrasas deform young and impressionable minds.

Nothing angers religious people more than the accusation that religious indoctrination can be seen as child abuse. And yet that accusation is often completely accurate.  People like Wolpe don’t like to think of themselves, or their coreligionists, as abusive, but of course some of Wolpe’s fellow Jews regularly snip off the tips of children’s penises—with their teeth!—and turn their daughters into second-class citizens, forced to take ritual baths of “purification” after menstruating.

Yes, surely some religious people do good, and sometimes in the name of religion, but many of those people would have done good even if no religion existed, not to mention the fact that many religious “charities” are vehicles to proselytize.

Wolpe notes this: “Central to the evaluation of an intellectual’s integrity is whether they are arguing with the best in the opposing position.”  But what, exactly, does he mean by the “best” in the religious position? The best deeds of religious people? The most “sophisticated” theological thought? Given the absence of evidence for God, there is no “best” religious argument; there are only better or worse behaviors.  And behaviors in modern societies that are largely free of religion, like those of Scandinavia, aren’t palpably worse (and probably better) than those of religious societies like the U.S. In terms of the group morality inspired by religion, I’d say that for most faiths it’s worse than secular humanism.

Wolpe then contrasts Dawkins’s “obstuse” atheism with that of Michael Shermer:

“Thoughtful atheism is an important contribution to the debate. Far more credible is the conclusion of an ideological confederate of Dawkins, editor of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer: ‘However for every one of these grand tragedies there are a thousand acts of personal kindness that go unreported. … Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil.'”

Indeed, for even Hitler built the Autobahn! The question isn’t whether there may be some people inspired to do good by faith, but whether the tenets of that faith, without which it would inspire no behaviors, are true.  And it is here that Dawkins has made his mark, for by his writings, eloquence, and dogged, science-inspired questioning, he has rammed home a central tenet of New Atheism: religion depends on empirical statements about the universe, and without those statements religion crumbles. God is a hypothesis, and a bad one.

In fact, the Prospect Magazine criteria have been widely misinterpreted. The magazine wasn’t trying to find the world’s leading intellectual of the decade, or of our time, but those intellectuals who had the biggest influence over the past year. As Prospect notes:

The panelists who drew up the longlist of 65 gave credit for the currency of candidates’ work—their influence over the past 12 months and their continuing significance for this year’s biggest questions.

By those lights, Dawkins surely qualifies.  He has, along with the other prominent New Atheists, made nonbelief respectable again, and an intellectually solid position.  He has inspired thousands of secret nonbelievers to make their voices heard, thereby hastening the end of the world’s last great superstition.  That certainly makes him one of the world’s most influential intellectuals.

And I’ll tell you who is not one of the world’s great intellectuals: the credulous faithhead Rabbi David Wolpe, mewling and puking before a nonexistent Yahweh.

h/t: SGM

81 thoughts on “Rabbi Wolpe impugns Dawkins’s status as “world’s leading intellectual”

  1. The question isn’t whether there may be some people inspired to do good by faith, but whether the tenets of that faith, without which it would inspire no behaviors, are true.

    I think I’d put it slightly differently. There are two major questions about any religion: (1) is it true? (2) is it beneficial? If the answer to the first is yes, then the second is redundant: clearly it is in our interests to learn as much as possible about the deities (1 or more) who are watching over us, and to take their wishes into account. Only if the answer to the first question is no does the second question become relevant.

    So whenever theologians / bishops / rabbis start banging on about the beneficial side of their religion, they are implicitly accepting that their religion is false.

    1. I would pose question 3, what right does god/or gods have to interfere in human affairs. The answer put forward by the religious comes down to “might is right”, which I would reject on moral grounds. I suggest that a sensible religion would also reject “might is right” as it would be a sufficient reason for forced conversion-if successful it is right and any casualties were meant by our version of god.
      I would reject any claim by god to a right to interfere in human affairs, unless it is human in which case it would have the same rights as any other individual human(of course then it would not be a god).We should then study god to determine how to overcome its interference.

  2. The intellectual narrowness argument seems to me the most bizarre of all the rabbi’s bizarre arguments. You only need to endure the famous Wendy Wright discussion to realize that is hardly true: http://youtu.be/AekFGksvuDU

    How Dawkins could listen so politely to Wendy’s nonsense and respond so thoughtfully is testimony to his ability to see the other side. I suspect Rabbi Wolpe’s idea of great intellectualism involves throwing the religious a bone every now and then to make them feel good.

      1. I just watched that video for the first time and ENDURE is exactly the correct word for it…for Dawkins and anyone watching.

        He listens intently to every word she says and responds accordingly. She ignores everything he says and continues blithely onwards as if he has said nothing.


    1. Wow, it’s like witnessing some gruesome crime and being too petrified to look away. At about 18 minutes in I finally began clawing at the mouse and managed to close the tab, thus salvaging what’s left of my evening. Although now I feel as though I’ve just lived through an E.A. Poe story; I may never be the same.

    2. Diana

      Re your Richard Dawkins vs Wendy Wright video

      I’m UK-based & get this message on Youtube:

      “This video contains content from Channel 4, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds. Sorry about that.

      THIS LINK however features the same material & works in the UK

    3. I remember seeing that. Painful. I don’t know which was worse, the stupidity coming out of her mouth or the stupid I-love-gawd smile pasted on her face the whole time.

  3. If we could pick a few quotes to discredit the intellect of one person can we do the same with Moses, or he actual authors of the first books of the Bible? I’m sure Wolpe has many excuses.

    1. This are by the way my favorite verses for discrediting Moses, from the episode with the golden calf, Exodus 32:

      “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.”

      So Moses had his goons mass-execute 3000 people for trying to leave the religion he was trying to establish, to avoid becoming “the laughingstock of his enemies”.

        1. Yeah, because “the lord of hosts” is the guy in charge, right? 😉

          (In passing, I had no idea for the longest time growing up that “host” here meant “army”)

      1. I’m sure you’re not interpreting it correctly, or your taking it out of context or we’re not clever enough to understand the divine message .. or something.

  4. It is an old adage in rugby (or rugby league) that if you are losing a game badly and none of your plan B’s work, you start the biff i.e. you play the man and not the ball. Using this analogy, one can assume this recent, continued assault from the religionistas and their apologists on Dawkins means surely that we are winning.

  5. The quote from Dawkins should continue: there are no atheists in the world who would do those things because they are atheists. For the bajillionth time, regimes or organizations like the ones Wolpe mentions are/were out to destroy any competing power or authority, including religion. Atheism wasn’t/isn’t the motivator.

    By contrast, very many groups and individuals perpetrate various atrocities explicitly because of their religion.

    How can so many educated theists like Wolpe not see this distinction?

    I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

    Also, he can’t really think that atheists are unable to appreciate the art and skill that things like architecture and music etc display regardless of their intended use. That’s another trope I’m sick to death of. Great “religious” art is not great because it’s religious. It’s great because of the skillful mind that produced it. A world without religion would not be a world without art.

    1. “The quote from Dawkins should continue: there are no atheists in the world who would do those things BECAUSE THEY ARE ATHEISTS…”

      Exactly! (Per Steven Weinberg) WITH or withOUT religion good people will do good and evil people will do evil; but for good people to do evil, THAT takes religion!

    2. If something has to get credit for being the cause of such great creations(architecture, music) that is the human brain-a product of evolution- not religion.

      Churches are a creation of man , not of god or a misterious force. I think ,most atheists have the ability to make that distinction and as a result of that appreciate them for what they are.

    3. > How can so many educated theists like Wolpe not see this distinction?

      Well, here is the secret: They can. BUT, it is not in their best interests to admit it, so they simply pretend to be arguing in good faith to keep people like you

      > For the bajillionth time,

      busy. Welcome to religion.

    4. Atheists don’t want to bulldoze churches. We want religious people to think about religion, voluntarily give it up — and then use the buildings for other things, better things. Organic atheism keeps the aesthetics.

      1. I have to admit, seeing all the former churches now being used for community centers in Ireland quite warmed my evil atheist heart. 🙂 There seemed to be about an even mix of protestant and catholic buildings being used this way. (This was southern Ireland.)

  6. As much as I like Richard Dawkins and as great as his “selfish gene” idea is, were I choosing a “greatest intellectual” list I would probably choose from the class of the Nobel Laureates/Fields Medalist ranks (e. g. Ed Whitten, Weinberg, Paul Krugman, Pearlman, etc.)

        1. To expand on Ant’s comment, would your list change any if you were to use the 12 months criterion?

    1. Also, people who are generally considered “intellctuals” I think ususally are supposed to be someone who intensely participates in the wider public discourse about some topic relevant to society.

    2. Ranking people by their intellect is subjective, anyway. For me, personally, Dawkins is the greatest intellectual influence because he changed my weltanschauung (for the better.) While I have read some of the works of Witten, Weinberg, and Krugman, and appreciate their intellectual accomplishments, they simply have not had a comparable impact on how I think about the world. Others will have different opinions.

      I expect Rabbi Wolpe thinks Shermer is a good atheist and Dawkins is a bad atheist because Dawkins is a bigger threat to religion than Shermer.

  7. Wolpe and his ilk are loath to admit they are involved in belief systems and institutions that do harm because they would have to admit to themselves that they are not as good as they preferred thinking they are. Nothing like guilt to dull one’s intellectual honesty. In desperation, they cling to the respect card…but, but, but…so many believe…we must respect… Yeah, right, so many once believed slavery was fine and religious belief, in hijacking positive human attributes, directly causes mental and emotional enslavement.

  8. I note that David Wolpe (like the original Prospect magazine) does not use the courtesy title of Professor or Professor Emeritus for Richard Dawkins. I suppose it may be just a ‘house style’, although I suspect that David Wolpe thinks atheists are not worthy of recognition, by default.

    But somehow David Wolpe seems far more pedestrian that Rabbi Davis Wolpe. Just another case of religionists expecting respect by default?

  9. He (Dawkins) not only discounts religious argument, he is unable to believe in the integrity and sincerity of those scientists who disagree with him.”

    Bending yourself into intellectual pretzels to figure out a way to helpfully re-work plaintively unscientific beliefs in order to convince yourself that there is no “conflict” between them is using a double standard. In The God Delusion Dawkins defined the God hypothesis as “:… there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it” — and people like Wolpe virtually screamed in protest. It was too clear, it was too much like a hypothesis.

    The existence of God is not supposed to be a hypothesis! It’s supposed to be … to be… well, not like a hypothesis. It’s supposed to be more like love, or ideals, or like an expression of the sublime mystery at the heart of an eternal and essential essentiality of infinite sublime fullness. Which we can’t grasp. Though we relate to it.

    Oh, damn Dawkins and his petty details and reductionist approach. Wolpe and his coherts know what they mean by God! And it’s never what Dawkins or any other atheist thinks it is. It’s higher.

    Apologetics seem to have de-volved from reasons why one ought to believe in God to reasons why I, personally, believe in God and you shut up. If you have so much sincerity and integrity then admit your flawed humanity and form a clear ans testable hypothesis.

    1. 1st sentence, last paragraph – bingo. I ran into that with a few scepticreationists. They know doG has always been loving, Jebus sorted that bit when he showed up.

      The buybull isn’t taken literally by this person, shielding the faith by eliminating the holy book of christianity as a source. How convenient.

  10. I think we shoud be pleased that a believer is interested in whether Dawkins is a top intellectual.

  11. the explicitly atheistic Soviet regime destroyed the vast majority of churches (and priests) between 1918-1941.

    Continuing on with musical beef’s beef, the Soviet regime was to my knowledge never “explicitly atheist”, only Hoxha’s communist Albania was atheist and then only as a consequence, not a cause, for the politics.

    As I understand it, the Soviet regime’s position with respect to religion was complicated, never mind its obvious personal cult core (with Lenin and Stalin mummified on display even). At times it wanted to diminish the power of the churches, at other times it wanted to use their power. Its pogroms and sacking of cultural capital as it made pompous reconstructions of cities were never directed against the churches exclusively.

    “Religious influence had been strong in the Russian Empire. The Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed a privileged status as the church of the monarchy and took part in carrying out official state functions.[138] The immediate period following the establishment of the Soviet state included a struggle against the Orthodox Church, which the revolutionaries considered an ally of the former ruling classes.[139]

    In Soviet law, the “freedom to hold religious services” was constitutionally guaranteed, although the ruling Communist Party regarded religion as incompatible with the Marxist spirit of scientific materialism.[139] In practice, the Soviet system subscribed to a narrow interpretation of this right, and in fact utilized a range of official measures to discourage religion and curb the activities of religious groups.”

    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Union#Religion ; my bold]

    And the article describes a lot of to and fro, including “a period when atheism was emphasized in the educational curriculum, and numerous state publications promoted atheistic views.”

    So whatever the Soviet state was, it was never atheistic, nor was its regime. Possibly it would infringe on a US constitution by endorsing atheism, but since the source claimed “emphasis” and the source was a historian of christianity I’m not sure it even did that.

    Also of note is that Soviet communism had a similar complicated relationship to “scientific materialism”. Lenin wrote a philosophic manifest on a “dialectic” materialism that was anti-scientific and analogous to a religious position: faith-based. Their atheism was not skeptic empirical, it was political anti-empirical.

    1. Oops, sources: the last part on science was from my own studies years ago: I stumbled across an english translation, and became curious. I have lost that reference long since though, so take it with a pinch of salt, a large pinch.

        1. Lysenko was the result, certainly.

          The pathway seems to be that Marx made an excellent observation, religion as “opium of the people”. Which it is, sort of, according to Paul’s theory on religion.

          Then someone needed to make it so, but couldn’t make the effort to use empiricism. (And I doubt they had the statistics then to derive Paul’s theory.) Or rather, was only interested in using Marx’s philosophic roots (dialectics).

          And then the shit bloviated in their face.

          Isn’t it amazing how “dialectics” sounds exactly like “dianetics”!? [/scientology] =D

    2. Caesaropapism is a largely forgotten term nowadays. Defined by Max Weber, it denotes the supreme authority of a secular ruler in matters ecclesiastical, by virtue of the ruler’s autonomous and absolute legitimacy.

      Rabbi Wolpe either ignores or wilfully omits the fact that the position of the Russian Orthodox church in the Russian empire presented the most extreme case of caesaropapism among the autocephalous Eastern churches.

      Since 1721, when Peter the Great abolished the Patriarchate and set up the Holy Synod as governing body, the Russian Orthodox church has been an explicit branch of the Russian government (and, of course, an integral part of the tsarist power structure, the Holy Synod being directed by a government minister).
      The Moscow Patriarchate was only re-established after the February Revolution of 1917.

      The Bolshevik struggle against the Orthodox church was brutal, and often bloody. But it was perfectly consistent, in its early stages, with the initial aims of the Revolution: the dismantling of the tsarist regime, of which the Orthodox church was an essential pillar, as well as one of the main beneficiaries.
      Even if Soviet ideology had placed lesser emphasis on atheism, it had no hope of succeeding without dislodging the Orthodox church from its position of power as an ideological mainstay of the tsarist regime.

      Revolutions being what they are, Stalin co-opted the remains of the Orthodox Church in the name of Russian patriotism when the Soviet Union was attacked by Hitler. The Orthodox church has remained a tool, an agent, and ultimately a beneficiary of Soviet and post-Soviet regimes ever since.

  12. Saint Basil’s Cathedral – Red Square – Moscow
    just to the left of the Kremlin
    During state atheism of the Soviet Union it was a museum, as was many other churches (some were libraries.

    1. Yes. And many others. I’ve been to Russia and I can state with certainty that the government did not destroy the “vast majority of churches”.

      They’re all still there. Some of them lovingly cared for even during the Communist rule, and now many of them even-more lovingly restored.

      The good rabbi is a liar.

    2. There were two cathedrals on Red Square prior to the Russian Revolution. The Soviets bulldozed exactly 50% of them (Kazan Cathedral). I guess that’s the ideal result for accommodationists, who could argue its meaning either way.

  13. “some of Wolpe’s fellow Jews regularly snip off the tips of children’s penises—with their teeth!”

    Not exactly. Most Jews and Muslims (and a high proportion of American gentiles, for less well-defined reasons, but sometimes based in Christianity) regularly crush and slice an important structure from the ends of children’s penises, and some members of an extreme sub-sect still suck off the blood – with their lips!

    “Snip” is a euphemism:
    * With a Gomco, Winkelman or Mogen Clamp it’s sliced – and a Mogen may take more than just the foreskin, which has led to successful claims worth millions and the Mogen company going out of business. (A Mogen looks very like a traditional Jewish barzel.)
    * With a Plastibell or PrePex it’s crushed and allowed to die.
    * With an Accu-circ it’s chopped.
    – but never “snipped”.

    1. Infants infected with herpes after penis sucking Jewish circumcision:

      “According to the New York City Health Department, ultra-Orthodox ritual Jewish circumcision has been linked to the spread of herpes, a potentially deadly virus for infants.

      The New York City Bureau of Sexually Transmitted Disease Control reports there have been 13 such case in New York City since 2000. Two of those infants died (including one last year), and two others have suffered brain damage as a result.”

      I have never had a reason to say this before and never will again, and it is sexually bigot but also a nice use of movie trivia: cock-sucking murdering scum, in other words.

      1. Murder is a crime but if you got god, you get a pass. AFAIK, they’re still sucking babies to death.

  14. AC Grayling’s new book hits the nail on the head when he describes attacking religion like trying to land a punch on jell-o. There seems to be quite a stock in saying how the critics have missed their target, but unlike the biologists who say that of the creationists, they have not gone to lengths to describe exactly what the target is meant to be. While biologists have a coherent and explicable account of evolutionary theory, the religious attacks amount to little more than “missed me”, as if the ineffability and malleability of religion actually accounts for something.

    Is anyone actually surprised that critics of the religious critics give these grand condemnations of their opponents, but do little to actually give a coherent account? Each one of these articles is a further indication that there’s nothing actually of substance to attack. It’s nonsense, they know it’s nonsense, so they just quibble over which kind of nonsense is fair game for attack.

    1. I agree with most of what you said and it certainly characterised the debate linked to in the article. But I don’t think they know it’s nonsense.

      I would agree that, if they thought deeply about the argument, they would have to come to the conclusion that it’s nonsense. But I don’t think they think deeply about it. They dont dare to. Instead, they intoxicate themselves with the sound of their superficial argument. It’s like a drug.

      And it’s painful to watch.

      1. “But I don’t think they know it’s nonsense.”
        Fair call. Perhaps I should clarify a bit better what I mean sans rhetoric.

        I do think there are some theologians out there who do use a doublespeak when it comes to God (somehow God is both ineffable and ultimately unknowable by our finite minds, yet we know God’s opinion on homosexuality and abortion) and in that sense they know that the way they talk in the more definite sense is rationally indefensible. Why make this move if they knew the more definite statements weren’t nonsense?

        But for others, the gap I feel is this: God is a largely experience-based belief. What’s going on is far more psychological than it is intellectual. As such, it’s very difficult to even begin to describe God in that intellectual sense as any attempts will seem inadequate in light of the subjective experience of the concept. It literally is nonsense, not in the pejorative sense, but in the way that carries no intellectual content. Any attacks on such a belief is not only going to be seen as missing the mark, but utterly inadequate. Phrases like “contemplating the infinite” or “grounding of being” work precisely because they are devoid of content, just as describing God as ineffable or enigmatic will work. Those phrases are useless from an intellectual perspective, but they are compelling to describe an idea that by definition cannot be defined.

        Though to get back to rhetorical blusters “We’re not really talking about anything” doesn’t sound nearly as good as “the new atheists miss the point of God by reducing God to such human terms.” i.e. nonsense.

        1. I think you’re largely right. I remember being enchanted by the Transcendentalist God in my youth because there seemed so much depth of experience behind the expression of the inexpressible: no intellectual content was a positive, if God was beyond our understanding.

          Over time though what I started out seeing as a grand and glorious feature began to seem like a bug. And once that realization started it all began to fall. There was no there, there.

          1. On the other hand, I could never make sense about what they were trying to say, but I thought it was me. Years later I was to read reviews by those more intelligent that myself who felt the same way as I did. That gave me some confidence now in calling out nonsense when I read it regardless of the supposed stature of the writer.

    2. The description of this as religious Whac-a-mole probably fails Wolpe’s test for intellectual distinction, but I find it nonetheless apposite.

  15. Weighing Rabbi Wolpe’s intellectual influence against that of Richard Dawkins, I am reminded of Woody Allen’s immortal line:

    Rabbi Zwi Chaim Yisroel, an Orthodox scholar of the Torah and a man who developed whining to an art unheard of in the West, was unanimously hailed as the wisest man of the Renaissance by his fellow-Hebrews, who totalled a sixteenth of one per cent of the population.

    Woody Allen: Hassidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar. The New Yorker, June 20, 1970.

    1. Wolpe I could listen to, but the whining prize I think belongs to Bradley Artson. I could not possibly listen to another debate in which he participated.

  16. He doesn’t like Richard calling religious beliefs what they are: BS. He, like John Haught, live in a world where everything is kind of wooly-headed and impossible to pin down.

  17. Indeed, for even Hitler built the Autobahn!

    Excellent point. I must remember that next time someone throws up the “lookit what good things religious folk do” argument.

    But, taking it one step further, I can just reply that religion built the Autobahn, too. “Say wha?”, they’ll of course say. Yep, arguably without historic Catholic-based antipathy toward Jews, Hitler wouldn’t have risen to power – just read Mein Kampf – ergo we can thank religion for the Autobahn, which BTW inspired the Interstate Highway System.

      1. Well, Volkswagen then & Mussolini made headway getting rid of the Maffia & Stalin set up free day care & free education.

        1. 🙂 Nice try, Diana, but François Guizot established free education in France at the parish level as early as 1833; Jules Ferry instated mandatory, free and laic education in 1882.

          Cesare Mori, to whom you are alluding, fought hard against the mafia in Trapani province between 1904-1915, when he was only a “commissario di polizia”. He returned to Sicily heading the “special brigades” after 1916, earning national repute with the Caltabellotta raid. True, Mussolini made a show of repressing the mafia and sent him again to Palermo in 1925 as prefect of police with extraordinary powers, but he caved in when Mori rattled the Fascist establishment, and kicked him upstairs in 1929.

          Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
          Same old story: Mythologies don’t stand up to scrutiny.

          1. Okay – Stalin brought better medical care and there is still for Hitler Volkswagen oh and television 🙂

            1. OK, I concede.
              Say what you will of Adolf Eichmann, but there’s no denying that he implemented for the first time a large-scale “No Child Left Behind” policy. This despite the vicissitudes of war, and against a backdrop of entrenched anti-Nazi prejudice in some influential segments of public opinion.

  18. It’s the battle between reason and intellect, on the one hand, and ignorance and prejudice, on the other. Those of us who deplore all religions for the nonsense they propagate and the evil they do applaud Dawkins persistence. His intellectual rigour is not in doubt. But what is especially commendable is that he doesn’t let up! Part of the problem of religion is that smart, intelligent people too often shrug their shoulders and say “live and let live”. Dawkins doesn’t do this – and he’s dead right not to.

  19. Rabbi Wolpe impugns Dawkins’s status as “world’s leading intellectual”

    Dawkins is brilliant, but biased and off on some things.

    If I had to pick a single greatest, it would be Sam Harris, but there are so many to choose from, including Dawkins.

    What I know for sure is it isn’t Rabbi Wolpe.

  20. Well they are wrong about one thing.
    The Tamil tigers were secular but
    . they were political outcasts fighting for their rights.. I would not suggest using them as an example for this situation…..

  21. Let me say this, though. On the main point, I have to agree that Dawkins is not the world’s greatest intellectual.

    He’s a popularizer of science and a clear voice on the incoherence of religion and the concept of god.

    Each of those is a worthy calling – enough to make one famous in its own right. That he does both that well is quite extraordinary. And that he takes the amount of flak he does (usually) with equanimity marks him as a person with a high degree of character and self-esteem.

    But the number one “intellectual”?

    How can you make that assessment? Seems a silly exercise in the first place…and a value judgment based on little else than a combination of popularity and controversy.

    In any event, I guess the exercise fulfilled its intent — which was to gather more eyeballs/awareness for Prospect magazine. And in that regard, by vociferously complaining about it, Rabbi Wolpe is basically scoring an “own goal”.

    Way to generate new readership for the magazine, Rabbi. Way to raise awareness of the fact that people think rather highly of Dr. Dawkins. Thanks for the publicity.

  22. I disagree with Wolpe on the veracity of religion and the Bible. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he is very intelligent and capable of not only understanding subtlety, but also communicating that subtlety to mass audiences. Over the years, Wolpe has helped me understand what religious scholars and philosophers think about biblical stories and intent. Although we would never agree on religion, I would be happy to have him as a neighbor and friend.

  23. The Tamil Tigers, as an organization, was a secular one. But the people in weren’t any less religious than the rest of the Tamil population. Most of them were either Hindu or Christian.

    But the itself wasn’t a religious war, and atheism had nothing to do with it. There weren’t any atheists going around, bombing places so that they could get rid of religions. Sri Lanka doesn’t have many atheists. It was a purely political war, and bombing places of worship was a means to achieve a political objective, not an end in itself.

  24. A curious position for Wolpe considering he’s so outspoken regarding the complete mythical status of the Pentateuch.

    “The rejection of the Bible as literally true is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis.” (Wolpe)

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