If you like this blog

Don't miss Kevin Barrett's radio shows! And visit TruthJihad.com for more...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kevin Barrett (Muslim) interviews Vincent Bugliosi (agnostic): The complete transcript

Celebrated prosecutor and bestselling author Vincent Bugliosi joined me on Truth Jihad Radio on June 3rd - between my speaking tours of Turkey and Europe. So if I wax too cosmic, blame the jet lag.

Bugliosi is the author of fourteen books, several of them blockbusters, including Helter Skelter, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, and now his latest bestseller Divinity of Doubt: The God Question, which makes a strong case for agnosticism. Many listeners have told me they love this interview. Listen here, or read the transcript below. 

Interview Transcript 

I just read Vincent Bugliosi's new book cover-to-cover -- if you can say reading a PDF file is "cover-to-cover" -- starting yesterday afternoon, 350 pages worth! The book is entitled The Divinity of Doubt. It's a hardcore manifesto for -- not atheism, and not belief in God -- but agnosticism. As my listeners are probably aware, since 9/11 there has been a flurry of anti-religious books. There have been Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris and that Richard Dawkins character over in the U.K. bashing religion. Well, Vincent Bugliosi does a better job bashing religion in his book The Divinity of Doubt than any of those guys did. But he also bashes atheism, or at least their versions of atheism, and points out that their cases against God are at least as unconvincing as many of the traditional arguments for God.

In any case, Vincent Bugliosi has a very interesting mind. He's the author of several blockbuster best-sellers, starting with Helter Skelter and continuing through one of my all-time favorite books, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. And now he has turned his attention to the question of religion and belief in God. What kind of evidence is there for the existence of God? Should we believe without evidence? Is God a question or an answer? And he says God is a question. Personally, I say "all of the above." But let's bring him on to put forth his case. Welcome, Vincent Bugliosi. How are you?

Bugliosi

Okay, sir. Thank you so much for having me on your show.

Barrett

Well, it's great to have you on. I really liked your book.

Bugliosi

I appreciate that.

Barrett

You're grappling with the big questions, and doing it in an intelligible way. Not too many big words for the sake of big words. You know, the communicative approach. It's good stuff! What brought you to write this book?

Bugliosi

Well, you know my history. I like challenges, Kevin. And I don't think there's any bigger challenge than taking on the God question. And I've always been fascinated with the whole issue, as millions have. And of course I've read the Bible, and written myself many, many notes throughout the years on it.

One of the reasons, among many, is that the religious terrain is filled with light-hearted fare. The number one book in the country is Heaven Is for Real, about a three-year-old boy during an appendectomy operation. And apparently during the surgery he goes to heaven and he meets Jesus and he meets his older sister who had died earlier. He meets John the Baptist, the Biblical figure Solomon. It's the number one book in the country.

Barrett

Somehow I missed that one.

Bugliosi

There's a book out now on Noah's ark. There's a book on sex and desire in the Bible. Very light-hearted fare. And even when someone tries to get serious, like the fellow you mentioned, Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist, here's what he says in his book - I'm not making this up! He says "the central argument" of his book The God Delusion, which sold over a million-and-a-half copies - he says the universe is so extremely complex that if there were a God, he'd have to be more complex than the universe he created. (laughter)  Who is he to say that God can't be that complex? Basically he's saying "I don't believe there's a God because I don't believe anything could be that complex." Which is almost childlike!

Barrett

Right. The universe is so complex we can hardly imagine that. So why not a God that's more complex?

Bugliosi

Yeah. It's like a father telling his son, "Look up in the heavens, son. You see all the heavenly bodies up there? God created all that." And the son saying, "I don't think he could be that powerful to do that, father." It's just nonsense. 

A couple years ago...I'm sure you know about the book by Dan Brown. The Da Vinci Code? That Jesus married Mary Magdeline...

Barrett

Right. I never could figure out, who really cares about the bloodline? Is that really the issue anyway?

Bugliosi

There's no evidence to support it. It's just wild speculation.

So I think for a combination of reasons I decided to take on the God question. And I have to say I'm more excited about the book than any other book I had written in my entire career. I'm not saying that's my magnum opus, I think that's Reclaiming History on the Kennedy assassination. But I'm more excited about it, not just because there's no bigger subject than God, but that the religious terrain is very barren. It's a two-thousand-year-old conversation in which nothing significant has been brought to the table in a great number of years. And believe it or not, I  believe I do bring some new things to the table. If we have time, I'll just briefly summarize a couple of those things. Do we have some time?

Barrett

Sure, let's go ahead and do that.

Bugliosi

Okay. Well, we always hear, Kevin, that God gives all of us free will. And if you challenge someone on it, like my wife did a couple of weeks ago - a friend of hers said "It's in the Bible." And I found out that, contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not say there's free will. In fact, it says the precise opposite: That there is no free will. And I don't have to tell you the enormous ramifications of this, Kevin. How do you explain God's punishment of evil-doers if what they did was pre-ordained by God? They had no choice.

Now I want to make it very clear to your audience that I'm not saying there's no free will. I haven't the vaguest idea. If someone were to ask me, I'd say "Why are you asking me? Ask my neighbor, or ask the local grocer." But when Christianity and Judaism say that the Bible says there's free will, at that point I can weigh in and say "Wait a minute folks, that's not what the Bible says. It says there's no free will."

I'll give you two very quick citations. Isaiah 63:17 says, "Why Lord do you cause us (from free will) - why do you cause us to stray from thy ways?" Romans 11:32 goes so far as to say that God "consigns all men to disobedience."

Let me give you just one more quick one. Talmudic scholars have been wrestling for centuries - not years, for centuries - trying to get around Exodus 4:21, where God tells Moses "I'm going to harden the heart of the Pharoah, causing him to be stubborn so he will not set the people free," referring to the Israelites in Egypt at the time, supposedly justifying his imposition of the ten plagues on the poor people of Egypt.

So I found basically - and I could go into the story more, on how I reached this conclusion - but let me get on to the second point -

Barrett

Can I briefly interrupt there and say that this is one of the areas in which Islam has a claim to be correcting the misguided or mistaken errors that crept into these earlier scriptures.

Bugliosi

Right.

Barrett

Islam basically accepts these scriptures, but says there were a whole bunch of errors. And this is one of those instances where the Islamic case is, I think, very clear to somebody like you - you talk about some of those cases later - but in this one, in the Qur'an there are many passages that can be interpreted as supporting free will, and many passages that can be interpreted as denying free will, like the ones (from the Bible) you just gave us.

Bugliosi

Yeah, absolutely.

Barrett

So we (Muslims) throw up our hands and we say it's a mystery.

Bugliosi

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, in the endnotes - most people don't read endnotes, but I quote the Qur'an saying in two very clearly stated Surahs, saying that there's no free will.

I found that the immortality of the soul is a clear invention of Plato. I went way back, in the fourth century BC, that Christianity was literally forced to embrace, because without it there's no life after death, and without life after death there's no heaven and hell. And I would ask the rhetorical question, Kevin: How does Christianity survive? How does it stay alive if there's no heaven and hell? This is what it offers or threatens its followers with.

Perhaps the most startling thing in the book - and there are quite a few startling things in the book - I found evidence in the New Testament which, when read in conjunction with the Hebrew Bible - I'm specifically referring to Isaiah 7:14 - which proves, not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond all doubt, that Jesus was not born of a virgin. Now I'm not saying that. I'm talking about the Bible now. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, then he was not the son of God. And if he's not the son of God, then the Christian doctrine that God had his son die on the cross for our sins goes out the window too, which in effect ravages much of Christianity. And I know it's hard for your audience to believe, Kevin, but if we're talking about the Bible, I think this happens to be the truth, and it's why many people said - in fact, a review just came in on the book - that nobody who reads The Divinity of Doubt will ever feel quite the same way about God and religion.

Barrett

Let's explain exactly how this works, because Isaiah is in the Old Testament. So how can that have anything to do with Jesus being born of a virgin?

Bugliosi

Well, okay...and I appreciate your asking that. Most people don't ask those questions, and you're getting into it, and I appreciate that. The first reference to the virgin birth is in Matthew 1:18. Matthew says that the virgin birth was a fulfillment of a prophecy by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah in 7:14. So when we go to 7:14, there's no reference to a virgin birth. We find in 7:14 that Isaiah said that a child so the boy would be born of a young woman. He doesn't say a virgin. He says a young woman. And the Hebrew word he uses is almah. But he doesn't say virgin. He says almah, which means young woman. So I called a rabbi here in town, Z. Dershowitz, who turns out to be the cousin of the Harvard law professor Allan Dershowitz. I asked him - I said, Is there a word in Hebrew that means virgin that Isaiah could have used? He said, yes. I said what is that word? He said betullah, which I'd never heard of before. And I asked him if it was in the Hebrew Bible, the word betullah, when the context is the word virgin? And he said yes, and he gave me several citations. And they all checked out. The context was virginity of a woman, and the word used was betullah. Now the question is, Kevin: Why would Isaiah, if he wanted to say virgin, use a word, almah, that did not mean virgin. Why wouldn't he have used the word that he knows means virgin?

Barrett

This whole argument would work if you assumed that both the Old and New Testaments were perfect scriptures, etcetera.

Bugliosi

Right.

Barrett

But if your assumption, rather, is saying that Jesus's virgin birth fulfilled this prophecy from Isaiah, but also Matthew is saying it was a virgin birth apart from that.

Bugiosi

Right. But Matthew says in 1:18 that it was a virgin birth, and that it was a fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah in 7:14. And when we go to 7:14 we don't see that.

Let me add another point here -

Barrett

So basically you could explain this by minor errors in one or both of those scriptures.

Bugliosi

Possibly. Possibly. But the word almah is used - and almah in Hebrew does not mean virgin, and Isaiah used the word almah.

But there's another point here, Kevin. Isaiah in fact does make a prophecy, in Isaiah 7:14. And what that prophecy was, was that this boy, before he was old enough to know right from wrong, the kings of Israel and Syria would be dead. These kings died somewhere around 7:30 BC which is close to 800 years before the alleged virgin birth of Jesus. I think this conclusively shows that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 had nothing to do with the alleged virgin birth of Jesus close to 800 years later. And I think if Isaiah 7:14 falls, I think if we use logic, then Matthew 1:18 and 1:22 also fall. If Matthew had only said that Jesus was born of a virgin, and left it at that, then it would have fallen into the same category as the other alleged miracles, like the parting of the sea, the calming of the storm, walking on water, the resurrection. The naysayers would have said these miracles didn't happen, and the religious people would have said they did. But where he made his fatal mistake, at least insofar as Christianity is concerned, is when he said he was basing his conclusion of a virgin birth on Isaiah 7:14. And when Isaiah 7:14 doesn't say that, I think we've got a real problem here.

Barrett

What does Isaiah 7:14 really mean by almah, then? Just saying, prophecizing, that somebody's going to be born of a young woman is nothing. Virtually everybody's born from a young woman. So isn't it possible that the Hebrew scripture is inaccurate, that it really did mean virgin, and perhaps Matthew is right, and perhaps the mistake is in the earlier scripture. Or vice-versa - Matthew could have been wrong too.

Bugliosi

I asked the Rabbi, was it possible that a young woman at that time would have meant virgin. He said no, no - particularly back then.

Barrett

What could that mean, though, "born from a young woman?" That's like saying "this coming messiah figure will actually breathe air. And will see the sun rise and set." Who cares?

Bugliosi

But he said it was not a messiah figure. What it was, if you want to go deeper into the story: There was this Judean king at the time, his name was Ahaz, and he was fearful that the kings of Israel and Syria were going to destroy him. And he wanted a sign from God. And Isaiah gave him this sign. He said, there's going to be a child born of a young woman. And before this child's old enough to know right from wrong, your enemies are going to be dead. That's the whole story.

You could very well be right here. But what I'm saying is that I think that the Vatican would rather stare into the noonday sun than address themselves to this issue, because...

Barrett

You're probably right.

Bugliosi

Well, they're going to have to use the argument that you use, which is possibly a valid argument, that possibly the Hebrew Bible was mistaken. But that opens up a whole can of worms.

Barrett

It supports your argument that we can't have absolute faith in the literal meaning of these particular passages.

Bugliosi

Yeah, I think it's just an eternal mystery. For your audience, let me just clarify: Theists believe in God, of course; atheists do not believe in God; agnostics, which I am, say I don't know. Perhaps the more accurate definition of an agnostic is someone who feels that the existence or nonexistence of God is unknowable.

I like to tell people that I have a rather bright person on my side...

Barrett

We're heading into the first break, so we'll have to pick that up on the other side. This is Kevin Barrett. I'm talking with Vincent Bugliosi. He is the author of a great many excellent books, including The Divinity of Doubt. We'll be right back.

(Break)

Barrett

Welcome back. I'm Kevin Barrett, talking with Vincent Bugliosi, whose brand-new book The Divinity of Doubt is, in my opinion, far, far better than the attacks on religion that have come out and sold millions of copies in the post-9/11 era. I would highly recommend this one. It takes on the big questions and does so in an always-interesting, lively, and amusing fashion. It's also very well thought-out. I think, Vincent, that you've done a better job with this than these people like (Richard) Dawkins, who's supposed to be one of the great minds of our time. But I don't see it when I read his book. And yours, I think, makes a better case. I don't agree with everything in your book, but I have to admit that you're actually thinking these things through.

Bugliosi

I'm very flattered that you feel this way. You're obviously a very intelligent person. Not because you're flattering me (laughter) but because I'm listening to you talk. You're obviously very, very bright and well-read. You know, you said something I'd like to comment on. You said it (the book) is "amusing." I'm amazed at the people who are saying that! Many places in the book, they're laughing out loud! (laughing) I didn't intend the book to be a comedy. But there is some humor in it, apparently.

Barrett

The end of the book is great - the afterword, in which you ask, "Is there a God who's giving us a hard time?" Because every time you look for a paper it's in the bottom of the stack (laughter), every time you're rushing to catch a plane it's in the highest-numbered gate...I love it!

Bugliosi

(laughing) I appreciate that.

By the way, during the break, I looked up - it's on page 289 in my book, in the endnotes, which most people don't read -     anyway, in the Surah of the Quran 87:2. There's a quote: "The Lord has created and balanced all things, and has fixed their destinies and guided them." Sura 9:51 reads: "By no means can anything befall us but what God has destined for us." So like you said - and not very many people know this - the Qur'an makes a strong argument in some places that there is no free will.

Barrett

There are other passages, though, that suggest the opposite. There are all sorts of passages pointing out that our choices in life are absolutely crucial, unlike in Christianity, where as you point out, one of the problems with Christianity, according to many of these fundamentalists especially, is that you can lead a really terrible life, and then at the very end of your life you could say: "I now accept Jesus, He died for my sins" and you get a free ticket to heaven.

Bugliosi

Oh, I know.

Barrett

While in Islam, it's even further from that than Catholocism is. In Islam, your actions are a lot more important than your professions of belief.

Bugliosi

And that's obviously the way it should be. But born-again Christianity... In fact, in Billy Graham's book How to Be Born-Again, he flat-out says, no matter how well you treat your fellow man, that isn't good enough for God, that's not going to get you into heaven; if you don't accept Jesus as your savior, you're going to hell.    

Barrett

One of the reasons I came to Islam at age 35 was exactly the same stuff that you found doesn't make sense in Christianity, didn't make sense to me either.

Bugliosi

It's such a blasphemy of reason. But then again, reason only visits those who welcome it. And some of these born-again Christians are just unbelievable in having this belief.

I was pointing out, I like to point out to people, that I have someone rather bright on my side. His name is Einstein, who was an agnostic. Now many people have come back at me and said, "Well, Mr. Bugliosi, he said other things that indicated that he was not an agnostic." And they are right. Throughout his career, the great physicist did say many things that allowed agnostics, theists, or atheists to claim him as one of their own.

Barrett

He said "I cannot believe that God would play dice with the universe."

Bugliosi

Yes, yes, that's one of his most famous ones that would indicate that he was a theist, that he believed there was a God. However, the only time I was able to find where he used one of these appellations, as opposed to saying something where you could draw the inference that he was either a theist, agnostic, or atheist, was in a letter that he wrote to an M. Berkowitz, whoever that was. My impression is that he was a friend of his. I don't know if it was a male or a female. The date of the letter was October 25th, 1950, and in that letter, which is at the Princeton archives of Einstein, he said: "Concerning the question of God, I am an agnostic." He flat-out used that word. Interestingly enough, Darwin was also an agnostic. I say interestingly enough because most evolutionists - not all, but most - are atheists. And here we have the founder of evolution an agnostic.

I believe, Kevin, that on the issue of whether or not there is a God, I believe it to be an impenetrable mystery beyond human comprehension. As Einstein put it, "the problem is simply too vast for our limited minds." And that's why I feel that the most reasonable and presumptuously the most responsible position to take on the eternal question of God's existence is that of agnosticism.

I love Gertrude Stein's non-literary definition of agnosticism. She said: "There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer." (laughter) Which I thought was kind of cute and clever, but had some perception to it.

The great criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow said it fairly well too. He said: "I don't purport to know what ignorant men are sure of.

So it just feels like too much of a mystery, Kevin, and I don't think people should be too dogmatic about it.

I do take on atheism too, in the book. We can talk about it now, or we can go on to another subject.

Barrett

Let me just raise the question of to what extent this kind of really excellent logical, this very careful use of reason and evidence, to try to get at the question of "Is there evidence for the existence of God..." ...whether that whole effort might be, at least in part, a kind of category mistake. Let's say you were going to write a book about whether or not love exists. And let's say you decided to be agnostic about whether love exists. That would be kind of strange. And kind of interesting too. You could do the same thing about whether...is Beethoven's music really great? And you could say there are on the one hand believers who love Beethoven and argue for it. And on the other hand there are tone-deaf people who say it's no better than Mickey Mouse jingles.

Bugliosi

Right.

Barrett

And you're gonna say "Well, I'm an agnostic." In other words, what I'm saying is that maybe the whole category of religion is more like great art and music than it is something that's susceptible to rational-empirical proof.

Bugliosi

Well, yeah. That's a very sophisticated articulation that you just came up with, literally off the top of your head. I don't think I could talk that way off the top of my head. I would have had to...

Barrett

I was actually talking off the side of my head. (laughter)

Bugliosi

No, what you said is definitely true. And there may not be any answer - we may not have an answer - but the title of my book The Divinity of Doubt addresses your question to a certain extent, in that I don't believe we're ever going to find the answer. But if we do find the answer, if there ever is gonna be an answer, doubt is divine in that doubt at least impels a search for the truth. It opens the door to knowledge, whereas faith basically puts a lock on that door. But I don't think we are ever going to have divinity of doubt, although that's the title of my book, because, just viscerally, I don't think anyone's ever going to come up with the answer. But if we do come up with the answer, aren't we going to have to start with a certain amount of doubt? Or do we just accept what we know and leave it at that?

Barrett

Right. Well, my grandmother, a real strong agnostic who said her favorite disciple was Doubting Thomas, sort of instilled this (attitude) in me. She had an experience once where she was under sedation, anesthesia, and she believed that she suddenly saw the answer to everything - life, the universe, and everything, God, whatever. It revealed itself to her while she was under anesthesia! And when she came back, she couldn't remember what that answer was. She always talked about that and pointed out that ultimately we never really know that answer, there's no way to grasp it in our ordinary minds. And that kind of attitude led me to keep questioning things, and searching and searching. And I finally found that for me, Islam gives a voice of God and an orientation towards God that makes sense to me. It's more of an orientation than a thing. God is an orientation and a relationship, or a set of relationships.

Bugliosi

Yes

Barrett

The Qur'an, for example, is the voice of God, but speaking to the Prophet Muhammad. And his reactions are partly influencing what the voice of God is going to sound like, what it's going to say. And it's also speaking to all the believers. It's speaking to each of us, speaking to me personally, like a very close-up whisper in my ear. It's got this quality of a whole symphonic set of dialogues. And the tone of it is one of sadness that we humans make so little of this glorious endowment and this glorious potential that we all have. And this is something that nobody gets when they're reading translations. You really have to hear the Arabic and be able to read the Arabic to understand that part.

I've noticed in your chapter on Islam -

Bugliosi

It was very short, four or five pages.

Barrett

Yes, very short, and I'll tell you, it really wasn't bad at all for what it was. Although you did quote Ibn Warraq. Quoting Ibn Warraq on Islam is sort of like quoting Adolf Hitler on Judaism. (laughter) But you still managed to avoid being particularly...obnoxious. Unlike 99% of what's being written about Islam.

Bugliosi

I know very little on Islam. And I make no pretensions about that. But I wanted to put a couple things in there, so if people are at a cocktail party and Islam comes up, at least they can say a couple of things that are accurate.

Barrett

It's mostly accurate.

Bugliosi

I'm happy about that. But this is not a book about the major religions of the world. I do have this little section where I get into Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism. You could write a much, much better book on Islam than I can. But I just wanted to put that in there to get some of the highlights of Islam. In fact, I was on a Jewish network, and the host said I learned - and I want to ask you if I'm correct in this - that Mohammed's wife was Jewish! Is that correct?

Barrett

I think he had one Jewish wife, yes. He had a monogamous marriage for the first - what - thirty some years of his life, a long period. And that was to an older woman (Khadija), a sensible businesswoman. But then (after Khadija's death) he had to flee, to leave town before they killed him, and he had to defend himself and defend this new perspective on God. And at that point he had several marriages, which were mostly tribal or political marriages. And I believe that yes, one of them was to a Jewish woman. And Jews and Christians are supposed to be protected as People of the Book under Islam.

Bugliosi

Yes.

Barrett

And that has been extended to other religions, which has led Islam to be seen as probably the most tolerant of the monotheisms, which some would say isn't saying very much. (laughter)

Bugliosi

Right. Well, I got that out of a biography of Muhammad, her name was Aisha, but as I say, I don't purport to be an expert on Islam.

Barrett

Well let me just point out a few things that you got slightly wrong. You wrote that there has been endless conflict and hatred between Arabs and Jews. That's actually not true. Jews have actually done very well in the whole Islamic world, including the Arab world, right up until the creation of the state of Israel, which is really the last European settler colony. And that's what has created the whole problem. Before that, Arabs and Jews, and Muslims and Jews, got along very well...better than Christians got along with either one. (laughter)

Bugliosi

Are you sure about that? That there weren't problems a long time before this?

Barrett

Well, right at the very beginning of Islam, there were problems with Jewish tribes in Medina. But beyond that, from the founding of Islam right up until the founding of the state of Israel, in general Jews did well under Islam, especially in Andalusia or Islamic Spain. But even the Ottoman Empire was full of very prosperous Jews who were given complete freedom of religion, as were Christians and most other religions under Islam....which is why there were all kinds of refugees fleeing to the Ottoman Empire during the period of wars between the Ottomans and the European states; Jews and heretical Christians were swarming to the Ottoman lands, because they offered religious freedom.

Bugliosi

Again, you're taking me on in an area where you're an authority and I'm not. But I thought that after the death of Muhammad armies of Muslims overran a great portion of that area of the world, including Palestine in 638 a.d.

Barrett

That's true.  What happened was, there was a series of tribal wars that grew out of the self-defense of the Muslims in Medina. And they kept making alliances with more and more tribes, including the tribes that were guarding the borders of these empires. And you know, you can tell the story in different ways, but most authorities...people like Karen Armstrong, for example, will tell you that when the Muslims entered the Byzantine cities and "conquered" them, they were welcomed by most of the people who were tired of the oppression of their rulers, and were happy to have the Muslims come in and lower taxes by about 90 percent, set up their guard areas in tents outside the city...live in tents. Taxation was much lower, they were offering complete religious freedom to the people there. So according to the sort of pro-Muslim spin on this, both the Byzantine empire and to a much lesser extent the Persian empire, was really...they were both falling apart from their endless wars and oppressive rulers, and they saw Islam as a sort of liberation from these rulers.

Bugliosi

Weren't most of the Crusades to recapture the Holy Land, they viewed it as the Holy Land, from the Muslims,

Barrett

That's right. And even the Western histories point out that the behavior of the Muslim defenders of the Holy Land was vastly better than the behavior of the Crusaders, who massacred huge numbers of Jews on their way to the Holy Land, and when they got there they just killed everybody. And when the Muslims took it back, Salah-ad-Din (Saladin) was very generous with these Crusaders. He let them take all their property and leave, an he let a lot of them stay. They had freedom of worship. So there is that whole history of Islam as by far the most tolerant of the monotheisms, (a history) that we don't hear much about today.

Bugliosi

I'll tone that down a little bit. If this comes out in the second edition, I will tone that down. I'm sure you probably were happy that I mentioned Ishmael, if that's the way you pronounce it.

Barrett

Yeah. And that leads to another issue...but we'll have to pick it up after the break. This is getting to be a deep conversation with Vincent Bugliosi. He's the author of The Divinity of Doubt, a truly excellent exploration of agnosticism.

(break)

Barrett

Welcome back. This is Kevin Barrett, talking to Vincent Bugliosi, author of The Divinity of Doubt, the book that makes the case that agnosticism is "the only strong position one can take on the question of God's existence." And Vincent, I think that one of the areas where you really show there is something of real potential importance in this advocacy of agnosticism, is that you point out that "if man can ever hope to reduce the level of dishonesty in his existence, there perhaps is no better place to start than in his relationship with God."

Bugliosi

Huxley said that in an essay of his: Let's be truthful. Why act like we know something when we do not. And we cannot know whether or not there is a God. So we are not being truthful with ourselves if we say that we do know. And if you deceive yourself, then all deception after that is easy.

At some point I'd like to at least briefly mention atheism here.

Barrett

We don't have a whole lot of time left. But yeah, let me just throw in the fact that I totally agree with that, and that in Islam one of the names of God is Truth or Reality, al-haqq. And for me, that's kind of the central one. (laughter) To me, God is ultimate Reality. And I'm still open to trying to find out what that Reality is.

Bugliosi

Yeah. Well, I certainly don't reject the notion of God. In fact, in some areas, I go in the direction of God. In other areas I do not. Why? Because my only master, my only mistress, is the evidence. My whole orientation, Kevin, is to search for the evidence, and when you find it, evaluate it, draw powerful inferences from it. I've become a little adept at that in my career. In fact, just a couple of months ago, at the invitation of the Pentagon, I gave a three-hour lecture to a conference of Marine prosecutors down at Camp Pendleton.

So that's my whole orientation. And I would say that at least theism has one very strong argument for God, and that is the argument of first cause. We probably don't have time to get into it. But atheism doesn't have anything except one non-sequitur after another. And I don't know whether or not there's a God, but if there isn't, I don't think atheistic dogma leads one rationally to that conclusion.

Barrett

Give us a couple examples of these bad arguments for atheism.

Bugliosi

Okay. Here are a couple of non-sequiturs. They say that if God existed, why do we have all the horrors and evil in the world? But that presuppposes that God has to be all good, which is an obvious non-sequitur. He can obviously all powerful without also being all good.

Another non-sequitur of theirs in the area of evolution, as you know, they believe that man evolved from some original life form; they do not believe that God created man. Some life forms started it all; some bacteria somehow evolved into Mozart. But that presupposes that God did not create the original life form and evolution took over from there.

Their main non-sequitur now that is embraced by Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, the big one now in the area of atheism, is that if they can slay the dragon of organized religion, which I say is not a very worthy opponent, they have therefore slain God. But this presupposes that you cannot have God without religion, which is too ridiculous a non-sequitur to even comment on. A 2010 national Pew poll confirmed something that I already knew but didn't have the numbers. The Pew poll showed that over 30% of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion at all - they don't identify themselves with any organized religion - still very firmly believe in God. So the antithesis of God is no God, not no religion. And I've yet to hear one powerful persuasive argument that the atheists have come up with other than a non-sequitur for the nonexistence of God. But theism, as I indicated, at least has first cause, which is kind of a difficult argument to get around.

Barrett

Well, there's one place where I slightly disagree with you -

Bugliosi

Okay

Barrett

- in that you compared first cause and argument from design, and you found that first cause is a stronger argument, and I'm not so sure, and I'll tell you why. The argument from design, as I understand it, with all of these amazing physical constants that make life possible...it's actually quite a bit stronger than most people realize. And you sort of made fun of Dawkins, who said "The only counter-argument to this is to say that there must be multiple universes." But in fact, if you study the implications of quantum physics, which tell us that at every microsecond, the universe is splitting into many different universes with slightly different things happening in each one, and those ones are splitting into different ones. So there's a vast number of different universes sort of exploding out of each other. This is one fairly popular interpretation of quantum mechanics. And it does solve the problem of how we happen to be in this universe where everything seems to be so perfectly fine-tuned for the possibility of life.

Bugliosi

Well, the way I address myself to intelligent design - and by the way, in quantum mechanics, the leading guru on it, his name is (Richard) Phillips Fineman, who used to be a professor at Cal Tech - quite a colorful character. And he said: "I think I can safely say that no-one understands quantum physics." (laughter)  I got into that, quantum mechancs, in a long footnote in the book. But on intelligent design, the argument is that the universe is incredibly complex, it could never have happened by chance, it had to be created by an all-powerful and all-intelligent designer, namely God. And some of the great minds of history like Aristotle and Voltaire have been impressed by this argument. But here's what I say, very very briefly, on this. If God were all-powerful, as Christians believe, why would there be over 100 so-called "fundamental constants" out there in space, such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, and water vapor levels, which must remain precisely as they are, to a millionth of a degree, to sustain life on earth? The slightest deviation from these so-called constants would end life as we know it. And my question is this: You mean an all-powerful God could not create an earth that would not need, would not be dependent, on all these things, that to do so would be beyond his power? And why would an intelligent supernatural being create hundreds of billions - actually, if you go outside of the Milky Way galaxy, trillions of stars in the universe that are prodigiously large dead bodies floating in space without any relevance to earth, their surfaces apparently being mere wastelands of rocks and dirt. If God created, Kevin, all of this dead matter in the universe, there's something wrong with him! He's certainly not an intelligent entity

Barrett

Yes. And here's where I guess we have different perspectives. I think theism is as much a perspective as it is an affirmation about reality or a thing. The perspective is that it's all good. And with that perspective, you look at these amazing gigantic things, these planets floating in space - no life, maybe - but they are just gorgeous. And you can voyage in your imagination and look at them. Maybe there are people who can leave their bodies and fly out there and take a look at them directly, who knows? But in any case, my perspective would be more the "it's all good" perspective, and the real, accurate view of existence is that if you could actually see existence as it really was, and not as your egotistic filters, Aldous Huxley's "reducing valve," have reduced it to, you would be so overwhelmed with joy and ecstasy that you would probably fall over on the floor dead. (laughter) Which you might not want to do. But you know what I'm saying, it's a perspective. And here's where your book sort of errs on the side of the perspective "it's half empty." You're constantly harping on suffering and evil and the Nazis this and Charles Manson that - actually not Charles Manson, that's your other book. But your glass is often half-empty in this book. And in fact people can have different perspectives on the same stuff, and focus on the beauty and the amazing, intricate symphonic order of things. And sure, there's some moral, apparent-to-us-evil going on there. But how in the world do we know that that moral apparent evil is really the last word?

Bugliosi

Yeah. But if God created all of this dead matter out there, unless it was for His amusement, or for Him to behold something beautiful that he had created, why would he create all this dead matter out there in the universe? And if he didn't create all this dead matter, then he's not all powerful. I just don't see what relevance to earth of all this dead matter has.

Barrett

What's wrong with dead matter? Trees are 99% dead matter.

Bugliosi

Yes, but here's something that's in the very beginning of my book that I think is absolutely critical. We, man, impute our notions of goodness, fairness, intelligence to God. We can't say we know what's on God's mind or what His plans are. If we said that publicly, we'd be laughed at. So we impute our notions of these things. And so when something happens that violates these very same notions, it's kind of hard to say, you know, we don't know the answer but God has the answers and they're all good. That door's kind of closed. Because we've imputed our notions of what is intelligent. For instance, I don't think that Christianity or Judaism or Islam would ever say that God did something that was unfair. Because if they said that, they'd be saying that he did something that was not all good. They never say he did something illogical or stupid, because that would mean he's not all-intelligent. So we impute our notions of these things to God. And then when something happens that contradicts these very same notions, it's kind of difficult to say "Well, we don't know the answer, but God has the answers and they're all good. I go into that...we don't have time to develop it further.

Barrett

I think there's a kind of consciousness that religion is aiming to bring us to. And it is a consciousness of incredible beauty and higher awareness and so on. And that's what it's really about. It's not really about making objective statements about how the physical world works. But hey, we only have a couple of minutes left. So Vincent, I apologize for bringing this up, but my listeners will kill me if I don't. You say you're a man devoted to looking at the evidence.

Bugliosi

Yes.

Barrett

Have you looked at the evidence around Building 7 and the rest of the anomalies surrounding 9/11?

Bugliosi

I've been asked to do that by a great number of people. My preliminary view - and I don't speak with any authority at all, one thing about me, I hardly ever form an opinion on things. But when I do form an opinion, I try to stuff it down everyone's throat. (laughter)

Barrett

That's what I've been doing about 9/11 for the past six years. (laughter)

Bugliosi

But I don't form an opinion unless I've done a lot of study. And I have not done any study on this. But my preliminary view is that the government would not have been involved in 9/11. This Building 7 that people told me about, that does sound very, very, very strange. Very strange. But I haven't studied it.

Barrett

Would you like to, if I sent you a DVD and a book, would you study it?

Bugliosi

I have a lot of stuff, unless you send me new stuff, people are begging me to do that. But before I formed any opinion, I'd really have to do a lot of studying before I opened my mouth.

Barrett
Well, I urge you to do that. Two years after 9/11, I heard that Dr. David Ray Griffin, a hero of mine from other areas, was writing about it. So I sat down and did two months of research, and it blew my mind. So that's why I'm on the radio now instead of teaching in a university.

5 comments:

  1. I love this program. I have several notes to share:
    It is the foundation of belief in God to see that man has no power to create. We only use whatever we are given. The thing that we aim to obtain would be either a bad thing or a good thing , we just aim it and the it is created. Even disbelieving God, the intention,which again is not our own but given to us, belongs to us but the result,unbelief or rejecting God in our mind, is created by God. That's why Qur'an says "By no means can anything befall us but what God has destined for us" (9:51)

    I just wanted to share my understanding of these verses in the Qur'an.

    (The translation of the other verse mentioned in your conversation : "who creates [every thing], and thereupon forms it in accordance with what it is meant to be (87:2 (Asad))

    My suggestion to Mr. Buglosi is the Risale-i Nur, a commentary on the Qur'an, especially Twenty Sixth Word, The Words.

    Here are several links to listen the great discussions on the free will:

    1-http://www.risalesohbeti.org/dersler/Live%20Discussions%20Recordings/027-%2026.%20Word,%202.%20Topic%20%28Divine%20Determining%29,%2004-03-10.mp3
    2-http://www.risalesohbeti.org/dersler/Live%20Discussions%20Recordings/031-%2026.%20Word,%202.%20Topic,%20The%20Fifth(1)%20(Divine%20Determining),%2004-10-10.mp3
    3-http://www.risalesohbeti.org/dersler/Live%20Discussions%20Recordings/032-%2026.%20Word,%202.%20Topic,%20The%20Fifth(2)(Divine%20Determining),%2004-10-10.mp3

    Salam Alaikum.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Alaikum assalaam, thank you for this excellent recommendation!

    Bediuzzaman Said Nursi was one of the greatest Muslim thinkers and activists of all time, and his thoughts on these questions are one of the best possible resources for both Muslims and non-Muslims on hard and deep questions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Kevin,
    Interesting dialogue, and revealing. Mr. Bugliosi seems to think that god cannot be truly known. Well yes and no. We can know him directly in our individual discovery, but our mind can never commune with the Divine nor understand it. So God cannot be explained, only encountered. And our encounters cannot be proven or disproven.
    Osho is one who tells of such an encounters in his many books. I am just rereading Sufis: The people of the Path. Osho says, "For a Sufi, God is not an idea, it is his lived reality. It is not somewhere sitting on a throne high in the heavens, no- it is herenow, it is all over the place, it is everywhere. God is just a name for the totality of existence".
    So often I hear people quoting Ghandi or Jesus or Buddha, and we have a much more recent mystic in Osho!! Perhaps Mr. Bugiosi will look into Osho's works, and Kevin, I know you would appreciate him immensely.
    Thankyou

    ReplyDelete
  4. I very much enjoyed the interview with Vincent Bugliosi. You owned him!

    I found the premise of his book to be very shallow and most shortsided.

    As someone who was raised a strict Catholic, I fell away from the church 23 years ago when I was 30. That happened when I finally sat down and read the bible through from beginning to end. The contradictions were too much to reconcile for me.

    From there I bought all of the gnostic texts to fully understand what the bible originally was. I have not yet studied the Koran (Qur'an), but would very much like to some day.

    I consider myself a very devout believer in God (YHWH, Yahweh, YHVH, JHVH, Jehova, Allah, whatever name he goes by), however, I no longer have any use for organized religion. It, like politics, is more often used to control people, not enlighten them.

    I found Bugliosi's view to be intellectually deficient. It's as if he entertained the first part of the argument, but that was as far as his brain could comprehend. You did an excellent job in that interview.

    Your understanding of religion is another wonderful aspect to your show.

    We as a species admittedly have very limited use of our brain, yet we purport to know the nature of God with that limited intellect. (??)

    I am greatly disturbed to see the effort to replace God with science. I believe Einstein was closer in stating that science is nothing more than the nature of God. No, we cannot understand how one being can exist for all time, but then, IMHO, time is the actual constraint that we truly do not understand.

    For me, it is harder to understand how primordial gas could exist on its own for all time. I do not believe that order comes from chaos. Intelligent order does not just happen. The big bang would not have been a one-time event.

    I wish I would have been listening live because I would have loved to call in on that show. Nevertheless, you did an excellent job of debating him on the greatest question of all.

    I defend the Muslim's during this newly orchestrated holy war. Terrorism and Islam are dichotomous to each other. "Muslim terrorist" is a blatant oxymoron. People are truly brainwashed lemmings to buy into this bullshit.

    With that said, because of your Muslim background, I find your program to be ever more relevant and very much needed in the current media void.

    Now that you're writing for VT, I will try to post as many of your columns as I possibly can on my NewsFocus site. (I just do the first paragraph and then do the "read more" with a link back to the source site.) I already have one of your 9/11 articles on the NF 9/11 page.

    Enough from me. Hope to speak in depth sometime soon. The show would be nice, but a one on one is much preferred by me. I've spent enough years on the radio. I would just enjoy collaborating with you regarding solutions to the mess we're all in.

    Very best regards,

    Tim

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this, Tim.

    Funny you mention Bugliosi...I just got a really nice handwritten letter from him, thanking me for transcribing the interview, supporting me in my free speech battle etc. -- all but coming right out in favor of 9/11 truth. He's planning to use a blurb from me on the paperback version of the book.

    I think he's a good guy with a deep passion for justice. That passion got mixed into his career as a prosecutor, so I think he may have deluded himself into thinking prosecutors dish out more justice than they actually do; the system works okay most of the time; therefore JFK can't have been killed by LBJ and the CIA; etc. etc.

    But when he was forced to see just how bad things had gotten with Bush's wars, he took a step outside the box, and is now a potential ally.

    I think his intense engagement with the God question grows out of his passion for justice. And since Allah is the all-just whose first tangible characteristic is mercy/compassion, I would hope and expect that Mr. Bugliosi should do fine on judgment day despite his agnosticism. Or maybe he'll discover better arguments for theism in the meantime, insha'allah.

    Best

    Kevin

    ReplyDelete